Spend your holidays being active and outdoors this summer. The region’s experts choose their favourite tracks, trails and picnic sites in the Southern Cape.
Knysna’s self-declared ‘mayor of cycling’ and owner of Knysna Cycle Works since 1998, Jacques Brink, has been mountain biking for over 23 years. A master bike technician with qualifications from the Barnett Bicycle Institute, Jacques shares his passion for local tracks and lists his favourites. Harkerville Red Route
The holy grail of South African cycle trails, the iconic 22km Red Route at Harkerville has the best natural single tracks and breath-taking ocean views. The route traverses pristine indigenous forest, sections of fynbos and plantations. Trail Type: Jeep tracks, long and exciting sections of single track, and logging roads. Surface: Smooth to rough gravel and dirt tracks that turn to mud after it rains. Tree roots across tracks in places. Exertion: High Route Duration: 3-5 hours Difficulty: 8/10 Access: SANParks Garden of Eden parking area between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
This unique 22.4km route from Diepwalle to Harkerville features the historic Coffee Pot railway track. Stunning views, pristine indigenous forest, small sections of fynbos and plantation, and low water bridge crossings ensure a gorgeous ride. Trail Type: Jeep tracks, single track and logging roads. Surface: Smooth to rough gravel, dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places. Exertion: Moderate, but high when wet. Route Duration: 2-3 hours Difficulty: 7/10 Access: Begins at SANParks Diepwalle (on R339 Uniondale turnoff from the N2 outside Knysna) and ends at Garden of Eden.
The 19km Homtini route near the Millwood Mines is an ideal route for intermediate riders, through indigenous forest and plantation, and with regular views of Knysna from altitude. It is a favourite among speed freaks because of one of the fastest Enduro downhill single track segments around. Trail Type: Jeep tracks, logging roads and single track. Surface: Smooth to very rough gravel, dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places. Exertion: Moderate to high (4km climb). Route Duration: 1.5-2 hours Difficulty: 6/10 Access: Dalene Matthee Yellowood parking area at SANParks Goudveld (Bibbieshoek turnoff from the Rheenendal Road).
Garden Route Trail Park
The purpose built, groomed, exciting single tracks and pump track at the privately owned Garden Route Trail Park in Barrington are a treat. Seven routes, ranging from 4km to 27.5km, wind through farmland, riverine bush and indigenous forest. The trails start and finish at the Trail Café where cupcakes, snacks, light lunches and drinks are served. Park facilities include a pump track and skills area, dirt jumps, bike wash, trail side repair station, toilets, hot showers and excellent coffee. The best news is that owner Rob Dormehl intends building more tracks in the foreseeable future. Bike hire is also available. Trail type: single track Surface: Loam with rollers, berms and natural features. Exertion: Easy to high depending on route choice. Routes duration: From 20 min to 2.5 hours for routes but the bike park’s fun features can keep you entertained for the day if necessary. Difficulty: Ranges from 3/10 to 8/10. Access: Park entry permit available at Trail Café. R100 for adults, R80 for under 18s, R50 for under 13s. Annual permits available online from R400. Ruigtevlei/Karatara turnoff from N2 outside Sedgefield, straight up for 18km to Barrington, right at the T-Junction. 082 802 8103 www.gardenroutetrailpark.com
Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park in Harkerville is single track heaven through coastal fynbos and pine forest with amazing sea views. Geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding for young riders, four trails ranging from 1 – 11km offer a moderate challenge and fun. A professionally designed pump track is set to hone skills further. Cairnbrogie Cafe provides refreshments and basic food for riders. Safe parking and a bike wash are added extras. Trail type: Single track and jeep track. Surface: Smooth to rough gravel, cow paths and dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places. Exertion: Moderate Route Duration: From 0.5 hours for 1 km to 1.5 hours for 12km. Difficulty: 5/10 Access: Tickets at Cairnbrogie Cafe R50 for day pass. Plettenberg Bay airport road. 082 551 4638 www.cairnbrogie.co.za
Set in the Gouna forest outside Knysna, this 11.9km (one-way) dirt road between Gouna Forest Station and the Uniondale turn-off passes through indigenous forest, and crosses over low water bridges and streams. Trail type: Forestry service dirt road. Surface: Hardpack Exertion: Moderate Route Duration: 4 hours return. Difficulty: 5/10 Access: Old Cape Road/Simola turn-off from the N2 Knysna. Start at the top of Simola Hill. Warning: Forestry vehicles during weekdays and leisure drivers on pass.
