I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried; my five-year-old son was on my shoulders and the sea level was rising faster than you can say ‘wet undies’. Soon, the car keys in my pants pocket would be wet and we would have another problem on our hands.
The Waenhuiskrans Cave is one of Arniston’s most popular attractions. This enormous cavern is accessible only through a narrow opening at its rear. At the front, the cave’s rocky teeth gnash through thrashing waves. If you time the tides right, you can splash through several rock pools behind the cave, then crouch down and crawl inside. It is a worthwhile experience, even if you get the tide schedule wrong (as we did) and find yourself wading through waist-deep water.
Apart from the Waenhuiskrans Cave, there’s not much more to Arniston than white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, a well-known hotel and some of the most tranquil days you will ever spend on a holiday. But, for me, the real gem is the town’s little-known 4×4 trail.
Approximately 4.5 km long, this sandy route cuts its way through dense coastal bush, climbs a cliff face or two and dashes by a series of deserted beaches. The trail kicks off at Arniston’s most popular beach, where the everyday cars park, but if you look to the far end of this gravel parking area, you’ll see the start of a sandy track that few 2WD cars dare to enter.
The route is used mostly by fishermen, but also by residents who tend to only fire up their holiday-home beach buggies and Land Rovers once a year. Surprisingly, few of these so-called locals bother to deflate their vehicles’ tyres, resulting in the route being pockmarked with dongas created
by bogged-down vehicles that have spun their way into trouble.
From a 4×4 perspective, the route isn’t particularly challenging, but what it lacks in exhilaration, it more than makes up for in absolute scenic brilliance. Even so, you should still deflate your tyres for increased traction – anywhere between 1.1 and 1.3 bar will do.
The first section of the trail includes a narrow gravel track (which is covered by a layer of loose sand), followed by a bed of sandstone rock littered with undulations. Although this rock surface is smooth (so punctures shouldn’t be a problem), some of its bumps may knock your 4×4’s under-
carriage – especially if you pick the wrong line or drive too fast. So, take it slow, look for tracks made by previous drivers and enjoy the coastal-cliff views of Arniston’s incredible aquamarine waters.
If you zero your odometer at the start of the trail (beginning in the parking area), you’ll find that the road forks at roughly 500m – one track continues straight (and slightly to the left), while the other shoots off to the right. Both routes are dead ends, but it is still worth your time to explore each road, even though you will have to backtrack some.
The road to the right weaves along a narrow path that gradually increases in height. Before long, you are leaving the coastal bushveld behind and gazing at a remarkably beautiful stretch of totally untouched beachfront.
This offshoot track is about 2.5 km long (from the fork in the road) and ends at a nature-made parking area. From here, you can walk down a sandy slope towards the shore and have a picnic or throw in a fishing line. It’s advised that you drive this narrow and twisting track with your window down to increase your chances of hearing any oncoming vehicles before they come into view.
Coming back to the fork: the route to the left is roughly 1.3 km long and provides a scenic drive tracing the area’s natural dune line. The track passes by a popular stopping area and viewpoint, along with a series of steep steps that descend all the way to the Waenhuiskrans Cave. Shortly after crossing the gravel parking area, the road traverses a small dune speckled with small rocks. Here, if you stick to the left of the road, you should be able to avoid any rocky bumps.
Once at the bottom of the dune, the track then zigzags between two border lines (wooden poles to you and me) that bar access to the beach (driving on beaches is now illegal in South Africa, regardless of the vehicle type). When you have covered the route’s length, you’ll find a lighthouse, which marks the end of the road – as well as your Arniston off-road experience.
For the time being, this trail is free to drive and open to the general public. But, aside from its vast, breathtaking views
and free entrance, the true appeal of the Arniston 4×4 Trail is it combines multiple experiences in just one place: adventure, freedom and pristine beauty in dramatic, hard-to-reach places.
Coincidentally, aren’t those the very same reasons you bought a 4×4 in the first place?
- GPS CO-ORDINATES: Start of trail S34° 40.444’ E20° 13.877’ Arniston Spa Hotel S34° 40.057’ E20° 13.922’
- PROVINCE: Western Cape
- LOCATION: Situated in the Overberg region,
east of Cape Agulhas
- NEAREST TOWN: Arniston
- NEAREST FUEL STATION: Bredasdorp (24 km)
- NEAREST SHOP: There’s a tiny cafe near the Arniston Spa Hotel, but don’t expect much more than bread, milk and a few bags of firewood. Do all your shopping in Bredasdorp – which is roughly an 18-minute drive away.
- Total ROUTE LENGTH: Approximately 4.5 km
- TERRAIN-TYPE: Predominantly sand, interspersed with rock
- TRAIL DIFFICULTY: 2 out of 5
- BRING YOUR: Fishing rod, beach attire and toys for the kids. Be cautious of entering the sea – there are rip tides about.
- VEHICLE REQUIREMENTS: Provided the vehicle has at least 200 mm ground clearance, most AWD vehicles will manage the route, as will 2WD bakkies with a rear diff-lock. Just remember to deflate your tyres!
- ACCOMMODATION: For a comprehensive list of accommodation options, visit arniston-etnas.co.za.
- NEARBY ATTRACTIONS: Cape Agulhas (61 km), Bredasdorp Golf Club (24.5 km), Napier Brewery (42 km) and De Mond Nature Reserve (24 km)