Robberg Nature Reserve
You can't miss this reserve if you're in Plett'. It occupies the Robberg Peninsula, a rocky headland that juts out from the coast and has three circular walking routes that give you great views out across the ocean and back to town (see the walks section for more detail on these). The Nelson's Bay Cave has interesting archaeological finds and there's a huge seal colony to look out for too.
Prices: Buy entry permits at the gate for R20 adults and R10 kids. Open 7am -5pm and until 8pm in Dec and Jan.
Contact: About 8km south of Plett', follow airport road and look for turn-off left.
For those slightly put off by the rigours of the Otter Trail this is the answer. Starting in the Storms River Mouth it's a 2-day, 3-night hike - well more of a luxury ramble actually - where you'll carry nothing but your day-sack east along the Tsitsikamma coast, through 21km of pristine marine wilderness. After an indulgent first night, the programme is fairly leisurely with time allocated on day one for a Storms River boat trip, forest picnic and tidal pool snorkelling before a couple of stiff climbs to escarpments. A second night of serious comfort and then day two, which leads you along the water's edge spotting oystercatchers and whales in season and listening to the crash of Indian Ocean waves. The prospect of a slap-up 4-course farewell dinner should spur tiring legs on to the end and you'll be dropped back at the start via an exciting 4x4 ride the following morning. Strenuous stuff!
Price: R2,700 pp for whole package include meals, guide and transport. Max 12 per group.
Mossel Bay Walks
Cape St. Blaze Trail:
This is one for lovers of coastal magnificence, a reasonably strenuous 13.5km in each direction with great views of towering cliffs and rocky bays and coves. It begins at the Cape St Blaize lighthouse with a fairly steep climb on a wooden walkway/steps to the ridge above. The trail then heads along the coast to Dana Bay, 13.5km away. People tend to judge the length they want to walk in total and turn back when they are ready. Or walk the entire length and get a taxi from Dana Bay back to their car. Jordan Taxis are on 082-673-7314.
Price: Free, no permit needed
Contact: Mossel Bay Tourism, Market St, Mossel Bay.
Like the neighbouring Whale Trail in the Overberg, this two- or four-day coastal route leads you through some of the best scenery of the Garden Route. It's fully guided and portered leaving you to plod happily along, investigating ancient caves and rock pools, learning about flora and fauna or soaking up views of the Indian Ocean from the cliff tops.
Prices: R2,800 for 2-day to R5,800 for 4-day trip for groups of 2 - 4 people, R2,300 and R4,800 for larger groups. Prices are all-inclusive. You must book well in advance.
Contact: Trips start at Mossel Bay Museum or at Boggomsbaai.
Call: Fred Orban on 044-699-1204 or 082-550-4788
This is a beautiful 10km hiking trail which should take you about 5 to 6 hours leading from the fynbos-coated hills outside Mossel Bay down to the banks of the Kouma river. 600-year-old yellowwoods and stinkwoods provide the shade (that the tree ferns like too) and there are amazing waterfalls and swimming spots to picnic by. Watch out for rock art too.
Prices: R35 pp. Ask about the half-way hut to overnight in to really draw out the pleasure.
Contact: Hannes and Anmalise van Rensburg.
Skaapplaas Farm, take R328 to Oudtshoorn/Hartenbos off N2, pass Ruiterbos after 22km and turn L at primary school to Haelkraal, turn R after 3km.
Glentana Beach Walk:
If there's nothing you like more than padding along on the seafront, brain in neutral, admiring your surroundings then head for the parking area near the Sea Side Caf at Glentana. Walking east from there this easy low-tide 6km route leads you east to one of this coastline's many wrecks. Once you've reached it, patted yourself on the back and taken some photos you can turn around and walk back. I usually prefer circular walks but the rocky beach and caves are worth seeing twice and things can look very different when walking in the opposite direction - plus, of course, you won't get lost. Allow 3 hours.
Prices: Free, no permits needed. The Sea Side Caf is in Little Brak 15-20 mins east along N2 from Mossel Bay.
Contact: Great Brak River Tourist Office, Amy Searle St.
Great Brak River Village Walk
A very easy 5km circular walk around the Great Brak River estuary. Start close to the library on Long St and head over the bridge in town. The path takes about an hour and returns across another bridge just downstream. Watch out for cormorants and other bird life around the river and estuary.
Prices: Free, no permits needed. 044-620-3882, Great Brak Tourist Office
This may not sound particularly glamorous but it's a great 5km walk up onto the Langeberg that gives you a fantastic view back over George and the neighbouring mountains. Starting at the entrance to the Outeniqua Nature Reserve (1.5km out of George on Oudtshoorn road) follow the clearly marked route all the way up the mountain, stopping for a picnic on top before coming back the same way. Allow 2 to 3 hours.
Prices: Free, but you must stick to the marked route.
Contact: Outeniqua Nature Reserve
George Tourist Office
Wilderness Heritage Trail
From the petrol station in Wilderness walk across the railway line and onto the beach and then, in a westerly direction, re-cross the railway line and walk under an elevated section of the N2 National Highway to the Kaaimans River mouth. Then walk up the estuary before crossing under the N2 to a steep climb up an old wagon track - you can actually see part of the tracks. This leads you to a ridge which brings you to the 'Map of Africa', rock formations that look just like. yup, you guessed it. The 'map' is formed by the meandering Kaaimans River. From here and for the remainder of the route along the ridge you have magnificent views over mountain and sea before descending through farmland. It'll bring you back into town after about 7km or three hours and is an easy walk offering great birding for those with keen eyes or binoculars.
