Beauty: 4 (of 5)
Difficulty (fitness): 6/10
Technical rating of trail: Standard trail walking, with short sections of steep inclines and declines and a few ladders.
Duration: 2 – 5 days
The High Five Hiking Trail, previously the Num-Num Hiking Trail, is a 2-5 day hiking trail which can be tailored according to your needs and availability as it centres around 4 overnight camps/huts with each also having circular day routes around them.
One can hike from hut to hut, or use a hut as a base camp to enjoy several circular and varied day routes. Slackpacking options are also available and incredibly convenient.
The trail is situated close to Machadadorp in Mpumalanga, is incredibly diverse and each of the overnight camps/huts has its own distinct and unique beauty.
Day 1: Pongola Express to Aloe Kaya Camp (+-7km)
We arrived early in the morning at Pongola Express Camp, which is actually an old train where one sleeps in the train rooms and can even eat in the dining carriage. However, we had booked this ‘camp/hut’ for the last night so we began hiking immediately to what would be our first night’s accommodation.
The trail begins by crossing the road that brought us to this remote area and we immediately began ascending the gorgeous Skurweberg mountains. The trail undulates and zig zags through the mountainside while endless views can be seen in the distance.
In between, we entered patches of forest and ultimately ascended to the top of the escarpment upon which we were surrounded by giant rock and sandstone formations. Not only were these absolutely stunning, but they made for an adventurous last few kilometres as we were jumping above, crawling below and squeezing through these formations to continue on the trail!
Shortly thereafter we arrived at Aloe Kaya Camp. It is situated amongst the sandstone rocks, surrounded by Aloes, and makes for an incredibly unique experience. Not only are the rooms built around the rocks, but so are the showers and bathroom! There is also an incredible view of the valley below, with 2 open toilets situated a few metres away so that one can use the ‘loo with a view’. This camp had electricity, a fridge and hot showers which of course is always welcome!
Since we arrived pretty early, we decided to explore the sandstone formations and came across a beautiful dam 10 minutes away from camp which was the perfect spot for a well-deserved cuppa before returning to start a fire and settle in for the night.
Day 2: Aloe Kaya Camp to Mount Komati Camp (+-8kms)
Day 2 began by passing the dam and then ascending to some wide open spaces atop the escarpment. As we were walking we encountered a group of about 30 Wildebeest who ran into the distance upon approach. We were then taken to another rocky area whereupon we were taken through another maze of incredible sandstone formations.
We emerged at the edge of the canyon where we then walked along some streams and crossed beautiful patches of forest filled with small waterfalls where we were able to fill up our bottles with the crystal clear waters. As we exited the forest, we found ourselves below a vulture hideout amongst a giant slab of the mountain, overlooking the valley once again – just about the ideal spot for lunch!
From here the trail descended and the terrain changed once again to very dry sand and rocks which felt semi-arid. Yet, only a couple of kilometres later we arrived at a lush stream which we hiked alongside until we arrived at our next camp – Mount Komati.
This camp has a giant lounge area with a fireplace and couches facing the open wall looking towards the mountains. We were immediately greeted by some curious monkeys and we even had private rooms. We were told that there was a beautiful viewpoint and stream not far away and so this is where we spent the rest of the afternoon – lounging on some rocks watching the birds frolicking over the babbling brooks.
Day 3: Mount Komati Camp to Candlewood Camp (+-9km)
This day was certainly the toughest, but once again the beauty and diversity made it all a treasure. We began by backtracking a very short distance along the stream before climbing up, up and up. The terrain was rocky and steep and continued on the same trajectory for 4.5km.
This was definitely the toughest slog of the trail but seeing blesbok, zebra and more Wildebeest more than made up for it. And if that wasn’t enough, we were greeted at the top to 360 degree views of the valleys below which was ideal for a breather and a snack. The trail then went along the escarpment where we were able to see the majestic Uitkomst Falls (the 2nd biggest waterfall in Mpumalanga) across the canyon. However, the flat escarpment was short lived before climbing again, and then descending the other side.
Ultimately we came across another stream which we followed into some incredible indigenous forest where we had to take a break at every waterfall just to take it all in. A tough climb out of the forest followed, but shortly thereafter we arrived at our destination – Candlewood Camp.
This camp is equipped with a donkey boiler for hot water & showers, has spot lights in the rooms as well as USB ports to charge our precious devices! But by far the most remarkable aspect was the positioning and location of this Camp – right on the top of the escarpment with majestic views of the mountains as well as the Uitkomst Falls – so close that you can hear the rumblings of the flowing water which makes for the ultimate background to enjoy the sunset and another evening in nature.
Day 4: Candlewood Camp to Pongola Express Camp (+-7km)
It was truly a special feeling to wake up and see the golden brown rays of the sun reflect off the giant Uitkomst Falls and across the rolling hills.
We began Day 4 by going through another area of patchy rock formations which was aptly named ‘Aloe Garden’ due to the picturesque flowers surrounding the area. We also passed more game including various buck, cows and more wildebeest and zebra as we crossed sections of open planes.
The bulk of the day meandered along the escarpment edge overlooking the opposite side of the valley to the one we had witnessed the past few days. Eventually the trail began descending the side of the mountain and about halfway down the trail entered thick forest where there were streams and pools aplenty. We weren’t only welcomed by these cool streams and idyllic pools, but by an absolutely gorgeous Knysna Loerie who seemed inquisitive enough for us to get some incredible photos of him.
The trail then took us steeply out of the forest and we emerged on the opposite side to where we had entered – we could now see Pongola Express Camp below. After climbing down, the trail took us below Pongola Express through lush forest and along the streams all the way back up to the camp. The camp is an old train consisting of sleeping and dining carriages and even hot showers! There is also a communal kitchen/toilet as well as another braai area.
Day 5: Pongola Express Camp Circular trail back to Pongola Express Camp (+-8km)
Our last day involved a circular trail which took us to the rich forest below Pongola Express. We hiked parallel to the stream and encountered many small waterfalls while passing two huge ones along the way.
These were the Maningi Falls and the Mac Falls (not to be confused with the Mac Mac Falls) and they were the perfect way to end a wonderful hiking trip amongst the beauty of this area. As we arrived back at Pongola, we packed our car and reluctantly headed back home.
The trail is absolutely stunning in its scenery, diversity and tranquillity. The days are (relatively) short but still tough which makes for a satisfactory hike whether you are a beginner or a more experienced hiker.
The fact that there are further excursions from each camp makes the trail very convenient as one can decide to rest the afternoon away at each stunning location, or alternatively explore further areas where more streams and dams are to be found. Hikers can also choose the camps to act as a base-camp where each has at least 2 different circular trails making this the perfect hike to tailor-make according to one’s needs and availability.
The new trail owner went out of his way to ensure we were aware of all of the options once we arrived at each camp and the facilities were always clean and in good working order etc.
Bookings can be made by contacting the owner at Escarp Adventures: