Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail – a Sea, Land and Forest Affair

Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail – A Sea, Land and Forest Affair 

 

 

 

Belinda and I were again privileged to do a multi-day hike with the SAPSTAP Hiking Club between Monday 20 March 2017 – Saturday 26 March 2017. It had been a while since our last multi-day hike, the Amatola Trail in October 2016, so we were both a little nervous. This hike was organised by our dear friend Janine who is part of SAPSTAP – she is hiking’s version of Wonder Woman and we are so grateful she included us in this adventure.

The Tsitsikamma Trail is in the same region as its more popular sister hike, Otter Trail. In some respects, it is our opinion that the Tsitsikamma Trail is better than the Otter Trail and is certainly more value for your money!

 

Here is a list of the topics this post covers

  1. Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes
  2. Background
  3. How To Get There
  4. Booking & Costs For Tsitsikamma
  5. The Speed Review
  6. The Actual Hike
  7. Final Thoughts

 

 

1. Physical Preparedness – Training Hikes

Do you need to be experienced or to have a good level of physically fitness to hike the Tsitsikamma Trail? Quite simply no, you don’t. But you do need to be reasonably fit to enjoy the whole experience. We say this about all the multi-day hikes we have done. There just seems to be, in our experience, a correlation between fitness levels and the overall enjoyment factor when doing multi-day hikes. The inevitable consequence of being unfit is that you will simply put your head down and plod along each day until your reach the overnight hut, often with painful consequences. This means that you will hardly take in any of the scenery and your memory of the whole experience may be significantly limited.

 

Disclaimer:  The training hikes listed below are only recommendations, based on our personal experience. Before attempting any of the suggested training hikes, or any exercise preparation, we suggest you consult with a medical practitioner. It is important that you are properly checked out by a doctor before embarking on any exercise programme. We do not want any harm to come to you as a result of following our training hike recommendations in this blog. It just makes sense to check with your doctor before starting with your physical preparations.

 

Our recommendation is that you do a few training day hikes in the run up to the Tsitsikamma. If you have never done a multi-day hike before, we suggest that you start training at least 3 months before doing the Tsitsikamma. That will get your body used to hiking at least 13 km a day with a reasonably heavy backpack. If you are a regular hiker, but have not done the Tsitsikamma before, we recommend starting your training programme at least 4 weeks before doing the Tsitsikamma. You should be hiking a reasonable distance, in the region of 15-20 km, per week.

As we are based in Cape Town in the Western Cape, the training hikes we suggest you do before hiking the Tsitsikamma are all based in the Province. That is not to say that you cannot find appropriate training hikes in your corner of the world. The key elements for any training hike for the Tsitsikamma Trail is that it should be at least 10 km in distance with a few hills thrown in for good measure.

We are not going to recommend specific training day hikes in this blog, but any hike up Table Mountain should help you to prepare for the Tsitsikamma. Also look at the Tygerberg Nature Reserve in Welgemoed for some nice hill training. If you are stuck and can’t think of other day hikes to do to prepare for the Tsitsikamma, have a look at our website for some more hiking trail ideas.

 

 

2. Background

In terms of the pre-hike preparation, we received several email attachments providing information about the conditions and safety issues of the Tsitsikamma Trail. There was a lot of duplication in these documents, but overall it provided us with an idea of the trail distances and what to do if it rains a lot on the trail. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word that means the ‘place of much water‘. It is well named as water can play a significant part in your experience of this trail. We were also provided with a map that included a side elevation profile of the trail. I have included one of these useful documents here.

It is one thing to read up on all you can about a hiking trail, but it is something completely different to put on your backpack and hiking boots and actually hike the trail. What we have tried to do again, is to document our impressions of this trail as we have experienced it, with the intent to bridge the gap between general hiking information and an actual hiking experience. This time, I left the pen and paper at home and used a small digital voice recorder to capture hiking highlights in byte size portions.

Before we left Cape Town, as an experiment, I weighed both our backpacks. Belinda’s backpack weighed 14 kg while mine tipped the scales at 17 kg. I was very interested to find out what our backpacks weighed at the end of the hike and why.

 

3. How to get there

The Tsitsikamma Trail begins in Nature’s Valley, just outside Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape and ends in the neighbouring province of the Eastern Cape at the Storm’s River Bridge petrol station. It spans 60 km and includes 5 nights in wooden huts dotted along the trail. The first and last day’s hikes are both less than 4 km, so in essence, it is really only a 5 day hike and 5 nights.

