Fanie Botha Hiking Trail
Hike Overview: Fanie Botha Hiking Trail
Go Outside Rating: ****
Trail Type: 5 day hike
Slack Packing: Yes! (Must be organised in advance)
Level: Moderate to difficult (They have a number of different options to suit all fitness levels)
Total Distance: 77km’s
Daily Distance: Day 1: 10km Day 2: 16.4km Day 3: 15km Day 4: 12km Day 5: 23.3km
Location: Sabie – Mpumalanga
Accommodation: Basic hikers cabins in breathtaking, isolated locations
Path Markings: Adequate
Parking: Undercover parking at Ceylon Hut with 24 hour security
Cell Reception: Yes
Bookings: Bookings are essential and should be made well in advance
Capacity: They can comfortably accommodate 10-18 people
Ablutions: All of the cabins have 1 or 2 flush toilets except for Mac Mac which only has 2 long-drops
Showers: 2 showers per cabin but they are not very hot – even in the cabins with electricity
Electricity: The Mac Mac cabin and the Stables hut do not have electricity
Fanie Botha Fun:
THE FANIE BOTHA HIKING TRAIL
The Fanie Botha hiking Trail is made up of 6 hikers cabins with a number of routes that criss-cross between them. When booking the hike you can choose which routes and which cabins you want to use, as well as the number of days you want to spend on the trail. We hiked the most popular option which includes a night at each of the cabins and is considered the “full Fanie Botha hike”.
Our group was made up of 12 brave friends and together we conquered long days of hiking in the rain, many slips and slides, wet socks, bee stings, spiders, lunches of dry crackers, 6am wake-up calls and long drops – and in the process made memories on the misty hills of Sabie to last a lifetime.
DAY 0: Arrival at Ceylon Hut
Ceylon Hut is a 4-5 hour drive from Pretoria and marks the official start of the Fanie Botha Hiking Trail. Upon arrival we were welcomed by a happy old jack russel who showed us around the first cabin. It is actually a large house with a beautiful garden, veranda, inside dining room and a covered braai area.
As is usually the case with a big group of hikers, it was immediately apparent that we had brought way too much stuff, so we set to work – drinking and eating to lighten the load for the next few days.
– Slack Packing is an option on the hike. This is not advertised anywhere – but can be arranged when you make a booking, if you ask nicely.
Check out our Multi-Day Slackpacking Menu here.
– We advise arriving at Ceylon Hut before sunset. The roads are well maintained but the weather changes quickly in the area and it can be dangerous in heavy rain and fog.
Day 1: Ceylon Hut to Maritzbos (10km)
The first day of hiking is a wonderfully easy warm-up for the legs, in preparation of what lies ahead over the next few days. The majority of the trail follows deserted gravel roads with some lovely view points along the way. One of the view points is Lone Creek Falls. It is past the half-way mark and is an excellent spot for lunch. From here the last stretch to Maritzbos is relatively flat and fast.
The Maritzbos hut has a beautiful sloping garden (perfect for Frisbee golf or mattress slip ‘n slide) and a large undercover veranda. The hut is a short walk from a few lovely swimming spots. We spent the afternoon swimming, braaing and relaxing, and then admiring the fire flies that danced around the garden as the sun set.
– If you arrive at Maritzbos with some time to spare, we recommend exploring the first section of the next days trail. This is because day 2 is long and you may not have time to properly experience the unique and magnificent forest.
Day 2: Maritzbos to Stables (15km)
The hike from Maitzbos to Stables is a really special route. It was our favourite on the Fanie Botha Hiking Trail by far. The first section of the hike heads directly into the dense Fairy Forest. Straight away you feel like you have entered another world – with the trees forming a dense canopy above you and mounds of moss and mushrooms covering the floor. It is spectacularly beautiful and just one of the many attractions that await you on day 2.
The magical little forest path follows the river for the first 5km and in that time you cross the river nearly 20 times. Some of the river crossings have wooden bridges, chains or stepping stones, but most just lead directly through the water… Your shoes are going to get wet. The other highlights include a massive waterfall which is hidden from view until you are just about on top of it (this is also the best swimming spot on the whole hike – it is so tremendous that you can’t help screaming while you swim) and then some lovely rock pools and smaller waterfalls finish off the beautiful hike.
There are also some serious climbs which must be tackled and the day is very long, but the wonderful location of the Stables accommodation, which looks out onto rolling hills, ends the day on nothing but positives.
