Knysna to Tsitsikamma | 175km
Originally named Bahia Formosa (Beautiful Bay) by the Portuguese navigator Manuel de Mesquita Petrestrélo, Plettenberg Bay was renamed after Dutch Governor Joachim van Plettenberg in 1779. The town developed around a woodcutters' post established in 1787, and the ruins of the timber store built in that year can still be seen. With 20 km of beaches stretching from Robberg Peninsula to the mouth of the Keurbooms River, Plettenberg Bay, with its luxurious Beacon Isle Hotel, has become synonymous with fashionable South African holidays along the Southern Cape coast.
The brisk winds in the bay make it ideal for sailing, boardsailing, and surfing, while the Keurbooms River offers good water-skiing and canoeing opportunities, and numerous good rock angling sites. Among the town's historic attractions are a replica of the beacon erected by Governor van Plettenberg in 1787 and St Peter's Church (1881). The quaint St Andrew's Chapel was built entirely from yellowwood as a family school and chapel in 1849.
THE KEURBOOMS RIVER NATURE RESERVE
Both the river and the reserve take their names from the keurboom (Virgilia divaricata), which grows in profusion along the river banks. Rising in the Outeniqua Mountains, the Keurbooms River flows southeastwards and then swings south, forming a magnificent lagoon before entering the sea just east of Lookout Beach. The river is popular with anglers, as well as water-skiing, boardsailing and canoeing enthusiasts.
To the north of the bridge that crosses the river, an area of 780 ha has been set aside as the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve to protect the forests and fynbos vegetation. Not to be missed is a cruise up the river, which includes an optional 30-minute walk through the indigenous forests.
MATJES RIVER ROCK SHELTER
This cave was formed by waves pounding against the coastal cliffs at a time when sea levels were much higher than today. When sea levels fell, the cave provided a convenient home to Later Stone Age people who exploited the marine environment. Human habitation of Matjes River rock shelter dates back some 11 000 years.
The cave has one of the largest known shell middens in the world and was also used as a burial site. Stone tools, ornaments and other artefacts recovered from the cave have enabled archaeologists to gain an insight into the way of life of the cave's inhabitants. Situated on the western bank of the Matjes River, the cave is accessible from Keurboomstrand by walking along the beach at low tide.
GROOT RIVER PASS
With its near-impenetrable vegetation and precipitous ravines, the Tsitsikamma forest presented a formidable barrier until well into the 19th century. Early travellers were forced to cross the Tsitsikamma Mountains near Plettenberg Bay and follow the Langkloof to Humansdorp. It was not until 1867-68 that Christopher Harison and Thomas Bain surveyed the forest, but it was the Great Fire of 1869 that opened the way for the construction of a road. Using convict labour, Bain set about building the Groot River Pass, which descends 220 m in just 4 km, reaching the Groot River in 1881.
...is a picturesque South African holidays village nestling between the Groot River lagoon and a headland draped in magnificent indigenous forest. Stretching for 2 km from Die Punt to Blue Rocks, the sandy beach is popular with sunbathers, while the De Vasselot section of the Tsitsikamma National Park offers a variety of day walks.
Covering 1 645 ha of indigenous forest and 916 ha of fynbos, the De Vasselot Nature Reserve was incorporated into the Tsitsikamma National Park in 1987. The rest camp on the banks of the Groot River offers accommodation in two-bedded huts and camping facilities. Visitors can explore the area along a network of six nature trails, while boardsailing, sailing and canoeing are permitted on the lagoon and the river.
Beyond Nature's Valley, the road clings to the wooded precipices as its zigzags up to the coastal plateau. Just before reaching the summit, there is a viewpoint with stunning views over the Groot River lagoon and Nature's Valley. Just over 6 km further on is the second of the Tsitsikamma passes built by Bain.
A convict station was built here during the construction of the pass. In a report written in 1881 by the chief roads inspector, the work on Bloukrans Pass was described as 'heavy, involving some deep scarping and high retaining walls'. Shortly after crossing the Bloukrans River there is a magnificent view of the toll road bridge over the river.
TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK
The core of this park was proclaimed in 1964 as the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park - Africa's first marine park. Stretching for 65 km between Oubosstrand in the east and the Groot River estuary at Nature's Valley, the landward boundary of the park generally follows the 200-m contour. The park originally stretched seawards for 800 m, but this was subsequently extended to 5,5 km. Its main attractions are the rugged coastline, sheer wave-cut cliffs and the beautiful indigenous forests.
The rest camp near Storms River Mouth offers a wide range of accommodation options and recreational activities, perfect for South African holidays in the forest. In addition to the famous 42-km-long Otter Trail, which takes five days to complete, there are several day walks. Especially popular is the Mouth Walk, which meanders to the suspension bridge spanning the Storms River Mouth.
Visitors can get close-up views of the awesome gorge, with its 150-m-high cliffs, by taking a boat cruise up the river. The numerous small bays and coves are ideally suited to snorkelling, while scuba divers can explore the offshore world by following an underwater trail.
About 5 km east of the turnoff to the Storms River Mouth rest camp, a signpost indicates a parking area near one of several 'Big Trees' along the Garden Route. A short walk from the parking area leads to a mighty Outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus), which towers 36,6 m above the forest floor and has a crown spread of 32,5 m. Its circumference at chest height is 8,5 m, while the trunk is 18,3 m long with an estimated volume of almost 51 m3. A boardwalk has been built to prevent compacting of the forest floor by the large number of visitors.
STORMS RIVER GORGE
The road bridge spanning the Storm's River was built in the mid-1950s at a cost of £100 000 to replace the historic Storms River Pass built by Thomas Bain. Designed by the renowned Italian architect, Professor Ricardo Morandi, the 192-m-long bridge consists of two arched sections which met perfectly when they were lowered from opposite sides of the ravine.
In recent years, the deep gorge has become a major South African holidays destination for adventure-seekers. Blackwater tubing trips are conducted in the gorge, while the Stormsriver Gorge Challenge involves a 110-m abseil, a two-hour blackwater tubing trip and mountain biking.
TSITSIKAMMA TOLL ROAD
Built at a cost of R58 million, the 27-km toll road between the Elandsbos River and Ladywood was officially opened in June 1984. Its main attraction is, without doubt, the three spectacular bridges spanning deep river gorges. With a height of 216 m, the 451-m-long Bloukrans Bridge offers adrenalin junkies the highest commercial bungi jump in the world: a seven-second freefall of 180 m.
The impressive Groot River is crossed by a bridge with a span of 301 m, 172 m above the river bed, while the nearby bridge over the Bobbejaans River has a span of 286 m and is 170 m high.
This sanctuary is home to some 16 primate species, among them black and white ruffed lemurs from Madagascar, squirrel monkeys from South America, hooded capuchin, goldenhanded tamarin and blackeared marmoset. The sanctuary consists of 12 ha of indigenous forest which has been enclosed by a 6-m-high fence. Within the sanctuary, the primates - previously kept in zoos, as pets or bred in captivity - are able to roam freely.
Visitors are taken on a guided walk through the forest to water holes, hides, viewing platforms and a canopy walk, from where the primates and a variety of forest birds can be viewed at close range. The remaining 38 ha of Monkeyland serves as a green belt for animals such as bushpig, bushbuck, blue duiker, baboon and vervet monkey.