The start point is about 1km off the N2, between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. You can spend the first night in the Harkerville Hut.
Situated on one of the most spectacular coastlines in Africa, between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, it's not surprising that many hikers call the Harkerville Trail a mini Otter Trail. The combination of the sapphire Indian Ocean and the rugged coastline surely makes it the finest two-day trail in the country. But it's not for the faint hearted.
The first 11km of the day one pass through indigenous forest, with the tantalising calls of Knysna turaco, Knysnaloerie (scientific Toraco corythaix, Roberts no.370), above ancient tree ferns, cinnabar bracket fungi and startled frogs, something new at every turn.
Around mid-morning hikers arrive at a plot of Californian Redwood trees, experimental and planted in 1925. It’s a pleasant spot for a break, under these 100m spongy-barked giants, as well as a photographic opportunity.
The route continues to meander towards the shore, the roar of the ocean increasing, before finally reaching a cliff top overlooking the spectacular rocky coastline. Vertiginous steps dive to a pebbly beach – a good place for lunch before the chains. Most of our group found the chains to be an anti-climax, despite clinging onto a slick chain above crashing waves.
The hike along the rocky shoreline, where waves crash over orange-covered lichen rocks of this wild coast is about 4 km, nostrils filled with salty spray, wild rosemary and sage, while squawking seagulls float on thermals. Progress is slow because there are a number of obstacles along the way, taking time to negotiate, such as clambering around a rock face, aided with chains and several ladders.
The day ended with a steep climb to the plateau, which could cause problems for those who suffer with vertigo. Once on top, the trail follows the cliff edge for a while, passing through fynbos, before finally turning inland to the Sinclair Hut.
The hut is situated on high ground in a clearing with a backdrop of pine plantation and unfortunately no sea view. Two rooms with bunk beds and mattresses are separated by an undercover braai area with firewood provided, along with an axe.
After crossing the escarpment for 2km on the second day, there’s a steep descent to a bay where, on a previous trip, I’d been fortunate to see two otters cross the beach before swimming in the river.
An exciting morning with more obstacles - chains, rock scrambling on slippery salt-covered rocks, a chain ladder, route finding and narrow bridges. If it’s hot, the water looks inviting, but you should be a good swimmer because the sea is unforgiving, tossing and turning bodies in a tumble dryer of churning waves.
After 5km, hikers reach Kranshoek, at the end of a beach and where the path goes through indigenous forest as it climbs steeply to the cliff top, only to find picnickers enjoying the view.
At this point it’s tempting to catch a lift back to the forest station but don’t, rather continue inland, passing through more indigenous forest, until Harkerville is reached.
Harkerville Hiking Trail is spectacular, thanks to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, who have done a fine job in its construction and upkeep.
The terrain is rough and there is some steep, slippery rocks, inching along narrow exposed ledges.
Karen Watkins (Author of Adventure Walks & Scrambles in the Cape Peninsula)