Sunday, 6 December 2009

Swellendam Trail


Swellendam Trail is one of the best trails in the Western Cape. There are several alternative routes, varying from 2 days/26km to 6 days/84km. All start and end at the Marloth Nature Reserve outside Swellendam, 220 km from Cape Town. The longest version of the trail starts with 4km of gravel road through pine plantations (see picture) to the first hut, Koloniesbos (it is possible to skip this bit). You then hit some indigenous forest and soon start an unrelenting climb up the South side of the Langeberge, with great views and fynbos. This path enters a valley and about 12 km from Koloniesbos you reach Boskloof Hut in the mountains, near a beautiful pool. From Boskloof you can take a trip back to the start via Tienuurkop, or continue on your way...

If you decide to continue, the next day (11km) starts with a steady climb and then a rocky descent to Goedgeloof Huts, which look over the Little Karoo and are quite close to farmland. You may choose to do this and the subsequent hike to Protea Valley Hut (10 km) in one day. That hike hike skirts the base of the range and then climbs up to a Nek into Protea Valley, one of the most scenic sections of the trail, with a flat path for the next 5 km and plenty of beautiful fynbos.

From Protea Valley you can hike to Wolfkloof Hut via three routes - Kruispad (7km) is the easiest, but still rather a long descent. Vensterbank (12km) is one of the most spectacular paths in the Cape and quite dangerous in bad weather. The longest alternative is a two-day hike via Nooitgedacht, which first climbs up towards Vensterbank and then begins a rollercoaster of neks and valleys for the remainder of the 13km. Painful, but the pool at Nooitgedacht (and the seclusion of the area) makes it worthwhile.

From Nooitgedacht to Wolfkloof is the longest day (21km). The first half skirts the base of the Langeberg, heading back towards Swellendam. Then the path starts negotiating many gorges, each with its own indigenous forest and stream - ripe for exploring, if only you had the time... The fynbos on this section also makes the long hike worthwhile.

The last day (10km) from Wolfkloof begins again with a sharp climb and then more skirting along the side of the Langeberg, back towards home. If you took the Kruispad shortcut, you could do this path on the same day without too much effort.

The huts are mainly log cabins sleeping 24, and fires are permitted at Koloniesbos and Wolfkloof. Goedgeloof and Nooitgedacht are smaller stone shepherd huts. All huts have bunks and mattresses, cooking areas, long-drop ablutions and outside taps. An excellent map is available.

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