There’s always been a certain spiritual significance attached to long walks, whether it’s the Camino de Santiago in Spain, or the rite of passage undertaken by the Australian Aboriginals (known to us as Walkabout). These days, the demands of city life make it hard to find time for an afternoon hike, let alone a walk in the wild, but the idea of leaving the city life behind, roaming the wilderness by day and settling around the camp fire by night, is as alluring as ever. Our best overnight hiking trails in the Cape cross snowy mountains, sandy shorelines and lush forests, and will take you so deep into nature, you’ll forget (or perhaps, remember) where you came from.
Important note Although the Cape is rich in natural beauty, tourists and locals alike are urged to take necessary precautions when exploring secluded areas, as crimes and accidents do happen.
Those venturing into the Table Mountain National Park should have the following emergency numbers on hand: 086 110 6417/ 107 or 021 480 7700. Criminal incidents should be reported to the nearest police station as soon as able.
We also recommend @safetymountain as a useful resource for hikers. This free safety tracking service allows you to notify local trackers of your contact details, intended route and travel time via whatsapp. You are then able to provide hourly updates on your progress, and to notify trackers when you are safely off the mountain.
1. Cederberg Wilderness Area
If you truly want to leave city life behind you for awhile, you will find it difficult to resist the call of the Cederberg. The reserve is only a couple of hours out of Cape Town, yet this ancient landscape will transport you to a time when humanity still roamed the wilderness, sheltering in caves by night and huddling around fires as darkness closed in. A number of trails wind their way throughout the reserve, with the Algeria Campsite serving as a hub from which hikers can explore the Cederberg at their own pace. Famous natural landmarks include the Wolfsberg Arch – a giant rock-formed archway; and the Stadsaal Caves, which contains San art dating back thousand of years.
Start and end point Algeria Campsite
Overnight accommodation The Algeria Campsite is the primary base for explorers in the Cederberg Wilderness. It offers camping accommodation and self-catering cottages. Alternatively, hikers can spend the night at one of many overnight huts spread throughout the reserve, though these offer shelter and nothing more (in other words, no bedding or washing facilities).
Good to know Hiking trails include the the Cederberg Heritage Route, a series of community-based walking trails that range from three to five nights. Hikers will be hosted at various guest cottages situated on the trail, and may choose to have their overnight luggage transported by donkey or vehicle.
IMPORTANT NOTE The Wolfberg Arch trail is closed until further notice, due to recent fires in the area.
Contact 021 483 0190, firstname.lastname@example.org (for permits)
027 482 2403 (Algeria Campsite)
027 482 2444, email@example.com (Cederberg Heritage Route)
Cost Access to the Cederberg Wilderness Area requires a permit, which can be purchased from CapeNature or at the Algeria Reserve Office (R60 for adults; R35 for children)
Where to find it Cederberg Wilderness Area
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
2. Oystercatcher Trail
Oystercatcher Trail Trover
This hike is named for the African Black Oystercatcher, a rare species of bird that dwells in the coastal regions of Southern Africa, making its nests in sandy soil, and feeding on mussels that wash up on shore. Hikers have an idea what to expect when they take part in this guided trail: long stretches of sandy coastline from which dolphins and whales can occasionally be sighted, cliffs overlooking the ocean, and a thriving biodiversity. But the journey also provides a glimpse into the region’s rich heritage, passing through villages containing classic examples of Cape Dutch architecture. In fact, the trail offers insight into the history of our entire species, as the itinerary includes a tour of the Pinnacle Point Caves, where the earliest evidence of humans crafting tools, drawing symbols and catching fish have been discovered.
Starting point Cape St Blaize at Mossel Bay
End point Gourits River Mouth
Good to know The Oystercatcher Trail is four-night trip, but shorter versions are available, such as the two-night Human Origins Explorer package, which includes a guided beach walk and overnight lodgings at the Sandpiper Cottages.
