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If you’ve tried to book some of South Africa’s hiking trails, you’ll know that the process is often as much fun as stubbing your toe and getting lost in the first kilometre of your most important race of the year.
The founders of Johannesburg-based company Afritrails were just as frustrated, which is why they launched website afritrails.com as a one-stop booking portal in November 2020.
“Our interests were piqued when we realised that people are misinformed about the availability of many trails, thinking that they must be booked a year in advance. In reality, this is not the case and the confusion is created by the lack of real-time calendar visibility of each trail,” says co-founder Evan Sparks.
I enjoyed the site’s uncluttered simplicity. Its menu elicits two actions from visitors:
- find / book a trail using the Find Your Path option which dominates the homepage or via All Trails menu and
- list a trail via its List Your Trail menu.
A third menu – Our Partners – is of minor importance currently, and is expected to be changed in future.
Finding trails with Afritrails
If you’re looking for trails – let’s say in your province – simply select your region from the dropdown, and if you want, filter options further based on price, duration, and distance.
If you’d like to do a wider search, such as trails countrywide for R500 or less, leave Province unselected, then drag the right slider to R500. You’ll be shown the nine trails that currently fall in that price range.
My search for Gauteng trails via the trails page yielded just three results: Ezemvelo, Somabula, and Sable Ranch Trail. I thought that was on the low side, so asked co-founder Evan Sparks about it. He said there are a lot of Gauteng trails not listed yet, so more are being added.
He also said that a future search function will also offer trails in neighbouring provinces when these are close to the area of choice. For example, Gauteng search results will also show trails in North-West Province, due to its proximity to Gauteng.
A KwaZulu-Natal search yielded 19 trails, some of which are also listed in the Eastern Cape / Pondoland region. This overlap can be useful for someone who’d have no problem travelling a bit further to experience a new trail in a neighbouring province. Personal standouts include Amphitheatre, Dargle, Giants Cup Trail, Karkloof Falls 2 Falls Trail, Primitive Camp, and Wild Coast.
The Western Cape has more public trails than any other province, so a search there unsurprisingly showed the largest number: 37. Some of my personal bucket list trails are Otter, Boesmanskloof, Garden Route, Harkerville, Whale Trail, Tsitsikamma, Swellendam, Swartberg, Strandloper, Outeniqua, and Oystercatcher.
Each trail also has a side menu for its route (including distances from stop to stop), accommodation details (eg camping or hut, whether there’s electricity or not), suggested equipment, food list, and cancellation policy, all of which is useful for planning.
Booking trails through Afritrails
You can check availability for any trail until the end of 2021. If you click on the calendar and select 3 November 2021, for example, you’ll get a result showing you a month ahead of that date, ie until 3 December 2021.
The number of berths available are shown in the grey blocks. A hyphen (–) indicates the trail is booked out for that day.
Listing your trail
Countrywide there are already 130 individual partners, and more are being added regularly. It’s free to add your trail.
I sent the team a test listing. Their web form required just basic contact details, trail name, trail type, and trail duration. They also have a Zendesk Chat With Us facility, a message to which was responded to in minutes.
What impressed me most about Afritrails.com was the ability to view trail availability in real-time, and book 130 trails (with more being added constantly) directly from their easy-to-use platform. They charge the same price as the trail, plus a service fee, which is shown at checkout.
Co-founder Alon Hendel says “We believe that the site will increase bookings for all the trails in the country and reduce vacancies in the parks in which they are situated.”
Local travel is bound to enjoy a revival once the proverbial coronavirus dust settles. City dwellers certainly have a renewed thirst for wide open spaces, so I think time will prove Alon right.