Traveling along the South African East Cape, we were in search of locales that would allow us more time in nature, and specifically participating in water-related activities. With a set arrival date planned for Capetown, we felt the crunch of time, and had to be more selective about where we stopped and how we divvied up our time. It might seem like we are planners, but the truth is that we prefer more flexible itineraries that allow us the serendipity to determine what path to take, and how long to stay, as we go. The popular “Garden Route” is a part of South Africa that we could have dedicated MUCH more time to.
Here is how we spent our time with sand between our toes, salty sea water in our hair, and the scent of damp, earthy dirt and fragrant vegetation in our noses:
Tsitsikamma – We stayed in a lovely guesthouse, The Village Lodge, run by two women, where the kids could play catch with their big lab on a croquet-envy lawn, and we could sample beer from a nearby up & coming micro-brewery, the pet passion project of a local man already entrenched in hotel tourism. Here we visited Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park for a hike that took us over two suspension bridges, and to take a kayaking/lilo tour from the ocean at the river’s mouth into the dramatic inland canyon. Dan and I each manned a kayak with either Stella or Gabriel exerting zero effort in front. This meant that I was often trailing toward the back of our group, huffing away and straining to keep up with my piddly muscle strength. It’s an incredible workout! Once within the deep, fresh-water canyon, we switched to blowup rafts, where we lied on our bellies and used our arms to paddle a la surfer-style.
Our next side trip from Tsitsikamma was to Nature’s Valley. The weather was not complying, as we hiked through sprinkling showers, under an umbrella of grey clouds. Our walk took us past a green lagoon, a turquoise Indian Ocean with frothing waves and a unswimmable surf, and up a cliff side to a high plateau of violet and sage colored fynbos. We were told that the view below might reveal schools of sharks, but we were unable to make out any deep-sea predators. Soon after we had finished hiking up to this point, and after a moment of silence, Gabriel said, “I don’t get it. I don’t get how you made me. Was it a kiss?” Since I was then walking ahead of Dan and Gabriel, I saw this as the perfect time to walk faster, and give Dan the private opportunity to say “why don’t you go ask your mom…”
Stella is an avid animal lover. Whenever we visit a tourist office, her radar gravitates to any animal related brochures. After she found a cheetah-covered advertisement for Tenikwa Wildlife and Rehabilitation Centre, there was no way she could be deterred from seeing this wild cat sanctuary. For days before our visit, we were able to use this destination as bribery for good behavior. Our eventual tour allowed us to see cats not easily sighted in nature, like caracals, servals, and a white lion, not to mention leopards and cheetahs.
From here, we stayed in Knysna at a great guesthouse, called Bamboo. It’s lush and overgrown grounds were a maze of colorful cottages, swimming pools, and tropical gardens filled with aging and weather chapped antiques, bird cages, and sculptures. During our stay we admired the ocean and bay from lookouts and quays, and dined on sushi and seafood whenever we could.
From this base, we also took another long hike at the Goukamma Nature Reserve, which involved crossing a river with a small ferry-boat and pulley system, hiking hours, nearly alone, through hills and sand dunes covered with low-lying bushes, shrubs and milkwood trees, before returning via a long sandy beach that is part of a protected marine area. By the time our trek arrived at the shoreline we were hot and sweaty, but like many South African beaches, the threat of riptides, sharks and stinging sea creatures proved too dangerous to risk a dip, except for Dan, who always finds a way to get into the water(!).
Our final coastal stop before detouring inland, was at the Wilderness National Park. We tested our luck by renting a log cabin on the estuaries shore, last-minute. This was a homey, self-catering place that we could have spent much longer at, and would highly recommend to others. With only a day to enjoy, we didn’t have enough time to do many of the touted waterfall hikes, but did rent canoes which took us through the reedy estuary backwaters, up into a narrow, mountain creek, where we picnicked on a sandy shore, and the children panned little pools for fool’s gold.
Since we were traveling by car, we had invested in a cooler, which allowed us to buy food and cook and prepare several of our daily meals along the way. Many of the accommodations that we stayed at had kitchens or provided refrigerators so that our food wouldn’t go bad. Not eating out for every meal obviously helped us to keep our costs down, which included giving us a chance to tryout our Braai (South African BBQing) skills as well as enjoy some healthy comfort foods.