The GPS co-ordinates of the Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, and the start of the hike, are as follows:

S 33 58.240′     E 023 33.731′

 

4. Bookings and Costs for the Tsitsikamma Trail

Bookings are done through MTO Eco Tourism

  • Website: http://www.mtoecotourism.co.za/tsitsikamma-trail/tsitsikamma-trail/
  • Tel:  (042) 281 1717/2
  • Email: bookings@mtoecotourism.co.za

 

TRAIL COSTS:

Trail costs R200 per person per night for the huts.  For the 5-night/6-day route it will total R1000 per person.

There are also options of 2/3/4 day routes which are not covered in this blog, but you can find out more by visiting the MTO Eco Tourism website.

These rates are accurate as of July 2018. Please check the MTO website before you book to make sure the rates haven’t gone up in the mean time.

 

PORTAGE FEES: 

For those who wish to make use of the portage option (#slackpackersunite) the fee per hut is R825 for the first 5 people (ie R165 per person), with R155 per person in addition to that. The maximum number of people for portage is 12. You can choose to slackpack this entire trip, but it will increase the costs substantially.

When we hiked this trail, the mom and daughter duo who were with us decided, rather ingeniously, to have half of their food dropped off at the hut on night 3. This meant they had fresh fruit, cold Coke and a few other delicious (but heavy) treats to enjoy while the rest of us ate our sachet tuna and Provitas.

 

 

Trail Ninometer

 

 

Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because there are no dogs allowed on the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail. We also did not have a dog when we did this trail, so we have no idea what Nina was up to when we did this hike!

 

5. The Speedy Review (tl;dr)

Belinda has done the Otter Trail (many years ago) as well as some other well known multi-day hikes and the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail still rates in her top 3 favourites.  There is just something special about hiking a non-commercialised trail, that includes forests, mountains, river views, comfortable huts, hot water, untouched landscapes and the sea!  Please don’t misunderstand what we are saying, hikes like the Otter are beautiful, but we don’t think they are necessarily worth all the hype.

Tsitsikamma is tough, but manageable, and is a good first-time multi-day hike for those wanting to get into it. Knowing you will have hot water and a comfortable place to sleep at the end of the day is extremely motivating.

 

6. The Actual Hike

 

DAY 1

We arrived in Nature’s Valley in the afternoon of Monday the 20th of March 2017 at about 15h30. We were a party of 13 hikers made up mostly of SAPSTAP hikers. We also had a German mother and daughter join the hiking party on the day. Our original party of 13 also included a Russian woman who has been living in South Africa for over a decade. It added an interesting international flavour to the overall experience. By the end of the hike, we were all getting on like a house on fire!

On arrival at the rest camp, we offloaded our backpacks and made for the ablution block where we had a last shower before heading out on the trail. The showers facilities were pretty good.

 

 

After completing the indemnity form at the SAN Parks reception hut, we all heaved our backpacks into position with the small consolation that they were only going to get lighter over the next few days.

We started hiking at about 16h45 and headed past the SAN Parks reception hut on our left and turned right on to the tar road and over a bridge. Just over the bridge, we turned right onto a wooden walkway leading into the forest.

We started out the hike with 9 of the 15 hikers as the remainder of our party had only just arrived at the rest camp as we headed out. It wasn’t necessary for us to wait for them as the total distance for the day was advertised as 3.6 km.

 

 

After walking a short distance on the forest path that leads off the wooden walkway, we turned right on to a jeep track. The trail took us to a ‘man made’ staircase to the left with an arrow pointing in that direction. That was apparently the new alternate route for the first day’s hike. The person leading the hiking party was not aware of the route changes though and we all ended up walking past that point toward the river where the bridge crossing had washed away some time ago.

We doubled back on the trail and turned right and up the ‘man made’ staircase, with wooden poles serving as steps. We had been hiking for about 27 minutes at that point. After reaching the top of the staircase, we descended almost immediately on the other side.

At about 17h15, we reached a river crossing with a chain across it. The only way across that river without getting your boots and socks wet was to take them off. We didn’t need to take our backpack off.

 

 

After crossing the river, the path took us on a jeep track past a distance marker showing 8 km. Do not be fooled! You have not walked 8 km! These are the trail distance markers of another hiking trail.

The jeep track takes you alongside the lagoon at Nature’s Valley. At about 17h45, we reached the 7 km mark for the other trail and we could see and smell the sea ahead of us. About 5 minutes later, we reached the first overnight stop, Kalander Hut.

