South Africa on Foot
If you like getting up close and personal with the environment - a walking holiday is a must. South Africa is an ideal destination for novices and veterans alike. So put on your walking shoes for an intimate experience of some of the most spectacular views and settings in the world - over mountains, at the coast or among wildlife and indigenous flora.
Start in the Mother City
• In Cape Town, the star attraction is Table Mountain, a World Heritage Site and national park that rises high above the city. Sandy level paths and a contour trail take you to breath-taking sights over the Mother city.
• It’s best to take advantage of accredited guides rather than tackle Table Mountain solo, not only for safety reasons but also for their knowledge of the natural and cultural treasures, indigenous forests and colourful plants of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is among six floral kingdoms in the world.
• The Hoerikwaggo Trail spans the entire Table Mountain range from the city to Cape Point, at the tip of the Peninsula. Two- to five-day easy paced hikes are on offer – with overnight stays in huts. The territory is populated by baboons, tortoises, antelopes, ostrich and the rare sugarbird.
• Near the city, the Koeberg atomic power station guards a nature reserve that is a remnant of a rare ecosystem. A series of gentle walks includes viewing platforms for bird watching and, in season, whales - an ideal venture for children who love the combination of technology and nature.
• A stroll through Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (regular winners of gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show in London) reveals an array of indigenous plants. A taped guide is available to keep you company through eight different medicinal gardens as well as a scented garden with Braille labels. An energetic mountain route includes a chain-assisted scramble to the top.
• For those looking to combine a seaside holiday with the longest beach walk in the Cape Peninsula, the huge, unspoiled white sand arc at Noordhoek is punctuated by a rapidly disappearing, century-old shipwreck. The route from Cape Town is via Chapman’s Peak Drive, a scenic toll road that snakes along a steep cliff face.
West Cape Coast
• In spring (August-September), the Grootbos and Postberg botanical reserves in the West Coast National Park, 170km from Cape Town, are covered by a vivid carpet of flowers including many of the 8 500 species that only grow in the Western Cape. Explorations will reveal stone-age coastal caves and sightings of rare birds like the graceful blue crane.
• About 90km north of Cape Town, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve near the little town of Kleinmond offers an abundance of walks and hikes. A favourite that takes just 20 minutes follows the route of Dutch trekkers from the top of Sir Lowry's Pass across terrain they crossed by ox-wagon long before the road was built.
Into the mountains
• From a campsite in the Cedarberg mountain wilderness, you can take day walks or five-day hikes, most of which are on level contours among the rugged peaks. It’s recommended to plan walks here in spring - when the wildflowers transform the land – or autumn, as it’s very hot in summer and cold enough for snow in winter.
• The Garden Route of South Africa is a picturesque and popular excursion for visitors. The town of George (which is half a day’s drive from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth) offers walks and hikes in diverse scenery from peaks to semi-desert, with the Indian Ocean in the distance. They vary in difficulty from ‘short and moderate’ to ‘strenuous and very difficult’, and from five to seven hours. These are controlled by Cape Nature which issues permits for the trails and may be closed at certain times of the year.
As always, guides are a sensible option and hikers should be well-equipped for difficult terrain and adverse and changeable weather conditions.
The Real Deal
The South African National Parks offer some rugged walks which are extremely popular – these include the coastal Otter Trail and the mountainous Outeniqua Trail, both call for fitness and self-sufficiency.
• The Otter traverses 42km of coastline, between the booming breakers of the Indian Ocean and indigenous rain forest, crossing 11 rivers. The five-day trail is reasonably demanding, with lots of ups and downs, but the distances are not enormous.
• The Storms River Mouth rest camp, at the start of the Otter trail, provides overnight accommodation, which must be booked separately. The inland Outeniqua Trail, is tougher, with many steep gradients but has several exit points. Both have to be booked up to a year in advance.
• In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the country’s major mountain range and another World Heritage Site, the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) run for about 180km along the border with Lesotho. Rising over 3 000 metres, here hiking can be a challenge to the fittest. Guided walks are conducted through high valleys with dramatic peaks and waterfalls.
• In the area called Giant’s Castle - country hotels, lodges and camps provide access to outings from afternoon strolls to arduous hikes which hold promise of exquisite bird life and magnificent rock paintings by prehistoric inhabitants. The plateau beyond the Bushman’s River can only be accessed on foot: one or two ascents on steep ground require sound footwork and confidence, but most hiking is on excellent trails. Resorts provide route maps and packed lunches while accredited guides lead walks of up to seven-days.
• Sabie, a small country town nestled in the Drakensberg mountains of the Mpumalanga province, offers numerous options, from 3km circular walks to five-night hikes featuring bird life, flora, fauna and sparkling streams. Information bureaus and resort hotels provide information on the easy walks, but prior booking and permits are needed for the hikes and there are gate fees. The hikes, to high ridges and awe-inspiring views, are graded ‘difficult’. It’s essential to take food, water and cooking equipment as the overnight huts only provide barbeques.
It’s A Wild, Wild World
On the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape region, the coastline is stunning - miles of deserted beaches and a few small communities. Community Tourism is on the rise in this region.
• For less slog and more luxury, the Dolphin Trail is similar to the Otter, but walkers stay in fully catered guesthouses.
• Some safari lodges in reserves and conservation areas offer accompanied walks in the wild, including four-day hikes with an armed ranger in the world-famous Kruger National Park. The Big Five may be sighted as well as shy animals and plants invisible from car or bus.
The Richtersveld region leaves you in no doubt that this is Africa. The unique, dramatic stretch of mountain desert wilderness spans the Northern Cape and Namibia in a 160 000 hectare transfrontier national park. This destination is home to some of the highest sand dunes in the world and many roads accessible only by four-wheel drive.
It’s populated by a wealth of animal, bird and plant life, including antelope, zebra, big cats, raptors and the world’s largest range of succulents. Accommodation includes camping sites, self-catering cottages and luxury lodges and, in the cool season, five-day hiking trails. Visitor numbers are limited as the ecosystem is fragile.
Seeing big animals from the security of a safari vehicle is extremely exciting, but it is nothing compared to standing on your own two feet, deep in the bush, and getting a close-up view of a black rhino…or an elephant, giraffe, zebra or impala.
• All walking safaris in South Africa are undertaken under the direct supervision of armed rangers and trackers. The most popular areas for wilderness trails are the game parks of KwaZulu-Natal and the Kruger National Park, there is a choice of different trails, each with assigned guides.
The Walking Lowdown
• The best advice is to seek advice – from local tourism information bureaus, Mountain Club, the weather office, your host or hotel to make walks more enjoyable and safe.
• Walk in a group, wear light comfortable clothes, well-fitted, closed shoes or hiking boots and a shady hat; take a jersey; always take water, sun-block and insect repellent.
• Ensure that someone in the group has a cell-phone and, perhaps most importantly, tell someone where you plan to go and when you expect to get back. This applies to an afternoon’s amble or a three-week hike through the mountains.
- Essential research if you are going to hike Table Mountain: www.tablemountain.net
- Kabbo African Adventures guided tours of Table Mountain, Cedarberg and Outeniqua. firstname.lastname@example.org
- For details of South African National Parks trails and facilities:
- For walking in Kirstenbosch or any of South Africa’s Botanical gardens:
- For hikes in the George area, reservations by Email: email@example.com