Outeniqua trail hiking guide. A hidden gem of the Garden Route

Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Outeniqua trail hiking guide

We’ve done many hikes all over the world in the last two years; Nepal, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Indonesia etc. and finally decided to do more hikes in our own country, South Africa. The diversity of hiking trails and routes in South Africa is amazing, from famous Otter trail to challenging hikes in Richtersveld Transfrontier park, you can hike along the coast, on the beach, over the mountains, through the desert and indigenous forest. This time we chose Outeniqua trail in the Garden Route National park. It was our second multi day hike in South Africa we’d done Amatola trail near Hogsback before. Outeniqua hiking trail is with no doubts one of the Garden Route gems and one of our favorite hikes.

The trail is well-balanced, easy to follow, doesn’t require good fitness level or hiking experience. In fact anybody relatively fit can do this hike just choose your own pace and go. We were pleasantly surprised by the trail conditions and the service level. The trail has signs, distance marks, names etc., the huts are very clean, freshly painted with good ablutions and the park rangers are great very friendly and helpful. After this hike we’re definitely considering of doing more multi and day hikes in SANparks all around South Africa.

Sunrise at Windmuelnek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Sunrise at Windmuelnek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

What to expect from Outeniqua trail?

  • Easy to moderate walk, no special fitness level or experience required. Walk between 3 to 6 hours a day.
  • The trail is well maintained and very well marked (white foot prints), easy to follow.
  • The huts are in good conditions and have basic facilities. For more details on each huts check below.
  • Drinking water is available during the walk and in the huts, its color (light brownish) comes from the soil.
  • The area is safe the trail goes through the National park there are no random people around we saw only rangers and park workers.
  • After heavy rains it can be difficult/impossible to cross the river in some places contact duty rangers. There is a phone number of duty ranger in every hut.  
  • There are two Tea Garden coffee shops at Millwood hut and Diepwalle hut where you can get cooked meals or buy basic things; pasta, tuna, cookies etc. The one at Millwood hut was closed when we were there, to make sure whether they are opened or not inquire when booking the trail.  
    White footprints indicating Outeniqua trail, for the next 7 days they are your guides.
    White footprints indicating Outeniqua trail, for the next 7 days they are your guides.

Where to stay before the hike?

The closest to the starting point town is Sedgefield with many accommodation options. We stayed in Knysna the closest to Harkerville hut town. It’s a popular tourist place there are plenty accommodation options for different budgets. We stayed at Jembjo’s Knysna lodge and backpackers, ZAR 150/US$11  pp for dorm bed. Very nice place, clean, cozy, good location, complementary breakfast.

How to book Outeniqua trail?

Booking is necessary the main reason the huts can accommodate only certain number of people. We did the hike in May and booked it just a week or so beforehand. Depending on a season (e.g. December or school holiday) Outeniqua trail can be quite busy. You can make a booking over the phone 044-302-5600 or 044-302-5606 from 7:30am till 4pm, weekdays or e-mail sanp.reservations@sanparks.org Two days after you made a booking you have to pay a total amount for the huts. Money paid for the huts can’t be refund. The park conservation fee can be paid online or on arrival.

You book huts for specific dates, there are 7 huts (Windmeulnek, Platbos,  Millwood,  Rondebossie,  Diepwalle, Fiesantehoek and Harkerville huts). There used to be 8 but the very first hut Beervlei is not available any more. You book and pay per person per hut. Our advice don’t book Harkerville hut the last one. You can skip it you finish Day 7 early between 10am and 12pm so you’ll have enough time to start driving back instead of staying there.

How much does it cost?

  • Accommodation (7 nights, bunk bed) – ZAR 630/US$48 (ZAR 90 pp per night).
  • Park conservation fee (for SA residents) – ZAR 186/US$14 per person for 7 days (4 days x ZAR 30 and 3 days x ZAR 22). Holders of Wild card don’t pay conservation fee. Note! Conservation fee for foreigners is different, ZAR 60/US$4,5 for SADC passports per day and ZAR 120/US$9 for internationals.

