The beacon at Cape Recife

The beacon out at Cape Recife is one of two beacons that were used for shipping purposes before the invention of modern navigation technology.  The second beacon is the lollipop beacon on Marine Drive where Admiralty Road and Marine Drive comes together.  Ships sailing along the coast from the west had to line up the two beacons before they could turn into Algoa Bay.  This ensured that they were well clear of Thunderbolt Reef at the point as well as the reefs inside the bay itself.

The longest surfski wave in the world

Every now and then I see a video pop up on Facebook or YouTube and just wish that I could do it.  Yesterday was a day like that again.  It shows a couple of surfski paddlers grab a wave off Cape Recife and ride it for over 2 minutes. How can one not want to try it as well?
Dawid and Jasper Mocke of Mocke Paddling is busy planning a 10 Days 5 Capes paddling expedition in Feb / March 2017 which will take them and those who book the trip with them around Cape Point, Cape Aghulas, Cape Seal and the Knysna Heads, Cape St Francis and the lastly Cape Recife. 

This video was obviously shot as part of their recce of the area and just shows what they can expect when they do it next year.

Things to do in Port Elizabeth this summer – Grab a backpack and take a hike

There is an Afrikaans folk song that goes, Dis heerlike Lente, die Winter’s verby… (It’s time for Spring now that Winter has passed – doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same in English though) which means Summer is fast approaching.  Longer days, better weather and spending more time outdoors over weekends.  Plus the holiday season is coming up quicker than my sausage dogs when I open the fridge.  With an eye on said better weather and upcoming holiday season, I was invited to participate in the “Things to do in Port Elizabeth this Summer” Blogathon.  There really is a lot to do in and around Port Elizabeth – Port Elizabeth Daily Photo is evidence of that – and rather than writing a blog post featuring all the usual suspects of Addo Elephant National Park, Route 67 and the Donkin Reserve, SAMREC, Kragga Kamma Game Park, The Boardwalk, Bayworld, restaurants in Richmond Hill, history, township tours and more, I decided to focus on my nine favorite nature trails (in no real particular order) around the Bay.  Yes you read correct, 9 trails, because I like to walk.  The ideal outdoor activity for the upcoming summer. And it’s normally free or just about.

Before I start though, remember to always take out what you take in, only leave footprints behind, don’t forget a hat and sunscreen, make sure somebody knows where you are walking (in case you get lost and don’t return when you were supposed to) and always keep in mind that it is safer and recommended to walk in groups. So here we go. 

1 – The Humpback Dolphin Trail – Beachfront Boardwalk

Port Elizabeth must have one of the best city beach fronts in South Africa.  It is clean, beautiful, not over developed and a pleasure to explore on foot.  The walkway along the beachfront stretches all the way from the Kings Beach parking area to the lollipop beacon taking in sites like McArthur Pool, Bayworld, Humewood Beach with the old slipway, Shark Rock Pier, The Boardwalk and all the surf sites.  It’s nothing strange to take an early morning stroll or jog along the beachfront and see a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins swim by.  Port Elizabeth and Algoa Bay is the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World after all.  Beyond the beacon the boardwalk leaves the main beachfront behind and follows the coastline towards Cape Recife.  Very few people actually know that this section is called the Humpback Dolphin Trail and gives you some of the best uninterrupted views of Algoa Bay the city has to offer.  
Good for a nice easy early morning walk or jog or late afternoon with a ice cream in hand     

2 – Sacramento Trail

If Port Elizabeth’s hiking trails had to choose a head boy then the Sacramento Trail would probably have been it.  The popular kid, a good all rounder, sporty, slightly academic and not bad looking to boot.  The Sacramento Trail is an 8 km return hike from Schoenmakerskop to Sardinia Bay and back.  Probably PE’s favorite trail, the Sacramento offers some of the best coastal views around and is also a photographer and any nature lover’s dream.  Rugged coastline, sandy beaches, hidden coves, fynbos, wetlands, flowers and as an added extra, Khoi middens hidden among the dunes.  And have I mentioned the awesome views? 

One of the great things about the Sacramento Trail, named after a Portuguese ship that sank here in 1647, is that even though it is an out and back trail, you can walk out along the coast and back along the top of the vegetated dunes (adding to those great views) on the bridle paths.  Spot is also welcome to tag along as long as you keep him on his leash.
The best time to do the trail is early morning followed by breakfast at the Sacramento Restaurant. The start of the trail is also a great spot to enjoy sunset from. 

