Fynbos TrailAs you drive down the R43 between the Overberg villages of Stanford and Gansbaai you have no inkling of the treasures hidden in the hills to your left. The three-day, 26km trail meanders through hidden pockets of indigenous forest alive with birds, to Tolkeinesque dells of dense lichens, tumbling waterfalls and streams and, you guessed it, through exquisite fynbos.
It's true voyage of discovery, led by a passionate, expert guide who points out the various endemics and rare species and explains the that role the various birds, ants and other propagators play in the eco-system. More than 800 fynbos species have been identified along the route and, whatever time of year you walk there ïs always something in bloom. As you go you learn about the remarkable diversity and fascinating ecology of the proteas, ericas, reeds and wonderful bulbs, gaining an understanding of their preferred habitats and their remarkable tricks. The seeds of the local limestone pincushion (Leucospermum pattersoni) have a waxy coating that attract the local pugnacious ants, who carry the seeds to the safety of their underground nests, where ants are rewarded with nutritious seed coat as food and the seed is planted out of harmï¿½s way until a future fire activated germination!
As you wander you begin to understand the uniqueness of this trail. Vegetation studies on Grootbos Nature Reserve have recorded six plant species that are new to science! A number of plant species including the spectacular Erica irregularis which paints the hills pink in winter and early spring, and Aloe juddii, which escapes fire by finding refuge in a few of the rocky outcrops along the trail are found here and nowhere else in the world and, as you hike, you occasionally come across previously un-noticed individuals. Surprisingly exciting stuff!
There are swimming opportunities in the dams and pools on each day and the views of Walker Bay, across to Dyer Island and over the rolling hills are stunning, but it's not just the natural beauty that makes this trail so special. The Fynbos Trail is as much about the amazing people and stories of this fascinating region; how European settlers came to settle the farms through which you hike, how modern man has thrived along this fertile coastline and the wonderful work that Grootbos Nature Reserve and Flower Valley Conservation Trust are doing to conserve and support local communities. By hiking the trail you contribute directly towards the conservation and social development work of the partners within the conservancy. Some of the funds generated by the trail are re-invested into clearing alien vegetation, managing fire and documenting and monitoring flora and fauna within the conservancy.
The trail starts at Growing the Future Sustainable Agriculture and Life Skills College on Grootbos Nature Reserve. Growing the Future is all about food production, growing of vegetables and fruit, beekeeping and the principles of successful animal husbandry. In fact the majority of fresh produce enjoyed along the trail is sourced from the project.
From Growing the Future the trail leads through coastal strandveld into the Steynsbos Milkwood forest, one of only eight milkwood forests of its type in the world, all of which are found in the Stanford-Gansbaai area. An island surrounded by fynbos, this small patch of forest contains trees that are many hundreds, if not thousands of years old and is refuge for a number of animals and birds not commonly seen in the fynbos. Thirty four bird species, including Rameron pigeon, Cape Batis, African paradise flycatcher and forest buzzard have been sighted as well as a variety of mammals including bushbuck, porcupine, honey badger and mongoose.
The first night is at the very comfortable Fynbos Retreat, also on the Grootbos Nature Reserve, then on day 2 you hike down through a beautiful valley - characterised by an extra-ordinary mosaic of fynbos - into the lush, green Witwoetskloof forest. This is a different world to the open veld above. You walk on boardwalks and over bridges under the canopy of the magnificent ancient trees such as white stinkwood, wild olive, rooiels and assegai trees that line the river to a waterfall where, if you are feeling brave, you can enjoy a natural shower.
A steep climb out of the valley takes you onto the limestone hills of the Agulhas Plain. The limestone fynbos here is very uncommon so itï¿½s a real privilege to encounter some of the rare endemic species. The path then winds up the slopes of Grootberg (which the energetic can summit) and down into Flower Valley, where wild fynbos is harvested for making bouquets for the local and export market. The afromontane Stinkhoutsbos Forest on the property was badly damaged by the huge fire that swept through the region in 2006, and, as part of the restoration work being undertaken at Flower Valley, each hiker is given the opportunity to plant an indigenous tree grown in this beautiful forest pocket overlooking Flower Valley.
After a night at Witkrans the trail ends with a short walk through more indigenous forest and fynbos-clad hills to the upmarket andsuperbly located, Grootbos Garden Lodge where you celebrate the end of the trail with a leisurely lunch overlooking the magnificent Walker Bay.
To really appreciate the trail we would strongly recommended the slackpacking version on which you're treated to great local cuisine, expert guiding and wonderful hospitality (as well as a fynbos gift and a beautiful field guide to the flora of the region) but there is also a very affordable, unguided and self-catering option which utilises the same secluded accommodation.
Option 1: Full slackpacking, guided
Overnight accommodationn at fully equipped Fynbos Retreat and Bodhi Khaya or Witkrans, two dinners, two lunches and two breakfasts Read more
Option 2: Unguided slackpacking
Overnight accommodation at fully equipped Fynbos Retreat and Bodhi Khaya/Witkrans, two dinners, two lunches and two breakfasts Read more
Option 3: Self Guided, self catering
Overnight accommodation at fully equipped Fynbos Retreat/Witkrans, route map and narrative. Please note this is a circular route that takes hikers all the way back to the start at Steynsbos. Read more