In September this year, (2022) Mama Cat visited the relatively newly upgraded Leopard Trail. Here’s her account;
I am continuously amazed at the extraordinary multi-day trails that we have access to in South Africa. The trail was upgraded in 2020, so you no longer need to set up your tent each evening, you can simply unroll your sleeping bag in one of the three glass faced sleeping cabins. This 4 day trail is challenging but not strenuous or inaccessible by the average hiker. The luxuries of the huts make the experience even more accessible as you can put your feet up and enjoy a cold beer after a day of hiking…
Map & Trail information:
We were a group of 12, we got two maps and two booklets for the group. There are very few opportunities to go wrong on this trail so if you look at the route markers and pay attention to the signs you won’t need to check the map often.
Each group of 12 gets 14 boxes – this can be made up of the large boxes they give you, the plug in freezer / fridge (you can choose the setting) and coolers you bring yourself.
Time of Year:
We went in September (flower season), it was freezing as soon as the sun went down, cool in the shade and very hot in the sun. We only left the hut at 9am each day, so if you leave earlier you can miss the heat of the day. One days 1,2 & 3 there were shady spots for our lunch breaks, but on the last day I would advise you leave early to arrive back by lunch time as there is not a tree or canyon to shade you after 5km.
Management & Bookings:All information can be found via their website.
We drove from Cape Town, along the N1 on the way there and the R62 on the way back. The Joburgers flew to PE and borrowed a car to drive to Baviaanskloof. It is a long drive, but you could easily hike Day 1 after a drive if you leave town early enough. 8 hour drive and a pretty easy 10km hike.
Your group needs to check in individually, signing indemnity forms and have a group briefing.
You can leave your cars safely on the farm while you are hiking, there is a parking lot where you have the briefing.
Each camp has a central Boma which is very well equipped, your boxes get dropped here and your freezer gets plugged in for you. There are two cooking stations on each side of the boma and one sink. Every utensil you need is there (see pics below), and all braai tools are also there. There is a large round pool for you to cool down in, and a lovely braai area with plenty of good quality chairs and a table to prepare whatever you choose to braai. The four hot showers are located on either side of the main boma, with two flush toilets and a basin in a separate building away from the hut. Then there are 3 bedroom huts, each with two bunk beds, four benches, hooks where you need them and a basin for you to brush your teeth and wash your face. The huts all have a deck for you to sit on and enjoy the views.
The trails are very well maintained so you don’t need to worry much about having your legs scratched by the bushes, getting lost or falling down a hill. Very pleasant after a recent hike in the Cederberg!
R2400 per person, including the 14 boxes per group of 12.
4 days, 3 nights
63km in total, over 4 days.
We had great weather, it didn’t rain at all. It would be nice to go after it had just rained so that you can swim in the pools on day one and two.
There is only water on Day 3 of the hike if you take the route leading to the lunch spot with shade at the Draai Punt. There is a small stream with crystal clear water that we drank on, but you should not rely on this. Make sure you have at least 3 litres of water with you on Day 3, and at least 2 litres on the other days.
I am very hiking fit, but I would still say this hike is manageable by most. Day 3 is challenging as it is long. Apart from a few hills there is not much elevation, you are mostly cruising through valleys and canyons. The hike is as easy, if not easier than the Whale Trail.
Cedar Falls Hike:
Our group decided at the last minute not to do the Cedar Falls hike on day 5, we had booked accommodation so that we could do this hike which is considered the most beautiful hike in the area and the attraction of the farm. I would recommend that you do this hike before you start the trail so that you don’t feel too tired at the end. I wish I was able to do it but everyone decided to leave!
Day One: 9.75 km
We had a slow morning, ate breakfast, finished packing our boxes and headed off around 10am. The first part of the hike is a slow and steady uphill. We took it easy and stopped along the way to look back into the valley where the farm is located. Gorgeous views and a very wide path, so if you can hold a conversation while panting, you can do so alongside a few friends. Once we were at the top we were cruising. We spotted some donkeys across the valley and a lot of really gorgeous flowers. Before we knew it we came across the Gabriel’s Pool’s detour and headed into the small canyon for a lunch break. Unfortunately the water was stagnant and didn’t look great for a swim so we enjoyed the shade and ate our lunch. After lunch it was more cruising, no elevation gained or lost, and before we knew it we were at the hut. We enjoyed a swim, had a nap and prepared dinner in the main boma, enjoying the fire and watching the sunset and the moon rise.
