SA outdoor adventure: Top 5 forest hikes to try

2017-09-03 08:05
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It's been established many times - South Africa is a winner when it comes to diverse outdoor experiences. While bush, beach and mountains receive a lot of attention, forests don't always feature strongly.

However, this does not mean they don't exist! Visit any corner of our country (except maybe the Karoo and Northern Cape) and you're bound to find a magical little patch of trees just waiting to be explored.

Whether planted by human hands or carefully grown by Mother Nature herself, there are few outdoor terrains as delightful to discover. 

Check out our round-up of five great forest hikes. 

Graskop day trail, Graskop

Following a section of the overnight Fanie Botha hiking trail, this circular day route is perfect for those who want to explore all aspects of Mpumalanga, but may not have enough time for a multi-day hike. 

Where: The little town of Graskop lies about 50km from Nelspruit, close to Sabie. There are clearly-marked signposts directing hikers toward the Graskop Hut, where the day trail starts. 

Trails: Well, in this case there is only one trail to follow. It's a 13.3km circular route, which should take 3 to 4 hours. 

What to see: The trail will take you through fragrant pine plantations, over the Mac Mac river and down into indigenous forest where you will finally reach the spectacular Forest Falls. 

Accommodation: The Graskop hut is used mostly by hikers doing the Fanie Botha trail, so if you're just doing the day hike, it's best to opt for accommodation in and around the town of Graskop. If camping is your thing, check out Panorama Rest Camp. There are 21 stands varying in size, each with a powerpoint and drum braai. 

Grootvadersbosch, Heidelberg

Hidden amid the scrubby Fynbos and flat farmlands of the Overberg, Cape Nature's Grootvadersbosch springs a luscious surprise on visitors - a 250ha area of Knynsa forest.

Where: Located about 22km from the town of Heidelberg in the Western Cape. 

Trails: There are two main trails - the 10km Bushbuck and the 15km Grysbok trail. However, combinations of the routes are possible. 

What to see: If you head along the Bushbuck trail, the lush collection of redwood trees make for quite a breathtaking display. They are not indigenous trees, so Cape Nature is slowly but surely reclaiming their territory for the likes of Yellowwood and Stinkwood trees, so they won't be there forever, which means it's best to go asap!

Accommodation: You can either opt to stay over at the two-bedroom Scolopia cottage or in the beautiful and well-maintained campsite. Scolopia has its own bathroom and kitchen, while the campsite has communal amenities. There are 10 campsites, each with their own braai place and powerpoint. 



Elephant walks, Knysna

Feel like you've stepped back in time to the Jurassic era as you make your way through tall trees, large ferns, tumbling waterfalls and the ever-present bustle of life. 

Where: Start at the Diepwalle Forest Station situated about 23km north of Knysna along the Uniondale road. 

Trails: There are four different trails to try varying in distance: 7, 8, 9 and 15km. Each route is marked with a different colour. 

What to see: The circular red route passes two gigantic Outeniqua Yellowwood trees that are over 600-years-old. Also keep your eyes peeled for any signs of the super secretive Knysna Elephants. Yes, they do still exist. For a long time there was speculation that only a lone and elderly cow remains, however recent research reveals that there could be a herd of up to seven pachyderms! 

This part of the forest is also known for its wealth of birdlife - look out for the Narina trogon, red-billed wood hoopoe, olive woodpecker, black-headed oriole and of course the flamboyantly dressed, but shy Knysna loerie.

Accommodation: The Elephant walks do not have any accommodation affiliated with them specifically, however there are a few options in the Diepwalle area. If you're after a truly wild experience, opt for SANParks' Forest Timber Camping decks. The decks accommodate a three-man tent with braai and dining areas, and have electric points. 

Newlands Forest, Cape Town

Probably one of the Mother City's best kept secrets, Newlands Forest is tucked away against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, overlooking the suburbs of Newlands and Rondebosch. The vegetation varies from pine plantations to indigenous afrotemperate forest and of course also a healthy selection of Fynbos. 

Where: The forest is less than a 15-minute drive from Cape Town CBD, situated on the M3, just a few 100 metres from UCT. 

Trails: There are a variety of trails to choose from and hikers have a lot of freedom to mix, match, add on and subtract from. One of the most popular is the trail from the forest parking lot to the blockhouse close to Rhodes Memorial. If you're after something a little less strenuous, head out on the Fernwood Track - it will take you through lush indigenous forest with accents of fragrant Fynbos. 

What to see: If you head out on the Fernwood track, keep your eyes peeled for the ruins of a cottage said to be used by Lady Anne Barnard during the 1800s. 

Accommodation: While there is no accommodation available in Newlands Forest itself, Table Mountain National Parks has a wide variety of accommodation offerings worth checking out in the surrounding areas. If you want to stick to the forest vibe, Wood Owl Cottage in Tokai comes highly recommended. 

SEE: Forest Fairy: New historical route launched in the Knysna forest

Dlinza, KZN

Established in 1947, this 250 ha forest is uniquely situated within the urban environment of Eshowe. The Dlinza Forest historically provided a burial site for the Zulu dead during the Anglo-Zulu War in Eshowe.

Where: Dlinza forest is located just outside the town of Eshowe, which in turn is 1.5 hour's drive from Durban. 

Trails: Get a bird's eye view of the forest by taking a walk on the aerial boardwalk, which is apparently the first and only in South Africa. The boardwalk takes you 125m through the forest understory to the 20m high viewing platform which emerges above the canopy of the trees. If heights aren't your thing, however, opt for either the 1.3km Impunzi trail or the 1.8km Unkonka trail. 

What to see: The forest is famous for its fabulous bird life - keep your eyes peeled for Trumpeter Hornbills, Chorister Robins, the endangered Spotted Thrush, the rare Delegorgue's Pigeon, Magnificent Purple Crested Lourie and Narina Trogon to name but a few.

Accommodation: Dlinza Forest Accommodation has a selection of wooden cabins, each with a bedroom sitting room and open plan kitchen.

 What's your favourite hike? Tell us about it by emailing info@traveller24.com

What to read next on Traveller24

- Grootvadersboch: An off-the-grid forest adventure


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