The historic 15km Montagu Pass from George to Herold is a climbing experience of note – and an exhilarating ride back down. Trail type: Public gravel road, mountain pass. Surface: Hard pack gravel. Exertion: Strenuous climb Route Duration: 3 hours return Difficulty: 7/10 Access: Montagu Pass turn-off from the N12 outside George. Park your car at Witfontein Forestry Station. No entry fee charged. 044 870 8323/5 Warning: Vehicles using public road.
At the top of Montagu Pass is Paardepoort. Combining this pass with Montagu makes for ideal 75km training. Trail Type: Gravel road Surface: Gravel Exertion: Moderate Route Duration: 3.5 hours or about 6 hours including Montagu. Difficulty: 5/10 Access: Public access from near Over The Mountain Guest Farm, Herold.
Buffalo Bay to Brenton beach ride
This 10km ride on the hard sand at low tide is the ultimate beach ride. Trail Type: Beach Surface: Sand Exertion: Easy Route Duration: 1-1.5 hours Difficulty: 3/10 Access: Parking lots at Buffalo Bay and Brenton beaches. Note these are Blue Flag Beaches, special conditions may apply in season.
On the backroads between Knysna and George, the 85km Seven Passes road is an ideal long, slow distance (LSD) for multi-day training. Trail Type: Gravel road Surface: Hard pack Exertion: Some climbing Route Duration: 5-6 hours Difficulty: 5/10 Access: From Knysna take the Phantom Pass road (Brenton-on-Sea turn-off from the N2), from George take Madiba Boulevard (previously Saasveld Drive).
GOOD TO KNOW – TRAILS
Unless otherwise specified, nominal conservation fees and/or permits may apply for SANParks cycle routes and can be obtained at the relevant gates or forest stations, or the SANParks Garden Route National Park regional office on Thesen Island in Knysna. Annual (R578) and two-month (R158) seasonal tags also apply. Wild Cards and other activity cards are not valid entry.
Information about other SANParks cycle routes:
Thesen Island Regional Office: 044 302 5600
Diepwalle Forestry Station: 044 382 9762
Goudveld Forestry Station: 389 0252
Harkerville Forestry Station: 044 532 7770
Garden of Eden Office: 044 532 7793
Wilderness Office: 044 877 1197 Bike shops
Local bike shops have detailed route guides and bike hire information and services: Knysna Cycle Works 20 Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 5153 www.knysnacycles.co.za Bespoked Bike Shop 28 Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 0086 www.bespokedadv.co.za Ultimate Cycling Broadwalk Centre, Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 3238 www.ultimatecycling.co.za Bike Centre corner Queen and Market Streets, Knysna 044 382 6103 The Bike Shop 988 Piesang Valley Road, Plettenberg Bay 044 533 1111 Cycleworx 3 Sandpiper Centre, Sedgefield 044 343 1710 www.cycleworx.co.za Coimbra Cycle House 67 York Street, George 044 873 0606 www.coimbracyclehouse.co.za Suid Kaap Fietse corner Hibernia and Mitchell Streets 044 873 6386 Willie Marx Cycle Sales Shop 3 Mitilini Court, York Street 044 874 6470 Cycle & Sports Centre 66 Courtnay Street 044 873 2982 Monties 62 Marsh Street, Mossel Bay 044 691 2828
TRAILS Jaco Horn, Mariet Horn and Amadea Knoetze are the brains and brawn behind the online Garden Route Adventure Guide. The site lists various outdoor activities, including an extensive guide to hiking trails. Jaco shares his favourites: Jubilee Creek, Knysna
Better known as a picnic spot, there is also a beautiful 3.6km hiking trail. You follow a stream most of the way and turn around at a pool and waterfall. Difficulty: Easy Directions: Turn inland from N2 to Rheenendal west outside Knysna and follow this road for 12.6km. Take the Bibbieshoek/Millwood Goldfields turn-off to the right. Entrance pay point is at the boom gate. Follow the Jubilee Creek directions to the Jubilee Creek picnic site (10km).
