5 breathtaking hiking trails near Joburg

Posted by Fiona Mcintosh on 12 May 2016

Gautengers, did you know the ultimate hiking route is on your doorstep? If you have a week or more, try this circular route into Limpopo and Mpumalanga and experience beautiful forests, tumbling waterfalls, and some of the best views South Africa has to offer.

 
Also read: Hiking the Hennops Trails – just 40 minutes from Joburg

 
Hiking trails in Limpopo and Mpumalanga map

 

1. Bateleur Nature Reserve

Negotiating the busy N1 on Friday afternoon was not a relaxing start but by the time we’d turned off to Bela Bela I’d shaken off the work blues. Once out of town on the Alma Road, tar gave way to gravel, forcing us to slow down and appreciate the sour bushveld, abundant game and rocky krantzes of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.

Less than two hours (140 kilometres) from Pretoria, we crested the final rise on the farm road. Ahead of us was a natural basin incised by vegetated kloofs and surrounded by low hills. A 90-kilometre network of interlinked paths, the Stamvrug hiking trails lead through indigenous forests alive with birds and geckos and across acacia-studded grassy plains on which we encountered zebra, kudu and giraffe as well as (to our surprise and delight) the critically endangered Waterberg copper butterfly (Erikssonia edgei) which, until its rediscovery here in 2013, was thought to have become extinct.

 

Bateleur Nature Reserve, home to the Stamvrug hiking trails, nestles in a crater-like basin surrounded by low hills. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Bateleur Nature Reserve, home to the Stamvrug hiking trails, nestles in a crater-like basin surrounded by low hills. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.


If you do just one hike in this area, make it the six-kilometre Zebra Trail, which starts at the Stamvrug hut, climbs to the escarpment then meanders down a stunning kloof resplendent with ferns and a couple of inviting swimming holes. A big attraction is that hikers of all ages and fitness levels are accommodated: those wanting long, challenging hikes can take the ‘high’ road while the slower walkers amble along more gentle low-level paths to the same end point.

 

Accommodation

Bateleur Nature Reserve has two hikers’ huts for R125 per person, minimum four people, and various cottages and houses from R150 per person.
Tel 0140130099, bateleurnaturereserve.co.za

 

Food

Toeka se Dae padstal, Bela Bela is a one-stop shop and restaurant on the R516.
Tel 0825707923

Hotspot Farmstall, Modimolle is a great stop for a pie and ginger beer, and to buy hot-chilli sauces.
Tel 0723921792

 

2. Thabaphaswa Mountain Sanctuary

From Bateleur we journeyed on the R101 via Mookgopong – a much more interesting drive than the parallel N1 and, at two hours for the 138-kilometre journey, no slower.

 

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.


The great granite dome of Thabaphaswa, which dominates the view as you approach Mokopane, acts as a beacon for walkers and climbers. At its base, some 18 kilometres from town, is Thabaphaswa Mountain Sanctuary, a working cattle farm and family- and pet-friendly mountain retreat. A well-marked system of rugged trails – which can be combined to create full-day and overnight routes – rewards hikers with amazing mountain vistas reminiscent of Zimbabwe’s Matopos Hills, plenty of dams in which to swim and wonderful trees and birds. Look out for Verreaux’s eagles on the stiff five-kilometre, four-hour hike from Dome Rock Camp to the top of Mhahlare Mountain and on to Kanniedood Camp. The Molokwane Trail up the mountain stream is easy and can be extended to a challenging 16-kilometre hike by picking up the mountain bike trail at Teffo’s Dam then climbing to The Lookout and back – preferably pre-dawn or at sunset to see Thabaphaswa bathed in golden light.