Total: ZAR 816/US$62

The best time to hike Outeniqua trail

We did the hike in May and had great weather; warm but not hot during the day, no rain and a bit chilly at nights. In summer months (December – February) it gets very hot, in winter (June – August) cold and wet. In our opinion spring and autumn are the best time for hiking Outeniqua trail.

Accommodation on the trail

As I mentioned before every night you sleep in a hut. All huts have bunk beds and basic facilities, three (Millwood, Diepwalle and Harkerville) have electricity and hot showers. It makes the hike easy you don’t need to carry a tent or mattress only a sleeping bag.

Where to leave your car?

The route is not circular you start and finish in different places quite far from each other, about 1 hour drive. You have two options; to park your car at Beervlei hut (start of the hike) and take a shuttle back after you finish or to park it at Harkerville hut (the end of the hike) and take a shuttle to the starting point. We drove from Knysna to Harkerville where we parked our car. From here we took a shuttle (we’d booked it 2 days before) to Beervlei, the starting point. The cheapest shuttle we could find was Benny’s shuttles, we paid ZAR 580/US$44 for two not sure if you pay more for more people or just divide it between all. We booked it over the phone without paying any deposit. Contact number 083-728-5181, Benny.

In our opinion it’s always nice to finish a hike at your car that you don’t need to drive anywhere else to get it. Plus Harkerville looked safer for leaving a car the parking area is in front of the park/ranger’s office there are always people here. At Beervlei hut there was nobody when we arrived.

How to get to the trail without a car?

You can take shuttle both ways from/to Knysna or any other nearby town. Try Benny’s shuttle for good rates.

Beautiful Knysna forest. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Beautiful Knysna forest. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

What to pack for Outeniqua hike?

Clothes

  • Comfortable clothes for hiking, we’d recommend to wear long pants and long sleeve shirt to avoid scratches sometimes you walk through long grass and bush.
  • Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen – all must have if hike in summer.
  • Comfortable clothes (e.g. fleece, pants, flip flops) to change, always nice to put on clean clothes after shower.
  • Towel, there will be cold or hot shower every night.
  • Underwear, socks, how many pairs to take is up to you.

Hiking gear

  • Sleeping bag, we had thin summer bags for 11C comfort. If you hike in winter take a warmer one we were a little bit cold one or two nights.
  • Hiking poles, we never use them but many people do there are up and down hills every day on the hike and they can be handy for river crossing as well.
  • Camel pack/water bottle, you can always get water on the hike.
  • Headlamp/torch, not all huts have electricity.
  • We didn’t use any water purification tablets or filter and had no problem.
  • Book, you’ll have plenty of time for reading every day.

Cooking gear

  • Stove, we have a small portable gas stove that we always take hiking, it’s big enough to boil water, make pasta or oats.
  • Gas, depends how many you are and how much cooking you want to do. We took 500ml it was more than enough for 7 days for two people.

Regarding stove and gas there are braai places, wood and braai grids (there was no grid at Diepwalle hut) at every hut so instead of carrying a stove and gas you can make food and boil water on an open fire.

  • Pots, we had one medium size pot with plastic handles. If you plan to cook on a fire take a whole metal pot.
  • Swiss knife.
  • Cutlery, we had bamboo forks and spoons.
  • Cups/mugs.
  • Lighter/matches and blitz not at all huts there was dry material to start a fire.

Food

To be honest we were a bit hungry every day and regretted not packing more food. Here is our food list;

  • Breakfast – instant flavoured oat sachets (3 for two people), coffee/tea.
  • Lunch – nut mix, billtong/droewors (we always take it when hike in South Africa).
  • Afternoon tea, on this hike you finish every day quite early it’s nice to have a cup of tea with energy bar while waiting for dinner.
  • Dinner – a can of tuna, 250g of pasta, one tomato sauce sachet (for two people).
    Sometimes the trail joins the jeep track for a short while and then back into the forest. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Sometimes the trail joins the jeep track for a short while and then back into the forest. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Outeniqua trail hiking guide

The main advice, always follow white foot print marks! There are yellow foot prints as well but they mark different trail.

