One cannot ooh and aah enough about the Garden Route. It is not likened to the Garden of Eden for nothing and its entire coastline is riddled with picture-postcard moments, wild, craggy beaches, forests, streams, waterfalls and a wilderness that, despite the attraction for tourists, has not yet suffered the consequences.
Our choice of day walks below doesn’t even begin to explore Nature’s Valley and Tsitsikamma Nature Reserves, both of which have some beautiful trails of their own. Instead we’ve looked at the rather less obvious walks. The Garden Route is riddled with walking and hiking options – most farms, plots and forest nature reserves will have a series of walks on offer, but the following are well regarded and worth doing, not least for the beauty of the environment …
George: Cradock Pass, Outeniqua
A fairly long day walk of 12.5 km, the Cradock Pass day trail lies closest to the town of George. The walk is not for sissies (it is fairly strenuous) and follows the track of initial settler wagons on a steep descent into the Cradock Pass through the gorgeous Outeniqua Mountains. The pass itself links the coast with the Little Karoo, through the Outeniqua Nature Reserve.
The start of the walk is at the entrance gate to the reserve roughly 4km outside of George and the end of the hike is on the north side of the Montagu Pass, where you will obviously need another form of transport to get you back to the start, so at least two cars are advisable. Unless you are particularly fit and fancy the walk back down the Montagu Pass.
Sedgefield: Goukamma Nature Reserve Trails
You cannot help but notice the fresh-water lake and series of coastal sand dunes that lie between Knysna and Sedgefield. The combination of incredible milkwood forest and beaches make an incredible vista in which to walk, and in the thick of this, close to the mouth of the Goukamma River, lies the Goukamma Nature and Marine Reserve, with a 14 kilometre coastline (look out for signposts from the N2 at the Buffalo Bay turn off). The reserve has a number of wonderful day walks that range from the Beach walk, a 14 kilometre there and back affair, to the Goukamma to Groenvlei route, which traverses a series of vegetated dunes for roughly 16 kilometres, and is fairly taxing. Shorter walks include the Lake Walk and the Circular route, the latter taking advantage of a simply gorgeous milkwood forest on the return. During the whale season you can sight both whales and dolphins here. There are also picnic sites and you can fish in the reserve.
Wilderness: Half-collared Kingfisher Trail
This walk starts just outside the Wilderness Village next to the railway bridge at the Ebb and Flow North Restcamp, and it’s particularly great for hot days as most of it is through the shaded forest. Provided you’re quiet, you’ll see the Knysna loerie, giant kingfisher, the fish eagle and, obviously, the half-collared kingfisher in amongst the incredible yellowwoods.
The trail is 7.2 kilometres and passes through the forest and next to a stream that ends in a waterfall where you can stop and swim. At times the climb is pretty steep, but on the whole the walk is easy and the trail not difficult to follow.
Plettenberg Bay: Robberg Nature Reserve
If you are anywhere near Plettenberg Bay then not visiting the Robberg Nature Reserve is like going to Cape Town and skipping Table Mountain. Robberg is a rocky headland that juts out from the coastline just south of the town’s beaches. There is a cave here where they’ve uncovered all sorts of artefacts that date back to the Early Upper Pleisocene Age, and the vegetation and birdlife are remarkable. But watch out for the odd freak wave that has been known to lift hikers off the rocks.
There are three circular routes to choose from, all of them starting from the parking area and clearly marked – the Gap Trail, the shortest of the lot is perfect if you’re there only momentarily, whilst the Point Circuit Trail is over 9 kilometres worth of rocky shoreline and not recommended for children. Best done on a spring low tide if beach combing is your thing.
South of Plett: Harkerville Forest walks
Aside from the rather challenging but beautiful 24 kilometre Harkerville Coast trail to Sinclair and back to the Harkerville Forest Station that most people do as an overnight trail that traversing some pretty daunting indigenous forest and then along the shoreline for 4 kilometres with quite a bit of clambering and chain ladders to add spice to the route, there are other shorter trails in the beautiful Harkerville Forest. The Garden of Eden is an easy 800 metre trail, whilst a quick walk to the Kranshoek Viewpoint will bring you to a sheltered picnic spot at a stream. The Kranshoek Coastal day walk is a 9 kilometre circular walk that packs in both forest and coastline and is well worth doing.
Mossel Bay: Koumashoek Circuit
This beautiful hike through fynbos in the mountains just west of the Robinson Pass has some fairly steep climbs and takes at least six hours to complete the 15 kilometre trail, but it is nothing like the Attaquaskloof three-day hike that you can also do in the area. You’ll need most of a day to do the trail that starts at the summit of the Robinson Pass. Be prepared for mist but the views are worth it. Book at Eight Bells.
Albertinia: Gouriqua hiking trail
Whilst not much literature exists for this particular hike, it does take you through some pretty rare Albertinia fynbos – whilst the little dorp might not be much to look at, the plants that grow here are unique. It starts and ends at the Gouriqua campsite and is 14 kilometres in length, described as an average trail.
Near Wilderness and Sedgefield: Moonlight Meander, Starlight stroll
This is a walk with a slight difference. The best time to do it is at full moon or new moon as it explores the intertidal zone exposed by the low spring tide on the sandy shoreline from Swartvlei Beach to Gericke’s Point (Gericke’s Point becomes something of an island when the tide is high, so you can understand the need for low tide). It explores the rock pools by torchlight, guided by a professional who can point out all the highlights. It’s popular, so book ahead. The great thing is not having to risk sunburn!