Readers' World

Slackpacking along SA's calamari coast

Sunday Times reader Judy Bryant has a delicious time walking the Chokka Trail, from Oyster Bay to Cape St Francis

08 October 2017 - 00:00 By Judy Bryant

Squid is known as "chokka" in my Eastern Cape home province - and it's also the name of a 65km hiking trail between Oyster Bay, St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis. It encompasses stunning coastal, dune, wetland and forest vegetation within 40,000ha of privately-owned land.
After meeting Esti Stewart, the woman who helped establish the trail, my daughter and I were keen to experience it.
After we'd landed in Port Elizabeth, we set out for our hike from Thuysbaai, initially following vehicle tracks through dense coastal bush. Soon we descended to long stretches of beach and pristine pools, with plump gulls and red-beaked oyster catchers for company.
Stewart, who established the trail with local conservationist Maggie Langlands, now conducts the hikes while husband Eric handles logistics and local lodges ensure warm hospitality.SAILING THE SAND RIVER
Day two challenged us with a mobile dune field, constantly shifted by wind and water. Locals call it the Sand River.
"It changes from week to week, and mapping, marking or even describing this route seems impossible," said Stewart. The first 3km presented steep dunes: we trudged up and slid down the other side.On our fourth and final day, we headed for Cape St Francis across a picture-perfect beach, white sand matching the creamy lighthouse, blue sea blending into azure sky. Tracks revealed early morning visitors of Cape clawless otters.
We strolled past mounds of shells and small bays (ideal for a dip), then arrived at Port St Francis. Upstairs at the Balobi seafood market and deli, we tasted local versus imported calamari.
We then took a canal cruise through St Francis Bay, which felt rather like the local equivalent of a Hollywood bus tour, as we glided past the enormous, white-walled, thatched or black-roofed holiday homes of the rich and famous.Over a ploughman's platter at a restaurant overlooking the canal, Stewart recalled how she had guided many hikers, from families spanning three generations to a group of women in their 70s.
"We've planned this trail for the modern hiker - a business person, a busy family, friends wanting to enjoy a trip together. You can just take off a few days, fly in and out, and we'll take care of the rest."Share your travel experiences with us in Readers' World and you could win R1,000
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