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Hello holidays

A holiday in the Southern Cape is about more than just hanging out on the beach. South has selected a collection of new tourism offerings, fun family activities and authentic local shopping experiences for you to explore this summer. Also have a look at our diary on page 28 and our online calendar for events happening in the region. Enjoy!

MOSSEL BAY AND SURROUNDS
New Stuff
MacYoung Farmers Market in Hartenbos is the new local Saturday morning hangout. Fresh produce, plants, clothing, gifts, breakfast, coffee and live music. Open 8am-2pm. Old Sea Shells turn-off, Hartenbos River 082 337 3414

The ReedValley tasting room is the only physical location in South Africa where you can purchase this exclusive export wine. Herbertsdale turn-off (R327) outside Mossel Bay. Open 10am-4pm seven days a week. reedvalleywines.com

The famous ‘water worm’ at Hartenbos ATKV has moved to Diaz Water Park at the Diaz Hotel, where the Steyn family has reopened the water worm alongside various other upgraded super tubes, slides, a lazy river, a heated pool, braai and picnic areas. Open 9am-11pm seven days a week during summer holiday season.
diazwaterpark.co.za

The ATKV Hartenbos’ new fun park includes a water park, play and entertainment areas, mini golf and more. Open 8.30am-11pm during summer holiday season. hartenbos-seefront.co.za

Family Stuff
The longest sandboard ride in South Africa, Dragon Dune, comes highly recommended and is open to all ages. Booking is essential with Billeon Surf and Sand at 082 971 1405 billeon.com

Guided walks with elephants at Indalu Game Reserve. Booking is essential at 082 990 3831 indalu.co.za

Take a guided paddock walk and/or carriage ride with the giant horses of Outeniqua Moon Percheron Stud and Guestfarm. R328 between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. Booking is essential at 044 631 0093 outeniquamoon.co.za

Catch a big fish out at sea with Mossel Bay Deep Sea Adventures. Booking is essential at 
072 454 2988 deepseaadventures.co.za

Take a trip around Seal Island in the Romonza boat. Departs every hour on the hour from the harbour 10am-4pm. Inquire about eco-ocean safaris and sunset cruises. romonzaboattrips.co.za

The Dias Museum complex includes a replica of the caravel in which Bortolomeu Dias came ashore in 1488, the famous 500-year-old post office tree, shell museum and aquarium, and ethno-botanical garden. diasmuseum.co.za

Shopping
Hartenbos Boeremark, Saturdays 8am-2pm at the ATKV amphitheatre. 076 204 3772

Steyn’s Antiques is a treasure chest of antique furniture, collectables and trinkets.
steynsantiques.co.za

A bit of everything at The Goods Shed indoor flea market. thegoodsshed.co.za

The Klipheuwel Padstal (farm stall) outside Little Brak River includes a coffee shop and roastery, deli, fresh vegetables, arts and crafts, and more. klipheuwelpadstal.co.za

Déjà Vu Vintage House 7 Marsh Street Facebook: Deja-Vu-Vintage-House

KNYSNA
New Stuff
A first in South Africa, try Knysna Scootours for a unique way to experience the Knysna Forest. Descend through indigenous forest on single track and navigate sweeping bends on these non-motorised scooters. Booking essential. 
scootours.co.za 079 148 3751

Family Stuff
Experience the magic of flight with Dolphin Paragliding’s tandem flights at Brenton. From R750pp. dolphinparagliding.co.za 
072 199 0622

Open to the public every Wednesday in December, Kilzer’s Kitchen is a cookery school where 
you get to see how your meal is prepared. Booking essential. kilzerskitchen.co.za 044 382 0135

Garden Route Fishing Adventures offer deep sea fishing trips – a must-do for fishing enthusiasts. Booking essential. 
boatingadventures.co.za 082 800 3609

Featherbed Company offers a host of fun experiences, including a ferry trip to the nature reserve and romantic lagoon trips on the Heads Explorer catamaran. 
knysnafeatherbed.com 

Ocean Odyssey is the official whale watching permit holder in the Knysna area and hosts eco-tours outside whaling season. 
oceanodyssey.co.za 044 382 0321

Unwind in the shade of age-old indigenous forest canopies at Garden of Eden. 500m to 1km wheelchair-friendly walkway through the forest. Next to the N2, between Plett and Knysna. 
044 532 7793

Enjoy a number of mountain bike trails in and around Knysna, next to rivers and through lush forests. Enquire at Knysna Cycle Works knysnacycles.co.za 044 382 5153

VegTable is a celebration of vegetables and rustic slow cooking. Located in a cottage in a Pecan nut orchard on Mermaid’s Rest farm on the Rheenendal Road. Booking essential. 
vegtable.co.za 074 833 9516

Shopping
Knysna Montessori Friday Supper and Craft Market, Welbedacht Lane 4pm-8pm knysnamontessori.co.za/friday-market

TSITSIKAMMA
New Stuff
The Storms River Arts & Crafts Meander showcases the work of local creatives, including art galleries, home studios and businesses – all within easy walking distance of each other. Pick up a map from the Storms River Information Centre or participating venues. Opening times on map. Updates on Facebook: Storms River Arts & Crafts Meander. Susan Kemp 083 467 9388

The Tsitsikamma Micro Brewery in Storms River offers four unique craft beers on tap. tsitsikammavillageinn.co.za

Family Stuff
Segway Tours: See our story for more details. segwayfun.co.za

The Tsitsikamma Big Tree is an easily accessible giant yellowwood tree inside indigenous forest, just off the N2 near Storms River Village. The decked forest trail is wheelchair-friendly and a perfect picnic spot.

Shopping
The Storms River Village Market is open every first Saturday of the month 9am-1pm around the Bitou Gallery. Marie Brink 082 573 2442

Tsitrus Café makes great pizza, stocks lots of local products and has a play area to keep the kids busy. Facebook: Tsitrus Café

Buy gifts, wines, preserves, jewellery and embroidered products at Oudebosch Farm Stall. oudeboschfarmstall.co.za

GREAT BRAK RIVER
New Stuff
Seeplaas in Tergniet is the home of Ken Maloney Art, Mont Aime Coffee Shop and Venue, and New Season Design Home Decor. 
044 620 2409

Brothers Coffee Roastery at The Pink House imports quality African single origin green beans, roasts and brews great coffee. Facebook: Brothers Coffee

Eat locally harvested oysters and the freshest fish in a rustic ambience on the banks of the Great Brak River at Oyster World. Open throughout the season. Facebook: Oyster World

Buy fresh bread and cake at Peperboom Restaurant and Bakery. 67 Long Street 
044 620 3081

Noel Henry’s recently opened deli, The Full Basket, stocks cold meats, prawns, cheese, chicken fillet, ice cream, braai spices, dry cake mixes and more. Open 8am-5pm Monday-Friday. 8am-2pm Saturday, and 9am-2pm Sunday in December only. 072 240 6404

Family Stuff
Entertain the kids with craft mornings while you stock up on your arts and crafts accessories at  Periwinkle Crafts, Haberdashery and Jewellery. Ground level, 67 Long Street. 082 743 3089

Marnitz Steyn art gallery features the works of the talented Steyn family, including sculptures, wooden home decore items, and woven articles. Open during season, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Saturday 9am-1pm and by appointment. 
044 620 2381

PLETTENBERG BAY
New Stuff
Enjoy scenic views from the wooden deck of The View Tapas Bar as the kids play on the large lawn nearby. 044 533 0165

Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park is geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding, including kids. Airport Road cairnbrogie.co.za 
044 533 9192

Down to Earth is a natural/organic restaurant at the Plett River Lodge. Focusing on health, they serve ethically and locally sourced dishes. 
044 533 5843

Family Stuff
Visit the various historical landmarks in and around Plett, from the remains of the Beacon Island Whaling Station to the Van Pletten Beacon and Nelson’s Cave, where early man lived along the shore,  on the spectacular Robberg Peninsula. plett-tourism.co.za

Take to the ocean and learn to surf with Jamin surf school at Central Beach. Lessons cost from R350pp (Summer 2016-17), including equipment. Booking essential. 
082 436 6410

For the kids, nothing beats the water slides at Adventure Land. Waterslides, tube rides, trampolines, braai facilities and a take-away kiosk. N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay  
adventurelandplett.co.za 044 532 7869

Africanyon offers an exciting kloofing adventure. Must be 12 years or older. From R500pp. 
The Mill Centre, The Crags. Booking essential.  
044 534 8055

Get to know majestic raptors from up close at Radical Raptors, where you can watch aerial displays and even handle some of the birds. Open 7 days a week. Show times 11am, 1pm, 3pm. 
The Heath off the N2. radicalraptors.co.za 
044 532 7537

Animals and birds aplenty in The Crags at monkeyland.co.za birdsofeden.co.za and 
jukani.co.za

Walk with cheetahs at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre. Forest Hall Rd, The Crags. 
Daily from 9am-4.30pm. tenikwa.com 
044 534 8170

Shopping
From mohair blankets to sheepskin slippers, socks and yarns, The Mohair Mill Shop offers the biggest range of mohair products in South Africa. You can also find furniture, Africo-chic accessories, skins and leather. Kurland turn-off from N2, The Crags. mohairmillshop.com
 
Offering a range of hand-crafted items and furniture, as well as a great spot for the kids to unwind, The Heath in Harkerville is a shopping must. Facebook: The Heath 044 532 7724
 
In addition to homemade cheese and bread, local produce and beautiful things, the coffee and light meals at Nature’s Way Farm Stall on the Nature’s Valley road are great.