Sacramento Trail map 

3 – Coastal Fynbos Trail

Very few people realise that Schoenmakerskop is also home to a second great trail.  The Coastal Fynbos Trail starts to the east of the village at Sappershoek and is located on the land side of Marine Drive.  Because of the bad soil quality, slightly lower rainfall, underlying rock and salty winds the vegetation along most of the trail consist of… you guessed it, fynbos.  Fynbos, also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, consist of over 9 000 species of plants and the Coastal Fynbos Trail is particular attractive in spring when a lot of these are flowering.  The full circular trail covers about 7 km although there is an shorter 4 km option available if you’re still only a “middle distance” walker.
Not quite the Sacramento Trail but a very good alternative if you have done the former before and looking for something different in the area  

Coastal Fynbos Trail map

4 – Cape Recife Nature Reserve – Roseate Tern Trail

The 9 km Roseate Tern Trail through the Cape Recife Nature Reserve is probably the most diverse of all the trails around Port Elizabeth.  It offers a mix of coastline where you can see see the remains of shipwrecks on the reefs, reclamation ponds full of water birds, vegetated sand dunes giving some shelter from the sun, the remains of a World War II observation station and barracks, the historic Cape Recife Lighthouse (built in 1851), various marine birds along the coast, an unofficial nudist beach and SAMREC.  The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre plays an integral part in the conservation effort to save the endangered African Penguin and is the ideal spot to start and end your walk at.  The centre also has a coffee shop where you can refill your tank before heading off to your next activity for the day but hopefully not before taking a tour to learn more about our tuxedo’d feathered friends. 

Make sure you don’t forget your binocs and bird book in the car as the variety of birds along this trail is amazing.

Roseate Tern Trail map

5 – NMMU Nature Reserve – Grysbok Trail

I’m sure that as soon as this post hits the interwebs and goes viral you will start to see some comments between all the positive ones on Facebook going something like, “… blah blah unsafe…”, “…waffle waffle dangerous fishcake…”, “…troll troll take your life into your hands…”, “…muffle puffle I live behind bars and have no life and how dare you go out and enjoy yours…”.  For all those doom prophets and anybody else looking for a totally safe and secure environment to go and walk in, I have the perfect option for you.  The 830 ha NMMU Nature Reserve is fully enclosed with only access from on campus.  The Grysbok Trail offers two easy flat loops of about 2,5 km and 3,5 km or a combination of the two through coastal thicket and fynbos with the opportunity to see some game along the way.
Try out the GPS treasure hunt game of Geocaching.  The trail has about 35 caches hidden along the way.  Or just keep an eye out for some donkeys in pajamas. 

6 – Baakens Valley – Lower Guinea Fowl Trail

The Baakens Valley isn’t just an excellent hiking area, it has also become very popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.  The Baakens Valley truly is Port Elizabeth’s natural urban gem and really deserves more people venturing onto the Lower Guinea Fowl Trail, one of the best trails around.  Although you are at times barely a hundred meters from the nearest house it feels like you are miles away in the middle of nature with the river on one side, wind in your face, wild flowers in bloom all around, guinea fowl calling in the bush nearby and the rush of city life slowly flowing out of you. The one thing that really counts against it is that it is a 7,5 km one way trail between the 3rd Avenue Dip in Glen Hurd and Settlers Park, so make sure your transport is sorted and waiting for you when you finish walking.
There are a number of entrance / exit points along the way with shorter loops one can take around Walmer, Dodds Farm and Wellington Park if you just want to go for a quick stroll.
7 – The Island Nature Reserve – Bushbuck Trail

Hiking along the Bushbuck Trail one would be excused if you suddenly started thinking that you are on the Garden Route somewhere.  The vegetation on the western side of Port Elizabeth is very different from the south and east and consist of Alexandria coastal forest boasting indigenous tree species like Outeniqua Yellowwood, White and Hard Pear and White Milkwood.  It really is the ideal place if you need to plug your soul into the forest socket every now and then for a recharge. You also don’t need to be a hard core hiker to venture onto the Bushbuck Trail with five distance options catering for everybody from the family strollers (900 m), gentle walkers (5 km), long distance guys (7,5 km) and the ultra day hikers (a full 16 km combining all the trails).  If you phone in advance and ask very nicely, one of the ECPTA rangers may just be able to accompany you on your hike as well. 

The Island has some really neat and well maintained picnic and braai spots where the non-hikers in the group can hang around while you are out enjoying nature.

8 – Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve

The Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve truly is a hikers paradise.  The 500 h reserve can be found about 35 km west of Port Elizabeth and probably is the best place around to go and see Proteas in the wild.  The nice bit about it is that there are different flowers blooming just about all through the year so there is always something to see.  Van Stadens also caters for one and all when it comes to the variety of trails with easy short walks through the fynbos, past the dams or to the Arboretum and bird hide on the plateau or longer walks along the Forest and River trails that lead down into the gorge.  Some of the trails and picnic spots also have great views of the magnificent Van Stadens arch bridge. 
If you don’t enjoy walking don’t stay away.  Most of the plateau area of the reserve is accessible by car so just pack a picnic basket and go throw open a blanket at one of the view points or picnic areas.

