By: Matthew Koehorst
Situated between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay on the garden route, the Harkeville Trail is a two day hike through spectacular indigenous forests and breathtaking rocky shores. The trail, managed by South African National Parks, is a stunning and challenging adventure often compared to the world renowned Otter Trail.
The hike begins at the Harkeville Forestry Station where one is immediately ensconced in dense, woody forests filled with towering Outeniqua Yellowwoods, White Pears, Ironwoods and many more trees unique to this region. At ground level the forest floor is rich with decomposing matter, assisted by beautiful, diverse and ubiquitous fungi. After about 10kms of relatively easy forest walking the trail begins a sharp decent down an awe inspiring ridge that leads to a rocky beach buttressed by tall, sloping cliffs. The path then winds its way along the shoreline, past idyllic bays and over lichen covered rocks for about four kilometres before ascending steeply to the top of another range of cliffs. Once at the summit, the path continues along the cliff line through stunning fynbos for a few kilometres before arriving at the Sinclair Hut, the end of the first day of hiking.
The hut is equipped with the basics necessary for an overnight stay, with fireplace, firewood, 12 bunk beds and flush toilets. The massive braai place offers a warm space to sit and reflect on the day’s events and to rest in preparation for the next leg of the journey.
The second day begins with a short walk to the top of yet another spectacular ridge leading down towards a rocky shore and tranquil river mouth with green, grassy banks.Following the path one traverses steep cliffs assisted by well maintained chains and ladders, meters above swirling waters, rock pools and gullies. This part of the trail is not for the faint hearted, with a good deal of exposure in some places. On a calm day, the ocean calls enticingly with ideal rock pools filled with cool, refreshing sea water.
After another lengthy amble and scramble along the rocky shores of the reserve, where one encounters caves, rock arches, sea birds, water life and more, the trail once again takes a steep turn up the cliffs back onto the plateau. The views from this vantage point are unparalleled, with steep, treacherous cliffs reaching as far as the eye can see in both directions.
From this point the trail turns its back on the ocean and you re-enter the forest. A long loop of trail brings you back to the Harkeville Forestry Station after around 8kms of jungle walking accompanied by the sounds of the buzzing and twittering birds.
Bookings on this trail is essential and may be made through the Knysna Office of SANparks:
Tel: +27 (0) 44-302-506
Fax: +27 (0) 44-302-5627
All photos courtesy of Matthew Koehorst