South Africans are spoilt for choice when it comes to coastal hiking. Here is a travel tip with the top 10 trails, from the east to the West Coast.
Kosi Bay Trail, Maputaland
Walk through swamp and sand forests, savanna, wetlands and beaches in a remote region of Maputaland. Flexible routes and diff erent 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, take a turtle tour or boat cruise.
Cost: R2 250 a person for four nights, including food, accommodation and transfers, but excludes guide's fee (R500 a group).
Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail email@example.com, web
Wild Coast Meander, Eastern Cape
This five-night trail hotel-hopping along glorious beaches covers 56 kilometres of the southern Wild Coast from Kob Inn to Morgan Bay. The terrain is moderate but magnifi cent and distances are easy. 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 combine it with its sister trail, the Wild Coast Amble.
Cost: From R4 040 to R6 850 a person, depending on group size (minimum two, maximum 16), including accommodation, meals, transfers from East London as well as local guides.
Tel 043-743-6181, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, web
Alexandria Trail, Eastern Cape
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 cliff s and the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere, rewarding hard work with pure magic. 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.
Cost: R90 a person a night, plus daily conservation fees (R25 for South Africans). Minimum three, maximum 12.
Tel 041-468-0916, e-mail email@example.com, web
Dolphin Trail, Garden Route
This two-day, short but sumptuous 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 4x4 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.
Cost: R4 200 a person sharing, all services inclusive. Minimum two, maximum 12.
Tel 042-280-3588, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, web
Otter Trail, Garden Route
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. No wonder every real hiker has done it.
Cost: R685 a person plus conservation fees (R25 a day for South Africans). Maximum 12.
Tel 012- 426-5111, e-mail email@example.com, web
Oystercatcher Trail, Garden Route
Indulge in three-course meals, fouror five-star accommodation and six hours spent strolling along some of the Garden Route's most scenic coastline near Mossel Bay each day. It's world famous for good reason. 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 around, you can relax in a heated pool, sit in a sauna or book a massage.
Cost: R5 995 a person sharing for the four-night package, including everything except bar drinks and spa therapies.
Tel 044-699-1204, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, web
Whale Trail, Overberg
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 cliff s, have warm water, mattresses, firewood and solar-powered lighting. Hikers' luggage can be transported between them.
Cost: R1 050 a person, plus an optional luggage transport fee of R300 a person. Minimum six, maximum 12.
Tel 021-659-3500, e-mail email@example.com, web
Hoerikwaggo Trail, Cape Town
Although it's not yet finished - the full Hoerikwaggo Trail will take six days, incorporate five overnight camps and is scheduled to open in June 2010 - you can do a guided, catered and portered five-day, 88-kilometre walk from Table Mountain to Cape Point, staying in two of the park camps along the way. Sections of the official trail can be booked separately and done in one to three nights, or you can book one of the three completed camps (near Hout Bay, Noordhoek and Kommetjie) just as overnight accommodation. It's scheduled to become one of the world's top trails, so get in early.
Cost: R4 420 a person sharing for a five-day trail, including accommodation, meals, guides, porters and transfers. Tel 021-683-7826, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, web www.hoerikwaggotrail.org. To do a two-day, self-catered trail with one night in a hut, it's R420 a person; for accommodation only, it's R350 a person a night (the latter both include a mandatory guide).
Tel 021-422-2816, e-mail email@example.com, web
Swart Tobie Trail, West Coast
Between November and April, the kelp-fi lled 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, just like the Khoikhoi once did. If you don't want to rely on your foraging skills, pack beers and braai meat which 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.
Cost: R900 a person excluding meals. Minimum five, maximum 15.
Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, web
Silver Sand Trail, 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.
Cost: R3 360 a person including meals, camping gear and guides. Minimum six, maximum 12.
Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail email@example.com, 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 strandloper@ net4u.co.za, web www.strandlopertrails.org.za.
* Harkerville Trail - a hardcore hike with rustic facilities near Plettenberg Bay. Tel 044-382-5466, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Diamond Coast Trail - a new trail from the De Beers Diamond Route. Tel 0861-522-262 or 012-734-2978, e-mail email@example.com, web
Written and contributed by Alison Westwood, Getaway Magazine