We had planned a trip to my grandparents in Port Elizabeth, and this provided the perfect gateway to hike the Alexandria Trail.
On Monday the 4th (after a quick stop at the Nanaga Farmstall) we made our way to the Alexandria section of the Addo Elephant National Park, where we spent the night. We were not booked into the Langebos hut as stated on the SANParks website, but rather, we were placed in a house just south of the office. The provision of electricity, crockery and comfortable mattresses was a welcome luxury.
Day 1 – Tuesday the 5th
With the general trend of searing temperatures in the Eastern Cape, we decided to start our day along with the sun (5:00 am). To our surprise, there was considerable cloud coverage accompanied by a light rain. With this in mind, we set off for the Woody Cape hut.
After a short section of head-height thicket, we entered – as if through a tunnel – the ancient afromontane forest. With giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods rivaling the size of those back home, I felt as if I were stepping into the Knysna forest. In addition to this, we could hear Knysna Louries in the canopy above us. To our further delight, we saw huge Coral Trees – this was our first time witnessing these beautiful trees (at such a scale) in their natural environment. We could only imagine what the forest would look like if the Coral Trees were in bloom.
Continuing on an exceptionally well-maintained trail, we made our way to the Waterboom – A giant Outeniqua Yellowwood, that I feel no shame in calling a Kalander. SANParks describes the tree as such:
…the “Waterboom”, a gigantic yellowwood named for the reservoir of water held at the base of its trunk…
In the photo below, one can see the tree rise up above the surrounding canopy.
The sand along the coast made for difficult treading and the presence of the rain meant we had yet to stop. With many Oystercatchers along the coast, we struggled to find a lunch spot such as not to disturb their peace. Finally we found a spot, about 14km into our day.
The sandy beach continued for another 2km whereafter the section of rocky beach and cliff started. We had the option of either heading up along the cliff, or walking below the cliff. The tide governed our decision (the route below should not be attempted at high tide), and with the water having been relatively low we made our way along the rocks. This lead to the rope which is used to get to the top of the cliff. We stopped at the foot of the cliff for a swim, whereafter we would make the final stretch to the hut.
Catching our breath at the top, we tackled the only dune we would need to cross for day 1. The mist made for an ethereal view from atop the dune, and only enhanced the the sense of magnitude already present.
Having descended the dune, we walked on a path cut in the coastal vegetation all the way to the hut. The last 100m before the hut had us walking through a small Milkwood forest, as verified by the characteristic smell. Upon arrival to the hut we were witness to the largest pod of dolphins I had ever seen. If we had to guess, there would be well over 400, seeing as at any given moment there were 10 swimming directly in front of us, and this continued for over 40 minutes. From the east to the west, the water was saturated with dolphins. What a welcome!
The 21.6km we walked (3km more than the stated distance for day 1) was inundated with beautiful sights, from the large Yellowwoods and Coral Trees, to the expanse and ruggedness of the sea. The extreme dichotomy of the different landscapes one traverses through is something to marvel at. Where else does one seen afromontane forest, and dunes and ocean, and milkwood trees, and dolphoins, and cliffs – all in the expanse of 22 km?
Max elevation: 263 m
Min elevation: -4 m
Total climbing: 597 m
Total time: 06:41:09
Day 2 – Wednesday the 6th
With a healthy reverence for the sun, we set out at 5:00 am once again. The 1st 2km had us walking in shoes in order to avoid thorns, but on arrival at the dune field, we all opted for a more natural approach.
We followed the red footprint signboards across this dune field. We had to walk to the top of each dune in front of us in order to see the next signboard – this continued up to the point where we reached the northerly coastal vegetation.
I state the following as a side note:
I have never before seen the formal elements of art embodied so fundamentally in nature. All along the dunes there were little insect holes scattered in the sand, creating star-like patches of pure “point”. Further, there was but one type of vegetation, and this was long reed-like grasses that protruded from the earth and swayed in the wind. These grasses (a single point from above), would droop down to the ground in a perfect arc. With the wind, these grasses would sway in a circular pattern on the sand, creating sweeping lines that looked as if they were drawn with a compass and ruler.
The dunes themselves were pure line, shape and form. From below, the dunes would form serpentine lines that wound around to break the horizon. From above, these lines were positively trigonometric. The interaction of these lines created triangular shapes – these shapes would dominate the landscape if it were to suddenly transform into a two-dimensional world. Predictably, the depth of these shapes (as sculpted by the wind) combined with the geometry resulted in the malleable form.
The texture was very inherent in the ripples of sand, and was further personified by the animal footprints that were preserved therein. These footprints created a very pleasing pattern, and stood in stark contrast to the oafish trail we left behind. This texture varied as we traversed the dunes, and with it, the value of the colour of the sand. In places the shadows were dark and etched deep, while in other places the shadows were ghostly and barely visible. The colour was restricted to blue and beige, but this was in perfect harmony with the space created by the foreground of dunes, and the sky above.
In my mind I like to think the cubists would have marveled at the sights we saw. I present the reader with the following photos, and hope they manage to do some justice to this wonderland.
Upon exiting the dune field, the sun came out, and were all to glad to be back under the cover of vegetation. We made for the farmlands, where we had to climb what seemed like an endless hill. Reaching the top, we entered the forest and were welcomed by a cluster of spiders and a cacophony of sounds – most notably the cicadas.
Where day one had been dominated by large Yellowwoods, day two brought with it the largest White Stinkwoods that I have ever seen. We walked under their canopy for a large portion of the trail back, and I could hardly believe that I was so privileged as to see these green monoliths in nature.
Max elevation: 258 m
Min elevation: 17 m
Total climbing: 789 m
Total time: 05:12:40
This trail has changed my whole perspective of the Eastern Cape – I had never realised that it had such hidden wonders. For a two day trail, SANParks have outdone themselves – most five day trails I have done, don’t manage to offer such a diversity in landscape, flora and fauna. Further, I have never been on a trail that has been so well marked and taken care of. The grass on the trail was cut, and all the fallen trees had been cleared. The Woody Cape hut had fresh water, crockery, cutlery, soft mattresses and one of the absolute best views. For a hiking trail, this sure was a luxury.