Okay, it’s a subjective title – each person has their own favourite hiking trail and region. This was originally meant to be the top ten hikes in South Africa, but with so many great ones it was hard to choose. So these are just some suggestions of the most popular hiking trails within South Africa.
We all have different levels of fitness and this can be an important factor in choosing a hiking route. Some of the routes can be very challenging. Your comfort is also important, many of these hikes can take several days and whether you are staying in comfortable accommodation, camping or even roughing it in a natural cave all depends on personal taste and will dictate what route you choose.
However, don’t let the lack of creature comforts put you off going as the scenery and experience more than often make up for any comforts. Another point to consider when choosing your route is the time of year. The scenery might be better in spring or the trail may be closed in the winter months due to snow, especially in the Drakensberg.
By far the most popular and well known of South Africa’s hiking trails is the Otter Trail which runs through the Tsitsikamma National Park in the Garden Route. This trail runs along the coast and is considered to be one of the best hiking trails in the World.
The trail stretches from Storms River Mouth in the East to Nature’s Valley in the West, passing through some of the most pristine indigenous Afro-montane forest. The Trail is named after the Cape Clawless Otter. The trail is 42km (26 miles) long and takes 5 days to complete. Due to its popularity, the trail has to be booked up to a year in advance. Accommodation is offered in several huts along the route which sleep 12 people.
Amphitheatre Heritage Hike
The Amphitheatre Heritage Hike is a challenging guided hike in the Northern Drakensberg’s Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park that will take you to the top of the second longest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls. It will allow you to take in spectacular views and ascend to the “Roof of the World” the edge of Lesotho. This hike is only for seasoned hikers as you need to make the arduous 1 200m (1.2 km) to the top of the Amphitheatre a massive rock face that is one of the most iconic peaks in the Drakensberg. The hike is between 20 and 30 kilometres (18 miles) long and takes 3 days.
The hike goes through a variety of Drakensberg scenery from grasslands to Yellowwood Forests and offers the chance of seeing lots of wildlife including Eland and Mountain Reedbuck. The route includes some of the famous chain ladders, which are bolted into the rock to allow you to ascend to the top of the escarpment. Accommodation is offered in comfortable tented camps and lodges, but for those who want to rough it and really experience nature, the guides can arrange an alternate route where you sleep in caves.
De Hoop Whale trail
The De hoop Whale trail is another spectacular hiking route that runs through the De Hoop Nature Reserve near Bredasdorp. The trail passes through fragrant fynbos and has scenic views along the coast. During the spring months the area has some of the best whaling opportunities in the country and if you do the hike between June and December you are likely to see whales while hiking this route. The trail is broken up into sections and accommodation is offered in comfortable huts. As the accommodation is limited the trail needs to be booked well in advance.
The Hoerikwaggo Trail takes you from Table Mountain to Cape Point, passing through Hout Bay, Silvermine, Kommetjie, Simonstown and going to Cape Point. The full hike is 87.9 km (53 miles) long and takes 5 days to complete. There are a number of options where you can do shorter two or three day hikes along the trail.
The trail is a wonderful way to experience the scenery of the Cape as you pass through the beautiful fynbos of the Table Mountain National Park . The trail provides opportunities to admire scenic views across the Cape Peninsula. The expeditions are led by guides and accommodation is offered in a number of permanent tents and chalets.
Outeniqua Hiking Trail
The Outeniqua Trail is a challenging hike aimed at experienced hikers. The trail is 108 kilometres (66 miles) long and takes 7 days to complete. There are shorter 2 or 3 day options where you can do part of the route, but to really get the experience you need to do the whole trail. The trail can only be done from West to East. Some sections of this route are challenging and a good degree of fitness is required for it to be comfortable.
The Outeniqua Hiking trail starts at Beervlei Hut (Old Forest Station) and finishes at Harkerville hut near the Harkerville Forestry Station. The trail passes through some beautiful indigenous forest that includes giant Yellow-wood trees. If you are lucky you might spot Elephant tracks on some of the paths. The accommodation offered is basic and most of the huts do not have electricity.
Amatola Hiking Trail
Have you ever dreamed of going to Middle Earth? The area around Hogsback and the Amatola Mountains inspired J.R.R. Tolkien in his creation of his fictional land in The Lord of the Rings. This 100 kilometre (62 mile) trail starts at Madam Dam, about 22 km outside of King Williams Town and ends 3km outside of Hogsback at Tyume River. The hike takes 6 days to complete.
The Amatola Trail passes through beautiful forest, the rolling grasslands of mountain plateaus and mountain fynbos scattered with beautiful wild flowers. The trail crosses many mountain streams and pools. Accommodation is offered along the way in rustic huts which have basic facilities.