WILDERNESS
Family Stuff
Wild X Adventures offers quad-biking, paintball, canoeing, paragliding, abseiling, kayaking, zip-lining and horse rides. Also view the beauty of the Garden Route during a helicopter or small plane flip. Adventures cost between R100pp and R900pp (Summer 2016-1). wildx.co.za 062 398 7818

Eden Adventures offers double, single and triple canoes for hire so pack a picnic and spend the day exploring local waterways. Other activities include kloofing and abseiling. eden.co.za 083 628 8547

Enjoy a guided horseback ride through indigenous forest with Black Horse Trails. Take the Hoekville turn-off from the N2 and head for Beervlei. From R300pp (Summer 2016-17). Cash only. 
blackhorsetrails.co.za 082 494 5642

Acrobranch is a tree top adventure park where you can slide, balance, jump, crawl or swing through the action-packed courses in the forest canopy. acrobranch.co.za 044 882 1113

Operating from SANParks Ebb and Flow rest camp, Segway Tours takes visitors on a guided tour of the Kingfisher Trail. segwayfun.co.za 
081 796 9946

WILDERNESS RIVER SAFARIS offers cruises on a safari-style aluminium boat on the Touw River and Island Lake. Prior booking essential at 081 593 8937 or 082 440 9807

Shopping
Buy clothing, gifts, trinkets, food and oysters at Timberlake Organic Village between Wilderness and Sedgefield. timberlakeorganic.co.za

Milkwood Wilderness Friday Night Market. 4pm-9pm. Milkwood Centre. Facebook for updates.

SEDGEFIELD
Family stuff
Canoe and paddle boat hire and horse rides at The River Deck. Buffalo Bay Road. 083 306 6861

Garden Route Trails offer bird tours, mountain biking in nature, a photographic workshop along 
the shore at low tide and guided nature walks. 
gardenroutetrails.co.za

Take a cruise on the Swartvlei lake on Captain Saney’s twin-hulled ferry class boat, the Loose Goose at Pine Lake Marina. 084 793 4722

Moonlight Meander and Starlight Stroll 
night-time guided tours along the beach. Booking essential 044 883 1015

Head down to the beach and catch some waves – let the guys from Myoli Beach Shop teach you 
to surf or stand-up paddle. 082 386 5093

Take a tandem paragliding flight from Cloud Nine viewpoint. 072 612 8168 flytimeparagliding.co.za
082 777 8474 cloudbase-paragliding.co.za

Have you noticed the mosaics in Sedgefield? Take the Masithandane Mosaic Tour to learn 
more about the community upliftment project that beautified the village. 044 343 2658

Shopping
Enjoy a freshly made breakfast or take home homemade goodies, fresh produce and free-range meats, chicken, dairy and cheese. Wild Oats Community Farmers Market on Saturday 7.30am-12pm, off the N2.

Crafters and foodies alike will love to ramble around the Mosaic Market and Scarab Village, Saturday 8am-2pm. mosaicmarket.co.za scarabvillage.co.za

GEORGE
Family Stuff
Ten Pin Bowling for the entire family at Let’s Go Bowling in Mount View Resort. 
1 York Street mountviewsa.co.za

The Skate Lab will offer hours of skateboarding and BMX fun. York Street (opposite Mount View Resort). 044 873 2808 Facebook: Skatelab George

Enjoy stunning views as you travel on the Outeniqua Power Van railbus from George to Oudtshoorn. Experience the forest, four passes, water falls, six tunnels, fynbos, proteas, bird and animal life, and a panoramic picnic site. Trips start from 7.30am from the Outeniqua Transport Museum. 082 490 5627 opv@mweb.co.za

Garden Route Paint Ball grpaintball.co.za 044 874 1238

Immerse yourself in memories from a bygone era at the Outeniqua Transport Museum, which displays a variety of old motor cars, train carriages and locomotives, including the Emil Kessler (Johannesburg’s first steam locomotive). 2 Mission Road 044 801 8289

Learn more about the town’s history, and especially its role in the timber industry of yester-year 
and the Anglo Boer War, at the George Museum. 
Monday-Friday 8am-4.30pm, Saturday 9am-12.30pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays. 9 Courtenay Street 044 873 5343

Discover the inner workings of a modern dairy farm at Valcor Dairy. Kids can also pet the calves. valcor.co.za 082 331 8618

Abused and ill-treated donkeys get a second chance at a happy life at the Barnyard Donkey Sanctuary. Bring some carrots and fruit to feed these humble beasts of burden. On the R102 between the airport and George. 044 876 9975

From afternoon tea to a night market, park runs, a treasure hunt, hiking, mountain biking, and music concerts (bring your own picnic), the diverse fauna and flora of the Garden Route Botanical Garden offers a beautiful and natural backdrop to fun for the whole family. botanicalgarden.org.za 044 874 1558

Shopping
From farm-fresh products to excellent meals and confectionary to die for, with over 125 food and craft stalls, and entertainment for the kids, the Outeniqua Farmer’s Market is a must. Welgelegen turnoff from the N2. Saturday 8am-2pm. outeniquafarmersmarket.co.za

Local dried fruit, fresh fruit and vegetables, jams, local estate wines and beer at the Kruisaar Padstal (farm stall) in Waboomskraal. N12 towards Oudsthoorn. Monday-Saturday, 8am-4pm. 082 376 4767

Eats and treats at the Roadside Deli @ Hops Valley farm Store Wednesday-Saturday 8am-5pm. Sunday 8am-4pm. Waboomskraal 
073 258 4818

KLEIN KAROO
Family Stuff
The Cango Caves Zipline is a new two-stage double zipline above a deep Karoo ravine and game enclosure. Bookings 072 214 4578. 
cangocavesestate.co.za

Be part of an elephant’s natural daily routine by brushing an elephant at Buffelsdrift Game 
Lodge. buffelsdrift.com

Waterslides, camel rides, putt-putt, touch farm and more at the Wilgewandel Holiday Farm 
in the Cango Valley. wilgewandel.co.za

Shopping
The Village Trading Post in De Rust is famous for good food, interesting shopping and has a new lifestyle shop in the back. 29 Schoeman Street 044 241 2110

Handmade gifts, arts, crafts and sweets at Klapperbos in De Rust. 27 Schoeman Street. 044 241 2351

Doornkraal Farm Stall on the R62 outside De Rust offers wines from 20 local cellars and unique food items. 044 251 6715

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Forest spin

Take a trip into the forests on a self-balancing two-wheeler this holiday. It is amazingly easy – even for those of us who have not been blessed with athletic prowess – exhilarating, empowering and fun.

WORDS Athane Scholtz   PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz

 

I’m not particularly brave. Nor am I sporty. Dressed in a skirt, I’ve made a legendary dive from a quad bike, and was sucked into a whirl pool on the Orange River while trying to impress my husband-to-be on a rowing trip. So you can see why bundu bashing in the forests on a two-wheeler inspires a degree of trepidation on my part, and at least hopeful doubt on the part of my husband.

