South Africa has a coastline of between 2798 and 3751 kilometres, depending on who you ask and how they measured it. Every summer, thousands of people flock to this long and diverse stretch of coast to relax and enjoy the beaches, waves and sun with their families and loved ones. While it’s lovely to spend the summer lounging on beaches and soaking in the sun, our beautiful coastline also offers lots of great opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to stretch their legs and explore.
Here are 5 coastal hikes from the the Transkei to the west coast that are something truly special for hikers, walkers and slackpackers to experience.
1. Coffee Bay to Hole in the Wall, Transkei
GPS coordinates: -31.987777, 29.148584
Length: 3 hours
More information: www.coffeeshack.co.za/www.bomvubackpackers.com
The hike from Coffee Bay to Hole in the Wall takes approximately 3 hours and leads you on a trail that weaves through a stunning juxtaposition of rolling green hills, crisp white sand beaches, black rock pools and aquamarine waters. The hike is moderately difficult with some steep contour paths that run along precipitous cliffs. It is not particularly dangerous however, and is suitable for those that are relatively fit.
The Transkei is famed for its idyllic rural beauty, and this trail offers hikers the perfect opportunity to experience this. Handmade rondavels bordered by vegetable gardens and cattle kraals perch atop the livestock manicured hills. Beautiful sand beaches, framed by rock pools teeming with life offer a perfect spot to take a load off after the many summits and descents of the undulating landscape.
The hike starts in Coffee Bay (you can find information at trail maps at any of the local backpackers) and winds its way to the famous and beautiful Hole in the Wall, a rock formation caused by aeons of waves wearing away at a column of rock perched in the sea.
2. The Harkerville Trail, Garden Route National Park, Garden Route
GPS coordinates: -34.078509, 23.227801
Length: 2 days
More information: www.sanparks.co.za
This overnight trail is an absolutely spectacular 24km hike for moderately fit hikers. It is similar to the world famous Otter trail in its scenery, though without the year long waiting list. The hike begins at Harkerville, just outside of Plettenberg Bay and winds its way through lush indigenous forests composed of Yellow woods, Stinkwoods and more beautiful Afromontain trees for kilometres before emerging onto a massive band of cliffs that over look the sea. From here, the trail descends rapidly to rocky beaches with bright orange, lichen covered rocks bordering the surging seas. The path snakes its way along the bottom of the cliffs, just above the washing waves, before more beaches, cliffs, fynbos and forests follow.
The trail includes accommodation at a comfortable hiking lodge equipped with the bare necessities including an open fire, showers, fresh water and comfortable bunk beds that sleep 4 people per room.
The two day hike is an absolutely amazing opportunity to feel completely alone in the Wilderness without having to travel too very far modern luxuries and amenities and is a fantastic option for outdoorsy types looking for a multi day hike on the Garden Route.
3.The Whale Trail, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Overberg
GPS Coordinates: -34.413603, 20.544979
Length: 1-5 days
More information: www.capenature.co.za
The Whale Trail is situated in the unique De Hoop Nature reserve, situated in the Overberg, 3 hours drive from Cape Town at the mouth of the Brede River. It is a typically a 4-5 day hike, but the area can also be visited and explored as a day hike.
The hike, named after the numerous whales that cavort and relax in the bay from June to December, takes you on a coastal and fynbos tour where you can spend the days watching whales relaxing near the shore. The combination of a large gentle bay and one of Africa’s largest Marine Protected Areas probably makes this trail one of the best places for land based whale watching in South Africa. Up to 70 whales have been spotted in a single day in the bay!
The trail meanders over sand dunes, through fragrant, scrubby coastal fynbos, and passed unique, beautiful and diverse Limestone rock pools that colour the water an extraordinary aquamarine. This stretch of coastline is well known for the many middens left behind by the early Strandloopers who lived in the area, surviving of the numerous shell fish and edible seaweeds that the rock pools have to offer. The trail is broken up to sections and can be experienced as a day hike, or an overnight hike depending on what you are looking for. It is very popular and accommodation should be booked well in advance through the De Hoop Nature Reserve website.
4. Two Oceans Circuit, Cape Point
GPS: -34.356712, 18.496917
Length: 3 hours
More information: www.sanparks.co.za
Cape Point Nature Reserve, situated past Simons Town at the tip of the Cape Peninsula is a fantastically beautiful nature reserve with a variety of beautiful buck, Ostrich, and other wildlife as well as pristine fynbos. It’s also a historically rich area which was a hotspot for shipwrecks hundreds of years ago.
The reserve has several amazing hikes, including some overnight trails that are absolutely fantastic and only 45 minutes drive from the Cape Town CBD.
The Two Oceans Circuit is a 3 hour hike in Cape Point Nature Reserve and is a great way to get a little bit off the beaten tourist track in the area.
The hike begins at the large parking area at Cape Point and starts with a fairly rigorous uphill climb to a ridge to the North East which reveals stunning views across False Bay and the east coast peninsula. From the ridge, the path passes to the left of Vasco da Gama peak before descending through picturesque fynbos. The path follows a road down to the sea edge, where the sound of sucking waves and the strong smell of seaweed quickly change the ambience of the hike from a fynbos walk to very much a coastal hike.
From here the trail picks its way along the shoreline for about an hours worth of walking towards the Cape of Good Hope, the South Western point of Africa, before making its way back up to the parking lot, above the cliffs of the secluded and seemingly untouched Dias beach. Keep an eye peeled for Eland, Ostriches and Bontebok on the hike and if you do decide to stop for a snack or picnic be aware of the local troop of Baboons who have become very adept thieves and opportunists always on the look-out for a tired traveller’s unguarded lunch or backpack.
Remember to make enough time to visit the lighthouses at Cape Point before or after your hike for great views of the stark rocky point and False Bay, and be aware that the gates to the park close sundown.
5. Eve’s Trail, West Coast National Park, West Coast
GPS: -33.170714, 18.149176
Length: 2.5 days
More information: www.capebiosphere.co.za
Eve’s trail is a 30km, two night, two and a half day wilderness ‘slackpacker’ hike located in the Cape West Coast Biosphere, a 36 8000 hectare nature area in the lowland plains north of Cape Town, and starts on the beach just south of the West Coast National Park.
The trail is themed after the footsteps and lives of the prehominids who inhabited the region aeons ago and was inspired by fossilised footprints that have been discovered in the area. The hike makes its way along the beaches, rocky shorelines and sand dunes of the region, as well as passing Langebaan Lagoon and is a fantastic opportunity for bird watching with species such as African Marsh Harriers, Booted Eagles and other fynbos specials often present.
Both nights accommodation are spent in the West Coast National Park, and the trail begins with a guided sunset walk to the dunes overlooking the Langebaan Lagoon before kicking off along 16 Mile Beach at the beginning of day two. At the end of the 1st full day of hiking, walkers are given a lift to Kraalbaai where the fossilised footprints (know as Eve’s footprints) were found. The last day takes hikers through the biodiversity rich coastal plains and salt pans before following the edge of the lagoon with views over Churchhaven and ending at a historic cottage in the area.
These five hikes are only at tiny sampling of the astoundingly lovely and diverse landscapes that our coastline has to offer, but getting out and experiencing the true beauty of our country is a great balm for the soul after a year’s hard work. Get out and explore!