 

Accommodation

Accommodation at Thabaphaswa Mountain Sanctuary includes campsites (R120 per person), The Pump House thatched cottage (R650 with bedding, R500 without, sleeps two), and three bush camps. My favourite is Dome Rock Camp, which consists of stone and glass units among massive granite boulders – R295 per person with bedding, crockery and cutlery, R195 per person without. Half price for kids (4 to 12). Dogs are welcome.
Tel 0823896631, thabaphaswa.co.za

 

Food

TAN Butchery, Mokopane makes some of the best biltong in Limpopo.
Tel 0154912241

 

LEFT Waterberg's Bateleur Nature Reserve. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe; RIGHT Walking among giants on the Umsenge Forest Walk at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge. Photo by Shaen Adey.

LEFT Waterberg’s Bateleur Nature Reserve. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe; RIGHT Walking among giants on the Umsenge Forest Walk at Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge. Photo by Shaen Adey.

 
Also see: In photos: Baviaanskloof’s Leopard Trail

 

3. Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge

The 125-kilometre drive on the N1, then the R71 (which skirts the sprawling provincial capital of Polokwane) was uninspiring. But within two hours of leaving Thabaphaswa we were deep in the magical, misty mountains of the Magoebaskloof. Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, acknowledged as one of South Africa’s top birding spots, nestles in Woodbush indigenous forest in Magoebaskloof. The five habitats provide great hiking: the 45-minute River Ramble is easy; the three-hour, 12-kilometre Majestic Mountain Trail will test even fit hikers but the Umsenge Forest Walk, about an hour of meandering under the canopy of towering yellowwoods and past a magnificent 2000-year-old cabbage tree (Cussonia spicata), tops my list.

Informative pamphlets brief you on the history, trees and wildlife that you might spy in the afromontane and riverine forest but it’s worth taking a Kurisa Moya guide to elaborate, and to point out the special birds.

If you have time stride out on the nearby Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail through the Woodbush Forest, the second biggest indigenous forest after Knysna. A good short hike is from the Woodbush Hut to the Saligna gums – the tallest trees in Africa.

 

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge. Photos by Teagan Cunniffe.

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge. Photos by Teagan Cunniffe.

 

Accommodation

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge has eco-friendly, self-catering accommodation in two forest cabins, a secluded mountain cottage and a restored farmhouse. From R450 per person, meals on request.
Tel 0716586980, krm.co.za

 

Food

Minki’s Coffee Shop, Haenertsburg Serves great coffee, fresh bread and cakes as well as superb oxtail.
Tel 0152764781

Call at Wegraakbosch Organic Farm and Dairy for delicious produce.
Tel 0828538754

 

Other activities

Visit both Cheerio Gardens and Sequoia Gardens in Magoebaskloof. The autumn colours are gorgeous, while the azaleas are dazzling in spring. Entrance is free unless it is festival time. Phone to check.
Tel 0833550835 or 0836591227.

Soar above tumbling waterfalls and indigenous forest with Magoebaskloof Canopy Tours. R495 per person.
Tel 0834427429, magoebaskloofcanopytour.co.za

Check out The Pennefather complex in the village of Haenertsburg where there is a small museum, second-hand bookshop and oldie-worldie sweet shop.
thepennefather.co.za

 

4. Modjadji Nature Reserve

Heading east on the winding dirt road (the ‘J’ road) through the forest and past the Debegeni Falls, we rejoined the R71 near the top of the Magoebaskloof Pass. From here the road snaked down through tall pines before popping us out at tea plantations and orchards. North of Tzaneen Dam, on the R36, we entered the domain of the legendary Rain Queen, the matriarchal leader of the Lobedu dynasty, and bumbled up the potholed road to the Modjadji Nature Reserve – a two-hour, 90-kilometre drive from Kurisa Moya.

There are no marked trails or maps of the reserve but don’t let that put you off. Home to the biggest concentration of the rare endemic cycad Encephalartos transvenosus in the world, it’s an extraordinary place with towering ancient cycads covering the hilltop like bristles. A steep cliff is visible from the trailhead. A 20-minute walk up here will take you to the top of Execution Hill – in the 19th century the local Balobedu people took intruders to the cliff edge, tied stones to them and rolled them down.