Supper on the first night consisted of cheese rolls, boiled country herb viennas (this was way before listeriosis was a thing!) and slices of strong flavoured cheese with a cup of sweet tea! The secret ingredient in the tea was a generous squirt of condensed milk. We retired to our sleeping bags at about 20h00, way before anyone else. Early to bed, early to rise! Our hiking creed.

 

Trail & Distance Markings

There were no trail markings on the first day for the Tsitsikamma Trail. There were however a few trail markers for another hiking trail which were in the opposite direction. The other hiking trail markers were a pair of hikers that are white in colour on a green background.

There are distance markers at the following distances : 8 km, 7 km (Distance markers for the other trail)

The trail had a total walking distance of 3.8 km. That included the extra few hundred meters that we walked to where the bridge had washed away. The advertised 3.6 km was probably more accurate.

 

The Stats – Day 1

The hiking stats for Day 1 for those of you who are interested, like me, in such things were as follows:

 

Trip Odometer 3.8 km
Total Time 01h18
Moving Time 51m 48s
Moving Average 4.4 km/h
Overall Average 2.9 km/h
Max Speed 9.2 km/h
Elevation (Kalander Hut) 18m

 

Tip of the Day

The first day was basically a short walk to the first overnight hike that takes less than 01h30m. Leave yourself enough time to watch the sunset. The beach is just across the way from Kalander hut. Well worth a visit.

 

 

Kalander Hut

 

FACILITIES    PRESENT        NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS           √       4 [sleeps 24]
DECK           √             1
SHOWERS           √             2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS           √             2
LONG DROP TOILET           X             0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI           √             1
WASHING LINE           X             0
CELL PHONE SERVICE           √             –

 

In my opinion, the Kalander Hut was quite cramped even with only the 15 of us. It is also located within hearing distance of the non-hiking public which takes away a little bit from the wilderness hiking experience. It was my least favourite of all the huts on the trail.

 

 

DAY 2

At about 04h30, we got up and I had a cold shower. One of the showers had a bucket which is suspended above your head with a shower head fitted to the bottom. The idea is that you fill the bucket with kettle water that you heat up on the fire. After filling the bucket with hot water, you stand underneath it, open the valve on the shower head and have a hot gravity fed shower. It was so hot that day and evening that no one in our party chose to go through the effort of having a hot shower. After that, I made us breakfast in the ‘dining’ lapa. Breakfast consisted of Oatso Easy and rusks with sweet tea. I really need to find something else to eat for breakfast! I had to force myself to shovel it down my throat!

We started hiking at 06h30, just after first light. It was already 25 degrees Celsius, which wasn’t a good sign. After leaving Kalander hut, the trail turned right and start climbing immediately. This was a pattern that was repeated throughout the entire hike with each day starting with a climb. The second day was advertised as a 15 km hike.

 

After a 15 minute climb, we reached the top of the first hill. We passed 4 locals walking in the opposite direction down to the beach. Up until that point, I did not see any trail markings or distance markings.

At 06h50, we started up another incline. It was less steep than the opening hill. At 07h05, and about 35 minutes into the hike, we reached the Vodacom cell tower right at the very top. Once you reach the tower you walk past it, on your left hand side, along a jeep track.

The trail then turned left and passed a board pointing in the direction of the next overnight stop, Blaauwkrantz Hut, 13.4 km away. The trail markings, a white shoe print, begin at this point in the hike and are relatively good all the way through the first day.

At 07h30, after walking along a contour path, we descended into the valley. We stopped for a quick water break at 08h00 inside the forest. We make it a habit to stop every hour, on the hour, to have a water break. This helps to keep us hydrated and to keep track of how much water we have had on the trail.

At 08h25, the trail took us on to a jeep track again. Two minutes later, we reached a sign indicating that we had to turn left on to a gravel road. Five minutes after that, we reached a tar road. We walked straight across the tar road and back into the forest called Platbos. It was here that our exposed legs were dive bombed by a squadron of hungry mosquitoes! In hindsight, a little insect repellent applied before reaching this point would have gone a long way! Those itchy bites stayed with us the entire hike!

At about 08h50, we reached the bridge that goes under the N2 highway.

 

 

At about 09h00, we turned right off the jeep track and headed back into the forest. We had a brief sighting of a Knysna Loerie in the forest. At 09h15, we took a short break. According to the GPS, we had covered a distance of 8.6 km. Our breaks are not normally longer than about 10 minutes.

At 09h30, we started up a steep incline into the forest for about 10 minutes before we began to descend again.

