Hike, Kayak and Wild Swim South Africa

An epic ramble from the Drakensberg Mountains to the Wild Coast of the Rainbow Nation, paddling and swimming along the way

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Trip Ref #10639

Hike, Kayak and Wild Swim South Africa

An epic ramble from the Drakensberg Mountains to the Wild Coast of the Rainbow Nation, paddling and swimming along the way

DURATION

9 nights

LOCATION

South Africa

ANNUAL LEAVE

7 days off work

SEASON

Year round

GROUP SIZE

Up to 14 people

MEETING POINT

Johannesburg International Airport

ACCOMMODATION

Classic

Hotel · Lodge · Safari Tent · Homestay

OVERALL RATING

0.0

This trip is brand new
DIFFICULTY

Moderate

Meaty days out in the mountains mean you should have a good fitness level, but overall the hikes are very doable while you lap up the views

Tackle amazing trails through the iconic rock formations of the Drakensberg, including Sentinel Peak and Amphitheatre

Paddle down the Tugela River and explore the valley on foot, stargazing and wild swimming from your riverbank eco-camp

Hit the stunning Wild Coast for hikes through dunes, beaches and forests to reach secluded waterfall swim spots

Bed down in a village homestay, where tourism is a form of activism in the community’s fight against mining proposals

Day 1

Touchdown in Jo'burg

Driving

4hrs · 346km

Arriving at Johannesburg's O. R. Tambo International Airport, you'll meet your host. Settle into the van with your fellow adventurers for a 4-hour road trip through South Africa's interior, to reach the base of the Drakensberg Mountains. Check into your hotel and tuck into a welcome dinner, and have a chat about the adventure to come.

Day 2

The hike begins

Hiking

5-6hrs · 14km · 1300m up · 150m down

Load up your trekking pack and leave your main luggage at the hotel as you set off for the wild trails of the Drakensberg Mountains. After a hearty breakfast at the Cavern, hit the trail and hike up and over sandstone cliffs, via Lone Rock with its displays of San rock art. Continue up through a sloping section to reach Sugarloaf Gap and hike along the ridge, bypassing Broom Hill with sublime views across to the former homeland of QwaQwa, while bearded vultures circle overhead.

Day 3

Hike to Tugela Falls and summit Mont-Aux-Sources (3282m)

Hiking

6-7hrs · 15km · 1400m up · 1400m down

Today’s trail starts with a well-trodden path which ascends gradually towards the Witches and Zigzags, taking you to the base of the Sentinel massif. From here you’ll follow the contour path below the Western Buttress, with the land sloping steeply to the north and east giving you wonderful views of the Maluti Mountains in neighbouring Lesotho. The action ramps up after 3km when you reach a network of chain ladders to help you navigate a 35m ascent, followed by a short scramble from there to the escarpment top. The landscape here is truly stunning, and you'll cap the day off in style with a summit of Mont-aux-Sources (the highest peak in the area at 3282m) before hiking on to the top of Tugela Falls, another unmissable highlight. Hike back down for sundowners and dinner at the mountain lodge.

Day 4

From the 'Berg to the valley

Hiking

4hrs · 10km · 270m up · 900m down

Tuck into breakfast and lap up the last of the views from this epic spot as you set off for the hike down the Mahai Valley. There are a series of waterfalls and natural swimming pools along the way, so make sure you've packed your swimmers. After around four hours, your hike ends and your host will whisk you on to Emaweni for the next section of the trip, in the Tugela Valley. Get the blood pumping again as you tackle an abseil down into the canyon to reach a hiking trail. This winds through the gorge to reach a secluded mobile camp spot on the banks of the mighty Tugela River. Settle in for a night under the stars with sundowners and a well-earned campfire dinner.

