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roaming round the Robberg Peninsula

Much like Nature’s Valley, which proved to be our favorite spot in South Africa after we nearly passed it by, the Robberg Nature Reserve – which we nearly skipped – provided some of the trip’s most memorable moments. The key difference is that it was not lack of research – but rather too much of it – that nearly caused us to miss out on one of the Garden Route’s best hikes.

Reading the official reserve information and online hiker testimonials, two things become rapidly apparent: 1) Robberg boasts gorgeous scenery and offers cool wildlife encounters, and 2) It should be attempted only by those of stout heart. Dire warnings abound in the two paragraphs of text on the reserve’s website, including:

  • The route is not suitable for younger children and should not be attempted in rain, mist, or darkness;
  • Please regard this stretch with extreme caution because of strong winds and sheer cliffs;
  • Do not lose your way with all the rocks;
  • The route is strenuous with plenty of climbs…and requires a level of fitness;
  • Unfit persons not used to climbing will find this route difficult;
  • The terrain is rugged and surfaces uneven; the rocks are slippery, especially when wet.

After reading all that, one can be forgiven for feeling a twinge of unease about attempting to hike Robberg with two small kids in tow. The online reviews S had come across did not make the hike sound any more accessible, so she tried to assuage her fears by seeking the advice of a local.

Unfortunately, the local she asked was working the cash register at Birds of Eden, and the conversation took place as we were deciding whether to upgrade our single-visit ticket to a trifecta combo that would allow us to visit two more linked establishments in the Animal Valley. “Oh no, I would never take small children to Robberg,” the salesperson gasped in poorly feigned horror – “You’re much better off taking them to see the primates and big cats.” If S had been vacillating about going to Robberg, the woman’s ham-fisted sales pitch reaffirmed D’s determination to visit the reserve.

Occupying a small peninsula, the reserve only has one hiking trail, which comes in three lengths: 2.1 km, 5.5 km, and 9.2 km. The long path circumnavigates the entire peninsula; hikers who do not want to spend 5-6 hours on the trail, which is indeed moderately difficult, have the option of cutting across the peninsula at one of two points, thus shortening the walk.

At a minimum, D thought, we should be able to do the 2 km hike and at least glimpse a bit of Robberg’s magic. Munchkin whined a bit on the brief walk from our parking spot to the trailhead, so we stopped before beginning the hike to fortify his resolve with some snacks. As a result, we covered the first kilometer pretty quickly, reaching what we thought might be our turnaround point in high spirits. Seeing that Munchkin was enjoying the trail and that Junebug was beginning to settle into a nap in the carrier, D made the call to press on.

We wound up doing the 5.5 km loop and enjoyed it immensely. Not only were the views indeed striking, but they also vastly improved as we hiked further out onto the peninsula. A big colony of cape fur seals frolicked in the azure waters or rested on the jagged rocks far beneath the escarpment trail. Munchkin and D spied a couple of dolphins, and had we visited between June and November, we might have glimpsed whales breaching not far from Robberg’s shores.

To say that the hike was not challenging, however, would be stretching the truth. The terrain is highly variable, a neatly groomed path giving way to bits of rocky scrambling, flat boardwalks leading to steep ascents, and a giant sand dune posing an imposing obstacle before one reaches the second gap across the peninsula’s hilly ridge. S hiked ahead with the snoozing Junebug in her arms, gingerly navigating the path’s sketchier bits. The sun blazed overhead, the ocean breeze providing only a fleeting respite from the scorching midday heat.

D hiked with Munchkin, walking at his pace and alternately praising, threatening, and cajoling him into moving along the path. There were times when Munchkin seemed to have boundless energy, singing along to himself, scrambling on rocks, or exploring cave hideaways. At other times, his energy would plummet and D fought to keep up his spirits and get him moving again. It took somewhere between 3 and 4 hours – we lost track, truth be told – but we’re proud to say that Munchkin managed to walk almost the entire 5.5 km trail. D only had to carry him once when we ascended the sand dune.

For years, we had been waiting for the day when Munchkin would be ready to hike with us, and that day appears to have arrived at last. Of course, since we reset the clock with Junebug’s birth, we remain many years away from doing any serious hiking with the kids.

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