Since the 1960’s when hiking was introduced to South Africa, there has been a fundamental change in its emphasis, from the original idea of lumping all your belongings and food along in your backpack until today when the scope of hiking now includes Slackpacking, also known as Hiking Holidays.
Slackpacking is the concept where hikers carry a small daypack with enough food and water for the day between overnight points, while the trail owner provides porterage and, as is the case with the Chokka Trail, a cooked breakfast, packed lunch and hearty dinner served in guest houses and a resort. You just enjoy the hike with the vision of a cold beer waiting at the end of the day.
The Chokka Trail covers the area around the picturesque Eastern Cape coastal hamlets of St Francis Bay, Port St Francis, Cape St Francis and Oyster Bay. It is an area favoured over many years as a coastal destination by the discerning South African holiday maker and informed tourist from abroad, but otherwise has retained its character of times gone by.
The trail consists of a route of up to 62km over 4 days and 3 nights and hikers are accompanied by either the trail owner or a local hiker on days two, three and four. The trail has a minimum of 4 people and a maximum of 16.
Day 1 Oyster Bay (up to 18km)
You must make your way to reach the Cape St Francis Resort around 11h00 where you park your car for the duration of the trail. The trail owners transfer you to Oyster Bay, a trip of about 45 minutes. Once you have checked into your overnight accommodation at the Oyster Kaya, you will get your lunch pack and set off along the rugged coast towards Thysbaai. The trail is through fynbos and coastal thicket along a shore that is usually totally deserted. You eventually do an about turn and retrace your steps to the Oyster Kaya for a relaxing evening and a meal prepared by your hosts, Lindy and Bokkie Lombard.
Day 2 Oyster Bay to St Francis Bay (18km)
After a hearty breakfast you meet your guide who leads you on a trek to explore the beauty of the dunes and wetlands of the Oyster Bay Dune Bypass System, fondly named the Sand River by locals. To the north you will see the mountains of Baviaanskloof while along your trail you may well come across middens that harken back to past eras of strandlopers of the Khoisan. Once your guide brings you into sight of the sea your hike for the day is nearly over (45min to go). This is potentially the most challenging day of the Chokka Trail, but a unique experience to walk over a sea of sand dunes. Cold refreshments will be your reward once you reach Dune Ridge Country House, your overnight accommodation. If you are clever, you will contact owner Sarah Swanepoel to book you a back massage – well deserved after a day in the desert!
Day 3 Shoreline to Cape St Francis (16 km)
The third day starts with a 3km hike through coastal forest followed by coastal thicket, before you get to the shoreline at Mostertshoek. You follow the spectacular coastal path with its abundance of bird and wildlife. Your guide will help you by showing you the highlights of your walk including the remains of a shipwreck, an unknown grave and more middens. Eventually you arrive at Cape St Francis and pass Sunset Rock, a favourite area of scenic beauty. The last kilometre is along the beach towards the Cape St Francis Resort, your stay for the night. But before you sit down for dinner, the Resort will treat you on with a sunset cruise on the famous St Francis canals.
Day 4 Cape St Francis to St Francis Bay (up to 12km)
The hike starts from the Cape St Francis Resort along the shoreline passing Shark Point to Port St Francis, the home of the local Chokka (Squid) fleet. At Chokka Block, Clive Canter will tell you more about chokka, and you will enjoy a tasting of this local delicacy, before you continue along the Two Harbours Walk till you get to Bruce’s Café, situated at Bruce’s Beauties, the perfect wave made famous in the 1960 iconic surfers movie, The Endless Summer.
After a light lunch you will be transported back to your car and then it is time to say goodbye. For the full St Francis experience, you can opt for a fourth night at Brisan B&B on the Canals.
How fit do I need to be
The distances are quite long but with no technical sections one should manage it without difficulty. It is an ideal hike for older hikers who don’t want to carry the heavy pack any more, or novice hikers who don’t want to buy everything you need for a backpack hike.