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Exploring South Africa

With World Hiking Day on 17 November, keen traveler and author of Hiking Trails of South Africa, Willie Olivier shares why SA is best seen up close and personal.

“South Africa’s rich diversity of flora, wildlife and landscapes offer countless opportunities for exploring the great outdoors. Foot trails traverse the country’s national parks, nature reserves, botanical gardens, forestry areas and private properties, from the lofty peaks of the Drakensberg and the indigenous forests of Knysna to sun-drenched beaches and the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Hiking in South Africa has certainly come a long way since the first official trail, the Fanie Botha Trail between Sabie and God’s Window, was opened in 1973. Although the plan to creating a continuous network of trails from the Soutpansberg, the northernmost mountain in South Africa, to Cape Point was abandoned long ago, outdoor enthusiasts still have a wide choice of possibilities to explore. From easy walks for families with children and trails designed for the visually or mobility impaired to multi-day overnight hikes and self-guided trails in the wilderness. And, if you want a leisurely multi-day hike without the burden of a heavy backpack, well-organised slackpacking trails have become increasingly popular over the past few years.

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Now in its fourth edition since it was first published in 2003, Hiking Trails of South Africa is still the most comprehensive guide to walks and trails in the country. The introductory section covers essential information you should know before setting off, such as planning your outing, food, equipment, packing your backpack, trail ethics and hiking safety.

More than 500 walks and trails are covered, ranging from easy short walks of a few hundred metres to extended overnight hikes. South Africa is divided into seven geographic areas, which are described in brief, while important information about weather, health precautions and safety is also provided. Details cover the length and duration of walks and trails, where to book, maps, facilities and activities available in the area. A brief description of routes, highlighting outstanding points of interest, as well as information on birds, animals, flora and the geology are also included.

On a recent hike of the Whales Hiking Trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, I was reminded of the words of Harold Allen, who planned the 3,200 kilometre-long Appalachian Trail between Maine and Georgia in the United States: “The trail is remote for detachment, narrow for chosen company, winding for leisure, lonely for contemplation; the trail leads not merely north and south but upwards to the body, mind and soul of men.”

Walks and trails allow you to renew your link with nature. You can listen to the calls of the wild, experience solitude, contemplate, recharge your energy and rediscover your inner self – far away from the hustle and bustle of city life.”

Hiking Trails of South Africa is out now.

This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa – https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/penguin-post

LIFE IS BETTER OUTDOORS…

2022 SKY GUIDE AFRICA SOUTH A practical resource for all astronomers, whether novice, amateur or professional. It covers the upcoming year’s planetary movements, predicted eclipses, meteor showers – any events and facets of the night sky that change annually. Star charts plot the evening sky for each season, facilitating the identification of stars and constellations. The guide contains a wealth of information about the Sun, Moon, planets, comets, meteors and bright stars, with photos, diagrams, charts and images. Prepared yearly by the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa, it is the essential handbook for all night-sky enthusiasts.

WALKING SAFARIS OF SOUTH AFRICA by Hlengiwe Magagula and Denis Costello

Walking safaris in big game areas can be one of the safest and most rewarding outdoor experiences. Written by seasoned hikers, the book covers more than 50 guided walks across 21 parks and reserves in South Africa (including two in eSwatini and one in Botswana). It unpacks the trail options available in each park, as well as what facilities are on offer, and shares a series of first-hand accounts that vividly illustrate the magical experience of exploring the bush on foot. Also included is when to go, what to pack, what to wear, and the dos and don’ts of walking in areas with big game.

WALKING CAPE TOWN by John Muir

The perfect companion for the urban sightseer, featuring 33 easy walks and drives through the streets and suburbs of one of the world’s most beautiful and popular cities. From the Company’s Garden in the heart of the city to trendy Green Point, Sea Point and Camps Bay, the colourful Bo-Kaap, and the bustling seaside villages of Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town, this comprehensive guide reveals the fascinating history and urban charm that has made Cape Town one of the top destinations in the world. John Muir, an expert on Cape Town and its hidden gems, provides a wealth of information on all that can be discovered en route.

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