I’ve booked us on the extended two-hour off-road guided Segway tour in the plantations and indigenous forests of the Tsitsikamma. The marketing materials describe a combination of “sheer natural beauty and the thrill of riding 
the quiet, easy-to-ride, Segway”. All I remember is the affirmative ‘yes’ to the frequently asked question: ‘Can I fall while riding a Segway?’

Arriving at the head office in Stormsriver Village, I am relieved to find adventurous-looking Australian girls appearing to be just as nervous as I am. After signing an indemnity form, we are issued with a hair net, helmet and neon safety bibs. Nope, I’m still not feeling confident.

Our guide, Chester Boezak, a registered tour guide born and bred in the Tsitsikamma, explains the mechanics before we head out for practical lessons on a small bark-laden obstacle course.

“Derived from the musical term ‘segue’ (/sεg-we/), meaning ‘smooth transition’, a Segway is a self-balancing, two-wheel personal transporter. Its operation is intuitive, using five gyroscopes, two tilt sensors, and an array of electronics making adjustments 100 times a second. The Segway remains balanced electronically – you do not have to self-balance from front to back, even over rough or uneven terrain,” says Chester.

The Segway is propelled by leaning forward and backward, and steered by gently moving the handlebar left and right. Unless you do something extraordinarily stupid or irresponsible, it cannot tip forward. If you want to stop, slow down and take both feet off the sensors. If you remove only one foot, it will keep on moving forward – not great when you have temporarily lost concentration in the vicinity of an ice cold forest stream, but generally harmless.

The device is completely sealed to allow it to operate in wet weather, splash through puddles and ride on wet grass – which means, you have finally found something to do on one of those annoying rainy holiday days.

The rules are straightforward: stay in a line, don’t drive too close to each other and pay attention to the road. You can’t speed – the handlebar will literally push you up if you lean too far forward. The smart technology will also slow you down when you go downhill, so fears of momentum-driven runaways are unfounded. The trick is to be relaxed enough for the sensors to read your movements, but in control and concentrating.

The training goes remarkably well. Within minutes the men are making windgat (wild and cheeky) swoops and chasing each other. The women manage to advance from ‘tortoise speed’ (13km/h) to ‘standard speed’ (20km/h). Chester seems to be going at super-duper speed, but evidently does not think any of us qualify beyond the basics.

We start with a smooth ride on tar through Stormsriver Village and into the pine plantations. As we turn onto a parallel road to the N2, Chester tells us it used to be part of the old national road to Cape Town before the highway was built. Considering its width, I have a new appreciation for the upgraded version on my left. Just as I become brave enough to accelerate to beyond a snail’s pace, the terrain turns rough. Erosion-ridden plantation roads, loose stones and bulky vegetation shake my confidence and body, but the smart little vehicle handles well and I stay on board.

And then I fall off! Not as spectacularly as I am usually prone, but luckily without injury, and it is admittedly more a temporary loss of balance and lack of direction than a ‘fall’. Except for Chester, who is obviously paid to notice, nobody seems to have witnessed the inelegant separation of woman and vehicle.

For a moment I think I’m not going to be able to do this… and then I think, ‘nonsense, this is smart technology and I’m more than capable of keeping this thing under control.’ Good decision. The road becomes less bumpy and I become more adept.

And then I start noticing my surroundings. Cool, fresh forest with that strange hollow silence of being among high vegetation that absorbs rather than reflects. The smell of pine needles and wet soil. The bright blue sky framed far above by the needled branches and tall, straight, stark trees.

The relatively soft buzzing of the Segways does not seem to disturb any animals. Chester says he has seen bush buck on tours before.

We cross into indigenous Afromontane forest and splash through shallow root-stained forest streams that sparkle in the sunlight filtering through dappled forest canopy. Chester points out and names several different species 
of trees, shrubs and mushrooms. We stop to get a closer look at a tree mushroom called an ‘artist’s conk’, named because you can engrave pictures or writing on its soft white surface.

Our tour includes a visit to the huge Tsitsikamma Big Tree – a yellowwood whose age seems to be between 600 and 1000 years, depending on whose research you consult. Irrespective, it is gigantic, beautiful and has been here long before any European set foot on South African soil.

It is the first time we encounter other people (on foot) on the tour, who seem impressed at our nifty crafts. After the bouncy plantation ride, the smooth wooden boardwalks leading up to the tree and around through a bit of 
more indigenous forest feels great. We stop and get off the two-wheelers for a quick drink of water and some photographs.

It is time to head back to the village. I’m really quite exhausted, both physically and mentally, but also sad the journey is ending. I’m pleased to discover no stiffness or muscle pain other than sore foot muscles from the unusual relative close positioning on the Segway, which fades minutes after getting off.

For me, the Segway journey was not just a stunning and adventurous ride in one of South Africa’s most beautiful places. It was empowering. I too can do adventurous stuff and be cool… well, sort of.

AT A GLANCE

  • Strict international safety regulations and smart technology ensure reasonable safety within the parameters of any adventure activity.
  • A rider must be at least 1.1m tall and weigh between 45kg and 125kg for safe driving.
  • You must be physically fit enough to stay on your feet for two hours, capable of continuously making minor shifts from front to back and side to side, with knees that can bend slightly.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with a decent grip (like sport shoes), sunscreen and bring a warm top – it can get cold in the forest.

Booking is recommended to avoid disappointment. Segway Tours are available in Storms River and Wilderness. One hour: R350 Two hours: R500 (Summer 2016/17) Bookings Tsitsikamma Segway Tours: 081 320 3977 or bookings@segwayfun.co.za Bookings Wilderness Segway Tours: 081 796 9946 or wilderness@segwayfun.co.za       segwayfun.co.za

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Walking in words

The stories of best-selling author Dalene Matthee, inspired by the history and people of the Knysna forest, are being brought back to life in a guided walk in the environment where her stories originated and played out.

WORDS Gareth Pretorius PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Leslie

It is early morning and the sun has not yet hit the gorge near Jubilee Creek, the scene of Knysna’s short-lived gold rush in the late 1800s and backdrop to Dalene Matthee’s first forest book, Kringe in ’n Bos (Circles in a Forest).

The stream bubbling at our feet was once frequented by numerous pan-handling prospectors, driven by the hope of making their fortune. Were it not for the relative small amounts of gold discovered, the largest remaining untouched section of indigenous forest in South Africa may have been destroyed and the trail we are on would not exist.

Equally important, Knysna’s forests, gold and people may never have gained prominence were it not for Dalene’s love of nature, passion for conservation and compulsion to write. Her forest books were prescribed reading material for generations of school children, sparking a flame of fascination for the forest, its long-suffering elephants and the lives of woodcutters and goldminers alike.

Today, I’m taking a 3.4km guided hike with registered forest site guide and Rheenendal local Meagan Vermaas, whose love of the Millwood Goldfields forest at the edge of her house and Dalene’s research-driven, image-evoking stories have inspired the three-hour tour on foot she gives to tourists and school groups.

We meet at the Dalene Matthee memorial at the foot of a 900-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood named for her at Krisjan-se-Nek. Dalene died in 2005 of heart failure and her ashes were scattered in this forest.

At the unveiling of the memorial – a joint undertaking by the Matthee children, SANParks and Tafelberg Publishers – in 2008, the tree and the hiking trail starting there were renamed for Dalene. “This was her favourite yellowwood,” says Meagan, “She used to love coming here to take inspiration for her stories. Apparently, when she was finished with a book, she used to return here to read her stories to the forest.”

As we walk, Meagan retells the stories of Dalene’s characters and how the very path we are walking on, on this beautiful crisp, winter morning features in the books. Like the monkey ropes that wrap themselves around a neighbouring sapling and wait for a lift to the top of the canopy – a journey that can take decades – so the author and the guide’s voices seemingly twirl into each other through time.

As a loerie calls from above – perhaps warning the real locals, some duiker or a family of bushpigs, of the arrival of humans – we stop at the foot of another yellowwood. “Yellowwoods, which she also called Kalanders, feature very strongly in her books. In Circles in a Forest the main character, Saul Barnard, considers the giant yellowwoods in the forest to be the Biblical tree of good and evil.

Dalene did four years, and more, research and background work for each book, and always translated the first draft of her books into English herself to ensure the correct transfer of culture-specific information. “She got to know the forest extremely well. She treated the indigenous woodcutters, who by then were living in Karatara after being relocated in 1939, with great respect. They were a very close knit community who weren’t treated very well by the townspeople. Acknowledging her understanding and ‘feel’ for the forest, and in recognition of her respect, the woodcutters shared their forest world, and some of its secrets with her, and called her ‘Bostannie’ (Forest Aunty), which is a very high accolade.”

