Karkloof near Howick in KZN is renowned for its mountain biking trails. Image © Jacques Marais.

South Africa is home to 1.2 million hectares of sustainably managed commercial timber plantations which provide the raw material for a wide range of everyday products. But these plantations are also home to the unexpected …

By Dr Ronald Heath, Forestry South Africa

These trees add value to our economy by providing timber for construction, for the production of pulp, paper, packaging and tissue, for cellulose products such as sponges, viscose fabric and the ever-versatile microcryrstalline cellulose. The industry also provides employment and supports communities, especially in rural areas.

Sustainably managed commercial trees (along with the products made from them) are renewable. Saplings are planted in the place of mature harvested trees – contrary to images and myths that harvested trees equate to deforestation.

Add in timber’s carbon storage capacity of nearly one tonne of carbon per cubic metre of wood, even after harvesting and processing, and you have an industry that delivers in more ways than you can imagine.

Around 30% of forestry-owned land is not managed for timber production and is set aside for biodiversity conservation … vast swaths of grassland, riverine habitats, wetlands and indigenous forests. Together with plantations, these areas offer countless recreational options.

Take in the wonder of South Africa’s waterfalls, many of which are found of forestry-owned land, such as Lone Creek Falls in Mpumalanga. Image © SAFCOL.

Fun in the forests
Forestry SA’s Forestry Explained recreational map highlights various activities and attractions found on forestry-owned land that is open to the public.

It showcases the eco-activities offered by forestry companies and private individuals in one user-friendly recreational guide. Its interactive nature allows you to explore what’s on offer, along with important information for the perfect forestry day out.

Take the trail less travelled
For the energetic and adventurous, there are kilometres of trail running, hiking and mountain biking tracks.

For a more sedate option, you may prefer bird watching or a picnic, while taking in spectacular views or the sounds of waterfalls.

If bird watching is your thing, you might even spot these Swee Waxbills during a visit to one of South Africa’s forests. Image © David Everard – Sappi.

Forestry fun bucket list
If you’ve not yet planned your next holiday, why not explore some of South Africa’s commercial forests, or add some of these to your bucket list:-

1. Mpumalanga’s waterfalls – many of the famous ‘Panorama Route’ waterfalls are actually situated on forestry land. These include Berlin, Lisbon and Mac Mac falls and pools; Bridal Veil, Lone Creek and Maria Shires falls.
2. Mountain biking getaway – take a long-weekend and explore the plantations, indigenous forests and open grasslands of Karkloof and Howick in KwaZulu-Natal. Enjoy the incredible scenery, amazing biodiversity and the 100km plus of biking trails.
3. ‘Big 4’ forestry hikes in four provinces – the famed Fanie Botha and Tsitsikamma hikes, as well as the beautiful Magoebaskloof and Jonkershoek trails offer breathtaking views, diverse scenery and a wealth of biodiversity. These fantastic forestry trails are a great way to explore the distinctly different landscapes of four provinces.
4. Kaapsehoop scooters – take a two-hour scooter adventure through the Kaapsehoop plantations, over streams, beside magnificent rock formations and waterfalls. If you are really lucky, you might get a glimpse of the wild horses for which the town is renowned.

Do you feel the need for speed? Try a scooter tours in Kaapsehoop. Image © SAFCOL

5. Trail running triple – forestry-owned land hosts three of South Africa’s best trail running venues, with routes to suit all levels of experience and fitness. Jonkershoek’s Red Phoenix presents even experienced runners with a challenging descent, while the 20km Karkloof trail and 21km White River long route are great tests of endurance. All three have a number of great short trails that are perfect for those wanting to take their first steps in the sport.

The South African forestry landscape is far more complex and diverse than simply rows of planted trees.

Related article: Upgraded Green Flag Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail


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