Alexandria TrailEnquire Now
9km from Alexandria
+27 41 468 0916 www.addoelephantpark.com
Moderate to hard trail; Suitable for children who are seasoned hikers
If you’re looking for breathtaking coastal scenery, there are few places that can beat the Woody Cape Area of the Addo Elephant National Park - the dramatic cliffs and endless empty beaches will blow you away. The 25 000-hectare section consists largely of undulating terrain, with dense coastal forest, coastal scrub as well as the unbelievably beautiful Alexandria dune fields - one of the largest areas of active coastal dunes in the world.
The two-day circular Alexandria Trail starts at the Woody Cape offices, near the town of Alexandria, where there is overnight accommodation (at the very comfortable Langebos huts) for 12 hikers or visitors wanting to overnight in the forest.
Day one of the trail is long (19,5 kilometres), so start early. Initially, you hike in the shade of a wonderful forest alive with the sound of loeries and other birds, past beautiful coral trees and ancient, gnarled yellowwoods, then you cross Perdevlei, an area of open grassland, before reaching the coast.
The trail then follows the dramatic coastline for six kilometres, so check the tide tables when you plan your route. At low tide, the hike along the boulder-strewn wave-cut platform at the base of the cliffs is easy, but at high tide it may be difficult to get past the cliffs and you’ll need to wait until the tide pulls back. Enjoy the marine life, coastal birds such as oystercatchers, terns and sandplovers and the ancient middens of this unspoilt coastline, then climb the wooden ladder to the cliff-top and follow the high road to the superbly located Woody Cape overnight hut.
The hut overlooks Bird Island, home to the largest Cape gannet breeding colony in the world. The wreck of the Nidaros, an old steamer, is located past the ascent ladder, so you can detour to explore this if you have time. You’ll often see dolphins surfing in the waves, and southern right whales may be sighted between July and November.
There is only sufficient water for drinking and cooking at the hut so you’ll need to forgo a shower, but basic gas cooking facilities and eating utensils are provided in the hut.
Day two is possibly even more impressive than day one as the trail traverses the dune field back through the forest and Langevagte Valley to the start. Again, at 16,5 kilometres, it’s a fairly long day, but the dunes are simply beautiful. Start early in summer so that you tackle the more strenuous section through the dunes in the cool of the day. Tall posts indicate the route through the shifting dune field and if you look carefully you’ll see the spoor of jackal, duiker and the endemic hairy-footed gerbil in the sand.
The last five kilometres is through the indigenous forest - a twitcher’s paradise with a huge diversity of bird species. Cute vervet monkeys are often sighted and you might also catch a glimpse of bushbuck, duiker and mongoose.
The trail must be booked in advance and there is a conservation fee to enter the park.
With the most recorded sunshine hours in South Africa, the name Sunshine Coast is no idle boast or empty promise. Situated between Port Elizabeth and East London, the quaintness of the Sunshine Coast is a welcome escape from big-city bustle.
The area includes the inland towns of Alexandria, Salem and Bathhurst, with kilometres of beaches accessed via Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Bushmans River Mouth, Kenton-on-sea, Kasouga, Port Alfred and the Great Fish River area. The mixed derivations of these names suggest the rich cultural heritage of the area – the primary meeting point of San, Xhosa, Boer and British. The British influence is clear in the architecture of Bathhurst, Salem and Grahamstown.
Driving on the N2 or its tributaries the R67 or R72, the rolling green hills Lord Charles Somerset likened to English parklands were not exactly what the settlers expected. The unique dark golden-green shade of the Albany Thicket biome is due to the dense growth of hardy drought-resistant plants such as aloe, euphorbia and spekboom. Rain falls in winter and summer, and while not frequent, it is at times unpredictable, so the vegetation is built to withstand fickle skies.
Although unattractively scrubby to some, the Thicket contains 20% of the 316 threatened plant species found in the Eastern Cape, making it an important centre of endemism.
One is tempted to describe this beautiful and unusual landscape as “untouched”, but the area has long been farmed, with cattle, sheep, ostriches, pineapples and chicory among its historically successful concerns. Many farms have since been converted back into game reserves, such as the world-class, malaria-free Kariega and Shamwari Reserves. Game fences line the long, quiet, tarred roads and drivers are often startled at the sight of elephants, giraffes or other game grazing along the fences.
Drivers should also look out for smaller wildlife - porcupines, small antelope, hares, snakes, owls and tortoises - crossing the roads at dawn, dusk and at night.
The beaches and dunes of this coastline are magnificent. The Alexandria dunefield - famously the largest active dunefield in the world - and the exquisite Alexandria State Forest have been absorbed by the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.
While Kenton-on-sea and Port Alfred are the main seaside attractions, the family-oriented Cannon Rocks, Boknes and Kasouga are popular places to buy holiday homes and have a few lovely self-catering and guest cottages.
The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is a replica of the padrão erected there by Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias on his 1488 cruise past the South African coast. At the Cross there is a deck for dolphin sightings and whale-spotting in late spring and early summer. In season, southern right whales are sighted all along the Sunshine Coast.
Despite its fairly good roads and obvious attractions, this area is still, miraculously, relatively unspoilt and undeveloped. With the exception of the graceful Port Alfred Marina, attempts to beat its bush and rivers into commercial shape have been abandoned and it remains gentle, peaceful, simple, pristine and soul-enriching.
Situated on the Indian Ocean, one needn’t expect the “bath water” temperatures of KwaZulu-Natal - Sunshine Coast swims are invigoratingly cool and sometimes chilly, but seldom as achingly cold as the Western Cape.
The area doesn’t have the same flashy allure as other popular seaside destinations, but if you think of the coast as a place to relax and unwind, rather than paint the town red, there is no better place to visit.
Look out for
Addo Elephant National Park, 30 minutes from PE, features the “Big Seven” (the Big Five, plus southern right whales and great white sharks).
Explore Alexandria’s dunefields on the two-day Alexandria Hiking Trail or the seven-kilometre Dassie Day Trail, named for a rare tree dassie in the area.
Bathurst - founded in 1820, this “English country village in Africa”, 10 minutes from Port Alfred, is home to the Pig & Whistle, the oldest pub in South Africa, and the 16,7-metre-high Big Pineapple.
With unspoiled beaches, the tiny villages of Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Kleinemonde are a fisherman’s and bird-watcher’s paradise. Cannon Rocks is named for its two cannons and anchor. The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is an uplifting thee-kilometre walk from Boknes across incredible sandy beaches, or a six-kilometre walk at low tide from Bushmans River.
Bushmans River – the second-longest navigable river in South Africa, with 22 kilometres of navigable water, is a favourite with canoeists, sailors, water-skiers and fishermen.
Kasouga – maintains its rustic beginnings with dirt roads and no streetlights, hotels and shops, wonderful birdlife and an exquisite lagoon.
Port Alfred – enjoy the elegance of the Royal Alfred Marina. Famous for its annual powerboat race, Port Alfred offers provides great shopping, dining, and beauty retreats.
The Sunshine Coast, and nearby holiday meccas such as Great Fish River, St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Tsitsikamma and the Wild Coast, offers excellent surfing, adventure and water sports, fishing, nature reserves and world-class hikes, mountain biking, canoeing, beach horse-rides, bird watching, 4x4 trails, game-viewing, golf, and as well as rich local arts and culture.