Circles in the forest, Knysna
This hike follows a stream for a short distance and you pass quite a large forest pool with a waterfall. Difficulty: Easy to moderate, 3km or 9km. Directions: Turn inland from N2 to Rheenendal west outside Knysna and follow this road for 12.6km. Take the Bibbieshoek/Millwood Goldfields turn-off to the right. Entrance pay point is at the boom gate. Follow this road to the Dalene Matthee Memorial at the Krisjan-se-Nek picnic site (4km). The hike starts here.
The Perdekop hike is easily accessible, making it ideal as a ‘last minute’ hike. There is a waterfall with a beautiful pool and a small beach area at the halfway mark. This trail has been awarded Green Flag status. Difficulty: Moderate, 9km. Directions: Turn seawards at the Sasol petrol station between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and follow the gravel road to the Harkerville Forest Station.
Half Collared Kingfisher Trail, Wilderness
This trail, which follows the Touws River upstream via a boardwalk to a large set of waterfalls, is mesmerising, and a great place to cool down. There is a pontoon river crossing and stepping-stones if pontoons are not your thing. Difficulty: Moderate, 7.2km. Directions: Turn inland from N2 at Hoekwill turn-off, left into Waterside Drive towards back entrance of Wilderness section of Garden Route National Park. Hike starts on western side of old railway bridge.
I think the Kranshoek and Robberg hikes have some of the best coastal views in the world. It has the beauty of some forest, streams and waterfalls, the coastline and the ocean. Difficulty: Challenging, 9km. Directions: Turn seawards at the Sasol petrol station between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and follow the gravel road for 1.7km. Turn right and follow this road for 4.2km to the Kranshoek Picnic Site.
Robberg, Plettenberg Bay
Rock formations, amazing coastline and fynbos – this is one of South Africa’s top coastal hikes and boasts views that attract people from all over the world. I would rate it as one of SA’s top coastal hikes. Take enough water and start early in summer as it can get very hot. Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 2km, 4km or 11km. Directions: Turn seawards at the Plettenberg Bay Airport Road from the N2 and right at Robberg signage, or seawards on the Piesang Valley Road from the N2 and right into Robberg Road.
Goukamma Bushpig Trail, Buffalo Bay
This network of short and long trails offers a walk amongst the fynbos-covered dunes between the Goukamma River and the ocean. Difficulty: Easy, 6.5km. Directions: Take the Buffalo Bay turn-off on the N2 and follow the road to the CapeNature Goukamma Nature Reserve gate on your right.
Winding between the Outeniqua and Montagu Passes, this is an out-and-back route with great views. The short detour to Loskop Peak is highly recommended as it offers a 360° view of the Outeniqua Mountains, George and the ocean. If you do this trail one-way, arrange for transport on the other side. Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 7.5km one-way, including the Loskop detour.
Obtain a free self-issue permit from Witfontein Forestry Station at the bottom of the Outeniqua Pass. 044 870 8323/5 Directions: The trail can be accessed from the Outeniqua and Montagu Passes. At the top of the Outeniqua Pass, take the concrete service road to the red and white antenna and park outside the antenna’s fence, where the trail starts. Alternatively, drive to the top of the Montagu Pass where you can park on a small, sandy parking spot, where the hike starts.
Starting on the George campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the trail offers beautiful diversity, especially on the longer loop in the forest. Beautiful cola coloured streams, fynbos and mountain views vie for attention. On the long loop, spoil yourself with a detour to swim in the river. Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 9km, 11km or 13km.
Self-issued permit at the trailhead, no costs. Directions: In George, turn into Madiba Drive (old Saasveld Road) towards the NMMU from Knysna Road. Once you have entered the campus follow the road until you reach the sports fields and turn right. The trail starts near the tree line on the left side of the road after you pass the last sports field. You can park at the building on the right.
Cradock Peak, George
A long walk with loads of uphills, offering unforgettable views of the coastline between Knysna and Mossel Bay, and the Langkloof and the Swartberg mountains to the north. Take enough water, start early and take a jacket, even in summer. Temperatures can be very hot but can drop suddenly in windy conditions. Difficulty: Challenging, 19km.
Self-issue permit, no costs. Directions: Take the Witfontein Forestry Station turn-off from the N12 between George and Oudtshoorn. Turn right into the Witfontein Forestry grounds and park at the office building.
The 10km Brenton-on-sea to Buffalo Bay beach walk, accessed via parking at both beaches.
The 6.5km Terblans trail in Gouna, accessed from Grootdraai picnic site along Kom-se-Pad. Self-issue permit, no costs.