As the first morning light slices through the canopy and the steam of our breath intermingles with tendrils of mist wafting up from the ferns, we are genially regaled with lessons about the various trees and forest flora.

Meagan tells about the inherent qualities various trees have developed over time to assist in their survival, such as the slow-growing stinkwood tree for instance, which grows only 0.5cm per year. “So, in order to give itself a boost, it coppices, which roughly means the young sapling grows out from the base or roots of an older tree, thus saving itself many years of having to establish itself in the very full forest floor.”

Another remarkable tree Meagan points out is a sweet young rock elder, the only tree in the forest that loses all its leaves – which feeds from the maximised mineral recycling from the fallen leaves. This is also one of the many trees named specifically in Dalene’s books; Fiela se Kind (Fiela’s Child) in this instance.

The trees don’t get all the glamour, however, and we hear a great lecture on ferns. “Many of these are edible, some even taste like spinach, but without expert knowledge, trying them out is not recommended, because some have high levels of cyanide,” says Meagan.

The elephants, which play such prominent roles in the forest books, feature in Meagan’s talk too. There have been confirmed sightings of Knysna’s last elephants right here where we walk, but the actual number of elephants remain a point of debate.

Meagan says when elephants eat ferns, they consume some clay with it to bind the cyanide and mitigate the poison effect. There are, however, plenty of medicinal plants in the forest, from the tree fuchsia, whose leaves can be used to treat ear infections, to the bark of the stinkwood tree, which can be ground up and used to treat headaches.

Dalene was living in Hartenbos outside Mossel Bay when she started writing her forest books. The inspiration for researching and writing stories about the forest and its varied inhabitants came to Dalene during a hike, a part of which we are walking on now. At the end of 1978, while on the Outeniqua Hiking Trail with family, she noticed alien oak trees in the middle of the indigenous forest near the Millwood overnight hut. She decided there and then to figure out how it came to be there. Her love affair with the forest had begun.

“The forest is an entity, with a soul of its own,” Dalene said in an interview after the release of her first book. “When I walk in, I get a feeling right here,” she said, pointing to her stomach.

We pause for a short while next to a picturesque waterfall and drink fresh water from the stream while being regaled with more stories. From the miners and the hardships they encountered to anecdotes of modern day encounters with leopards, it is like being transported into the pages of a novel. Stories shimmer at the periphery of our vision; we can almost catch a glimpse of the woodcutters and the great glorious elephants that once roamed the forests in great numbers.

The love Meagan has for the forest is infectious and her talks are well-informed. “I love all four of Dalene’s books, which I have read many times, and have read and watched all the interviews and documentaries I could find. I spoke to Dalene’s daughter, Hillary, and locals who knew her, and spent months training with forest guide Hynie Tredoux before he retired.”

Her guided walks allow many to see beneath and beyond the obvious initial layer of trees, bushes and a bird or two. As we stroll back from the waterfall with the whispers of Dalene Matthee’s characters swirling around us, Meagan reveals an observation and tenderness usually reserved for a nurse. She stops to remove fallen branches or logs that were pinning down little plants. All the while, the forest watches, waits and continues along its own journey.

THE FOREST BOOKS
Dalene Matthee’s forest books are based on the real lives and circumstances of people who lived in the indigenous forests surrounding Knysna, including the gold rush of the late 1800s, government eviction of woodcutters from the forest, and the luring of Italians to establish a silkworm industry in the unyielding Gouna forest. The books have been translated into 14 languages and two of the books were made into films.

Kringe in ‘n Bos/Circles in a Forest (1984)
Fiela se Kind/Fiela’s Child (1985)
Moerbeibos/Mulberry Forest (1987)
Toorbos/Dream Forest (2003)
All except Mulberry Forest are available in print in shops and online. All are available as e-books.

CONTACT
Meagan Vermaas owns Forest Guided Tours, a company specialising in forest-based walks custom-made to suit the hiker’s preferred pace, interests and abilities. She is the official Dalene Matthee guide endorsed by the writer’s commemorative website. Dalene Matthee “Circles in a Forest” tour
Knysna Forest Flora, Fauna, Legends and Lore tour
Bees and Trees tour Knysna Forests Histories and Mysteries tour
Full- and half-day package tours
Forest picnics on order
073 363 6522 forestguidedtours.co.za
dalenematthee.co.za

Click here to view the article as it appeared in South.

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Safari adventure

A craving for adventure and a need to escape the rat race were at the core of a Johannesburg executive couple’s spur-of-the moment decision to buy an upstart game farm outside Albertinia. Fourteen years later the Garden Route Game Lodge has developed a family-oriented experience, which includes the Big Five and attracts visitors from around the world.

WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz

“If we really knew what we were getting into, we may not have done it – the first few years were very difficult – but we have no regrets,” says Garden Route Game Lodge managing director Anthony Doherty during a game drive with South.

The safari is the third of the weekend and we continue to be thrilled by quality close-up game viewing of four of the big five (leopard occur naturally in the area but are nocturnal and shy) as well as cheetah, hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest and large buck species such eland, kudu and gemsbok. Impala and springbok also abound, the latter being a prime target for the cheetah.

Our children have been particularly charmed, not only by the wildlife but also by the obvious regard for their needs. Our personal guide for the weekend, Kalvin Jacobson, greets Emma and Nathan by name upon our arrival and gives them activity packs and caps.

Children’s DVDs, toy boxes and kiddies size gowns in the rooms, a kiddies menu and colouring in pictures in the restaurant keep children busy and parents grateful.

On game drives, the ever-patient and knowledgeable Kalvin answered non-stop questions. On a bush walk he convinced fussy eater Nathan to chew a termite. Daily scheduled junior ranger activities include nature walks, sand art, a tour of the skull garden or reptile encounters, special children’s game drives, fishing in the nearby dam and cheetah tracking.

Our generally slow to rise pre-teens were up and ready to ride before 7am every day, their diligence rewarded by a sighting of a female cheetah eating a freshly killed springbok. Anthony speculates hopefully that her increased hunting is a sign that she may be pregnant again.

Cuddled up in ponchos against the early evening chill, our game drive with the Dohertys is a gem. A showdown between a male and female rhino with a calf takes place right in front of us – to everyone’s great excitement. “For us it never gets old. We love seeing free-roaming wildlife reintroduced on reclaimed farmland, returning to where they would have occurred naturally before domestic farming pushed them out. We still get excited when new animals are introduced or even seeing them exploring new places in the park,” says Anthony.

In 2002, when the Dohertys and their financial partners and friends, the Apteker family, bought the farm, the lodge had very little game, almost no guests and, unbeknownst to them, a dodgy reputation inherited from a previous owner. The couple thought they had done their homework and their first visit to the lodge had gone brilliantly.

Natasha Doherty says she and Anthony were fed-up when both their cars were stolen in Johannesburg and realised their conversation revolved around their jobs as a stockbroker and sales executive at a labour brokerage respectively. “In search of excitement, we were making plans to go to New York when 9/11 happened – we had no back-up plan and needed out.”

Natasha’s mom, Linda Oberholzer, saw the game lodge for sale advertisement in an in-flight magazine and proposed the couple buy the lodge. While it seemed crazy, the Dohertys none-the-less drove through the night and arrived for breakfast – the first time either of them had been in Mossel Bay. “We spent the night at the lodge and our chalet had a magnificent view. The lodge appeared very busy and we had a fantastic time enjoying delicious food in the open-air boma – only later we learned the previous owner had invited the entire town of Albertinia for a complimentary dinner,” says Natasha.

Anthony had done some research around the tourism sector and felt it was on an upward trend. “In retrospect we were a soft sell… we really wanted the dream and could see ourselves living surrounded by wildlife with the ocean nearby.” The dream nearly crashed when an investor pulled out but a chance dinner with friends connected them with Alon Apteker, one of the founders of Internet Solutions, who remains a friend and financial partner in the lodge.

The couple’s arrival in winter was a hard wake-up call with few guests, rainy weather and nowhere to stay other than one of the lodge rooms. Game rangers doubled as farmworkers and waiters in the boma.