At 09h43, we reached a waterfall with a pool where we refilled our water bottles. We had covered a distance of 9 km, at this point. After the waterfall, we started up a steep incline again. This is a golden thread throughout the hike. Whenever you reach a water crossing, expect a steep incline soon thereafter!

At 10h25, we reached the 12 km distance marker on the trail. My GPS measured the distance at 10.4 km. One thing we did find was that the distance markers on this hiking trail were extremely inaccurate. They indicate that you have walked further than you actually have. This needs to be sorted out by those responsible for maintaining the trail.

 

 

At 10h38, we reached a sign guiding us back into the forest again and into a steep climb. The temperature at this point had reached 32 degrees Celsius. At 11h08, we turned back on to a jeep track.

At 11h28, we had been walking for over an hour since passing the 12 km trail marker. This did not make any sense to anyone who didn’t have a GPS, as the total trail distance was advertised as 13.4 km. Not surprisingly, there were a few curses muttered while we hiked along the undulating jeep track in the blazing hot sun! At about 12h00, we finally reached the Blaauwkrantz Hut. It boasts magnificent views of the ravine below.

Later in the afternoon, most of our hiking party walked down to the river just below the hut and cooled off in the pools of mountain water. It is only a 5 minute walk from the hut.

It was so hot on this evening that everyone, except me, slept outside on the deck or on the grass in front of the dining lapa. If you choose to sleep on the grass, you will just need to make friends with the fairly large ants you will be sharing your sleeping bag with.

Supper for this evening consisted of steak and a rice dish which we do not normally have on a hike, let alone on the second night. It was well worth the extra weight it added to my backpack!

 

 

Trail & Distance Markings

The trail markings on the second day were good. At no stage did I have to stop and search for the trail on Day 2. The trail was also clearly visible.

There were distance markers at the following distances: 3km, 6km (5.4km), 12km (10.4km) My GPS distances in brackets.

 

The Stats – Day 2

The trail had a total GPS walking distance of 15.0 km. The hiking stats for day 2 were as follows:

 

Trip Odometer 15.0 km
Total Time 05h26
Moving Time 03h52
Moving Average 3.9 km/h
Overall Average 2.8 km/h
Max Speed 7.7 km/h
Elevation (Blaauwkrantz Hut) 330 m

 

Tip of the Day

Before departing from Kalander hut on the first morning on the trail, apply insect repellent to all the exposed parts of your body. I carried those mosquito bites and itchiness with me on the entire hike.

 

Blaauwkrantz Hut

FACILITIES    PRESENT   NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS           √  2 [sleeps 30]
DECK           √           1
SHOWERS           √           2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS           √           2
LONG DROP TOILET           X           0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI           √           1
WASHING LINE           X           0
CELL PHONE SERVICE           √           –

 

The set up at Blaauwkrantz Hut is much better and was a lot more roomy than the Kalander Hut. This was my favourite hut of the whole hike. The deck itself does need some urgent maintenance though.

 

 

DAY 3

We got up at 05h00 in the morning. I was the first one up which was rather unusual. I walked outside and found that the deck was covered in cacooned hikers. What emerged later were not butterflies by any stretch of the imagination! Unless butterflies also look bedraggled and fragile when they wake up in the morning. I had to climb over the picnic tables to get to the ablution hut. I think the majority of the party did not enjoy a good night’s rest due to the high temperatures and humidity levels combined with the presence of attention deprived ants. There was also the absence of anything that could be called a breeze, which didn’t help at all. Let’s not forget the loyal squadron of mosquitoes that were on hand to torment those trying to fall asleep. The trail distance for Day 3 was advertised as 13.4 km.

By 06h00, my backpack was packed and we were ready to tackle the trail again. At about 06h15, we left the rest camp and headed down into the ravine and past the waterfall. Again after crossing the stream, we climbed for about 25 minutes to the top of the first hill. Soon after that, we descended again for about 20 minutes and reached the river at about 07h00. The distance covered until that point was about 1.8 km. I realised then that I had not cleared the trip odometer on my GPS from the previous day. I cleared it quickly and continued on.

Five minutes later, we crossed the river for a second time. There was lots of water if you wanted to fill up your water bottle(s). At about 07h10, we reached the 3 km trail distance marker after about an hour on the trail. Again there was a steep climb we had to navigate after crossing over the river. And again the distance marker appeared to be inaccurate with my GPS clocking us at a distance of 2.2 km.

