We have bumped into tired-looking hikers doing the 7 day long Outeniqua Hiking Trail whilst hiking the Harkerville Coastal Trail and other routes in the area, and have been poring over the official 1 : 50 000 map for quite some time now.
Getting there: 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 left at the T-junction with the Old George / Knysna Road; turn right at the Beervlei Hut sign, drive 2km straight up the road and park at Beervlei Hut
GPS Coordinates: -33.924697, 22.726520
Distance: 16 + 17 + 15.5 + 17 + 13 + 16 + 12
Difficulty: one-way east-to-west
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
The Outeniqua Hiking Trail is a 7 day trail with 8 overnight huts. The trail may only be done in one direction only — from west to east. The total distance of the trail is 108km. There are numerous river crossings, some of the rivers being impassable after heavy rains so it is vital to confer with the rangers at the various forestry stations you pass.
The huts offer shelter, firewood, grids, water and rudimentary bedding; no pots. There is electricity at the Millwood, Diepwalle & Harkerville huts.
Hikers do not have to hike the full 7 days; 2 or 3 days are allowed, connecting routes making this possible. We are in the process of hiking these routes; have a look at the Beervlei to Karatara post.
We have been hiking the trail in winter. Apart from one afternoon where we had light rain for a few hours the weather has been outstanding: perfect hiking weather (in fact I include the rain in that description!). The advantage of this is that you have the trail and more importantly the huts to yourselves!
When you confirm your booking, you will receive the official trail map. Please take some time to study it as it has contains crucial information, such as how the trail marking system works.
Deep indigenous forest for much of the trail, moving into old plantations as you head slowly up toward the mountain area and Windemeulnek.
Starting high up at Windemeulnek, you stay fairly high up except for one or two challenging dips into deep river gorges. You will see fynbos, old (mostly dead) gum and pine plantations, gorges filled with indigenous trees and lush ferns until you finally descend into deep forest again on the approach to Platbos Hut.
There are a few river crossings with fabulous swimming spots, the first being the Karatara River early on in the morning. There is plenty of water on this section of the route and you should not have to carry more than 1 water bottle each on any but the hottest of days.
Mostly deep indigenous forest, climbing up onto the plateau featuring fynbos at Die Eiland, back down into deep indigenous forest at Jubilee Creek, and then back up into the open at Millwood.
Day 1: Biervlei to Windmeulnek
Leave your vehicle at the Beervlei Hut and 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 is substantial and offers an awesome swimming opportunity in warm weather. Crossing is via stepping-stones which are submerged after even light rainfall and you will have to remove your footwear.
Clockwise around Perdekop to Windmeulnek.
Your day ends at the spectacular Windmeulnek Hut. Perched on the narrow neck, it offers views into the valleys on either side. The hut is split into 4 rooms, each with triple bunks complete with mattresses, and has a wrap-around wooden deck on two sides. There is a separate covered boma with a large table, super clever tree stump chairs, a massive fireplace, braai grids, plenty of wood and an axe. There is a shower room; cold water only I am afraid. 4 very smart new EnviroLoos complete the complex. Fresh water is available from rainwater tanks harvesting from all the roofs.
There is an escape route from here to Karatara (7km).
Day 2: Windmeulnek to Platbos
Pick up the trail, signposted “Platbos Hut”, behind the lapa as it heads up the hill (do not take the trail that leaves from the back of the Hut; this is the exit to Karatara).
After 400m gentle incline there is an intersection. Take the right-hand fork and follow the trail down the ridge into the valley of the Karatara River.
At 3.36km you will cross the Karatara River. This crossing is impassable after rains. This is followed by the exertion of climbing back out of the river valley.
At 4.66km there is a trail off to the left signposted with a yellow footprint; please remember that the yellow footprint signifies an exit route. Continue straight on up the slope.
5km there is a stream of water down a rock face on the left of the trail.
The climb tops out at 5.75km. Take a moment to look back at Windmeulnek Hut, down at the Karatara River, and on to Barrington and the surrounding farmlands.
8.4km there is a river crossing offering a shaded swimming spot. This is impassable after rains, and please note that immediately on the downstream-side of the trail there is a high cliff.
9.4km the trail crosses a stream with crystal clear, drinkable water.
At 9.9km there is an intersection with signage at ground level indicating an exit to the right going down to Karatara.
10.8km a stream with drinking water.
14.3km the single track intersects with plantation road. Head straight along the road still following the white footprints. Signage for the green and yellow Farleigh MTB routes is now also evident.
The Platbos Hut has a large fireplace in the main room which was more than welcome as we were pretty cold. The main room also has a kitchen sink with running water. There are plenty of handy coat hooks for hanging gear.
There is a large lapa with a firepit, and axe, and plenty of wood.
The ablutions are flush toilets with running water. The showers are plumbed for hot and cold water, the gas lines are in place — but alas the gas water heater and gas bottles have not been installed.
There is an escape route to Farleigh Forest Station.
Day 3: Platbos to Millwood
Head across the lawn and back up the road you arrived on the previous day. At 450m the trail goes down the hill into the forest to the right.
You will pass through Jubilee Creek.
The Millwood Hut [-33.889929, 22.997017] is more of a rambling old farmhouse than a hut. It consists of a warren of rooms, and even some rooms in the attic. There is a room with a kitchen sink and running water, and also a room with a fireplace.
Day 4: Millwood to Rondebossie
Day 5: Rondebossie to Diepwalle
Day 6: Diepwalle to Fisantehoek
Day 7: Fisantehoek to Harkerville