Day 1, Beervlei hut (starting point) – Windmuelnek hut, 16km, 4,5 hours

We arranged a shuttle for 8am from Harkerville hut it took about an hour to get to Beervlei hut, the starting point. We couldn’t get a map at none of the huts luckily the trail is very well marked and easy to follow. In fact we could finally buy a map only on 5th day at Millwood information office for ZAR23.

First two hours was easy walk through the forest with many Knysna Turaco around. After you start a steep descend to the river. Advice! Fill your water here there won’t be any other chance till you reach the hut. Here at the river we had lunch.

After that you start a long and sometimes steep ascend all the way to the hut on the jeep track.

Windmuelnek hut, fantastic location and wonderful views! Our favorite hut on the tril.
Windmuelnek hut, fantastic location and wonderful views! Our favorite hut on the trail.
Early morning view from the stoop. Above the clouds! Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Above the clouds! Early morning view from the stoop. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Windmuelnek hut facilities

Wooden hut amazing location on the top of the hill overlooking two valleys, our favorite hut ever! We regretted not bringing meat or wors with us it would be perfect for the first night.

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Cold showers
  • Dry toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • No electricity
  • Outside braai place with braai grid
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs outside
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bin
    Night 1, Windmuelnek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide.
    Night 1, Windmuelnek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide.

Day 2, Windmuelnek hut – Platbos hut, 17km, 6 hours

We started at 9am and first hour was steep 500m down all the way to the river. Here don’t forget to refill your water before you start going up. There will be one or two more streams but quite far. The up is steep and long took us about an hour. There is an alternative route that goes . After that the path goes through fynbos and fern forest. Very beautiful area sometimes looks like decorations to Jurassic park. Last hour or so to the hut you walk on the gravel road.

Every day you walk through beautiful Knysna forest. Absolutely magic feeling!
Every day you walk through beautiful Knysna forest. Absolutely magic feeling!

Platbos hut facilities

A big wooden hut with three bedrooms can accommodate about 30 people. The hut itself and the area around is well maintained; clean and neat.

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Cold showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • No electricity
  • Inside fire place
  • Outside braai place with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs outside
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Night 2, Platbos hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Night 2, Platbos hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Day 3, Platbos hut – Millwood hut, 16km, 5 hours

We started at 8.45 the according to the official info you supposed to leave before 8am and the walking time for the day 7-8 hours. It took us 5 hours to finish and we didn’t even walk fast.

To start you walk 500m back on the 4×4 track till you get the right turn off sign to Millwood hut. The most part of the trail goes through the forest where it’s cool and humid. There will be some moderate ups and downs during the day but the main one is right in the beginning after an hour walk; first all the way down to the river and then up. You basically repeat this exercise every day.

On the way you can stop at pool for lunch and swim it’s 100m out of the way just follow the sign “Waterfall” in the surrounding area you can see many old gold mines. About 2km before the hut there are rests of old town that was built here during the gold rush in the late nineteenth century.

River banks is a perfect spot for lunch or snack. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
River banks is a perfect spot for lunch or snack. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Millwood hut facilities

Big two storey cottage, located close to Millwood Goldmine museum and Mother Holly’s Tea Room. To our big disappointment both we closed, we had big hopes for this coffee shop to get nice coffee and to stock a bit our food supplies. Local rangers said it will be reopened soon.

