Walking the wild Philocaly Trail in KwaZulu-Natal

Posted on 20 July 2021

Written by Veruska De Vita

I pinch myself. On Zinkwazi Beach, surrounded by the humming anticipation of eighty walkers waiting to set off, I root the toes of my shoes into the sand. I’m really here. The sky glows in layers of blue and sunlight warms my back. I stare at the expanse of deep blue until my eyes rest on the horizon, there where the air forms a mirage.

Walking the Philocaly Trail

A light breeze sends shivers down my arms, the skin now lifted in goosebumps. The chatter stops as the walkers shift their attention to a man holding a loudspeaker. ‘We’ve been told that Tugela Mouth is too dirty, so instead of crossing it, we’re going to walk in that direction for five kilometers then turn around and walk back to the starting point. For those who want to walk to Tugela Mouth, you are welcome to.’

Walking the Philocaly Trail

It’s day three of the Philocaly Trail, a beach walk that opens my eyes to the horrific, and potentially irreversible, impact of plastic on our oceans. The proceeds go to organisations involved in ocean conservation. I hear someone say that if we don’t do something about it quickly we won’t be able to access our oceans in forty years’ time. That’s how much plastic will be floating around. We will drown in plastic.

The participants are a mixed bunch – hardcore walkers with calabash calves, septuagenarians with their dogs, and twenty-somethings who do this type of thing for fitness and fun.

Walking the Philocaly Trail

Sometimes, when walking the same path as others, you say hello and make friends. I crab-walk towards a woman who seems to be trudging at the same speed as me. We exchange greetings and start chatting. She lived in Ballito before moving to Cape Town and came to KwaZulu-Natal to partake in the trail. ‘I miss this coast,’ she said.

There’s a lot to miss. She points to a muscular twenty-something-year-old, her son, and tells me how he ran from the lowest to the highest point in KZN over three days.

Watching the flora change as we follow the contours of the coastline at this slow pace gives me a fresh perspective. Sometimes slow is better. Sometimes taking off your shoes to walk barefoot on beach sand for hours is the emotional liberation that you seek.

Walking the Philocaly Trail

The weather has turned magical and the scenery before me is filtered by mist. An outcrop of rocks and the fisherman on it are all an inky blue. The wind brings saltiness and the tang of fish bait and I surmise that the catch must be good.

At eighteen kilometres day five is the longest walk. I make a mental note of being better prepared with footwear for my next beach walk. I have stopped counting the number of times I take off my shoes to shake the sand out of them. Other walkers are wearing shoe-gaters over their laces and ankles, one man has strapped duct tape around the middle part of his shoes and another is wearing socks over his shoes – genius.

Walking the Philocaly Trail

It’s my last night on the Dolphin Coast and as I lean against the balcony rails I vow to do this walk again. The moon ripples its light along the surface of the water holding the ocean creatures in their sleep. Until I’m back, squishing my toes into the sand, I will miss this place.

Pictures: Veruska De Vita

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