Overnight accommodation Options include the Sandpiper Cottages, situated in a peaceful seaside village in the Fransmanshoek Conservancy; the Gourikwa Private Nature Reserve; and various hotels located near the trail. If you choose the catered package, luxury accommodation and meals will be provided at designated stop-off points. The self-catering package excludes the pre-prepared meals, but still provides accommodation, luggage transport and the services of a professional guide.
Contact 044 699 1204, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost Full trail: R5 600 – R6 850 per person sharing, depending on package (minimum 4 guests)
2-night Human Origins Explorer: R3 250 – R3 850, depending on package (minimum 4 guests)
3-night Pondok Eco-adventure: R2 250 per person (minimum 4 guests)
3-night Sandpiper Walkabout: R4 650 – R5 850 per person sharing, depending on package (minimum 4 guests)
Rates are valid until 10 December 2017
Where to find it Boggomsbaai, Mossel Bay, Garden Route
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
3. Whale Trail
The 34 000-hectare De Hoop Nature – one of the largest natural areas managed by CapeNature – is home to the popular Whale Trail, arguably one of the best (and most beautiful) hiking trails in South Africa. This five-day trail varies in intensity but is nevertheless ideal for hikers of moderate fitness. Regrettably, children under 8 may not partake, and hikers must please keep their permit with them at all times, as this is essentially your Whale Trail Passport.
Offering both coastal and mountain walking, with stunning views all round, it is named for the many southern right whales, who annually return to the De Hoop waters. Often, when hiking the route, you can spot up to 50 of these gentle giants mere kilometres away. There’s very little shade along the route, so come prepared with hats and sunscreen.
Starting point Potberg Tourism Office
End point Koppie Alleen, where the shuttle service will collect you and take you back to the Potberg Tourism Office.
Overnight accommodation There is varied, quaint Cape-style accommodation – ranging from Arniston-style houses to A-framed thatched cottages. The rather lovely Noetsie cottages lie near Noetsie Bbay, and serve as your resting points between days two and three. Each cottage can accommodate up to 12 people and have reliable solar-powered lights and gas geysers. They are well-stocked with kitchen equipment, gas stoves (each cottage also has an indoor and outdoor braai facilities, except Noetsie, which only has an outdoor braai), cutlery and crockery, as well as other essentials such as toilet paper, matches, candles and firewood, but hikers must bring their own bedding, linen and towels.
Every day, a transport contractor is on standby to transport your luggage from one cottage to the next. The 60-litre standard containers are paid for, and 14 units per group of 12 or 7 units per two groups of 6 are allowed.
Contact 021 483 0190 (Whale Trail and permit bookings), 021 422 4522
Cost R1 695 per person, off-peak (includes self-catering accommodation)
R2 195 per person, peak season (includes self-catering accommodation)
Peak rates are charged during Western Cape school holidays and public holidays, as well as the day before and after holidays.
R520 per unit for luggage transport/portage (peak and off-peak)
R200 per person for the CapeNature conservation fee (R40 per day). Valid Wild Card holders will not be charged conservation fees.
Where to find it De Hoop Nature Reserve
4. The Donkey Trail
The 121 000-hectare Swartberg Nature Reserve covers a broad stretch of land and links the Klein and Groot Karoos. A World Heritage Site, the reserve offers San cave rock art and artefacts, and abounds with diverse flora and fauna. Add to that a four-day Donkey Trail and you have quite an adventure on your hands!
While hikers enjoy their natural surroundings, the caringly rehabilitated donkeys will carry your luggage. (The De Rust Donkey Rescue Programme assures us that these gentle beasts bask in the human attention and affection they receive on the hikes, and this programme has been approved by Animal Welfare.)
Although leopards (rarely seen) and other potentially dangerous animals and insects are known to use the trail, your guides are trained in first aid and your safety is always foremost in their minds.
Please note The trail reopens on 1 September 2017, but we had to include it on our list.
