Hello dear voyagers! In this post, we introduce you to one of our most loved places in South Africa being home to one of our favourite hikes: Robberg Nature Reserve in the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay. Along the famous Garden Route, a mere 8 km south is this beautiful paradise, part of the Cape Nature reserves.
The Robberg Nature Reserve hike is well known and is treasured by locals and visitors alike. We have hiked Robberg numerous times, even making day trips to Plett from PE or staying the weekend in the town; making the hike an epic micro-adventure or a fun weekend getaway fitting in with your time and budget opportunities.
Our love for the hike and the photos we have shared has encouraged friends to join the hike with us and experience its unique magnificence for themselves. This phenomenal peninsula is one of Earth’s extraordinary meetings of terrestrial and aquatic worlds, forming a special place in our hearts and yours too if you decide to hike it.
Robberg Nature Reserve Hike
Before entering the reserve, there is a boom where you pay a conservation entrance fee. Once through the boom gate, you drive up onto the peninsula and into the parking lot. From the parking lot, you have the mighty cliffs and crashing waves with the expanse of the ocean stretching to the horizon. The scene of the mountain meeting ocean is so exquisite that you will want to get going on the hike right away.
The Robberg hike has three options, with varying durations and distances. Essentially there is one large circular path, with smaller tracks within:
- To the Gap (2km, easy): From the car park you walk to the gap in the peninsula and then back to the car park. There is a boardwalk that you can explore the Gap on. There is also the option to climb up to the top of the Gap edge.
- To Witsands and the Island (4 km, moderate): From the car park you continue past the Gap until you reach the white sand break. There you head down to the Island to explore and then back to the car park. The island is optional.
- To the Peninsula head (11 km, strenuous): From the car park, you continue past the Gap and Witsands break. You walk down to the peninsula edge and back along the other side of the peninsula towards the island and eventually back to the car park. If you have not reached Witsands before 14:00 you should not proceed because you will not finish the hike before the reserve closes.
We have hiked the second and third options (the first option naturally being a part of the longer hikes).
1. The Gap
This hike can be started in the morning or early afternoon. The walk to the Gap is easy as there are no steep ascents or descents. Boardwalks cover the Gap, with viewing decks and benches. You can see both sides of the peninsula, including views of the Island and its beach.
There is a pathway to the Island and beach. We found this route better to come back on when hiking from Witsands. At the Gap, there is also a path to the top of the ridge. The views from the top are worth the quick, steep hike up.
2. Witsands and The Island
Witsands (said vit-sands, meaning white sand) is the patch of sand on the peninsula that can be seen from Plett beaches. This patch of sand can be a feature you pass you the way to the peninsula head or follow the big sand dune down to the Island and beach. There are signposts to the head, to the beach, and about Witsands with a map.
The hike to Witsands is moderate because it is manageable despite the steep uphill climbs to the ridge / top of the peninsula that get your heart pumping! Once at the top, there is a viewing deck with benches where you can recover and have a moment in nature. On top of the ridge, the path is easy going being mostly flat ground walking. The path becomes sandier, especially when getting closer to the Witsands patch. Walking on sand is more tiresome but still very doable.
There are caves and overhangs that you pass along the way, some big and some small. Moments, when you can imagine life in caves: sheltering from the sun or wind or rain and falling asleep to the view of stars.
There, are seal colonies around the peninsula. There are seal signposts along the hike to let you know when you are near them. You will hear them, see them, and smell them (seriously, they are pretty stinky!).
The hike to Witsands and back can be a looped route if you choose to go down to the Island beach and back along the other side of the peninsula. We have always the loop option as opposed to hiking back the same path.
To The Island
Walking down the sand dunes and onto the beach towards the Island brings a change of scenery to the hike. The cooling, salty breeze greets you like an old friend welcoming you to the next part of the adventure.
There is a boardwalk around the entire island that you walk on. You do, however, need to climb up to the boardwalk steps and climb down rocks to get back to the beach after. There are signs warning of freak waves that you need to be careful of. The wind on the Island can be chilly even when the sun is shining.
From the island, we saw seals playing in the water and saw whales in the deeper ocean. There are benches and viewing decks. We recommend taking some time to look out over the ocean and absorb its beauty.
We have not personally swum at the beaches by the Island but we have seen fellow hikers swimming. A word of warning if you do want to swim: watch out for rip tides (and sharks!).
Back to The Gap
The walk back to the Gap is along the foot of the peninsula cliff. The waves splash up onto the often wet the rocky pathway so care must be taken here. The wind can really blow along here as well (there are signs warning of the strong winds).
From the Gap, you go back the same way you came, towards the parking lot. This is the quickest route back but you can climb back up the sand dune to Witsands and trace your steps back that way.
3. To the Peninsula head
This hike took us 5h30, with short breaks for snacks or to catch our breath and enjoy the panorama along the way. We always do the hike as a looped route, walking along one side of the peninsula and around to the other.
Our favourite way is to walk straight along the warm side of the peninsula (looking onto Plett beaches) and around to the cool side, where the Island is. This route keeps us warm in the morning and cool in the afternoon sun.
We ate our packed lunch on the edge as the lapping waves entranced us. The sun kept us warm and the rocks protected us from the wind. Take a little picnic or packed lunch and have a break here.
The views of the ocean and bays are really incredible and the hike along the peninsula to the head along the warm side is not too strenuous. The most strenuous part for us was heading back towards the island from the peninsula edge. The way back is along the rocks at the bottom of the peninsula (be careful of waves during high tides). This side of the peninsula is in the shadow and the wind is strong – it can become very cold. Now walking along the bottom of the peninsula, you begin hiking to halfway up. This is where it becomes difficult.
There are no boardwalks or climbing aids here. You hold onto rocks or vegetation to help pull yourself up or to stop you from falling down. Once up and on a path things are easier again. We found some rocks in the sun to stop and watch the seals playing in an enclosed rock pool. Soon after you are making another ascent. Eventually, there is a wooden staircase up and down the one section of the trail. The Island is coming closer and closer! Exploring the Island is optional. The first time we hiked, we did not explore it. The path back to the car park from the beach is the same as that of the second hike option.
Signs to look out for
Follow the Seal signs to stay on the right path throughout the Robberg Nature Reserve hike. There are signposts at the Gap, Witsands and the Island. NSRI posts with emergency numbers are along the entire 11 km hike. There are signs warning of the wind and wet surfaces.
Animals to look out for
There are seals and sharks in the water below so be sure to keep an eye out for them while on the Robberg Nature Reserve hike. Sunbathing on some rocks will be lizards and there are birds to see too. Dassies call the peninsula home so look at rock outcrops because the little animals love catching some sun.
There was a powerful and massive fire that spread through the Knysna and Plett area in 2017. A small part of the peninsula was caught in the fire but most of it was safe.
The only toilet facilities on the peninsula are at the car park.
Why is the peninsula a nature reserve? The rocks of the peninsula have been dated back to the breakup of Gondwanaland. There was evidence of stone age inhabitants in some of the caves along the peninsula. The peninsula is a national monument.
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