– We are not kidding when we say your shoes are going to get wet. There really is a water crossing around every corner. We walked the first few kilometers in water booties to avoid the hassel of taking off our socks and shoes 20 times.
DAY 3: Stables to Mac Mac (16.4km)
For us day 3 started with rain. We set off with our ponchos on, shoes still wet from the day before, hoping that the sky would clear up soon. It didn’t. We hiked the full 16.4km in the rain with only one short break which we spent huddled together on top of a hill, surrounded by nothing but white – alone in the universe – with a bag of Peanut M and M’s to share.
We hiked through dense rain forests and along cliff ledges. We zig-zagged up mountains then slid down them on the other side. We climbed grassy hills and boulder hopped across rocky terrain. We walked through rivers, jumped over fallen trees and crawled over slippery bridges. We marched through open plains then fields of flowers. We lost the path – we lost each other… and all the while it rained.
Luckily the Mac Mac hut was waiting for us, hidden in plain sight on top of a hill. We didn’t even know that we had made it until we were basically through the front door. We scrambled to find dry clothes, made huge pots of hot pasta and then climbed into our sleeping bags and played cards and drank wine long into the night… and all the while it rained.
– Day 3 is a really long day; try to survive.
Day 4: Mac Mac to Graskop (12.2km)
It was still raining when we when we set off on day 4, but by now walking in the rain was a way of life. Some of us even ditched our ponchos and rain jackets knowing that everything would be wet eventually anyway. But the beautiful surroundings and the joy of sharing the unique experience with friends kept our spirits up.
The reality is, even though we hiked in the “wet season”, rainfall in the area is always likely. And isn’t that part of the joy of hiking! To experience nature in all forms, without the conveniences of everyday life getting in the way? Well thats what we told ourselves anyway.
Luckily the forest areas that you walk through really are breathtaking and the terrain and view change constantly so there is always something new to see. Towards the end of the hike the trail crosses a main road, from there it enters a pine plantation for the last easy stretch before Graskop.
Day 5: Graskop to President Burger (23.3km)
If you don’t get lost on the last day of the Fanie Botha Hiking Trail – then you can’t really say that you have done the full hike. It seems to be some kind of right-of-passage; a last challenge to overcome before crossing the finish line at President Burger.
We had been warned about this, and sure enough we were confused within the first half an hour of setting off and then full on lost before we even reached the halfway mark. We managed to figure it out eventually though, thanks to a bit of common sense and absolutely no team work.
On top of the tremendous distance which must be covered on day 5, there are some very intense climbs. We were a group of fit and experienced hikers and we struggled! At one point, half way up a never ending hill we all just stopped and plonked down exactly where we were – too tired to take another step. Our feet were sore, our backs were stiff and the sun was beating down on us (we almost missed the rain).
But there is only one way to get to the end, and that is by putting one foot in front of the other – and that is what we did. One foot in front of the other – to the top of that never ending hill, passed the Sabie Pools, along the river, along the train tracks, down to the Mac Mac Falls, back along the train tracks, through the pine plantation and more forests until eventually we walked through the gates of President Burger.
Then, before we knew it we were back at home, missing the glorious isolation of the mountains and wishing we were back in that spot – halfway up that never ending hill – so that we could do it all again.
When you get lost, the right thing to do is go back to the last clear sign that you have passed and work your way forward from there. The wrong thing to do is insist that everyone follows you because you have a ‘good feeling’ about a certain direction – and then spend the rest of the week apologising for adding a full 2 hours onto an already infinitely long hike… Who would have thought?
Fanie Botha Hiking Trail
Video Date: 26 December 2016
12 friends, 5 days of hiking, 2 days of rain and endless fun on the mountains of Sabie. (The fun seen in this video is not guaranteed, unless you have friends as crazy as ours!) Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more trail videos like this one.
The full Fanie Botha hike, including the last day of 23 kilometers, is a tough route and a moderate fitness level is essential if you want to enjoy your time on the trail. That being said, it is an unbeatable showcase of the diversity of our beautiful country, and well worth puffing up a few climbs for, so you should give it a go regardless – or try one of the shorter trail options.
The limited facilities at some of the huts requires some extra thought when preping and packing for the trail – but it also adds a great element of adventure to the hike (there is no long-drop that can’t be defeated with a head-torch and a buddy system!)
Slack packing is cheating but in this instance it is fantastic. Having no heavy bag means there is more time for enjoying the scenery, swimming and other activities during the day. And more wine to enjoy at night. There is an additional cost for slack packing, and space is still limited.