Day 5

Fun on the river

Rafting

2-3hrs · 12km

Kayaking

2-3hrs · 12km

Wild Swimming

1hr

Wake up at your camp spot to the sounds of the river and enjoy a hearty breakfast on the banks. Gear up to explore the Tugela River system more today, with an epic whitewater rafting experience if you are here in the summer months (from December to February) when the water levels are at their peak. Outside of these months, the rafting is replaced with river kayaking instead, for a swift but serene descent downstream to Warthog Island. Tuck into a bush lunch before hiking up to the main eco-camp for some well-earned downtime. Relax in a hammock, swim in the river or – if you're keen for more – there are excellent trail runs and you can tackle some more abseiling fun as well. Head to the aptly named Sunset Rock for sundowners and snacks, before tucking in to a 3-course dinner outside, beneath the stars.

Day 6

Road trip to the coast

Hiking

4hrs · 10km

Driving

4.5hrs

Bid farewell to your bush camp first thing and hike back to Emaweni, stopping for a picnic brunch en route. Settle back into the van for a four-hour road trip over to the Wild Coast, reaching Port Edward and then on to your hotel. Stretch the legs with some beach time overlooking the Indian Ocean before dinner at the hotel.

Day 7

Hike the Wild Coast to a community homestay

Hiking

4-5hrs · 14km · 190m up · 75m down

Time to hit the hiking trails on South Africa's famous Wild Coast. Set off south of Port Edward, following the coast and on through an area known as the 'petrified forest' – stopping to take in the Mzamba fossils from the Cretaceous period – before hiking on through the stunning Nyameni RIver. Reach the red dunes for a beautiful section until you arrive at the Xolobeni community. This is your homestay experience, where you'll gain an insight into local village life and hear how this community uses the income from tourism to fight proposals for prospective mining projects in the area. Enjoy a traditional Xhosa dinner before settling down for the night.

Day 8

Xolobeni to Mtentu

Hiking

4-5hrs · 13km · 270m up · 175m down

Say goodbye to your hosts at the Xolobeni homestay after breakfast, then hike further along the coast to Mtentu through more spectacular Wild Coast scenery. Reach your final base of the trip – a lodge in a stunning spot – and settle in with some light walks to explore, finding some epic swim spots on the estuary and beach. Kick back and enjoy a sundowner before dinner.

Day 9

Chasing waterfalls and swim spots

Kayaking

3hrs · 12km

Wild Swimming

2hrs

Hiking

2hrs

Hop back into a kayak today for a paddle up the Mtentu Estuary to reach Swallowtail Falls – a beautiful cascade tumbling into a perfect natural swim pool. Lap up the beauty with a bit of wild swimming, some cliff jumps or some exploratory hikes upstream. Back at the lodge, it's your final night of the trip so celebrations are the order of the day, toasting an epic 10 days.

Day 10

So long, South Africa

Driving

4.5hrs

Your adventure comes to an end today with one final breakfast on the Wild Coast. Your host will transfer you to Durban's King Shaka International Airport in time for any onward flights (departing late afternoon or evening of this day).

Included

Guides

Expert, local, English-speaking guides

Accommodation

2 nights in hotels, 2 nights in mountain lodges, 2 nights in safari-style tents, 2 nights in river lodges and 1 night in a community homestay

Meals

All breakfasts, lunches and dinners

Transfers

Airport transfers and everything in between

Equipment

All your gear for rafting and kayaking

Permits

All National Park and Reserve entry fees and permits

Not Included

Flights to and from the meeting point

Travel insurance

Personal expenses

Tips for your guides

Some meals as described

Visas where required

Day 1

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 2 – Day 3

Lodge · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 4 – Day 5

Safari Tent · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 6

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 7

Homestay · Multi share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 8 – Day 9

Lodge · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 10

Departure day

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

What is the food like?