Start and end point Living Waters Mountain Estate, Groenfontein
Overnight accommodation The three-night accommodation includes a mountain camp in Gamkaskloof, as well as quaint, renovated CapeNature-owned farm cottages. Everything is included in the cost (all meals, trail snacks, beverages, bedding (sleeping bags on one night), towels, guides, soap, shampoo and CapeNature conservation fees, porters, return transfers over Swartberg Pass and of course, the services of the adorable donkeys) is included, and rates are seasonal. (Maximum groups of 10, minimum of six, though groups of less than six can be joined to other small-group bookings.)
Good to know Gamkaskloof Valley was once only accessible by foot, until 1963, when a winding road was built from Swartberg Pass (well-worth descending by vehicle, too!) down to this remote valley. Before the road’s invention, a “donkey trail” from Calitzdorp to Die Hel was the only link to the outside world. This historic trail starts at Erika Calitz’s family farm, Living Waters, near Calitzdorp.
Contact 021 483 0190 (Cape Nature); 083 628 9394, email@example.com
Cost Full prices not available at time of publishing
R40 per day (Cape Nature conservation fee)
Where to find it Living Waters Mountain Estate, Groenfontein, Calitzdorp
5. Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail
Travel between the villages of Greyton and McGregor via a trail that passes through the Riviersonderend Mountains. You can complete the trail in one day, but it’s considered an overnight hike because participants like to return to their starting point the next day (you could arrange transport if you’re not up for the return walk). Either way, the trek offers spectacular scenery, and the opportunity to spot mountain-dwelling wildlife such as klipspringers, caracals and even the elusive leopard.
Warning Word has it a rampaging band of baboons has seized control of the trail and now demand a toll from any who seek passage (okay, that bit was made up).
Starting point Greyton / McGregor
End point McGregor / Greyton
Overnight accommodation Overnight accommodation can be found in the towns of Greyton and McGregor, or at Die Galg (on the McGregor side of the mountain).
Good to know The area is extremely warm and dry during summer months, and extremely cold and wet during winter. The hike requires a degree of fitness, as the trail frequently ascends and descends through mountainous terrain. Stick only to known routes and keep the group together, this is a mountain trail and should not be taken lightly.
The hike should be booked well in advance, through CapeNature.
Contact 021 483 0190, firstname.lastname@example.org (reservations)
023 625 1621 (enquiries)
Cost Access to the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, where the trail is located, requires a permit (R40 for adults; R20 for children). These can be purchased at the reserve office, or directly from CapeNature.
Where to find it Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve
6. Green Mountain Trail
This four-day trail revolves around Groenlandberg (or Green Mountain) in the Overberg Region, which forms part of the wonderful Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. On this moderate walking trail, hikers will traverse a Cape patchwork quilt of fynbos and fruit farms, offering fine, seasonal food, wine tastings and comfortable, four-star luxury accommodation to make your feet that much more desirous of wandering through the scenic wilderness.
Guides are THETA-accredited (Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Education and Training Authority), so you will receive great insight into the area’s biodiversity and history. The trail crosses into privately owned land, but all landowners are members of the Green Mountain Eco Route, the world’s first biodiversity wine route. (As part of this responsibility programme, hikers are encouraged to “Walk with an Alien”, which involves walking with a carved stick made from alien vegetation by local communities.)
The farms you’ll visit include Beaumont, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver, Porcupine Hills, and Wildekrans Country House (an 1811 homestead that’s Luke Dale-Roberts’ favourite getaway).
Starting point Porcupine Hills
End point Bot River village
Overnight accommodation The rate includes four-star farm stays at Porcupine Hills and Wildekrans Country House, including breakfast and dinner. In addition to three nights’ accommodation, the rate also includes all meals, wine tastings, guides and luggage transfers (and a minimum of six need to join in, though solo travellers and smaller groups can be added to other groupings).
Contact 028 284 9827, email@example.com
Cost R8 795 per person sharing
R12 290 per person not sharing
Where to find it Elgin, Overberg Region
7. Cape of Good Hope Trail
A circular trail that takes you along cliffs and windswept beaches, past shorelines and shipwrecks, offering incredible views of fynbos reserves and the raging ocean along the way as you traverse Africa’s (almost) southern tip.
