Written by: Craig Blewett
Behind us, there is but miles of empty beach. Ahead of us lies a six day adventure along the coast from Port Alfred to the mouth of the Fish River. As a family of five with little hiking experience, the prospect is slightly daunting. However, that is exactly why we are on this year-long adventure of southern Africa. We want to experience new things and step out of our comfort zone. With the prospect of six days in the wild, we’re on our way to achieving our goal.
Day 1 – Milkwood Hut – 9km hike
We spend the first day picking up cowrie shells along a beautiful beach that we have to ourselves.
Thankfully we spot our first marker and a sign to head over the dunes and into the forest. We spend our first night at Milkwood Cottage, a surprisingly sophisticated rustic hut with bunk beds and an open shower. It even has a flushing ‘loo with a view’! As the fire crackles its warm melody, the smoke rises to mingle tantalisingly with our meal that’s cooking on the flames. A canopy of stars, a glass of wine and a smoky pasta weave into a blend that no Michelin restaurant could ever match.
Day 2 – Treehouse – 14km hike
A long way from a coffee machine, we start the fire, hang the iron kettle in the flames, wait patiently and then prepare that vital morning cup of coffee.
Despite it not being made from fresh beans, the coffee tastes amazing as the morning sun glints off the dew-laden grass. We’re excited about today because we are hiking to a treehouse and are soon back on the endless white, open beaches before heading inland again. Before long we are winding through a coastal forest, pass beautiful streams, are out in open grasslands then find ourselves in forests once more before arriving at the treehouse. The treehouse has been built six metres up in some huge, ancient yellowwood trees.
Two large decks connected by a walkway have three wooden cabins built on them, and there is a large swimming area nearby, which we dive into to wash away the heat of the day.
What a way to take an evening bath before starting the campfire and tossing back that cold beer while watching the meat sizzle. Instead of sleeping in the cabins, we decide to set up our sleeping bags on the open deck. Lying there I look up and all I can see is the cloudless splendour of a starry night, disrupted only by the gently dancing canopy of the trees and the rising moon.
Day 3 – Three Sisters – 7km hike
It’s back through the forest and onto open farm fields, through an underground tunnel used for cattle, before emerging at our next destination. Three Sisters lacks the charm of the other places as it is a disused marine research facility with longdrops, limited water and a wood stove. As it is still early afternoon, we decide to take a walk to the beach where we are met by such a strong wind that the girls hastily retreat behind the dune while Josh seizes the kiting opportunity. My arms are nearly wrenched from their sockets as the wind snatches the kite and rips me out of my flip-flops but soon Josh has the kite and jumps Olympic distances along the beach. Back at the hut, we braai and fall asleep. All of this exercise is great for sleeping.
Day 4 – Lily Pad Hut – 15km hike and canoe
We are up with the roosters as we need an early start for the big day ahead. We head to the Kleinemonde River where we meet Dave, the hike organiser, who gives us the choice – paddle against the wind or leap into his car and he will bring us to the hut. The catch is that if we choose to paddle then we must also paddle back, whatever the conditions are like the next day. It’s an easy choice – paddle! We are here for the adventure and it’s a tough start but, as we round the corner, it becomes easier in spite of the odd spitting of rain. We can now sit back and soak up the stunning vista with not a person in sight.
Pulling our canoes up the bank after the 9km paddle, we set out on the 3km hike to Lily Pad hut. We are greeted by a hut that feels positively first world, with an undercover cooking area and a donkey boiler to heat the outdoor shower water. What’s more, as it is a game farm, we are treated to giraffe, nyala and zebra sightings.
Day 5 – Stone Cottage – 22km hike and canoe
While the canoe to Lily Pad Hut tested our resolve a little, the canoe back is a lot easier. The wind dies down considerably but random showers remind us that we are still at the mercy of the elements. We initially delay setting off so that we can enjoy a tasty bacon and egg roll for breakfast and let the rain ease up.
We then seize a break in the weather and canoe back. After dropping off the canoes, we begin the hike to Stone Cottage. The walk meanders along the beach then through coastal bush and open fields. What a beautiful sight awaits us as we turn the corner to arrive. Built in the early 1800s, a barn-style stone cottage on the edge of a green field welcomes us with open shutters revealing warm light spilling out of her windows.
Stone Cottage contains all the modern conveniences that we take for granted – running water, flushing toilets, electricity, and the bonus of a beautiful claw bath. This is certainly paradise, and an incredible way to spend our final night sleeping like babies.
Day 6 – The End… or maybe the beginning – 15km hike
Even though the sun is peeking through, the dark clouds on the horizon look somewhat menacing so we don our warm clothes and head out on the final leg of our adventure. All of the elements join us for our walk on the beach yet it doesn’t bother us as we enjoy the beauty of our surroundings and the abundance of fascinating shells. However, there does come a time for city dwellers when you start to long for warmth, electricity, hot food and a comfy chair. That time is nigh. Our final destination is a diner next to the Fish River and it isn’t far to go now. We can practically smell the food and taste the warm Milo. However, our adventure has one more treat in stall for us. As we head up the river towards the Fish River bridge, the clouds unleash their final assault. The wind and rain are so furious that we are forced to lean into them as they attempt to keep us from civilisation. We are drenched, cold and tired… and we laugh. We laugh as we have not done for a long time, as we savour the feeling of being so alive, of being so blessed to enjoy such an amazing adventure. The sun, the rain, the wind, the heat made us all catch something, something contagious; an irrepressible desire to do this type of thing again. After our warm Milo, that is!
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