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Hiking in South Africa: From Cape Town to the Drakensberg and beyond

We are very fortunate to live in a country that offers us so many opportunities to be active outdoors. Hiking is one of them.

Whether you are looking to roam in the mountains, amble along the seashore or wander through a forest, there is bound to be a trail that suits your outdoor needs.

Hiking in South Africa: Our top ten routes

Here is a list of the best single and multi-day hikes that South Africa has to offer. 

Multi-day hikes

Mnweni Pass and Rockeries Pass: The Drakensberg Mountain

Hike Drakensberg
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Three days, two nights

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

This hike starts and ends at the Mnweni Cultural & Hiking Centre and it is recommended that you hire a guide. 

The first day of the hike takes you through the hills below the escarpment. You will bed down for the night at the base of  Fang’s Pass which is considered one of the most stunning passes in the Mnweni area and perhaps even in the entire Drakensberg.

You will spend the next day hiking along the banks of the Mnweni river until you reach the escarpment and your resting spot for the night. 

Your final trek which leads you back to the  Mnweni Cultural & Hiking Centre takes you along and down the Rockeries Pass to the Thonyelana River. 

Tip: Be sure to keep an eye out for Cape Vultures as you make your way through this remote part of the Drakensburg Mountains. 

The Otter Trail: The Garden Route

Hike: Otter Trail, beach
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Five days and four nights

Difficulty: Moderate

The Otter Trail is one of South Africa’s most well-known hikes and it has been known to have a year-long waitlist. The trail starts at Storms River Mouth and finishes at Nature’s Valley. 

The Otter Trail takes you over rivers, through forests and allows you to soak in the vistas of the coast from numerous viewpoints. 

Your route begins above the  Tsitsikamma forest, at Storms River Mouth. This section of the hike takes you past the Jerling River waterfall before heading off into the natural forest

Your first stop for the night is Ngubu huts.

The next four days will take you up and down through the coastal forests where you can stop for a swim at the tidal pools that you encounter along the way.

As you near the end of your hike, you will be met by Groot River estuary and Nature’s Valley. 

Tip: Keep an eye out for the Cape clawless otters.

Table Mountain: Cape Town

Hike: Table Mountain
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Three days

Difficulty: Easy

Make your way along the top of Table Mountain from Cape Point to the Cape Town City Bowl. 

The 85km trail can be done in three days and there is no camping required. Instead, spend your first night at the Kalk Bay Backpackers and your second night in Hout Bay. Think of it as a “micro-adventure” – the thrill of adventure with a few home comforts to finish off the day. 

Your first day will be spent hiking towards the naval base on top of Red Hill and Kleinplaas Dam. You will then make your way to Clovelly, Fish Hoek and finally Kalk Bay.

Your second day sees you heading up Kalk Bay’s Echo Valley towards Silvermine Nature Reserve.

The third part of the trail is spent amongst the 12 Apostles as you traverse in the Llandudno Ravine and Pipe Track. 

Tip: Go in in spring to really experience the 2, 285 various plant species that call this stretch of earth home

Rim of Africa: Clanwilliam

Photo: Pixabay

Duration: 56 days but can be done in nine week-long sections.

Difficulty: Varied but experience is recommended for most routes as they are challenging. 

This mega trail starts in Clanwilliam, Western Cape and finishes in George. The route links up the Cederberg and Outeniqua mountains. You will traverse through the Kouebokkeveld, Hex, River, Grootvaderbos, Gouritz River and the Outeniqua region. 

 An average week’s distance is anything between 60 – 100 kilometres.

The hike has been likened to the Camino in Spain, the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail in America or the Te Araoa in New Zealand.

Tip: Take your time.  Rather than rushing from camp to camp, soak in the environment as you submerge yourself in nature.

Olifants Wilderness Trail: Kruger National Park

Hike: Kruger
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Four days and three nights

Difficulty: Moderate

Nothing screams Africa, like our bushveld. Teeming with wildlife this hike takes you right into the heart of the African bush.

Your base camp consists of rustic A-Frame cabins and each morning and afternoon you will set off on varies hikes ranging from five to six kilometres. These usually take roughly four hours.

The routes take you along the Olifants Rivier and allow you and the magic lies in being able to see the park without the barrier or being in a vehicle.

Tip: Try to book out the whole camp for eight people. 

Single Day Hikes

Rainbow Gorge – The Drakensberg Mountains

Hike: Drakensberg
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Five hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

This is a great hike for the whole family. The hike starts from Cathedral Peak hotel and follows the Ndumeni River.

Amble past waterfalls and rock pools, through forests and into a gorge. Word has it that if you catch the sun in the right position, the water pouring down the sides of the kloof will create rainbows.

Tip: Look out for the yellowwood trees.

Hennops Trail: Johannesburg

Hike: Henlops
Photo: Unsplash

Duration: Two to five hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

This family-friendly hike is a mere 40 minutes outside of Johannesburg. 

There are three trails to choose from, each taking you through grassland, riverside gorges and giant aloes. 

The Zebra Trail takes about two hours. The Krokodilberg Trail is 11.5-kilometres and takes about five hours. If you are taking younger kids with you, the Krokodilberg route and take the Dassie route. 

Tip: Look out for zebra and kudu.

Lions Head: Cape Town

Photo: Unsplash

Duration: One to two hours

Difficulty: easy to moderate

Have you really been to Cape Town if you haven’t hiked Lion’s Head? 

One of the most popular hikes in a city full of various trails, Lion’s Head is a magnificent spot from which to watch the sunset.

As you wind your way up and around the mountain, you first gaze upon Camps Bay before turning the corner to be met by the City Bowl. 

Squint further afield and you can spy Robin Island. 

Tip: If you are feeling extra brave, mark your calendar for the full moon and hike to the top under its light. 

Sentinel Peak: The Drakensberg Mountains

Photo: Pixabay

Length: Full-day

Difficulty: Moderate/advanced

Also known as the Chain Ladders Hike, this trail is not for the faint-hearted but does favour the brave.

The view from the top of South Africa’s highest escarpment is breathtaking. The vista’s of the Drakensberg mountain ranges extend out over the horizon, only broken by the gleaming rivers and lakes dotting the ground.

Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the Bearded Vulture.

Jock of the Bushveld Hike: Mpumalanga

Photo: Pixabay

Length: Full-day

Difficulty: Moderate

This hike follows the iconic route of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his sidekick Jock.

Along the way, you will encounter some of the magical giant rock formations with very distinctive shapes. The Wolf, The Sea-horse, The Vulture, The Camel and The Sitting Hen are natural rock sculptures that are thousands of years old. Welcome to Fairyland.

The rest of the route consists of traverses through grasslands and a breathtaking stop at the edge of a gorge.

Tip: Pick up the route map at the office as it will help you find the Sea Horse, Wolf, Sitting Hen and Vulture described in his book.

If you are looking for more inspiration here is a list of more trails for you to explore.

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