Tsitsikamma cattle roadblock

We decided to break away to the Tsitsikamma for the day and rather than just driving in and out on the N2, we took the scenic R102. The three biggest industries in the area are forestry, tourism and dairy so everywhere along the way you pass plantations, dairy farms and accommodation and activity establishments. What we didn’t expect to encounter was a roadblock made up of cattle. As we crested a little hill I realised that there was something in the road about a kilometers ahead. And not something like a car or a person, but a lot of somethings. A herd of cows being moved down the road from one farm to another with the herdsman in front leading the way.

Rather than just sitting in the car I pulled over and we all hopped out to experience something that is very unusual for city slickers like us, being surrounded by a herd of cows in transit.

Being an 18 year old teenager, Chaos Boy didn’t really show any interest, but Miggie was a lot more excited and inquisitive about the whole thing.

We barely got going when the next herd appeared in the road. This one was moving a little faster with the two guys in the lead breaking out in a jog every now and then with the cows nipping at their heals.

This is what road trips and exploring on country roads is about. Experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

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?

Tsitsikamma, the gateway to the Garden Route

The Tsitsikamma truly is a special place.  This breathtaking stretch of the Garden Route is where mountains, indigenous forests, deep gorges and lush vegetation skirt the rugged coastline of cliffs and sandy beaches. The area has an abundance of indigenous flora – ancient yellowwood trees and magnificent fynbos plants – as well as birdlife.  For the adventurous there are various activities catering for everybody from heart stopping adrenaline filled adventure to relaxed soft adventures.  Hope you enjoy this destination video of the Tsitsikamma Tourism Association.

Tsitsikamma Forest stream

I was in the Tsitsikamma for a meeting today and pinched off a few minutes to go and sit in the forest next to a stream to plug in my soul for a quick charge.  It needs a lot more than just a quick charge but it will have to do for now.  I have a weekend to Hogsback coming up and an end of year trip to the Northern Drakensberg so there are lots of streams waiting for me in my near future.

Dusk at Eersterivier

I have to admit, I haven’t got a Port Elizabeth photo for you today.  It’s a combination of things, mostly bad luck coupled with being fairly busy at the moment.  My external hard drive crashed a little while ago and with it went all my family and travel photos.  It’s going to cost me around R8k to have the contents retrieved in a specialist environment.  Money I definitely haven’t got at the moment.  Last week my home laptop’s motherboard decided it was time to pack a case and leave me.  Probably looking at close the same amount to replace it with something proper.  In the meantime I’ve gone through the pictures I had uploaded already and I just haven’t had time to head out and take a few fresh pictures to post.  Frankly, I don’t have the energy and when I do get the time I just don’t get there.  I’m in serious need of a proper holiday.  Not just a weekend away.  A proper holiday.  Something we haven’t had for three years now as our last two December holidays got cancelled for various reasons out our hands.  In the mean time, here is an after sunset pic to end the day off with.  Not a PE sunset but one I photographed at Eersterivier in the Tsitsikamma.  Close enough.

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.

Oudebosch – the perfect stop in the Tsitsikamma

It was a cold and somewhat wet winters afternoon and were heading back to Port Elizabeth after a very enjoyable pre-cold front weekend in The Crags.  Driving along the N2, most people make their comfort and coffee / food stop at Storms River Bridge.  I haven’t done that for a  number of years now  Not since discovering the Oudebosch Farmstall about 30 km east of the bridge.  We took the Kareedouw / Eersterivier offramp from the N2 and turned right towards the coastline.  Oudebosch lies about 400 meters down the road and Ginger the cat welcomed us along with a crackling fire and the aroma of coffee hanging in the restaurant.   
 
We opted to grab a table close to the small fireplace in the restaurant, but not before long the built in braai was lit as well.  Darn, suddenly I was sorry we didn’t grab the couches on that side.
 
There is no way I was going to get away with only ordering coffee for the Damselfly and I and as soon as we walked in Drama Princess uttered the wallet dreaded “I’m hungry”.  It was lunch time after all.  What was on the menu?  Roosterkoek with mince for me; bacon, egg and cheese roosterkoek for the Damselfly; burger and chips for Chaos Boy and a jam and cheese roosterkoek with a milkshake for Drama Princess.  Do you get the roosterkoek pattern?  It wasn’t just because we like roosterkoek.  Oudebosch is famous for it’s roosterkoek.  That’s why. 

Oudebosch is more than just a coffee shop and restaurant.  It also has a curio shop as well as a small supermarket.  The curio shop carries everything from beaded animals and wooden figurines to jams, jewelry and jolly ol’ South African wines so there are no excuse to go home from your holiday empty handed without a gift for grandma or the neighbours who’s always asking what you’re going to bring her.  The supermarket doesn’t just cater for the surrounding farming community but also the holiday makers staying in nearby Eersterivier.  Plus it’s ideal to stock up on eats and drinks for the drive ahead. 
 