Start and end point Cape of Good Hope entrance
Overnight accommodation Signposts along the way will direct you towards the overnight huts, situated high up on ridges overlooking the coastline. You will need to bring your own bedding, but the solar-powered huts are equipped with hot showers, braai facilities and cutlery. Collect your key at the Cape of Good Hope entrance before you embark on the hike.
Good to know Gates open at 6am from October to March, and at 7am from April to September. The hike must start at 9am to ensure hikers have enough time to reach the accommodation before nightfall. Secure parking for your vehicle is located at the entrance.
Contact 021 780 9204, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost Access to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve requires a conservation fee (R135 for adults; R70 for children). The SANParks’ My Green Card allows 12 free entries into the Table Mountain National Park within a one-year period.
Where to find it Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
8. Arangieskop Trail
Often referred to as the Kilimanjaro of the Cape, and for good reason – this hike is no walk in the park. It starts off winding its way through the Dassiehoek Nature Reserve, a popular destination for flower enthusiasts and bird watchers. Then comes a steep ascent into the mountains, which lasts for around eight hours, and ends at the overnight hut, 200 meters below the summit. The next day, hikers face a challenging descent back into the valley. Snowy conditions can be expected during the winter months, and the trail requires respectable fitness levels to complete it, but it’s worth it for the incredible views of the Breede River Valley stretching out below.
Important note Be sure to travel light, as it will make the ascent easier. It bears repeating that the trail is considered one of the most challenging in the Western Cape.
Start and end point Dassiehoek Nature Reserve, outside Robertson
Overnight accommodation After the challenging ascent, hikers will wait out the night in a hut built into the mountainside, equipped with flush toilets and heated showers. Many consider this overnight hut to be the highlight of the trip, and well worth the exertion of getting there, as it offers spectacular views of the valley below. There’s also a braai area and indoor fireplace, which will certainly be appreciated so close to the mountain summit, where the weather can be on the chilly side even during the summer.
Contact 023 615 8000, email@example.com
Cost Available on request
Where to find it Robertson Wine Valley
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
9. Swellendam Hiking Trail
Hidden away between the imposing Swellendam Mountains lies Marloth Nature Reserve, a peaceful World Heritage Site that’s home to the challenging Swellendam Hiking Trail. Although the trail is currently closed (CapeNature informed us that it will reopen soon), it ranks among one of SA’s Top 10 hikes, and is definitely worth jotting down as a must-do Western Cape experience.
Hikers can choose between various routes, varying from two to six days in length, and moderate fitness is advised, especially if you tackle the full six-day hike.
Please note The trail is currently closed, but CapeNature will inform us on its site when it reopens. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll keep you informed.
Starting point Glen Stream Hut (near the car park)
End point back to the starting point (if you do the full six-day hike)
Overnight accommodation The charming wooden cabins (Glen Stream Hut and Protea Valley Hut) offer bunk beds/mattresses, basic toilets and drinking water, although you will need to bring your own food supplies (you can or stock up in Swellendam) and cooking utensils. Fires may only be lit at Glen Stream and Wolfkloof, due to the high wildfire risk, and hikers are requested to be considerate, as some of the huts edge private property (so please don’t trespass on the surrounding farm(s) or swim in the nearby farm dam).
Contact 021 483 0190
Cost Prices not available at date of publishing
R40 per day (Cape Nature conservation fee)
Where to find it Marloth Nature Reserve, Swellendam
10. Fynbos Trail
This is a three-day hike that can be undertaken with or without a guide, and not only offers mesmerising views but also a glimpse into a sustainable and eco friendly future. A visit to Growing the Future Sustainable Agriculture and Life Skills College is included in the package, after which hikers descend into a nature-lover’s paradise as the trail takes them through a thousand-year-old Milkwood forest (one of only eight remaining in the world) and a flourishing eco-system containing around 800 species of fynbos and 100 bird species.
