Meet the faces behind SA Adventure Trails
Paul has been promoting the KZN Drakensberg and Eastern Cape Wild Coast as eco-tourism destinations for the past 25 years. He was one of the first pioneers of the concept of “slack-packing”, whereby outdoor lovers can hike or cycle on curated trails with full back-up support. Hike or ride in beautiful natural scenery while your bags are transferred between lodges with comfortable beds and good food and drink at the end of the day. The Wild Coast Walk, Giants Cup Trail Hikeathon and Amphitheatre Heritage hike are 3 examples which are now firmly established on the active travellers “must-do” list as a result.
A research biologist by profession, Paul is now retired and living with his wife Anne in Hilton KZN. He is fortunate to have his 3 grown up daughters living nearby, two of which have their own adventure tourism businesses. An avid diver in his youth, Paul now enjoys taking his mountain bike into the forests and hills of the Natal Midlands. But is of an age where he is now considering e-bike touring as an alternate and more gentle pursuit.
Julia is the founding member of Spekboom Tours. Passionate about the great outdoors, sustainability and animals she has had a diverse career as a veterinary nurse, a teacher and environmental facilitator. Most days she is out doing recce trips of trails in the Karkloof/Howick forests or helping a local schools set up a permacultural garden or talking to pupils about the wise use of water resources.
Spekboom Tours was established as an extension of her passions and way of life. After spending many happy months backpacking around SE Asia, South America, Europe and South Africa, she believes cycle touring is the best way to have an authentic experience. Having recently qualified as a nature tour guide she is eager to share her knowledge and love for the KZN Midlands area with you. With spectacular hiking and cycling trails in her backyard of Howick she is often out exploring which may explain why she may be a little breathless when she answers her phone !
A brief description and background to 'who we are' and 'how we operate' ..
Our ecological conscious tours endeavor to live up to the highest standards of sustainability. A percentage of the proceeds goes towards supporting worthwhile conservation projects in the area and we always try choose to use family based eco-friendly accommodation places that are involved in conservation or social upliftment programs. Most meal are in-season, vegetarian and ethically sourced. Where possible, we make use of local guides and support sustainable environmental and social initiatives in the area. Our tours also offer special 'off the trail' experiences to expose people to local history and cultures and a green way of living. This experiences include forest walks, tours of a land rehabilitation and upliftment programs and excursions to local businesses and other community minded initiatives
Multi-day hiking in South Africa has been on the decline in the past decade or so, as there are fewer hardy hikers prepared to carry everything on their backs and sleep out in the open. With the aging process comes inevitable sore backs and less energy. As a result many of the traditional long distances hikes have closed down
Luckily, for those of us who love the outdoors, a new concept in hiking has arisen, that of slack-packing. Defined by Fiona McIntosh as "hiking without the schlep" this type of trail is made for the hiker who doesn't mind "dirty boots" but prefers to hike with basic comforts
At the very least on all slack-packing trails, your luggage is transported for you from point to point and you are normally provided with a packed lunch and meals at the start and end of the day with overnight accommodation at suitably chosen lodges. Often too you are provided with a guide who can interpret interesting features along the way. In other words "you walk at ease and stay in comfort"
Slack-packing strives to improve standards and to make the trails accessible. Slack-packing is a very popular and well established concept in USA, Australasia and Europe but is still being developed here in South Africa. We hope to be part of that process of bringing South Africa's wonderful wildlife and scenery to as many people as possible.
Having cycled the Himalayans, the Silk Road through Turkey and many remote parts of South Africa your local tour guide, Julia, believes that there is nothing more gratifying in life than exploring our country under your own steam. A KZN Natal girl at heart, she is very interested in KZN history and promoting local authentic tourism in her own backyard. Whist some may enjoy the freedom on cycling self-sufficient with all your luggage on your bike, Spekboom bespoke cycle tours recognises the value of carefree cycling with luggage transfers, between overnight stays, a cold beer , a home cooked meal with a glass of wine and a warm bed at the end of each day.
For this reason, all our cycle Tour offer homely accommodation, back-up support and delicious meals. Using quite non-technical farm roads with very manageable daily distances these tours are designed to suit old and young, fit and less fit. The focus of each tour is about ‘discovering’ the rich history, wildlife and cultural offerings of the KZN Midlands, the Northern KZN Battlefields and the Ixopo/Creighton valley.
One of the big advantages of slack-packing or going on an organised tour is that someone else takes care of all the logistics. Where to leave your vehicle, transfers to the trail head each day and pick-up at the end, places to overnight, what food to bring and cook, trail planning and guiding etc are all pre-arranged so that you don't have to worry about these matters.
The main factors you should give consideration to are : where to go, when to go and who to hike/ride with. There is a growing selection of hiking and cycling tours around the country but SA Trails focuses particularly on KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape with which we are most familiar. New trails are being opened up to allow anyone of reasonable fitness level to enjoy the great outdoors. Daily hiking distances are generally not more than 15km or 3-4 hours of comfortable hiking with breaks. Once you have chosen your tour ,then the decision of when to book must be made.
Multi-day tours link together a chain of hotels and lodges so all be available on the day of arrival for one night stays. For this reason it is often hard to secure accommodation at popular resorts during school holidays and long weekends. To get round this we have pre-scheduled tours where accommodation is booked long in advance or else we must check availability at the time. Pre-scheduled tours also introduce you to like minded people enjoying the same outdoor fun, but if you would rather hike with your family and friends then form your own group and we can customise a slack-pack hike or cycle ride at time of your choosing. Bear in mind though that costs will come down with more people in the group so parties of 6 to 10 generally get the best rate. Finally, for most outdoor activities in the eastern half of South Africa the best time to tour is during the spring and autumn months when temperatures are ideal and there is generally less chance of rainstorms and cold weather.