Our intrepid exploration party of four strapped on our backpacks and almost immediately were transported into a mystical forest realm, seething with magic and wonder.
The lush of the canopy and dense undergrowth, imbibed in vivid emerald shades, is like a wrinkle in time; and harkens back to an era when the Southern African Eastern coastline was one broad band of indigenous coastal forest, interspersed with succulent thicket (valley bushveld) or grassland. Centuries old gigantic yellow-wood trees still loom overhead, acting as ancient sentinels keeping watch over their domain. From their forks sprout ambitious fig trees; whilst everything is draped in wispy curtains of old man’s beard.
As we hiked deep into the valley, a chorus of songbirds enveloped us; their voices rising until the invisible orchestra seemed to reach an impossibly beautiful crescendo. Tony (our leader) picked out the tunes of the individual singers for our inexperienced ears and pointed out the signatures of creatures of the night – aardvark; bushpig and porcupine.
After four hours of being serenaded in the enchanting forest, we emerged into a stark yet stunning landscape; the beauty of which was only intensified by its dramatic contrast to the realm we had just left behind.
Rows of golden-coloured gargantuan sand dunes stretched out endlessly before us; seemingly locked in an age-old battle with the savage, rolling surf of the Indian Ocean. Along this historic stretch of coastline, the devastating wrath of the sea has claimed many ships and even more lives; and today, beats upon the shore in a dramatic ballet.
Diminutive in the shadow of the three-story dunes, we retraced the steps of stranded mariners of yore. With a thumping South Easterly wind ushering us ever onwards, we fixed our eyes on the towering headlands in front of us; targets that appeared deceptively close and yet remained tantalizingly out of reach.
Somewhere up ahead lay our hut and shelter for the night, but between us mother nature had laid down a challenge of epic endurance! An obstacle course set against the rising tide, in which we explorers had to prove ourselves worthy of enjoying the secret treasures of one of her last private realms.
With an audience of charging white horses on our left and ancient dunes – carved out and calcified over aeons – on our right, we navigated the rocky shoreline until we reached ‘The Stairway to Heaven’. A steep 45-degree access point leading 15 metres up into the dunes, and then, with only an old mariners rope to aid us, we began our heavily-laden climb.
Once at the top, we caught our breath and contemplated the draconian dunes that still leered above us, waiting to be vanquished. They had been watching our slow progress and now was the moment when we would have to face down their enormous slip faces and either slay or be slain.
Shadowing each other’s footsteps, we scrambled up their steep sides; our boots disappearing into the soft sand which quickly in seeped through every hole. Not daring to stop, we climbed for an hour to the sound of the jeering wind and crashing waves. Just when it seemed we could not continue any further, we summited the final ridge to behold a valley of bountiful green opening out before us, and nestled in amongst the bush was our overnight hut.
Fuelled by our adrenalin and filled with a sense of achievement after conquering the 20 kilometre/8 hour trail we collapsed onto the deck of our camp. Looking out over some of the most stunning views in Southern Africa, the reward for our valiant efforts, we counted ourselves amongst the most fortunate on earth.
Bathed in the amber light of sunset, we watched in awe as mother nature’s theatre played out all around us. Breaching humpback whales and pods of common dolphins performed in the surf. All seemingly carrying on without paying us purveyors into their mystical world any notice. Nature’s children, they were lost in the pure enjoyment of their play, and we were humbled; honoured; privileged and filled with wonderment all at the same time.
Dusk gave way to night and the sky sparkled with the clarity of a canvas untouched by light pollution. Thousands of stars, blinded by city lights, lay strewn across the satin sky; all twinkling in time with the the old lighthouse on Bird Island. As we fell into a deep slumber, the sound of the rushing waves carried us off into our dreams of what was yet to come.
Dawn on day two and we were greeted with the terrifying sound of 55 kilometre an hour winds whipping walls of blinding, biting sand across the faces of soaring sand dunes that we were to traverse that very day. The streams of sand billowing off their summits looked as daunting as any mountain peak.
As we reached the edge of the dune field, a Southern right whale (a definitive grand explorer) appeared just behind the breakers. Guarding her young calf, she bid us farewell and gave us her blessing on our travels.
Armour on, we walked headlong into a gusting South Westerly. The going was arduous as we fought for every inch, the impish sand devils confounding our every turn and making the markers difficult to see. For two hours we weaved our way up and down star-shaped giants; content to be lost in such a miraculous world; until we finally reached the border of the forest once more.
Turning for a final look back upon the vista of dunes, we said our goodbyes to the wild Alexandria coastline, having been both humbled and honoured to glimpse it’s raw beauty.
Ensconced once again in the elvish world of the forest, our thoughts turned to home and what awaited us there. Our final 5 kilometres were dominated by a sombre mood, as the realisation that our epic quest was about to reach its end sank in.
But the Woody Cape had one more surprise for us. As we rounded one of the last bends a pair of bushbuck ewes pronked across a field of tall gilded grass. A invitation from the Woody Cape for us to return, and pit ourselves against mother nature once more to earn the privileges we had enjoyed for the last two days and 36 kilometres.
Trail base office:
Woody Cape office
Tel: +27 (0)46 6530601