The South African hiking bucketlist

Posted by Kati Auld on 18 April 2021

Most of us at Getaway love hiking. And over the years we’ve accumulated a fair number of useful tips about hikes: from exactly what to pack on the Fish River Canyon, to how many steps it takes to tackle the Tankwa Camino.

So here’s a list of many of the South African most scenic trails, as well as the ones we’re dreaming of doing soon. We figure it’s a pretty good indication of what every hiker should aim to do in South Africa.

Multi-day hikes

1. The mighty Drakensberg

The berg is a place of awe and mystery. Secret streams and ancient places. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

This mountain range should be on every hiker’s must-do list. Our five experts have spent significant time up there and recommend these great routes for you.

2. The Tankwa Camino

Me. Looking more cheerful than I sometimes felt.

One of our top contributors, Melanie, looking more cheerful than she sometimes felt.

The Tankwa Camino is not easy. The route takes you from Calvinia to Ceres, through the heart of the Karoo, and walking those 256.6 kms was the hardest thing our journalist Melanie van Zyl had ever done. (And she’s a tough cookie.) Read her story – and why it was ultimately worth it.

3. The Otter Trail

A friend checks out the stormy seas. Photo taken from the Oakhurst hut boma. Photo by Chris Davies.

A friend checks out the stormy seas. Photo taken from the Oakhurst hut boma. Photo by Chris Davies.

The Otter Trail needs no introduction: one of South Africa’s most famous hikes, it takes you through coastal forest, river crossings, and viewpoints along the garden route. Bookings open a year in advance – and sell out quickly, especially on dates which are optimal for river crossings. Next year, South Africa’s oldest and most popular hiking trail turns 50. We sent a first-timer, and then got her to interview some folk who have all done the Otter Trail differently.

4. The Leopard Trail

My favourite camping site was on night three, and specifically because of this incredible scene just 15 minutes walk down the road. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

My favourite camping site was on night three, and specifically because of this incredible scene just 15 minutes walk down the road. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Taking you through the wide-open spaces of the Baviaanskloof, The Leopard Trail is one of the newer options on this list. Read about our epic experience here. 

5. Fish River Canyon

The Palm (Sulphur) Springs on day 2. Photo by Chris Davies.

The Palm (Sulphur) Springs on day 2. Photo by Chris Davies.

If you’re looking to do the Fish River Canyon hike, be prepared. This infamous 90km trail is definitely not for slack packers – and in order to truly enjoy the beauty of the area, you’ll need to be prepared.

6. Table Mountain

Despite being so close to the city, for the majority of the hike we saw very few other people. There were stretches where we felt like we had the mountain all to ourselves. Photo by Matthew Sterne.

If you don’t have the time or the funds for a guided multi-day trail, Table Mountain allows for some amazing overnight trails you can do by yourself, too.

7. Touring the alternative Tsitsikamma

The hike begins with a stroll on the beach; then it meanders through beautiful coastal forest.

The hike begins with a stroll on the beach; then it meanders through beautiful coastal forest. Photo by Morgan Trimble.

If you can’t get a booking on the uber-popular Otter Trail, there are other routes in the area that can offer a beautiful alternative. The Waterfall Trail takes you on the first part of the famous Otter Trail, before returning to where you began.

8. Walking trails in Kruger

Left: our homes for three nights. Each A-frame sleeps two and there are four in total. If you don’t completely book out the walk with eight people, you could bunk with people you don’t know. Right: on all walks you are accompanied by two experienced rangers equipped with rifles. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Left: our homes for three nights. Each A-frame sleeps two and there are four in total. If you don’t completely book out the walk with eight people, you could bunk with people you don’t know. Right: on all walks you are accompanied by two experienced rangers equipped with rifles.

Yes, there are more than one! From multi-day wilderness trails to day hikes, seeing Kruger at eye level is a completely different experience of the park.

9. Green Mountain Trail

DayOne_GreenMountainTrail_056

The Green Mountain Trail is a new luxury slack-packing option in the Overberg, and combines two of our favourite things: rolling mountains and wine tasting. It was Welcome Lishivha’s first experience of a multi-day hike, and we figure that he’s spoiled for life.

10. Limpopo / Mpumalanga hiking route

Hikers gaze out at the granite peak of Thabaphaswa from The Lookout. Photo by Shaen Adey

Hikers gaze out at the granite peak of Thabaphaswa from The Lookout. Photo by Shaen Adey.

Unlike the other hikes on this list, this is a self-drive route, and it’ll take a week or more. But it links up five best hiking in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa.

11. Rim of Africa

The Rim of Africa is one of the longest hikes on the continent, but can be tackled in nine week-long sections. Photo from Rim of Africa.

The Rim of Africa is one of the longest hikes on the continent, but can be tackled in nine week-long sections. Photo from Rim of Africa.

We haven’t been on the Rim of Africa hiking trail yet, but we had to mention it: it’s absolute bucketlist material. Linking up the Cederberg and Outeniqua mountains, the entire thru-hike is almost 650km long and takes about three months to complete. Most people tackle it in sections though, which range from 60 to 100 kms each.

12. Addo National Park

There are no guided trails in Addo Main Game Area because the bush is too dense. With the Big Five potentially lurking behind any thicket, it’s not safe. But there are other sections in Addo to safely walk in the wild. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

There are just two places you can hike in Addo: either the jaw-dropping day trails on the slopes of the fynbos-covered mountains in the Zuurberg Section or, if you’re fit and strong, a two-day trail along the coast in the Woody Cape Section.

13. Genadendal Trail

The Genadendal Trail is a fairly tough two-day hike with little shade, but the flower-speckled mountainsides, interchanging views and refreshing swimming holes make it memorable.

Day hikes

14. Table Mountain’s three peaks

Think you’re tough enough? This nine-hour hike takes you from Devil’s Peak, along the saddle up to Maclear’s Beacon, then down the terrifying face of Kloof Corner to Lion’s Peak. As Chris Davies says, “it’s not a hike for the faint-hearted, but if you’re reasonably fit, aren’t scared of heights, and (importantly) can find someone who’s been through the tricky sections before, then it’s hard to imagine a more exciting and rewarding way to hike on Table Mountain.”

15. Hiking the Hennops Trail

The suspension bridge crosses over the Hennops River. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The wobbly suspension bridge crosses over the Hennops River. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Just 40 minutes from Joburg, you’ll find streams, hills, and beautiful views. There are two main hikes, plus a shorter trail suitable for kids. There’s plenty of scenery to soak up and a swimming pool to splash in post-hike. Get your playmates together, set a date and strap on your tekkies.

16. Hiking Lion’s Head

Overlooking Camps Bay for sunset

Overlooking Camps Bay for sunset. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

There’s no better place to watch the sun set in Cape Town than Lion’s Head. We dare you to disagree.

17. Hiking in Clarens

‘Mushroom Hike’ is a beautiful short walk past mielie fields, along a willow-filled river, then up gravel pathways and a ladder to the shapely eponymous rock pictured here.

You can easily see why the route coming past this rock is known as ‘Mushroom Hike.’ Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

There are four trails on the grounds of St Fort Country House, in Clarens. The tracks, which clamber up the sandstone hills surrounding the picturesque country house, differ in physical difficulty and there is something for everyone. ‘Mushroom Hike’ is a beautiful short walk past mielie fields, along a willow-filled river, then up gravel pathways and a ladder to the shapely eponymous rock pictured above.

 






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