In the Garden Route, parallel to the Indian Ocean, runs the Outeniqua Mountains or, as they were known by early Portuguese explorers, “Serra da Estrela”.
Whether the mountain reminds you of stars, as it did the Portuguese, or honey, as it did the Khoisan, one thing is for sure, the Outeniqua Hiking Trail is one of the best known multi-day backpacking trails – rated as one of the top six – in Southern Africa. After completing the gruelling 7 day, 106.5km long route, you will be most deserving of both stars and honey!
As part of the Garden Route National Park the trail is managed by SANParks and snakes its way through the Outeniqua Mountains starting at Beervlei Forest Station near Wilderness and ending at Harkerville Forest Station near Plettenberg Bay.
The trail runs from west to east and can only be completed in this direction. The first day of the trail, from Beervlei to Windmeulnek, is ± 16km of just about continuous uphill with a great lunch spot at Hoekkraal River. The second day may hold a slippery start in wet conditions and is also quite well known for sudden mist covering the forest. The 17km will bring you to Platbos Hut.
On day three the route will take you to Homtini River and the gorgeous picnic spot at Jubilee Creek, with a short possible detour to the waterfall and plunge pool, before ending the almost 15km of hiking for the day. Starting at Millwood on day four, with a swimming spot in the Knysna River, the almost 17 km takes you to Rondebossie Hut. These two rivers, Homtini and Knysna, are also the main river crossings on the hike with steel cables across the rivers in case hikers need them. After crossing the Knysna River, the trail wounds its way along the bank with the assistance of chains and ladders.
Day 5, approximately 13km takes you from Rondebossie to Diepwalle. With a challenging start, the day has an easier end than beginning. The Diepwalle Hut is also a good option to start (or end) a shorter version of the trail. Day 6 holds another 16km, although this can hardly be compared to the 16 at the start of the trail, crossing two rivers with refreshing resting spots to Fisantehoek hut.
On the last day of the trail, hikers will be grateful of the 12km of easy hiking from Fisantehoek to Harkerville. Harkerville is also the start of the Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail, adding another potential 26 and a half kilometres to the hike.
Reading all of the above has some of us running screaming to the hills (or in this case, away from them) then multiply this 10 fold and you have the Outeniqua Quest Trail Run.
This endurance trail run is now in its 3rd year and will take place on 11 and 12 June. It will test even the most dedicated and skilled athlete. Runners will traverse the entire Outeniqua Hiking Trail, covering a big part of this by night, with just a headlamp and their own thoughts as company.
The Outeniqua Quest is good training for all endurance trail runners who are preparing for the Ultra-Trail Cape Town and it is also a qualifier for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc with 5 of the requisite 6 points to be scored.
The trail may be softer than some of the rockier single track trail runs but it is still quite challenging underfoot. Walking through the Knysna Forest is, even in daylight, a sometimes hazardous occupation with tree roots ambushing anyone who does not pay attention.
Being almost in the middle of June, with both day and night running, participants need to prepare them for any and every eventuality as temperatures and weather conditions can fluctuate significantly. Trail support will be from hut to hut with an hour stop over allowed at each of the huts.
The trail can be described as magical. With most of the route carving its way through uninterrupted indigenous forest, traversing rivers and encountering numerous crystal clear rock pools and evidence of the elephants who still roam here, you may think you are caught up in a fairy tale but, as a runner from a previous year described it: “Ultras play with the psyche, shunting it from extreme elation to scary places of dark self-doubt, interspersed by long periods of most energetic, often monotonous periods in between.”
It is definitely not for everyone and entries are capped at 100. For those ultra-trail runners who want to push themselves even harder, the Outeniqua Quest Xtreme offers another 26 km added onto the already exhausting 108. Should they pass the physical at the end of the Outeniqua Quest they will also traverse the treacherous Harkerville Coast Hiking Trail, for a long yet very rewarding 132km of continuous trail running.
For a quick view of the 2014 Outeniqua Quest:
You can contact Trisport on 0836622022
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/trisportsa
Or visit their website at http://trisport.co.za/
You can contact SANParks on 044 877 0046
Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/South.African.National.Parks/
Or visit their website at https://www.sanparks.org/