12 March 2013 by Kate Turkington

Hide-and-seek on the Garden Route

If you’re all beached out on the Garden Route, then take to the forests, lakes, estuaries and rivers, where you can discover trails of all kinds, hikes and great bird hides.

On the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail

Had enough of admiring the gorgeous views at Wilderness on the Garden Route? Or need more action than just hanging out on the soft sand and watching the paragliders land nearby as African black oystercatchers peck and forage about the rocks?

A reed cormorant dries its wings at the Langvlei bird hide

Then go and play 'hide-and-seek'. That’s what a friend and I did on a recent trip – choose from any number of walks and trails, or take yourself off to a bird hide and expect some great sightings of waterbirds.

In the Southern Cape, all the indigenous forests are protected, so that means your walks and trails along South Africa’s famous Garden Route are among pristine vegetation ranging from fynbos to ancient yellowwood and milkwood trees.

We went off to the lovely Ebb and Flow Rest Camp in the heart of the Garden Route National Park to amble along the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail. At 6km – three there and three back – it seemed just the right length to stretch the legs, admire the views and spot birds.

The trail winds up hill and down a dale, following the Touw River. Sometimes you’ll be climbing up and down wooden steps, at other times you’ll be walking on soft leaf mould and natural paths. The smell of the forest is all around – peaty, fragrant – as small forest birds flit about the bushes and Knysna turacos show off their scarlet wings as they flash about the forest canopy.

The old rondavel huts of the Ebb and Flow Rest Camp, seen from the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail

An easier (although the Half-Collared Trail was far from strenuous) is the Pied Kingfisher Trail, which takes four hours. Short of time? Then check out the Woodville Forest walk that is an easy 3km.

Another wonderful way to experience this part of the world is to go mountain biking. There are routes from simple family fun ones to others that test really experienced riders. You can get your tags and permits from the park offices.

We finished our Wilderness hide-and-seek day by going off to the Wilderness lakes – a striking feature of the region.

At Langvlei bird hide, we watched hundreds of cormorants and moorhens tootling about, and then moved on to the Rondevlei hide, on the same path where the Cape Dune Molerat Hiking Trail begins.

The smell of the forest is all around – peaty, fragrant – as birds flit about the bushes and Knysna turacos show off their scarlet wings as they flash about the forest canopy.

My friend, Marjorie, and I sat alone at the hide till the sun went down, drinking a bottle of good Cape wine and watching some fantastic birds. A couple of purple gallinules (now called unromantically ‘swamp hens’) kept rushing past, white fluffy tails in the air as if they were on some urgent avian errand. A black crake, a Cape wagtail, little grebes and black-winged stilts all went about their evening activities as the sun set over the rippling expanse of water.

We spent all day just walking and birdwatching – but if you had many days you could fill them with more trails, including canoe and horse ones.

So if the weather does not come up with the perfect beach day, then tuck yourself away by the rivers, estuaries and lakes, or go hide-and-seek deep in primeval forest.

The Outeniqua mountains provide the backdrop to the forests

Category: Routes & Trails

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