The cliffs of Robberg Nature Reserve fall off sharply on either side of the winding wooden footbridge traversing its plateau. Measuring 4.1 kilometers in length, the elevated peninsula juts abruptly away from Western Cape’s mainland leaving it all but exposed to the elements of the Indian Ocean. To the north, a view of calm Plettenberg Bay in front of the arid Outeniqua Mountains from which we had come only a few days prior as we were driving the Garden Route. To the south, the unruly beauty of undeveloped coastline as the water crashes against a breaker of rocks and sand.
The dramatic landscapes we enjoyed during our Witsand Circuit hike through Robberg Nature Reserve still stand out as some of the most varied and spectacular of our travels yet. We only wished we had arrived much earlier in the day, with picnic in hand, to experience more of the wild beauty that this park has to offer.
Robberg Nature Reserve Witsand Circuit Hike
Our Robberg Nature Reserve hike was off to a late start (having arrived to Plettenberg Bay mid-afternoon after walking with the elephants of Knysna Elephant Park). With only a few hours until park closure and ominous rain clouds looming overhead, we set out on the moderate Witsand Circuit trail. Five and half kilometers didn’t sound like much of a trek – with more arduous South American trails under our belts, like our Colca Canyon Trek, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and our Huayna Potosi Climb we figured this would be (figuratively) a walk in the park. What we hadn’t anticipated was the undulating climbing and falling of the mostly sand covered trail as we looped our way around the north side of the peninsula and down the south via the Witsand dune.
Traversing the north side of the Peninsula first, we walked along the rocky slope to a ridge where we could start to smell and hear, but unfortunately not see, the Cape Fur seals who are notorious for spending their days lazily basking in the sun. Other wildlife commonly found along this stretch of trail include squawking black backed gulls and the rare blue duiker, Western Cape’s smallest antelope.
Eventually we reached the giant sand dune for which the Whitsand Circuit trek is named. This huge dune, stretching from the northern top of the ridge down to the southernmost point at oceans edge, has been created by trade winds blowing up slope. We were glad not to be going the opposite direction on the trail which would have required a very slow slog up steep sand. (If you are headed out on this trek, make sure you start to the left of the circuit rather than the right.) Once at the bottom, we could enjoy stunning beaches to both sides in complete solitude.
The last leg of our trek had us scaling the rocky seaside to return to the elevated wood walkway at The Gap from which we started. This was by far the most adventurous leg of the trail, at times requiring great balance to maneuver over sea-covered rocks during high tide and up chain linked ladders. We climbed for the better part of 45-minutes back to The Gap, enjoying stunning views along the way.
Taking our final steps back to our motorcycle in the car park we reflected on our last two and a half hours of hiking.The scenery was ever changing but always beautiful, the trail was adventurous enough to keep us on our toes and the reserve was pristine and unspoiled, as it will hopefully remain for a long time to come. Robberg is a peninsula of paradise we can’t wait to return to someday, hopefully the next time with a picnic packed for the Point trail and a bunk reserved at the Fountain Shack.
Robberg Peninsula Hiking – Three Options
If you are headed to Robberg Nature Reserve for a hike, you have three different trail options, all of which are circular trails building in length and level of difficulty.
Gap Circuit – 2.1 kilometers
The 2.1 km Gap Circuit is the shortest route on Robberg Nature Reserve and usually takes little over half an hour to complete. The trail follows the raised wooden platform to a break in the plateau known as The Gap which takes you down to the southern ocean’s edge for some time at the beach.
Duration: 30 minutes
Witsand Circuit – 5.5 kilometers
The Witsand Circuit is an undulating circular trail on Robberg’s northern ridge looking out over a seal colony. From the top of the ridge, follow the large sand dune down to a boardwalk leading to a . From here, the route back via the Gap is easy stroll to the parking area.
Duration: 2 hours
The Point Circuit – 9.2 kilometers
The 9.2 km Point Circuit is the longest trail on Robberg Nature Reserve and is not recommended for young kids due to challenging trails and tidal patterns. The trail takes you to the Cape Seal Lighthouse, the highest navigational light on the South African coastline (at only 146 meters above sea level). It is here at the tip of the peninsula that you can see cormorants and gannets. Be aware of the tidal schedule before you go and try to time your hike with low tide to get a glimpse at the marine life living within the rock pools. Take a detour (only 20-minutes) to see archeological site Nelson Bay Cave.
Duration: 4 hours
If You Go: Robberg Nature Reserve
What: The beautifully pristine Robberg Nature Reserve just south of Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s Garden Route offers a choice of three different circular hiking routes on the Robberg Penninsula increasing in difficulty and distance. The longest route, The Point Circuit, takes roundtrip between four and five hours. Beware that this trek can be dangerous when the tides are high and is not recommended for younger children.
Where: Driving the N2 highway towards Plettenberg Bay take the Piesang Valley turn-off. Follow for 3km until you get to Robberg Road. Continue for 4kms towards the Plettenberg Airport. Turn left at the “Robberg” sign and continue until you reach the entrance gate.
When: From October thru April, park hours are between 7:00am and 8:00pm. From May thru September, park hours are between 8:00am and 6:00pm. The possibility of rainfall should be expected between August and November.
How: If you’d like to stay in the Robberg Nature Reserve overnight, the very basic Fountain Shack (sleeping a maximum of eight) is a small hut available for rent. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 021 483 0190 for pricing and availability.
Cost: Robberg Nature Reserve charges a 40 Rand (US$2.60) per person conservation fee to help maintain the park.