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.

Spending a day in the Tsitsikamma – video

I have always wanted to make travel videos.  When I started working as a tourist guide in 1998 I had a little video camera which I filmed my tours with.  Back then I didn’t know anything about editing.  The video was basically what I shot and I had to make sure the video was rewound just far enough for the next shot to start where I wanted it to.  All those videos are somewhere on VHS tapes in a cupboard at home.  Somewhere I kinda lost the whole video thing and started enjoying photography and blogging.  But as a blogger I started to feel like I’m falling further and further behind many other travel bloggers who started including more video on their social media platforms.
A few weeks ago we headed out to the Tsitsikamma for a day and I decided that it was time to give video a go again.  Rather than go out and take photos all day, I took video clips on my DSLR camera and on returning downloaded a very easy to use video editing program.  This week I finally had a chance to play around with it and once I started I couldn’t stop.  I realise that with the DSLR obviously not having an anti-shake like a video camera has I should probably have used a tripod, but I live and learn.  I must say that I was quite impressed with the end result.  Obviously, I still have a lot to learn, but you can definitely be sure that you will be seeing a lot more video from me in future.
So here it is, my first video called A day in the Tsitsikamma.  What do you think?

Hogsback – a fairy wonderland of forests and waterfalls

Hogsback must be one of the most beautiful areas in the Eastern Cape and one of my favorite destinations in the province yet it’s been a good decade and a half since I’ve last been there.  Every year the Damselfly and I threaten to go for a weekend but every time we end up going somewhere else.  Not that difficult with all the travel options the Eastern Cape has to offer.  But this time the decision would be carried through though.  It was time to show the KidZ what Hogsback looked like.
Arriving in Hogsback late on the Friday afternoon there were clouds over all the mountain tops but otherwise the weather was cool and nice.  Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of rain and opened the curtains to a sheet of white.  Not snow, if only, but rather a thick fog hanging on and around everything. We weren’t going to allow a sheet of white and a constant drizzle to put us off  though so after breakfast it was exploring time with the Arboretum being first on the itinerary. 
The Arboretum is a garden, or rather more a park, of trees from all over the world, each marked showing their botanical and common names.  Probably one of the biggest, literally and figuratively, features of the garden is several Californian Redwood trees of well over 100 years old.  We parked at the Village Green and took a nice easy stroll through the garden but I kept on falling behind as I was taking way too many photos of drops on flowers, ferns and spider webs.  

Following the right paths and signs brought us to the first of our waterfalls for the weekend.  39 Steps is probably the easiest waterfall to get to in Hogsback and cascades down a series of steps at the top of the garden.  The area hasn’t had the most rain lately so the waterfall isn’t anywhere as spectacular as usual, but still beautiful.

The next stop wasn’t one of Hogsback’s conventional attractions but rather one we wanted to show the KidZ.  The village library.  Hogsback’s library is housed in a rondavel on Redcoat Lane and must be one of the smallest libraries in the country.  

I’m sure my bookworm son would easily rather have stayed here than venture around to waterfalls in the rain, but all we allowed him was a quick look around.  According to the librarian the building was originally used as a butchery but I think the location and setting lends itself a lot more to a library than butchery. 

With the raining weather we could easily have opted to rather work our way around the village with all its artist studios and galleries but how can one visit Hogsback and not visit the Madonna and Child Waterfall in the forest.  With a warning of a steep and slippery path from the lady in the tourism info office, we took the drive down Wolfridge Road and parked at the start of the trail.  From here we followed Hogsback’s famous piggy trail markers down into the forest and even though it was wet and slippery, nobody landed on their b-hinds.

Madonna and Child may be one of many waterfalls in Hogsback, but it’s definitely the most iconic of the lot.  A beautiful setting right in the forest, the water falls down the sheer cliffs into the pool below before rushing off into the forest again.   Looking around one can easily see why it is claimed that part of JRR Tolkien’s inspiration to write The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings came from Hogsback.  It feels like there could easily be fairies hiding under the ferns, a hobbit waiting to jump out from behind a rock or a dragon somewhere down the gorge. While the KidZ explored a bit I went in search of the Geocache hidden at the falls, but then it was time to head back to the trees as the rain started coming down again. 
We did have a chance to mount the camera on a rock and grab a family picture before making our way back up the path to the car.
Although I really wanted us to at least visit the Kettlespout Waterfall as well, the weather had the final say on the day and we decided to throw in the towel as far as waterfalls go.  The Kidz got excited because they though it meant we would head back to our self-catering unit with its fireplace and Dstv. Wrooongggg…  Our next stop was St Patrick’s on the Hill church with its beautiful colourful gardens.  

