21 January 2013

South Africa - Garden Route to Addo Elephant Park - Part 2 Wilderness to Storms River

Canoeist at Look Out Beach, Plettenberg Bay
The drive from Wilderness to Plettenberg Bay is very scenic - surrounded by the Wilderness lakes and then the Knysna Lagoon, it's water, water for most of the way. We stopped in Plettenberg Bay where the Beacon Isle Hotels dominates the beach skyline. A good spot for breakfast or lunch is the Look Out Restaurant which is practically on the beach. This beach and the surrounding buildings were damaged during a heavy winter storm  a few years ago. Plett has always been favoured by the folk from Johannesburg as their holiday spot and it is also the annual hang-out of thousands of teenagers when they finish writing their matric (Grade 12) exams every year.
A must see in the Plett area is Monkeyland, and Birds of Eden. Guided tours will take you through the trees to spot the various types of primates who live here and are free roaming. The Birds of Eden is next door and is the largest single free flight aviary in the world. One wanders through 1.2 km of walkways in a 2.3 hectare aviary. African and exotic, colourful birds share this huge space. Please take enough time to spot them - if you rush through, you could end up seeing nothing! My gold chain was lost on this walk as a cheeky bird perched on my shoulder, much to my delight - it was only later that I realised he had chewed through my chain which dropped off and was lost forever!!!
A guided tour up the Keurbooms River is another interesting experience or you can hire a boat and go 5km up the river, stopping off at the various white sand beaches for a swim or picnic lunch. Both are very enjoyable and fun provided that you don't get stuck on a sand-bank!!
Our next stop was at the very famous Bungy Jump at Bloukrans Bridge. This is the worlds highest bungy jump at 216 metres and is not for the faint-hearted! Needless to say, we have not attempted this adventure, leaving it to all the crazy people out there who have no fear. Whilst I wanted to do the "under bridge" walk - high up over the gorge, under the bridge, James refused point blank so that was that. There were many people milling about but we did not see anybody jump! Sadly, as I wanted to hear those screams of fear. I have to point out that we both chickened out of the bungi jump in Queenstown, New Zealand and that one is not so high!!!!! So it's safe to bet that Bungi Jumping is an activity which is NOT on our bucket list.
Storms River Mouth was our next stop - the San called this area "The Place of many Waters" due to the fact that the river water is stained tannin-black from  the many ferns in the area. It's a heavily forested area with many new trees recently planted. The older trees are yellowwood, stinkwood, hard pear, ironwood, kamassi etc. The rivers have cut out deep gorges whilst flowing down to the sea and this is borne out by the high bridges on this route.
The Tsitsikamma National Park is one of Africa's oldest and largest Marine Reserves. For those seeking adventure, it is the place to be. The famous Otter Trail starts at Storms River and ends in Nature's Valley. At 42 km it is not for the unfit and bookings have to be made far in advance. We opted to take the trail to the Storms River Mouth which is about 1km each way but with many steps. The views over the sea are gorgeous. The trail does not end at the suspension bridge but we chose to walk the bridge over the river mouth - a piece of cake compared to the adrenalin of just the thought of bungi jumping!
Hot, sweaty and with creaking knees, I collapsed into a seat at the restaurant to fortify myself with a cold beer and delicious samoosa's and springrolls whilst James enjoyed fish cakes. It took ages for us both to cool down  after just 2kms!!
Our accommodation at Storms River is called Swallows Nest - the 6 cottages are set within a very pretty garden with oak trees and colourful flowers. Just the spot after the hot day. The village is tiny but busy with the many adrenalin seeking tourists who come here for the Zipline Tours, Abseiling, quad biking, hiking or Blackwater Tubing. The owner of Swallows Nest built and managed a guest house for 16 years before building these cottages as Self-Catering units.
Supper time came around and we headed to Tsitsikamma Inn. The dining room was deserted so we were shown to the smaller bistro area. The food was very slow in coming and my bobotie was the most insipid I have ever tasted. James enjoyed his 300 gr burger though! Dessert was not great either and the atmosphere was very dull - they even forgot to change the CD until eventually one was put on. The hotel looks old with newer rooms in the grounds. Service was pleasant but a rather uninteresting experience. Unfortunately, Marilyn' 60's Diner closed at 18.00 hrs - perhaps because it was Sunday? This place is funky, belts out Elvis music, has tons of  memorabila, down to the old Cadillac! We hope to visit before we leave the village.
Thankfully James got up to make the tea this morning and found a scorpion in the kitchen sink! I would have screamed enough to set the village alight! The owner came to "doom" the poor thing whilst saying that they are quite common in this area and nothing to worry about! Yeah????
The local coffee shop does a great breakfast and has a sign that says "if you want breakfast in bed, sleep in the kitchen" Perhaps I must try this back home?
The coffee shop is owned by a chap who bought up the entire building which now houses a number of small shops. Talk about passive income!
The day is simply gorgeous - not too hot and with blue skies, scattered with the odd puffy clouds so walking was called for. We first did the Fynbos Trail which starts opposite the Info Centre at the entrance to the village. It is 1.8 km and an easy walk. However, I felt very claustrophobic surrounded by tall fynbos - perhaps the thought of snakes and spiders did not help. We saw many nests - presumably of large spiders! I had a fleeting thought of prodding one open but it looked so mean that I thought better leave well alone! The proteas grow very tall and the plants must be magnificent when they are all flowering.

After a short rest, we headed for the BIG TREE - this is a yellowwood tree of approx 1000 years. It's height is 36.6 m and it's circumference is 8.5 m. Not a tree that can be hugged! After admiring this giant, we took the Ratel Nature walk through the forest. The forest is fascinating and quiet. Every now and again one hears the call of a bird or the wind rustling the trees high above. Nothing moves until one spots a black centipede in the path or a dragonfly on a fern leaf. It is a "back to nature experience that can be enjoyed by young and old. The trail has either a yellow route which can be extended with the red route. The yellow route is 2.6km and the red route is 4.2km. We only did the circular yellow route - enough walking for one day now!!!
Marilyn's 60's Diner was our dinner choice for the evening. Being a Monday night it was not at all busy but you just have to visit this venue for the Marilyn Monroe and Elvis stuff covering the walls! Plus the 60's music makes it a very enjoyable outing. The food is nothing special - however our waitress was so very pleasant and made us a gigantic banana split so that we did not have to go hungry. The motto is "you can be thin and wrinkly or you can have a bowl of banana split and fluff that stuff out" So we undid all the good exercise of the day!! Horror of  horrors, I will have to do the Goesa nature walk tomorrow to make up for the indulgence tonight. Can my knees stand it? NO!!!!!
Can anybody tell me how to strangle a frog? Firstly, it's dark outside so you can see where the blighter is, secondly, I do love frogs but not all night long!!!
They have been at whatever they do in the wee hours of the night and I could cheerfully strangle them all. But hey - us city folk don't ever get to hear frogs anymore so I will take their chatter with good grace - who needs sleep anyway?
We did some touring today and then headed off to the Rafters Restaurant at Armagh Country Lodge. Good plate of food, if somewhat over-priced. The food options in Storms River Village are somewhat limited - and they don't seem to bothered about quality and taste. the best meal was at Storms River Mouth.
Maybe we are too fussy? Perhaps that comes of having a "retired from choice" chef in the family?
Anyway, it's all about the experience and this little village is surely the smallest I have ever been too.
Peaceful for sure!
Night night

© Judelle Drake

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