A surfeit of football and crowds, and quantities of beer not consumed since college days can take their toll. International bonhomie has its limits and, let's face it, South African cities, with the notable exception of Cape Town, don't have much going for them. You are desperate to disappear into the landscape. What to do? In Japan and Korea during the 2002 World Cup, I withdrew to sacred mountains and a secluded Buddhist monastery. In Germany 2006, I saw three matches and three World Heritage Sites in three days. Shattering. In France 1998 - well, I ate a lot. South Africa, however, has the perfect tonic - its hiking trails. Hikers are spoiled for choice. You can pop out for a quick day outing, or construct a more distant, multi-day escape. There are excellent companies eager to organise a perfect expedition. Venture out and your goodwill will be restored when you and 50,000 others shuffle back into that stadium. Here are six of my South African favourites, chosen for their variety and all within a few hours of a World Cup stadium. The Drakensberg This magnificent basalt escarpment, a line of tremendous cliffs and fantastical formations over 200 kilometres long, forms the edge of the high Lesotho plateau. Drops of 1,000 metres are not unusual here, and you can feel you are gazing down at the foothills through the wrong end of a telescope. Those foothills, the Little Berg, are special in their own right, a maze of sandstone canyons and grassy ridges descending to the plains some 1,800 metres below the escarpment top. Their lush, flowery greenness for much of the year will surprise those expecting sparse grass and dry rock. Zulu kraals are scattered up the valleys, their herds grazing on the lower slopes. Behind the escarpment is a broken, treeless plateau of rough grass and low shrubs, where you may meet uplands herdsmen living in rough little summer kraals: this is Lesotho, a small, poor kingdom locked within South Africa. Trips range from the great, multi-day trails along the top of the escarpment (among the world's top 10 walks), to day walks in the Little Berg. Some of the best walking areas are around the Amphitheatre, Mnweni, Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle and Giant's Castle. The website drakensberg-tourism.com has a fantastic selection of Drakensberg day walks. Day to week walks are accessible from Durban (home to Durban Stadium), Johannesburg (Ellis Park Stadium, Soccer City), Pretoria (Loftus Versfeld Stadium) and Bloemfontein (Free State Stadium). Walking Safari, Hluhuwe-Umfolozi Park There is nothing like tramping, accompanied by rifle-toting guides, through scrub and long grass where big beasts lurk - rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo - to bring you close to nature, red in tooth and claw. This beautiful 30,000-hectare wilderness lies around the White Umfolozi river in north-east Kwazulu Natal, and pullulates with game. The last, tiny population of white rhino were saved from extinction here. You may watch, from a high crag above the riverside, a lioness training her cubs to stalk antelope, or meet a crocodile asleep on a sandbank alarmingly near where you bathed earlier on. The timeless bush engulfs you, busy with birdsong in the morning and evening but heavy and sinister in the midday heat. This was the original homeland of the Zulus and is rich in their history, although depopulated by disease: there are now few human traces other than ancient bushman paintings in cliff-side hollows. This is superb but tiring walking. You must spend at least one unforgettable night camping out there, when the bush is truly alive as you cower in your flimsy tent. Two or three days. Accessible from Durban. The Fugitives' Trail from Isandhlwana to the Buffalo River In a day of famous heroism, an invading British column was surprised and massacred by some 25,000 Zulus at the great sphinx-like rock of Isandhlwana. More than 1,300 of them died, along with over 3,000 of the victors. From the poignant plain under the rock, strewn with whitewashed cairns that mark where the combatants fell, follow the route of the desperate survivors back to the Natal border at the Buffalo River. The scenery is excellent and the whole area rich with history. The trail winds through peaceful grassland, down a long slope dotted with cairns where the fugitives were caught and dispatched. Occasional larger clusters indicate where exhausted or trapped groups stood and fought. After crossing a stream, then scrambling across a broken plateau, the trail comes to a cliff-top above the drift (ford) where the survivors tried to swim the Buffalo River in full spate. Many drowned or were picked off on its banks. After a raft crossing, you climb past a final monument to two dead VC winners then wind your way through browsing game in a little reserve to a well-deserved beer at the Fugitives' Drift Lodge. Accessible from Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. The Otter Trail, Eastern Cape The delightful Otter Trail runs for some 42 kilometres along the coastline of Tsitsikamma National Park. This is an intense experience in beautiful wilderness, trekking by the sea where possible but spending much of the time in virgin forest and South Africa's unique fynbos vegetation on the hills behind, revelling in ravishing views. Enjoy the roiling grandeur of the Indian Ocean, with cliffs, caves and waterfalls behind. Paddle and snorkel in tidal pools and leave your prints on magical beaches. The park boasts fascinating wildlife: the Cape clawless otter (hence the trail's name); leopards; genets and caracal; monkeys and baboons. And, in the sea, dolphins, whales, seals and a multitude of birds. This is a 41/2 day trek, with limited hut space in high demand, so make reservations well ahead. Lovely day walks can be made from each end. The trail is quite demanding, and river crossings require care. Day walk to five days. Accessible from Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium) and, at some distance, Cape Town (Green Point Stadium). Table Mountain, Cape Town Geological oddity and natural wonder, home of fabulous flora and fauna, platform of stupendous views. Table Mountain should not be missed. The mountain is more a flat-looking ridge than the wide plateau its name suggests. Its upper reaches are hard sandstone, so it has eroded slowly, creating those famous and spectacular cliffs which allow a few access routes through crevices and up its (relatively) gentler back. The 'full monty' would be to climb one path, explore the top then head back via a different path, although many sane walkers go both ways by cable car, saving their energy for the long ridge, where little plants cling to life in the cracked sandstone. Don't be disappointed if you find the trademark cloud at the top, and expect crowds in the cable car area. Day walk. Accessible from Cape Town. The Cape Peninsula The whole peninsula from Table Mountain down to Cape Point is a natural World Heritage Site, showcasing a fabulous selection of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest but one of the richest of the world's six main vegetation systems. Known as fynbos, this includes proteas, ericas (heathers) and reeds and is startlingly beautiful and vivid on a bright day. Interesting animals range from rock dassies to puff adders, and ostrich down by the Cape. 'Rounding the Cape' has resonated for centuries as a key and risky landmark on the routes from Europe to the East. This coast is littered with wrecks and the Flying Dutchman is most frequently seen off Cape Point. The best route drops from the crowded, baboon-infested Cape Point, the spectacular rocky spine where the Cape Peninsula peters out into turbulent waters, to the cliffs above the immaculate Diaz Beach and then the real Cape - Cape Point is not, despite looking the part, actually the Cape of Good Hope, which is a modest pile of boulders to the southwest. You then follow a magnificent curve of shingly beach before climbing onto the plateau and entering the Cape Floral world. Day walk. Accessible from Cape Town. A lawyer, soccer fan and hiking enthusiast, William Mackesy, lived in Hong Kong for more than 10 years. Now based in London, he started a project to identify and experience the world's top 100 trails, leading to his Walkopedia website, which features photos and accounts of his and his wife's travels, and practical information. Details of all these walks can be found on www.walkopedia.net . See also www.footprint.co.za for a host of other great walks in South Africa.