While most backpackers know the epic 7 day Outeniqua Trail from Beervlei to Harkerville, the other day hikes are relatively unknown except to the local hiking and trail running community.
Indeed, the hub of trails in the Outeniqua Mountains can be found just north of the coastal town of George, approximately 450km east of Cape Town.
In terms of activities in the Garden Route, the region between the Outeniqua Pass and the Saasveld campus is a rabbit warren of hiking, trail running and mountain biking trails suitable for all levels of exertion.
Since the wildfires that blazed along the Outeniqua Mountains in October 2018, access to the mountains has improved and allowed overgrown trails to be cleared, new trails to be forged and forgotten routes to be reopened.
Head for the highest peak.
The most popular mountain hike is the Craddock Peak trek, a steady 8km ascent with over 1200m vertical gain to 1579m. It can be hiked as a stand alone route from Witfontein or include the equally impressive, though lower, George Peak.
The traditional route is from Witfontein up to the saddle between the two peaks. For the solo, you turn west at the saddle and head up to Craddock Peak. For the double, you proceed to Craddock and then return to George, before heading back down the mountain.
A second route, the steep VKM, or vertical kilometre, starts at Arbor Rd and gives you a heart pounding 1000m ascent to George Peak in a relatively short 4km hike. From there, you continue to the saddle and up to Craddock Peak.
Tierkop is a good training hill hike which can be reached on a variety of routes. The most popular route is to start from the Saasvled Campus and head up the jeep track. At 600m altitude there is a contour path which leads along the eastern side of Tierkop to the Tierkop Hut. From the hut there is a up and back track to the summit of Tierkop.
The return trip has a few options. The shortest is to head down from the hut on the westerns side of Tierkop to give a 12km return hike. A longer option begin descending on the jeep track on the western side of Tierkop and after 500m take the trail to the west which snakes down to George Dam. Cross over the dam wall and follow the lower trail back to Pepsi Pools, cross over the river and return to your start location. Read More
Tigers and Beyond
For an extended hike beyond Tierkop, from the hut, keep hiking north and follow the trail to Kransberg. Skirting around the western flank of Kransberg, the trail passes through a forested ravine which sometimes has water dripping down a moss covered rock wall.
You can continue up the trail to the saddle between Skurwekop and Kransberg for a panoramic view of the mountain range rippling north from the east-west axis. While the trail does continue north west to the Montagu Pass, unless you have arranged a pick up, the saddle will be your turn around.
For birders, the hike to the saddle can be rewarding as there is a pair of Jackal Buzzards that nest on the southern cliff of Skurwekop and a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles fly past. Also watch out for a Peregrine Falcon that hunts in the valley west of Kransberg.
If you are looking for a short steep hike, then look no further than Vensterberg Trail. Starting from the parking area at the radio tower (which locals call The Sputnik) just north of the Outeniqua Pass, the trail heads south west to a peak with a radio tower.
Lacking signage, the trail is well defined except at three rocky sections. A punchy 3km hike to 1309m from a base of 800m, the Vensterberg summit offers commanding views of the mountain range, the coastal plateau to the south and the Swartberg Mountain Range to the north.
Named for a series of rocks with window like gaps popular for framed photos, the summit offers a remarkably calm area to brew a cup of coffee compared to the strong winds experienced on the saddle approaching the summit.
Pass To Pass
An unassuming trail that delivers more than expected, the Pass to Pass Trail is a 4.8km trail from Montagu Pass to Outeniqua Pass. Flanked by the skyline of Keurkop, the trail traverses two rivers giving it a distinctive ‘W’ profile which belies it’s deceptive simplicity.
What this trail lacks in panoramic horizon views, it exudes remote escapism. Nestled down at the Keur River crossing you would be forgiven if you thought that you have been banished to some distant uninhabited mountain range. if you look carefully you will see Cape Clawless Otter spoor romping along the path, with antelope and Bushpig spoor dimpling the trail while Porcupine scratching attest to their nocturnal foraging.
If you don’t feel up to the full return trip, you can plan the Loskop route from the western side of the trail. Starting from the ‘Sputnik’ you can follow the trail through the first valley As you summit out of the valley, there is a branch in the path leading south past a small hill to the next hill. Protruding in the center of the towering peaks around it, it offers a commanding panoramic view over looking both the Outeniqua and Montagu passes.
One of the quirks of ox wagons used by the Voortrekkers was that the wooden construction of the large diameter wheels meant that a wagon couldn’t travel across a slope, otherwise the wheel would collapse.
With dogged determination and little time for engineering, the ox wagon routes over mountains subsequently went straight up a slope to mitigate the collapse of wheels occurring. As one of the four passes traversing the Outeniqua Mountains northwards from George into the Langkloof, the Voortrekker Trail is the oldest, with records of it being used as a trade route as early as 1831. In 1847 the construction of the Montagu Pass was carried out to replace the ‘Voortrekker Pass’.
