Fiona McIntosh went wandering along some of Port Elizabeth’s best hiking trails
Words: Fiona McIntosh
Pictures: Shaen Adey and Peter Grant
1. Sacramento Trail
A fantastic, family-friendly coastal walk, the 8km Sacramento Trail through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve starts at the village of Schoenmakerskop, 19km west of PE. ‘Schoenies’, as it’s affectionately known, is a typical coastal settlement, proudly boasting that it is a ‘small coastal drinking community with a fishing problem’.
The trailhead is easy to find, marked as it is by a large cannon salvaged from the wreck of the Sacramento, a Portuguese galleon that ran onto the rocks in 1647. From there the trail hugs the coastline, taking you past the Sacramento Monument to Cannon Bay, known for its gorgeous sandy beach and wonderful deep gullies, and on to the popular bathing beach at Sardinia Bay. Scan the backline as you walk – you’ll often see dolphins surfing in the waves. The views get better as you climb to Lovers’ Lane and follow the ridgeline through dune vegetation and fynbos back to the start. The trail is free, dog friendly and there are no gate hours.
Peter’s tips: There are several tempting swimming spots along the trail, so take a bathing costume. The Sacramento Restaurant is ideal for some post-hike refreshment or a light meal.
2. Roseate Tern Hiking Trail
Another stunner, the easy 9km Roseate Tern Hiking Trail winds its way through the beautiful Cape Recife Nature Reserve, 16km west of the city. With its attractive lighthouse, diverse bird life, pristine fynbos, rock pools and unspoilt beaches, the circular hike is a fantastic family outing. And if the little ’uns tire, you can always do a shorter version by retracing your steps or returning along the road that leads to the lighthouse.
Pick up a map when you buy your permit at the SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (Samrec) and take a tour of the penguin rehabilitation centre (included in the trail fee) before following the turquoise paint markers down to the beach. A gorgeous walk on white sand takes you along the rugged coastline to the black and white lighthouse. And there’s a treat in store – a detour inland through magnificent coastal fynbos to a bird hide, before the path returns to the coast.
Try to time the walk to arrive at the lighthouse around low tide so that you can explore the rock pools with their colourful starfish and sea anemones. And take your binoculars. The reserve is one of the top spots in South Africa to see the rare Roseate Tern and, in winter, the Antarctic Tern. The return leg heads inland to the ruins of the World War 2 barracks, a spectacular viewpoint, and back over vegetated dunes to the centre where you can celebrate a fine hike with a cuppa or lunch at the Flying Penguin Café.
The trail is open daily from 08h30-17h00. Entrance is R25 for adults and R15 for children and pensioners.
Samrec 041 583 1830, www.samrec.org.za
3. De Stades Nature Trail
The 250ha Maitland Nature Reserve, 28km west of the city, comprises dense indigenous coastal forest with abundant bird life and a variety of small animals such as bushbuck, bushpig and blue duiker, but its big drawcard is the giant sand dunes that flank the pristine beaches of the Maitland River mouth. There are three marked trails through the dense forest – the 3km circular Peregrine Maitland trail, the 4km Igolomi loop and the 9km De Stades Nature Trail, which leads to a viewpoint overlooking the famous Maitland sand dunes, the estuary and the pristine coastline.
On a clear day you can see all the way to St Francis Bay. The trail is free and there’s no restriction on access.