Walk wild in Addo Elephant National Park

Posted by Melanie van Zyl on 11 December 2017

There are just two places you can hike in Addo: either the jaw-dropping day trails on the slopes of the fynbos-covered mountains in the Zuurberg Section or, if you’re fit and strong, a two-day trail along the coast in the Woody Cape Section.

There are no guided trails in Addo Main Game Area because the bush is too dense. With the Big Five potentially lurking behind any thicket, it’s not safe.

The endless Alexandria Dunefield. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The two-day, 32-kilometre Alexandria Hiking Trail in the Woody Cape Section of the park is the best way to appreciate the immense scale of the Alexandria Dunefield – the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, with mountains of sand stretching more than 15800 hectares.

The hike traverses three different environments, starting in forest before shuffling across the sand dunes and ending with easier strolls on coastal shores beside crumbling cliffs. It’s not for the faint-hearted (distances are long, it can get very hot and the sandy terrain in places makes for hard going) but it’s an entirely unique trail in South Africa and great for birders too – more than 250 species have been recorded here. The forest has an ancient, magical feel and the big trees provide good chances of spotting the likes of the Narina trogon, Knysna turaco, trumpeter hornbill and African olive pigeon.

Woody Cape

Small forest ferns along the trail in Woody Cape. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The Zuurberg hiking trails are easier. They’re close to the Addo Main Game Area (a 20-minute drive) and there are two options: the short, three-kilometre, one-hour Cycad Trail or the longer four-hour, eight-kilometre Doringnek Hike, which was tougher than I anticipated.

The Zuurberg Mountains as seen from the main game section of Addo Elephant National Park. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Both traverse a gorgeous valley high up in the Zuurberg mountains where fynbos and proteas dominate. It is believed that one of the largest concentrations of blue duiker in South Africa is in this section of the park.

Frog

This camouflaged frog shows exactly how beautifully-clear the mountain pools are in the Zuurberg section. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

Once in the valley, the path continues beside a clear mountain stream in afromontane forest and ends at the Blougat Pool, which is perfect for picnics and swims. Take a dip because the return climb is a taxing one. Once back up the mountain, keep your eyes peeled for hartebeest on the fynbos plains again. Both of these walks are free to do once you’ve paid your daily conservation fee (R68 per person) at Addo Main Camp.

 

Plan your Alexandria Hike

Addo-Walking-Map

Day one: Woody Cape

Ease into ‘forest life’ with a leisure day in the Woody Cape Section. There’s a 1,4km Blue Duiker Trail and a longer 7km Tree Dassie Trail. It’s also a 10-minute drive to Woody Cape Backpackers, the easiest place to access the dunes from (10 minutes’ walk). Spend the night in this section to get an early start on the Alexandria Hiking Trail, and to hear the evening cries of tree dassies.

Stay here: Langebos Huts are set in the forest around a central firepit The two huts must be booked together so you’ll have it all to yourself. They are exceptional for ‘hiking’ huts: all self-catering utilities are there, plus mod cons like microwaves and heaters for cold nights. From R1455 for up to four people, R260 for each additional adult (sleeps eight).

Also read: Easy weekend away: a marine adventure in Addo

 

Day two: Langebos to Dunefield

You’ll have Langebos Huts in the Alexandria Forest all to yourself. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

The first leg of the Alexandria Dune Hike is 18,5km and starts at Woody Cape reception. It wends its way through dense forest and then follows the coastline – best, and easiest, done at low tide. A minimum of three hikers and a maximum of 12 are allowed on the trail each day, but it’s not exclusive use.

Stay here: Woody Cape Hiking Cabin has great views. You can see Bird Island if the weather’s good (look out for dolphins too!). There’s only enough water for drinking and cooking (no showering), but it’s equipped with eating utensils and a gas cooker – a luxury on a hike. You need to bring back all your rubbish. R170 per person (sleeps 12). Book via Matyholweni Camp (in the far south of Addo Main Park). Tel 0414680916.

 

Day three: Dunefield to Langebos

Day two of the hike is a tough 13,2km trek across the dunes before trailing back into the Alexandria Forest. Look out for tracks left behind by jackals, duikers and hairy-footed gerbil. Signposts are tall to ensure they’ll always be there to guide hikers, even if the dunes move. You’ll likely be bushed after the trail, so book another night at Langebos or Umsintsi Cottage.

Stay here: Umsintsi Cottage is the latest place to stay in the park. It sleeps two and looks over the gorgeous Alexandria forests. It used to be a forestry lookout station. Now, the upper deck now forms the bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, while the kitchen is below. From R965 for two.

 

 

This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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From our ultimate guide to Addo, free things to do in your city, a photographic getaway to South Luangwa and getting the best of Nepal; our May issue is guaranteed to inspire.

 

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