We are keen to hike the Outeniqua Hiking Trail but not so keen on 7 days on the trail! So we are breaking it up into sections and hiking it bit-by-bit for the time being. As luck would have it, we managed to make Day 1 the first section we covered.
Getting there: this is a two-car outing: from Knysna head west toward Sedgefield on the N2; take a right on the Ruigtevlei / Karatara turnoff; 4.3km later at Ruigtevlei turn left onto the Hoogekraal Road; turn right at the T-junction with the Old George / Knysna Road and drive to Karatara; take the second left into Karatara and drive 2km straight up the road with Karatara on your left until you reach the forestry station gates where you leave a car [-33.905854, 22.834566]; drive back the way you came turning right at the T-junction with the Old George / Knysna Road; driving straight past the T-junction that you came up on from the N2; turn right to the Beervlei Hut sign and turn right; drive 2km straight up the road and park at Beervlei Hut
GPS Coordinates: -33.924697, 22.726520
Difficulty: easy to follow trail on a mix of forestry roads and single track
Permits: SANParks Knysna Regional Office (Thesen’s Island). R45 per person per night (minimum of two and maximum of 24 hikers allowed on trail)
At a glance
This route covers the first day of the Outeniqua Hiking Trail, Beervlei Hut to Windmeulnek Hut, and then takes a connecting route down to Karatara. You could of course book the overnight hike and make a 2 day hike of it, and it would be well worth it! There are numerous river crossings, some of the rivers being impassable after heavy rains so it is vital to confer with the rangers at Beervlei before you set out.
Windmeulnek Hut is simply spectacular and it is well worth planning to spend some time here relaxing on the lawn and enjoying the views. There is also plenty of rainwater in the tanks to top up your water canteens — this is the last available water for the day.
The first section of the trail takes you through deep indigenous forest filled with Yellowwoods. Later you spend some time on forestry roads before heading around Perdekop to Windmeulnek: this section is higher up in the mountain and the feeling of remoteness will speak to your soul, as will the first couple of kilometers as you continue from the Hut around Perdekop with the Karatara River valley below you. You could in fact cut in front of Perdekop along forestry road, but quite honestly you would be missing the highlight of the day.
The trail is well signposted.
From the Beervlei Hut head up the forestry road. 1.15km there is a gate. Use the style on the left to pass through and immediately afterwards turn right onto the single track heading into the forest.
At 3.3km you emerge into a clearing dominated by a massive Yellowwood.
At 3.38km there is a stream and the track is very muddy underfoot. There should be drinking water here.
At 5.37km you will cross a forestry road. At 5.72km you will hit a forestry road again, turn right onto it.
At 7.2km you will cross a stream on some slippery stepping-stones. Again, drinking water is available here.
7.6 km the trail opens out at a hairpin bend in a forestry road at the edge of the forest. Turn right and head downhill down the road.47.9km head down the trail from the road. At 8.3km the trail zig-zags steeply down to the Hoogekraal River, passing 2 rock overhangs.
The Hoogekraal River at 8.36km is substantial and offers an awesome swimming opportunity. Crossing is via stepping-stones which are submerged after even light rainfall and you will have to remove your footwear.
The trail climbs steeply but comfortable up out of the river valley. At 9.8km you will cross a stream, and shortly after you will emerge out of the forest onto a forestry road. This area appears to have been an old gum plantation. Turn left up the road and head up the hill. Ahead of you looms Perdekop which you approach until at 13.1km you will reach an intersection signposted “Windemeulnekhut” directing you to go left. You will head around Perdekop in a clockwise direction to Windmeulnek. At 13.5 km you reach an intersection where the sign is missing from the post; take the right branch and your choice will be confirmed by a footprint sign on a tree trunk just ahead.
At 15km there is a gate across the road with a no entry sign. At this point the peak of Witbakensberg will be looming ahead to the left.
The spectacular Windmeulnek Hut [-33.867927, 22.799900] is perched on the narrow neck between Perdekop on the formidable looking Witbakensberg at the 16.3km mark. The Hut has a lawn area as well as a wrap-around wooden deck on two sides, and a separate lapa. 4 very smart new EnviroLoos complete the complex. Fresh water is available from rainwater tanks harvesting from all the roofs.
The Hut is the end of day one of the Outeniqua Trail, but your day continues as you head down to Karatara. Take the trail leading around Perdekop from the back corner of the Hut. Below you on your right is the Karatara River valley. As you round the hill you will once again see Karatara laid out below you and it fairly simple to follow the forestry roads down to the Karatara Forestry station.
The first section is fairly steep but after the 18.25km mark you reach a forestry road signposted Karatara; take a left and follow the forestry roads which are easy-going and clearly signposted.