Tsitsikamma hike – 21 to 26 March 2016
How does one begin to write about this multi-day hike when it all went into planning months in advance, then it suddenly arrived and ended just as abruptly? Our group of 13 enthusiastic people consisted of Laura (who organised this whole event – a million thanks), Kim, Tania, Tanja, Michelle, Eveline, Desiree, Maxine, Melissa, Abby, Ina, Loraine and Jeff (our only gent, but admit it Jeff, you loved it) all met up at Lottering Forest station on day 1.
First and foremost, it would be worthwhile sleeping over the night before, somewhere within close proximity to Lottering Forest station if considering the portage option, so would suggest anywhere from within the Knysna / Plett region. If no portage is involved, De Vasselot is actually the starting point of this multi-day hike, but remember that you would be carrying sleeping gear, food for 5 days and a much larger back-pack, which was exactly what the second group of 8 ladies were doing, but, quite honestly, think it would be far easier opting for portage, just easier and less stressful.
Whilst everybody made their own arrangements, our little group found accommodation at De Vasselot, SAN Parks camping area. The cabins turned out to be a rather surprising little find, they were accommodating, comfortable, quaint but simple and adequately equipped.
Day 1 Kalanda Hut – 3.5kms
Day 1 began with a meeting at Lottering Forest station, unfortunately this requires going through the toll gates, but if doing portage, there is no choice as this is where all your portage needs to be dropped off. It had also been raining for much of the night and well into the early hours of the morning, but we were rest assured that the weather would improve by the afternoon and before the start of our first day’s hike, well not quite but it did indeed and did not dampen anybody’s spirit.
Important little note, for those who wish to do this multi-day hike sometime in the future. It would be far easier (and a lot more practical (and wiser)) to walk along the beach, cross-over the river inlet (depending on the tide and the flow of water), as it does entail wading through water (removing your foot gear is essential, obviously), offload your back-packs, inside the hut (the baboons and monkeys are apparently clever little blighters here), lock up and head back along the beach to De Vasselot, the starting point of the 3.5kms hike. It certainly is worth the stroll through the very first forest to the hut itself, and good practice too for the long haul. The beach walk itself is very short whilst the trek through the forest is a good 1.5hr when carrying your sleep gear, wood (for the braai), and other stuff that would normally be considered portage. This little hike is worth every minute, so do not ponder, just do it!
Whatever decision is taken, on arrival at Kalanda Hut, sort yourselves out for the night ahead, take a wander down to the beach, stroll to the end and back, watch the sunset, in other words, get out there and explore, you will not regret it! If you do not heed this advice, only yourself to blame.
End the day with a braai, if you so wish, but you will need to take your own wood for the first evening, as portage is not possible to Kalanda hut due to flood damage which is evident en route to the hut. Early to bed and early to rise, depending on the time of the year, but in March the sunsets earlier, and, therefore, got dark rather quickly, and no sooner had the sun gone down, and darkness had fallen, food eaten and since there is no electricity, it somewhat urges you to do nothing else but head off to bed much earlier than normally done.
Day 2 – Bloukrantz Hut – 16.1kms
It is best to start each day’s trek early, suggested time of departure from each hut should be 08:00 at the latest.
This is the longest stretch of this hike, a total of 16.1kms but also, perhaps, the easiest day, once you reach the plateau from the start of the base from Kalanda Hut, it was pretty easy going. There is no argument that this section has to be the most diverse in its offerings – it has ocean views behind you, the mountains ahead, fynbos, forests that meander for kilometres in their ever-changing foliage, fauna, flora, the up’s and the down’s albeit, not many, and a stunning waterfall.