 

Theres something primeval about wandering among the towering, ancient cycads, lush ferns and moss-covered rocks of Modjadji Nature Reserve. Photo by Jacques Marais.

There’s something primeval about wandering among the towering, ancient cycads, lush ferns and moss-covered rocks of Modjadji Nature Reserve. Photo by Jacques Marais.


You can continue all the way over the mountain to African Ivory Route’s Cultural Camp – a distance of around five kilometres. Otherwise inspect the intertwined caterpillar-like limbs and bright orange cones of the oldest specimens of cycads near the reception, then take the path down to the dam – a 12-kilometre round trip.

 

Accommodation

Modjadji Nature Reserve has the community-owned Modjadji Cultural Camp with self-catering accommodation in rondavels. Bring your bedding, meals can be booked in advance otherwise buy supplies and wood in Haenertsburg or Tzaneen. R230 per person.
Tel 0157810690, africanivoryroute.co.za

 

Food

Pick up fresh, subtropical produce at the Wheelbarrow Farmstall, Tzaneen on the R71.
Tel 0827394424

Just off Modjadji Road is a bar inside a hollowed-out baobab trunk called Sunland Baobab.
Tel 0824132228

 
Also read: Walking the Tankwa Camino

 

5.Five Assegais Country Estate

From Modjadji we headed for Mpumalanga over the Abel Erasmus Pass then left onto the Panorama Route. The short walks at Bourke’s Luck Potholes and on the Rainforest Trail from God’s Window were good leg stretches as well as showing the fascinating geology of the area.

 

A 20-minute walk takes you through lush forest to Gods Window for endless views as far as Mozambique. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

A 20-minute walk takes you through lush forest to God’s Window for endless views as far as Mozambique. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.


Then we continued south through Graskop and Sabie to the N4. After a short stint in the company of thundering 18-wheelers on the toll road we turned off at eNtokozweni (Machadodorp) onto the R541 towards eManzana (Badplaas) and Five Assegais Country Estate (a 400-kilometre drive that took over five hours). Home to the Num-Num Trail, one of the best multi-day hikes in the country, the private estate has some 50 kilometres of trails. None of them is easy, though if you’re short of time or fitness you can have fun exploring the sandstone mazes on the plateau.

 

LEFT View of Three Rondavels; RIGHT The (unlucky) Tom Bourke falsely predicted the presence of gold in eroded Giant Kettles at Bourkes Luck Potholes. Photos by Teagan Cunniffe.

LEFT View of Three Rondavels; RIGHT The (unlucky) Tom Bourke falsely predicted the presence of gold in eroded ‘Giant Kettles’ at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Photos by Teagan Cunniffe.


The best day hike is the strenuous 14-kilometre Escarpment Trail from Aloe Kaya camp. It has virtually everything a hiker could hope for: a dramatic waterfall, some game viewing, a stiff ascent and sense of exposure, rock pools for bathing and spectacular rock formations – the perfect finale before the three-hour drive back to Gauteng.

 

Accommodation

Five Assegais Country Estate’s Aloe Kaya camp is sensitively built into the sandstone gullies on the escarpment edge (R313,50 per person). The four-star Five Assegais Country Lodge, which overlooks a trout dam, is tranquil and luxurious. Self-catering from R684 per person; catering on request.
Tel 0828896757, fiveassegais.co.za

 

Other activities

Stop at Bourke’s Luck Potholes to gaze down at the deep, multi-coloured potholes hewn out of the bedrock by eons of swirling water at this point where the rivers of joy (Blyde) and sorrow (Treur) meet.
Tel 0828793945, graskop.co.za

 
Also read: How to survive hiking the Fish River Canyon

 
 

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.

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Please note that prices are subject to change at each establishment or supplier’s discretion. Please be sure to check with them before travelling.

 






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