At 07h18, we reached the top of the incline and headed into the forest. Twenty minutes later, we left the forest and entered a fynbos and pine tree plantation. The trail was still descending at that point. At about 08h00, we reached the 6 km distance marker with my GPS saying it was actually only 4.7 km.

At 08h00, we reached a large pool and took our backpacks off for a well deserved break. Some of our party made the most of the opportunity and had a swim. The water was freezing cold though!

 

 

The GPS calculated distance to that large pool was approximately 4.8 km. We also took the opportunity to have a snack and relax a bit before the inevitable steep climb that awaited us.

We started again at 08h20 and immediately had to cross the river again.  There was a red rope that you can use to assist you across the river. No need to take shoes and socks off there!

After crossing the river, we lost the path for the first time on the trail. The trail actually turned immediately left there, but we see that the first time round. Look out for a small pile of stones on top of the rocks to your left! The trail continues between these rocks and up on the left edge of the hill. After a 40 minute climb, we reached the top. That was the longest climb of the day. It was not the end of the uphills though as we continued from there on an undulating contour path.

At about 09h20, we reached the 9 km distance marker with my GPS weighing in with a distance of 7.4 km. At 09h43, we stopped at a shady spot on the trail and had a water break. There was no water source at that point on the trail.

 

 

At 10h20, we crossed a small stream. One of our hiking party, who had done the trail before, told us that that was the last water point on the trail. We took the opportunity to fill up a water bottles here. There was a red rope to assist us across if it had been raining. That turned out not to be the last water point, with several water points further along the trail.

At about 10h30, we reached the 12 km distance marker. My GPS clocked us at 9.7 km. This was such a ridiculous over estimate of how far we had actually hiked which led to lots of unhappiness later on when the trail stubbornly carried on and on! We were walking in the cool forest at that point, which I really enjoyed.

At 10h37, we came to a steadily flowing stream where we were able to fill up our water bottles again. Ten minutes later, the trail changed to a jeep track. It was really hot by that stage and I was not looking forward to the blazing sun beating down on my capped head.

Later the trail veered left off the jeep track at a sign that just said ‘Keurbos’. At about 11h15, the trail took us back on to the same jeep track with a sign saying ‘Keurbos Hut 1.5km’. At about 11h35, we walked into the Keurbos rest camp.

After taking some time to relax after the day’s hiking, Belinda and I left the camp site at about 14h40 and continued on the trail to where we had been told there was a pool to swim in. It was said to be about 1 km from the rest camp. It took us about 23 minutes to reach the Lottering River. Later, we calculated that it was a distance of 1.6 km from the hut. There was not much water in the river, but if you really wanted to get wet you could submerge you entire body in water if you lay flat on your back.

We chose rather to make tea and soak our feet in the stream instead. It’s at times like that, that you really appreciate what nature has to offer. The toils of life simply floated down the river.

For supper, we had dehydrated mince with pasta which was quite rich and flavourful. That was followed closely by decaf coffee given to us on the night. For dessert, we had strawberry flavoured fizzers, another gift from a fellow hiker! Some of our party slept on the grass outside while others made their beds in the ‘dining’ lapa. We were in bed again just before 20h00. The evening was much cooler so we were able to get a good night’s rest.

 

Trail & Distance Markings

The trail markings were not great. There was a point, just after the large pool, where we couldn’t find the trail. The trail was, by and large, very easy to see and follow. There were distance markers at the following distances: 3km (2.2km), 6km (4.7km), 9km (7.4km), 12km (9.7km)

 

The Stats – Day 3

The trail had a total GPS walking distance of 13.1 km. Due to the trip odometer not being cleared, these were the only accurate hiking stats for Day 3:

 

Trip Odometer 13.1 km
Max Speed 7.4 km/h
Elevation (Keurbos Hut) 430 m

 

Tip of the Day

Make the most of the opportunity that an early arrival at Keurbos gives you and take our advice and visit the Lottering River to cool off and have some tea!

 

 

Keurbos Hut

 

FACILITIES PRESENT       NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS       √     2 [sleeps 30]
DECK       √             1
SHOWERS       √             2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS       √             2
LONG DROP TOILET       X             0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI       √             1
WASHING LINE       X             0
CELL PHONE SERVICE       X             –

 

 

DAY 4

We got up at about 04h30 in the morning and I had the same boring breakfast again. By 06h15, it was light enough to see the trail and we headed off after a quick change of batteries in the GPS. Day 4 was advertised as 13.4 km.

