Woodcutter Trail – Circles in the Forest

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.

A giant Outeniqua Yellowwood tree is an apt sentinel over the memorial of Dalene Mathee.

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.

3Km Loop
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.

9Km Loop

Meandering along a contour, the path leads hikers through dense forest with lush undergrowth and vibrant mid story vegetation beneath the canopy.

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.

Fallen trees and leaf litter are recycled both chemically and mechanically. Fungii are the main drivers of chemical decomposition which recycles nutrients from dead vegetation for the forest.

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.

A tranquil forest swimming pool surrounded by ferns.

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.

The final 3km are along a management jeep track through towering trees.

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.

Careful searching along the edges of the management track can reveal Elephant dung.

Knysna Elephants
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.

Forest Rivers

The distinctive dark brown colour of rivers in the Garden Route is caused by tannins from forest humus and fynbos.

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

5 thoughts on “Woodcutter Trail – Circles in the Forest

    1. Hi Liz, I appreciate your concern, especially considering reports of incidents in the local press recently I presume that you precautions are for human threats. While no guarantees can be given, this trail is far more remote than the Wilderness railway walk that received so much attention recently. Dehydration, heat stress and snake encounters currently would be your greater concern with prevailing heatwave. Best would be to ask at the entrance gate if it is safe or if there have been any reports recently. If you want to be prepared, both take sturdy sticks and pepper spray. Otherwise ask some friends to accompany you. Failing that, consider a guided walk. Hope this helps in planning your walk.

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