Hiking South Africa’s national botanical gardens
How to enjoy one of South Africa’s favourite outdoor activities in our spectacular national botanical gardens
NOV 15, 2021 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen. Photos By SANBI, BotSoc BRANCHES AND LOVEGREEN COMMUNICATIONS
As we head into summer – and the festive season – it’s the ideal time to get outdoors into our wild places and further build our connection with nature and appreciate our extraordinary biodiversity.
Hiking does all this – and much more. It’s great for your fitness, you can make new friends by joining a hiking group, and you can explore somewhere new. Take a Hike Day is celebrated globally on 17 November. But hiking can be enjoyed most days of the year, especially in South Africa’s magnificent national botanical gardens around the country.
Hiking for wellness and happiness
Hiking is truly an activity that grows happiness and health, which is important to nurture during these challenging times. Exercise and spending time in nature helps to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Hiking is great for improving our state of mental health, to help prevent the onset of and supplement the treatment of depression.
The simple act of spending time in nature can inspire and boost natural creativity too. Research has shown that immersion in the natural world can boost creativity and problem-solving ability by as much as 50%. Head outside and let your thoughts flow as you walk.
Here are some of the wonderful hikes you can enjoy in our national botanical gardens (members of the Botanical Society of South Africa can enjoy these free of charge):
Above: Hikers from the Bankenveld Branch enjoy the Geological Walk at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, getting to grips with the region’s amazing geology. Photo: Bankenveld Branch
Walter Sisulu National
Located near Krugersdorp in Gauteng, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is truly one of Johannesburg’s natural escapes. When visiting the botanical garden you can hike the geological trail, that starts at the magnificent Witpoortjie falls.
The Walter Sisulu NBG Geological Trail is rated as having a moderate level of difficulty and is a 3.9 km circular route. The trail takes around 2.5 hours to complete and showcases the varied and fascinating geology of the Witwatersrand, with interpretation provided by the Geological Society of South Africa.
Did you know
After you have enjoyed your hike, why not complete your visit with a picnic? There are many beautiful shady spots to enjoy and relax in the gardens in the summer heat.
Above: The Pretoria National Botanical Garden offers hikers a trip through indigenous trees and flowers, with wonderful vistas like this along the way. Photo: SANBI
If you are looking for an easy and relaxing summer stroll to enjoy with the whole family, then why not consider a visit to Pretoria National Botanical Garden? You can hike a circular paved route exploring the gardens of just under 3 km.
Enjoy a stunning range of South Africa’s indigenous wildflowers in bloom here, celebrating the flora of the savanna and forest biomes. More than half of South Africa’s tree species can be seen in this urban oasis.
Did you know
The garden is built around a quartzite outcrop which offers continually changing views and hosts a small patch of moot grassland as described in the March edition of Veld and Flora (the entire garden falls within the endangered vegetation type Marikana Thornveld). Why not come and see for yourself?
Above: African rainforests, waterfalls, and cool, shaded paths: these are just some of the reasons to put your hiking boots on and head to the Lowveld National Botanical Garden. Photo: Frank Webb
A celebration of the biodiversity of South Africa’s Lowveld region, this botanical garden located outside the town of Mbombela is a magnificent place to take a hike.
Wander from the main entrance down to the viewpoints over the spectacular cascades at the confluence of the Crocodile and Nels Rivers. Explore the aerial boardwalk that will lead you through trees and plants found in the African rainforest. Slow down and enjoy the diversity of birdlife that call these gardens home.
Above: The Leopard’s Kloof hike in the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden takes hikers into shaded afrotemperate forest, past incredible fynbos-covered hill slopes and to spectacular waterfalls. Photo: LoveGreen Communications
Harold Porter National
Based at the heart of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, one of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world, Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens is a garden that is framed within a spectacular mountain landscape. The garden offers a number of different hiking routes of varying lengths.
You can take a gentle stroll up to the Disa Gorge waterfall viewpoint, leading you through shaded afrotemperate forest. In January visitors can enjoy the Red Disas (Disa uniflora) in bloom high on the cliffs above.
Did you know
More energetic hikers can tackle the Leopards Kloof trail that leads up a series of scrambles and ladders through the fynbos and forest to spectacular mountain waterfalls. Keys to the gate to access the trail can be collected from the staff at the entrance gate to the gardens.
Above: There’s huge hiking diversity on offer in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden – from gentle strolls around the garden to more energetic mountain hikes for more experienced hikers. Photo: Bipin Prag
Cape Town’s magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden sits at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain. Here you can take a gentle stroll around the gardens or enjoy more energetic hikes in the afrotemperate forest above and upwards onto the higher level mountain trails.
A favourite with hiking enthusiasts is the classic Skeleton Gorge hike, which will lead you up a series of steps, ladders and a fun waterfall scramble through afrotemperate forest to the shores of the Hely-Hutchinson dam on the Table Mountain plateau.
Our Top Hiking Tips
1. Check the weather forecast
Nobody enjoys hiking in a downpour. Find out what the weather is likely to do where you are going before you start. Plan your hike for a day when the weather forecast is good. Look for a day with good visibility, no rain and not too hot weather.
2. Plan for all conditions
Even the best weather forecasts can get it wrong, and the weather may change while you are out and about. Even if it is glorious sunshine when you leave home, pack warm clothing in case conditions change. Even if it is dull and overcast, sunblock is still important. Always pack a fully charged cell phone with necessary emergency numbers such as mountain rescue loaded.
3. Wear the right footwear
The best footwear for hiking is closed shoes or boots with good grip that have been worn in before you start hiking. This will give your feet good support and keep you comfortable on your hiking journey.
4. Bring enough water and food
When you are hiking and active in South Africa’s sun, it’s easy to become dehydrated. You’ll need to bring at least 2-3 litres of water per person, depending on the length of your hike. Always pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. Lightweight, energy rich foods such as nuts or dried fruit are great options.
5. Never hike alone
Even if you are hiking a route you know, it is always best to hike with others. Four people is an ideal number. If one person falls and is injured in an emergency, then one can stay with them while the other two can seek help.
6. Know your route
Always check the route you will be taking ahead of starting your hike. Download the route to your phone so you can access it even if there is no cell phone signal. Better still, bring a paper map to guide you. It may seem old school, but a paper map will never run out of batteries.
Remember: Become a BotSoc member, and you can enjoy access to these wonderful South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) national botanical gardens – and their hiking trails – free of charge. Just show your BotSoc card, or your membership barcode on your cell phone at the entrance gate at any of these gardens, and you’re in. MORE HERE
This is thanks to a wonderful agreement between the Botanical Society of South Africa and SANBI, which celebrates our plant-loving BotSoc community, rewarding our BotSoc members with easy garden access.
Know, grow, protect and enjoy South Africa’s indigenous plants.
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