Plaatbos forest and Storms River Pass

The Tsitsikamma is one of my happy places. It is where I go to recharge my soul and get close to nature and that is what we as a family did a couple of week ago. It wasn’t a comprehensive charge, but a quick visit one just to breath in the fresh Tsitsikamma air and get away from lockdown at that stage.

One of our stops for the day was the Plaatbos Forest section of the Garden Route (Tsitsikamma) National Park next to Storms River Village. The nice thing about Plaatbos is that it’s right by the village so you can take an easy stroll from your accommodation, it offers free and easy access, and there are various beautiful walks in the indigenous forest. 

You can either follow the different marked trails (green – 5km, red – 7.5km and yellow – 8km) through the forest or just walk along the historic Storms River Pass. 

The Tsitsikamma (or Zitzikama as it was known back then) was first surveyed by the famous pass buyilder Thomas Bain in 1879. He found it consisted of almost impenetrable forests and steep gorges eastwards of Plettenberg Bay, but he followed the ancient elephant trails through the forests to find the best way to traverse these gorges. Using convict labourers, the pass through the Storms River gorge was completed by 1884. By then the village was surveyed and laid out around the Duthies of Knysna’s hunting lodge which became an inn for travelers using the pass and still exists as the Tsitsikamma Village Inn today.

Walking through Plaatbos is more than just enjoying the indigenous forest with its trees and streams. If you keep your eyes open you will spot the little things. New growth on a fern, a little frog in a stream, fungus and mushrooms growing under a dead branch, a butterfly making its way from flower to flower or a Knysna loerie overhead in the treetops.

Suddenly I feel like hopping in the car to go and plug in my soul.

Penguins on St Croix Island

A little while ago I had the fantastic opportunity to go on a cruise on Algoa Bay with Raggy Charters and it felt like we hit the jackpot that day. Whales, dolphins, bait balls, penguins, and the cherry on top, a killer whale.

The cruise was the first opportunity for me to see St Croix Island up close. St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in the world. At one stage there were 60 000 individuals on the island, but the population in our bay has dropped down to about 22,000 due to various reasons. The island houses roughly half of the entire world’s population. The African Penguin  (Spheniscus demersus) is only found on the southern African coastline and is also called a  jackass penguin due to it’s loud, donkey-like bray. Their conservation status is listed as Endangered.

St Croix Island along with Bird Island across the Bay were both utilised for food and supplies since the first Portuguese explorers rounded the Cape in 1488.  Both islands were targeted for bird meat by ships passing the bay and it was soon discovered that African penguin eggs were actually a highly tasty treat and became a delicacy. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries egg collecting was so extensive that penguin numbers dropped to a shocking one thousand individuals in 1937. Guano (penguin dung) was also collected from both islands to be used as fertiliser and gun powder until 1955 on St Croix and until as late as 1989 on Bird Island. This was extremely disruptive to the birds but more importantly, it robbed them of important nesting material.  

Today the African Penguin is a protected species

Source – Algoa Bay Hope Spot – NMBT website 

Darlington Dam

A few months ago we spent a weekend on a friend’s farm near Darlington Dam and he took us for a quick drive to see what the dam looked like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the dam wall itself, so my picture is of the runoff below the wall.

Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.

The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.

The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.

The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.

In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.