Tag Archives: Guided hikes

Klapmutskop Hiking Trail – Klapmutskop

Klamutskop - Delvera June 2014_0002

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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Devon Valley – Vineyard Trail

Devon Valley – Vineyard Trail description

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0018

The Vineyard Trail is a circular route of approximately 11km. It starts and finishes at the Devon Valley Hotel and meanders through vineyards and the wine farm of the area. Although the paths are clear, the signposting is Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0002confusing in places and a wrong turn or missed marker can take hikers off on the wrong route. A map is provided at the hotel, although it is important to make sure you are given the correct one, as one of the alternative trails (green route on the map) is closed. Not all the hotel staff are properly briefed on the alternatives.

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0082The trail starts from the parking area behind the hotel, follow the tarred exit road to the gate and turn left up the hill. Head up the tar road, to where it becomes a dirt track, passing buildings on your right, to a line of pine trees. At the pine trees there is a trail marker, turn right down the hill, keeping the vineyards on your right. At the bottom of the hill the path does a right turn before you pass between two posts on your left and on to a short tar road opposite the Protea Heights flower farm.Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0005

Note: At this stage the trail used to go up to the left. With the Protea Heights farm being fenced in, it now goes to the right. It can be confusing, as the old direction marker has not been removed and the new one is easy to miss.

Turn right down the tar road for a few metres, before following the sign at a left turn in to the vineyards, following a clear track. At the end of the track there is a sign pointing out a path between the rows of vines. Here there are two options:Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0010

  1. Either follow this path until it comes out on a T-junction with a farm track – there is no sign here – turn left up the hill until you come to the electric fence border of Protea Heights. Here you will see a very confusing sign with arrows pointing in different directions.
  2. Turn left and follow the farm track until you come to the electric fence border of Protea Heights and turn right, following the track along the fence until you come to the confusing sign pointing in both directions.

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0076Follow the track along the electric fence until there is a fork. Follow the sign along the left hand fork. From here on most of the signage is fairly clear, although it is easy to miss a direction marker.

Shortly after this the track descends gently, with views of the outskirts of Stellenbosch and Simonsberg Mountain. Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0019As the track descends, there is radio mast is on the right at the highest point on the trail. Half way down the valley there is a marker showing the track that turns right up towards the FM radio mast at the highest point.

After passing the mast the track descends once more with a small farm dam in the valley on the right. Before a row of pine trees follow the marker to the left and then right to where there is a marker on one of the trees. Follow this row of trees to the left along the track until there is gap in a group of low trees.Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0032

There are wine cellars down in the valley to the right and the trail is well marked here with the track twisting through the vineyards, before coming to an old concrete water tank structure and a large stone pine, where the path turns right and then left passed the farm labourers cottages. Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0043This track comes out at Middlevlei Wine Estate, which is a good place to stop for a rest, wine tasting and their regular ‘Boere Braai’ lunch (this should be booked before departure to avoid disappointment).

After leaving the farm along the paved exit road, past the large farm dam, the track leads past a small cottage and towards a smaller dam. This is a good place for a picnic lunch if hikers do not want to take advantage of the Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0046Middlevlei offerings.

The path continues between the small and large dam, just below the main farm homestead. This is not clearly marked but it is easy to pick up the track through the vineyards on the opposite side by following the track close to the dam. The track through the vineyards is clearly marked after this.

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0052Follow the track to a fenced off area surrounded by security wire, before turning right down the hill. This track is very clear and eventually comes out at the Aaldering Estate. If you are interested in wine tasting this is also a great stop, with an interesting Pinotage Blanc that is really worth tasting, among others.

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0061 After leaving the estate via the main entrance, the road passes a small dam with the path turning off over the dam wall towards some cottages. The sign showing the way is in place, but easy to miss if you are distracted. After the passing the cottages head down a paved track between a row of olive trees and the vineyards. Half way down this path is a turn off on to a track between the vineyards. There are various twist and turns but the signage is all in place and the path clear up to the end of the farm track where it leaves the vineyards.Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0064

Follow the sign to the left before passing a group of cottages, where you are likely to be greeted by friendly wave and greeting by the inhabitants and excited children. Pass by two large green water tanks and then left again on to a farm track leading behind the cottages and the farmVineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0066 buildings. Now you should be able to see the track that leads up to the fenced Protea Heights property. Shortly after this it is a back on familiar territory and you cross the vineyards back to the confusing ‘backwards / forwards’ sign and then follow the farm track to tar road and that passes the Protea Heights entrance. Pass through the two posts Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0058 the left and the return route back to the hotel follows the same track as the as the start.

Vineyard Trail - Devon Valley - June 2014_0070

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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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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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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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