9 – Sleepy Hollow

When I first heard the name Sleepy Hollow, images of the Headless Horseman waiting for me down a dusky forest path immediately jumped to mind.  I’ve been several times over the last few years and have yet to see any ghostly horses or pumpkins being flung my way.  Sleepy Hollow, located a few kilometers off the Blue Horizon Bay road in the Maitland River valley, is magical though and the only trail out of my list that is on private land.  The trails are fairly short but it’s quite easy to get yourself lost (not literally but rather figuratively) exploring the old abandoned mine tunnels, swimming in river pools, rock hopping up to the waterfall, watching the Knysna Loeries and foofie sliding into the Sleepy Hollow swemgat surrounded by cliffs and forest.
Take a tent or hire one of their caravans and spend the weekend at the campsite
That, I know, was a mouthful and like any good infomercial I can say, “But it’s not all…”  There are a number of other nature trails I haven’t even mentioned.  The Maitland Nature Reserve Trail, Aloe Trail, Flamingo Trail, Lady Slipper, Groendal, Van der Kemps Kloof and others.  Add to that the heritage trails of Route 67, the Donkin Heritage Trail and the South End Heritage Trail and there is no reason for you not to want to strap on your boots, grab a backpack, fill your water bottle and pack a few sarmies.  What are you still waiting for?  

Disclosure – This blog post is part of the #SharetheBay Port Elizzabeth #Blogathon 2016 campaign in collaboration with Cheap FlightsNelson Mandela Bay Tourism and Travel Concept Solution.  I keep full editorial control over the post because nobody’s going to tell me what I like and not.

Below are the posts of the other eight bloggers that took part in the #Blogathon

Boardwalk to Cape Recife

Have you ever walked further along the beachfront boardwalk than the lollipop beacon on the corner of Admiralty Road and Marine Drive.  This morning I had 20 minutes or so before a workshop at the Summerstrand Hotel and decided to venture a little further down than usual.  A beautiful morning with the sea on the one side and among the coastal vegetation yet less than 100 meters from Marine Drive.  What an awesome asset the city has in this stunning coastline.  

The Noordhoek dune field

Standing at the view point on Marine Drive close to Noordhoek looking back at Cape Recife you can see a section of sand dunes in the middle of the coastline.  These dunes form part of the Noordhoek dune field, one of three driftsand bypass systems that used to take sand into Algoa Bay.  The other two are the Drifsands and Cape Recife dune systems.

The main sand bypass, known as Dritsands, covered the whole area between Schoenmakerskop and Summerstrand.  In the late 1800’s the dunes started to threaten Port Elizabeth and plans had to be made to stabalise them.  At first a steam train was used to dump the town’s garbage on the dunes and you still find areas where pieces of old bottles, plates and other objects can be found.  In the beginning of the 1900s the area was stabilised by planting Australian wattles such as Rooikrans and Port Jackson as well as Eucalyptus trees planted in an attempt to start a commercial forest.  This stopped the Driftsands dune field from moving sand into the bay.

In the 1960’s the municipality built sewerage maturation ponds in Cape Recife.  These fell right into the path of the moving Noordhoek dune field and a decision was made to stabilised the leading edge of the dunes by planting vegetation.  From the angle of the picture the back end of this dune field can be seen.

Before the reclamation of Driftsands, about 170000m3 of sand got deposited into Algoa Bay and onto the beaches every year.  After Driftsands was reclaimed, the sand entering the bay from the remaining two dune systems dropped to around 78000m3 a year.  This again dropped to only 26000m3 a year after the Noordhoek dune field was stopped in its tracks.  The only sand being deposited into the bay now is from the small Cape Recife dune field next to the lighthouse. 

Facing my fear of heights on the Pine Lodge high ropes course

I got to face my fear of heights at Pine Lodge the other day and walked away a better man for it.  Pine Lodge not only introduced a zipline to the public, but also a new high ropes course.  The high ropes course consist of two levels with four challenges per level.. We only had time to do the bottom level which is about five meters off the ground.  To get to it you warm up on a little rickety bridge followed by a cable walk, and then the fun starts. 
That’s me in the shorts busy with the “Elvis Walk”.  Believe me, it looks a lot easier than it really is and having a fear of heights didn’t make it any easier.  I nearly turned around after my first try to cross from the first to the second hanging pole, but I persevered.  Your hips and legs truly emulate Elvis while trying to do it and I’m sure I didn’t breath for most of it.  Although I must have cause between the lot of us the age restriction for language was pretty high.
That is me again coming down the last cable walk after the tyre climb.  If you have a bit of time on your hands this summer holiday you have to go and do the zipline and high ropes.  It’s worth it.

Ziplining at Pine Lodge

Looking for something a little different to do around Port Elizabeth this summer?  Why not try out Pine Lodge’s zipline?  Even though it’s been there for probably a year or two now, Pine Lodge has decided to really start pushing all the activities one can do at the resort to both in-house guests as well as locals and other visitors to the city.  The three slide zipline is located right next to the resort and is nice and easy to do.  It’s high enough to give you the real zipline thrill yet manageable for both young and old.  The platforms also give great views of the surrounding area and coastline and you can see all the way to the lighthouse at Cape Recife.