Three picturesque fishing villages, a rugged coastline, sand dunes as far as the eye can see, a tidal river, protected fynbos, wetlands and a visit to South Africa’s only privately owned working harbour. These are the ingredients that make up the Chokka Trail, a slack packing trail through St Francis Bay, Port St Francis, Cape St Francis and Oyster Bay. This is the best possible opportunity to see and experience just how beautiful the area is – on foot, at your own pace and with overnight accommodation at guesthouses. The Chokka Trail starts and finishes at the Cape St Francis Links where you can leave your vehicle safely parked for the duration of the trail.
From the Links you will be driven to Oyster Bay, a trip of around 45 minutes, where you will check in to the Oyster Bay Beach Lodge, your accommodation for the first night. Lunch packs will be provided and you can set off on your warm-up walk. The full walk is around 14km but you can do as much or as little as you like, because it is an out-and-back trail along the coast to Thysbaai (if you have time and you can’t resist adding a beach walk, please note that the bay is 2km long). We suggest you walk out for no more than two and a half hours before turning back. The trail follows the rugged coast line, through fynbos and low coastal thicket. It is peaceful and uninhabited, with only an occasional fisherman to be seen and the crashing waves and birdsong to be heard. At low tide you can see ancient fish traps in a rock gulley, built over two thousand years ago by the KhoiSan. This walk will soothe your spirit and ease your body into the trail mode – and add extra enjoyment to the sundowners and dinner being prepared for you.
After a hearty breakfast, you pick up your lunch pack, fill enough water bottles to last you at least 6 hours and set off down the road, leaving your luggage to be transported to your next overnight stop. You leave the road after about half a kilometre, turning through a security gate onto private property and entering another world. Peace and tranquility take over as you walk through the bush, enjoying the birdsong in the coastal thicket on either side of you. The track leads you to the dunes of the Sand River, a mobile dune-field mobilised by wind and water. The prevailing westerly shapes the dunes, which slope gradually up in front of you and then drop steeply. Your challenge is whether to slide down or traverse! Remember to look across the countryside to the mountains in the north, the beautiful Baviaanskloof range, and look around you for evidence of ancient cultures – a feature of the dune-field is the KhoiSan shell middens that you will come across.
When you first see the sea in the distance, you will have passed the ten kilometre mark for the day. You may be wondering where the water is, if this is a river? It flows into the dune-field from the farmlands on the northern side, at around the fourteen kilometre distance. Just a little further and you will have completed the day’s walk, at the temporary bridge. Enjoy sitting back and being driven to your overnight accommodation at Cape St Francis Resort, where you can have a hot shower and a welcome sundowner, well earned.
We will drive you to the start of the third day’s walk, about half an hour from the Resort, and set you down at a boom gate in the heart of the coastal thicket. Enjoy walking through this special landscape, filled with bird calls, and keep your eyes open for grey duiker, mongoose, porcupine quills, bushbuck or caracal. A kilometre’s walking brings you back to the coast and here you turn left and head east again along the coastal track, through the Coastal Cradle of Humankind. The trail meanders through a small group of holiday cottages at Mostertshoek and along the Wild Side, so named for the untamed sea that crashes onto the rocks in spectacular fashion the length of the trail. Look for otters in the rock pools and keep your eyes open for Oystercatchers, Kelp Gulls, Terns, and Turnstones.
After nearly six kilometres you will arrive at the village of Cape St Francis, passing Sunset Rock on your right. Sunset Rock is a favourite whale watching lookout point as well as a photographer’s dream for sunset seascapes. As you near the lighthouse you will see a giant penguin: this marks the SANCCOB African Penguin Rehabilitation Centre where the team is doing invaluable work to assist injured, sick or oiled birds – they will be expecting you for a visit. From the lighthouse the trail heads for the beautiful sweep of sandy beach of Cape St Francis and then round the point along the bay to Port St Francis. This is a working harbour for the chokka fleet, hake and pilchard vessels as well as for sea-going yachts and leisure craft of all shapes and sizes. The local NSRI is also based here, doing sterling work off this very unpredictable coast. The restaurant inside the Port Hole Building, On the Harbour, will have your calamari tasting ready, local chokka as well as imported squid prepared in various ways. If the weather allows, you will also visit a working chokka boat.
From the Port you will follow the Two Harbours Walk to the Granny’s Pool, again following the sea’s margin and keeping an eye out for dolphins, seals and – between July and December – whales. This is the last three kilometre stretch of the day, ending at the Community Garden and the world famous surfing spot Bruce’s Beauties – that fickle surfing wave that only breaks when conditions are just right. At the Granny’s Pool (you will see the Mediterranean building style of Santareme is now replaced by the unique St Francis Bay’s black roofs and white walls) you will be picked up and taken to Brisan on the Canals, your accommodation for the night and host for a cruise on the famous canals of St Francis Bay (weather permitting).
Your final day starts with a boat trip, along the canals to the Kromme River. Here you say goodbye to Brisan and walk along the public footpath up the river bank. You will come to your old friend, the Sand River, which opens into the Kromme at
this point, and here you turn left and walk up the meandering river bed, enjoying the solitude and the coastal mosaic thicket on either side. The Sand River leads you to a side gate into St Francis Links, your six kilometre marker. A friendly Links staff member will let you in and show you the start of the Links secret trails, a network of paths winding through the coastal forest and wetlands, frequented by birds and small animals. Spend as much time as you like exploring these peaceful glades, for this is nearly the end of the trail. Eventually you will find the road and head for the clubhouse – the short cut gives you a glimpse or two of the outstanding Jack Nicklaus course. This route takes you back to the car park where you left your vehicle on day one, but before the trail is completely over there is time for a Santa Burger in the clubhouse and a last look at St Francis.