Category Archives: Trekking South Africa

Klapmutskop Hiking Trail – Klapmutskop

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This is a wonderful trail for a short outing in to the Cape Wine Region of Stellenbosch, for those who want a bit of outdoor activity to wet the appetite for wine tasting or other activities in the area. The hill leading up to the ‘kop’ (peak or head) is also extremely interesting from a botanical point of view, encompassing the three biomes of the region – renosterveld, fynbos and afro-mountain forest – all in a very small area. It forms an important part of the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy area.

Beautiful winters day

Looking back on the Simonsberg Mountains towards Stellenbosch – beautiful winters day

The walk starts at the Delvera Wine Estate, where you will need to purchase a walking permit (R30 as at June 2014) from the reception area. The first part of the hike meanders through the vineyards, marked with the various cultivars that you are passing by.  It is interesting to see the differences between the various vine varieties and how they are trellised and pruned or maintained as bush vines. The path is well marked, taking hikers over wide farm tracks with clay underfoot conditions.

As the path approaches the hill it enters the renosterveldt band the circles the ‘koppie’, zig-zaging gently up the slope. It is an excellent example of this severely threatened biome, with only 6% of the original area still regarded as sustainable. About half way up the hill the path skirts vineyards again, where the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy information board explains the importance of the area.Klamutskop - Delvera June 2014_0008

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View from the renosterveldt band. Cool overcast, slightly misty conditions on the day

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Transition from renosterveldt to fynbos

The path then climbs slightly more quickly through the renosterveldt band up to the fynbos band above. The transition between the two is quick and quite dramatic, suddenly hikers are in amongst proteas, restios and ericas, among others, putting the route firmly in the Cape Floral Kingdom. The fynbos band is quite short, before suddenly the forest at the top appears. Even when you know it is there it is a surprise – beautiful Breede River yellowwoods perched on top of this unlikely hilltop.

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The path tunnels in amongst the yellowwoods

 From the top, the 360 degree views of the Stellenbosch Mountains, Simonsberg, DuToitskloof and the Paarl Mountains are unmatched. On a fine day Table Mountain is also clear in the distance.

 

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View from the top

 The path back circle the hill on the other side, before joining the vineyard tracks once more and zig-zagging back to the farm. The hike is about 3 to 31/2 hours, allowing for photography and tea breaks.

 

 

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Filed under Day Hikes, Day Trekking, Day Walks, Outdoor, Trekking South Africa, Western Cape Hiking Trails, Wine Walks

Dolphin Trail – Day 3

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0128

Day 3

 The day dawned almost cloudless and any threat of rain carried over from the previous day disappeared. Marius appeared immediately we had finished our breakfast and we plunged immediately into the forest through a gate on the edge of the expanse of lawn.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0097

It did not take long to get down to sea level and the rocks below. Much of this day is spent close to the rocky shoreline with the walking varying from mostly rock hopping to sandy paths slightly higher up above the rock band. The rock formations are quite spectacular and the waves feel as if they are going to crash in to you at any moment as their energy is dissipated into the rock layers and pools behind. The blue of the sea Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0102contrasts dramatically with the green forest verge, which is only prevented from touching the waves in places, by grey-brown rock band. The layers of rocks are tilted and bent, hollowed out and shaped into wonderful formations, bearing testament to the power of the earth and sea over the millions of years.

We spotted many gulls, white breasted cormorant and black oystercatchers, out to sea however, the dolphins remained elusive. We stopped for a tea break on a flat expanse of rock, catch site of a pod passing by. We had to be satisfied with enjoying the bird life and the movement of the sea.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0155

As lunch time approached we climbed up away from the shoreline on a steep zig-zag path that took us through a sparse forest and bushy landscape up in to the bigger trees at the top. The hunger pangs from the mornings exertion were starting to gnaw, when a table appeared, set among the trees and groaning with a variety of breads, pates, cold meats, salads, fruit, juice and coffee. It did not take much invitation to tuck in.

Black oystercatchersAfter lunch the path meanders through the thick coastal forest and one realizes that without a guide and a clear path, that is would be very easy to get lost in this ‘jungle’ of trees. Eventually we emerged in to the pine plantation surrounding the Fernery. The name is derived from the main industry of growing and harvesting ferns from the surrounding forest and the more exotic varieties grown in the green house. These are destined for the cut flower markets around the world. There we were greeted by the Dolphin Trail team and after admiring the bright red flowers of the coral trees, teeming with double collared sunbirds feasting on the nectar, we were shown to our rooms.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0183 a

Set a little bit away from the plantation, the log cabins overlook a deep gorge that runs in to the sea close by. A stunning setting and a place where one could quite comfortably relax and spend a few days just enjoying the environment. There are a few short hiking paths and cycle routes around the Fernery, but we were all quite happy to settle for a cold beer and a hot shower and to relax until dinner time.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0131The dinner that evening was nothing short of excellent. A choice of succulent fillet steak or stuffed chicken breast, preceded by starters and followed by dessert, all beautifully presented and served by cheerful attentive staff. The wine list is extensive and not overpriced. A fitting end to a wonderful walk.

