Monday 5 February 2024

Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail (two days)

 This long-awaited hiking trip finally arrived. The trip was booked for early last year but got bumped after the coastal section of route was closed for the maintenance and repair of bridges, ladders and chains. It was worth waiting for it to reopen, as the coastal section is a highlight of this two-day hiking trail.

We were a group of 11 (the 12th couldn't make it and the replacement came down with a cold). I knew four of the group going into the hike; the others being friends of friends.

The Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail is a SANParks route and rates for the hike, including two nights - Harkerville Hut and Sinclair Hut - were very reasonable at around R425 per person (including conservation fees).

We drove through from George on Friday afternoon, meeting up with the others - bar two - at the Harkerville Hut. With a boma, braai area, showers and bunk beds, we had everything we needed.

Day 1

Up with the sun, backpacks packed and ready to start the hike at 7am after a good sleep and breakfast. Friends Tanja and Jacques arrived to complete our group.

The first part of the hike passes through beautiful forest. I didn't expect to see many fungi but was treated to an abundance of Funnel Wood Cap fungi, Ganoderma (Artist's Bracket) and two new finds - Chocolate Tube Slime Mould and an as yet unidentified fungus.

Funnel Wood Cap (Zelda's photo)

Cluster of Redwood trees planted in 1925.

Chocolate Tube Slime Mould

And then we headed down to the coast. I got so many fabulous photographs - these are just some of them.

The coast is the toughest part of the route on both days because you walk over rocks, rocks and rocks. There are a number of sections where you climb up, over and across rock. On the sections with more exposure, chains have been bolted to the rock for you to hold.

Zelda's photo showing Carin about to start a chain section.

The rocks and pebbles are just incredible.

Snack break and sitting with Mel (left of photo) and Johann (right of photo). Mel is related to Johan through family marriage and, at 69, he is amazing. He is a regular hiker and he is in good shape. He took the challenging terrain in his stride.

Jacques' photo of me and Tanja.

Last part of Day and a walk to our overnight stop.

The Sinclair Hut. No showers or electricity, but there is a tap, braai area, flush loos and bunk beds to sleep 12. The hut is located on a wide firebreak.

I was chilling in the afternoon warmth when I had a lovely surprise visit from my friend Rob. He lives in the area and he mountain biked to visit us. In the days before the hike, I had tried to recruit Rob to make up our 12th person, but with prior commitments he was unable to make it. His visit was a pleasure. Zelda even treated him to a mug of coffee.

An afternoon visit by my friend Rob.

We had a lovely evening and then an early night. We had done 14.5km on a very hot day with some difficult terrain - sleep came fast and deep.

Day 2

Again we were up with the sun and set off on the trail by 7am. The first section went through fynbos and then we descended to the coast.

Heading down to the pebble beach.

I reckon that Day 2's coastal section is longer than Day 1's, with more scrambling and also more interesting elements like bridges and ladders. Rocks are abundant and the scenery really is quite spectacular. We were blessed with a beautiful day. It was hot, but thankfully it was not as hot as expected.

With my ever faithful AR Gaiters.

When we did snack stops, I took the opportunity to doze a little and get my feet up while listening to the sound of the sea, murmer of voices and tinkle of rocks moving over each other. At almost midday, there wasn't much shade up for grabs at this stop.

Final section of pebble beach.

Leaving the beach, a forested walk and this beautiful stream.

There was a good dose of ascent to get up from the coast. This was a really pretty section.

Back in the forests for the final 5km to the end.

What a score. This is likely to be Dog's Vomit Slime Mould.

Paula, Tanja, Zelda, Carin, me, Adele and Allison outside Sinclair Hut. Start of Day 2.

Jacques, Gerrie, Mel and Johann outside Sinclair Hut

A good weekend, excellent hiking experience and a lovely group of people.

Is the Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail difficult?

I'm not really the right person to ask because I have a skewed frame of reference.

At 14.5km (Day 1) and 12km (Day 2), the distances are decent but not vast. Keep in mind that you've got a backpack weighing 10-12kg (or more), with 3L of water and food for two days.

The forest sections are shaded, on established and well used trails and they are generally easy going.

The coastal sections are not very long, but they demand your attention walking on the round beach pebbles and seams of rock, and they take a long time to get through. The rock offers good grip and handholds but I can see these clambering sections being really challenging, especially the more exposed sections. Loaded backpacks messes with balance, and feeling confident in your grip and arm strength helps a lot. Those afraid of heights would not enjoy the exposed sections.

As we were hiking, we were moving relatively slowly, we stopped many times each day to collect the group, for snacks and for lunch. This gives you time to rest.

We were on our feet from about 7am to 3pm each day; these are long days. And it was hot.

I didn't find the hike to be difficult but I did find it to be interesting, diverse and not-a-walk-in-the-park. I'm fit. My feet are conditioned. I have good balance and stability on the rocks and I'm not afraid of heights or clambering over rocks. For those that lack any of these skills, the coastal section of the route will be exceptionally challenging. The fitter you are and the more comfortable you are on uneven terrain, the better. I would not recommend this hike for beginners and would suggest that they do some moderate grade hikes first to gain experience and confidence, and then do this one. The scenery and experience of this landscape is worth it.

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