Our first forest encounter for the day was Platbos Forest and finding a spot for some sustenance under the thick canopy of trees and getting out of the sun was difficult to choose, just too many suitable options under this remarkable abundance of everything that a forest has to offer. After the short break, this section of the trail must have covered at least a good 5kms of walking distance through lush, green, dense forest vegetation which constantly changes in scenery. Mushrooms galore of all shapes and sizes are seen here, moss covering tree trunks, with the tiniest fungi growth and plenty of it, ferns of all shapes and sizes, the colour green everywhere making it very calming and soothing, and in the background, different harmonies of bird calls, and if lucky, keep a watchful eye for the Knysna loerie. The pathways are clearly visible and regularly in use, so no chance of getting lost.
At approximately the 6km mark (rather difficult to judge distances, so very much a guestimate), the path connects with the jeep track, turn left and continue along what is probably, at an estimate, about a 1.5-2km walk along this track.
At approximately the 8km mark the trail continues along the jeep track, slips under the N2 highway but then reconnects back on the trail, follow the sign to your right which continues, once again, under the forest canopy but beware of the slippery board walks.
The path eventually leads you to the Three Staircase waterfall, just over the halfway mark, 9kms, and an ideal spot for a lunch-break and a swim if you dare and do not suffer from hypothermia! The water here comes directly from the mountains and it is definitely not warm water! But it is a beautiful spot and also the biggest waterfall on this hike.
So after a short break, onwards we must continue, as we still had some 7kms to go, endeavouring, yet again with the few up’s and the down’s especially when the feet begun to feel heavy as we trudge up and through the forestry area, the grim reality of man versus nature. Once again, the path leads back onto the jeep track which eventually leads down towards the Bloukrantz Hut and home to a sprawling view of the Tsitsikamma Mountain range in the background, spectacular and breathtakingly beautiful and, undoubtedly, the best hut on offer considering the view!
No question about it, this has to be the most picturesque hut with views that stretch across the horizon, mountain cliffs delving into the valley below, and the Bloukrantz River in view showing off a little waterfall, and what made it even better was that this particular night was the night before the full moon, so let your imagination run free albeit the clouds were a little too much to bring on the emphasis of the moon itself, and having said that, words cannot even express this view enough.
Ended off the day with another hearty braai and before long, we headed off to our night quarters to catch up on some well-earned and deserved sleep, it was needed.
Day 3 – Keurbos Hut – 13.4kms
Daybreak arrived with the chirping of the birds and a few ramblings amongst restlessness of the 13 people in the one room, the sky illuminating from its shadowy darkness, it was obviously time to get ourselves out of slumber mode and prepare for the day ahead.
It was not long before we hit the trail once again, heading down towards the Bloukrantz River below, and yes, that sign which indicated “Proceed with caution, slippery when wet” observed from the night before was indeed the continued route. It certainly was not very convincing for many of us the night before but then again exhaustion played a huge role.
It would have been a wonderful swimming spot had we not been so exhausted on arrival but the thought of the up-climb probably would have put most people off against the whole idea.
It was not too long before we were back on high ground with views extending across 360 degrees of the ocean and mountains and in the distance the Bloukrantz Bridge could only just be seen.At the 3km mark, we entered the Buffelsbos forest heading down towards the river again, had to be vigilant with each step as it was a slippery descent under the forest’s thick canopy and there is an abundance of tree ferns here. At the water’s edge is another good spot for some sustenance, and should time permits, take a plunge, it is on offer. Here too is another river crossing and then a relatively short ascend and then onto another plateau for about 4kms which eventually enters Benebos forest for about 1.5kms heading down towards the forestry department’s jeep track which, undoubtedly, was perhaps the longest +/-2kms which never seemed to end, and passing Twin Tubs and who would have guessed that the hut was within metres away! We had arrived at the overnight hut. Another day conquered and accomplished.
Had to have been the best reason to remove the boots and head to the showers and these cold showers were beginning to become the norm. The evening followed with a regular braai followed by some fun, laughter and games, and to have watched the full moon rising and then off to those sleeping quarters earning another good night’s sleep – not always possible however!
Day 4 – Heuningbos Hut – 13.4kms
After two days of glorious hiking weather, sunshine and minimal wind – ideal conditions but since this region falls into an all year rainfall area, it was bound to happen that we would encounter some wet conditions en route and this was the day, although March is supposedly one of the drier months in this region.
