The VhaVenda call it “Tha vhani ya muno” - the Mountain of salt. Rising like an island from the surrounding bushveld flatlands, the forgotten Soutpansberg is South Africa’s best kept secret and one of the most unique and unexplored natural areas of the country. The name ‘Soutpansberg’ is derived from the large natural salt pan situated to the northwest of the range. This pan is the only one of its kind within hundreds of kilometres and since time immemorial has attracted both man and animal. To this day, their indelible marks remain on this part of the mountain.

The Old Salt Trail is a spectacular network of over 100 km of hiking trails across the western Soutpansberg Mountains. The Western Soutpansberg stretches from the small town of Vivo to the West, for about 70 km, to the main town in the region, Louis Trichardt, to the East. Unique in its splendour and beauty, the range stretches in a mighty panorama across the northern reaches of the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

Along The Old Salt Trail, you will experience the rich history left behind by the clans and tribes who passed through the area. San and KhoiKhoi rock art and rock wall fortresses tell their story. The trail will lead you through a wide variety of unique, beautiful habitats and scenery, including stops at special rock art sites, a peek into the underworld of a yellowwood forest and the chance of spotting some of the incredible wildlife that the Soutpansberg mountain range has hidden.

The trails start and finish at Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Medike Mountain Reserve situated on the Sand River in the heart of the proposed Western Soutpansberg Nature Reserve. The Western loop is a slackpacker’s delight, where every need is catered for, and the route takes you up to the highest point of the Soutpansberg, Mount Lajuma. The Eastern loop is for the traditional self-sufficient backpacking hiker, enjoying a night under the stars and experiencing the freedom of choosing your way.

Slackpacker's Deluxe

(Western Loop)

This trail is a spectacular four-night, five-day, 66 km slackpacking hike across the spectacular western Soutpansberg Mountains. Unique in its splendour and beauty, the range stretches in a mighty panorama across the northern reaches of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Winding through this remarkable landscape, you will discover yellowwood forests, proteas, ancient baobab trees and endemic flora and fauna. One might encounter the Endangered Mountain Reedbuck or get a glimpse of a leopard and any one of the many other species this mountain has to offer.  It is the perfect place to unwind, relax, and take in the peace and beauty of the Soutpansberg mountains.

This is a very challenging hike, and a high level of fitness and hiking experience is required. But the challenge is rewarded with the fantastic hospitality experienced along the way, with all meals taken care of and luggage transferred from lodge to lodge. Hikers need only take a day pack with them to carry their own water, snack packs (provided by hosts), and hiking essentials.

Route Summary

Day 1: Medike West to Leshiba IKC up Duluni Gorge (11 km)

Day 2: Leshiba IKC to Lajuma Wilderness Camp, through the yellowwood forest (18 km)

Day 3: Lajuma Wilderness Camp to Sigurwana Lodge via Mt. Ladjuma (13 km)

Day 4: Sigurwana Lodge to Leshiba Venda Village via Hamasha Gorge (13 km)

Day 5: Leshiba Venda Village back to Medike West (11 km)

  • Distance: Approximately 66 km
  • Maximum Capacity: Eight people sharing or four singles
  • Guide: Yes, Soutpansberg Rangers accompany hikers on the trail
  • Age limit: No under 16-year old’s and must be accompanied by a guardian

NOTE: Medike West requires a high clearance vehicle. Hikers with sedan cars can arrange transfers to the start from secure parking nearby.

Map of the Old Salt Trail - Western Route

The Route

Day 1: Medike West to Leshiba IKC up Duluni Gorge (11 km)

Distance: approx. 11 km       

Difficulty: Difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The hike starts on the Sand River gorge at the Medike Nature Reserve Reception. From here, the trail heads across the river along a track to the Marula Camp Site, where it then ventures up the mountain.  An initial steep, tough climb up a rocky hill offers magnificent views of Medike along the way until it reaches a plateau. The trail heads up Duluni Gorge from the plateau, winding its way alongside a stream beneath giant Waterberry and Forest Fever trees. The trail then heads into a clearing where it passes historical terraces where medicinal plants used to be grown. The Leshiba fence is crossed through a swing gate. Once on Leshiba, the trail heads across the plains towards the cliff edges, with magnificent views over the mountains and plans. The end of the trail follows farm tracks to the Leshiba Indigenous Knowledge Centre (IKC).