On the menu:
Breakfast: Toast with marmite and avo
Lunch: bread with Harissa Hummus, tomato and cucumber
Dinner: Asian noodles with mushrooms and baby spinach
Day Two: 18km
This day loops you back towards the farm starting out in a valley criss crossing an old river bed and then up and out of the valley and back down into another. The flowers at this time of year are truly gorgeous and it's worth taking the time (you don’t have a heavy pack, so no reason not to stop) to enjoy them as you discover them. The veld was close to carpeted with bushes of tiny purple flowers and bushes of tiny yellow flowers. This trail loops you back to the upper pool of the water system where you had lunch the previous day, you are likely to hear the group behind you while eating your lunch. We enjoyed the respite from the sun and read our books after we ate up. The last section before you get to the huts involves some uphill, we decided to take a detour up an additional hill and got to see the nights camp from a nice high point, worth the detour (not marked as a detour, just has a silhouette of a bird indicating a path to the top of a koppie). We then descended to camp and enjoyed another chilled afternoon.
On the menu:
Day Three: 22km
This is by far the longest day, we only left at 9 as we were enjoying the relaxed nature of the hike and didn’t feel a need to rush. We got into camp at 4 and enjoyed a nice lunch break so no need to rush if the weather is on your side. This day also started with a 5km or so cruise through the valley before we ascended one of three hills. At the top of each hill you can see the next, which challenges you mentally as you are given a taste of what's coming next, but then you feel great once you descend hill number 3 and enjoy the cruise through the valley. There is a lovely detour on this day at the Draai Punt, I highly recommend having lunch up this detour, while it’s a 22km day its only a 230m detour and so worth it. There is a gorgeous kloof with big beautiful trees, plenty of shade and we were lucky enough to have ice cold clear water to wash our faces, cool off our feet and then further upstream from these activities we could refill our water bottles (don’t rely on this as its very dependent on the weather). From here you cruise through the kloofs, the last of which is filled with old olive trees, a few stagnant pools and grassy patches. Towards the end of the hike you come out onto a jeep track which leads you to the hut. Make sure you hop in the pool before the sun sets and it gets too cold to swim J This was the last night on the trail, we had a feast and yet another good night's rest.
On the menu:
Breakfast: Chia & Nectarine Oats with Chocolate Moondust Wazoogles and a banana.
Lunch: Bread with avo, cucumber and a spread I brought back from Germany :)
Dinner: Santa Anna’s Tacos! With Beetroot Hummus, pineapple grilled on the braai, leftover veg cooked in salsa, avo, fresh salad.
Day Four: 13km
The last day of a hike often feels a bit longer than you would like it to. Even though we were not deprived of a single luxury and the hiking was only a little challenging, you are still often excited to get back to base camp. We didn’t rush the day, but leaving early on this would have made sense as there is NO shade for your lunch break, we simply sat down in the baking sun and ate our lunch. Much like the previous day we spent the first section cruising through kloofs and then had a pretty descent ascent up the hills onto a plateau. From here you snake your way back down and then up a very pleasant last hill. Always remember to look back, and take time to enjoy the views as they are not always in front of you on this hike. After discovering even more unique flowers the path connected with a jeep track that takes you back to base camp, where we hopped in yet another gorgeous round pool and opened up some cold beverages to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
On the menu:
Breakfast: Toast with marmite and avo
Lunch: Crackers with Mama Alles Hummus, cucumber, and tomato.
The bucket list of hikes in South Africa seems to be growing ever longer, but I would say this one should be added to it. Such a special landscape that one may not hike if it weren’t for the pools at each hut as your are in the hot desert like karoo. Really well managed, well designed and thoughtfully considered trail hiking experience in South Africa.