Many travelers planning their self drive itinerary from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth know that once they have passed through the Winelands, they have to traverse the Garden Route. To most, the term Garden Route invokes an image of hectares of manicured flower beds, ponds and paths through which the local garden club can drive or stroll.
By contrast experienced and initiated travelers know that in reality, it is a natural enclave of forest and fynbos flanked by the towering Outeniqua and Titsikamma mountain ranges to the north and the alluring Indian Ocean to the south and punctuated by lakes and rivers.
Rather than a study of a horticultural show, the Garden Route is the playground for nature lovers and birders seeking adventure in pristine environments.
One way of exploring the heart of the region is to hike a five day coastal walk with Garden Route Trail. Touted as a ‘Slackpacker’ trail, Garden Route Trail is a guided and catered hiking tour between Wilderness and Brenton on Sea which traverses two nature reserves en route.
The first stage is a combination of forest canoeing and walking along the Giant Kingfisher Trail to the Touw River cascades.
The emphasis is on birding, a passion of the guide, and the forest ecology with nuances of biomimicry added.
At the cascades it is difficult to resist swimming in the rock pools before lunch, followed by a brief siesta before retracing your steps to the Ebb and Flow rest camp for the evening.
Stage two, a 19km beach hike with a river crossing, starts with a local taxi ride from the rest camp to Kleinkrans.
Here, from the crest of the fossil dune, you descend to the waterline and set off into seclusion. It is unimaginable that such a pristine section of coastline has no one on it. For three to four hours the only other living creatures are birds, of which the African Black Oystercatcher population is prolific, a lucky glimpse of Dolphins in the surf and Ploughshells.
Oh, and are there Ploughshells, in the millions. At first you see none. Empty wave washed beach sand stretching as far as the eye can see. Then, Mark picks up a washed up jellyfish or Blue Bottle and throws it onto the wet sand. Within seconds, masses of Ploughshells emerge from beneath the sand, and like zombies, inch their way to the offering for a feeding orgy of note.
The sandy beach gives way to a rock shelf with rock pools and the layered patterns of the dune cliffs look like works of art.
After lunch and a swim at Gericke’s Point, a Sphinx shaped peninsula, it is an hours walk to Kingfisher Creek where you are ferried across the lagoon mouth by Mingo, a local fishermen, in a row boat.
The third stage is a 15km walk with a 13km beach walk before traversing some coastal fynbos in the Goukamma Nature Reserve before settling in to the rondavels over looking the Goukamma River.
With two nights in the rondavels, the fourth stage is relaxed. The morning activity is canoeing upstream to look at a pair of African Fish-Eagles that has nested in the area for 35 years, then returning to the accommodation for a plough man’s lunch.
After lunch, a circular 7km walk on the Bushpig Trail through Milkwood, fynbos and coastal thicket take you to the highest point of the trail, a mere 116m above sea level.
As with everything in life, all goods things come to and end and it is in a reflective mood that the fifth and final stage of 8km along the beach to Brenton on Sea is done.
One last pod of Dolphins and a shuttle returns the group to Wilderness.
Trail facts :
Distance : 58 km
Duration : 5 days/4 nights
Activities : forest walk, beach hike, two canoe stages.
Catering : fully catered
Accommodation : chalets with two twin rooms
Guided : yes
Location : Wilderness, Garden Route, South Africa.
Bookings : http://www.gardenroutetrail.co.za or firstname.lastname@example.org