Accommodation: Leshiba

The first night is accommodated at Leshiba’s Luvhondo Camp (IKC). The huts are fully serviced with bathrooms and hot showers. The fantastic Leshiba staff will welcome hikers and see to all their needs. Includes dinner, basic breakfast, and snack pack for the following day’s hike.

Day 2: Leshiba IKC to Lajuma Wilderness Camp, through the yellowwood forest (18 km)

Distance: approx. 18 km

Difficulty: moderate to difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

This leg of the hike starts with a meander through the Leshiba plains, where game such as giraffe, zebra, Impala and wildebeest might be spotted. It then heads along Dead Man’s Bend and Black Mamba Ridge, which have amazing views over Leshiba before heading into Sigurwana. Once in Sigurwana, the trail follows a jeep track, some areas covered with large, incredible trees and some areas with no cover. This is a long and steady uphill, with a short scramble up some rocks towards the top of the hill, with a spectacular view over the farmlands and Sigurwana. The trail then meanders into a spectacular Yellowwood Forest. In the forest, hikers might be lucky enough to see a Red Duiker and hear the calls of the Purple Crested Turaco. The Yellowwood Forest has an air of peacefulness, and nothing else on the trail compares to this. Once out of the forest, the rest of this trail is open and not covered by big trees and is a fairly easy walk heading through old farmlands where cattle are still being kept. The last section of the trail is a very steep descent to Wilderness Camp on Lajuma takes you through a spectacular rock formation called ‘The Chimneys’, which requires some scrambling down the rocks. This descent is short but technical and will not be attempted in wet weather. An alternate route avoids ‘The Chimneys’ and is an easier descent, passing by a Macadamia orchard for hikers not comfortable with heights or in wet weather.

Accommodation: Conservation Research | Lajuma Research Centre

Lajuma Research Centre’s Wilderness Camp offers basic accommodation designed for student groups. Dinner, basic breakfast, and a snack pack for the next day’s hike are provided.

Day 3: Lajuma Wilderness Camp to Sigurwana Lodge via Mt. Ladjuma

Distance: 12 to 13 km   Difficulty: difficult to very difficult if ascending to the top of Mt Lajuma – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

This leg starts off either by heading up ‘The Chimneys’ again onto what is called ‘The Patches’, or an alternate route along a jeep track and Lajuma’s leopard trail can be used to access the patches for those not wanting to scramble up the Chimneys. The Patches area is open grasslands and termite mounds, where one might be lucky enough to spot Kudu or Mountain Reedbuck. The trail then starts heading up to Mount Letjume, the highest peak in the Soutpansberg mountain range, at 1,747 meters above sea level and about 800 meters above the surrounding plains. At the Saddle of Mount Letjume, hikers do have the option of diverting to the peak for spectacular panoramic views, a steep ascent to the top that follows the same route back to the Saddle. From the Saddle, the trail heads into Sigurwana with another steep descent off the mountain to reach the pains below. The trail then heads through Sigurwana grasslands and small forests where hikers might be lucky enough to spot plains game. There is a small river crossing that hikers can either take off their shoes and cross the river or clamber up some rocks to cross higher up. On the final approach to the lodge, there is a steep descent down a rocky slope along a river and waterfall. This is a technical descent, but the views most definitely make it worth it, with a waterfall on the right-hand side and swifts dipping in and out of the water.

Accommodation: Home – Sigurwana Lodge

Sigurwana offers luxury accommodation, fully serviced rooms and hot water showers. Includes dinner, breakfast and snack pack for the day.

