Offroading with a 4x4 can sometimes seem like a bit of an exclusive club, done by people who wear hiking boots to work and like their coffee strong, black and in army surplus water bottles. But it needn’t be. With the sheer amount of natural diversity on offer in South Africa, 4x4 trails are an experience accessible to everyone with an interest and a sense of adventure. We’ve picked our top six offroad trails in SA and, because some trails require more experience than others, we’ve rated them according to difficulty (Fair, Moderate, Difficult, Strenuous, Extreme) as well as given the scenery our vote out of five stars.
Kwa Zulu Natal
Sani Pass is one of the highest mountain passes in South Africa, leading into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. The mountain wilderness accessible via this trail is only possible with a 4x4 or a mule, and you are going to need some skill to navigate this one. But, once you are immersed in the totally wild mostly inaccessible and unnamed mountain peaks of the southern Drakensberg, the reward is self evident. If you’d decide to stay indefinitely, you’re welcome at any one of KZN Wildlife’s accommodation gems.
Difficulty: Strenuous to ExtremeScenery: ★ ★ ★★ When the mist clears, you can see for literally miles.
The Drakensberg is another superb area of mountain passes and undeveloped trails for enthusiasts and its many mountain passes are most commonly traversed by the adventurous in 4x4s. Some of the rewarding passes include Naude’s Nek and Bastervoetpad, which can be particularly challenging in snow and wet weather conditions. Be sure to visit the Addo Elephant Park, where you can also do 4x4 trails, with the added delight of being watched by elephants as you struggle to get traction.Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult, depending on weather conditionsScenery: ★ ★ ★ (but ★ ★ ★★ if there’s snow!)
Boegoeberg Trail runs between the ocean and the Cedarberg Mountains in the Western Cape, on the Lambertshoek Farm. It requires a definite amount of skill but, while the rock formations and inclines are not easily navigated, the scenic rewards are well worth it. While in the Cape, visit Table Mountain National Park, where a variety of walks will test if your hiking skills match your driving skills.Difficulty: ModerateScenery: ★ ★ ★ Mountains to the left and ocean to the right, if you do get stuck, there’s no better middle to be in.
As far as 4x4 trails go, the Richtersveld National Park comes out tops. The sheer abundance of sandy trails and craggy slopes that can range anything from 2-5 days makes it an offroading dream. The tough landscape of this desert mountain park will truly test your experience. But the wonder of stargazing coupled with the unsurpassed beauty of the yearly flower display in this area is well worth fighting those uphill battles.
Difficulty: Difficult to Strenuous, depending on the route and terrain. But experience is advised.Scenery: ★ ★ ★★ So unique it seems out of this world.
The one and only Kruger National Park is also home to four fantastic trails: the Mananga Trail (east of Satara); the Northern Plains Trail (north of Shingwedzi); the Nonokani Trail (which runs between Phalaborwa and Letaba); and the Madlabantu Trail (just off Pretoriuskop). The trails are limited to six vehicles per trail, per day to ensure that the routes are eco-friendly and not overused.Difficulty: FairScenery: ★ ★ ★★ The Big Five around almost every corner.
The astounding biodiversity of the Limpopo area is one of the best kept secrets of South African travel. The Tshugulu EcoRoute in Mapungubwe National Park is relatively easy to complete, but offers excellent views of the Limpopo Valley.
Difficulty: FairScenery: ★ ★ ★ The green valleys of the Waterberg are easy on the eye.