It is true that there is no better way to experience the natural beauty of a place than to do some hiking boots, take to the trails and explore. South Africa is a treasure trove of spectacular hiking routes. Some of these routes have recently been given the coveted green flag nod, counting among the best trails around. But what is a green flag and why does it matter?
Green Flag Trails is a voluntary sustainability and quality eco-label for trails. The system ensures that trails with Green Flag status present the best possible hiking experience, offering hikers all the necessary information needed beforehand to ensure that the hike meets their expectations. It defers from classifying some trails good and some bad, and lets hikers decide for themselves whether they want to take on a trail or not. Saying that a trail is good or bad is totally subjective, and the same goes for the distinction between hard and easy ones, so a Green Flag trail simply gives you the information you may need to make an educated decision.
The organisation flagging the top trails is passionate about their role in making nature, heritage and culture more accessible to everyone. In today’s fast-paced society, and in most households, experiencing nature has become tantamount to watching an episode of Blue Planet on BBC Earth. It is crucial to get out there again and remember what it feels like to be in a forest, to recall what it sounds like when a Knysna Loerie calls his mate, and to experience a freshness that takes your breath away. Unlike competitive sports, hiking is a peaceful sport where cultivating relationships in a relaxing atmosphere comes highly recommended. It is a fun experience for family and friends, and cultivates a love for nature.
Green Flag Trails assesses the accommodation along the trail (if applicable), the facilities and services such as parking, maps and coordinates, safety, and difficulty level, walking every trail in order to be able to write about and recommend it.
Take the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma area of the Eastern Cape for instance. Possibly the most famous of all trails in South Africa, it winds from lush forest to beautiful shoreline and from mountain stream to cascading waterfall. It is quite a technical route, and for the inexperienced walker it is a strenuous exercise, even though the daily distances aren’t too great. With Green Flag status, you are able to see exactly what the route entails, and gauge for yourself whether you are up for the challenge.
The most popular hike in Mpumalanga is undoubtedly the Magoebaskloof trail. As South Africa’s unofficial hiking mecca, this region sends hikers winding through pine plantations and forestry roads, leading to indigenous forests and the most beautiful streams and pools. The Bushveld offers overnight hikers star-speckled skies and camp fire stories while the Fynbos-rich Boland with its patchwork landscape of vineyards and orchards colour the imagination of even the weariest hiker.
In South Africa, we are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to diverse landscapes, and whether you want to tame the Wild Coast, traverse mountains, explore forests or discover desert plains or ocean shores, you are sure to find a Green Flag trail to fit your adventure level. For a list of the Green Flag Trails, visit www.greenflagtrails.co.za.