I still tell anyone that will listen about a creature called Cara. Cara is a donkey that I befriended last year just before starting another hike as part of the Garden Route Walking Festival. She backed her butt in my direction and, while I initially thought she was about to kick me, all she actually wanted was a scratch and the friendship was made. It was such an unexpected little moment of happiness, but has made for a great anecdote to retell over the past year.
That being said, I can’t believe it’s been a year since then – and that it’s almost time for round 2. The event takes place over the Easter Weekend (i.e. JUST AROUND THE CORNER) and comprises a bunch of different organised hikes that one can sign up to do over those couple days.
These hikes are organised in all the different towns dotted along the Garden Route area and some offer experiences that go behind simply walking in nature. There are walks that incorporate yoga, meditation, sketching, clean-ups, coffee-tasting, animal encounters…Honestly, the only unpleasant thing is deciding which one to sign up for on a given day.
In case getting involved for the simple pleasure of collecting experiences (like meeting donkeys) isn’t convincing enough, here are another 5 reasons to get involved in the festival this year:
1. The location
The fact that this walking festival takes place in the Garden Route area is arguably its greatest draw card. This tourism hotspot, which stretches along the South African coast from Mossel Bay to Storms River and includes towns like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, holds a very special place in my heart – in case you hadn’t noticed from all the content I create about it.
This paradise is famed for it’s natural beauty as well as its ecologically diverse ecosystems. So, to experience it by hiking trail, is to truly experience its essence. Prepare yourself for mountain-top views, discovering hidden caves and secret beach alcoves, splashing around in waterfalls or glassy rock pools and descents into lush forest microcosms that are like whole other realms of awesome. You could even experience all of this in one of the festival’s featured hikes, like the Robberg walk (where these photos were taken this past summer).
2. Make a positive contribution to nature conservation
While the registration for these walks is free, the festival does encourage a donation to one of their partner non-profit organisations. All of these focus on conserving the natural beauty that is the Garden Route area, so this is a chance to ensure it stays that way.
3. The multi-day slack-packing hike you never did
Taking part in one of these (like the Whale Trail) has always been a Wanderlist priority (read my other Wanderlist items here). For now, I get to at least scratch that itch with the knowledge that I can build my own custom slack-pack adventure during the Garden Route Walking Festival. Just sign up for a hike every day of the weekend, and there you have it! I would mix up the difficulty a little, with a 7-hour hike with all different kinds of terrain one day, and a gentle forest meander the next.
If you are lucky enough to have a multi-day hiking trip on your radar this year, this festival is a great opportunity to train for it. My mom is doing a leg of the El Camino later this year and I’m seriously considering using that as an excuse to get her to shoulder backpack responsibility…even though its contents are usually 90% mine (camera equipment, snacks) and 10% “other” (Mom’s keys, my sister-in-law’s cellphone). Anyway, I digress.
4. Meet like-minded people (and animals)
I used to be pretty shy around new people, but over the years I’ve become a lot more adept at befriending strangers (like, in an un-creepy way, of course). My experience of the festival last year was made by the people I met, especially the guides. They always have such interesting stories to tell, and I loved getting to understand the details of each new environment through their experience and passion.
5. Discover something new
Even if you have been to the Garden Route a hundred times, I guarantee there’ll be a walk here that offers you a new perspective. A guided walk is an opportunity to explore trails you wouldn’t otherwise have known about. Last year, I discovered the magical forest enclosed by the Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve, which has been hiding right near to where I stay in Plett this whole time.
This is also a chance to embark on that epic adventure you’ve been hesitant to do without an experienced individual showing you the route. This year, I’ve got my eye on that 7-hour hike between Nature’s Valley and Keurbooms River.
If you’re currently thinking “Okay sweet, Emma, that’s nice, now how to do I go pick an epic adventure hike like that for myself?”, you can find all that juicy info on the festival’s website.
Hopefully I will see you there!