Words and pics Romi Boom
We saw the two snakes not half an hour apart. Some folks in the group were apprehensive, others curious. Everyone was happy that guide Werner Titus was walking in front.
The first was a common slug-eater, or tabakrolletjie in Afrikaans, a non-venomous endemic usually found in damp areas. The second was venomous, a leaf-green and bright boomslang, camouflaged in a tree. Though small, we treated it with the respect due to a rear-fanged species.
Enveloped by the Tsitsikamma forest, our group of nine hikers and two guides marvelled at mosses, ferns, fungi, tinkling streams and the lofty canopy which allowed shards of light to spike the damp leaves underfoot. With careful treads we descended, walking stick in hand, 700 metres to the shoreline, to be welcomed by foamy breakers, tidal pools and steep cliff faces.
This, in essence, is the Dolphin Trail, the tamer and decidedly more gentle version of the world-famous Otter Trail. Both start at Storms River mouth, but while the Otter takes hikers in a westerly direction, the Dolphin heads east. The scenery is much the same, though the Dolphin is considerably shorter (17km against 43km) and a slackpacking alternative. Luggage is transported from point A to point B, and hikers carry neither water bottles nor lunch packs nor swimming towels. All you have to do is marvel at the awesome scenery of this section of the Garden Route National Park.
“We are currently accommodating 500 hikers an annum on the trail,” said Frans Gerber, owner of The Fernery Lodge and Chalets. “Of these, 56 percent have been foreigners and 44 percent South Africans.” The Fernery, where hikers spend the final night, and Misty Mountain Reserve, the second night’s lodgings, are SANParks partners, both luxury lodges that offer fine dining and plenty of creature comforts. The partners pool resources and the result is a flagship public-private partnership. The gross revenue for this area is approximately R2,5 million a year through value adding on the trail.
It was pouring when we arrived at Storms River rest camp. The “place of many waters” was doing its name and 1,200mm annual rainfall justice. Waves hammered the rocks in front of us. Late-afternoon drizzle provided an opportunity to stretch legs and work up an appetite. Following a “meet and greet” session with our guides, it was agreed that the trail would kick off at a leisurely pace across the Storms River suspension bridge after a hearty breakfast the next morning. “No rain is forecast,” promised guide Minando Jafta.
We awoke to a blue sky morning with a large school of common dolphins surfing in the waves in front of the Storms River restaurant. Any notion of a lazy day was soon dispelled when we started the climb through fynbos to the Lookout Point. Having indulged in scrumptious smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, it was quite a shock to confront sheer drops and switchbacks. Think steep and rocky, huffing and puffing – definitely not for the faint hearted. Complaining quads had me realise that the Dolphin was going to be tougher than I thought, despite being reasonably fit and agile.
At the lookout towards Plettenberg Bay we were rewarded with an endless view, hot and cold refreshments and chocolate brownies. From here onwards the trail is not accessible to the public. To reach sea level, we started on the long descent through the indigenous forest, a pattern that would repeat itself several times. What goes up, must come down. After a leisurely picnic on the rocks, swimming and sunning like dassies, we set an unhurried pace up Steilkop. Steep Hill lived up to its name, but fortunately nobody was in a rush to go anywhere. We found the rhythm required by the terrain.
The shy forest birds were hard to spot, but it was a treat to hear the call of the narina trogon and Burchell’s coucal. We stopped to compare real yellowwood and the gigantic Outeniqua yellowwood trees. Funnel cup and artist’s fungi proliferated. We were in full biodiversity swing.
From the lushness of the forest we emerged to a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean at Misty Mountain Reserve. A generous amount of pampering awaited. Following welcome drinks and a refreshing shower, we flopped down on the veranda of our sea-facing luxury tent. It felt good to have tired feet.
The final day’s route is mainly at sea level where we clambered over rocks, taking care not to slip on kelp and moist surfaces. With sea spray in our faces, we passed Soetbaai, Otter’s Alley, Skuinsbaai, Vuurslagklip and Tafelbank. Our company included countless Cape and white-breasted cormorants, kelp gulls and African black oystercatchers.
Lunch was a dapper affair with tables specially set up in the forest: home-baked bread, local cheeses, quiche, salads and a glass of chilled white wine which had seldom tasted so good. The last three kilometres to The Fernery were a walk in the park. The lodge’s setting, tranquillity personified, is on a cliff edge atop a deep gorge, where the ancient Sanddrift River flows into the ocean. Everything about The Fernery is top notch, a natural paradise with healing powers. I took a meditative stroll along the boardwalks and timber decks, and watched as others treated body and soul in a blissful spa bath overlooking a 30#m waterfall and otter pool.
The Dolphin Trail enjoys green flag status in terms of the standards set by the Hiking Organisation of Southern Africa. This refers to trail outlay, accommodation, facilities and service, as well as the conservation of natural resources. Hikers will find it difficult and challenging, but exceptionally rewarding.
The Dolphin Trail runs in the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park.
Cost R5,900 a person sharing, includes accommodation and meals. No children under 12.
Contact 042-280-3588 or 042-281-1607 [email protected]
More info www.sanparks.org.za/parks/garden_route, www.dolphintrail.co.za
Source: Wild Magazine