Anthony ran the reserve and lodge, initially with the help of Game Ranch Management by J du P Bothma, which he read cover to cover. Local conservation authority Ken Coetzee, with input from CapeNature conservation services manager Rhett Hiseman, developed a management plan for the reserve to determine wildlife carrying capacity, stocking rates as well as veld rehabilitation and management.

Natasha focused on marketing and brand reputation management, eventually convincing the understandably sceptical tourism industry to give them another chance as things had changed.

Their determination, hard work and passion paid off. The original 150ha farm has been extended to just under 3000ha, with plans to expand as neighbouring farms become available. Rooms have been upgraded and facilities improved to include a large lounge, bush pub, Serengeti’s restaurant, a spa and outdoor boma. Five new luxury chalets are currently under construction and more large game is expected to be introduced later this year. Staff numbers have grown from 13 to more than 110.

The couple eventually moved off the premises and when they started a family realised the need for a child-friendly game reserve in a malaria-free area. “At the time most game lodges did not allow children under 12 years, so we decided to focus on the family market. Our own kids, Gemma and Roman, had different needs as they grew older, for which we could then provide at the lodge,” says Natasha. The choice was smart, with local and international families making the quick trip from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth for a safari experience. “Because of the reserve’s long existence, the animals are very relaxed around game viewers, so up close sightings are not uncommon.”

Natasha says the lodge has had many memorable moments, such as searching for a missing lion cub with a sniffer dog and pursuing a darted white rhino with a helicopter. “The saddest time was when our baby elephant, Lunar, died and the happiest remains every time a new animal is born. My proudest moment was in 2008 when I watched Anthony on eTV news showing the first free-roaming cheetah cubs born in the Southern Cape in over 100 years,” says Natasha. “We are also proud that some of our guests have been coming back every year since the reserve opened.”

We stop at the elephant boma where Selati and Moya overnight. We feed the gentle giants specially formulated pellets and touch their inquisitive trunks as they reach for more food.

As we leave, Natasha says she remains grateful for being able to live on the Garden Route, with so many wonderful experiences on their doorstep every day. “I still think ‘wow’ and appreciate how blessed we are to have been able to make a life here.”

Garden Route Game Lodge at a glance
Game drives for day visitors depart daily at 11am and 2pm, and take between two and three hours (cost R425 per person, kids under 12 half price). Entry to the reserve, access to the reptile centre (guided tour at 10.30am) and the skull garden is free of charge. Lunch at Serengeti’s restaurant is an optional extra.

WINTER SPECIAL (2016): Bed and breakfast and one game drive for R925pp. Sunday special game drive for R195 pp at 11am and 2pm.

Accommodation includes two- and four-sleeper lodge rooms and two-sleeper chalets with a view of the waterhole or Langeberg valley. Luxury four-sleeper chalets are currently under construction.

Breakfast and dinner at Serengeti’s is an interactive buffet, with chefs preparing game meat on the grill in front of guests. An a la carte menu is available for lunch and dinner. Meals and functions are also hosted at the Chef’s Boma, the outdoor African Boma and pool terrace.

Other activities include reptile encounters, bird walks and the skull garden.

Facilities include a bush spa, two communal lounges, two bars, a curio shop, swimming pool as well as conference, events and wedding venues and services.

Child minding available to sleep over guests.

CONTACT
The Garden Route Game Lodge is situated on the N2, 7km outside Albertinia and 40km outside Mossel Bay.
028 735 1200 grgamelodge.co.za

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Wildlife, wetlands and wine

A growing trend towards immersive holiday experiences has prompted the Plettenberg Bay tourism community to devise a range of luxury slackpacking options to extend beyond the town’s more well-known beach offering. South went along for an introductory Plett Trail experience.

WORDS Yolande Stander PHOTOGRAPHS Ewald Stander and Plett Tourism

Gone are the days when holidays were just about working on a tan and visiting tourist attractions. In a world of super fast, superficial tourism offerings, a growing number of holidaymakers are yearning for unique and authentic experiences that expand knowledge and engage all the senses.

Veteran trail guide Grahame Thomson, who was key to the Plett Trail’s development, is among the first we meet. “Plettenberg Bay has an undisputed image of being the ultimate summer, sun and beach destination, but there are so many other interesting gems that are relatively undiscovered. The Plett Trail showcases the Bitou region’s hidden treasures by linking them with hiking and horse riding trails to make up an immersive holiday and unique luxury slackpacking experience,” says Grahame.

Few, for instance, know that Bitou has significant archeological sites – such as Nelson’s Cave at Robberg, which was home to a small human population more than 160 000 years ago – or that Kranshoek was home to visionary Griqua leader Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom le Fleur.

The area is also a birdwatching hotspot, with 50 percent of South Africa’s 841 indigenous bird species found here. It is home to 52 endemics and 32 near-endemics.

The Plettenberg Bay wine region, which has expanded significantly since the first vineyards were established some 15 years ago, is another trail highlight. Grahame says the region now boasts 16 vineyards and produces more than 200 000 bottles of wine annually, many of which are award-winning vintages.

The trail offering, which will be officially launched at the World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town this April, will operate outside the summer holiday season and comprises a range of one- to ten-day guided packages over 100km of rugged coastline, country roads, wetland terrain and forest paths.

Slackpackers can look forward to numerous attractions, including peninsular paleontology, wine-tasting and cellar tours, birding, cultural tours, coastal walks and marine ecology, forest walks and forest ecology, horse trails, community trails, picnic lunches, five-star accommodation and top class meals.

While it sounds daunting, Grahame says most of the hikes are more than manageable for reasonably fit participants. If our group – who managed to pull off a large portion of the trail in cheap tennis shoes and sweatpants – is any indication, experienced slackpackers should find the Plett Trail well within their abilities.

The beauty of slackpacking is that you can experience the adventure and thrill of hiking without the burden of carrying all your supplies on your back, pitching tents, sleeping on hard beds, cold showers and cooking your own food.

Once the day’s hiking is over, you are greeted by friendly faces at one of the region’s top 
accommodation establishments and shown to a luxury suite with a comfortable bed, soothing hot shower and delicious meals.

We joined the Crags module, which began with breakfast at the enchanting Emily Moon River Lodge outside Plettenberg Bay before a transfer to Keurbooms beach. Our guide, Colin Wylie, shared interesting facts about the area’s geology, birdlife and marine species.

A forest path led to Forest Hall Country Estate, where we picnicked next to the pool before continuing the adventurous hike to Nature’s Valley. One of the most spectacular views of the trail – the snaking Salt River, ocean and beautiful vegetation of the valley – also proved to be the most challenging hiking spot. Our miscalculation of tides turned what was meant to be a knee-deep river crossing into a swim – sweatpants and all! Colin came to our ‘rescue’, eventually carrying all our daypacks and camera equipment across the river. Our day ended at Nature’s Valley beach, before we took up residence at Trogon House – luxury accommodation tucked away in a private forest in the Crags.

The next morning was on horseback, departing from Hog Hollow Horse Trails where owner Debbie Fermor expertly matched horse to rider to ensure even complete novices enjoyed the ride.

Lunch was at Newstead Wine Estate, owned by the Lund family. Nothing beats a glass of ice-cold bubbly after a morning on horseback – or so we believed until Sue Lund laid on a feast that must rank among the most opulent on the Garden Route. It is little wonder visitors return time and again for the exceptional hospitality.

The Plett Trail also includes an overnight stay at the award-winning Kurland Hotel, where adventurers can explore the beautiful country estate, enjoy supper at its prestigious restaurant and overnight in one of its 12 five-star suites.

The final day’s activities entailed a short but exhilarating hike to Redford House – a historic four-star country guest house in the Crags – where we were able to reflect on the journey over tea and scones – the perfect ending to a perfect adventure.

The ten-day, nine-night Plett Trail comprises two main modules (you can do both or either).
The five-night, six-day Kranshoek Experience stretches between the Harkerville Forest and the Bitou River Wetlands in Wittedrift. It includes guided bird-watching, wine-tasting, forest walks, a gallery visit, traditional Griqua cultural activities, nature talks, a visit to Nelson’s Cave and more.

The four-night, five-day Crags Experience explores activities and attractions between Keurbooms beach and Nature’s Valley, the Bitou River Wetlands and Kurland area in the Crags.

