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Thursday, 8th June 2023


“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close

By Marguerite Smit

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close

We all know that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Post-Covid mental health statistics are alarming and subsequently there is a large drive to address the issue worldwide. Gqeberha (or GQ for short) certainly has its struggles, but when it comes to forward thinking strategies to help combat the growing mental health pandemic there’s some innovative stuff happening outdoors.


All it takes is a swimming costume or a pair of good hiking shoes, well… maybe more than just shoes. And the flags will show the way. The metro has three Blue Flag beaches (Kings, Humewood, and Hobie beach) along its magnificent coastline, the place for some quality beach and bathing experience. The Blue Flag beach award is a prestigious international award given to only 46 beaches throughout South Africa. It’s an initiative of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), managed by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), and it’s the mark of a quality beach facility.


And if going beyond the breakers is where your chill zone is to be found, the metro is also home to a large open-water-swimming community. Conditions permitting there’s always a group heading out in the early morning off Kings or Hobie and they’re very happy for experienced swimmers to join. Unsurprisingly, GQ is considered by locals, a very unbiased and objective opinion, as THE best place in South Africa for open-water swimming adventures. Follow @Blu_smooth_za on Insta and Facebook for upcoming swim events or reach out and find a swim buddy in the Bay.

 Adding to the swimming innovation, GQ is also home to the first “mental health swims” (MHS) in South Africa. MHS is an award-winning, mental health peer-support community hosting free, safe, and inclusive swim meet ups. They welcome anyone in the bay area and proudly form part of the MHS UK organization that hosts more than 150 swim locations in the UK. Focused on dips-not-distance, participants can swim, dip, paddle or tow-dip, they’re a community not a competition. They are led by trained volunteers to facilitate inclusive, safe and welcoming swims. Meet-ups happen once a month and are posted on their Instagram page. Please follow them at @MHS_Kingsbeach on Insta for updated info on the next meet up.




If your head and feet, however, need some green space to chill, again GQ has the flags to show the pathway. This time the colour of the flag is green, and 11 captivating and un-spoilt trails in and around the metro are in the process of gaining their Green Flag status. A municipal tourism initiative, the existing trails are in their preparation stage and continue to propel the city forward in the race to be the outdoor sports capital of SA. Keep fit – stay sane is the name of the game.




And with school holidays around the corner head out to GQ’s “Wild-Side” for five of those Green Flag trails that are on that side of the metro:


1. The Roseate Tern Trail is the place to start and is a breath-taking hike through the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. This area is wonderful for aquatic birdlife and endless ocean views. Home to ancient Khoisan fish traps, dating back between 2 000-4 500 years, this is one of the most historic sites in the bay.  Here you can watch the ghosts of Bartholomeus Dias and Vasco da Gama avoid the dangerous Thunderbolt Reef, a natural hazard that claimed many a sailor and ship. The Cape Recife lighthouse, a GQ icon, was built between 1849 -1851 to warn passing ships of the tumultuous coastline and reef. This area also makes for incredible diving and there is an adventure swim available that takes you around the lighthouse. Yep, you get to swim past Thunderbolt! Swimmers have the choice of a 5 km or 14 km route. As this is also a nature reserve, a birders paradise, and home to an African penguin rehabilitation centre (SANCCOB). Unfortunately no dogs are allowed on the 9,6 km circular trail. It is open daily between 08:00-16:00. Carry at least 2 litres of drinking water per person. Vehicle entry is through the boom and requires a permit available at Pine Lodge.


2. The Grysbok Trail, literally across the road from Cape Recife, was established in 1995 as a recreational resource for Nelson Mandela University (NMU) and the broader community. This exciting trail takes hikers through the reserve and offers the opportunity to see Cape Grysbok, Red Hartebeest, Plain’s Zebra, caracal, Grey’s stream frog, jackal and common buzzard to name just a few. The flora on live display includes Garlic Buchu, White Milkwood, Dwarf Cape beech, poison bulb and the endangered Pig’s Ear. The reserve offers a bird hide which overlooks a pond, filled with amphibian life along the trail where 128 bird species have been identified, with 18 of those breeding in the reserve! This is a circular 3.3 km route open daily between 08:00 and 16:30. Dogs are unfortunately not allowed in the reserve.