Although the church is Anglican, services are shared by the Presbyterians, Methodists and N.G. Kerk every Sunday morning at 10am.  It’s also a very popular wedding venue and can one ask for a more beautiful place to get married in than Hogsback.  The one thing that I found very interesting is that the church is open 24 hours a day and everybody is welcome to come and spend some time here in prayer or meditation. 

Talking of meditation.  Our last stop for the day was at the Labyrinth at The Edge.  Unfortunately we could not see the actual edge nor the stunning view from here but the KidZ did take on the labyrinth. What is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth.  Although the two terms are basically synonymous, there is a difference.  In this case a maze refers to a complex branching multicursal puzzle with choices of path and direction, while a unicursal labyrinth has only a single path to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not difficult to navigate.  So with this mouth full I watched the KidZ try and cover the distance to the middle as quickly as possible although generally a labyrinth is supposed to be covered slowly and in a state of meditation, prayer or deep thought. 

We returned to our abode, dried off, warmed up and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon in the hope of perhaps getting in some more walking and waterfalls the next morning.  The last picture in the post… was taken that next morning.  Needless to say, we stayed in and got up later before the drive back home to Port Elizabeth.  It does mean though that we seriously want to get back to Hogsback for the chance to explore a bit more in drier conditions.  Doesn’t mean though that we didn’t have a great time cause who can’t when they get to visit a fairy wonderland of forests and waterfalls, even if it rains all weekend.

Disclosure – The weekend spent in Hogsback was a family weekend done so at our own cost.  Our accommodation at the Arminel Hotel was covered by a voucher I won in a lucky draw at a tourism trade workshop but otherwise nobody invited us nor influenced where we went of what went into this post. 

Exploring the old Storms River Pass

I have a special connection with the Tsitsikamma forest.  It is where I go to plug in my soul for a bit of a recharge.  It doesn’t even have to be an extended recharge.  Just a couple of minutes sitting in the forest next to a stream taking in the forest with all my senses is enough.  There are various ways to explore the forest with trails being the most effective way to leave everything behind.  One of these “trails”, the biggest one actually, is the old Storms River Pass starting from Storms River Village.

The Tsitsikamma (then known as Zitzikama) area was first surveyed by the famous pass builder Thomas Bain in 1879.  He found impenetrable forests east of Plettenberg Bay with access made even tougher by deep gorges.  During the planning process of building a pass through the Storms River gorge, Bain followed the ancient elephant migratory routes down to the river and as elephants find the easiest way down, decided to build his pass along those routes.  Labour for this difficult task was provided by convicts and some of their graves can still be seen on the outskirts of the Village.  The pass itself was completed in 1884 and until the N2 and Storms River Bridge were built in 1955 was the only way to get through the gorge.  Today the road is closed for traffic and can only be access on foot, bicycle or on Storms River Adventures’ Woodcutters Journey tour.  

The Woodcutters Journey takes one down the pass in a small truck with a guide telling you more about the history of the area as well as the ecology of the forest.  The tour tops quite often for the guide to point our specific trees or plants and explains the role it plays in the forest and those who have lived in it in the past.  The tour also allows for you to hop off if you want and walk a section of it.  
I had been down the old pass a number of times, but on this specific trip the guide showed us something I have never seen.  He took us along a path next to the road and showed us some of the original stonework done by Bain and his workers.  In this case a small tunnel under the road to channel water away.
At the bottom of the pass the forest opens up and while the guide unpacked a picnic lunch, we took a walk to the low water bridge over the Storms River.  I’m sure I was told at some stage that the bridge were built by soldiers after the first World War, but please don’t quote me on that.  I can’t seem to find any info on it on the internet.

The trip down the Storms River Pass really is an alternative way to explore the forest and learn a bit more in the process.  I need to be alone to recharge though and the batteries are starting to run low.  I think a return visit is just about in order.

Forest scenes and senses from the Tsitsikamma

The Tsitsikamma is famous for its stunning scenery, magnificent forests and exciting adventures.  I often wonder how many people visit here and marvel at the big things but totally miss the little ones.  Ferns with new leaves opening up, soft moss growing on a rock, bracket fungus on the side of a log, the sound of a forest stream slowly flowing through the underbrush and over a little waterfall and the call of baboons in the distance.  What about the sound of the wind in the trees, the breaking of a branch falling down, the smell of the moist forest and the red flash of a Knysna Loerie overhead followed by it’s ko-ko-ko call.  Suddenly I yearn to be in the forest, somewhere I go to feed my soul and always leave behind a piece of my heart.  

