Hiking Through The Tsitsikamma

I have been wanting to do a multi-day hike since we moved down to Cape Town, but have just never made the commitment. Well, a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to join my cousins and their friends on a 6 day hike through the Tsitsikamma (the fact that we had never done a hike more than 10km before this is not the point). We book our trip, faff about getting bags and plates and camping things, and eventually get all our stuff together. Suddenly the trip date is on us and we are driving to Plett to start this adventure.

About the Hike

The Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail was South Africa’s first officially accredited hiking trail and has recently been awarded the Green Flag Certificate for being a trail that is under excellent management. Starting in Nature’s Valley and finishing 60 km further at either the Storms River Bridge or Village,this hike takes you through the heart of the Tsitsikamma Mountains. I would not say it is an easy hike – I would highly recommend you have at least some experience with more challenging and technical terrains and have some good kay’s on those hiking legs.

While I definitely think you should do this trip yourself if you can (and haven’t already), I thought I’d share my experiences with you all! So, here we go:

Day 1: The Start

Nature’s Valley to Kalander Hut

Hiking Time: 3,6 km +/- 1 hour 30 mins

The hike to the first hut starts at Nature’s Valley. It’s a fairly easy walk – we use it to catch up with everyone, and get to know our tribe for the next 6 days a bit better. Some have opted to take the bags to the hut by driving to the beach and then taking the sort walk on sand to the hut. A few of us brave souls decide to use the short trip to test out the hiking packs and see how our they feel so that we can make adjustments where we need them before the first big day. It’s fairly heavy – 18kgs of our precious belongings and reserves for the next few days sitting on my shoulders reminds me that I really need to start packing less stuff (I probably won’t though. I like stuff.)

We get to the hut, venture in and get into our swim things – it’s not too cold and a dip in the lagoon is a must! Standing in the water, slowly but surely we are surrounded by small fish that decide our feet are their next meal. Small pecks on toes, ankles and my husband’s leg hairs follow us as we admire the views and chat about the next few days. We’re excited and a bit nervous – this is our first multi-day hike and of course we have gone for gold.

Taking a walk on the beach after being nibbled on by fish, we spot some duikers on the beach. Just in front, dolphins are jumping, surfing and playing in the water. We start to wonder – if this is just the start, what does the next week have in store for us?

A braai, some wine and the last of the fresh veggies for the next few days fills us and we settle down for the night until one of the pack tells us to go check out the ocean. We take a quick walk through the bossies and look out onto shining waves – the phosphorus in the sea lights up each time a waves breaks and it is eerily beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. As the subtle green shines over the waves, we head back to camp. The night ends with small eyes sparkling in the light of our head torches: a little Cape genet slinks across the bushes so we can get a good, long look at all his glory.

It’s dark by now, and the fact that there’s no electricity means we’re off to bed early! Into our sleeping bags we slide, getting a good rest before we start the real journey.

Day 2: The Climb

Kalander Hut to Blaauwkrantz Hut

Hiking Time: 15 km +/- 7 hours

 Today is the day of the first big hike. I’ve had a breakfast of oats, seeds and protein powder with nut butter, bags are packed, water is filled, and off we go! The hike is challenging from the get go as we immediately start uphill towards Pig’s Head – the first 30 minutes definitely had us sweating and questioning why exactly we decided to do this. We were swiftly reminded, though, when we got to the top and looked out over the fynbos to a magnificent view of the ocean, lagoon and mountains. After the first uphill, the going is easy and we settle into a good pace as we move away from civilization and head deeper into the forests, listening to baboons barking in the distance.

As we get deeper into the forests, we stop at a waterfall for some snacks and a rest. Roger and Dave, the water babies of the group, jump into almost every water pool we come across! They have a quick swim, dry off and we all get some food in and soak our feet before continuing the trek to our next cabin. The amount of different terrain we saw throughout the trip still amazes me. From forests to fynbos, rocky outcrops to pine trees, we hiked through all of this even just on the second day!

