Whether you are a student of Dalene Mathee and what to experience what inspired her historical novels or merely want to immerse yourself in dense Afro-montane Forest, then the Woodcutter Trail is the perfect day walk outing.
Also called the Circles in the Forest, the English translation of Dalene Mathee’s ‘Kringe in die bos’, the trail offers two distances, namely a 3km and a 9km loop.
Starting from a giant Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus) estimated to be approximately 800 years old, both trails head off on a management jeep track before cutting off onto a single track which descends to a tree fern shrouded forest stream.
There are a few short sections of boardwalk over the wetter sections, which after rain can be very slippery.
From the tree ferns the path gradually climbs a gentle slope to the split for the two distances, the 3km loop to the right and the 9km continuing straight.
From the split, the path follows a contour path past some old Ironwood, Stinkwood and Yellowwood trees before exiting into a picnic area adjacent to the parking area at start.
From the split, the path continues up the slope before turning to the left to follow a contour line. Along this section, lookout for openings in the forest canopy caused by fallen trees.
In these openings you can clearly see the regenerative process of forest succession as the saplings race towards the sunlight, striving to be part of the future canopy.
The trail then starts a gentle descent to a forest river which has numerous rock pools ideal for swimming. The best swimming hole has to be the fern fringed pool on the left of the path shortly after the 4.5km marker.
As you cross the river, a feint path turns off to the left through the ferns and leads to a large pool with a cascade flowing into it.
From the river crossing, the route remains on a contour for 500m before climbing the slope to the 6km marker to rejoin the management jeep track.
Considered steep by some, the track climbs for 1.5km to the upper contour back to the parking area. Along this section, scan the side of the track for elephant dung.
There is some controversy over the number of forest elephants living in the Garden Route National Park. The official stance by South African National Parks is that there is only one, The Matriarch. However independent surveys estimate the population at between eleven and 19 respectively.
Irrespective of the number, this section of the trail has ample evidence of dung which is mostly unnoticed by the vast majority of hikers.
It is interesting to note that this Elephant population is the only free roaming population in South Africa.
The rivers in the Garden Route have a distinctive brown colour caused by tannins from the forest humus and mountain Fynbos. It is safe to swim in the water and if necessary, safe to drink. Some pools will have white foam on them – this is as a result of the tanin proteins being frothed as water flows over rocks.
GPS location at the start : 33°55′00.42″S 22°57′28.63″E
Management : SANParks
Entrance fee : applicable, Wild Card accepted.
Route markers : every 500m
Info : tree labels and interpretation boards along first 2km
Category : Self guided or guided walk.
Ablution facilities : yes, at start of trail.
Guided walks : www.gardenroutetrail.co.za