Easy trekking in South Africa

by Clare.Jones

Lace up a pair of boots for some rewarding walking along South Africa’s beautiful Oystercatcher Trail. Champagne and oysters included...

Oysters so fresh they had only been plucked from the watery depths that day and a crisp cold glass of champagne greeted us as we stopped. Below, the Indian Ocean tumbled and thrashed as we slurped and sluiced on our surprise picnic.

You can be forgiven for thinking that this sounds like a luxury retreat, cast away in an idyllic, offbeat location. And it was: the only catch is that to reach this culinary treasure requires a walk. Four days of a walk, to be precise.

As soon as you mention walking or trekking, it can immediately start to conjure up bad memories of ill-fitting anoraks, blister-making boots and hikes that always seemed to be uphill. If such a brush with the outdoors has left you reluctant to do up your laces, the good news is walking no longer has to be painful, wet, or even involve an incline.

The Oystercatcher Trail is one of the latest walks to have opened in South Africa and it is already chalked up as one of the country’s top five treks. Linking the Khoi San Cave in the old fishing village area of Mossel Bay with the protected inland waters of the Gouritz River on the Southern Cape, it winds along through coastal thicket, remote beaches and tumbling dunes. The pace is slow, the surroundings stunning and the showers hot. Accommodation is in a range of elegant Cape thatched eco-cottages. The food and wine is local and served with careful attention in front of open fires or on the sea-viewing sun deck. Forget the idea that to be outdoorsy means roughing it. This is luxury walking, with a loving attention to detail.

The driving force behind this creation is Fred Orban, a man with a mission. He set up the trail in an attempt to preserve the coastline from mass tourism. Its namesake birds, the African Black Oystercatchers unique to the rocky outcrops and sandy beaches of this sliver of shoreline near Africa’s most southerly tip, are, however, now worryingly endangered.

The walk gives visitors a chance to get in step with this environment, to start understanding the push and pull of its tides, its fragile plant life and its seasons. You might not think you need a guide to walk along the beach. But head guide Willie Komani makes all the difference, letting you into a world of knowledge and know-how that brings the landscape to life. He trades in tales and stories. One minute he's explaining how early bushmen used plants for medicines, even sucking out the juice of the sour fig plant for an early form of soothing lip balm; the next moment he's eagle-eyed, spotting the red flash of the iconic oystercatcher’s beak as it flits into view .

High cliffs at both Pinnacle Point and further east at Fransmanshoek, provide perfect vantage points to watch the full might of the ocean thunder below, whilst the relative calm of the broad bay at Booomsbaai attracts breeding and calving Southern Right Whales in the winter months.

Beautiful hidden coves have been carved out, hiding wave-weathered boulders. Here, russet-coloured lichen clings to the rock, glowing a brilliant orange in the soft afternoon light. The walk leads on to Kanon Bay, which seems to stretch endlessly, a remote beach of uninterrupted views, beautiful in its isolation, backed by ever-shifting windswept dunes, reputed to be the highest in the Southern Cape. Gnarled pieces of knotted wood eroded by the elements lie scattered at the beach edges, the daily flotsam and jetsam swept in on the tide. 

The walk ends with a sedate boat ride across the broad reaches of the Gouritz River, where fish eagles can sometimes be heard, their distinctive call heralded as the voice of Africa. Slow down and this is a trip that rewards you every step of the way. The oysters are definitely worth waiting for.

Clare.Jones

Clare Jones is a travel writer and photographer who loves a good adventure and has been lucky enough to make this her work travelling across the globe for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She is co-author and photographer of the international best-selling BBC books Unforgettable Things to do before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die and the recently published Unforgettable Walks to take before you die. She has also co-authored the AA titles, Extreme Places and the flagship Key Guide to Spain. She has been on assignment in over 50 countries and five continents exploring them on foot, by kayak, under sail, by mountain bike as well as skiing and climbing. One of her most testing adventures was a three-month sea-kayaking expedition from Vancouver to Alaska, as part of the first British all-female team to undertake this 1000-mile epic journey. She is a Winston Churchill Fellow and was honoured with the Mike Jones Award for accomplishing this journey. She is also sponsored by Salomon. Her work has been featured by a variety of publications, including the Sunday Telegraph, The Times, Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, and The Herald, USA Today, Geographical, Health & Fitness and Traveller. Clare is also an assistant television producer and has worked on several BBC documentaries.