 

More and more people are starting to discover Oudebosch and it’s not just thanks to their great offering but also the fact that owner Dewald Niemann is always busy marketing or networking somewhere when he’s not sweating over paperwork in the office.  Proof of this is the extensive addition being put onto the back of the farmstall at the moment allowing them to cater for bus groups looking for a authentic place to stop while on tour.  I got him to stop long enough though for a quick chat and to take the picture of us (and Ginger) at the Oudebosch selfie frame outside.  So next time you head through the Tsitsikamma, why do you even want to stop at a franchise store to get a coffee and something to eat?  Oudebosch and Ginger is calling your name instead.

10 not to miss activities, restaurants and accommodation in the Tsitsikamma

Ahh, the Tsitsikamma…..  My favorite Sho’t Left destination for a couple of days’ breakaway.  Beautiful indigenous forests to sooth my soul, mountains on the horizon, streams running past ancient indigenous trees and forest giants to a rugged coastline where the blue ocean crashes as white waves on black rocks at the foot of sheer cliffs.  This part of the Garden Route must be one of the most beautiful places in South Africa.  Truly paradise.  The Tsitsikamma is a lot more than natural beauty and scenery though.  Its also a place of activities and adventures, some adrenalin filled and others a lot more relaxing.  I am fortunate that I work in the travel industry and the Tsitsikamma is one of the areas that I get to visit quite often both for work and play.  I decided to compile a list of 10 activities, restaurants and accommodation establishment (in no particular order) that I got to visit in 2014 and that is not to be missed.  Not that there isn’t more, because there is.  It’s just that I have had first hand experience of these.  
 

#1 Woodcutters Journey

I have a very special place in my heart and soul for an indigenous.  It’s somewhere I can go to unwind.  Somewhere I can sit in silence and allow all my problems to flow away from me, even if its just for a short time.  I like to go for a walk on any of the short trails through the forest around Stormsriver Village, but there is another way to explore it and learn at the same time.  The Woodcutters Journey is a guided tour down the old Storms River Pass is a specially designed vehicle.  The pass follows the old elephant migratory route down to the river and on the way passes tree ferns, stinkwoods, yellow woods and many other tree species.  The guide tells you more about the history of the area while pointing out the local flora and fauna. At the bottom of the pass the tour takes a break next to the river for a light lunch or tea and cake.  This is the ideal tour for older visitors or those who would like to learn more about the ins and outs of the forest.

#2 Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour

How about gliding through the indigenous forest like the elusive Knysna Loerie?  Experience the forest from above.  The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour has become a iconic activity in the area and consists of 10 platforms and 10 zipline slides.  The tour takes about three hours and is more than just an adrenalin rush.  The guides aren’t just adventure guides, they also tell you more about the forest and what you see along the way.  I had the great opportunity to do a Canopy Tour with the family and it was something the KidZ have been talking about over and over.  Something I won’t forget quickly was getting ready to push off one of the platforms 30 meters up when suddenly two Knysna Loeries swooped up from below and took the lead for me to follow.  An experience you won’t forget that quickly.

#3 Tsitsikamma Segway Tour

One of my absolute favorite activities in the area is the Tsitsikamma Segway Tour.  A Segway is a personal transporter that is easy to handle and another perfect way to experience the forest.  You start off with a 15-20 minute training session on their training course where the guides make sure you know exactly how to handle your Segway safely before setting off.  The 1 hour Segway experience takes you on a journey through the quaint Stormsriver Village and follow one of a selection of routes among cool pine forest, the indigenous forest, or to the historical Witteklip bridge.  It also takes you through the local township.  The 2 hour tour, the one I went on, goes through Stormsriver Village, and into the cool pine forests.  From here we entered the ancient indigenous Tsitsikamma Forests and made our way along the paths to the famous and majestic 1000 year old Tsitsikamma Big Tree and back to the village.  Once you do it, I promise you won’t want to stop.

#4 Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures

How about flying over a river gorge, across a waterfall and along the river itself? You can do it at Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures.  The experience includes eight slides of which the longest is 211m.  It zigzags across the river gorge, sometimes as high as 50m above the water.  Because its open and you aren’t amongst the trees, you get a better idea of height which gives you the opportunity to really take in the views and your surroundings as you go along.  Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures is situated on the N2 about 10 minutes east of Storms River Bridge and takes about an hour and a half which is ideal if you haven’t got that much time in the area.
 
Because I have done both Tsitsikamma Falls zipline and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, I have had a lot of people ask me which one is better.  It’s really impossible to say because other than the fact that they are both guided zipline experiences, they don’t have much else in common.  They use different zipline “setups”, the one is a full on tour while the other is more seen as an adrenalin activity, one takes it easy which is more time consuming while the other is a much shorter experience, one involves the forest and the other a river gorge and so I can go on.  It really depends on what you want and what experience you’re looking to have.  If you have the time and your budget allows, I would say you have to do and experience both.