The next morning we had to leave early to catch a flight from George airport, having originally dropped out vehicle at the venue and taken hotel transport to the start. The usual package allows you to leave a Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0111vehicle at Storms River and be transported back to the start on a morning drive in a 4×4 vehicle, using the old Storms River Pass road, that preceded the building of the spectacular Storms Rive Bridge. These days this road can only be driven in a 4×4 vehicle – a treat for next time.

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Filed under Garden Route Hikes, Hiking, News, overnight trails, Slackpacker, Slackpacking Trails, Tours, Trekking South Africa, Western Cape Hiking Trails

Dolphin Trail – Day 2

Suspension bridge accross the mouth of Storms River

After a hearty breakfast we were met by Marius, our guide for the next two days, ready to start walking by 9am. Marius is based at the Fernery and proved to be a really knowledgeable and capable guide.
The route takes you out over the board walk to the suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth. It is a busy path with both bungalow residents and day visitors to the Park walking to the bridge for the scenic view of the river mouth. Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0057The image of a flimsy, swinging suspension bridge is dispelled on first sight of this structure, which is an engineered, substantial link made of steel and wood, anchored in concrete. Nevertheless it is flexible and rhythm of the steps of anyone walking across the bridge can be felt.

For most visitors the walk ends on the eastern bank of the river as there is a steep climb to a view point high on the cliff face above. Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0053For us on the Dolphin Trail, this is where it really begins and gives us a taste of the day to come. The path zig-zags up and from the viewing platform at the top you look down on the restaurant to the west, the river mouth and the waves below. Here we are met by a vehicle from the Fernery, with tea, coffee, juice and biscuits – ‘slackpacking’ at it’s best.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0061From here we leave all other visitors behind, as the trail becomes a private trail for hikers on the Dolphin Trail. The trail passes along the cliff face through stands of fynbos where proteas, ericas and restios abound together with deep orange chasmanthes and bright yellow aspalatus. Suddenly we are winding down through the forest towards the shoreline, passing milkwoods, yellowwood, candlewood trees and many other species. Marius identifies many of them and explains features, flowers and legends surrounding them. There is a bit of light rain around but not enough to impact on the enjoyment, as we find a good spot next to a gurgling stream for lunch.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0073

We can see a glimpse of the path winding up the slope and disappearing high above us. It is not quite as daunting as it looks however and soon we are crossing a wooden bridge with open grass fields in front of us. This is a dairy production area and we have to cross the pastures and over a dam wall to reach Misty Mountain Resort. The boots are muddy but after stamping off the worst we are welcomed at the lodge with hot coffee and decadent looking chocolate cake.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0089The wooden chalets are set along a boardwalk with views over the big open lawn to the coastal forest fringe and the sea beyond. Rustic, relaxing and comfortable after a great days hiking. Later we gather for pre-dinner drinks and an evening meal that was 100% improvement on the previous night, with good presentation and cheerful and friendly service.

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Filed under Garden Route Hikes, overnight trails, Slackpacker, Slackpacking Trails, Trekking South Africa, Western Cape Hiking Trails

Dolphin Trail – Day 1 (arrival)

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0006Day 1 (arrival)

Arrival at Storms River is required by six in the evening, where you will check in, followed by a trail briefing by SANParks personnel and then dinner in the restaurant. It is strongly recommended that you arrive a bit earlier to explore some of the shorter walks around the Park, possibly even the 3 ½ km Waterfall walk, which is the start of the Otter Trail. It is a rocky walk along the coastline, that will get you in to the feel of the rocky part of the terrain that you will be covering in the next few days. If you are saving your energy, you can just relax and enjoy the environment of the camp.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0001

The restaurant complex doubles as reception area and has a superb setting with views of the waves crashing on to the rocks close by, the river mouth in the distance and the cliffs beyond. Our experience of the check in was good with the staff being friendly, enthusiastic and Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0091knowledgeable. Check in was followed by the evening meal, which made up in quantity what it lacked finesse. Service was also a bit chaotic and was probably not the best first impression of the catering for my overseas visitors. The conversation was good however and after quite a long drive and in preparation for a good days walking the next day, we retired to be fairly early – no TV, just a copy of Wild magazine next to the bed.Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0075

