There is an outside chance that the lads from Led Zeppelin were not singing about the Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail when they originally recorded Misty Mountain Hop. But, at the very least, the title does perfect justice to this multi-day hop over and through the enchanted forest-clad hills and valleys of Limpopo. Magoebaskloof boasts some of the very few indigenous subtropical forests in South Africa and is a playground to adventurous spirits. We teamed up with our good friends Grant and Lee-Ann to discover more about this beautiful trail. Over the course of three days, we found out just why this is a must-hike for those that love the outdoors. We also found five items to be particularly useful when on trail in the forests of Magoebaskloof.

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Gemsbok / Kgalagadi

1. Waterproof things

Some form of water protection is obviously a good idea for any hike. But it does happen that one sometimes sacrifices additional gear and weight such as rain jackets when the forecast doesn’t hint toward torrential downpours. Don’t make this mistake in the Magoebaskloof though. Thick mist is as synonymous to the area as braais are to Saturdays. Whilst waking up listening to the gentle rainlike dripping of misty moisture on the hut is magical, walking through it for a few hours with a spongelike fleece top is not. 

Male lion / Kgalagadi
Agama / Kgalagadi
Jackal tracks / Kgalagadi

2. Birder things

Non-birders sometimes tend to underappreciate special bird sightings. At the risk of sounding too judgemental here, this is rather a motivation to anyone to consider packing a pair of binoculars or bird app when hiking through these forests. The area is very rich in rare and super-localised forest bird species that you are unlikely to see anywhere else. If you keep your ears and eyes open you might discover that you are sharing your swim with a pair of scarce mountain wagtails, your trail with a bluemantled flycatcher, or your overnight hut with a colony of endangered Cape parrots. We did, and it made the whole experience infinitely more rewarding.

3. A sense of humour

Unlike with Toyotas, one cannot expect that things will always go according to plan on trail, and a sense of humour failure doesn’t typically help these situations. We managed to time our trail with the same weekend as the annual Magoebas Ultra, an intense trail running marathon through the same forests. Whilst it was not exactly fun to share a day in the forest with 200 spandex-clad, camelback-sporting, nimble-footed super athletes, pulling over for a roadside lunch and providing running commentary certainly was. Also, the booking office double booked both our overnight huts. Lessons: check the Ultra’s dates next time, phone to triple check your booking, and always make the best of the unforeseen.

4. Old-school entertainment

The daily hiking distances are not very far, and the overnight hut locations are all spectacular. We stayed at the Dokolewa pools and at the Seepsteen stables, and would love to also go to the Waterfall and Woodbush huts next time. Depending on your fitness levels, you might well end up with a lot of downtime to rest. We often take a book for these beautiful quiet times, away from any cell phone networks and their notifications. Some of the folks staying in our double-booked huts lazed around playing card games and chess. There is something to be said about bringing entertainment back to the very basics.

Elephant / Mapungubwe

5. Hamstrings

There is a reason why kloof is part of Magoebaskloof. Most of the routes involve some very interesting inclines and declines. That hamstring-burning, sweat-soaking, out-of-breath kind of interesting. However, we are not the fittest hikers around and made it out alive (barely). As long as you take regular breaks to watch birds and take photos (of course) there is nothing to be worried about, but fit folks will find it easier.  

The Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail will stay with us as a most magical adventure. The damp mossy smell of the forest undergrowth, the ancient bearded yellowwoods, the feeling of cool morning mist wetting your face and the sounds of Knysna turacos echoing through the deep and dense ravines cannot be justly described – they must simply be experienced. Surely Robert Plant must have meant this place: So I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains, where the spirits go now, over the hills where the spirits fly.