Port Elizabeth, aka The Windy City, has an amazing number of easily accessible reserves where you can hike along well-marked trails without paying a cent. Here are six of the best.
Humpback Dolphin Trail
It’s almost mandatory to strut your stuff on the beachfront promenade of any coastal city and Port Elizabeth’s prom, from King’s Beach to Pollok Beach, has long been a favourite haunt. The recent inauguration of a new raised walkway made of recycled plastic has extended the coastal walk from Pollok Beach to Flat Rocks. Known as the Humpback Dolphin Trail, the 2,3-kilometre trail comprises a walking and cycling route that’s lit up at night.
Lower Guinea Fowl Hiking Trail
In the heart of the city, this 7,5-kilometre trail starts at Glen Hurd Drive, then meanders along the edge of the Baakens River flood plain, passing through a steep-sided valley to Settler’s Park. Although an urban trail on which you’re advised to walk in a group, the wooded path has a real wilderness feel and is a great escape. The area is excellent for bird-watching and hikers may encounter small animals.
Roseate Tern Hiking Trail
I’m a fan of beach walks and this beautiful trail in Cape Recife Nature Reserve is one of my favourites. Regarded as a prime bird-watching venue, it’s a great spot to see the rare Roseate tern. In addition to unspoiled beaches and rockpools, the nine-kilometre circular trail takes in dune vegetation, exquisite fynbos, shipwrecks, the oldest lighthouse in the Eastern Cape and a bird hide. A tour of the SAMREC penguin rehabilitation centre, where the trail starts, is included in the R25 trail fee (open 08h30 to 17h00, tel 041- 583-1830, www.samrec.org.za). Entrance is free if you park outside of the reserve, but it’s a fair walk to the start of the trail.
This circular walk through Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve features some dramatic rocky scenery. The trail starts at the bronze cannon at Schoenmakerskop, which points towards the Sacramento, a Portuguese galleon that was wrecked in 1647. It then heads down to the shore and along the coast, past the Sacramento Monument and into the Sardinia Bay Marine Reserve where sheltered gullies between the rocks teem with fish and anemones. Look out for dolphins and gannets as you return to the start on a fynbos-covered ridge.
Van der Kemps Trail
This trail, which starts in Bethelsdorp (the first missionary settlement in Port Elizabeth) and follows the Little Zwartkops River through Van der Kemp’s Kloof, will appeal to nature lovers and historians alike. Highlights include the striking Van der Kemp’s Church, aloe-studded slopes and magnificent views over Algoa Bay. The kloof is also home to the indigenous, rushleaved strelitzia (Strelitzia juncea), of which only a few small populations exist in this area.
Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve
The prime purpose of this small reserve, 35 kilometres west of the city, is to protect and propagate unique indigenous flora. You can spend hours exploring the extraordinary fynbos and succulents. Trails include the short Fynbos Ramble from the small information centre and the 3,5-kilometre River Walk which takes you along the edge of the impressive Van Staden’s Gorge.
(Photograph by Shaen Adey)