The Red Elephant Forest Walk is one of 3 elephant walks in the Diepwalle State Forest. A 4th 18,2km walk is a combination of all three. I have called the red route the Red Elephant Forest walk as the trail is marked by a yellow plaque with a red elephant on it.
So they can’t be removed by opportunistic souvenir collectors the plaques are nailed to the tree trunks high up and out of reach. At some point all the routes follow old forest paths created by generations of woodcutters who worked in the forest between 1776 and 1939.
“Those who have experienced the forest in all its moods return home enriched. They do so in the knowledge that should man destroy the last of the forests, some of his inner peace, freedom and joy will be lost forever. The enchantment of the rain forest transcends its physical presence, leaving the human soul touched in mysterious ways that even science cannot explain” – Daleen Matthee
All the trails begin at Diepwalle Information Centre where one needs to obtain a permit and map before beginning the trail of choice. A map is important because one can get very confused in the forest and an animal track can look like a path and before you know it, you are lost!
The walks also overlap in a few places with the 7 day Outeniqua Trail. If you're not familiar with the area, it is anyway, inadvisable to walk alone.
All the forest trails are different but I think that the Red Elephant forest walk is the most scenic of the three. It is 7kms long and involves quite a bit of uphill and down-dale before finishing with a fairly steep climb along the main dirt road back to the Information office. This walk is nonetheless very beautiful and rewarding.
The names of these walks are reminiscent of the time when this magnificent forest was part of the territory of hundreds of elephants who roamed freely and fearlessly throughout the southern Cape.
Our Walkie Talkie walking club did the forest walk in March (2011) on a day that was quite cool to begin with. The beautiful Belladonna Lily was in full bloom. It’s also called the March Flower because....obviously....it blooms in March!
By 10am however, a fair amount of humidity built up as the day-time temperature climbed. It took us a good three hours to walk the 7kms and we stopped for a refreshment break half way for at least ½ an hour.
The fairytale forest fungi are amazing and had us all oohing and aahing. It is said that J.R. Tolkien got inspiration from these forests when he was writing “Lord of the Rings”.
Graceful fern fronds towered over our heads in places and we passed two awesome Outeniqua Yellowwoods next to the trail as well. Tannin coloured streams had to be crossed a few times but well placed stepping-stones meant nobody got their feet wet.
We came to a designated picnic spot in a clearing at the edge of the forest before we crossed a road and plunged back into the deep shade of the tall trees and sweet smelling undergrowth again.
Throughout our walk the air rang intermittently with birdsongs, among them the trilling calls of the Sombre Greenbul, the fluid notes of the African Black-headed Oriole and the tsking sounds of sunbirds. We were fortunate to see a pair of African Olive Pigeons. (formerly called Rameron Pigeons.)
All too soon our day hike was over and we were back at the Information Centre that is housed in an attractive old stone wall building. In another room and under the same roof is is a pretty tearoom.
Within walking distance is a nursery well stocked with indigenous trees, forest and fynbos plants that can be purchased at very reasonable prices.
Cape Nature had opened a small museum with some valuable natural history items and photographs including the life-size skeleton of a Knysna elephant. The collection is well worth a visit.
In 2001 Gareth Patterson began an independent study of the Knysna elephant. For the next seven years he covered thousands of kilometres on foot, following ancient elephant paths through the dense Afromontane forest and the surrounding mountain fynbos. He found abundant signs to suggest that, far from dying out, the Knysna elephants are, quietly and secretly, holding their own. Patterson's fieldwork, and his DNA research in collaboration with conservation geneticist Lori Eggert, established that at least five young females exist, lending support to Patterson's growing evidence that the Knysna forest and its surroundings are home to a small herd of young elephants. The Secret Elephants is the story of these remarkable animals that fought their way back from the brink of extinction without any help from humankind.
When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 'rogue' elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his commonsense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival - notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn't take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape...
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