At 06h42, we reached the Lottering River again and crossed it without stopping for tea. We began a short, but not very steep, climb straight away which took us about 10 minutes to get to the top. Once we reached that point, we continued on an undulating contour path with it’s own challenging uphills and downhills.

At about 07h15, we reached the 3 km distance marker which turned out to be reasonably accurate. My GPS recorded the distance as 2.7 km.

At 07h42, we reached a small clearing where the trail switched over to the other side of the mountain. The trail started to descend at that point. At about 08h10, we reached the 6 km distance marker with my GPS saying we had covered a distance of only 4.8 km.

 

 

At about 08h20, we came across a sign warning us that conditions were slippery under foot and that we should proceed with caution. It hadn’t been raining at all so the trail wasn’t that muddy at this point. A few minutes after that, we entered the forest.

At about 08h50, we reached a wooden bridge that crossed over the river. The distance covered to that point was about 6.5 km with an elevation of 277 m. We stopped there and had a water break and some snacks. Just a tip for when you get there: after crossing the bridge, turn left and follow a hidden trail that takes you a short distance up the river to a rocky section where you can refill your water bottles quite easily. After the break, we continued hiking at about 09h15.

At 09h25, we reached the 9 km distance marker with my GPS countering with a distance of 6.9 km. That was a discrepancy of 2.1 km! Again immediately after this river crossing, the trail began ascending.

At about 09h50, we reached a jeep track and followed the trail to the right. The distance covered at this point was about 7.9 km with an elevation of 319 m. About 5 minutes later, we turned left off the jeep track at a sign that said ‘Heuningbos Hut’. At about 10h05, the trail entered the forest again. At 10h10, we reached the 9 km distance marker with my GPS somewhat in agreement at 8.9 km. There was also a river crossing at this point where we were able to fill up our water bottles.

About 100 meters further on, we crossed the river again. What makes that river crossing better than the earlier one was that it has a small waterfall and a pool deep enough to swim in. This makes it a good place to stop for a break.

 

 

At 10h33, we reached the 12 km distance marker on the trail. My GPS measured the same distance at 9.5 km, a full 2.5 km difference! To someone without a GPS that means another 30 mins on the trail,but it was actually still an hour and a half until you would reach the overnight hut for the total advertised distance of 13.4 km. That may not seem like a big deal, but if you drink the last of your water thinking you have 1.4 km to go while you actually have 3.9 km, it may have serious consequences on an extremely hot day.

After the two river crossings, the trail climbed gradually, but then near the top it became very steep. At 11h04, we crossed the river again. The distance at that point was 10.5 km, according to my handheld GPS.

At 11h15, we finally left the forest and turned left on to a jeep track (11 km). The jeep track started cheekily with an incline. The surrounding mountains were covered in a blanket of thick mist.

After walking about 80 meters, the jeep track disappears and we were back on a forest path. The path begins descending almost immediately into the forest below, the very same forest you just ascended from. I wonder who thought this one up! He or she must have a ‘Stair Master’ at home.

At about 11h40, we reached the bottom again and came upon a river with a big enough pool to swim in, if you were so inclined. The distance to that point was 12 km. After a brief climb again, we reached the top at 11h55. As you come around the corner, Heuningbos Hut comes into view high up on the opposite side of the mountain. We were very glad to see the hut, but we still had to climb down into the valley, cross the river and climb up the other side to get to it! We entered the Heuningbos rest camp at about 12h15.

 

Just after, we arrived at the overnight hut, it started to rain. There were still 7 hikers on the trail at that point and they had to hike the remaining section in the rain. Due to the inclement weather conditions, Belinda and I decided to try out the shower bucket system. Belinda made a fire and boiled water in the camping kettle that was provided in the dining lapa. How it works is that you take a spare black bucket from the dining lapa and fill it with hot water off the fire and top it off with cold water so that it is doesn’t give you full thickness burns over your entire body. You then take the black bucket, containing the not too hot water, to the shower. Once inside the shower, you need to lower the shower bucket and fill it using the not too hot water you carried from the lapa. It felt really good to have a hot shower again, especially while listening to the rain falling outside.

Belinda then set about boiling more water on the fire and by the time the remaining hikers reached the hut, they were each able to have their own not too hot showers.

The rain didn’t really put a dampener on the evening, except that you had to run between the hut and the dining lapa where we made supper and spent most of the evening. It was an early night again, with the prospect of rain on the trail the next day. No one was looking forward to that!

