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TThe Maluti Cave Route Trail nudges the Lesotho border in eastern Free State province, a stone’s throw from the imposing Drakensberg Mountains.
It’s one of the few hiking trails in Free State’s Phuthaditjaba area, and takes in the rolling valleys of the Kgotjwane River before climbing up the foothills of the Drakensberg escarpment to look-out points some 2 500m above sea level. As the name suggests, the trail is home to several caves, including the massive Wetsi Cave and several smaller caverns featuring original San rock art dating back thousands of years.
The trail starts at Tseki, just outside Phuthaditjaba, and branches east and west into circular trails that can be done either independently or as part of the greater 4-day trail. Although most of the route is suitable for hikers of moderate fitness, there are some sections that are rated difficult, and therefore only appropriate for experienced hikers.
On the 9km trail from Tseki to Thabaputswa chalet you’ll pass the Wetsi Cave and several water features, including clear mountain pools and a waterfall. You can overnight here before setting out on 1 of 3 trails – back to Tseki camp along the 10km river route; proceeding along the guided 5.5km Drakensberg route up Dagga Nek, to an altitude 850m higher up (with breath-taking views down the Tsehlanyane Gorge and waterfall); or advancing along to the Matsieng chalet and the Thabana-Tshowana Dam.
You’ll have ample time to take in the stunning landscape, with scenic lunch spots and rest stops dotted along the route. There’s also abundant birdlife in the area, with a hide at Thabana-Tshowana Dam providing the perfect place for birdwatching and photographic opportunities.
Accommodation on the Maluti Cave Route Trail is provided in 4 chalets that each sleep 8, complete with a bathroom (and hot running water), lounge and kitchen with wood stove and gas plate.
The trail is accredited by the South African Hiking Trail Owners’ Association (SAHTOA) and the Hiking Federation of South Africa (HFSA).
Nearby attractions include the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve and Royal Natal National Park.
TTravel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Bloemfontein Airport. From Bloemfontein, take the N5 to Harrismith – Phuthaditjaba is about 50km south of here. If you’re driving, from Cape Town take the N1 north to Winburg and then the N5 to Harrismith. From Johannesburg or Durban, take the N3 to Harrismith.
Best time to visit
Hiking is possible most of the year, with April and May being the best months. Summer (December to February) days are mild, but nights can be freezing. Mist and low clouds are common from January to March. Winters (June to August) are very cold, with minimum temperatures below freezing. Snow is possible during any of the cooler months, so be prepared.
Tours to do
Hikes, walks, mountain bike rides and horse riding at the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and you can also tour the Basotho Cultural Village there; follow the Maloti Tourism Route, which takes in the eastern highlands of Free State and the Maluti Mountains; or try an adventure with Ash River rafting.
What to eat
Authentic Basotho fare at the Basotho Cultural Village in Golden Gate Highlands National Park; cherries and cherry liqueur at Ficksburg during cherry season (October and November); farm-fresh asparagus at Fouriesburg in season (September to November).
The Cherry Festival at Ficksburg in November; the Asparagus Festival in Fouriesburg in September/October; Bethlehem Airshow at Bethlehem in August; Vintage Tractor Fair at Clocolan in March.
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