Contact: Wilderness Tourist Office, Milkwood Centre, Beacon Rd, Wilderness.
Knysna Forest Walks
These 3 forest walks all start off the Rheenendal road, off the N2 just west of town.
No woodcutting to be done on this route, just plenty of stunning forest birding. It's a reasonably taxing 3 or 9km path that takes one to three hours depending which option you go for.
Prices: Self-issued permit (R6) from the hut at the start of the route - it has a map on the back. Walk signed beyond Rheenendal, 28km from N2, starting and ending at Krisjan se Nek picnic site.
Jubilee Creek Forest Walk:
A circular walk again that's just 3.6km long and should take you about an hour. For those feeling overheated it's blessed with a stream and cooling swimming hole as well as forest shade. The forest is wonderful containing a wide variety of indigenous trees and tree ferns as well as a massive blue gum that begs to be photographed - although the scale of the thing will probably not come through. You cross the stream several times before reaching the swimming hole and there are old mining excavations on the route, which you can view but not enter!
Prices: Self-issued permit (R6) has detailed map of the walk. Buy this in the parking area where the walk starts and finishes. Route starts about 10km beyond the Woodcutters Trail.
This starts at the Millwood picnic spot and ends up in the same place 5.6km or two hours or so later, following a moderate path that passes the remains of the old mining village and graveyard as well as plenty of the ever-present fynbos and forest plantations. At the start (or end) of the walk are a museum and a delightful coffee shop.
Prices: Self-issued permit (R6) at the start. Route starts about 5km beyond the Jubilee Forest Trail.
Contact: Knysna Tourist Office, 40 Main St, Knysna.
Kranshoek Coastal Walk:
A choice of a 3km or 9km circular route. It's strenuous (but exciting) going with plenty of ups and downs and will need 2 hours for the short route and 5 for the longer one taking you through forest plantations and fynbos and along coastal escarpments, down towards a rocky beach and back. It is on this sort of walk that the Garden Route comes into its own.
Prices: Sign the register and pay a small entrance fee at the starting point picnic site.
Robberg Nature Reserve:
The three circular walks of 2.2, 5.6 and 9.2km all start and end in the parking area and become increasingly difficult with length. The first walk is very easy - a stroll. The second (and probably the most popular) takes you down a spectacular sand dune (which cuts right across the peninsula) to the beach. This is fairly strenuous and entails some walking along rock faces. The third - which goes all around the peninsula - is a serious walk. On both the second and third, you should be aware of the tide movement. It is best to do both at low tide. Allow 45mins for the short route and about 4 hours for the longest. Take water and a sun hat and be wary of the sea. That said, make sure you enjoy it too as the views are spectacular!
Prices: R20 entry for adults, R10 kids.
Nature's Valley is about as beautiful as the Garden Route gets, a deep valley of thick, thick forest fringed by rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. The views are stunning, the bird life is too and there's a network of footpaths offering 1 - 6km routes that will take up to three hours for lingerers taking the longest route.
Prices: Maps (R5) are available at the camp in Nature's Valley. To get there turn R off the N2 (if coming from Plett) 1km after The Crags (so about 16km from Plett). The camp is about 500m beyond the entrance to Nature's Valley on the right and is open from 7am - 5pm.
Contact: Call the camp on 044-531-6700.
A luxury three-day hike that heads east along the coast.
Forest and Fynbos Walks:
Bob and Louise Reed are salt-of-the-earth folk who offer walking tours through the forest and fynbos of the Tsitsikamma. They are both registered guides, mad keen on their birds (eyes peeled for narina trogon and Knysna lourie), and with such a rich profusion of vegetation and wildlife along the Garden Route you'll be glad of someone to explain it all.
Prices: R100 pp for 1-3 people, R60 for 4-10 and R40 for 11 or more.
Contact: 88 Saffran St, cnr Darnell St, Storms River.
Cell: 072-299-1760 or 082-787-1598
The Otter Trail:
This is probably the best known (and consequently most popular) of the Garden Route trails, a coastal walk alongside the magnificent Tsitsikamma Forest. It is extremely popular so, like the Overberg's Whale Trail, book your place as soon as you possibly can (up to a year in advance sometimes). Bear in mind that the reservation cost does not cover accommodation before or after the walk.
The trail itself covers 42km of rough and rugged coastline with booming breakers on one side and virgin indigenous forest on the other. Getting lost is difficult as the paths are clearly marked with blue otter signs but walking-wise it's challenging stuff. You'll need to be fairly fit to carry all your own cooking kit and sleeping bags up steep inclines and along steeper cliffs and over 11 river crossings. Four overnight stops are spent in bunk-bedded huts that sleep six and on day five you'll reach Nature's Valley, tired but inspired.
Prices: R500 pp.
Tel: 012-426-5111 for reservations.
Storms River Mouth Trails:
Starting from the parking area of the Tsitsikamma National Park you can walk a selection of 1 - 5.6km trails around the Storms River mouth. Head up to the plateau via the Indiana Jones-esque suspension bridge, follow a slice of the Otter Trail along the rugged coastline and caves, and dive into the forest. Allow up to three hours for the longest walks and much longer for picnics and swimming stops.
Prices: Entrance fee to the national park R80 for adults, R40 for kids per day. The entry point is at Storms River off the N2.
Contact: Call the National Park Office on 042-281-1607.