The 7km, 8km and 9km Elephant trails at Diepwalle, accessed via R339 to Uniondale. Permit costs apply.
The 3.6km Drupkelders and Millwood Mine trails in Goudveld. Permit costs apply.
Comprehensive guides to these and other hiking trails are available on:
GOOD TO KNOW
Unless otherwise specified, nominal conservation fees and/or permits apply for SANParks and CapeNature hikes. SANParks permits are obtainable at the relevant gates or forest stations, or SANParks Garden Route National Park regional office on Thesen Island in Knysna. CapeNature permits are issued at entry gates.
Robberg Nature Reserve 044 533 2125/85
Goukamma Nature Reserve 044 383 0042
www.capenature.co.za PICNIC SPOTS
From riverside treats and lush forest nooks to scenic mountain passes and spectacular seaside spaces, picnic spots in the Southern Cape are prime. Here’s a pick from the local tourism offices and conservation agencies’ extensive lists. Tsitsikamma
Numerous forest and seaside spots in Nature’s Valley and Storms River Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. www.sanparks.org
Salt River mouth, accessed via a short hike near the Nature’s Valley Shop, is secluded and safe to swim.
Tsitsikamma Tourism, Dewald at Oudebosch Farmstall, 042 285 0562 www.tsitsikamma.info
Robberg Nature Reserve has braai facilities as well as a viewing point area with picnic tables within walking distance of the parking area. Conservation fees apply. Off the Plettenberg Bay Airport Road. 044 533 2125/85 www.capenature.co.za/reserves/robberg-nature-reserve
Poortjies Beach at Keurbooms River lagoon is a great place for a picnic with small children. Access via Poortjies residential area.
Several picnic sites are linked to trails in the Harkerville area, managed by SANParks, including Garden of Eden, Kranshoek and Perdekop. Permits apply. Inquiries at Garden of Eden. 044 532 7793 www.sanparks.org
Plettenberg Bay Tourism, Melville’s Corner, Main Street www.plett-tourism.co.za
The famous Knysna Forests offer countless picnic spots in Diepwalle, Goudveld (Millwood) and Gouna. Jubilee Creek in Goudveld is a weekend favourite. Conservation fees and permits apply – obtainable at gates or regional office on Thesen Island: 044 302 5600 Diepwalle: 044 382 9762 Goudveld: 044 389 0252 www.sanparks.org
Knysna Tourism, 40 Main Street (opposite Knysna mall) 044 382 5510 www.visitknysna.co.za
Spectacular sea- and river mouth side public picnic and braai facilities along Buffalo Bay Road.
In addition to grassed riverside spots in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, there are countless seaside and fynbos ridge sites within easy walking distance. Conservation fees apply. 044 383 0042 www.capenature.co.za/reserves/goukamma-nature-reserve
Situated on the dune ridge overlooking Sedgefield, Cloud Nine is not only a popular paragliding launching site but also provides ample lawn space with a unique view. Access via Egret Street.
Sedgefield Tourism, Main Road (same building as Absa), 044 343 2658 www.visitsedgefield.co.za
Map of Africa in Wilderness Heights is a popular viewpoint and paragliding launch site, and has ample space for picnics. Access via Hoogte Road into Wilderness Heights, follow the signage.
The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is a firm picnic favourite. The rest camp area is not open to day visitors at the height of season, but several picnic spots on hiking trails in the surrounding park area are available. Permits and conservation fees apply. 044 877 0046 www.sanparks.org
The Garden Route Botanical Garden offers unexpected treasures at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. Caledon Street 044 874 1558 Open 7am to 7pm every day. www.botanicalgarden.org.za
Herold Wines, at the top of the Montagu Pass, has lots of space, trails and tracks, and an excellent wine cellar. Phone 48 hours in advance and they will pack you an unforgettable picnic basket. 072 833 8223 www.heroldwines.co.za
George Tourism, 124 York Street 044 801 9295 www.georgetourism.org.za
There are several scenic spots on the Cape St Blaize Hiking Trail between The Point and Dana Bay. Access from The Point parking lot at Cape St Blaize Cave.
Cape St Blaize Lighthouse. Permission to be obtained from Transnet in advance. Montagu Street access. 044 690 3015
Diaz Museum Complex lawns. Free entry Monday to Thursday. 044 691 1067