3. The Coastal fynbos Trail, just down the scenic Wild Side coastal road (Marine Drive) from NMU, is another lovely coastal escape with fynbos biomes and spectacular ocean views. Small grey and yellow mongooses may be seen as well as Cape Grysbok. The Thisbe’s Copper butterfly, whose range reaches its easternmost limit along our coastline, is often spotted here. They appear to have a blue hue in flight but at rest it looks orange to the eye. Although dogs are allowed, please keep them on a leash. All plant and animal life are protected and must not be disturbed or harmed. Southern right whales are spotted between August and early October, while Humpback whales migrate along this stretch between April and December. It’s a spectacular show watching them breach. This is a circular 2.8km trail starting at Sappershoek, just on the fringe of the sea-side village of Schoenmakerskop. The trail makes its way mainly along the ridge overlooking the Indian Ocean.




The Sacramento Trail, a hop, skip and jump away on the other side of Schoenies Village, is one of the Bay’s most iconic fynbos trails with panoramic views of passing dolphins and breaching whales. Starting at the Sacramento cannon, this tranquil setting and gentle trail provides plenty food for the soul. Dogs are welcome on a leash, but all plant and animal life is protected and must not be disturbed or harmed so please always keep those furry friends on the trail. The trail is named after the Portuguese galleon Sacramento, that ran aground between Sardinia Bay and Schoenies. While 72 survivors made it to shore, only four of these men made it back to Portugal – a story on its own. The ship carried a cargo of cannons (one of which now marks the start) that remained on the ocean floor for over 300 years before being salvaged in 1977. And as a bonus, the village is also home to Rheta’s Trail, a hidden gem, which runs behind the village’s only restaurant. It includes a small labyrinth for the little people in your life, with a beautiful garden and many areas to explore. This 7.9 km circular trail is open daily from 08:00-16:30. Again, carry at least 2 litres of drinking water per person.


The Maitlands Reserve Trail, some way down the other Wild Side coastal roads (Seaview Road and Maitland Road) and easily accessed via the village of Seaview, is adjacent to the Maitlands river mouth and is rich in indigenous coastal forest and again offers abundant birdlife. The reserve is also home to an old wagon road which leads to the Maitland lead mines. There are four clearly marked nature trails winding through the reserve, with numerous hidden tunnels from burrowing humans that make up a complex man-made system intertwined with natural caves. Bat’s mine is filled with thousands of winged creatures who now reside alongside the abandoned mining equipment. Maitland Beach is renowned for its stretch of golden sand and crystal-clear waters. An ideal spot for fishing, horse riding or paragliding off the escarpment if you’re feeling adventurous. The magical sand dune backdrop overlooks the 250 hectares of pristine, untouched wilderness. This 9.9 km circular trail (with shorted linear options) is open daily from 08:00 – 16:30. Dogs are welcomed on a leash, please always keep on the trail.




If you are heading out this winter, and if the Wild Side Green Flags beckon, a few tips will make that journey a lot easier. Please remain vigilant when outdoors. We recommend hiking in groups of three persons or more for safety precautions. Heaven forbid you twist an ankle or more, but a party of three allows someone to stay with the injured and someone to go for help. Also, you need at least three to belt out the chorus of your parent’s favourite ABBA songs. Stick to the trail, take virtual smoke breaks, as lighting any kind of fire may ruin the experience for many. Furry friends must be on a leash when allowed on a trail, remember to take enough hydration with you (and for that leashed beast). Bin the trash, otherwise that plastic wrapper will stay for ages. The basic rule is: leave your footprints and take your memories with you.

Let GQ unlock a level of outdoor activity perfect for your mental health and personal wellbeing. We live in the most remarkable corner of Eastern Cape splendour with vast stretches of magical coastline – get out, explore, and experience that blue and green space. C’mon, go live it!