Walking and Trekking in South Africa

South Africa has an enormous amount of countryside wilderness and mountains to attract walkers and hikers. There are a great many walking trails throughout the country, so South Africa has a large amount to offer people who wish to go walking abroad. Wherever you go you can be sure that there will be the possibility for hiking and adventure close by! Below we have a round up of just some of the places where you can go walking in South Africa.

Drakensberg Mountains
The sheer escarpment of the Drakensberg. Source: Flickr by Fritz Park, taken by the Aitkenheads.

Drakensberg Mountains – “The Dragon Mountains”

The best known place to go walking and trekking in South Africa is the Drakensberg Mountains wilderness area. Located in the KwaZulu-Natal region the Natal Drakensberg is an escarpment approximately 120 miles in length rising almost sheer to over 3000m in height. The highest peak in South Africa is Njesuthi in the Drakensberg which is 3,408 m (11,181 ft) high.

Two other well known peaks for hiking are the horn on Rhino’s Peak and Cathedral Peak. Cathedral Peak is 3,004 m (9,856 ft) high and is known as Mponjwana (Little Horn) by the local Amangwane people.

There are many hikes suggested on the Drakensberg Tourism website. The three that are most recommended are:

1. Northern / Central DrakensBerg Day trail

Walking the lower reaches below the Drakensberg escarpment in Giants Castle Nature Reserve you will find the most impressive scenery that Drakensberg has to offer.

“Worlds View” an easy 3,5 hour hike (14 km) and ends with a spectacular 360 degree view. More of this walking beneath the escarpment can be found at Injasuti, Monks Cowl, Champagne, Cathedral and Royal Natal. Its similar but the scenery is different and all spectacular.

2. Sentinel, Tugela Waterfall and Escarpment Top

At the Sentinel it possible to Drakensberg escarpment and back down again in one day. The walk is 5 hours in total. After ascending the last 20 meters using a chain ladder you are rewarded with a view overlooking the Royal Natal Reserve. From here you can also see the source of the Tugela river, where the Tugela waterfall has a drop of 950 m, which is the 2nd highest waterfall in the world.

3. Southern Drakensberg and the San (Bushman) Rock Art

Drakensberg is famous for prehistoric rock art and some of the best examples can be found at Kamberg. The scenery in south Drakensburg consists of valleys and sandstone caves where the ancient paintings can be seen.

Coastal Walks in South Africa

South Africa has a large amount of coastline, so there are good opportunities for coastal walks and expeditions.

Located in the Eastern Cape, The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is said to be the most popular hike in South Africa. The trail follows the rugged shoreline which is punctuated by mountain streams and waterfalls with a back drop of lush green forest and shrub type plants called fynbos. It is an undulating trek with lots or ups and downs although the overall distances are not that long. Also along the Tsitsikamma Coast is the 17 km long Dolphin Trail.

The Wild Coast is another popular coastal walk in the Eastern Cape. The scenery along this part of the coast can be rocky with a splattering of tropical forest, but it mainly consists of miles of deserted beaches.

Hiking in the Western Cape

Continuing to travel westwards along the coast from the Eastern Cape, there are many more walks in the Western Cape. These include the 108 km Outeniqua Hiking Trail as well as many other shorter trails.

Rock formation in South Africa
Wolfberg Arch in Cedarberg National Park. Source Wikimedia by Amada44.

Cedarberg Wilderness

Located near Cape Town are the Cedarberg and Groot Winterhook wilderness areas. The Cederberg Mountain range is 100 km sandstone formation. There are many famous mountain hiking routes in the region, for example the Wolfberg Cracks & Arch, the Maltese Cross, Sneeuberg and Middleburg. There are also plenty of opportunities to go climbing, bouldering and scrambling. Wildlife in the area includes the Cape Fox, Cape clawless otter, Honeybadger, and Porcupine. If you a lucky you could also see a Mountain Leopard or an Aaardvark.

For anyone who enjoys nature, the outdoors or just getting away for the weekend, the Cedarberg is unparalleled in its rugged beauty and quiet spirituality. hikecapetown.co.za.