#5 The Big Tree

The Big Tree is as part of the Tsitsikamma as the Tsitsikamma National Park down on the coast is.  Probably the second most visited spot in the area by tour groups (don’t go and quote me on that now).  The forest around this 1000 years old tree (I’m sure when I was still guiding 7 years ago the signs still said 800 years) forms part of the Tsitsikamma National Park which now is a sub section of the Garden Route National Park.  The Big Tree is a great leg stretch stop if you are just passing through or something to go and do early morning or in the afternoon to take your mind off all the other things you can do in the area.  From the parking area it’s a nice easy 500 meter walk along a boardwalk to the tree.  Americans seem to be disappointed when they get there, but it is because they are used to Redwood Trees back home.  She is a biggie though and stand 36.6 meters tall with a circumference of nearly nine meters and a canopy spread of about 33 meters.

#6 Regyne Protea Farm

Did you know that the biggest commercial protea farm in the world can be found in the Tsitsikamma? No?  Well it is.  About 8 or so years ago I used to visit the farm on specially organized tours with British tourists, but Dewald Niemann of Oudebosch Farmstall now offers groups regular tours to the farm.  During a visit you don’t just get to see the proteas growing in the fields, but also how they pick, sort and pack them for export.  The warehouse isn’t that big, but it’s an amazing sight walking into the cold storeroom and seeing the whole place full of flowers waiting to be shipped out.  The tour also includes the protea nursery where Hanli Viljoen may just take you around to show off all her babies.  This is another of the activities in the area that I got to share with my family this year.  Bookings can be made through Oudebosch Farmstall and there are minimum numbers so give them a call in advance to check if there is a tour going.

#7 Marilyn’s 60’s Diner and #8 Oudebosch Farmstall

I’m combining #7 and #8 in one heading as they are both restaurants. 
 
Visiting the village of Stormsrivier, you would never expect to find a place like Marilyn’s 60’s Diner there.  It’s all neon and chrome with lots and lots of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and 60’s memorabilia.  This is also where you would find the annual Elvis Festival Africa. Very cool indeed.  Marilyn’s is great for a burger and chips lunch stop, because burgers and chips is what you eat at a place like this.  Their milkshakes also go down like a dream after a walk in the forest while a midmorning coffee between activities is also an option.  Right next door there’s also a new micro brewery, but that I’ll keep for next time after I have had a chance to try it out.
 
One of the most popular stops in the area is Oudebosch Farmstall on the eastern side of the Tsitsikamma.  Oudebosch is more than just a regular farmstall.  It has three main components to it.  There is the supermarket servicing the surrounding farming community and tourists heading to Eersterivier and a curio shop where you will find mostly South African crafts and gifts.  The main reason people stop here though is the restaurant / coffee shop.  Oudebosch has a full lunch menu which is very popular but they are truly famous for their mouth watering roosterkoek made right there in the restaurant on the coals. 

#9 Tsitsikamma Village Inn

The Tsitsikamma is truly blessed with a wide range of excellent accommodation establishments starting with camping and self catering in the Tsitsikamma National Park to backpackers hostels, B&B’s, guesthouses and hotels.  My favorite place to stay is the Tsitsikamma Village Inn, right in the heart of Stormsriver Village, where the main building dates back to 1845.  The hotel has 49 free-standing rooms and is laid out like a village with each cottage individually styled, themed and decorated to match specific colonial building styles found on the Garden Route.  Facilities include the De Oude Martha Restaurant, the Hunters Pub and Cafe Bacchus.  I prefer to have dinner in the Hunters Pub just because its a lot more cosy than the restaurant, but the food is great no matter where you eat.  The hotel is also very centrally located allowing one to explore the village and surrounding forest on foot without having to take your car.  I know I should try out some of the excellent guesthouses nearby, but I’m always drawn back to the hotel thanks to great hospitality by owners Chris and Irma.  Plus they always invite me back so how can I say no?  
 

#10 Eersterivier

Eersterivier is one of the secret gems of the Tsitsikamma.  The village is hidden away right on the coast close to Oudebosch Farmstall and consist of privately owned holiday homes.  Accommodation at Eersterivier is on a self-catering basis in these holiday homes and can be booked through  Tsitsikamma Seaside Accommodation.  Eersterivier offers a serene seaside holiday experience.  Days are spent on the beach, doing hikes along the coast or through the surrounding fynbos, doing shore based whale and dolphin watching or playing golf at the nearby Fynbos Golf Course.  Either that or just grab a good book and enjoy the magnificent coastal views from the deck of your house.  We spent a weekend Sho’t Left in Eersterivier recently and the KidZ just loved the area. 
As they say in television infomercials, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.”  These are just the ones I did in 2014 so watch this space and I will report on more Tsitsikamma activities, restaurants and accommodation in 2015.  Right now I’m compiling my list of things to do so I won’t mention names just yet……. 

Ziplining in the Tsitsikamma

Imagine flying over a waterfall, across a river valley or down a river gorge.  All of that is possible at the Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures zipline east of Storms River.  Visitors get to zig-zag across the Kruis River right next to the N2 and the whole experience only takes about an hour.  It means that there is no excuse not to stop and experience one of the activities that make the Tsitsikamma the adventure hub of the Garden Route.  I’ve been fortunate enough to do both this one and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour a couple of times and people always ask which one is better.  Its impossible to say if one is better than the other.  Other than the fact that they are both ziplines, both experiences are vastly different from each other.  In actual fact, I would say you have to do both. 

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.