No matter what the season, the Garden Route remains a choice destination all year round. Plettenberg Bay Tourism launched The Plett Trail in 2015, an initiative aimed at drawing tourists and travellers to the region, specifically during the colder months. The Plett Trail is “a unique country adventure that will bring wine farms, multi-terrain hiking, cultural and marine ecology experiences and wildlife together in a luxury ‘slackpacking’ package.”
Where it comes to trekking and slackpacking in the Garden Route though, you cannot get better than Garden Route Trail.
The dream of Garden Route Trail was conceived somewhere in the ‘90s by Mark Dixon, while he was working in Peru. It was not till 2003/4, faced with the choice of renewing his contract in Antarctica or returning to South Africa, that he moved down to the Garden Route and turned this dream into reality.
As attested by the recent Garden Route Walking Fest (mentioned in our blog of 16 March 2016), the area has an abundance of fantastic hiking trails. With Plettenberg Bay’s The Dolphin Trail and Mossel Bay’s Oystercatcher Trail flanking it on both sides, Mark established Garden Route Trail right in the heart of the Garden Route. The flagship trail is a 5 day coastal trek, stretching from Wilderness to Goukamma Nature Reserve. A combination of trekking and kayaking, the trail is truly one of a kind and, with a capacity of 12 people, lends itself to being booked by a group.
What separates it from the pack though, is Mark’s bottomless fount of knowledge of nature and the area.
Since childhood Mark has spent every possible waking moment in the outdoors. The son of a biology teacher, with a keen interest in macro photography since childhood, he grew up in or near the veld and has an eye trained for detail. An education in agriculture, animal science and ichthyology – the study of fishes – brought him to the area. He was soon enlisted by a friend to help guide tours every now and again and it was here Mark had an encounter with a client, a PDA and a bird that proved to be pivotal in his future – a story he will have to tell you.
Mark started to divide his time between his protea orchard and taking groups out. He soon realised that the groups he took on walks had a hunger to learn about the area and the animal and bird life they encountered.
Offering numerous day walks, as far afield as George and Storms River, Mark is able to shape each experience to the expectations of the group. Coastal walks are carefully planned to co-inside with the tides to make sure guests are able to walk on firm sand – hiking made easy and manageable for all age groups. The 5 day trail may be the flagship but the day walks are just as popular. His wife Amanda – a renowned bird specialist, researcher and guide in her own right – takes care of the logistics, enabling Mark to concentrate on what he does best.
Whether it is a multi-day trek or a day walk, refreshments will always be as fresh and local as possible. It is during a week-long hike in New Zealand, Mark says, that he “learned what a difference in energy, eating fresh produce makes.” It is a personal passion of the couple to teach people mindfulness in what and how they consume. Environmental and energy sustainability are both high on their list, therefore you can expect nothing less.
With both Mark and Amanda being involved in avifauna impact studies, they are continuously keeping abreast with changes in the environment due to global warming, human settlement, agricultural, and conservation trends. Even their free time is dedicated to exploring the untouched and unexplored regions of the country, ever expanding on their understanding of the natural world.
Mark, being a self-proclaimed gadget geek, will embrace any and all opportunities to spend time in the great outdoors, his ‘happy place’. He is equally as knowledgeable about biology as he is technology and is no stranger to harvesting and preparing mussels, geocaching or even GIS mapping. As an accomplished photographer and masterful GoPro enthusiast, and with both him and Amanda being experiences mountain bikers, is it any wonder that Garden Route Trail is currently branching out into both mountain biking tours and photo safaris?
For many locals and visitors, Mark may be best known for assisting his mom, local legend Judy Dixon, with the very popular Moonlight Meander*, exploring the intertidal zone during the spring low tides occurring at full and new moon.
Should you find yourself in the Garden Route for a weekend, you will leave enriched if you spend a couple of hours in this knowledgeable, charismatic and engaging guide’s company.
You can contact Garden Route Trail on: 082 213 5931
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Garden-Route-Trail-202573065241/
Or visit their website at http://www.gardenroutetrail.co.za/
Photos by Mark Dixon from Garden Route Trail