 

Trail & Distance Markings

Again the trail markers were not great, but the trail itself is easy enough to follow. There were distance markers at the following distances: 3km (2.7km), 6km (4.8km), 9km (6.9km), 12km (9.5km)

 

The Stats – Day 4

The trail had a total GPS walking distance of 12.5 km. The hiking stats for Day 4 were as follows:

 

Trip Odometer 12.5 km
Total Time 05h47
Moving Time 04h03
Moving Average 3.1 km/h
Overall Average 2.2 km/h
Max Speed 7.2 km/h
Elevation (Heuningbos Hut) 341 m

 

Tip of the Day

This was the toughest day of the trail. Try and leave early and keep yourself hydrated, especially if it is hot.

 

Heuningbos Hut

FACILITIES PRESENT     NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS      √   2 [sleeps 30]
DECK      √           1
SHOWERS      √           2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS      √           2
LONG DROP TOILET      X           0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI      √           1
WASHING LINE      X           0
CELL PHONE SERVICE      X           –

 

 

DAY 5

We got up at 05h00 in the morning and prepared our backpacks for a day of rain. Fortunately my backpack, like most modern packs, has a cover attached to the bottom of it. We waited to see if the rain would let up and it did briefly at about 06h30. the trail distance for Day 5 was advertised as 13.9 km.

We started off at 06h45. There was a concern that we may not be able to cross the two rivers because of the previous day’s rain, but we hoped for the best.

When we got to the first river crossing very near to Heuningbos Hut, the river was flowing quite strongly, but it was not at a level that we needed to take our shoes and socks off. We did have to step on flowing water, but managed to keep dry. We crossed over the river and started up the mandatory climb. It had started to rain again.

At about 07h45, we were nearly at the top of the first climb at a distance of 2.5 km. It wasn’t too much further to the top from there. However again, the trail undulates all the way along with short uphills and downhills.

At about 08h25, we reached a sign that warned that the path ahead was slippery. I walked past the sign and slipped. Who does that! Fortunately, I didn’t fall on my face in the mud.

At about 08h35, we started to descend again and reached the 3 km distance marker moments later, but bizarrely my GPS had calculated the distance covered as 4.5 km!

 

At about 09h10, we came to the second river crossing and took a short break. The distance to that point, according to the GPS, was 5.4 km. We did not have to take our shoes and socks off for that one! We started out again at about 09h20 with another climb.

At about 09h30, we reached the Witteklip River with a strong flowing current of water. It also had a rope across it to assist us when crossing. It was only the second time that we had to take our shoes and socks off in order to be able to cross the river. That was at a GPS distance of 6 km.

I nearly fell in the river while taking a photo! It was only an over hanging branch that saved me. It was about 09h45 when we left the Witteklip River, after putting our socks and shoes back on our wet feet. We headed up the mandatory incline and watched as the sun broke through the rain clouds! It was a welcome sight, indeed. At about 09h50, we crossed the river again without much effort. Five minutes later, we reached the 6 km distance marker with my GPS showing a figure of 6.7 km.

 

 

The trail then proceeds along a contour path in between two mountain peaks. At about 10h30, we entered the forest again and almost immediately crossed a stream. We filled up with water there. The GPS distance was 8.1 km.

At about 10h45, we crossed yet another stream where we could fill up our water bottles. The GPS distance was 8.5 km.

At 11h00, we reached the 9 km distance marker. My GPS countered with a matching distance of 9.1 km. Impressive!

We were in a gradual climb, however the closer we got to the two peaks, the steeper the trail became. We reached the top of this second long climb at about 11h15, where we found a cairn.

I was so happy to get to the top that I picked up a nearby rock and added it to the pile. The GPS distance was 9.5 km. We had a short water break there. We headed off again at 11h15 and descended the other side of the ridge. The remaining distance from that point was approximately 4.7 km. The moment we started to descend on the other side of the mountain, we could see the last overnight hut, Sleepkloof, down on our right hand side. You can also see the Storms River petrol station off in the distance which was the final destination of the hike.

At about 11h55, we reached the 12 km distance marker. My GPS showed a distance of 11.5 km. Soon after this, we entered the forest. At about 12h35, we reached the final river crossing for the day. The GPS distance to that point was 13.4 km. That meant that we had less than 500 meters to go before we reached Sleepkloof hut.

At about 12h40, we reached Sleepkloof rest camp with a total GPS hiking distance of 13.6 km.

