May 10, 2017

Stretching from Mossel Bay in the west to the Tsitsikamma in the east, the Garden Route is one of the finest walking destinations in the world. Fiona McIntosh and Shaen Adey travelled the length and breadth of it on the Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival, and discovered some unexpected gems.

"Hi-Tec to the rescue, it was chilly and damp for the first two days of the festival!" Photo by Shaen Adey

Having holidayed on the Garden Route for the last two decades I thought I knew the region’s walking trails pretty well. But I was missing the point. The Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival was way more than just an opportunity to walk the region’s magnificent beaches, indigenous forests and lofty peaks. It was a chance to walk with local guides and fundis, connect with like-minded nature lovers, sketch, recite poetry, practise yoga, commune with the birds and animals and learn more about the history, culture, environmental challenges of the area. And to have a hell of a lot of fun in the process. These are just a few of the highlights of our trip.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher Trail

We started our walking fest with a Garden Route classic, the short out and back Brown-hooded Kingfisher Trail in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park. Although only 5km long, the magical stroll through gorgeous indigenous forest took us several hours, so enchanted were we by the birds, the mosses and the trees that we encountered as we followed the course of the Duiwe River. It was a real adventure for the kids – many of the trees had identification tags that provoked discussion about their names, qualities and the surrounding forest life; there were stepping stones and little bridges across the river, flashes of red as Knysna Turacos flitted past, densely vegetated sections that had a real Lord of the Rings and a wonderful waterfall at the turn-around point. Birders were in heaven too; we heard the cry of Fish Eagles, saw Cape Batises and lemon doves and, from our wonderful guide, learnt that peregrine falcons nested in the towering cliffs that flanked the river’s course. It was a lovely, gentle introduction to walking the Garden Route.

"Brown-hooded Kingfisher trail". Photo by Shaen Adey

Nature’s Genius and the practice of Biomimicry walk

Moving east we discovered one of Knysna’s best-kept secrets, the lovely Pledge Nature Reserve. With it’s lovely forest and spectacular views across Knysna and the lagoon, the pet-friendly reserve provided the backdrop for one of the Walking Festivals most unusual offerings, Sue Swain’s lively and thought-provoking presentation on how we humans can imitate the patterns and systems that we find in nature in man-made designs and structures; the world of biomimicry. As we wandered around the leafy reserve, Sue challenged us to think out of the box; pointing out innovative ways in which engineers and architects have found solutions to design challenges by looking at spider’s webs, the black and white stripes of zebras and the preservative coatings on seeds. Nature is genius indeed: I came away optimistic and inspired.

"Nature's Genius biomimicry Walk".Photo by Shaen Adey

Kids Coastal Pirate Walk

Our next walk could not have been more different – festive, frivolous fun was the order of the day. On Easter Sunday some 50 kids, decked out as pirates (and parrots!) gathered outside Enrico’s restaurant at Keurbooms for a treasure hunt. Some of the youngsters were so beside themselves with excitement that they hadn’t slept! All had taken the fancy dress seriously (you guessed it, there were prizes for the best outfits!) and sported hooks, eye-patches, pirate hats, swashbuckling swords and other buccaneering garb. There was an incredible buzz as the chief pirate, Hi-Tec Garden Route Walking Festival founder Galeo Saintz, held up the map that showed where the treasure was buried under the golden sands of Keurbooms beach, then handed out a Hi-Tec backpack for each child to put their finds in. Then they were off, sprinting down the beach then frantically digging with their hands to unearth the buried treasure. There was no gold, but finding stashes of apples and marshmallow eggs did the trick!

"Hi-Tec Kids Pirate walk hosted by Galeo Saintz". Photo by Shaen Adey

"Hi-Tec Kids Pirate walk with Chris de Bruyn". Photo by Shaen Adey

"Hi-Tec Kids Pirate walk hosted by Galeo Saintz". Photo by Shaen Adey

Peak Formosa

The 4.30am meeting time for the ascent of Peak Formosa, the highest peak in the region, sifted out the serious hikers from leisurely walkers, and even then a few of our large party dropped out when they awoke to drizzle. But there were still 23 hard-core mountaineers who drove for over two hours to Joubertina and on to the trailhead for this 1675m high peak. Following the indefatigable Galeo Saintz, we trudged on a vague path through sopping, head-high fynbos then up Formosa’s dramatic ridgeline, catching glimpses along the way of the Tsitsikamma coastline and all the way to the Robberg Peninsula. The summit was shrouded with mist but that didn’t dampen our spirits; Peak Formosa is a serious undertaking that none of us would have contemplated without a guide so I was a privilege to be there. The drizzle, billowing mist and challenging terrain added to our sense of camaraderie and achievement.  It was one of my best ever peak-bagging adventures, the perfect finale to a wonderful long weekend of walking on the Garden Route.

Peak-Formosa-summit-copyright-Shaen-Adey-7071ps.jpg#asset:1000840"Peak Formosa summit". Photo by Shaen Adey

Written by: Fiona McIntosh


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