When the national lockdown was first announced, it seemed like everyone was trying their hand at baking and other culinary endeavours. Months later, as the lockdown was relaxed, everyone then seemed to turn into an avid outdoorsman or woman.
It makes sense, of course. Meeting in an outdoors environment is still encouraged to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and embarking on adventures in nature has become a mainstay for many of us who aren’t quite comfortable meeting friends in bars just yet.
No matter where you are in Mzansi, there’s an outdoor destination you’ll love – read on to find out where to next take your brand-new hiking boots for a spin.
Appealing to tree huggers and cultural enthusiasts alike, the Modjadji Nature Reserve close to Tzaneen is home to the largest concentration of cycads in the world. These trees thrive in this subtropical climate, and the 530-hectare reserve also features a variety of birdlife, along with blue wildebeest, nyala, impala, waterbuck and bushbuck and a number of other endemic wildlife. This area will also excite cultural buffs, as it is the seat of the Balobedu dynasty, which has been ruled over by the Rain Queen, Modjajdji, for the past four centuries. This royal house is the only one in South Africa ruled by a female regent, and the current Rain Queen, 15-year-old Masalanabo Modjadji, is set to be formally crowned once she turns 18.
The iconic Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga is among the largest nature reserves in Africa, and is famed for its variety of wildlife, not least for the dense population of the Big 5 in this area. The Kruger now also has a number of new attractions for visitors to get excited about, including the planned luxurious Kruger Shalati Train, constructed inside a restored train stationed on the Selati Bridge over the Sabie River. Whether you’re looking to do a day trip in nature, or would prefer a weekend getaway that suits every budget, the Kruger National Park has something for you.
Taking place inside the Royal Natal National Park, the Tugela Gorge Walk is a relatively easy day hike, approximately 22 km in distance. The halfway marker of this hike rewards you with a breathtaking view at the base of the Tugela Falls. This is the perfect hike to acquaint you with the Drakensberg, and will entice lovers of the outdoors to undertake the longer hikes this mountain range has become famous for.
A quick 45-minute drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Rustig Farm has five different hiking trails to choose from, depending on your level of fitness and stamina. Enjoy stunning views of the Magaliesberg mountain range, and grab a snack pack at the farm before setting out on a hike that’ll make you doubt that the city’s so close. If you’re in Gauteng, we also urge you to connect with The Day Hiking Group, which organises monthly LGBTQI hiking events in and around the province. It’s a great way to meet new people in a safe outdoor environment. (And you can bring along your non-queer friends – the group is straight-friendly!)
The North-West Province
The Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve is a three-hour drive from Joburg, and is chockfull of wildlife, birds, and magnificent flora. This park offers just about everything the Kruger National Park does, without the need to take antimalarial drugs in advance.
The Free State
The Vredefort Dome, close to the quaint town of Parys in the Free State, was formed when a meteor struck the area millions of years ago. Stretching approximately 300 km across, the Dome is a UNESCO Heritage Site that offers various activities to raise the heart rate of adrenaline junkies. Whether you’re into 4×4 trails and river rafting, or prefer to gaze at this area’s great avian variety through a pair of binoculars, a trip to the Vredefort Dome is best concluded with a glass of locally brewed mampoer in hand.
The Northern Cape
If you prefer the thrill of the night sky to extreme adventure activities, you simply have to book a weekend at the Augrabies Falls National Park. Spend the day checking out the Falls, rock formations and variety of fauna and flora, before settling in for an evening under the stars – the Milky Way just takes your breath away in this secluded part of the country.
The Eastern Cape
Just around the corner from Nelson Mandela Bay, the 366-hectare Cape Recife Nature Reserve offers a circular walking trail featuring natural dune vegetation and unspoilt beaches for your walking and viewing pleasure. Still in use today, the Cape Recife Lighthouse dates from 1851 and is definitely worth a visit. Birdwatchers will be delighted at the 160 species gracing the skies here.
The Western Cape
The Woodville Hiking Trail in Hoekwil close to Knysna offers hikers that are used to the expanse of other trails in this province something entirely different. Just 2 kilometres long and wheelchair-friendly, this circular trail is great if you’re short on time. It ends at the site of an 850-year-old yellowwood tree that will remind you that time passes far quicker than we might imagine – certainly a useful sentiment amid the craziness of the pandemic. There is a Cape Town Gay Hiking Club in the Western Cape that “takes advantage of one of the most beautiful spaces in the world- the Mother City.” You can contact them on Facebook.