Walks of life – some of the best family-friendly hikes around South Africa

Walks of life – some of the best family-friendly hikes around South Africa
The view from Suther Peak in the Table Mountain National Park. (Photo:Angus Begg)

Hikes that the whole family can do together are the best, and fortunately there are many of them scattered around the country, from the Drakensberg and Dullstroom to Magoebaskloof.

This list of beautiful hikes for the whole family has been compiled with the tacit understanding that some are more challenging than others. After all, as a species, we like to challenge ourselves, from the gung-ho daughter and son to the granny who refuses to be told she can’t.

Crucial to remember are water, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Peaks are pointless if the sun hits your neck, which by the way is where sunstroke hits you.

Game Pass Cave, Kamberg Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal

This hike will consume about three hours of your day at a decent pace and features some of the finest San rock art to be found in South Africa. A broad claim, which will set the rock art among the academics, but all archaeologists and palaeontologists will agree that it’s up there with the best.

It’s important to watch the video first at the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife office, as it sets the paintings in the correct context. But don’t be fooled into thinking that seeing the video replaces the real thing – the walk needs to be done.

It’s a mostly gentle contour hike, offering the most gradual of inclines as it climbs over and around spurs and past a cool little waterfall on its way to this holy grail of Drakensberg rock art. My kids of nine and 12 joined me.

The trail to Game Pass Cave in the Kamberg Nature Reserve. (Photo: Angus Begg)

Beyond the odd baboon and mountain rhebok, keep your eyes peeled for the Verreaux’s black eagle and the bearded vulture, aka the lammergeier, a German name literally meaning “lamb vulture”, leaving the hiker in no doubt as to the modus operandi of this quite stunning raptor.

My nine-year-old daughter spotted both, highlighting the importance of having young eyes scanning the skies while your own may be on the path. Having said that, the black eagle she spotted on a boulder ahead on the path was about as large as she was, so keep your children close.

Ezemvelo KZN operates the Kamberg Nature Reserve. Hikers are not allowed to enter the cave without a guide.

Dullstroom, Mpumalanga

For outdoor enthusiasts, there are a few hikes worth mentioning in this highland landscape. The first is an unusual hike in that it is in an enclosed area, the Highland Gate Golf and Trout Estate, about 12km from Dullstroom. Let the gate guards know you’re going to the (golf) clubhouse, where you can get a map of the trails on the vast property, and then set off exploring from the base of what is a valley.

There is a choice of two roughly 9km hikes, one climbing to the ridge of the escarpment  and the other following the river before climbing out via the various isolated residential units in this estate. There is also a 2km hike available. Privacy is almost guaranteed outside peak holiday periods and long weekends.

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Among the nicest hikes in Dullstroom are those easily accessible to the public. The Groot Suikerbos hike starts at the dam on the edge of town and climbs to the top of the koppie, which overlooks the road to Mashishing (Lydenburg). Some Anglo-Boer War relics, a well-preserved graveyard and a shell hole add to the attraction.  

The writer and his family on a trail in the Highland Gate Golf and Trout Estate. Photo: Angus Begg

Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve has a public hike of about 11km. Situated a short distance from Dullstroom, this 6,000-hectare, internationally recognised grass and wetland reserve of significant biological diversity has abundant birdlife and many rare and special plant species. The best time to visit is during the warmer summer months when an array of orchid species are in flower.

The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency manages this site.

Table Mountain contour path

They may seem obvious to local residents, but visitors won’t know about the paths snaking across the bottom of the mountain face. The contour path, accessed from either the corner below Devil’s Peak – heading towards the Saddle – or Plattekloof Gorge is an easy gem.

Visit after the rains and small waterfalls you will find aplenty, as well as overhangs under which to hide. The contour path heads past above the cable station to Kloof Corner, one of the more standout locations at which to sit and look over the city and Table Bay to the one side, and Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles to the other. Maybe a 90-minute brisk yet easy walk.

There is also a network of paths below.

Tafelberg Road. A lesser-known favourite is the route from Deer Park to Kloof Nek (which can also be cycled). It’s a fairly long hike, traversing the entire face of the mountain and offering beautiful views.

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A network of hikes numbering more than 100 are to be found along the Table Mountain peninsula, from Mowbray Ridge below Devil’s Peak and the little-known Baskloof protected area above Scarborough, to the challenging Suther Peak above Hout Bay and the Shipwreck Trail in the Cape of Good Hope.

Key to enjoying any one of these hikes in summer is to start early, which, if you’re in the city bowl, means leaving at 6am to get there when the gate opens at 7am. After 9am the tour buses and day-trippers arrive, and the notoriously long queues start.

South African National Parks manages these sites, with much maintenance carried out by the Friends of Table Mountain.

Robberg Peninsula, Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape

Most of my hikes are favourites, all for their own vaguely unique reasons. But as with Hout Bay’s Suther Peak, there’s something fairly epic about Robberg. It is not only a nature reserve; it triples up as a national monument and World Heritage Site

Again, a 7am start is essential in summer, as this is about a four-hour marathon that can leave the average December holiday hiker suffering from sunburn or dehydration or both. That’s just a heads-up about what can go wrong, otherwise everything about this hike is spectacular.

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It’s an undulating walk, with seals heard and seen far below, sometimes with snorkellers among them, on an outing with a boat operator offering ocean expeditions.

Birdlife can be good, too, if you know what you’re looking for. Some boulder hopping is sometimes called for as hikers round the Robberg headland.

The Robberg peninsula in Plettenberg Bay has much to offer hikers. (Photo: Angus Begg)

There is a bench there that calls for a seat to soak in the visual memories, but the highlight is probably the swim below “the gap” on your way back, so have some swim gear.

Robberg Peninsula is managed by CapeNature.

Magoebaskloof, Limpopo

South Africa has precious few large chunks of indigenous forest left, and the Woodbush is the second largest after our coastal Tsitsikamma (which has its own famed Otter Trail). Inside the Woodbush are numerous trails and fairly large swathes of commercial forestry plantations, which add an unexpected, quirky take on hiking in this iconic Limpopo forest.  

A hike in the Magoebaskloof forest features a blue gum that is reportedly 83.7m tall. (Photo: Angus Begg)

A signboard beneath some Eucalyptus saligna – aka blue gum – behemoths in the forest claims one specific tree to be the world’s tallest planted tree. Until 2007, when it was felled by  a storm, the tree’s cousin, measured at 81.5m, was the tallest tree in Africa.

The hike to this tree is a happy mix of equally remarkably sized trees, beautiful ferns and indigenous magic, totally doable by the family, even in the rain – which adds fun for the kids. However, the trail markers leave a little to be desired in places, so if you have young children, it’s best to establish with Komatiland Forests the names and lengths of the various hikes. DM168

For a magnificent jaunt up and down the Magoebaskloof gorge, including a little grassland offering variety in birdlife, park your vehicle at the relevant faded signboard on the right of the R71 heading north, after the Magoebaskloof Hotel. Hiking South Africa says the trail is the property of Safcol, the South African Forestry College. Tel: 013 754 2724, email: [email protected];

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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