Day 4: Sigurwana Lodge to Leshiba Venda Village via Hamasha Gorge

The Route Day 4: Sigurwana Lodge to Leshiba Venda Village via Hamasha Gorge

Distance: Approx. 12 to 13km

Difficulty: moderate to difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The leg starts with departing from Sigurwana Lodge through a small marshy area, with a short steep descent down a rocky ledge into a streambed. After this, a climb brings the trail onto an open plateau. Hikers should look out for Blue Wildebeest, Sable Antelope and Zebra. After a wonderful hike on the plateau, the trail reaches the Leshiba fence line with a gate. It then traverses along a mountain ridge, hugging the ridge, with beautiful mountain views down into Hamasha Gorge below. The trail then descends into the gorge, with a beautiful lunch stop under shaded trees next to the Hamasha stream. The trail then descends further into the gorge, following the stream, where it then crosses down ‘The Slabs’. These are big, red, angled rock slabs that need to be traversed to get to the bottom of the gorge. This section is very technical, and care needs to be taken. An alternative route is available for those who do not choose to walk over the angled rock slabs and for days when the slabs are too dangerous due to weather, as they will be very slippery when wet. The trail levels out at the bottom of the gorge for a short while before climbing up and out the other side. The climb is relatively long, but it is on a beautiful trail through a forested area. There is an option of popping out of the forest and onto a rocky ledge with views back over the gorge. Further up the trail, it reaches Leshiba plains. Hikers can divert again off the trail to visit bushman paintings (a short, steep climb to the paintings).

Accommodation: Home – Leshiba

Leshiba Venda Village offers luxury accommodation and is the perfect place to sit and reminisce on the trail’s adventures. Huts are fully serviced, and dinner, breakfast, and snack packs are provided.

Optional extra: hikers can upgrade to Leshiba Lavish Suites to experience ultimate luxury (R300 pp extra)

Day 5: Leshiba Venda Village back to Medike West via the cliff edges

Distance: Approx. 11 km

Difficulty: difficult and steep descent – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The final day departs from Leshiba Lodge, following a trail across the Leshiba plains where hikers are likely to see a variety of plains game or even spot a Cape Vulture. The trail then heads past five different viewpoints along the cliff edge, which all have their own unique beauty. It is a gentle start while hiking back towards Medike Reserve. Once beyond the viewpoints, the trail reaches the Leshiba/Medike fence line with a small gate to crawl through. Following this, the trail heads up an incline until it flattens out again at the top of the mountain with incredible views over Medike and surrounding areas. The trail then descends the mountain. It is a long and steep descent, and care needs to be taken. It passes an old settlement ruin along the way. After the long, steep descent, the Sand River valley floor is reached, and hikers then make their way back to Medike Reception, crossing over the railway line, to finish off the trail.

Day 5: Leshiba Venda Village back to Medike West via the cliff edges

Distance: Approx. 11 km

Difficulty: difficult and steep descent – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The final day departs from Leshiba Lodge, following a trail across the Leshiba plains where hikers are likely to see a variety of plains game or even spot a Cape Vulture. The trail then heads past five different viewpoints along the cliff edge, which all have their own unique beauty. It is a gentle start while hiking back towards Medike Reserve. Once beyond the viewpoints, the trail reaches the Leshiba/Medike fence line with a small gate to crawl through. Following this, the trail heads up an incline until it flattens out again at the top of the mountain with incredible views over Medike and surrounding areas. The trail then descends the mountain. It is a long and steep descent, and care needs to be taken. It passes an old settlement ruin along the way. After the long, steep descent, the Sand River valley floor is reached, and hikers then make their way back to Medike Reception, crossing over the railway line, to finish off the trail.

What to bring:

Slackpackers on the Western Loop:

An EWT backup bakkie will take overnight luggage from lodge to lodge (or Research centre). Hikers need only take an appropriate day pack for the day. Hikers need to carry all their own water and snack packs for the day.

Additional items:

  • Day pack
  • Hat
  • Sunblock
  • Appropriate hiking boots or trail shoes
  • First aid kit
  • Snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Two-litre container to carry daily snack pack in your backpack

Backpacker's Boogie

(Eastern Loop)

The Eastern Loop is approximately 45 km of trail on both wilderness trails and jeep tracks. This trail is used in the Soutpansberg Mountain Marathon and offers spectacular scenery and mountain bushveld experiences. It is designed to accommodate the seasoned hiker that enjoys being completely self-sufficient. It is a circular trail that starts and finishes at Medike West Nature Reserve at the bottom of the Sand River Gorge in the heart of the Western Soutpansberg Nature Reserve. The loop traverses adjacent properties in an easterly direction towards Happy Rest Nature Reserve and back. It climbs up the mountain on the eastern side of the gorge, takes in spectacular mountain views and enables the hiker to truly connect with nature.