Luckily, nothing overly eventful happened as we hiked on, edging ever closer to a good cup of coffee and a hot meal! We eventually see one of the markers – “2km to go!” – and we start getting excited! The feet are sore, the packs are heavy and we are about ready to get some rest. But as we keep on going, our distrust for this little wooden marker gets stronger and stronger. This is by far the longest 2km of my life!! Trekking on, getting more disheartened as we go, cursing the marker, we eventually get to our cabin, and were rewarded greatly with a magnificent view of the mountains and rock pools. Side note: We are all still convinced the little wooden sign was very, very wrong, and might be tempted to go back just to find the sign and use it for firewood.

Day 3: The Rain

Blaauwkrantz Hut to Keurbos Hut

Hiking Time: 13,4km +/- 6 hours

We wake up, look outside and it’s our worst hiking fear: it’s raining. It’s cold. And we have a long day of trekking ahead of us. Ugh. We realize after waiting for it to clear a bit that there isn’t much we can do about the weather – so we get some chow in our bellies, wrap up as best we can and head out the door. We have quite a steep downhill to start, heading into the valley we were admiring over dinner last night, so it’s a slow trip down.

It rained, and it rained some more. All day. Do I keep the poncho on, and bathe in my man-made sauna sweat? Do I take it off and deal with the rain? Ugh, stuffs getting wet – poncho on I guess. Wait! It’s stopped! Poncho off! Phew! Nope, wait. It’s raining again. Poncho on…. Heck.

Despite the poncho debacle, I don’t hate this weather. The clouds gave us the most beautiful views as they sat on top of the mountains. Everything was just a little bit greener and happier. The raindrops sitting on the leaves and in the flowers was such a magical site. (Almost beautiful enough to make up for the constant squish of each step in my water-logged shoes.) We saw fungi and mushrooms and moss of all sorts of colours – brown, purple, orange and red bits of colour over the trees, G stopping every few steps to take a picture of some beautiful mushroom growing in some small hook or on a gigantic fallen tree. The forest is exquisite – the old trees make us feel small and the roots help with footing at first. Before the end of the day, though, we’re avoiding the drenched and slippery roots as they’ve sent a few of us to our butts faster than you can say “Tsitsikamma”.

After a full day of rain and hiking, our cold and tired bodies get to camp and we’re thankful that the fast hikers have already started a clothing braai, where we can dry our bits over a warm and enticing fire. Luckily for us, there’s a fairly fancy fire contraption that seems to be a lot safer and less smokey than the open fire, so the more important things go around this guy to dry up. Shoes steam as the water is warmed off, and we’re all a little happier (except maybe Bren, who’s show unfortunately got a little too warm at the fireplace…)

We finish drying our clothes, eat a warm dinner, have a shower and climb into slightly damp beds to get some sleep (and say our prayers that tomorrow will be dry!)

Day 4: The Rivers

Keurbos Hut to Heuningbos Hut

Hiking Time: 13,4 km +/- 6 hours

And our prayers were answered! The sky isn’t exactly clear but it is certainly dry. Relief. Scouting around the lapa during breakfast, there are a few warning signs letting us know that we need to be cautious when starting this next section of the hike – there are a number of rivers that need to be crossed, and if there is heavy rainfall (*cough cough* day 3), then hikers need to consider their safety when hiking. There’s no exit between two of the rivers and the last thing you want is to be stuck between them with no way out (luckily you have food, clothing and warmth strapped to your back, though). We decide it’s been dry for long enough and we should be safe. So off we march.

Many rivers means one thing: many ups and many downs, and very wet feet! Some of the crew decided to slip off their sneaks for the crossing, but I took my trusty inov-8’s straight through the water – they’d gotten me this far, wasn’t going to test my balance without them just yet! With the weather being warmer though, they dried in no time.

The trip to Heuningbos showed us more of the Cape’s stunning vistas and fynbos, and we were grateful for the chance to be able to enjoy the views without water dripping down our eyebrows. Plenty of snouting marks in the ground show us that there are some delicious treats for any four-legged creatures willing to stick their shnoz in the ground, and the wet ground made it easy for us to spot some sneaky footprints, from bokkies to wild pigs and small cats, we got to see what really crosses these trails when no-one is around!

We trekked the final climb after the last river crossing in a bit of rain, and made our way up to the hut – another day down, another fireplace waiting to heat the sneaks so we can have at least semi-dry feet in the morning. This hut is situated beautifully, with the valley in front, mountains behind and the sound of the river trickling passed. It’s a cold night, and we’re tired from a few days of hard hiking. The wine is pretty much finished (the extra kilo’s in the pack was well worth it) so we take our full bellies and cold toes to the cabin, choose a bunk that looks like it has the least amount of 8 legged guests, and I shuffle into my sleeping bag for the night.

