The beach, but no forest

Hiking trails along the Garden Route

With a good chance of rain coming in again this weekend; I decided, waking up on Saturday, that I needed to get out and check the river heights before it set in. There wasn’t much predicted, but we have already had quite a bit leading up to this weekend. The one downside to my gorgeous exclusive walks is that they are entirely reliant on the river being low. Any amount of heavy rain and It can’t be walked for a few days. With walks being requested for next week, I needed to check on the height. 

The walk that needed checking is my Forest to Beach, an amazing 5 hour trail starting at a private nature reserve in The Crags, and ending up in Keurbooms. We meander along, and cross on multiple occasions, two rivers, using the rocks to cross. From the very first crossing, it was obvious that we wouldn’t be doing the walk without having wet feet all the way along.

The river isn't un-walkable, but you will definitley be getting your feet wet all the way along!

There wasn’t any point in me going down the river to check on the other crossing points, but I did decide to drive down and go for a walk along the beach where this walk ends. For no reason other than I just felt like it. And so I managed to get some cool photos of the beach life, but didn’t manage anything in the forest.

With views like this all along this stretch of beach, I find myself imagining it’s a pirate island and that maybe, just maybe, there’s some treasure around. Of course, we probably all have a different idea of what “treasure” is, and mine tends to be the goodies one encounters along any trail, if you’re willing to look for them.

A Long-jawed Intertidal Spider

And this, for me anyway, is one such “goodie”; a Long-jawed Intertidal Spider. These are highly specialised spiders and live between the normal low and high tide levels. That means that these spiders are not only subjected to some serious wave action on a daily basis, but they also spend a fair bit of every day under water!

They find themselves abandoned shells or a crack in the rocks, and line it with silk, making it waterproof. Should their little retreat become flooded during a high tide, the air trapped onto the waxy hairs on their legs contain enough oxygen for them to sustain themselves until the next low tide.

The vultures of the beach

A miniature 'vultures on a carcass' scene

I can watch the Plough Shells for ages; they’re so much fun. These guys are scavengers, and I think of them as miniature vultures when they come ‘flying in’ to a stranded jellyfish. They have a characteristic ‘rowing’ movement that looks a bit like flapping.

Plough Shells are blind, with a keen sense of smell. That sense is enough for them to be able to find jellyfish, bluebottles and other cast-up animals on the beach. This is an amalgamation of mussels and other creatures that has probably broken away from the rocks; and the Plough Shells are moving in from all over…

Otterly gorgeous

One of those animals that I am still desperate to have a genuine wild encounter with is the Cape Clawless Otter. I have hand-raised a few and worked with them in captivity over the years, but my wild experience with them consists of the camera trap footage I have sneakily gotten of them in the past, and one brief sighting once of an otter running away through the forest.

I most certainly find their signs all the time on Brackenburn; footprints and/or droppings. There are also a few areas along the river where you can see a ‘rubbing spot’ or a ‘slide’. Otters are, seemingly, the perfect drying machine. Whenever they have been in the water, they love to come out onto the banks and rub their bodies dry in this wonderful twisting, rubbing motion. It looks very satisfying. Within less than a minute, the otter can be virtually bone dry. The slide is a spot where the otters go in and out of the water, creating an access path for other animals, usually near their rubbing spot.

Otters, especially this species, are phenomenal predators. For the work I have done with them, and other well known ferocious creatures of Africa, I can safely say that this is one animal you do not want to be on the wrong side of!

I never grow tired of coming across an otter spoor – footprint. It is still one of the more beautiful spoors to find. 

Cape Clawless Otter spoor, with a Black-backed Gull print on the top right

This area of the Garden Route is all about walking, with literally dozens of hiking trails available to the public. We even host the world’s first walking festival every year over the Easter long weekend. It is, without a doubt, the busiest weekend of my year. The festival actively encourages folk to get out and experience nature on foot; and so we should. We are living in an incredibly fast-moving technological world, and taking the time to get out and experience nature is absolutely necessary, so that we don’t lose that link we have with it.

And in closing, here are a handful more photos of the beach finish. You can find out more details about this walk and the prices here and here.

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