Breakfasts on this trip are usually a combination of fresh fruits, yoghurt and granola and/or the option of a full English breakfast with an African twist (such as crumbly pap served with spicy tomato relish). Morning tea or coffee is almost always accompanied by a homemade rusk (much like a dehydrated cookie), so you can perfect the art of dunking it in your tea for just long enough. Trail lunches tend to be what can be easily carried – rolls or wraps with filling, trail mix and most South African’s favourite snack – biltong or droe-wors (meat that has been salted, cured and hung to dry). Dinners are as diverse as they are flavourful, from Cape Malay curries to rich oxtail stews and no doubt a good South African braai or two. At Tugela Bush camp you’ll sample slow-roasted meat such as a wild boar spit. The braai ‘sides’ are just as important: pap (corn grain made into a stiff porridge) served with chakalaka, five-bean salad, braaied mielies (corn on the cob) and roosterkoek (often garlic bread roasted over the coals) are firm favourites. At the homestay, you'll fill up on warm xhosa pot bread (traditionally made in a heavy cast-iron pot with a lid over an open fire) dunked with chicken curry and locally harvested vegetables – such as wild spinach imfino, roasted butternut tops and samp (dried corn kernels), and sugar beans.

Vegetarians are easily catered for on this trip, but fully vegan is a little more tricky in the more rural areas, where dairy and egg alternatives are harder to come by. Other dietary requirements and allergies can be catered for. Please just request this on your passenger info form.

What is the accommodation like?

Cavern Resort & Spa

You'll bunk down for one night at the Cavern Resort & Spa in a spectacular spot, following a road trip through South Africa to reach the Drakensberg Mountains. You'll stay in twin-share rooms with ensuite bathrooms.

Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge

Nestled in the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area is the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. Sitting at 2285m above sea level, it's the highest lodge in the Northern Drakensberg and overlooks the stunning Sentinel Peak and iconic Amphitheatre. You'll stay in twin-share rooms with private bathroom facilities.

Tugela Camp

Located in between the Drakensberg and the Wild Coast, you'll spent two nights at the beautiful and unique Tugela Bush Camp. Nestled among the diverse ecology of the Tugela River valley, your stay here will be relaxing and restorative, with plenty of hammock time, campfire dinners and stargazing after your active days. You'll stay in a mobile safari-style camp on the banks of the river on the first night, followed by a night at the main camp with thatch, stone and canvas dwellings and delightful outdoor showers overlooking the bush.

Xolobeni Community Homestay

On the Wild Coast you'll spend a unique evening at a village homestay, bunking down in traditional mud and thatch-roofed rondavels – a type of African hut. The setup is basic: you'll bed down on single mattresses on the floor (with bedding provided) on a same-sex, multi-share basis, and shared bathroom facilities. This is a real, authentic cultural experience – get to know your hosts, learn about their village life and enjoy a traditional Xhosa dinner.

Mtentu River Lodge

Your final two nights of the trip are spent at Mtentu River Lodge on South Africa's Eastern Cape. Wood-and-thatch accommodation is set in a spectacular natural setting, with wooden walkways meandering around the lodges. You'll stay in same-sex, twin-share rooms with bathroom facilities shared with other members of the group. There is a stunning private beach at the lodge – perfect for evening sundowners.

Upgrades

For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked throughout the trip for an extra charge, see Optional Extras. Please note this does not apply for the night at the homestay in Xolobeni. Please request this at the time of booking (this is subject to availability).

The Area

map

Logistics

Starts

Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport

11:30

Ends

King Shaka International Airport, Durban

15:00

Transfers

Your host will meet you on arrival at Johannesburg O. R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) and transfer the group across to the first night's accommodation in the Drakensberg, which is around a 4.5 hour drive.

Travel options

There are direct flights to Johannesburg from major hubs in Europe and North America, such as London, New York, Washington, Paris and Amsterdam. Travellers from other start points in Europe and North America can transit through any of the aforementioned hubs.

Enjoy 12.5% Off Outdoor Gear

In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 12.5% discount to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock and Runner's Need.

What's included?

  • All equipment for rafting and kayaking

What do I need to bring?

