‘Discovery on Foot: Four South African Walking Trails.’
My article as written for Round The World Experts as it originally appears here.
‘Be it gentle meanders or adrenaline thrills, active holidays are set to stay as more and more travellers seek out ways to combine their break away with an escape to nature, opting to disconnect while they reconnect with the things that matter.
One of the most popular ways to do so is to explore a destination by foot, be it the sole focus of the trip or a few days built into a longer vacation. These are four lesser-known South African walking trails that I recommend.
1. The Cape Nature Whale Trail, Overberg, Western Cape
The Whale Trail traverses one of the Western Cape’s most unique and diverse nature reserves and stretches over 55km from Potberg to Koppie Alleen. The trail offers the opportunity to explore the natural diversity of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, where the fragrance of fynbos (Cape vegetation) on the Potberg Mountains and unique limestone plains intermingle with the salty sea air of this marine protected area.
Along the way, walkers discover an abundance of indigenous plants and rich birdlife. De Hoop is also world-renowned as one of the best whale-watching spots and between June and December this coastline is transformed into one of the world’s most valuable nursery areas for southern right whales.
The trail is perfect for nature lovers with a moderate degree of fitness and is laid out over five days of varied intensity. Day one is the most strenuous and covers nine miles up the 611m high fynbos-covered Potberg Mountain. While the third day is only five miles long and allows time to relax and explore the marine life in the numerous rock pools along the coast.
Reservations are limited to group bookings of between 6 or 12 people and the comfortable accommodation ranges from Arniston-style houses to A-framed thatched “kapstyl” (Cape Style) cottages, with luggage transferred from one to the other for your ease.
2. The Darling Stagger, West Coast, Western Cape
Three years in the making, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails is one of the newest trail products on offer in the Western Cape and growing in popularity given its close proximity of only 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. Providing the choice between Eve’s Trail, the Five Bay Trail and The Wheels of Time, it’s the Darling Stagger that I am taken with.
Named after the nearby village of Darling, the Stagger follows a 2.5-day route once walked by short-necked giraffe, the San tribe who once occupied this land and the early settlers and farmers we know today. The route explores some of this history along the way and includes a taste of contemporary culture, olives and wine.
During the first leg, guests are transferred from their guesthouse to !Khwa ttu for a short guided tour by a San guide, after which the hike continues towards Yzerfontein and along the unspoilt coast on the following days. Look out for tortoises along the way and the spring flowers, which are a great attraction. A guide leads the trails and luggage is transferred between accommodations.
After completion you may want to spend some time in Darling, a quaint and interesting village with much on offer, inducing a Craft Brewery.
3. The Chokka Trail, Cape St. Francis, Eastern Cape
Here the main attractions include three picturesque fishing villages, a rugged coastline, sand dunes as far as the eye can see, a tidal river, protected fynbos, wetlands and a visit to South Africa’s only privately owned working harbour. The Chokka Trail is a 62km route between Oyster Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis on the East Coast, offering a completely different look at the country’s coastline just an hour from Port Elizabeth.
Since the Chokka Trail was launched in October 2013, hundreds of hikers set off on this four day walk that takes you through parts of the Coastal Cradle of Humankind and offers the chance of seeing whales in season, dolphins, otters and small game like duiker and bushbuck.
On completion you will enjoy a cruise on the beautiful St Francis canals and visit the SANCCOB Seabird and African Penguin Rehabilitation Centre at the Seal Point Lighthouse as well as the opportunity to combine part of your walk with picking up litter along the coastline, a project close to the heart of the route organisers.
4. The Pafuri Walking Trail, Kruger National Park
The five day Pafuri Walking Trail is hosted in the private 24,000 ha Makuleke Concession in the very remote and Northern part of the Kruger National Park where South Africa meets Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Here, managed by RETURNAfrica, the seasonal trail is led by experienced field guides who lead you to explore a place that is as vast as it is varied and wild.
The trail offers a chance to focus on the little things but you will also experience the rush of adrenaline when you happen upon members of the Big Five. Each day you walk for about 4 to 5 hours, a distance of about six miles, with water breaks and plenty of stops to look at tracks in the sand and find the birds calling out to us as you pass, traversing one of the most remote regions in South Africa, one with an abundance of wild animals and birdlife.
You’ll notice how the landscape changes from woodland to riverine forests, mountains, floodplains and pans where animals roam freely. It is here that you will find forests of fever trees, groves of baobabs and vast herds of wildlife. Highlights of the experience include Crook’s Corner, where the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers meet, Lanner Gorge and the Luvuvhu fever tree forest.
At night from bed in your catered tent, you’ll hear the resident bushbaby crying in the trees, the roar of the nearby lion and the call of the hyena, their tracks fresh on the road the next day. The hippos too are likely to keep you awake. This is an experience that takes you completely off the grid and in to the wild.
There’s something very humbling about being in an area that belongs to the wild. It’s more than just insight into how things were, even more than how they are meant to be. It’s actually, where nature happens.
Read my other articles for Round The World Experts blog here.
Top pic of my guide was taken while doing the Darling Stagger with Westcoast Ways.
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