Port Elizabeth has some excellent short hiking trails that are perfect for a morning or day out in nature yet still within a stone's throw of the city. As an outdoor enthusiast and avid Geocacher I've had the opportunity to do most of the trails around the city with one of the exceptions being the Bushbuck Trail through the Island Nature Reserve. For this reason I was very excited when I got a call from Erenei Louw of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism inviting me to join NMBT and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency on a guided hike through the reserve in celebration of Tourism Month.
The Island Nature Reserve is located about 25 km from Port Elizabeth and is accessed via the Seaview Road. The reserve forms a sub section of the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve and comprises 480 ha of indigenous Alexandria coastal forest boasting tree species such as Outeniqua yellow-wood, white and hard pear as well as white milkwood. Fauna include small blue duiker, bushbuck, vervet monkey and bushpigs with more than fifty species of birds having been recorded. The reserve offers 5 different trails of various lengths and we decided to do a combination that had us cover a distance of about 10km.
Erenei and I were joined by Done' Louw of NMBT and our guides Nomfuneko Mbete and Sizwe Ndlumbini who led us out at a brisk pace on a beautiful Spring morning. Forests have a special place in my being with the Tsitsikamma and Knysna forests being part of my soul so walking off into this piece of coastal forest had me relaxed and unwinding from the first step we took.
It wasn't long before we saw movement in the milkwoods and a sudden flash of scarlet red told us that we had spotted a Knysna Loerie in the thicket. To the observant hiker there are so much more than just the different indigenous trees to see. Berries and fruit, colourful little flowers, spiders sitting in their dew covered webs and different types of moss and lichen. As we were approaching halfway, Sizwe suddenly put up his hand for us to stop and be quiet. A bushbuck doe was standing not twenty meters away in the underbrush looking at us. Quite a shy antelope it was a treat being able to spot one so close to us. She had one last look our way and casually disappeared. Not long after we got to our turning point at a trig beacon which, once you ascent it, gives a beautiful view of the Lady Slipper Mountain and surrounding area. The return journey was mostly downhill but I couldn't help but laugh at my two slightly unfit companions who started to struggle a bit with cramps. It didn't stop them though and we completed the 10 km walk (and found three Geocaches) in just short of four hours.
I have to be honest and say that I was pleasantly surprised with what the Island Nature Reserve dished up for us. The trails are well maintained with good signage and if I could give them one piece of advice it would be to do a proper map for hikers to take with them to see the trails on. For those who don't like to hike, the Island offers beautiful grass covered picnic spots and is one of the only public areas around Port Elizabeth that has proper braai facilities. Now that I have been there I really want to go back with my family and isn't afraid to recommend it to anybody looking to get closer to nature. The Island truly is a reserve that Port Elizabethans should be very proud of.