The natural beauty of the Garden Route is unparalleled, and none more so than with a visit to Nature’s Valley.
We love driving the winding road lined with bright yellow fynbos foliage that takes you down into the forested village where the homes, shops and eateries are set amidst the trees.
With a dawning of a brilliant bright blue morning we chose to head outdoors for the day and, after a quick pit stop at our favourite farm stall in South Africa, we stocked our supplies and met up with friends for our hike.
About Natures Valley
The picturesque village of Natures Valley lies in the heart of the Tsitsikamma forest – a dense indigenous forest bordered by beach and with a beautiful mountain backdrop.
How to Hike to Salt River
The hike from Natures Valley village to the mouth of the Salt River, a secluded beach just west of Nature’s Valley, can only be accessed on foot. It is an easy hike for a family or group of friends to enjoy together. The scenery on this short walk is very rewarding for very little effort so it is a great way to take in beautiful views of Nature’s Valley, the dunes, coastal vegetation, estuary, rocky coastline and long stretch of sandy beach.
Park at the Natures Valley village and follow the boardwalk down onto the beach. Turn right for about 100m until you see the sign post that points you up to the right. Then head up!
The initial stretch is something of a climb to the saddle of the hill. The route is well marked and not difficult to follow otherwise and the ascent worth it for the views from the top. From there one descends down fairly steep steps and heads through coastal bush to the estuary of the Salt River.
Alternative option: (Check the tide table first to avoid getting too wet)
You can do the hike in either direction, however, doing it in a clockwise direction means you get to the damaged tricky coastal section of the trail and can decide if you’re prepared to tackle it or if you would prefer to double back and do the inland section of the trail as a there-and-back.
At high tide the waves could be uncomfortably close on the coastal section and the beach at the river mouth may be submerged at the one side meaning wet feet when you arrive!
To take this alternative route continue along the beach until the sand ends and walk along the rocky shoreline. Sections of the route are tricky to navigate, and soon you will come to a section which has been damaged by a landslide. It is passable but only in dry weather and with great care!
The trail then heads up over the hill just before you reach the mouth itself. It then drops steeply down to the sandy curved beach of the bay at the river mouth. To head back via the first route head around the shore toward the river mouth until you find the trail going up the hill into the bush. This slowly climbs until it reaches the ridge-line, heading all the while back towards Nature’s Valley beach where you saw the sign as you set out earlier.
We loved the walk up through the forest, there are a few essential stops along the way to take in the majestic view over the entire valley and then head up over the hill and down a number of steps towards the Salt River mouth where you can enjoy your pre-packed picnic while listening to the incredible bird life (keep your eyes peeled for the elusive Narina Trogon (Knysna Loerie) in the forest.
Once you have your feet on the sand you can choose to enjoy the beach, take a cut across to the rocks on the other side of the river mouth or set up your picnic on the sandy river banks and enjoy the clear sparkling water and beautiful bird calls from the surrounding forest.
If you happen to time your visit to coincide with low tide, head back via the coastal cliff route, but be warned that there are some rocky outcrops on the hike that need a fair amount of scrambling to surmount and a few treacherous moments above the crashing waves left me feeling a bit nervous (and could be especially nerve-wracking for those attempting this walk with younger kids!)
The steep sections near the previous landslide are quite hairy and require some concentration and an ability to overcome any fear of heights. The stretch is only a few hundred metres long, but is definitely the most exhilarating portion of the route. The hand rails on this section are currently damaged, so it is not advised to take this path until this has been mended. The coastal section is also battered by wind and swell making it wet and slippery, so be sure to be alert and cautious on this stretch!
This hike is fairly easy on the legs and there is ample time to drink in the views and admire the fynbos, proteas, candlewood, false saffron and keurboom trees. You may even get lucky (as we did) and spot a school of dolphins frolicking in the waves. Sightings of bush pigs and Cape clawless otters have also been recorded.
Important info for hiking to Salt River Mouth
Take note of the following:
- Wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes, sunscreen and a hat.
- Do not hike alone.
- Carry enough food and water with you.
- Make sure you know what the weather conditions are before you depart.
- Take a warm jacket/raincoat, as the weather can change suddenly.
- Make sure you have a relevant map of the area.
- Take a field medical kit with you for emergencies.
- Obey all signage.
- Stay in a group and on the trails.
- No littering/no pets/no fires except at designated spots/no fishing without a permit.
Getting there: From Plettenberg Bay on the N2, pass The Crags and take a right onto the R102. You will enter Nature’s Valley via the Groot River Pass. Drive through the valley to the Nature’s Valley Trading Store on the western side of the valley.
GPS Coordinates: -33.984979, 23.547710
Start: Near the Trading Store in Natures Valley
Duration: Approx 2 – 3 hours
Difficulty: Easy trail, tricky coastal section.
Note: Make sure you start walking at least an hour or two before low tide to ensure there is plenty of time for you to complete the hike safely.
Take: A warm jacket, snacks and water plus your swimming costume if you fancy a river swim
Entrance fee/ Permit: Get a map and permit from the office at De Vasselot campsite. Tel: +27 (0) 44 531 6700.