 

Belinda and I were not too tired, so we decided to take a day pack and hike to the Storms River Petroport. The other members of our hiking party thought we were crazy, but we had arrived at the hut quite early and it wasn’t that far away. The fruits of our extraordinary expedition included a Steers burger combo meal, a chicken & mushroom quiche, some Ultramel custard, 250 ml of low fat milk and 4 litres of Coca Cola to share with the other hikers! We learned later that the German mother and daughter had decided not to take the chance and cross the two rivers and had opted to take the escape route from Heuningbos hut.

Dinner for the last evening consisted of tuna pasta followed by ginger biscuit pieces suspended in Ultramel custard and glass of Coke to wash it down with!

 

Trail & Distance Markings

Again the trail markers were not great, but the trail itself was easy enough to follow. There were distance markers at the following distance: 3km (4.5km), 6km (6.7km), 9km (9.1km), 12km (11.5km)

 

The Stats – Day 5

The trail had a total GPS walking distance of 13.6 km. The hiking stats for day 5 were as follows:

 

Trip Odometer 13.6 km
Total Time 05h57
Moving Time 04h20
Moving Average 3.1 km/h
Overall Average 2.3 km/h
Max Speed 8.8 km/h
Elevation (Sleepkloof Hut) 312 m

 

Tip of the Day

According to the trail information we were given, this was supposed to be the toughest day. We both however found day 4 to be the toughest. When you reach Sleepkloof Hut, you begin to realise that you are only 3.2 km from the end point. It might be worth it to continue on and do the additional 3.2 km and enjoy a delicious take away and a cold beverage at the petrol station. And get to be the heroes when you take a few ‘luxury’ items back with you to camp!

 

SleepKloof Hut

 

FACILITIES PRESENT   NUMBER
SEPARATE SLEEPING QUARTERS      √  4 [sleeps 30]
DECK      √         1
SHOWERS      √         2
FLUSHABLE TOILETS      √         2
LONG DROP TOILET      X         0
UNDERCOVER BRAAI      √         1
WASHING LINE      X         0
CELL PHONE SERVICE      X         –

 

DAY 6

We all got up at 06h00 in the morning as arranged the previous evening and prepared our backpacks for the last day’s hike. Before leaving the hut, we stood for two group photos taken by two different photographers in two different locations! One involved building a makeshift tripod out of firewood! The trail distance for the last day was advertised as 3.2 km.

We started off at 07h30 and walked along an undulating jeep track. We reached a t-junction where a sign indicated the Storms River Bridge to the left and Storms River Village to the right. This was after a distance of about 1 km. Some of our hiking party went right toward the Village, but most of the party went left to the end point at Storms River Bridge.

It took us less than three quarters of an hour to complete the last stage of the hike.

 

 

Trail & Distance Markings

There were no trail markings that I could see on the last day, but the trail itself is easy to follow. There were no distance markers on the last day of the trail.

 

The Stats – Day 6

The trail had a total GPS walking distance of 2.7 km. The hiking stats for the last day’s hiking were as follows:

 

Trip Odometer 2.7 km
Total Time 39m05s
Moving Time 36m01s
Moving Average 4.5 km/h
Overall Average 4.1 km/h
Max Speed 9.7 km/h
Elevation (Storms River Garage) 235 m

 

Final Thoughts

The 45 km shuttle trip from Storms River Bridge to the Nature’s Valley base camp took about 30 minutes. It cost each of us R50. The smell inside the minibus was special!

Interestingly when we got back to Cape Town, we weighed our backpacks again. Belinda’s pack weighed in at 9.5 kg, a drop of 4.5 kg while mine weighed 13 kg, a drop of just 4 kg. I expected our bags to weigh much less, but it just goes to show that it really is only your food that changes your pack weight after a long multi-day hike! Which actually makes sense if you think about it.

The Tsitsikamma Trail is not as popular or as picturesque as the Otter Trail, but it is still a stunningly beautiful hike and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The days were reasonable tough, but they were not too long. It is a hike that both Belinda and I would do again, if we get the opportunity. We might consider doing it in 5 days rather than 6. One thing I must add though is that the difficulty level of this trail can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather conditions. We were lucky to have reasonably good weather for most of the hike. If it rained harder and for longer periods, this may have been a very different post!



2 thoughts on “Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail – a Sea, Land and Forest Affair”

  • This article truly captures the essence of what Tsitsikamma has to offer. It is a stunning place full
    of adventure and a soulful energy. So many things to do and so many wonderful places to stay
    as well. One such place I found to be particularly restful and family-friendly was At the Woods Guest House.

    • Hi Jade
      Thank you for your kind comments. When next that I am in Tsitsikamma, I will be sure to check out ‘At The Woods’ Guest House.

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