BAGS

  • Soft overnight duffel bag or rucksack
  • Daypack (30-40 litres, to give you enough space to pack for 3 days hiking in the Drakensberg)
  • Waterproof liner for kitbag or rucksack
  • Small drybag for the kayaking and wild swimming

CLOTHES

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Breathable wicking layers
  • Fleece jacket or similar for evenings
  • Buff or neckscarf
  • Lightweight trousers/shorts/skirts
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear and socks
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Sleepwear
  • Hiking boots (worn-in)
  • Sandals
  • River/beach shoes or old trainers for kayaking, rafting and wild swimming

EXTRA LAYERS FOR WINTER DATES: MAY TO AUGUST

  • Base layers (merino is best)
  • Warm hat
  • Lightweight gloves

OTHER

  • Universal travel plug adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Passports (and visas)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Ear plugs
  • Insect repellent
  • Suncream
  • Personal first-aid kit (inc. blister treatment)
  • Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Alcohol hand-gel
  • Headtorch or torch
  • Reusable water bottle x2 litre
  • Biodegradable wet-wipes
  • Energy bars and snacks - read our article on Best Hiking Snacks

Optional Private Room Upgrade - 2023 dates

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room Upgrade - 2023 dates

Optional Private Room Upgrade - 2024 dates

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room Upgrade - 2024 dates

This trip is brand new

We’re still waiting to collect any reviews from other travellers on this trip. However, all our hosts go through an extensive vetting process to ensure that your adventure is awesome.

We've crunched the numbers to work out the total carbon footprint of this trip, and plant enough trees to suck 2x as much back out the atmosphere.

What's the number?
It works out on average at 582kg of CO2 emissions per person, including all local transport, accommodation, food, activities, guides, staff and office operations.

The only thing it doesn’t include right now is flights and travel to the destination. We do make an overall estimate across all our customers separately, but as we don’t book flights, have customers from all corners of the world, and no way of reliably knowing their travel plans, we simply can’t include an individual number in the figure on display here. We’ve got a goal for 2023 to fix that, so that when you book, there is a way to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by your flight too.

But what does the number mean?
Yep, hard to picture eh? To give you an idea:

  • Driving 1000miles/1609km would be approx. 281kg of CO2 in an average car (or 140.5kg per person if there was 2 of you in it).
  • A return economy class flight London - New York would be approx. 1,619kg (1.66 tonnes) per person.
  • 10 trees in a temperate forest are estimated to remove approx. 250kg of CO2 from the air in a period of 5-10 years.

What are we doing about it?
Our trips are relatively low-carbon by design, and we're working with all our hosts to develop long term carbon reduction plans. For every person booked with us since 2016 we’re planting enough trees to suck at least 2x more carbon out the atmosphere than is emitted by their trips. All native trees, as part of amazing projects that are re-foresting degraded land, tackling the biodiversity crisis and supporting local communities at the same time. We go further than that too, also funding re-wilding projects worldwide to help protect important keystone species from extinction. See the reforestation and re-wilding schemes we support. See our carbon action plan.

Want to know more?
Amazingly, no international travel company has ever publicly published their carbon measurements before, as far as we know. We believe that must change, quickly. So we’re openly sharing the method we used in the hope that other companies will be able to more easily follow suit and build on what we've done so far. You'll find it all here.

Overall this is a very manageable trip by anyone with good fitness levels and capable of spending all day on their feet. There's no doubt the toughest section of the trip is at the beginning where you'll be tucking into some meaty elevation gains to get to the best viewpoints and summits in the Drakensberg, so we suggest doing some warm up day hikes in your local area to make sure you hit the ground running on this trip. The days at Tugela Bush Camp and the Wild Coast are lighter and steadier days, with less elevation to tackle. You won't need any multi-day trekking experience, technical mountain experience, nor previous kayaking or rafting experience.

Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

Tips are not included in the trip cost. These are entirely at your discretion but there is an expectation to tip for good service. Your guide will help with advice, however we suggest the below as a guideline per person:

£5/$6/€6 per day.

Of course, you are free to tip more or less, and the amount should be reflective of your perception of service and quality - a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.

