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LOCAL TIME: 07:56 pm | Tuesday, 26 May
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One Step at a Time in the Garden Route

Cresting the Dune

Cresting the Dune

Punctuating the low dune fynbos, a lone Candlewood offers the only shade on the steep sandy trail as we ascend one of the highest vegetated fossil dunes in Southern Africa. We are setting out on the Goukamma Loop, one of the many nature trails and day walks in the Garden Route.

Not an easy walk, it is spectacular and offers a diversity of vistas and habitats. Cresting the first summit of four dunes at 125m the views of both Lake Pleasant below and Swartvlei in the distance are breath taking. To the south west on a clear day you can see 65km to the Mossel Bay peninsula.

The walk starts under the cover of coastal dune forest and sets out under a migrating forest of Milkwoods on the southern shore of Lake Pleasant before heading up the dune. This can be the hottest section of the 16km walk, catching the full brunt of the sun and in a wind shadow. On the top of the dune a hint of a breeze refreshes, but for this trail you need to take plenty of liquid – there is no surface water for the entire route.

Waterfall lunch stop

Waterfall lunch stop

The next breathtaking moment is as you start your descent from the crest of the second dune into a valley I have come to call Peregrine Passage due to the regular sightings of a pair of falcons often seen hunting along the ridge. From this vantage point you feel as if you are aloft and can easily swoop down to the beach, but it is another 5km before you arrive at Oysterbank. Meandering through fynbos and coastal forest arriving at the beach is a dramatic change approaching down an exposed cliff, on stairs.

The westward section of the beach is remote and you will be extremely unlucky to see anyone before you reach Platbank. The 6.5km strip of beach is a series of secluded bays and shelving banks which fluctuates in appearance as the seas and winds shift the sand through the year. From Platbank the return walk to your car is simple along the gravel road but if you did not carry sufficient water you will be feeling tired. There are some spectacular opportunities for birders and botanists, especially in February, when the Brunsvigia’s are in bloom.

Another can-not-miss walk is the Giant Kingfisher Trail in the Wilderness National Park. Recently upgraded with a 3km section of board walk, this is an easy walk suitable for are levels of fitness. Once you have collected your permit, head out on the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail under the forest canopy, passing some enormous Yellowwoods and Cape Chestnut trees before arriving at a fork in the path. The right fork takes you to a small floating platform with a series of ropes to get you across the river

Robberg hike

Robberg hike

The left fork is more adventurous and finishes up having you hop across a series of rocks to cross the river to join up with the main trail. From here you get onto the boardwalk and head towards a waterfall with a series of very inviting rock pools – a popular skinny dip spot. This boardwalk has the potential to be a tree top or canopy walk as you are perched on the side of a steep slope. This walk can easily be done in 2 hours, but also enjoyed at a relaxed pace studying the birds and flora en route.

A challenging walk is the Kranshoek day hike, east of Knysna. A walk that many recall not for the beauty of the surrounds and route, but for the conquest of  both chain ladders and boulder hopping. The trail descends and ascends the 100m cliff, hugs the rock-strewn shoreline and even allows some more secluded bays for skinny-dipping – though check the current before heading in. Recently two Scandinavian woman had to be rescued by the NSRI after being washed out to sea wearing nothing but their birthday suits.

To view some of South Africa’s marine mammals while on foot, you can do no better than hiking the Robberg Peninsula. A geological remnant of persistent erosion, there are two walks available: the longer, cliff-top 11km route, or the shorter, 7km route taking you down a sand dune to a beautiful sandy beach between a jutting rock and the peninsula.

Elephant Walk

Elephant Walk

Along the walk you get to see a seal colony (and smell it, depending on the prevailing wind), a gull colony, hopefully a glimpse of a Great White Shark, and, in season, Southern Right Whales in the bay. Most folk set out to complete either of these route at speed, but it is worthwhile to relax and investigate some of the accessible caves and learn about the archaeological records of the Strandloopers that inhabited region some 65,000 years ago.

Then, for Dalene Matthee fans who want to walk circles in the forest, Diepwalle is an excellent day hike. Offering three ‘Elephant trails’ that range from 7 to 17km there  are a variety of options to immerse yourself in the green sphere of this deep Afromontane forest. An observant eye will see forest orchids, elephant spoor, Narina Trogon and in autumn a deluge of forest butterflies.

Once you have dirtied your boots and whet your appetite on these walks there are plenty more; all with their own special attributes that make a visit to the Garden Route a memorable experience.

Article and photos by Mark Dixon. For information on Mark’s guided nature walks in the Garden Route visit

More info on the town of Plettenberg Bay More info on the Garden Route area

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