Known also as the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail, Giant, Brownhooded or Pied Kingfisher Trail (these are all varying routes) the Kingfisher hiking trail takes one through the Wilderness Lakes area,
controlled by SANParks. Wilderness lies just east of George on the Garden Route. The Wilderness National Park is a series of lakes, rivers, estuaries and beaches set against a backdrop of mountains and forest that is hard to beat for sheer breathtaking beauty.
It includes five rivers, five lakes and 18 km worth of coastline. The lakes are all connected by the Touw River, a renowned birding area home to thousands of water birds.
The park has been awarded Ramsar status for its wetlands, which have international importance.
Through the lakes are a series of canoeing and hiking trails that wind through the forest and along the rivers’ edges, called Kingfisher trails for the probability of spotting one of the five kingfisher species that occur here.
Each of the Kingfisher hikes allows a different perspective on the beauty of the eco systems that make up the lakes:
The Pied Kingfisher, 10 km, takes roughly four hours to complete and is a circular and easy walk across the floodplains of the Serpentine River, along the boardwalk to the beach.
The Giant Kingfisher, 7 km, is a little more taxing. It follows the east bank of the Touw River through the forest to a waterfall where there is a swimming pool.
The Brownhooded Kingfisher, 5 km, follows the Duiwe River to another waterfall.
The Halfcollared Kingfisher, 3,8 km, takes one through indigenous forest on the west bank of the Touw River.
One needs to start off at the Ebb and Flow offices to buy a permit or present your Wild card in return for one and to receive a trail map.
It’s a short walk from there to the road where you turn left, cross the road/ railway bridge whereupon a clear sign will direct you to the trail start. Be sure to take a hat, sunscreen, water, something to snack on and your swimming costume in order to make the most of
the Giant Kingfisher Trail. Remember your camera, and binoculars.
The beginning of the 7.2 km trail (return trip included) is known as the Half-collared Kingfisher trail. However, where you use the pontoon to cross over the Touw River, it becomes the Giant Kingfisher Trail.
A little higher you can cross over on stepping stones if you prefer that.
The boardwalk is not totally continuous but it climbs steeply on the way up to the waterfall so the good news is, it’s mostly downhill on the way back!
A bit higher up on the river from the pontoon crossing, people canoeing upstream from the Ebb and Flow campsite, can safely beach their own or hired canoes on the side of the shallow stream, to get on the boardwalk and hike up the boardwalk to the waterfall.
The good thing for birders on the hiking trail is that for a fair part of it one can walk and at the same time, look up or into the forest without fear of tripping over tree roots or an uneven path. Many forest birds can be both heard and seen whilst walking .
If you are lucky you will also spot a number of different kingfishers including of course, the Giant Kingfisher after which the trail is named.
At strategic places along the route built-in benches have been provided so there are opportunities for hikers to stop and rest or to quietly absorb and enjoy the sights and sounds around them. As you approach the waterfall the boardwalk starts to climb quite steeply,
and then you descend quickly onto a rocky area through which waterfalls gush and some sizable pools form that are ideal for swimming in. On a hot summer’s day it is ideal to enjoy a dip in the pleasantly cool and refreshing water.
Don’t be misled by the dark colour of it. There is nothing wrong – it is merely coloured by the forest and fynbos vegetation through which it passes.
On the return trip you may notice some very interesting and striking rock formations of Table mountain Quartzite right next to the boardwalk. It is more noticeable on the return walk.
Up river you are conscious of the soothing sound of a shallow stream running over rocks and there are some picturesque glimpses of transparent water flowing next to the trail below you.
Close to the end, windows in the thick vegetation allow views of the idyllic and popular Wilderness campsite on the opposite banks of the river.
Start: Wilderness National Park near the Touws River bridge
Duration: varying between 3.8 km and 10 km
Fitness: easy and pefect for children or elderly people
Our tip: don’t walk during wet weather as the river tends to flood suddenly