Top 8 Hiking Trails in Southern Africa

By - Jo Wagner
17.07.15 07:11 PM
Some of the best hiking and Wilderness trails in the world can be found in Southern Africa. Many are part of the greater SAN Parks but there are a number of popular private trails.

Kruger National Park Wilderness Trails are guided safaris from tent base camps best in the autumn/winter and spring because of the hot summer climate. I found these comfortable daily safari-style trails of two to three hours guided by a ranger and assistant. My wife and I did the Elephants (Olifants) trail with its base camp not far from the Mozambique border along the Olifants River near its confluence with the Letaba River. The base camp is far from any of the main camps. Bedding is provided and all meals are prepared. The trail starts on a Monday and ends Thursday or Friday to Mondays. Cost per person is higher than any of the other trails because of the ranger and his assistant being part of it and food, accommodation and bedding being included.

Tsitsikamma Trail is a Forrest trail in the Tsitsikamma Forrest of the Garden Route in the Eastern Cape. This trail I rate average to tough and it is best hiked in the southern spring to early autumn. It’s a backpacking trail with basic facilities provided at various huts.

This hiking trail starts where the Otter trail ends at Nature Valley. It has daily stretches averaging 20km almost entirely through the forrests of the Tsitsikama Nature Reserve and ending close to the Storms river camp. One needs to be fit to carry everything one needs for 5 days in a backpack.

The Otter Trail. It is a coastal Wilderness trail in the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve of the Eastern Cape. Rated average to tough it started in 1968 and is rated as one of the world’s most scenic wilderness trails.

It starting point is at the Stormsriver camp and ends at the tranquil Nature valley twenty kilometers north of Plettenberg Bay. Whilst its total distance of 47km is moderate I found it tough in parts as it goes regularly up and down a thickly wooded escarpment 200m above sea level. Its scenic views are unsurpassed with each day offering new views of the coastline. Limited to 12 people each day the 4 overnight camps consist of 2 huts each with just the very basics of a bed with a mattress, a bush shower and a toilet provided. Everything needs to be carried in backpacks – food, clothing, sleeping gear, toiletries. The trail has a restriction of 60 years of age and no children under 10 are allowed on it. Because of its popularity booking needs to be made 6 months in advance

The Whale Trail a 4 day hiking trail along the Agulhas coast rated as moderate and best during the southern spring, summer and autumn.

The Whale hiking trail is in the de Hoop Nature Reserve in the Cape Agulhas region. It is partially along the coast in the most southern part of Africa with its white sandy beaches. I particularly loved the service offered of having backpacks transported from one camp to the next at a small additional fee. The name of the trail is derived from the regular migration of the southern whales each year from the South Polar Region around June/July to the southern African coast. I hiked it during September. At first it climbs up some hills and down into a valley with the next three days along the Agulhas coast. There are no rural villages and one does not meet any of the inhabitants we did however see whales close o the shore. Overnight camping is particularly interesting and varies from farmsteads to purpose built hiking huts well equipped with hot showers, kitchen and good ablution facilities.

The Crayfish and Diamond Trails are both along the West Coast of South Africa with the diamond trail further northward. These are relative new hiking trails offering accommodation in small coastal villages where meals are provided at reasonable prices. The trail rating is moderate to average.

The Fanie Botha and Prospector Trails are the 2 oldest Hiking trails dating back to the 1960s and are rated average to tough in parts. These two hiking trails are in the forest region of the Mapumalanga province near the towns of Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest. The Fanie Botha Hiking Trail covers the area of Mac Mac falls, Sabie and Graskop while the Prospector Trail follows the old route of the Gold Prospectors starting in Pilgrim’s Rest and ending at Burke’s Luck Potholes. These are backpacking selfcatering trails. For me the stretches under the canopy of pine trees were the best. Ideally hiked during the later summer and early autumn (March to May).

Table Mountain Trail (Hoerikwaggo – Mountain by the Sea Trail) This is the newest of hiking trails offered in the Table Mountain National Park and rated above average to tough. This trail has various option. I took the leisurely hike option with food being prepared at the end of each of the 4 days; backpacks being transported and bedding provided. The other option is a selfcatering one and carrying own packs at a lower cost. A guide accompanies all hiking groups. The trail starts officially at the V&A Waterfront but we took the shorter option from the lower cable station car up the mountain. The first hut is an hour’s walk from the upper cable station. From there the mountain is transversed to Orange Kloof above Hout Bay. Next is the hutted camp at Silvermine section of the park, then the Slangkop camp at Kommetjie and finally a long 25km haul to Cape Point. Smaller individual sections can be hiked over two to three days. It offers splendid scenic views on all four days.

The Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia offers one of the best wilderness trails in the 2nd largest canyon next to Grand Canyon in the USA. It is rated as tough and has no facilities. It means one has to carry everything with you for approximately 4 days over sand, stones and crossing at times knee deep waters. Due to the climate being unsuitable in summer when temperature soars above 40°C the trail is only open from May to August (the southern late autumn and winter months). We were met with unbelievable desert scenery at the lookout point with a snaking canyon 600m down from the escarpment. There are no huts and each group can decide where they wish to stay overnight. The full distance of 97km to Ais-Ais took us 4 days and we stayed an extra day to enjoy the hot springs of Ais-Ais afterwards to recover from this tough hike.

Jo Wagner