Starting point Steynsbos Milkwood Forest
End point Grootbos Garden Lodge
Overnight accommodation Hikers spend the first night at Fynbos Retreat, a farm house overlooking a swimming dam, and the second at Cone Bush Cottage on Witkrans Farm.
Good to know A family-friendly experience that is more of a celebration of the environment than a fitness test, the trail has hosted hikers as young as three and as old as 90!
Contact 079 466 5748, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost R980 (self-guided, self-catered, accommodation included) + R200 (optional portage fee)
Note Packages that include catering and professional guides can be purchased at prices ranging from R2 450 – R3 250.
The full package, which includes meals, wine tasting, luggage transfer, the services of an expert guide, and the planting of an indigenous tree at Stinkhoutsbos Forest, requires a minimum group size of 4 people.
Where to find it Grootbos Nature Reserve
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
11. Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail
Emerge from lush green forests to the sight of the bright blue Indian ocean, in a hiking adventure that takes you in among the beauty of the Garden Route. Starting off at Harkerville Forest Station, you’ll be following a circular trail under trees, across beaches, along cliffs and over rope bridges before you eventually arrive back at your starting point.
Start and end point Harkerville Forest Station
Overnight accommodation The Harkerville hut at the start of the trail has bunk beds, toilets, hot showers and a braai area, as well as a place to park your vehicle. By nightfall, you’ll have reached the Sinclair hut, which also has bedding, a braai area and flush toilets, but no showers (there are wash basins).
Good to know The trail involves lots of ladders, chains, bridges and wooden stairs, making it one for committed hikers only. Bring plenty of drinking water as there is little to be found along the way, aside from what’s available at the huts.
Contact 044 302 5600 / 044 382 2095 / 044 532 7770 / 044 382 9762 (Knysna Lakes section)
Cost Access to the Knysna Lakes section of the Garden Route National Park requires a conservation fee (R30 per adult per day; R15 per child per day). Rates are valid until 31 October 2017.
Where to find it Garden Route National Park
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
12. Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
For those seeking solitude, the Boosmansbos (angry man’s forest) hiking trail delivers. Named for the hermit who supposedly roamed these woods in the early 19th century, scaring off anyone who dared disturb him or his precious bee hives, the region provides around 64 km of marked trails that lead up and down cliffs and deep into one of the Western Cape’s most expansive forests. Hikers can wander freely without fear of being disturbed, because hey, if it worked for an eccentric old beekeeping hermit, it will probably work for you.
Starting point Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve Office
End point Your choice
Overnight accommodation Huts located in the reserve offer shelter, but not much else (no toilets, and drinking water comes from a nearby stream). A true wilderness adventure then, and you can even choose to camp out in the open.
Good to know A maximum of 12 people are allowed on the hiking trails at a time. Hikers can choose their own route, but be sure to bring enough food, water and warm clothing, as well as a map.
Contact 021 483 0190, email@example.com (accommodation and permits)
028 722 2412 (reserve office)
Cost Access to the Grootvaderbosch Nature Reserve requires a permit (R60 for adults; R35 for children). These can be purchased at the reserve office, or directly from CapeNature.
Where to find it Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
13. Limietberg Hiking Trail
This trail takes you from Tweede Tol picnic and camping site to Eerste Tol, and then onto Bainskloof Corner Lodge, where you can choose to return via the same route the next day, take the old Bainskloof Pass (a national monument), or navigate the rock pools and rivers of the Rockhopper trail (a challenging endeavor that can only be attempted in summer).
Start and end point Tweede Tol Campsite
Overnight accommodation The Bainskloof Corner Lodge provides self-catering accommodation fit for backpackers, as well as more comfort-oriented guest rooms with ensuite bathrooms.
Contact 021 483 0190, firstname.lastname@example.org (permits)
021 871 1535/6 (enquiries)
021 864 1159 (Bainskloof Corner Lodge)
Cost Access to the Limietberg Nature Reserve requires a permit (R40 for adults; R20 for children). These may be purchased at the reserve office, or directly from CapeNature.
Where to find it Limietberg Nature Reserve
TIG Reviewer Matthew Flax
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