Day 4 began with a gentle descend towards the river and on the approaching the river, found the sign stating that we had just done 1.2kms, but we still had another river crossing to withstand! OK we crossed the waters successfully. From the river, the pathway takes a left turn upwards, then at that peak now overlooking the river below, the path then takes right angle turn and continues up and up again. Such an abundance of colour and a variety of fynbos, tall pink Erica bushes / trees enveloping you in avenues of pink blooms, and good enough reason to catch your breath often. The inclement weather was chasing us too. Upward we must go. On reaching the peak, the views changed once again, but on this occasion, the valleys below were now covered in cloud bringing in the first sign of drizzle.
From the peak, we meandered down along the edge but on a well-marked and certainly regularly used path, heading down the mountain. At the bottom of the slope we entered yet another forest and upon existing it, the rain came pelting down and was not going to abate, the rain had arrived! This river crossing over Elandsbos River, thankfully, consisted of a suspension bridge – no chances taken here, one person at a time. On the other side, there is a rocky embankment, so proceed with caution, look for good footholds to avoid a slipping on rock face which could be hazardous, especially under wet conditions. A slight incline and then we continue walking along a flat section before we enter Heuningbos forest with hard rain but still warm enough not to fret too much about the conditions. Let it be known that under wet conditions, the forest floor is soggy, slippery, muddy all those elements put together, so just be conscious of this fact as it can make walking a little treacherous and perhaps a little tedious too as much time appears to be wasted watching one’s feet and those hiking poles getting stuck in mud.
The lunch break was a first too, trying to have something dry to eat under the droplets of rain, in a forest, just not possible! We were now pushing ourselves to get out of the rain so increased the pace a little only to realise that the rain had stopped a little once we were out in the open, albeit under grey skies and the terrain had changed again, we climbed up again, looking down at the valley below and at the pinnacle, the hut was in sight but not without the oohs and agh’s when realising that we still had a downhill and then a further uphill to go before reaching the hut, but a welcome sight regardless. However, once down, we still had another river crossing to endure too, at the base of the hill awaited the Kleinbos River crossing, and this one was a little less daunting. On the river itself, had the weather been conducive for swimming, this spot would have been ideal as it offers a variety of opportunities in the various pools to choose from. However, most of us were, by now, quite ready to remove ourselves from our wet attire, so arriving at Heuningbos Hut was a satisfying relief.
We were wet (and smelly), tired, perhaps a little frayed around the edges and above all, hungry! And dinner was pasta Alfredo a la Maxine, and the rains continued whilst the boots were gathered around the fire in an effort to get them dry and ready for the next day! Dinner was scrumptious, and surprisingly, with full bellies, another early night (and a restless one too) to bid farewell to yet another day, done and dusted.
Day 5 – Sleepkloff – 14.2kms
According to past hikers’ experience having done this hike, day 5 is considered to be the most difficult day of all, as there are a more (wider) river crossings to tolerate compared to what had already been achieved and also two peaks, the first one named Splendid Pass, which, quite honestly, the name should have been given to the second up-hill climb, will explain in more detail later.
Right, now the river crossings on this day, the first one in particular on day 5, which is quite literally a 5-minute walk down from the Heuningbos Hut, and must confess, would not like to see this river crossing when the river is fuller after heavier rainfalls, remembering that March is supposedly one of the drier months! This was, undoubtedly the most intimidating crossing, with the ‘stepping rocks’ being a lot wider apart thus leaving one’s perception to cast some doubt upon a few minds. It has been mentioned before, you do need a good pair of boots with a good grip for moments such as this. With the exception of one small minor accident (we shall not mention any names in this regard), we all successfully crossed the Kleinbos River once again, and continued up to the first peak along the mountain edge under cloudy but warm conditions. Our group of 13 had, at this point, split itself into two separate groups.
