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Beautiful Outeniqua Trail – a detailed hiking guide and itinerary

We’ve done many hikes all over the world in the last years; Nepal, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, 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 the 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 the Outeniqua trail in the Garden Route National park. It was our third multi-day hike in South Africa we’d done the Amatola trail near Hogsback and the Cape of Good Hope hike in Cape Town. The Outeniqua hiking trail is with no doubt one of the Garden Route gems and one of our favorite hikes. We hiked the Outeniqua two weeks before we went to walk the Fish River Canyon hike in Namibia. 

The trail is situated inside the Knysna section of the Garden Route National Park. The route is well-balanced, easy to follow, it doesn’t require a 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 doing more multi and day hikes in SANParks all around South Africa.

What to expect on the Outeniqua hike?

  • 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 footprints), easy to follow.
  • The huts are in good condition and have basic facilities. For more details on each hut 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 a 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.
A white footprint on a small pole on the Outeniqua Trail
Route marking on the Outeniqua Trail

How to book the trail?

Booking is necessary the main reason the huts can accommodate a certain number of people. We did the hike in May and booked it just a week or so beforehand. Depending on the season (e.g. December or Easter holiday) the Outeniqua trail can be quite busy. You can make a booking over the phone (044-302-5600) or (044-302-5606) from 7:30 am to 4 pm, weekdays or e-mail [email protected] Two days after you made a booking you have to pay the total amount for the huts. Money paid for the hike can’t be refunded. 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 anymore. 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 10 am and 12 pm so you’ll have enough time to start driving back instead of staying there.

How much does the hike 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 cards don’t pay conservation fees. Note! The 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 the 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 night. In the 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 the Outeniqua Trail. 

Where to stay before and after the hike?

Knysna is the nearest big town to the trail with many accommodation options for different budgets.

Tours and activities in Knysna

If you decide to spend a couple of days in Knysna before or after the hike there are many great activities and things to do in this beautiful town.

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, a 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 there 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 nice to finish the hike at the place your car is parked. You don’t have to drive anywhere else to get it. The Harkerville entrance office looked pretty safe for leaving a car. The parking area is in front of the rangers’ office there are always people there. At Beervlei hut there was nobody when we arrived.

If you don’t feel like driving with your own car all the way to the Outeniqua or if it’s just too far to drive you can fly to George and rent a car at the airport.

How to get to the trail without a car?

You can book a shuttle from Knysna or Plettenberg Bay or any other nearby towns to the trail and back. You can try the same shuttle service we used (Benny’s shuttle) they have pretty decent rates.

If you decide to stop for a couple of days somewhere on the Garden Route we can highly recommend Plettenberg Bay with its amazing adventure activities.

What to pack for the Outeniqua hike?

Clothes

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

Hiking gear

  • A 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. 
  • A water bottle, there are plenty of water sources on the hike. 
  • A headlamp/torch, not all huts have electricity.
  • We didn’t use any water purification tablets or filter and had no problem.
  • A book, you’ll have plenty of time for reading every day.

Cooking gear

  • A 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 depending on how many people you are and how much cooking you want to do. We took 500ml it was more than enough for 7 days for two people. 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. Sometimes wood might be wet it’s better to bring firelighters.
  • Pots, we had one medium-size pot with plastic handles. If you plan to cook on fire take a metal pot.
  • A 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 flavored oat sachets (3 for two people), coffee/tea.
  • Lunch – nut mix, energy bars, biltong/droewors (we always take it on hikes in South Africa).
  • Afternoon tea, on this hike you finish every day quite early it’s nice to have a cup of tea with chocolate or an energy bar while waiting for dinner.
  • Dinner – a can of tuna, 250g of pasta, one tomato sauce sachet (for two people). As an option you can bring ready-made dehydrated meals, they’re quite expensive but easy to make, very light, and come in different flavors.

If you like hiking and live or planning to visit Mother City there are many fantastic hikes in Cape Town with breathtaking views that everyone will enjoy.

Outeniqua Trail hiking itinerary

The main advice, always follow white footprint marks on trees and rocks. There are yellow footprints as well but they mark different trails don’t get confused.

Day 1, Beervlei hut – Windmuelnek hut, 16km, 4,5 hours

We arranged a shuttle for 8 am from Harkerville hut it took about an hour to get to Beervlei hut, the starting point. We couldn’t get a map at any of the huts luckily the trail is very well marked and easy to follow. In fact, we could finally buy a map only on the 5th day at the Millwood information office for ZAR 23.

The first two hours were an 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 quite steep ascend all the way to the hut on the jeep track. Doing hikes up Table Mountain or Lion’s Head trail in Cape Town is a great way to prepare for the first day of the Outeniqua Trail.

A stunning view of the mountains from Windmuelnek hut on the Outeniqua Trail
Breathtaking view from Windmuelnek hut on the first day of the trail

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 a braai grid
  • Wood, axe
  • Outside tables and chairs
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bin
Windmuelnek overnight hut, Outeniqua Trail
Cozy Windmuelnek hut, Outeniqua Trail

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

We started at 9 am and the first hour was steep 500 m 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. After that, the trail goes through fynbos and fern forest. A very beautiful area sometimes looks like decorations to Jurassic Park. The last hour or so to the hut you walk on the gravel road.