The loop can be completed in either three to five days, depending on the time a hiker has available and their fitness level. It is back to basics on this loop, with the first night’s accommodation at a wilderness campsite and an option of nights two and three at either Ingwe House or Crewe Camp Site. All hikes are led by an EWT Soutpansberg Ranger.

Route Summary

Option 1: three-day, two-night hike (33–35 km)

Day 1: Medike West – Medike East Castle Rock Camp Site (approx. 7 km)

Day 2: Medike East Castle Rock Camp Site  to Ingwe House/ Crewe Campsite (approx. 10 to 11 km)

Day 3: Ingwe House/Crewe Camp Site via long traverse back to Medike West (approx. 15 km)

Option 2: four-day, three-night hike (42–48 km)

Day 1: Medike West – Medike East Castle Rock Camp Site

Day 2: Medike East Castle Rock Camp Site  to Ingwe House/ Crewe Campsite (night 2)

Day 3: Ingwe House/ Crewe Campsite via Crewe Escarpment Trail (7km) and Bushman paintings option (4km) back to same accommodation (hikers can leave their kit behind and take a day pack for the day)

Day 4: Ingwe House/Crewe Camp Site via long traverse back to Medike West

For a five-day option, the long traverse from Ingwe/Crewe back to Medike West can be split in two, with hikers spending an extra night camping on Medike East.

NOTE: Medike West requires a high clearance vehicle. Hikers with sedan cars can arrange transfers to the start from secure parking nearby.

The Route

Day 1: Medike West to Castle Rock Camp Site on Medike East

Distance: approx. 7­–8 km

Difficulty: moderate to difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

Hikers can park high-clearance vehicles at the start at Medike West, where the group will be welcomed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust team and introduced to the EWT Soutpansberg Ranger that will be accompanying them on the trail. After a short briefing, hikers will depart Medike West to start their adventure on the Soutpansberg.

The route up to Medike East is an old, well-established trail that has been used to traverse the gorge for many years. It is a long, sometimes steep climb up to the top of the gorge, winding through rugged mountain forests and rocky hill slopes. There are ample opportunities for hikers to take a break along the way and take in the spectacular viewpoints overlooking the gorge. The route also passes a fountain along the way. Once on top of the mountain, the trail joins a jeep track through beautiful sand veld forests to end up at the Castle Rock Camp Site on Medike East.

Accommodation: Castle Rock Camp Site is a basic campsite with only a tap for running water and a water trough for the game. A table and an old braai are available, and wood can be provided outside of the fire season at an additional cost (R50/pile). Fires are prohibited during fire season (1 August to first rains in Nov/Dec) and windy conditions.

Optional extra: Hire a tent and sleeping mat from the EWT (small two-man hiking tent) that will be delivered to the campsite by a Ranger for you to set up (R100 per tent & mat, limited availability).

Day 2: Castle Rock Camp Site on Medike East to Ingwe House or Crewe Camp Site

Distance: approx. 10­–11 km

Difficulty: moderate to difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The route starts on jeep tracks in Medike East, which forms the main access road to the neighbouring Ingwe property, with a couple of small stream crossings along the way. This route takes the hiker through pristine Soutpansberg Mountain Bushveld, heading south towards Ingwe. The route then heads west out to the escarpment to a viewpoint with incredible views across the entire far western Soutpansberg. Shortly after this, the trail becomes a single track, winding its way through a variety of habitats as it climbs up a mountain to reach the highest point of 1605 m. After this, it is a fairly steep descent, again through various habitats from rocky slopes, small scrambles, grassy and forested areas, down to the accommodation in the valley below. Spectacular views of valleys and mountains make this a stunning section of the hike.

Accommodation Options:

Ingwe Farm House: This is an old farmhouse with additional chalets that can accommodate 8 people. It comes fully serviced with linen and towels, hot water and braai/fire facilities, as well as a pool.

Crewe Camp Site: This adds an additional 1 km to the hike for self-sufficient hikers preferring to camp. The campsite is nestled against the mountain with spectacular views across the valley and has a shower and toilet available.

