Get to Know Nature with Family Hikes in George

“Who did this poo?” my five-year-old demanded, pointing to a large turd on the forest floor. This was an easy question for our expert guide, Mark Dixon, from Garden Route Trail. Dixon bent over and poked the turd with a stick, revealing a few bright yellow Cheesewood berries. “It’s bushpig dung!”, he pronounced with authority, as my son gazed at the poop in amazement.

Featured: Mark Dixon Photography

This led to a heap of questions about what bushpigs eat, how well they see, where they sleep and how they wander the forest at night and mark their territory by rubbing their smelly backsides against trees. This had my son rolling on the leaf littered forest floor laughing in the dappled sunlight. These are the kinds of meaningful nature experiences that the best holidays are made of. This is the reason parents buy cameras and the whole point of holidays.

While Mark was able to keep my son spellbound as he boulder hopped the tannin-stained stream, he also kept the adults fascinated. The guide’s explanation of the bushpigs’ incredible foraging habits had us listening intently. Dixon pointed out their rubbing posts and territorial latrines. Mark listened to the call of the Knysna Turaco and patiently explained the difference between the elusive bird’s piercing alarm calls and his barking to broadcast the location of food.

Featured: Mark Dixon Photography

As a family, we have been on many, many Garden Route hikes. This area has an absolute wealth of outdoor spaces; from pristine nature reserves and national parks, to towering fynbos-clad mountains, enormous swathes of golden sand beaches and trickling streams. Our kids love nature and thrive in the outdoors, but we have rarely been this captivated by its secrets and subtle natural beauty.

Eco-adventure guiding is Mark Dixon’s passion. His family-run nature guiding business hosts show stopping nature walks for biology buffs, family groups and inquisitive kids. Mark’s ‘Garden Route Trail’ company tailor-makes tours to suit a group’s specific needs. They design walks around fitness, size of group and interests. Along with 16 years of guiding experience in the Garden Route, Mark is an ecological field researcher. He brings a wealth of interesting knowledge about indigenous forest, fascinating fynbos, coastal habitats, fossils and can point out a Grey Cuckoo Shrike at fifty paces. The wilderness is this man’s paradise!

While innumerable studies agree that children who play outside are happier, more attentive, and less anxious than those who spend more time indoors, parents want holidays that are easy, stress free and calming. Screen time often sneaks in and steals our holidays. Before we realize it, the vacation is over, and we have only connected with You Tube. Everyone who visits the Garden Route wants to spend time in nature, but many people lack the confidence to pack up their pretzels, slick on their sunscreen and take a hike.

We urge you, get to know our green spaces, immerse your family in nature, make memories and take photos. Here are some fun family eco-adventure ideas…..

Featured: Mark Dixon Photography

Learn about Life in the Forest

Gulp in great big lungfuls of fresh air while the children tune into nature. Check out Mark and Amanda Dixon’s guided forest walks along the Groeneweide Trails, close to NMU. There are moderately difficult 7km, 9km and 13km trails on well-marked paths. Most are suitable for families with active or older children. The Groeneweide Trail system is criss-crossed by pristine streams with cool rock pools, ideal for swimming and boulder hopping. This is a great place to see the indigenous Outeniqua Yellowwood trees, as well as Ironwood, Saffronwood, Stinkwood, and many brightly coloured bracket fungi. Birdlife is plentiful and hikers might hear the call of the Narina Trogan, Olive Thrush and Chorister Robin. Curious kids may see the dung of the duiker, bushbuck, vervet monkey, baboon, and bush pig. These forests are the home of shy predators such as the Cape leopard and caracal. Read Mark Dixon’s blog and find his rates and details of guided hikes at Garden Route Trail

Featured: Mark Dixon Photography

Walk in the Park

Families with small children and toddlers will enjoy sauntering on the easiest and safest nature trail in George. The Mushroom Meander is in the Garden Route Botanic Gardens, on Caledon Street. The gardens have a total of 18 hectares of green space to explore. Follow the signs for the Mushroom Meander to access a circular trail, winding through shaded Afromontane forest. You will cross several clear mountain streams and pass quiet picnic areas. The entire route is graded as easy and can be completed within about 20 minutes. A R20 fee is charged at the entrance gate for adults. Check out for more details.

Conquer a Peak

Some of the best views in George can be accessed from the summit of George and Craddock Peaks. While these are favourite weekend destinations for local hikers and trail runners, these trails are challenging and require a good deal of fitness. Hiking trails to both peaks pass through beautiful fynbos and cross the iconic Power Van Railway line. These trails can be accessed via the Witfontein Route System. A self-issue permit is available from the starting point at the Cape Nature’s offices, northwest of George.

Featured: Mark Dixon Photography

The Outeniqua Nature Reserve has several other less challenging routes suited to mountain biking, hiking and trail running. The trails meander through the Witfontein pine plantation with sections of indigenous forest and fynbos. There are many single-track sections to be found between the contour roads, such as the Tower Loop and Sidewinder Loop.

Clare van Rensburg is our guest writer and blogger.  Clare is an Irish teacher, writer and passionate environmentalist who relocated to the Garden Route in 2009 with South African husband Mark. She is a mother of two small children (Ross and Ellie) and a slave to a pair of rescue dogs (Ben and Jerry). Clare teaches full-time and fits blogging into her busy schedule while her own kids sleep. Weekends are spent in the company of friends, bargain hunting in antique shops, browsing the local markets and finding ways to keep her children amused. She enjoys being outdoors: hiking, camping, surfing and exploring the regions stunning coastline. Clare loves the breath-taking beauty of the Garden Route and sharing stories of exploring the area’s hidden treasures.