Afromontane forests cover less than 0,50% of South Africa’s land area and are concentrated in areas that receive plenty of rainfall and lie near coastal regions of the country. These forests are diverse ecosystems, supporting birds and of course, indigenous trees and flora.
Since South Africa is a semi-arid country, our afromontane regions are important areas to conserve. Excessive logging by the timber industry, devastating veld fires and a growing rate of urbanization means that we lose these forests, or parts of them, at an alarming rate. In addition, we face losing many mammals and birds that call these forests home, with the loss of the Knysna elephants as the most striking example.
Not only are they incredibly beautiful, but these forests each offer something magical to a safari in South Africa. Take a look at our favourites in the Western and Eastern Cape:
1. Spes Bona Forest, Kalk Bay
Forming part of the extensive Table Mountain National Park, the Spes Bona Forest is nestled in between the valleys and ridges that make up the rocky geological landscape of this stunning national park. A trip there will give you panoramic views of the ocean (a great vantage point from which to identify any sharks in the area).
A short trek along one of the hiking trails above Kalk Bay, Spes Bona Forest reveals leafy yellowwood and milkwood trees that are indigenous to South Africa and highly valuable. Explore the caves surrounding the forest, where they become stunning waterfalls during the winter rains. In spring, the region blooms with fynbos flowers, some of the most diverse group of flora in the world.
This pretty reserve was declared a World Heritage Site as due recognition of its importance. Not only does this forest offer a variety of activities for the whole family, it’s also a haven for birds, both common and rare. Among the 136 species, look out for the rare Striped flufftail as well as the Black, Crowned and Booted eagles. In addition, baboons and bushbuck reside here.
This little corner of green heaven is only three hours from Cape Town by car (just outside Barrydale) and offers guests a well-maintained campsite and self-catering chalets if you’re to make the most of this fantastic forest. Hiking and walking trails take you all around the lush forest, with the occasional bird hide available for avid birders.
Highlights include the Ghost frog and Emperor butterfly.
3. Knysna-Amatole Montane Forest
Loan leopard spotted in the Knysna Forest | Credit: The Knysna-Plett Herald
Nestled along the pristine Garden Route, the Knysna Forest’s striking beauty remains in the mind of visitors forever. Almost impenetrable in some places, it was once known for the healthy elephant population who resided there for hundreds of years. Sadly, only one elephant was sighted in 2016, although there may be more. Bird life is prolific, which the Knysna loerie, Narina trogon, Knysna scrub warbler and Cape eagle owl as the highlights in this forest.
Also lurking in the depths of the forest are baboons, Vervet monkeys, Blue duikers, honey badgers and even leopards, although they are very rarely spotted. The Knysna dwarf chameleon also calls this forest home.
The Knysna Forest was paid tribute to in two books by renowned South African writer Dalene Mathee. Both Fiela’s Child and Circles in a Forest are highly recommended reads. A monument was dedicated to her that can be visited by way of the many hiking trails around the forest. Enjoy a picnic there and take in the majesty of a 880-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood tree.
4. Woody Cape Nature Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park
Woody Cape forms part of the longest stretch of dune field in the world. Located along the coastal area of the Addo Elephant National Park, Woody Cape contains 300 bird species and stunning hiking trails, where you’ll be able to release some steam and breathe in the refreshing smells of the nearby ocean.
In addition there are beach activities to enjoy, as well as fishing (you can buy an angling permit from the park upon arrival). The nocturnal Tree dassie, Trumpeter hornbill and rare sightings of Brown hyena and leopard on the outskirts of the coastal forest also occur. Spend time in Woody Cape and finish off your day on a trip through the Addo National Park, where 600 elephants roam freely.
Whether it’s hiking, a long walk or simply a picnic with the echo of birds above the leafy canopy, South Africa’s rich and varied geology means that you’ll experience an unbelievably striking experience.