One-day specialty guided trails include an interpretive bush walk at Buffalo Hills Game Reserve, the Covie Community Trail of coastline and mountain fynbos ridges as well as visits to 
Bramon and Newstead Wine, and the Robberg Origins Trail in the Robberg Nature Reserve.

Two-night, three-day options are the T-Niqua Stable Inn/Packwood Trail, the Kurland Redford Trail and the Hog Hollow/Kurland Horse Trail.

Booking and information:
A complete guide to Plett Trail is available for download from www.plett-tourism.co.za
Plettenberg Bay Tourism 044 533 4065
Grahame Thomson 082 924 8349
thepletttrail@pletttourism.com

Outdoor summer

Spend your holidays being active and outdoors this summer. The region’s experts choose their favourite tracks, trails and picnic sites in the Southern Cape.

TRACKS
Knysna’s self-declared ‘mayor of cycling’ and owner of Knysna Cycle Works since 1998, Jacques Brink, has been mountain biking for over 23 years. A master bike technician with qualifications from the Barnett Bicycle Institute, Jacques shares his passion for local tracks and lists his favourites.
 
Harkerville Red Route
The holy grail of South African cycle trails, the iconic 22km Red Route at Harkerville has the best natural single tracks and breath-taking ocean views. The route traverses pristine indigenous forest, sections of fynbos and plantations.
Trail Type: Jeep tracks, long and exciting sections of single track, and logging roads.
Surface: Smooth to rough gravel and dirt tracks that turn to mud after it rains. Tree roots across tracks in places.
Exertion: High
Route Duration: 3-5 hours
Difficulty: 8/10
Access: SANParks Garden of Eden parking area between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Petrus-se-Brand
This unique 22.4km route from Diepwalle to Harkerville features the historic Coffee Pot railway track. Stunning views, pristine indigenous forest, small sections of fynbos and plantation, and low water bridge crossings ensure a gorgeous ride.
Trail Type: Jeep tracks, single track and logging roads.
Surface: Smooth to rough gravel, dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places.
Exertion: Moderate, but high when wet.
Route Duration: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: 7/10
Access: Begins at SANParks Diepwalle (on R339 Uniondale turnoff from the N2 outside Knysna) and ends at Garden of Eden.

Homtini
The 19km Homtini route near the Millwood Mines is an ideal route for intermediate riders, through indigenous forest and plantation, and with regular views of Knysna from altitude. It is a favourite among speed freaks because of one of the fastest Enduro downhill single track segments around.
Trail Type: Jeep tracks, logging roads and single track.
Surface: Smooth to very rough gravel, dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places.
Exertion: Moderate to high (4km climb).
Route Duration: 1.5-2 hours
Difficulty: 6/10
Access: Dalene Matthee Yellowood parking area at SANParks Goudveld (Bibbieshoek turnoff from the Rheenendal Road).

Garden Route Trail Park
The purpose built, groomed, exciting single tracks and pump track at the privately owned Garden Route Trail Park in Barrington are a treat. Seven routes, ranging from 4km to 27.5km, wind through farmland, riverine bush and indigenous forest. The trails start and finish at the Trail Café where cupcakes, snacks, light lunches and drinks are served. Park facilities include a pump track and skills area, dirt jumps, bike wash, trail side repair station, toilets, hot showers and excellent coffee. The best news is that owner Rob Dormehl intends building more tracks in the foreseeable future. Bike hire is also available.
Trail type: single track
Surface: Loam with rollers, berms and natural features.
Exertion: Easy to high depending on route choice.
Routes duration: From 20 min to 2.5 hours for routes but the bike park’s fun features can keep you entertained for the day if necessary.
Difficulty: Ranges from 3/10 to 8/10.
Access: Park entry permit available at Trail Café. R100 for adults, R80 for under 18s, R50 for under 13s. Annual permits available online from R400. Ruigtevlei/Karatara turnoff from N2 outside Sedgefield, straight up for 18km to Barrington, right at the T-Junction. 082 802 8103 www.gardenroutetrailpark.com

Cairnbrogie
Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park in Harkerville is single track heaven through coastal fynbos and pine forest with amazing sea views. Geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding for young riders, four trails ranging from  1 – 11km offer a moderate challenge and fun. A professionally designed pump track is set to hone skills further. Cairnbrogie Cafe provides refreshments and basic food for riders. Safe parking and a bike wash are added extras.
Trail type: Single track and jeep track.
Surface: Smooth to rough gravel, cow paths and dirt tracks that turn muddy when it rains, and tree roots across tracks in places.
Exertion: Moderate
Route Duration: From 0.5 hours for 1 km to 1.5 hours for 12km.
Difficulty: 5/10
Access: Tickets at Cairnbrogie Cafe R50 for day pass. Plettenberg Bay airport road. 082 551 4638 www.cairnbrogie.co.za

Kom-se-Pad
Set in the Gouna forest outside Knysna, this 11.9km (one-way) dirt road between Gouna Forest Station and the Uniondale turn-off passes through indigenous forest, and crosses over low water bridges and streams.
Trail type: Forestry service dirt road.
Surface: Hardpack
Exertion: Moderate
Route Duration: 4 hours return.
Difficulty: 5/10
Access: Old Cape Road/Simola turn-off from the N2 Knysna. Start at the top of Simola Hill.
Warning: Forestry vehicles during weekdays and leisure drivers on pass.

Montagu Pass
The historic 15km Montagu Pass from George to Herold is a climbing experience of note – and an exhilarating ride back down.
Trail type: Public gravel road, mountain pass.
Surface: Hard pack gravel.
Exertion: Strenuous climb
Route Duration: 3 hours return
Difficulty: 7/10
Access: Montagu Pass turn-off from the N12 outside George. Park your car at Witfontein Forestry Station. No entry fee charged. 044 870 8323/5
Warning: Vehicles using public road.

Paardepoort Pass
At the top of Montagu Pass is Paardepoort. Combining this pass with Montagu makes for ideal 75km training.
Trail Type: Gravel road
Surface: Gravel
Exertion: Moderate
Route Duration: 3.5 hours or about 6 hours including Montagu.
Difficulty: 5/10
Access: Public access from near Over The Mountain Guest Farm, Herold.

Buffalo Bay to Brenton beach ride
This 10km ride on the hard sand at low tide is the ultimate beach ride.
Trail Type: Beach
Surface: Sand
Exertion: Easy
Route Duration: 1-1.5 hours
Difficulty: 3/10
Access: Parking lots at Buffalo Bay and Brenton beaches. Note these are Blue Flag Beaches, special conditions may apply in season.

Seven Passes
On the backroads between Knysna and George, the 85km Seven Passes road is an ideal long, slow distance (LSD) for multi-day training.
Trail Type: Gravel road
Surface: Hard pack
Exertion: Some climbing
Route Duration: 5-6 hours
Difficulty: 5/10
Access: From Knysna take the Phantom Pass road (Brenton-on-Sea turn-off from the N2), from George take Madiba Boulevard (previously Saasveld Drive).

GOOD TO KNOW – TRAILS
Unless otherwise specified, nominal conservation fees and/or permits may apply for SANParks cycle routes and can be obtained at the relevant gates or forest stations, or the SANParks Garden Route National Park regional office on Thesen Island in Knysna. Annual (R578) and two-month (R158) seasonal tags also apply. Wild Cards and other activity cards are not valid entry.

Information about other SANParks cycle routes:
www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/tourism/activities/mountain_bikes.php

SANParks
Thesen Island Regional Office: 044 302 5600
Diepwalle Forestry Station: 044 382 9762
Goudveld Forestry Station: 389 0252
Harkerville Forestry Station: 044 532 7770
Garden of Eden Office: 044 532 7793
Wilderness Office: 044 877 1197
 
Bike shops
Local bike shops have detailed route guides and bike hire information and services:
Knysna Cycle Works 20 Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 5153 www.knysnacycles.co.za
Bespoked Bike Shop 28 Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 0086 www.bespokedadv.co.za
Ultimate Cycling Broadwalk Centre, Waterfront Drive, Knysna 044 382 3238 www.ultimatecycling.co.za
Bike Centre corner Queen and Market Streets, Knysna 044 382 6103
The Bike Shop 988 Piesang Valley Road, Plettenberg Bay 044 533 1111
Cycleworx 3 Sandpiper Centre, Sedgefield 044 343 1710 www.cycleworx.co.za
Coimbra Cycle House 67 York Street, George 044 873 0606 www.coimbracyclehouse.co.za
Suid Kaap Fietse corner Hibernia and Mitchell Streets 044 873 6386
Willie Marx Cycle Sales Shop 3 Mitilini Court, York Street 044 874 6470
Cycle & Sports Centre 66 Courtnay Street 044 873 2982
Monties 62 Marsh Street, Mossel Bay 044 691 2828

TRAILS
Jaco Horn, Mariet Horn and Amadea Knoetze are the brains and brawn behind the online Garden Route Adventure Guide. The site lists various outdoor activities, including an extensive guide to hiking trails. Jaco shares his favourites:
 
Jubilee Creek, Knysna
Better known as a picnic spot, there is also a beautiful 3.6km hiking trail. You follow a stream most of the way and turn around at a pool and waterfall.
Difficulty: Easy
Directions: Turn inland from N2 to Rheenendal west outside Knysna and follow this road for 12.6km. Take the Bibbieshoek/Millwood Goldfields turn-off to the right. Entrance pay point is at the boom gate. Follow the Jubilee Creek directions to the Jubilee Creek picnic site (10km).

