Hiking in South Africa

Hiking, or trekking as it is sometimes also called, is one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the natural environment in a particular country. This is certainly the case in South Africa – one of the best outdoor countries in the world. In South Africa, hiking is classified as walking over natural footpaths for anything from two to seven days equipped with camping equipment, clothing, food and other necessities.

Not only does hiking give you the opportunity to enjoy unspoilt natural beauty and scenic vistas, but it provides the most intense way to view a selection of animals in their natural environment. Of course, you will not always see wildlife as you walk about since animals are naturally shy and will generally scatter before you reach them. However, ever now and then you may catch a glimpse of a small bushbuck, a black-backed jackal or even zebra, giraffe and a variety of other stunning creatures.

What you might expect to see along the way may vary according the region in which you are hiking and the indigenous wildlife that is to be found there. If you choose to hike more than one of the well-established trails that can be found around the country, you will likely be able to enjoy a variety of habitats which makes for interesting scenery.

From the rugged blue mountains of the Drakensburg to the pristine coastal trails that can be found along the garden route, you will be spoilt for choice. Most of the trails are well marked and easy to follow though some do require the services of a trained guide. Camping facilities usually take the form of a simple, multi-bunk cabin with one or two rooms, eco-friendly pit toilets, candle holders, an old wood-fired stove, showers or bucket showers and a fireplace or two. More advanced facilities may include a ‘donkey-boiler’ which allows you to heat your water for your shower and solar-powered lighting. The ‘cabin’ may also take the form of an old house with spectacular scenery and a few extra comforts.

Such lodging may sound somewhat crude to the average world traveller and it does lend a sense of ‘roughing it’ to the average trail, yet often facilities are kept as basic as possible to ensure that they are eco-friendly. Large establishments require more manpower and generally result in more waste, which in turn damages the very environment which most hikers have travelled so far to see. With this in mind, it is important to remember that no waste or litter should be left along the trail and that disposable items should be either carried home or thrown in the dustbins which are sometimes provided at the hiking ‘huts’.

Of course first aid is a concern and it is usually best if at least one member in the hiking party is educated and prepared for this. Snake and insect bites – although not terribly common – could occur and then treatment becomes a necessity. However, cautious hikers seldom suffer anything more than a sprained ankle or a minor burn and visitors should not let this sort of thing deter them. Hiking can be physically challenging and hikers should at least enjoy a reasonable level of fitness to take part in easier trails.

Hiking permits are necessary for certain trails and such details should be sorted out before arrival at the start of the trail. Hiking is a very popular activity which is enjoyed by both locals and tourists and often trails are booked up long in advance. If you would like to enjoy a hike or two when you’re visiting the country, it would be wise to start making the necessary arrangements up to two years before (on trails such as the Otter Trail) or, at the very least, a few months before you plan to arrive in the country. So come and enjoy the wonders of the South African bush and take a hike in our splendid country.