Your host will provide clean drinking water throughout the trip and the tap water in South Africa is generally safe in most of the areas you'll be visiting. Make sure to bring along a reusable water bottle to keep with you throughout the adventure.

In the Drakensberg Mountains, during the summer months of December to February, temperatures in the lower elevations can range from 20-30°C (68-86°F), while temperatures in the higher elevations can range from 10-20°C (50-68°F). During the winter months of June to August, temperatures in the lower elevations can drop down to 10-20°C (50-68°F), while temperatures in the higher elevations can drop below freezing, with occasional snowfall.

The Eastern Cape province of South Africa has a varied climate with different regions experiencing different weather patterns. The coastal regions are generally milder and wetter, while the interior regions are drier and have greater temperature extremes.

The Eastern Cape and Wild Coast area has a temperate climate, with warm summers and cool winters. The summer months of December to February are generally warm to hot, with temperatures ranging from around 20-30°C (68-86°F) in the coastal regions and 25-35°C (77-95°F) in the interior. The summer months also tend to be the wettest, with frequent thunderstorms and occasional heavy rainfall. The winter months of June to August are cooler and drier, with temperatures ranging from around 10-20°C (50-68°F) in the coastal regions and 5-15°C (41-59°F) in the interior. Frost and occasional snowfall can occur in the high-lying areas of the province during winter.

As this trip starts in Johannesburg and ends in Durban, you won't be able to leave any excess luggage at the start of the trip. Your luggage will be transferred for you throughout the trip by your host and driver.

We recommend checking out the country specific information here and also talking to a travel nurse.

Your host has factored in alternative hiking routes in the Drakensberg and Wild Coast area in case bad weather affects any of the planned routes during the trip. In the Tugela Bush Camp section of the trip, the water levels will dictate which activities you'll take part in: when the water levels are at their highest, groups will raft the river; when they are lower, the river is more suitable for kayaking. If the water levels drop so low as to not allow either rafting or kayaking, your host has factored in an alternative hiking day through the river valley.

No. You'll need to have a larger bag suitable for all your belongings which will be transported for you, and then a daypack to carry personal items during each day of hiking. You should ensure that your day pack is on the large size (30-40litres) to allow you to carry enough personal items and changes of clothing for the Drakensberg section, as you will be leaving your main pack at the Cavern Hotel after the first night of the trip, returning on Day 4 after two nights spent in the mountains.

On the Tugela River and Mtentu Estuary you'll use single 'sit-on-top' kayaks, which are very stable and easy to paddle for everyone including new paddlers through to experienced paddlers.

The maximum weight limit for the kayaks is 100kg / 15st 10lb.

Our recommended travel insurance provider is Campbell Irvine.

Travel insurance is compulsory on all of our adventures. Your insurance should include adequate protection for overseas medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, your baggage and equipment and the specific activities involved on your adventure.

Your insurance policy should also include specific Covid-19 cover, including cancellation and curtailment cover if you, your travel companion or a close relative are diagnosed with Covid-19.

We fully endorse Campbell Irvine as their insurance offers all of the above, so get in touch with them or call on 020 7938 1734 to get your insurance sorted. We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book your adventure, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

We automatically convert prices from the local currency that a host receives to your chosen currency. We update our exchange rates on a daily basis so this does mean that prices displayed on the site are subject to currency fluctuations, which is why you may see them change over time.

If you wish to change the currency you pay in, head to the bottom of the page.

All of our group adventures are specially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded. Children can be accommodated on some private departures.

You're in good company. Our adventures are typically made up of a mix of solo travellers and small groups of two or three friends who simply love adventure, pushing themselves and meeting awesome like-minded people. See here for more info about our lovely bunch of Much Better Adventurers.

Want to book a private trip? Just tap ‘Private Group’ in the dates and prices tab.

Your trip is led by carefully curated local hosts and expert guides. See here for more info about the guides we work with.

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Full Financial Protection

You can choose to pay for this trip in as many installments as you like, with no interest or fees.

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