Pace yourself outdoors.
As the world searches for escapes from high pressure urban lifestyles, research is showing that a mere hour in nature on a daily basis has incredible therapeutic benefits on both physical health and mental well being. South Africans that do get out into nature on a regular basis have recently evolved into stopwatch addicts, racing the clock to raise their heart rate as they dash along trails and tracks in pursuit of accolades of personal bests and fastest known times which sadly, are endeavors that closely mimic their competitive professional life routine.
It is time to discard the selfie stick for a hiking stick and focus on nature within which you exist.
Certainly, there is the production of endorphins and the cardio benefits of training, but absent is the subtle subliminal connection WITH nature, the reconnection which recharges and revitalizes your entire being.
Now, more than ever, humans need to learn how to saunter, the relaxed purposeful walking while paying full attention to your environment without distraction. Distraction in the modern world includes music through earphones, deadlines for the next activity and the ever increasing desire for the perfect pouting selfie. Most likely derived from the middle ages, the term saunterer was used to describe pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Asked by locals where they were going, they would answer ‘A la sainte terre’, To the Holy Land. So they became known as sainte-terre-ers amongst locals.
The Garden Route is the perfect location to saunter through nature, to pass through forest and Fynbos with reverent appreciation of the intricate diversity that surrounds us. Interlaced between the mountains and the ocean, is a network of well maintained trails and paths intertwining through the Garden Route, each with their own nuances. Here are three trails to add to your to saunter list.
Arch Rock :
The walk to arch rock is a fusion of geology, beach, archaeology and adventure which can be done as a loop from the parking area at Keurbooms beach.
The trail starts off on the wooden boardwalk skirting Enrico’s Restaurant before heading down to the beach. Your sauntering begins here with the incredible geology, rocks that look like they have patterns etched in them. Of course it is always wise to scan the ocean for a sighting of dolphins, and in season, whales.
Matjes Rivier shell midden, which was formed in the comparatively rapid time frame of 12,000 years, is a distinctive archeological site, one that has a shell midden approximately 10m deep. While there are other Strandloper middens as thick, none were formed in as quickly. The site, first excavated in 1928, is located in a rock overhang on the western side of the Matjes Rivier and overlooks the popular Arches Rock formation.
Walking east along the beach, you approach the Matjes Rivier mouth where it becomes rocky. Depending on the tide levels, there is either a narrow gap in the rock or a small Arch through which you can walk at high tide. Once you have crossed the river mouth, it is approximately 250m to Arch Rock.
To visit the midden site, return across the river mouth and look up the slope on the western side of the river mouth and locate the start of a trail that heads into the coastal thicket. The start of the trail is a bit of a clamber, but soon you reach a rough stairway. Sadly the information boards are in desperate need of replacement, but it is still possible to gleam some interesting facts about the inhabitants of the overhang.
An alternative route back to the boardwalk after visiting the midden site is to follow the contour path through the thicket which eventually descends to the beach via some stairs and a rope down the final rocky section.
Robberg Trail :
Arguably one of the best coastal trails in the Garden Route, and possibly in South Africa, the hiking trails on Robberg should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are two trail options, the Point Trail and the shorter Witsand trail.
Both start from the parking area, and by consensus go in a clockwise direction, to first the Gap, and then up to the plateau. From the plateau there are numerous view points of the Cape Fur Seal colony. Hunted to extinction during the whaling era, the colony re-established in 1983 with the return of less than 10 seals and has grown to an approximate 6000 seal dependent on season.
Another renowned species to look out for from this vantage point are Great White Sharks as they cruise along the shoreline, and if you are fortunate, you will get to see one hunting a seal.
In winter, there is a good chance of seeing whales in the bay and pods of dolphins cruising past. In summer, between November and January, the Kelp Gulls nest on the island with the chicks learning to fly while vocally encouraged by the adults. When each immature gull masters flying, the adults move on to coach the next one in a crescendo of calls.
The trails split at Witsand, a dune that runs up the southern side of Robberg and spills over the northern cliff. The longer point trail, 9km, continues to the point to circumnavigate the peninsula while the shorter Witsand trail, 5km, heads down the dune to the tombola which joins the peninsula with the island. A tombola is an hour glass shaped strip of beach between a mainland and an island and the one on Robberg is considered one of the best shaped tombola in the world.
Heading down the dune liberates the kid in everyone as they start running down the dune to the beach, with a few tumbles on the way. Both trails again meet up on the Tombola with the option of a boardwalk trip around the island before returning to the gap.
At the Gap the trail turns to the left for a steep ascent to the plateau and the final walk to the parking lot. If this route is physically demanding, you can simply return via the original route.
- Entrance fee of R50.00/person or Wildcard
- Carry water – there is no surface water on either of the trails.
- Wear trainers or walking shoes. The section around the point is rough.
- Check the tides as part of you planning for the point trail.
- Wear sunscreen and a sunhat. The first part of the trail gets very hot in the direct sun and reflection from the ocean.
- Cape Nature has installed steps and boardwalks along difficult section, but the point trail still has some challenging sections with some steep ascents and descents.
Click this link to watch a video of hiking on Robberg .
Natures Valley :
For a mix of fynbos, forest and beach, Natures Valley has four trail options depending on how far you want to walk.
The Kalanderkloof Trail is a loop through a forested valley, starting at the Devasselot Rest Camp and heading up to the plateau. You can either keep to the loop or, when you reach the R102 tarred road at the top, you can cross over and continue on the Salt River Trail which passes through fynbos and coastal thicket as it descends into Natures Valley to finish at the shop.
For a shorter walk that has wheelchair access, there is a boardwalk north of the rest camp, just over the Groot River. The trail meanders and loops through some spectacular towering Yellowwood Trees and has tranquility that will evoke your primeval connection to nature that lurks in your sub conscious.
300m past the start of the boardwalk, there is a service road which leads down to the ocean on the east of the Groot River Mouth and is a wonderful way to access the beach. The trail emerges out of the forest onto the river bank and it is a short distance to the towering rock face that is the last descent for hikers on the Otter Trail. It is well worth packing a picnic and relaxing for an hour or so before heading back.
So, next time you step out onto a trail, saunter with awareness and immerse all your senses in uncapped nature to reconnect and revitalize your entire being.
Click on this link for a video of hikes, mountain biking and outdoor activities in the Garden Route.
For more information about trails and guided hikes visit www.gardenoutetrail.co.za.