At the 5kms mark we entered Mostertbos Forest which was the spot for some refreshment whilst the wind rustled through the trees above and below, the gentle running of water, rather relaxing actually.
At the 6km point, we had yet another river crossing to proceed across Witteklip River which does have a rope to aide one across this one, but was not as easy as it appeared! Best to remove your boots for this one, certainly not deep but those rocks do not see any sunshine and are, what appears, to be covered in a thin layer of slimy moss which can be, yes, slippery.
Having successfully crossed the Witteklip River, the pathway continues on an upward climb but gradual, for a good 4kms and do remember to turn around looking back at some amazing views. As mentioned earlier, this section should have been aptly named Splendid Pass as the views here were magnificent and constantly seemed to change, well as a result of the storm coming in.
The forecast had said that it would be a cloudy day and no rain was expected but those clouds indicated otherwise and started to change their appearance to a darkened hue with a menacing force – there was definitely more rain coming our way. At the 10km point we had reached Nademaalsnek peak with its adorning views of mountains ahead, the ocean on the horizon and Storm’s River Village in the distance and more importantly, Sleepkloof Hut was also in view.
The dark skies were beckoning for us to hasten our pace but having just reached this peak, we needed something to eat for lunch first, which was a hurried exercise because no sooner was lunch done, it was time to push on, now heading down – that rain was coming. It was not too long before the lightning struck and the thunder clapped and as we entered the forest the rain followed suit. The forest was dark and damp bringing out all those earthy smells and this had to be, by far, the most connected of all to truly being in nature, surrounded by total darkness with Mother Nature’s flashing strikes of lightning and thunderous noise and yet walking through this section for, at most, 2kms was rather uplifting and certainly not hindered by the darkness or the wetness – it was so surreal, pure magic, the ultimate connection with Mother Nature and certainly did not want this moment to come to an end, it was pure magic.
It was not long before we were at Sleepkloof Hut, prepared for the evening, settled in again for one last night, with a hearty meal prepared well beforehand by Melissa while the rain continued to fall, the clutter and the chatter, revisiting those spent days with a bottle or two of wine flowing and thereafter heading off to those sleeping quarters for one last time. Hard to believe that it was almost over.
Day 6 – Storm’s River Bridge (Paul Sauer) – 3.5kms
Once again, at the crack of dawn, there was a sudden restlessness meaning that morning had arrived and it was time to get those wary bodies out of sleep mode. That generally seemed to occur around 06:00 followed by the usual morning routine, packing up, putting on the kettle, and getting ready to head off on one last trek, only to be informed that we had to wait for the portage chaps who were only expected to arrive at 08:00. This is a precautionary request, since this hut may be vulnerable to theft as it is rather close to throes of everyday life with the village not too far away, so rather be aware of this little issue.
Shortly after 08:00, when our goods were collected, we departed from the last hut and opted to do the shorter hike (3.5kms) but for those reading this blog and wishing to do this hike, would suggest that you rather opt to do the longer hike (5.5kms) to Storm’s River village because this certainly felt as if we had been robbed as it did not take 1.5hrs to get to the bridge. On the longer route, you may even have the chance to pay a visit to see the Big Tree and one last opportunity to walk through the final forest.
It really did feel like a bit of an anti-climax (no sooner had we started walking, it ended) and it certainly did not feel like we had walked for 1.5hrs, far from it, probably only for 45 minutes, so do yourselves a favour and do the longer route, the shorter one was disappointing on the last day.
The final ending to an iconic multi-day hike, cannot speculate what is offered on other multi-day hikes in other regions, such as the Drakensberg but for this region, this has to be the ultimate one. If accommodation plays a role in any decision, the huts are, admittedly, basic but have running water, wood for fires, the relevant pots, ablutions and, in a sense, they offer enough and serve their purpose, and, to a certain point, blend in rather well with their surroundings.
In conclusion, this one is a definite must-do, and worth doing again and again!
Written by Loraine Nielson / Photo’s by me 🙂