South Africa’s Top 10 Coastal Hiking Trails

If lounging around on a crowded beach isn’t your scene, perhaps you need something more active – and exclusive. Here’s how: pack a backpack (or a daypack if you’re not feeling all that energetic), get your boots on and take a hike on one of these incredible coastal trails. By Alison Westwood.

Kosi Bay Trail

An old favourite given new life

Walk through swamp and sand forests, savanna, wetlands and beaches in a remote region of Maputaland. Flexible routes and different lodges are used to tailor-make this trail to suit the needs and fitness levels of each group. Since a typical day involves only three or four hours’ walking, hikers can also try activities like canoeing and horse riding or take a turtle tour or boat cruise.

Contact: Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail, web

Wild Coast Meander

Hotel-hopping along glorious beaches

This five-night trail covers 56 kilometres of the southern Wild Coast from Kob Inn to Morgan Bay. Terrain is moderate but magnificent, distances are easy and overnight accommodation is in a series of coastal resorts, famous for their fantastic settings and warm hospitality. Guides and porters from local Xhosa communities accompany hikers, who need carry no more than a daypack. Shorter options are available, or it can be combined with its sister trail, the Wild Coast Amble.

Contact: Tel 043-743-6181, e-mail, web

Alexandria Trail

Hard work rewarded with pure magic

This is a 36-kilometre, two-day circular trail in the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park that traverses unspoilt indigenous forests, sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere. The Langebos huts provide forested accommodation at the trail base and the Woody Cape hut at the end of the first day offers solitary bliss and sea views. Hikers carry their own provisions and equipment. The trail is unguided but well-signposted.

Contact: Tel 041-468-0916, e-mail, web

Dolphin Trail

Short but sumptuous

This two-day luxury trail covers 17 kilometres of the Tsitsikamma coastal belt beginning at Storms River Mouth. Hikers walk through fynbos, beneath indigenous forest canopy and over craggy rocks beside the sea. The trail ends at the Sanddrift River with a scenic 4×4 return trip through the old Storms River Pass. Baggage is transported between stops, meals are either catered or in restaurants and the three nights are spent in four-star accommodation.

Contact: Tel 042-280-3588, e-mail, web

Otter Trail

Why every real hiker has done it

Perhaps South Africa’s most popular trail, the Otter has it all: rough terrain, spectacular scenery, exciting river crossings and idyllic, deserted beaches. Hikers need to be fit as the steep ascents and descents become strenuous with a backpack containing food and gear for five days. The great adventure is crossing the Bloukrans River on the fourth day. Since major floods in 2009, it’s become more challenging and, even in optimal conditions, hikers must swim through surf or take an escape route.

Contact: Tel 012-426-5111, e-mail, web

Oystercatcher Trail

World famous for good reason.

Indulge in three-course meals, five-star accommodation and six hours spent strolling along some of the Garden Route’s most scenic coastline each day. However, the Oystercatcher isn’t just a luxury slackpacking trail. It’s also renowned for its ecological and cultural education. Trained guides are on hand to point out archaeological treasures, Stone-Age middens, surfing dolphins and, of course, black oystercatchers. But best of all, after a tough day lugging a light daypack, you can relax in a heated pool, sit in a sauna or book a massage.

Contact: Tel 044-699-1204, e-mail, web

Whale Trail

Whale-watching and nature-loving

Between June and December, the ocean off De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the world’s most important nurseries for southern right whales and hikers regularly see up to 50 at a time. A combination of mountain and coastal walking, with fynbos, rock pools and dunes is reason enough to do this trail, even when whales aren’t around. It stretches 54 kilometres from Potberg to Koppie Alleen with five overnight stops. The cottages, tucked into the shore or perched on cliffs, have warm water, mattresses, firewood and solar-powered lighting. Hikers’ luggage can be transported between them.

Contact: Tel 021-659-3500, e-mail, web

Hoerikwaggo Trail

Scheduled to be one of the world’s top trails

The full Hoerikwaggo Trail takes six days, incorporates five overnight camps, but sections of the official trail can be booked separately and done in one to three nights, or you can book one of the camps (near Hout Bay, Noordhoek and Kommetjie) just as overnight accommodation.

Contact: Tel 021-422-2816, e-mail, web

Swart Tobie Trail

Slackpacking in the footsteps of ancient Khoikhoi

Between November and April, the kelp-filled tidal pools of the West Coast near Koekenaap are full of kreef, the rocks are covered in mussels and you can fish for galjoen and kob in the gullies. If you don’t want to rely on your foraging skills, however, pack beers and braai meat and it will be brought to you, along with your camping gear, at the end of each day’s walk. The Swart Tobie covers 75 wild and lonely kilometres of coastline in five days and is rated moderate to strenuous, depending on tides.

Contact: Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail, web

Silver Sand Trail

Walkabout on the west coast of Namaqualand

Wander along the edge of the cold Atlantic and meander through misty dunes in the Namaqua National Park between the Spoeg and Groen Rivers. On this catered slackpacking safari, camps are set up by guides who accompany hikers on the four-day, 55-kilometre walk. The emphasis is on natural history: the marvels of the Nama succulent biosphere, the smelly exuberance of seal colonies and the kaleidoscope of flowers in season.

Contact: Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail, web

Make it a baker’s dozen and do these too

Strandloper Trail – be a modern hunter-gatherer on the Eastern Cape Coast. Tel 043-841-1046, e-mail, web

Harkerville Trail – a hardcore hike with rustic facilities near Plett. Tel 044-382-5466, e-mail

Diamond Coast Trail – a new trail from the De Beers Diamond Route. Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail, web

First published in the January 2010 issue of Getaway Magazine

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