Jurassic Park forest on the Outeniqua Trail
Alya on the trail covered in massive ferns

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 fireplace
  • Outside braai place with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs outside
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
A fireplace in Platbos hut
The indoor fireplace in Platbos hut, the second overnight hut on the trail

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 8 am 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. 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 a 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 an old town that was built here during the gold rush in the late nineteenth century.

Stingy Nomads in the forest on the trail
Stingy Nomads in the beautiful Outeniqua Forest

Millwood hut facilities

It’s a big two-story 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 a 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)
  • Inside fireplace
  • Many outside braai places with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Outside tables and chairs
  • Basins
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
Millwood hut, an overnight hut on the hike
Millwood hut, the third overnight hut on the Outeniqua Trail

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

We left the hut at 9 am, the 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.

Mountain scenery on the Outeniqua Trail
When the forest opens you get nice views of the mountains and the surrounding area

Rondebossie hut facilities

  • Bunk beds with mattresses
  • Running water
  • Cold showers
  • Flushing toilets with toilet paper and soap
  • No electricity
  • Inside fireplace
  • Outside braai place with braai grids
  • Wood, axe
  • Tables, chairs inside and outside
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
A dormitory in Rondebossie hut on the trail
The bedroom in Rondebossie overnight hut on the trail

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

Since the hiking day promised to be short we decided to start quite late, at 9.45 am. 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 coffee shop where you can get some sandwiches, cakes, hamburgers, coffee and buy some snacks, pasta, tuna, etc. The shop usually opened till 3 pm. 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!

Community tea room on the Outeniqua Trail
Community Tea Garden at Diepwalle hut, the highlight of the day for hungry hikers

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
  • Outside tables and chairs
  • Basin
  • Washing lines
  • Rubbish bins
A braai deck at an overnight hut on the trail
A braai deck at Diepwalle hut on the Outeniqua Trail

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

Traditionally we started at 9 am 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. For the most part of the day, you walk through the forest with some sections on a jeep track. There is one steep ascent down to the river. The rest of the day is mostly flat with small uphills

Alya standing in the forest
Alya in the pine forest on the Outeniqua Trail

Fisantehoek hut facilities

A big brick house with many rooms and beds on the top of the hill with a 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
A communal dining area in Fisantehoek hut
A dining room with a fireplace in Fisantehoek hut

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

We started this day quite early at 7.30 am. 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.

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

After finishing the hike we started driving back to Cape Town and managed to get home the same day. Hiking the Outeniqua Trail was a great adventure that we really enjoyed.

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Stoney

Monday 25th of January 2021

Great article. We are planning to do the hike at a regular basis. How many of the huts on the trail are accessible by road and which ones? We thought that we could do shorter hikes on the trail or provide food for the hikers at some of the huts. Regards Stoney

TwoHeadedTroll

Tuesday 23rd of February 2021

We are starting our hike with the first night at Millwood hut, so you can definitely "hike in" to the above route at different points.

Stingy Nomads

Monday 25th of January 2021

Hello! The Outeniqua Trail is inside the National Park the huts are run by SANParks they're the only people who are allowed to access the huts by car to service and clean them. Hikers pay a fee to SANParks for staying at the huts. I highly doubt they will allow a private person or a company to access huts and do business like shuttle service, providing food, etc. inside the National park. You have to book the entire hike, you can't just book one hut on the trail and drive people there. Cheers!

Gail

Monday 25th of January 2021

Thank you for the detailed, fun to read, informative write-up! I'm excited and have signed up now for a March 2021 trip after reading. Thanks for the time it took. Much appreciated.

Stingy Nomads

Monday 25th of January 2021

Hello, Gail! Thank you very much for your feedback! I'm sure you'll enjoy the hike. Cheers!

Terrance Jenneker

Sunday 3rd of January 2021

Good day. My name is Terrance Jenneker, Founder of GEO-COMPASS ADVENTURES. I wanted to find out more information on the Outeniqua Trail. I'm looking for an overnite circular trail over a weekend. Is there a possibility that you can assist in this regard. We are about 14 to 16 members in the club and would really appreciate it if you can include pricing and availability.

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 7th of January 2021

Hello, Terrance! We're not a company we don't do bookings or reservations. The best way to find out about the trail is to contact the local office of SANParks. There is a paragraph in the post How to book the trail that contains phone numbers and e-mail addresses that you can use for booking. Good luck!

Ernst Kapp

Monday 10th of August 2020

Always enjoy reading your hike reports. We will be doing Outeniqua end of Sept 2020. I am looking for GPS tracks for Outeniqua. Can you perhaps help please?

Stingy Nomads

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

Hello, Ernst! Thank you for the comment! You can find GPS tracks on Wikiloc.com if you search for the name of the trail. Cheers!

Margie

Wednesday 24th of April 2019

Thank you this was really informative. We are going to do the walk in May this year.

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 25th of April 2019

Hello, Margie! Thank you for the comment! Enjoy the hike, it's really beautiful there. Cheers!

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