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Hot showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • Electricity and outlets (in the toilets)
  • Fire place inside
  • Many outside braai places with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs outside
  • Basins
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Night 3, Millwood hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Night 3, Millwood hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Day 4, Millwood hut – Rondebossie hut, 17km, 5 hours

We left the hut at 9am, first hour you walk on a jeep track then the trail turns into the forest. One more hour walking down and you reach the river it’s a nice spot for snack/rest break before the coming up. The uphill with some rock and ladder climbing took us an hour, it’s probably the most difficult uphill on the trail. After that you walk again on the jeep track first and then last 2km easy walk through the forest till you reach Rondebossie hut.

Walking through the "fern jungle"! Very humid and green! Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Walking through the “fern jungle”! Very humid and green! Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Rondebossie hut facilities

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Cold showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • No electricity
  • Fire place inside
  • Outside braai place with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs inside and outside
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Night 4, Rondebossie hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Night 4, Rondebossie hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Day 5, Rondebossie hut – Diepwalle hut, 13km, 4 hours

Since the hiking day promised to be short we decided to start quite late, at 9.45am. Right in the beginning you walk down to the river to start a long steep up from there. Jonker mount is quite an up once on the top check the view over the area. The up took us about 30-40 min. After that you go mostly down following the hill and then a nice walk through a beautiful section of the forest. Huge ferns, giant trees very green, humid and a bit chilly. Once out of the forest the last hour to the hut almost all the way on a 4×4 track.

At Diepwalle you’ll get a nice surprise a community coffee shop where you can get some sandwiches, cakes, hamburgers, coffee and buy some snacks, pasta, tuna etc. The shop usually opened till 3pm. You can preorder a meal (at least 24 hours before) that will be ready when you arrive. The menu with prices you can find inside Rondebossie hut (on the wall). Phone for booking 044-382-9762/3. We had a really big lunch here and were not hungry for the first time in 5 days!

The scenery on the hike changes all the time; from forest to top of the hills, from river banks to fern jungle.
The scenery on the hike changes all the time; from forest to top of the hills, from river banks to fern jungle.
Community Tea Garden, food place/coffee shop at Diepwalle hut.
Community Tea Garden, food place/coffee shop at Diepwalle hut.

Diepwalle hut facilities

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Hot showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • Electricity and outlets
  • Outside braai place, you can even buy braai packs at the shop but we didn’t see a braai grid.
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs outside
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Nigth 5, Diepwalle hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Nigth 5, Diepwalle hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Day 6, Diepwalle hut – Fiesantehoek hut, 16km, 5 hours

Traditionally we started at 9am the trail in the beginning overlaps with Elephant walk (a day hike) and goes through the forest once home to Knysna elephants. After an hour or so the trails split. Most part of the day you walk through the forest with some sections on a jeep track. There is one steep down to the river half way the rest mostly flat with short uphill.

Having lunch on Day 6. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Having lunch on Day 6. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Fisantehoek hut facilities

A big brick house with many rooms and beds on the top of the hill with beautiful view over the area.

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • No showers only bath with cold water tap inside the hut
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper. One inside toilet
  • No electricity
  • Inside braai place with grid
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs inside
  • Basins
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Night 6, Fisantehoek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
    Night 6, Fisantehoek hut. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Day 7, Fisantehoek hut – Harkerville hut, 12km, 3 hours

We started this day quite early at 7.30am. It was the easiest and shortest walk on the hike mostly through the forest with some insignificant ups and downs. It took us less than 3 hours to get to Harkerville hut we finished just in time before the rain. We booked Harkerville hut but decided not to stay there and rather keep on driving back home. The hut is nice but not really remote right next to the information office and parking spot.

Walking through Knysna forest on the last day. Outeniqua trail hiking guide
Walking through Knysna forest on the last day. Outeniqua trail hiking guide

Harkerville hut facilities

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Hot showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • Electricity and outlets
  • Braai place with grid
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs
  • Basins
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
    Harkerville hut, the end of te trail.
    Harkerville hut, the end of te trail.


Shorter hiking routes and MTB trail

There are plenty of one day hikes and MTB trails for more details go HERE.

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