Set just behind the coastal plateau of the Garden Route, the Swartberg Mountain Range is magnificent, but awesome.
The trails criss-crosses the area and is well worth the effort - it is an eco destination of a different kind - but come and experience it yourselves!
(See also Encounter Magazine's comprehensive guide on Hiking
in South Africa.)
The trail is one way, 60 km, and takes 5 days to complete. Various shorter variations of the route are possible.
You must obtain a permit from Cape Nature Conservation. A map with information is available on request.
There are overnight huts at Gouekrans, Bothashoek and Ou Tol, each with 30 bunks, outdoor toilets, showers, braai facilities and wood. The main attractions include magnificent mountain scenery, pristine mountain fynbos, spectacular rock formations, birds and animals.
Hikers must carry their own water between huts - temperatures on the mountain are extreme - the weather is very changeable - be prepared for cloud, rain and even snow any time of the year. There is a limit of 30 people for the trail.
The Swartberg Hiking Trail consists of a web of interlinking loops east of the Swartberg Pass with entry and exit points at the Cango Caves, De Hoek, the top of the Swartberg Pass and the north side of the pass, together with a route up Scholtzkloof to the top of the pass.
A large number of 1 to 5-day routes can be selected. Hikers should plan their route beforehand, using the Hiking Trail map. A special warning to prospective hikers on the Swartberg: you must be prepared and properly equipped for rapid and extreme changes in the weather.
The trail, a spectacular, twisted and contorted mass of Table Mountain sandstone, was opened to the hiking public in 1987. Lying mostly between 2 000 and 3 000 m above sea level, it traverses rocks that are 250 million years old, formed during the Cretaceous Period.
Since then nature's forces rain, wind and earth movements have sculpted these once flat-lying sediments into a landscape not easily rivalled by those on other trails.
The impressive diversity and richness of the varied fynbos and Karoo flora on these slopes are equally magnificent. The soil is poor in nutrients and also shallow, and the slopes themselves are steep. Yet proteas, leucadendrons, ericas, watso-nias, gladioli, disas, Haemanthus species and many lesser known, rare plants abound.
The animal life is also interesting. Colourful lizards delight the trailist, while 11 species of snake keep you alert for these sunbathers on rocks and paths. The rarer birds include the booted eagle, martial eagle, Cape eagle owl, Victorin's warbler and protea seedeater.
Sunbirds and sugarbirds, rock jumpers and black eagles are often spotted.
Mammals most likely to be seen by hikers include the dassie, klipspringer and baboon, although leopard, otters, jackal, aardvark, kudu, steenbok, grysbok and grey rhebok are also present. There is also a trail in Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), west of the Swartberg Pass.