South Africa’s best 5 winter hikes
It might feel like winter is synonymous with staying indoors and watching movies while longing for the days of sunshine. There’s no better way to replenish the soul and savour the crisp winter air than on a hike. Whether you prefer a strenuous workout or relaxed stroll, winter is often the best time for nature lovers to take advantage of hiking trails aren’t accessible during the summer.
So, if you’re the active type and want to keep the blood pumping throughout winter, we suggest trying one of these 5 hiking trails.
The Fanie Botha Trail
Get active and join the Fanie Botha Trail in Sabie. The hiking trail is thought as one of the best trails in the country. It was one of the original hiking trails in South Africa and was supposed to be the beginning of a network of trails stretching from the Soutpansberg in the eastern escarpment in the Cape. The scenery is breathtaking but to savour the magnificent vistas one encounters some fairly strenuous sections.
The hike is relatively difficult although you can choose to do a two, three, four or even five-day hike totaling 72 kilometres depending on your level of fitness. It starts with a short walk from the parking area at Ceylon Forest station to the Ceylon Hut, which has electricity, bunk beds and mattresses, braai area with wood supplied, flush toilets and cold showers.
However, while you’re here, you will enjoy breathtaking scenery, grassy fields, forest, gorges, pools, waterfalls and an abundance of birdlife. Some of the birds you may see along the way include the Red-Collared Widow, cuckoo, Malachite sunbird, Blue cranes, kingfishers and many more.`
The Num Num Hiking Trails
The Num-Num two to five-day trail is situated just three hours from Johannesburg, in the Mpumalanga Highlands between Machadodorp and Badplaas. The route takes walkers through a spectacular variety of Highveld Escarpment terrain including indigenous forest, sandstone labyrinths, grasslands and waterfalls. The scenic route delivers panoramic views of the Komati Gorge and the Skurweberg stretching all the way to Swaziland. There are plenty of opportunities to spot games and birds.
Winter months are cold in the evening but glorious and dry during the day. The summer months are warmer but there is a high chance of rain in the afternoon. Public holidays are popular, so it is advisable to book well in advance. No children under the age of 12 years old. However, this entirely new trail has been designed and built to the highest standard by Albert Bossert and has been graded by HOSA, the Hiking Organization of Southern Africa as a Green Flag Accredited trail.
Klipspringer, Augrabies Falls National Park
The starkly beautiful 39.5 kilometres three-day klipspringer Hiking Trail in the Augrabies National Park, Northern Camp offers panoramic views over the rocky and lunar-like landscapes of the park.
The circular hike’s three days are divided into roughly equal distances, between 12.5 kilometres and 14 kilometres. Day one is regarded as the longest of the three, day two is most spent along the banks of the Orange River and is the hottest and day three is the most taxing.
Only opens between the months of April and October, as it can get ridiculously hot in this part of the Northern Cape, the Klipspringer trail rangers through a dry, hot climate with views of plummeting gorges and the respite of the rivers. The self-guided trail is on semi-arid terrain and as a result is sometimes difficult to follow. There are several trail signs, cairns and rock piles that serve as indicators.
You’ll be in a group of between two and 12 people and overnight are spent in rustic huts that contain bunk beds and mattresses, toilet and drinking water, firewood as well as basic cooking utensils. There is no electricity and no showers. Everything else you need – including food, crockery, cutlery and sleeping bags – you must bring.
The highlights of the hike are the granite rock sculptures, hewn by water, wind and extreme temperatures, the mighty Orange River and the falls. However, watch out for baboons, monkey, the tiny steenbok antelope and lots of bird species. As you hike the Orange River, try to spot kingfishers and the stately fish eagle and throughout the three days of hiking; take note of the fascinating indigenous flora as well.
Other animals that you might see include caracal (rooikat) and if you’re lucky you will also see a leopard. Animals you will definitely see besides the Klipspringer include the brightly colored Augrabies Flat lizard, various antelope species, rock hyraxes and 21 species of snake (look out for them in the early mornings or late afternoon).
You’ll hike in a group of between two and 12 people and overnight in rustic huts with bunks and mattresses, toilets and braai facilities, a few cooking pots, water and firewood, but no electricity. Thinking of exploring this beautiful landscape, hire a car in South Africa to accommodate your travel.
Elands River Trail, Boland
Although the Eland River Trail can be hiked all year round, it is most popular in winter as you can follow the river without crossing it, which is great after the Cape downpours. The trail last for one day.
This scenic trail in the Klein Drakenstein Mountains between Paarl and Worcester runs along the Elandspad River, a tributary of the Molenaars River. The trail starts in Du Toitskloof, immediately to the right after the Worcester exit of the Huguenot Tunnel. Permit holders can park in the fenced park in the fenced parking area at the tunnel control truck shop, about 70 metres from the tunnel.
Wellington Wine Walk, Cape Winelands
Like the Wild Coast Walk, this is a perfect blend of outdoor adventure and luxurious living. The trail lasts three or four days, meandering through indigenous fynbos, vineyards, orchards and olive groves and a knowledgeable guide accompanies you along the way.
Luggage is transported between overnight accommodation, which is all provided by guesthouses on historic Huguenot farms. Along the way, there are regular stops to taste the Wellington wines, cheese and olives produced in this fertile valley.
Wellington is a pleasure to visit at any time of the year, but the summer heat makes the walks unbeatable. The walks therefore only operate from March through to November.