Day 5 – The Baboons

Heuningbos Hut to Sleepkloof Hut

Hiking Time: 13,9 km +/- 7 hours

The final and most challenging of the long hikes. Bodies are tired, muscles are stiff and we’re almost out of coffee. But, we’re ready to get moving and see some awesome sites! We’re set to negotiate two saddles on route to the final hut for this trip, with us crossing over Witteklip River about half-way through the trail. Craig and I decide we want to move ahead of the pack – my joints aren’t super happy with me and stopping in the cold to rest isn’t doing them any good. I also can’t hike with my glasses on so I am not the fastest and need the extra time. Four of us hustle to get our packs sorted and on our backs, and off we go!

We’re set to meet the gang at the first big river crossing. We get there in good time, and we guess that the rest of the team isn’t far behind us. In the quiet of having  a rest and a snack, we hear some baboons in the distance. They sound close, but not too close to be a problem. They aren’t as aggressive as some of the baboons we know of – they don’t get much interaction with humans. We wait a while for the barking to stop anyway, and we decide that the troop has moved on and we’re in the clear to carry on moving. I do, however, pick up a stokkie like the warrior women I am. I have no idea what I will do with the thing if the time comes to use it, but it makes me feel better none the less. Stokkie in hand, we carry on moving to the last hut.

Bark. Sounds kind of far, I think we’re fine. Bark. A little closer, but we’re in the mountains so it could just be sound travelling. BARK. Ok, that is a huge nope from me. Too close! We turn on our heels real fast, and swiftly make our way in the other directions to find friends because meeting a baboon in the wild, stick or no stick, is not on my personal agenda for the day! We meet up with G and Bren, forming a nice little pack, and carry on together. Flanked by my cousins, I feel safer. (That doesn’t mean I am letting go of my stokkie though).

As we make through the final big climb for the day, hearts no longer thumping for fear of imminent attach, we hike in between two saddles. The view from Nademaalsnek is incredible. We can see the hut and the final “2km” (we’re still a bit hesitant re: sneaky markers) winding down to our cabin. The temperature is dropping fast, so we eat our pre-cooked rice and tuna, drink some water, have a quick catch-up with our gang who have joined us, and make our way down through the burnt forests to our final cabin for this adventure. Getting to the cabin felt surreal, knowing that the next day was a short 3kms to civilization. Sad to be leaving, but happy to be having a proper shower soon.

Day 6: The End

Sleepkloof Hut to Paul Sauer Bridge

Hiking Time: 3,2 km +/- 1 hour

Sitting there the next morning, drinking our coffee and watching the birds flit between the trees, knowing that we walked over 115,000 steps and 60kms in 6 days, was one of the best moments of the entire trip. The hike to the petrol station was easy, light chatter keeping us occupied as we made our way. After feasting on coffees and Steers, looking out on the bridge, we wait for our shuttle and know that this probably isn’t the last time we’ll do this hike.

I feel truly blessed to have been able to see these amazing forests from such a different angle, to have spent time with some pretty awesome people and to know that if I ever asked my body to do it again, I’d be able to. One more adventure down, and a ton more on the horizon!

10 Lessons Learned

Here are my top 10 lessons learned from this 6 day adventure:

  1. Pack more coffee than you think you need
  2. Invest in a good backpack, sleeping bag and shoes
  3. Don’t braai your shoes too close to the fire
  4. Poncho up sooner rather than later
  5. Stokkie = safety
  6. Pack less clothes than you think you need (except socks and undies, obvs) – everyone is probably stinky anyway
  7. Throw your expectations out the window
  8. Don’t listen to the distance markers
  9. Take pics!
  10. Stop regularly and enjoy the view. You won’t see anything like it anywhere else in the world.

Get out and get adventuring friends – the nature awaits! To learn more about the hike and to make a booking, visit http://www.mtoecotourism.co.za/tsitsikamma-trail/.

A huge shout out to Rose Burton, one of the gang, for taking such stunning pictures and being our resident photog!

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