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Continuing my attempts to hike as often as possible in preparation of walking the Camino de Santiago later this year, I joined a group of friends to walk the Harkerville route. This circular two-day trail is situated between Knysna and Plett, and travels through the indigenous forest and along the coast in fairly equal portions.

Traversing cliff-side chains.

The first 9 or 10 km on the first day are spent in the forest. This is an easy walk, with paths that are close to horizontal, and provides ample opportunity to enjoy the truly beautiful forest scenery. The path also passes a stand of truly impressive Californian Redwoods, planted there many decades ago.

Once the coast is reached, the path descends very steeply down to the rocky shore. The next few kilometres are much more strenuous, entailing considerable scrambling over rocks, climbing ladders, crossing bridges and crossing perilous ledges above the surf (usually with the help of a chain to hang on to). We walked this in the midst of a gathering storm, with strong winds and rain threatening to pour, making it an exhilirating and often scary experience.

The day ends with a steep climb back up the cliffs, up to the hut which is situated a short distance inland. The hut itself provided a welcome relief from the weather, and we enjoyed sitting around a campfire before retiring to our bunk-beds.

A good spot for a smugglers' cave

The second day’s hike was similar to the first, albeit in reverse. After about 2 km along the cliffs, the path descends back down to the shore. Once there, a new set of precarious and challenging challenges follows. A nice spot for a mid-morning snack can be found in the mouth of a rather spectacular cave.

Eventually the path ascends back up the cliffs, arriving at a lookout point where one can take a well-deserved rest. From there another easy walk through the forest leads back to the starting point.

This trail is spectacularly beautiful, and the combination of both forest and coastal environments give it an enjoyable variety. It is not for the faint-hearted or those who suffer from a fear of heights, however – there are sections of the trail that require a measure of confidence and gusto to traverse.

Photos: Marica Marais

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