The route is still evident and is a popular hike between the top of the Montagu Pass and George.
The name of this peak has recently be bestowed on a peak to the west of the Montagu Pass as it towers above the watershed of the Keur River. There are two routes to the trig beacon. The shortest and most direct sets off from the quarry at the top of the Montagu Pass. The trail is well defined for the first section, but then fizzles out into the Fynbos as you approach the rocky area. The best is to stick to the ridge line.
The longer route starts from the Sputnik, heads north straight up to the skyline. While there is no distinct trail, the route is simple – head east along the skyline. There are a few cairns and some green sections of wool sporadically attached to shrubs along the way. The western ascent to the trig beacon is not for the feint hearted and should only be attempted if you are confidant on rock and don’t suffer vertigo. As with so many of the trails in the Outeniqua Mountains, the views from the top are magnificent.
The Outeniqua Trail ranks as one of the longest and oldest trails in South Africa. Originally starting from the Outeniqua Pass and extending east along the spine of the range to finish in Harkerville, the current route sets off from Beervlei, and finishes an awe inspiring 7 days later at the Harkerville Hut. Intrepid hikers can then add on the two day Harkerville coastal trail to add to their bragging rights.
Booking of the Outeniqua Trail is done through the SANParks office in Knysna and you can choose how many day you would like to do if you aren’t up to the full 7 days.
The trail from Montagu Pass to Saasvled offers the chance for a overnight hike with either camping at the Tierkop Hut or booking it and sleeping inside. The downside is that you will have to carry a large reserve of water for both drinking and cooking as there is no water once you cross over the watershed and head down to the hut.
Less common in the region is wild camping, but the potential does exist though carrying a tent and a full pack across rapidly undulating terrain is a deterrent for most.
The Wildfires of October 2018 cleared the constricting aging Fynbos. Consequently, instead of having to bash through 3 to 4m high dense stands of Cape Flora, it is possible to explore new routes and visit peaks that have not been summited for close to 20 years.
The Garden Route Trail Running Club, driven by the Six Peaks fastest known time and the MUT Trail Running Race are constantly opening up new routes in an endevour to shave time off the records.
For hikers, this presents a perfect window of opportunity to explore before the new Fynbos growth gets too tall again.
I recall blazing a trail 10 days after the wildfres from Craddock Peak down the eaastern slope to Skurwekop, only to find a historical path, long forgotten to the top of Skurwekop. Recently, redoing the same route, a group of 5 trail runners dashed past us as a training session.
While many peaks are on the list, another rewarding wild hike is to the summit of Jonkersberg north of Groot Brak. The allure of this hike was not to summit the peak, but to confirm a sighting of a pair of eagles I had seen ridge soaring from the distance. While On the hike to the summit I was able to confirm their identity, a pair of Martial Eagles. Read More
Along the length of the Outeniqua Trail there are some remarkable stand alone day hike in the forested section of the mountains.
- Groeneweide Trail : Read Here
- Woodcutter Trail : Read Here
- Elephant Trails : Read Here
- Perdekop Trail : Read Here
Mountain Safety :
- Water : Unlike so many other global mountainous regions, there is a surprising lack of surface water in the central section of the Outeniqua mountains and it is advisable to carry sufficient for your hike with a 10% reserve in the event of an emergency. The trails on the north facing slopes can get extremely hot and combined with extra moisture loss at altitude, it is best to carry more than your daily water consumption.
- Protective apparel : As with any mountain, the weather can change quickly and it it is best to be prepared. Often a cloud base forms at about the 650m mark, creating a moist cold climate while the sun pours down on George below.
- Navigation : The main trails are well defined, though signage is lacking or needs up grading. Either accompany a guide or someone that knows the route or do some desktop preparation and have a GPX track on a mobile device, GPS, or GPS watch. Some of the trails do have stone cairns marking the route but positioning is not always reliable.
- Emergencies : Mobile signal is sketchy in sections while there full coverage in other sections. If you are on a new route or with hikers that are less experienced, monitor where you have signal so that you can head to that point to make an emergency call if required.
- Fauna : while there is a population of Cape Leopards that roam the mountains, you would be extremely lucky to encounter these elusive animals. The biggest animal threat would be snakes, both the Berg Adder and Puff Adder. Both venomous, they
do require attention if bitten, and while not requiring immediate attention, getting medical attention as soon as possible is advisable. Both species are cryptic ambush hunters and many hikers simply walk past them without seeing them. Both species like to sunbath to heat up on the trails or along side it, so it is best to be vigilant at all times. I often tell hikers that the most dangerous adder is the one that you don’t see. If you see one, maintain a safe distance from it (1.5m) and observe it keeping very still before moving off slowly.
- More safety tips : Read Here