Circles in the forest, Knysna
This hike follows a stream for a short distance and you pass quite a large forest pool with a waterfall.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, 3km or 9km.
Directions: Turn inland from N2 to Rheenendal west outside Knysna and follow this road for 12.6km. Take the Bibbieshoek/Millwood Goldfields turn-off to the right. Entrance pay point is at the boom gate. Follow this road to the Dalene Matthee Memorial at the Krisjan-se-Nek picnic site (4km). The hike starts here.

Perdekop, Harkerville
The Perdekop hike is easily accessible, making it ideal as a ‘last minute’ hike. There is a waterfall with a beautiful pool and a small beach area at the halfway mark. This trail has been awarded Green Flag status.
Difficulty: Moderate, 9km.
Directions: Turn seawards at the Sasol petrol station between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and follow the gravel road to the Harkerville Forest Station.

Half Collared Kingfisher Trail, Wilderness
This trail, which follows the Touws River upstream via a boardwalk to a large set of waterfalls, is mesmerising, and a great place to cool down. There is a pontoon river crossing and stepping-stones if pontoons are not your thing.
Difficulty: Moderate, 7.2km.
Directions: Turn inland from N2 at Hoekwill turn-off, left into Waterside Drive towards back entrance of Wilderness section of Garden Route National Park. Hike starts on western side of old railway bridge.

Kranshoek, Harkerville
I think the Kranshoek and Robberg hikes have some of the best coastal views in the world. It has the beauty of some forest, streams and waterfalls, the coastline and the ocean.
Difficulty: Challenging, 9km.
Directions: Turn seawards at the Sasol petrol station between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and follow the gravel road for 1.7km. Turn right and follow this road for 4.2km to the Kranshoek Picnic Site.

Robberg, Plettenberg Bay
Rock formations, amazing coastline and fynbos – this is one of South Africa’s top coastal hikes and boasts views that attract people from all over the world. I would rate it as one of SA’s top coastal hikes. Take enough water and start early in summer as it can get very hot.
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 2km, 4km or 11km.
Directions: Turn seawards at the Plettenberg Bay Airport Road from the N2 and right at Robberg signage, or seawards on the Piesang Valley Road from the N2 and right into Robberg Road.

Goukamma Bushpig Trail, Buffalo Bay
This network of short and long trails offers a walk amongst the fynbos-covered dunes between the Goukamma River and the ocean.
Difficulty: Easy, 6.5km.
Directions: Take the Buffalo Bay turn-off on the N2 and follow the road to the CapeNature Goukamma Nature Reserve gate on your right.

Pass-to-pass, George
Winding between the Outeniqua and Montagu Passes, this is an out-and-back route with great views. The short detour to Loskop Peak is highly recommended as it offers a 360° view of the Outeniqua Mountains, George and the ocean. If you do this trail one-way, arrange for transport on the other side.
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 7.5km one-way, including the Loskop detour.
Obtain a free self-issue permit from Witfontein Forestry Station at the bottom of the Outeniqua Pass. 044 870 8323/5
Directions: The trail can be accessed from the Outeniqua and Montagu Passes. At the top of the Outeniqua Pass, take the concrete service road to the red and white antenna and park outside the antenna’s fence, where the trail starts. Alternatively, drive to the top of the Montagu Pass where you can park on a small, sandy parking spot, where the hike starts.

Groeneweide, George
Starting on the George campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the trail offers beautiful diversity, especially on the longer loop in the forest. Beautiful cola coloured streams, fynbos and mountain views vie for attention. On the long loop, spoil yourself with a detour to swim in the river.
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging, 9km, 11km or 13km.
Self-issued permit at the trailhead, no costs.
Directions: In George, turn into Madiba Drive (old Saasveld Road) towards the NMMU from Knysna Road. Once you have entered the campus follow the road until you reach the sports fields and turn right. The trail starts near the tree line on the left side of the road after you pass the last sports field. You can park at the building on the right.

Cradock Peak, George
A long walk with loads of uphills, offering unforgettable views of the coastline between Knysna and Mossel Bay, and the Langkloof and the Swartberg mountains to the north. Take enough water, start early and take a jacket, even in summer. Temperatures can be very hot but can drop suddenly in windy conditions.
Difficulty: Challenging, 19km.
Self-issue permit, no costs.
Directions: Take the Witfontein Forestry Station turn-off from the N12 between George and Oudtshoorn. Turn right into the Witfontein Forestry grounds and park at the office building.

Other favourites:
The 10km Brenton-on-sea to Buffalo Bay beach walk, accessed via parking at both beaches.
The 6.5km Terblans trail in Gouna, accessed from Grootdraai picnic site along Kom-se-Pad. Self-issue permit, no costs.
The 7km, 8km and 9km Elephant trails at Diepwalle, accessed via R339 to Uniondale. Permit costs apply.
The 3.6km Drupkelders and Millwood Mine trails in Goudveld. Permit costs apply.

Comprehensive guides to these and other hiking trails are available on:
www.gardenrouteadventureguide.com

GOOD TO KNOW
Unless otherwise specified, nominal conservation fees and/or permits apply for SANParks and CapeNature hikes. SANParks permits are obtainable at the relevant gates or forest stations, or SANParks Garden Route National Park regional office on Thesen Island in Knysna. CapeNature permits are issued at entry gates.

SANParks
Thesen Island Regional Office: 044 302 5600
Diepwalle Forestry Station: 044 382 9762
Goudveld Forestry Station: 389 0252
Harkerville Forestry Station: 044 532 7770
Wilderness Office: 044 877 1197
www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route

CapeNature
Robberg Nature Reserve 044 533 2125/85
Goukamma Nature Reserve 044 383 0042
www.capenature.co.za
 
PICNIC SPOTS
From riverside treats and lush forest nooks to scenic mountain passes and spectacular seaside spaces, picnic spots in the Southern Cape are prime. Here’s a pick from the local tourism offices and conservation agencies’ extensive lists.
 
Tsitsikamma 
Numerous forest and seaside spots in Nature’s Valley and Storms River Rest Camp in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. www.sanparks.org

Salt River mouth, accessed via a short hike near the Nature’s Valley Shop, is secluded and safe to swim.

Tsitsikamma Tourism, Dewald at Oudebosch Farmstall, 042 285 0562 www.tsitsikamma.info

Plettenberg Bay
Robberg Nature Reserve has braai facilities as well as a viewing point area with picnic tables within walking distance of the parking area. Conservation fees apply. Off the Plettenberg Bay Airport Road. 044 533 2125/85 www.capenature.co.za/reserves/robberg-nature-reserve

Poortjies Beach at Keurbooms River lagoon is a great place for a picnic with small children. Access via Poortjies residential area.

Several picnic sites are linked to trails in the Harkerville area, managed by SANParks, including Garden of Eden, Kranshoek and Perdekop. Permits apply. Inquiries at Garden of Eden. 044 532 7793 www.sanparks.org

Plettenberg Bay Tourism, Melville’s Corner, Main Street www.plett-tourism.co.za

Knysna
The famous Knysna Forests offer countless picnic spots in Diepwalle, Goudveld (Millwood) and Gouna. Jubilee Creek in Goudveld is a weekend favourite. Conservation fees and permits apply – obtainable at gates or regional office on Thesen Island: 044 302 5600 Diepwalle: 044 382 9762 Goudveld: 044 389 0252 www.sanparks.org

Knysna Tourism, 40 Main Street (opposite Knysna mall) 044 382 5510 www.visitknysna.co.za

Sedgefield/Buffalo Bay
Spectacular sea- and river mouth side public picnic and braai facilities along Buffalo Bay Road.