The Big Tree

For my last post in this week’s series on the Tsitsikamma I featuring a thing and not an activity.  The Big Tree is probably one of the best known landmarks in the area and a very popular stop for tourists.  An easy 500 meter boardwalk takes visitors to one of the giants of the forest.  I haven’t been to the Big Tree for a couple of years and one of the things I noticed while there was that the signs no state that its about 1000 years old.  When I used to guide everything said 800 years so either its aged quite a lot since the road upgrade or they now know something they didn’t a couple of years ago.  Anyhow, the Outeniqua Yellowwood (South Africa’s national tree) stands almost 40m high and has a girth of around 9m.

Storms River Mouth Trail

I can never rave enough on how awesome the Tsitsikamma National Park.  Its an absolutely beautiful place and the amount of visitors, both domestic and international, that go there daily is proof that its one place you cannot miss when travelling along the Garden Route.  Most of these visitors do the Mouth Trail from the rest camp to the Storms River Mouth which is one kilometer away.

One of my personal highlights of the walk is the stream that flows past very close to the start of the trail next to the beach.  Drama Princess loves waterfalls and we first had to have a look at where it flows onto the beach.  She then wanted to know where it came from, which was easy because the trail passes the stream just above. 

From the beach we headed onto the trail and stopped just below another waterfall the precedes the one on the beach.  Honestly, I think if the Kidz had a choice they probably would have just stayed at the pool and played there, but there was so much more still to be seen and I had to chase them on.  Also by now we were starting to fall behind the Damselfly who was well on her way towards the river mouth already.

But another stop followed shortly after.  The trail has an open air classroom where the history and ecology of the area are depicted on boards.  The Kidz wanted to have a look at what these first before we continued on to the suspension bridges waiting for us at the river mouth.  More on that another time.

Tsitsikamma Forest Trail Part 3: Up the old pass

The first part of our walk through the Plaatbos Nature Reserve took us on various trails through the forest before taking a halfway break next to the Storms River by the old low water bridge.  This left us with the walk back up to the village on the Storms River Pass.

In 1879 the famous pass builder Thomas Bain was busy surveying the area east of Plettenberg Bay and found it to consist of almost impenetrable forests and deep river gorges.  To get through the imposing Storms River gorge, Bain followed the ancient elephant trails which took the easiest and most gradual way down towards the river and built the road along those contoars.  The pass was built by convicts and completed in 1884.  Travelling down the pass some of those ancient trails can still be spotted next to the road. 

A kilometer or so before the end we crossed another stream and couldn’t help stopping again for a break.  The Kidz had their shoes off immediately to enjoy the fresh forest stream.

I took the opportunity to trek up and down the stream a bit for a couple of pictures capturing one of my favorite things – a forest stream.

The end was in sight and nobody was complaining.  It was an awesome morning out and we topped it off with ice cream sundaes at Marilyns Diner in the village.

Tsitsikamma Forest Trail Part 1: Plaatbos Nature Reserve

I find forests to have some kind of therapeutic effect on me, hence the fact that I will find any excuse to go and spend some time around forests.  It’s no surprise then that I found myself and Family Firefly on a family outing in Storms River Village in the Tsitsikamma.  Three days around the forest for me is probably comparable to somebody from Gauteng spending a week at the beach.  I did make it clear to the family that I wanted to spend at least (part of) one day doing a short hike in the forest and we decided on some of the trails through the Plaatbos Nature Reserve adjacent to the village.

Plaatbos Nature Reserve falls within the Tsitsikamma National Park and has various hiking and mountain bike trails throughout, most branching off the old Storms River Pass.  Heading into the forest we decided to take the very first one on the left as you enter the gate and  disappeared into the forest.  I’m very fortunate that my family loves the outdoors and don’t mind going hiking, so as soon as we hit the trail Chaos Boy was off in the lead with the rest of us trailing after.

The trail through Plaatbos is a typical forest trail with very little disruption around other than the path itself.  The initial plan was to just do a short loop but on two occasions we got to a fork and opted to keep going rather than head back towards the village.  Most of the first part of the walk was spent right inside the indigenous forest and quite a few times I stopped to photograph something interesting.  One of the things that always catch my eye is bracket fungus and on this walk there were no shortage of it.  See Bracket fungus, Brown Bracket and Orange bracket fungus which I have already posted since our trip.
In the end we spent about 4 hours in the forest covering what I guess was probably in the region of about 11 or 12 kilometers. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I decided to split the walk into three posts so that each covers a different part of our outing. I also didn’t want to make it a too long a post cause there are many people like me out there who gets bored very quickly if one has to read too much. *smile* In the next post we head down to the historic Storms River low water bridge at the bottom of the pass.