Adventure hiking on South Africa’s longest mountain traverse – Rim of Africa. Would you be up for the challenge?
“This is no ordinary walk in the hills,” says Galeo Saintz, co-founder of this ambitious trail initiative which links trails across CapeNature Reserves and private land all the way from the Cederberg to the Outeniqua mountains in the Garden Route, and covers close to 650km, taking a few weeks to walk end to end.
“Spending time in nature, hiking and meeting new people with a shared passion for the outdoors is a great way to celebrate the rich heritage and diversity of our country,” says Saintz.
The initiative is pioneering a new approach to linking trails and communities across the Cape Mountains and is about much more than just hiking for days on end.
“Trail tourism when sustainably developed delivers tangible benefits to landowners and communities living close to the trail infrastructure. Ecotourism is a product South Africa needs to continually invest in. Trails are a global contributor to the world’s adventure tourism market and form the backbone to many activities that take place on them from day hikes to interpretive guiding, to trail running events, etc. This is important for the rural economy in the Cape.”
Co-founder Ivan Groenhof, a dedicated hiker who originally envisaged the project agrees: “Through our partners, including the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, CapeNature, local community forums and regional tourism authorities and with financial support from boot and apparel brand Hi-Tec South Africa, we are now in a position to further develop our community projects. This initiative is as much about the future as the present – linking trails to conservation and involving communities, helps us to build a new generation of nature champions. The Western Cape’s mountains are a valuable heritage with rich cultural and biodiversity elements and a tourism potential that offer many opportunities. Our collaborators in CapeNature understand this and are willing to support our efforts and show the powerful impact state and NGO collaboration can have.”
In 2012, the Rim of Africa founders were invited to participate in the second annual World Trails Conference in South Korea, where the World Trails Network was formed. This network of the world’s leading trails and trail destinations elected Rim of Africa co-founder Galeo Saintz as its inaugural chairperson. As a result, Saintz has a unique global perspective on the value and benefits the Rim of Africa can deliver to the Cape Mountains.
“We have learnt from and follow the inspiration of other mega-distance hikes from around the world,” says Saintz, “but, the Rim of Africa is also playing a major role in the burgeoning development of the world’s global trails industry, and is already putting South Africa on the global trails map.”
Rim of Africa is a movement and a trails project that really belongs to the people. A non-profit trust oversees the project implementation, planning and coordination, and works to empower local communities with the skills and capacity to be custodians of their section of the route. Money raised goes directly back into supporting the vision and goals to make the Cape Mountains a global trails destination.
“We like to think of the Rim of Africa as a necklace of trails extending along the Cape Mountains, with the beads or gems being the biodiversity, the vistas, the communities, the rivers and waterfalls that hikers experience along the way,” comments Groenhof.
The Rim of Africa experience
Starting in the Cederberg east of Clanwilliam and following the crests and valleys of the Cape Fold Mountain range for 650km until the hike’s end in the Outeniqua mountains outside George, this is one truly epic hiking experience.
Spring is Hi-Tech Trail Season and marks the annual Rim of Africa hike – this is the best time to be in the mountains. Good water, amazing flowers in the fynbos, cool days and views that stretch forever. The trail season is marked by the annual Thru-Hike – the option for committed adventure hikers to take off 56 days and walk the route from end to end in one go. Not everyone can do that and most people who hike the route break it up into 9 week-long sections.
Theme trails are also on offer for those who wish to explore storytelling when walking, or get an insight into the botanical wonders of the mountains, for Matrics and youth they offer an inspiring programme to get youth interested in the hills. Rim of Africa is helping to make the Cape Mountains accessible in a managed and responsible manner.
“This hike is an epic, long-distance experience of a lifetime, traversing some of the wildest parts of the Cape over nine weeks. Since the route was created, only a handful of hikers have completed the full Thru-Hike, most people choose to hike a few sections at a time,” says Saintz.
“We have hikers from across the world coming back every year to hike different sections, depending on their fitness levels and particular interests.”
The original ridgeline route, aptly called the Skyline, is reserved for seasoned and experienced hikers, who are looking to complete one of the world’s toughest and more technical hiking routes. According to Saintz, it is arguably one of the world’s more extreme hiking experiences: “This is no walk in the park, but an opportunity to get deep into the rugged mountain wilderness the Cape has to offer.”
“The average week’s traverse covers anywhere between 60km to 100km, depending on the difficulty of the terrain and the terrain is a challenge – we often hike off path and weather can be extreme. We run the trail from September to November to avoid the wet and cold of winter and the searing heat of summer in the mountains.”
“The vast World Heritage Site of the Cape Floral Kingdom is at the heart of this initiative, as it follows the Cape range from the North to the East. The landscape is breathtaking and the plant diversity is a botanist’s dream – it’s time for South Africans to step up and support this initiative and celebrate its value for present and future generations.”
The Rim of Africa is vast in its vision and is racking up some impressive firsts. It is South Africa’s first internationally recognised Friendship Trail, the longest mountain traverse of its kind in Africa and was trekked by a National Geographic Young Explorer from end to end in 2012.
“We know that the Rim of Africa offers one of the most inspiring hike experiences available and is comparable to the iconic Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail in America or the Te Araoa in New Zealand – albeit a little more extreme and we are certain in time it will be recognised as one of Africa’s great mountain traverses,” says Saintz.
Words and Photography Courtesy of Catalyst Communications