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Dolphin Trail – Overview

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0035

The Dolphin Trail

The Otter Trail is arguably the best known hiking trail in South Africa, with any South African who regards themselves as a hiking enthusiast having done it or planning to do it. It is however, a trail that requires a good level of fitness and hikers have to carry a full backpack for five days with food, equipment and clothing for the period.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0060

For those that prefer the less strenuous option of ‘slackpacking’, but want to experience this pristine coastline, there is the three night Dolphin Trail. The hiking, although not quite as strenuous as the Otter, is still challenging, with some steep inclines, cliff paths and rock scrambling along the coastline. The real advantage is that you are only carrying a small day pack with your warm tops, rain gear, lunch and water; the accommodation is comfortable to luxurious, the food is provided and you can get your choice of drinks in the evening. In addition to that you get a very efficient and knowledgeable guide who is able to point out details about the flora, fauna and geology of the Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0101trail that you might otherwise miss.

The first night’s accommodation is at the chalets at the Storms River Mounth in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Not luxurious, but very clean and comfortable. This is followed by Misty Mountains on the second night and The Fernery on the third. Both of the later offer luxury guest house accommodation in a rural setting with views of the coastal edge of Tsitsikamma Forest and the ocean beyond. While the evening meal at the Storm River Mouth restaurant would not rate in the gourmet category, it is reasonable and is more than compensated for by the dining experience at the other two venues. The Fernery is particularly excellent in this regard.

Description of Day 1 to follow …..Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0120

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Sept 2013

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Tsitsikamma National Park hiking

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Tsitsikamma National Park, a set on Flickr.

A visit to the Tsitsikamma National Park is an essential part any Garden Route tour. It is the start of the iconic Otter Trail and the more luxury, slackpacking style alternative, the Dolphin Trail. With the Wilderness Travel group,we were staying at the Fernery, the final overnight stop on the Dolphin Trail. Starting with an easy walk, we took the opportunity to visit the 1000 year old yellowwood tree in the Tsitsikamma forest, before walking over the suspension bridge at the Storm River mouth. The next day we hiked to the waterfall on the Otter Trail. This is as far as you are allowed to walk if not part of an overnight group on this trail. It is not easy walking, with plenty of rock scrambling, boulder hopping and uneven ground. There are some sections of good path, but it cannot be rushed and takes a bit longer to do the 5 km there and back, than one would necessarilly anticipate. A ggod moring’s hike before we headed up to the Drakensberg the next day.

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Cogmanskloof Jan 2013

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Cogmanskl Jan 2013, a set on Flickr.

I was fortunate this weekend to have a day to spare in Montagu, while my clients were enjoying the luxury facilities and game viewing at the Sanbona Private Game Reserve. I had briefly explored the first part of the Bloupunt circuit of the Cogmanskloof Hiking Trail last year. This wetted my appetite to explore further, but I did not have time to do either of the full circuits at that time. The Bloupunt Trail is over 15 km, so as I was on my own I decided to do the Cogmanskloof circuit, the shorter of the two.

The rock formation and the majesty of the mountains of the area is quite overwhelming and although I don’t recommend walking alone, the experience of being by yourself in nature is always meditational. A permit is required (R20) and you do have to sign in and let them know where you are walking. You are also provided with a map and a printout of all the emergency numbers.

There is a short walk to the overnight hut and shortly after that the path splits into the two circuits. The Cogmanskloof circuit takes you quite quickly up on to a high point on the ridge, followed by a slower uphill trek that meanders along the side of the hills, slowly climbing to a point where a short scramble takes you up to the summit. The path is well marked with yellow feet ‘markers’ and yellow arrows.

All along the way you are taken by the awesome views and the twisted rock formations and the summit provides a magnificent vista of Montagu and wave after wave of mountains in the distance. The descent is down to the Cogmanskloof River valley is quite quick, but the path is good and as long as you watch your footing it is an easy walk down. As the path turns it takes you over a low ridge and then a very steep path down in to the river valley itself. Walking in dry rivers is not my favourite part of hiking, there is quite a bit of erosion and plenty of plastic debris lying around. I found myself fighting through the reeds in places where the path disappeared and it is certainly not accessible when the river is flooded. As far as I could see there is no higher level path.

Once out of the river bed the route is surprisingly gentle back up to the ridge. I found myself wondering where I was going to find the steep climb to the top, but the map is very accurate and suddenly I was back on the ridge overlooking the valley where the trail begins. It is a very steep descent to the finish and the path here, although easy to follow, is not easy to walk. It is quite slippery with a few loose stones. With care however it is a quick trek down with finish just around the corner.

It was quite hot and I was pleased that I had taken plenty of water and that there was an occasional light breeze to cool things off.

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