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  • Writer's pictureGabby Sykora

Tsitsikamma's Promise of Uncovering Adventure and Exploration



Nature's Valley

The next leg of our incredible trip exploring the Garden Route led us to the Tsitsikamma National Park on New Year's Day. Departing from the enchanting forest cabin in Sedgefield, we eagerly headed east, hoping for improved weather.


While driving on the N2, we spontaneously decided to detour to the renowned Buffels Bay, a stunning coastal area. The bay is renowned for its natural beauty, characterized by pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and dramatic coastal landscapes. The surrounding vegetation is also rich in birdlife, making it a great destination for birdwatching enthusiasts.

 

To our surprise, the road to Buffels Bay was crowded with people who had clearly celebrated New Year's Eve all night. Given the rowdy atmosphere and the evident influence of alcohol on many, we chose to turn around and continue our journey to Storms River Village.


Left to right: Heading toward Forest Hall; Kuthumba Eco Estate


Taking a nostalgic journey, we headed through Plettenberg Bay towards Forest Hall Manor House and Estate near Kurland—a place Mom had visited as a child and my parents revisited after their marriage. Hoping to photograph the manor, depicted in an amazing painting by my great grandfather some 40 years ago, we were disheartened to find high walls and an unwelcoming wooden gate with no means of contact. Despite this second disappointment of the day, the drive through the Craggs area continued uneventful until Dad spotted a stunning Rufous-breasted Sparrow Hawk in the Kuthumba Eco-Village & Forest Reserve—a delightful surprise and another lifer!


The Grootrivier Pass in Nature's Valley


Continuing our journey, we were too early for check-in at our accommodation in Storms River Village and so opting to explore Nature's Valley. We drove along the Grootrivier Pass, reveling in breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Pausing to explore the De Vasselot Section of Tsitsikamma National Park on a cool, overcast day, we were grateful for the rain's temporary reprieve. Heading down to the beach, we took some time to enjoy the pristine sandy shores. We later headed into heavy mist towards our accommodation, De Bos Huijs, our home for the next four nights.


Tsitsikamma Big Tree


Eager to commence exploration in this new area, we quickly unpacked our perishables and embarked on a journey on foot to find "The Big Tree." Traversing the Ratel Nature Walk along pathways and boardwalks, we soon encountered the impressive Tsitsikamma Big Tree, surpassing the size of the one we had seen in the Wilderness area. The indigenous forest enveloping us hosted various birds calling from the canopies above and a multitude of insects bustling along the forest floor. Every direction offered something fascinating to observe. Amongst the towering trees, I felt insignificantly small, humbled by nature's grandeur.


Ronnie chilling on 5th Beach - Plettenberg Bay


The next morning found us in Plettenberg Bay, where we arranged to meet some friends at 5th Beach. After a few delightful hours of sun-soaked fun and playful tumbles in the waves, we craved rehydration and sustenance. Following a recommendation, we discovered The Lookout, a restaurant with a stunning ambiance evoking the scents of suntan lotion, seafood, and sand, reminiscent of island living—an ideal setting for cocktails. Pina Colada’s and Strawberry Daiquiri’s all around were the order of the day.


Lunch at The Lookout


One of my personal trip's bucket list activities was kayaking, and after a bit of luck, we headed to Bitou Kayaks' launch site on the beautiful grounds of Emily Moon. Embarking on a two-hour kayaking journey, we found ourselves paddling through calm waters surrounded by picturesque landscapes, including lush vegetation and some shallow reed beds. The beauty of kayaking estuaries and rivers is that they provide a peaceful setting away from the more turbulent open sea, of which I’d be quite afraid and unable to appreciate the beauty around me. Always attentive to the sights and sounds of the avian world, we were delighted to have seen the following: Purple Heron, Eurasian Whilbrel, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Starling, Darter and Pied Kingfisher and yet again, the sound of a fluffy in the reeds, had our ears peaked (Did we see it? – you guessed it – No!) Departing Emily Moon with a sense of accomplishment after finally checking off a bucket list item, we returned 'home' for a delightful braai.


From left to right: Kayaking on the Bitou River; Success; Emily Moon


The next morning, our plan was to visit Nature's Valley and embark on the seemingly straightforward Salt River Coastal Route hike. Before embarking on our hike we were graced by the presence of Olive Woodpeckers, which filled us with hope that we were in for a treat. Our assumptions, however, were quickly proven wrong. Forewarned about the challenges of crossing 'The Gulley' during high tide, we carefully timed our hike. Despite tough, breath-taking climbs along the coastline, reaching 'The Gulley' was daunting. With a howling wind and sea spray hindering visibility on slippery rocks, the crossing was a challenge. Only when my feet touched the soft beach sand could I finally exhale and say, "Wow, I did it!" It was a tough one but left me feeling satisfied that I had experienced something new, yet again.