Optional Extra Route: Crewe Loop and Bushman Paintings

Distance: Crewe Loop – approx. 7 km, Bushman Paintings – approx. 3–4 km

Difficulty: moderate – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

Hikers can opt for enjoying an extra day on the mountain without the hassle of carrying a big pack and spending two nights at their chosen accommodation option. From Ingwe House or Crewe Camp Site, the route will take you along jeep tracks past an old Lutheran Church, which can be visited. It then passes the old Crewe Farm House (soon to become an accommodation option) and heads up along an old jeep track towards the southern escarpment of the Soutpansberg, climbing up over rocky ledges. The trail continues uphill along the escarpment, then heads in and out of a beautiful fairy forested area in a saddle next to Baken-Kop (the second highest peak of the Soutpansberg). Once out of the forest, the trail climbs up a rocky slope to reach the ridge, overlooking the southern plains and communities below. The trail continues along the ridge, which offers beautiful views over the and eventually descends through the beautiful valley to hike along a mountain stream with a small, rocky waterfall and pools along the way (when the river is flowing). The trail then rejoins a jeep track that will take hikers back to their accommodation, depending on where they stay. This route is easily accomplished during a morning’s hike.

For the extra treat of a rest back at camp, hikers can head over to the San Rock Art site on Ingwe in the afternoon, which is a short walk (<5 km) from the accommodation options.

Final Day, Ingwe House/Crewe Camp Site via long traverse back to Medike West

Distance: Approx. 15–16 km

Difficulty: moderate to difficult – official Green Flag Ratings coming soon!

Route Description:

The final day is a long traverse all the way back to Medike West. It follows the jeep track access road from Ingwe House into Medike East. The road has some ups and downs and is fairly rocky in places and passes by where alien tree clearing work and habitat restoration work is currently in progress, undertaken by the EWT Soutpansberg Rangers. It passes through a beautiful valley with rocky cliffs on the side and beautiful mountain habitats. Once through the gate into Medike East, a little way along, the trail then departs from the jeep track and heads up a rocky slope towards the west. It winds its way through the bush and over some rocks until it reaches the old airstrip and levels off. From here, it starts heading back down the mountain towards Medike West, with a steep rocky descent down to the fountain, where it rejoins the original old trail off the mountain, again with spectacular mountain and Sand River Gorge views along the way.

This is a long day’s hike with some technical areas once off the jeep track, which will make it challenging for hikers who have already been out for a couple of days. There is an option (by special arrangement) to split this final route in two and spend an extra night camping at Medike East.

What to bring:

Backpackers need to come fully equipped and self-sufficient for the trail.

Some suggested items:

  • Backpack
  • Hat
  • Sunblock
  • Appropriate hiking boots or trail shoes
  • First aid kit
  • Enough food for the full trail
  • Water bottle
  • Hiking stove and cookware
  • Tent (option to rent-a-tent at Medike East campsite)
  • Sleeping mat
  • Sleeping bag
  • Appropriate hiking clothing for all weather conditions (e.g. waterproof jacket)
  • Emergency blanket

ESSENTIAL HIKER’S INFORMATION

Hiking in the mountain is an extremely rewarding experience, with an incredible sense of place, beautiful scenery, challenging and technical trails, and lots of wildlife to be seen along the way. However, hikers need to be prepared and very fit to undertake these trails.

Hikers use the trails completely at their own risk and are responsible for their own safety on the trail. An EWT Ranger will accompany hikers on the trail, some of whom are training to become field guides. They are all trained in basic first aid.

Risks:

  • The trails traverse some difficult and rocky terrain, sometimes with loose stones and rocks underfoot or potentially slippery rocks. Hikers need to be careful on the trail and watch where they walk.
  • The mountain is a haven for wildlife, some of it dangerous. Hikers need to keep a close eye out, especially for snakes, as help can be far away in difficult to reach areas of the mountain.
  • The weather can be variable, especially in summer, with the likelihood of thundershowers and lightning. If the weather conditions make the trails too dangerous, hikers may need to opt out for these days.

Communications:

There is very little signal on the mountain. However, signal can be found along the ridges at intermittent places, especially on the south-facing cliff edges. The EWT Ranger accompanying the hikers will also have a 2-way radio for communications back to Medike. However, this also does not have full coverage on all the routes.

Emergency Access:

There are sections of the trail where there is no vehicle access at all, but there are jeep tracks that do get to all accommodation sites. However, this track network is at least two hours away from the nearest clinic or hospital (in case of emergencies). Hikers use the trails at their own risk and should ensure that they have sufficient medical aid should an emergency evacuation be required.