Hinterland Wilderness Hiking

The Amatola Mountain Range in the Eastern Cape extends from the north of Grahamstown and west of Stutterheim. Some of the peaks are over 2000 m in height and are snow covered during winter. There area a vast amount of trees in the region, making the 65 mile (105 km) Amatola Hiking Trail one of South Africa’s top mountainous forest-clad walks. Many of the trees in the Afro-Montane rainforest are indigenous, such as the Cape Chestnuts, Yellowwoods and Stinkwoods. The forest provides a habitat for many species of birds and animals. The trail takes about six days to complete when walking a strenuous pace. Some of the best views in the Amatola range can be found at the Katberg pass.

Other Hiking Trails

There are many hiking trails in South Africa. For example, trails in the Free State including the Rhebok, Christmaskrans, Mont-Aux-Sources and Sentinel Hiking Trails. Further north the Soutpansberg mountain range lies on the northern border of South Africa. It get is name from the salt pans and is about 80 miles in length. Again there are many trekking opportunities in this region.

The provinces of South Africa include Western, Northern and Eastern Cape
Map of South African Provicences. The Drakensberg Mountains are located in KwaZulu-Natal.

There are such a lot of opportunities for adventures and hiking in South Africa that this article can only scratch the surface! Some other suggestions can be found on Best Hike. If you know of any great South African treks that are not included please leave a comment below!

For those wanting more Adventure…

Adventure Racing is fast becoming a popular endurance sport these days and South Africa is no exception. The 28 mile Baviaanskloof Trail Run takes competitors through challenging terrain in which the temperature can be 40 °C or it can snow! There is also the added element of Black Rhinos, Cape Cobras and Leopards!

Best Gear for Hiking in South Africa

For the majority of places where you are likely to go hiking, the terrain is rugged and so three or four season walking boots will be necessary.

In most areas of South Africa rain is possible, so summer or lightweight waterproofs are recommended. The temperature does not tend to be extreme, but it can be variable and it can get cold at night. Therefore a warm fleece would be worth taking. An insulated jacket should be considered if you are going to the semi-desert regions in the north west. Zip-off trousers are particularly suitable for the South African climate, along with a lightweight baselayer. If you feel the cold, particularly after exercise an additional medium weight baselayer would be worth taking.

Some areas are very remote, therefore a map, first aid kit, whistle and emergency rations are essential. Most importantly you should carry a good supply of water.

Travel advice for South Africa can be found at on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

South African Climate

The climate in South Africa is generally temperate and should usually be comfortable. A variety of climatic zones exist within the country, which is mainly due to varied topography and the influence of the oceans which surround three sides of South Africa. Therefore the weather that you are likely to experience will depend upon exactly which part of South Africa that you are travelling in.

In the south west around Cape Town the climate is similar to that of the Mediterranean with mild wet winters and hot sunny summers. Further east the chance of rain is about the same throughout the year, with an increasing amount of rain the further east you go.

Towards the north east the climate is almost tropical, where the winter are warmer and the summer is wetter. The north west is more desert like with low and unpredictable rainfall.

Th eastern interior around Johannesburg has dry, mild winters with cold nights, whereas the summers are warm with regular rainfall.

The best time to go hiking and trekking South Africa are the months of June and July. This time of year it is winter in the southern hemisphere, however the weather tends to be reasonably settled with clear days and cold nights.

Plants, Birds and Animals in South Africa

A Black Collared Barbet bird in South Africa.
South Africa has a myriad of bird species. Source Flickr by babasteve

South Africa has an extremely diverse range of flora and fauna. It has 10% of all known plants. It is possible to arrange hiking excursions in game reserves where, if you are lucky you could see the Big Five, which are the elephant, black and white rhino, African Buffalo, lion and leopard. You could also see the impalas, kudus, blue wildebeest, springbok, hippopotamus, hyenas, giraffes and cheetahs. South Africa is also a haven for bird watchers. There have been over 850 species of birds sighted in South Africa.

Share Your Hiking Experience

Have you been walking in South Africa? Where are the best hikes? Did you enjoy your trek and what tips would you offer to anyone going there? Share your experience, click on comments below…


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