Hike the Chokka Trail near St Fran­cis

Hike the Chokka Trail and you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence an abun­dance of fresh air, dunes as wide as in the Sa­hara, comfy ac­com­mo­da­tion and cala­mari fresh from the ocean you’re walk­ing next to.

go! - - Contents - WORDS PIERRE STEYN PIC­TURES RONEL STEYN

I’m on my hands and knees on a sand dune in the Kouga re­gion. Kouga is an old Khoi word that means “place of abun­dance” and the re­gion stretches roughly from the Bavi­aan­skloof to the sea­side vil­lage of Cape St Fran­cis. Go to Google Maps, switch to satel­lite view and you’ll see a long, thin dune field be­tween Oys­ter Bay and St Fran­cis Bay, wedged be­tween coastal forests to the north and south. You can’t ac­cess this place in a ve­hi­cle – you have to walk. At first there seems to be noth­ing “abun­dant” about the dunes that we’ve been clam­ber­ing up and down for hours. It’s easy to imag­ine be­ing lost in the Namib or the Sa­hara. But get down on all fours – like the hik­ers are cur­rently do­ing – and you’ll see how much life ex­ists in this unique ecosys­tem. It was a gi­ant ze­bra agate snail that ini­tially caused us to pause. The snail sailed re­gally, even rev­er­en­tially, past the sun-bleached shells of its an­ces­tors. Now that we’ve stopped, we no­tice other things, like the spoor of a honey badger that must have taken a short cut over the damp sand ear­lier this morn­ing, and the count­less tiny foot­prints made by a troop of vervet mon­keys that must have scur­ried nois­ily back into the milk­woods and num-num shrubs. Most amaz­ingly, right at our feet, we see small bones, shells, shards of clay pots and sliv­ers of stone axes – a Khoi mid­den that has been buried un­der the shift­ing sand for cen­turies, only to be unearthed by the west­erly wind that blows through here. Each mem­ber of the hik­ing party takes a close look at this treasure with­out dis­turb­ing it, then we stand up, dust our­selves off and move on. The sand will cover it again and it will re­main hid­den for 10, 20 or 100 years, un­til the next group of hik­ers “dis­cov­ers” it afresh. You can’t help but think of all the peo­ple who have wan­dered through here for thou­sands of years, from one place to eat and sleep to the next; just like we’re do­ing on the Chokka Trail…

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