If you need a great weekend away to escape from everything, three hours from Johannesburg is the High Five Trail, previously known as the Num Num Hiking Trail, between Badplaas and Machadodorp. Don’t judge this trail by its location or length, it’s a wonderful hike but it’s not for the faint-hearted. The technicality of the trail is worth it for the breath-taking scenery that is equally matched by the hospitality of the locals.
The camps are very comfortable and clean. As they are self-catering, you need to take your own bedding and food along. You can choose from one to five-day trails with slack packing, where you hike between camps and your luggage is taken for you. All you need to take on the hike is a day pack that includes water and snacks for the day’s adventure.
You can start your trail from any of the various camps: Pongola Express, Aloe Kaya, Bermanzi Camp and Candlewood. The best way is to do a circular hike, starting and ending at Pongola Express, with stops at each camp. For safety reasons, a minimum of four people is required in a hiking group.
My group and I did an adjusted 5-day hike from Pongola Express to Aloe Kaya, Candlewood and back to Pongola Express.
Day 1 – Pongola Express to Aloe Kaya
Pongola Express provides a unique experience as you stay in an old renovated train. Staying in the train compartments makes you feel like you have gone back in time, while being provided with all the necessary amenities of the modern world.
The hike from Pongola to Aloe is about 8km but will take about 5 hours. The views are incredible but the technical climb will test your abilities.
Day 2 – Aloe Kaya to Candlewood
At Aloe Kaya, you can blissfully enjoy the scenery. What is particularly unique about this camp is the “loo with a view” as the bathrooms are placed on the escarpment and look out at the rolling hills. There are also open showers placed between the sandstone rock formations, giving you a truly relaxing outdoor experience during your stay.
Hiking to Candlewood will take you through the gorge, across rivers and passed waterfalls. A quick splash under the waterfall is a great way to cool down and relax before carrying on.
Day 3 – Into the gorge and back to Candlewood
The circular trail down into the gorge and back up again is very tough but worth it for the spectacular views. As a green, electricity-free camp, Candlewood is the perfect chance to stop and truly enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
Day 4 – Candlewood to Pongola Express
Day four is time to start your way back to Pongola Express. The trail is tough and mostly downhill. Along the way you can enjoy walking amongst the trees. Look out for a mysterious rusted car door lodged between growing trunks. There are also several ladders to climb and bridges to cross on this route.
Day 5 – Exploring the waterfalls at Pongola Express
The final day of hiking will take you back to the water. Don’t miss this last chance to swim in the rivers and under the waterfalls before getting back to your car.
The High Five Hiking Trail proves that you don’t need to head to the Drakensburg to enjoy a diverse, advanced hike in the mountains at an affordable price. The trail manager, Pieta and his team are passionate about the environment they look after and have taken great care to ensure the trails are well-kept and clearly marked.
Once again, this hike is not for beginners. Proper hiking boots, socks and a moderate level of fitness are highly recommended.
Text and images by Roland van der Merwe