From left to right: The start of the Salt River Hike; the infamous 'Gulley'


Feeling completely drained and in dire need of food, Luca treated me to lunch at Moby's in Plett. With a wave to my parents, whom we were abandoning for our date, we set off to indulge in more delectable cuisine. The active nature of this trip meant we were always hungry. After a few hours, we reunited with my parents on the beach, planning to head 'home' to relax. Relax? What's that? We're unfamiliar with the concept. Luca and I had discussed the possibility of stopping by Robberg Nature Reserve, and upon sharing our thoughts with my parents, my dad swiftly changed direction, and off we went to Robberg.


Scenes from the Robberg Trails


Robberg is situated on a peninsula extending into the Indian Ocean, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding areas. The reserve boasts well-maintained hiking trails suitable for various fitness levels, allowing exploration of diverse landscapes. Trails lead to viewpoints with stunning vistas of the ocean, peninsula, and nearby Tsitsikamma Mountains. Our plan was to start with the shorter circular route, potentially veering off for the longer route if we felt up to it. Reaching the exit to continue on the longer route, we felt energized and decided to proceed. Each step silently begged for more forgiving terrain. The gentle rain turned into a deluge, and soon we were drenched. Pausing briefly to admire the resident seal colony, I was overwhelmed by the marine mammals' scent. This compelled me to press forward, needing to escape the odor. One of the highlights, for me, was reaching the Witsand Dunes, known for the unique phenomenon of "singing" or "whispering" sand as you walk on the dunes. Another was the birds, that despite the horrible weather conditions, we managed to bag on the walk. African Black Swift, Cape Grassbird and Malachite Sunbirds to name but a few.


The return walk back to base proved far more treacherous than anticipated, with the persistent rainfall making the rocks exceptionally challenging. After navigating the difficult terrain, we finally reached base. With only a short walk back to the car (or to the mobile coffee unit), we were pleasantly surprised to spot an Orange-breasted Sunbird flitting around the fynbos. What an unexpected and delightful way to conclude what was supposed to be a 'relaxing' day.


Luca and I at Storms River Suspension Bridge with our trusty partner - The Birding Life


Our final day in the area arrived, and we still had one very special place to visit—the world-famous Storms River Mouth Suspension Bridge, a spectacular 77m-long bridge spanning the river mouth. It leads to a short walk and viewpoint on the other side. The sunny day painted the sky a beautiful shade of blue. Along the boardwalks, we climbed more stairs than I was prepared for, but the sight of the bridge made it all worthwhile. We took the customary photos expected at such a renowned sight and after a few hours, we eagerly headed back, stopping at the restaurant for a cold drink. Not one to miss a bargain, I quickly noticed that Waffles were on offer. I simply can't think of anything better than sitting, watching the waves crash against the rocks nearby, enjoying a sweet treat after a strenuous walk. Oh, and they were delicious.


The memorable Marilyn's 60's Diner


Back ‘home’ and the packing began in earnest. Our plan was to walk into the nearby village of storms river and enjoy a dinner at one of the most intriguing restaurants I’d even seen. Marilyn's 60's Diner. It promises an exceptional experience, immersing visitors in a nostalgic ambiance featuring Cadillacs and Chevys, neon-rimmed signage, and an abundance of 50s and 60s decor adorned with Elvis and Marilyn memorabilia. The diner meticulously captures the essence of the era, from its checkered floors to the red and white color scheme, complete with a jukebox and sugar shakers. True to the classic diners portrayed in movies, this restaurant offers an extensive menu. Guests can indulge in everything from breakfast and milkshakes to All-American cocktails, burgers, unique hot dogs, and diner-style desserts.

During dinner, the conversation shifted towards our homeward journey. Luca, ever open to adventure, proposed an alternate route different from our initial one. My parents, intrigued, listened attentively, and soon a new plan emerged, involving additional National Parks and another province. Excitement filled the air as we hurriedly returned home. However, on the way back, the boys decided to embark on a quest to spot the African Wood Owl along the Goesa Trail. True to form, upon arriving home later, Luca had added yet another lifer to his birding life list.


Stay tuned for the final part of our incredible journey, as we venture into the unknown with our freshly planned return route home.

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