The Garden Route, a natural enclave of forest, fynbos and coastal lakes between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean, is home to one of the highest density of walking and hiking trails in South Africa. Located half way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, it is the perfect destination for hikers looking for walks ranging from a few hours walk to a multi stage hike of 5 to 8 days.
A popular trail medium distance hike, the Porcupine Trail traverses the Goukamma Nature Reserve which lies 3km east of Sedgefield. A 14km trail between the Goukamma River to the shore of Lake Pleasant, the route meanders across a series of vegetated dunes passing through coastal thicket, Milkwood Forest and fynbos.
Running in an east west direction the trail can be done in either direction, though from experience, the eastern start is the best in terms of gradient and scenic vistas.
The trail starts from the western bank of the Goukamma river which has to be crossed in a self-propelled pontoon with the capacity for four adults. Once across the river the trail sets off north for a 150m along the bank of the river before turning inland and up the first dune climb. The first 1500m passes through an area that has recovered from a management fire to eradicate alien species and careful observation will reveal dunes with a series of neat ridges. These ridges were ploughed in about 1958 to establish an ‘orchard’ of Accacia cyclopsis to ‘stabalise’ the sand dunes.
The first split in the trail offers the option of following the Bushpig Trail to the right or turn to the left onto the Porcupine Trail. The Bushpig Trail passes through Milkwood Forest, fynbos and coastal thicket which joins the Porcupine trail at approximately the 4km mark.
It is a tough choice to make as the Porcupine trail summits a dune with spectacular panoramic views of the river, shoreline and mountains while the Bushpig Trails takes you through magnificent habitat variation.
From the high point of the Porcupine Trail, the single track meanders along the spine of the dune to a management Jeep track from which it turns right towards Oysterbeds.
The more adventurous hikers can choose to head down to the beach at this point and re-join the trail at Oysterbeds, though it is best to check on the tides before setting off to the beach.
At Oysterbeds the trail consolidates and follows the Jeep track north and then a sharp left onto a sandy strip of track which I affectionately call ‘Ant Alley’. Over populated with ants, the first walker seemingly wakes them up, the second person irritates them and should the third person pause to appreciate the view or a rare bloom, they will stream out of their sub-terrain burrows and attack! The best thing to do is to just keep moving at a steady pace along this short section.
Turning right off the Jeep track onto a path, the best part of the trail lies before you. Three more gradual climbs and descents of parallel dunes will lead you through pristine dune thicket and reward you with bird eye views of the shoreline. In the winter months, from the dune peaks be vigilant for whales, while dolphins frequent the shore break all year round.
After the final summit, the trail crosses the dune along a mole pitted path to the northern slope to overlook the emerald waters of Lake Pleasant.
The eastern lake in a series of five lakes between Wilderness and Sedgefield, Groenvlei as it is called in Afrikaans, has no rivers flowing into it which contributes to its vivid colour which is in stark contrast to the tannin stained brown waters of the four lakes to the west.
From the high point of 178m, a steep path descends into the mature Milkwood Forest along the shores of the lake and finally ends at the reserve entrance gate.
While the ecological nuances of the trail are best appreciated at the steady pace of hiking, more energetic trail runners use the route as training. There is also the annual Goukamma Traverse Trail Run every Easter weekend for those that yearn for a mid distance challenge.
• Management : Cape Nature, between Sedgefield and Knysna.
• Entrance fee : Yes, R40.00/person, Wild Card free
• Water availability : None on route, no rivers or surface water. Carry at least 1l/person
• Mobile reception : partial
• Max altitude : 120m
• Dangers : Snakes, though not commonly seen. Puffadders are the most dangerous species you could encounter.
• Specials : Milkwood Forest, Knysna Woodpecker, Golden Orb Spider, Candelebra Lilly (Feb/March).
• Leave one vehicle on the far side.