In addition to grassed riverside spots in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, there are countless seaside and fynbos ridge sites within easy walking distance. Conservation fees apply. 044 383 0042 www.capenature.co.za/reserves/goukamma-nature-reserve

Situated on the dune ridge overlooking Sedgefield, Cloud Nine is not only a popular paragliding launching site but also provides ample lawn space with a unique view. Access via Egret Street.

Sedgefield Tourism, Main Road (same building as Absa), 044 343 2658 www.visitsedgefield.co.za

Wilderness
Map of Africa in Wilderness Heights is a popular viewpoint and paragliding launch site, and has ample space for picnics. Access via Hoogte Road into Wilderness Heights, follow the signage.

The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is a firm picnic favourite. The rest camp area is not open to day visitors at the height of season, but several picnic spots on hiking trails in the surrounding park area are available. Permits and conservation fees apply. 044 877 0046 www.sanparks.org

Wilderness Tourism 044 877 0045 wilderness@george.org.za

George
The Garden Route Botanical Garden offers unexpected treasures at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains. Caledon Street 044 874 1558 Open 7am to 7pm every day. www.botanicalgarden.org.za

Herold Wines, at the top of the Montagu Pass, has lots of space, trails and tracks, and an excellent wine cellar. Phone 48 hours in advance and they will pack you an unforgettable picnic basket. 072 833 8223 www.heroldwines.co.za

George Tourism, 124 York Street 044 801 9295 www.georgetourism.org.za

Mossel Bay
There are several scenic spots on the Cape St Blaize Hiking Trail between The Point and Dana Bay. Access from The Point parking lot at Cape St Blaize Cave.

Cape St Blaize Lighthouse. Permission to be obtained from Transnet in advance. Montagu Street access. 044 690 3015

Diaz Museum Complex lawns. Free entry Monday to Thursday. 044 691 1067

Mossel Bay Tourism, corner of Market and Church Street 044 691 2202 www.visitmosselbay.co.za

 

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The greatness within

Boasting famous shoes, world class art, quaint little shops and inspired eateries, the riverside town of Great Brak River has evolved from a three-building tollgate post in the 1800s to a burgeoning haven for creatives, foodies and nature lovers.

 WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPHS Mike Ehrman

It’s been over 150 years since Charles Searle arrived in Great Brak River as the keeper of the local toll bridge, but his creative talents as a shoemaker remains the backbone of the local economic and artistic legend.

There is, however, more than a shoe factory in town, as a visit by South soon proved.

Creatively chic
Elaine and Dries van der Walt own Art@39Long, a chic art gallery that showcases a variety of South African artists. “We have many fantastic resident artists in Great Brak and, while we support and celebrate local talent, we also show artists from the rest of the Garden Route and the country,” says Elaine.

Names like Charmaine Haines, Hennie Meyer, Llise Dodd, Sanna Swart, Helen Pfeil and Dillon Marsh are signed on the photographs, paintings, sculptures and ceramics exhibited in the trendy space. The array of disciplines and calibre of artists on display make Art@39Long a gallery on trend with national and international movements. The space is also a boutique venue for special occasions. “We’ve tried to create something different. Not to show art that tries to be political or crass, but to show quality, friendly art.” 39 Long Street, 082 576 3338

Inspired artist
One very friendly local artist is Chris Spies. Chris attained two honours degrees in art from the University of Pretoria and completed the equivalent of three BA degrees in four years, studying in the fields of graphic art, painting, sculpture and photography. “I had the privilege of honing my printing and lithography skills while working under greats like Walter Battis and Gregoire Boonzaier,” says Chris, whose work is often inspired by the style of Gustav Klimt. “Another great inspiration is the old pepper tree outside my studio, thought to have the widest trunk of all pepper trees in South Africa. It has come to represent the Tree of Life. We are connected to trees from cradle to coffin. They provide the oxygen we breathe, the material we build our shelters with and the food we need to survive. We can’t carry on with the blatant, large-scale removal of our trees,” he adds.

Chris is busy with a series in sculpture called Eve. Body casts of women are manipulated and decorated to depict the form and role of ‘woman’ through time. “I hope to show women that they should be proud of themselves. It’s really about celebrating the value of women.” 2 Mossienes Avenue, 071 212 9766 www.chrisspiesart.com

Healing gardens
Laurinda Smit is one woman who has brought a lot of value to visitors to her amazing garden at 103 Steps. A pointillism artist and sculptress in her own right, Laurinda started working in her garden to create a healing space for herself. “Not everyone can walk the Camino when they need to heal, nurture themselves or find inner peace. I started the garden to bring that nurturing into my own life on a daily basis.”

The name is derived from the 103 steps that lead visitors through a magical, calming landscape filled with glimpses of whimsically mystical sculptures and installations. “I make use of anything from crystals to found objects like stones and driftwood. I hardly ever have a pre-planned idea of what I’ll do with any object, but rather let myself be led and inspired by the object itself, as well as the plants in the garden,” she says.

The garden also features a labyrinth and small amphitheatre where Laurinda hosts intimate events, but it really comes into its own on the first Wednesday of each month. “I light a few candles near the entrance and visitors are welcome to take a candle and walk the garden,” she said. “To find that nurturing for themselves, or to just experience the essence of life in a sacred space.” 146 Sandhoogtepad, 044 620 3144

The herb lady
Affectionately known as Great Brak River’s own ‘herb lady’, Cecile Hough has a 20-year romance with herbs. She pours me a cup of delicious homemade herbal tea made from seven herbs with fruity undertones, lemon juice and organic, local honey. “I’m not a herb fanatic and I also believe that unless someone can make an informed diagnosis, herbs should not be prescribed for medicinal purposes. We use herbs for their culinary and cosmetic value.” As well as her tea, bath bushes and bouquet garnis, Cecile manufactures and sells her own herbal moisturising cream and foot cream. “When I started giving herbal footbaths over 19 years ago, there were no herbal foot creams on the market so a friend told me that if I could make moisturising creams, surely I could make foot creams. So I did.” Cecile welcomes visitors to Hough’s Herbal Hub to walk in her herb garden while waiting for a cup of tea. “We believe in organic gardening, so visiting parents don’t have to worry about their kids picking something and putting it in their mouths. In fact, we encourage it!” 20 Mossienes Avenue, 044 620 3143

Shoes!
In honour of the Searle legacy, I make a quick stop at Watson Shoes, which was founded when the demand for Charles Searle’s cobbling talents exceeded the capacity of one man’s hands. The factory continues to make quality shoes, including the world-famous Grasshopper brand, and remains the town’s largest employer. Top quality, comfortable shoes, leather off-cuts and leather handbags are available at good prices at the Shoe Stop factory shop. A tour of the factory (when not closed over season) can also be arranged. 1 Station Road, Shoe Stop 044 620 3453,
Factory 044 620 2121, www.watson-shoes.co.za

Into the past
The interesting story of the Searles, even older tales of the region’s San and Khoe heritage, and an alleged resident ghost are to be found in the village’s award-winning museum. Situated in the old school house building, the museum has earned several accolades but museum curator Ina Stofberg says it is not about the awards. “It’s about keeping the stories of our town alive.”

The museum’s recent shoe exhibition, which included a giant shoe made by Watson Shoes and emphasised the village’s rich history of shoes and shoe-manufacturing, was a great hit.

Also depicted are the lives and times of the village’s earliest settlers. “Great Brak River has been photographed since the very beginning and we are lucky enough to have copies of these amazing photos showing different aspects of life in the 1800s. We also have a small collection of San and Khoe artefacts on display, many of which predate the founding of Great Brak by many, many years.”

Ina also tells of a ghost in the house. “A previous resident of the building where the museum is housed told us how his father would be woken by loud footsteps sounding from the passage of the house. The night visitor would walk from the front entrance – which is now our Khoe exhibition room – down the passage, and enter the boy’s bedroom. The elderly male apparition would linger at the foot of the boy’s bed before walking to the wardrobe, opening it, and lingering for a while longer before taking its leave.” 13 Amy Searle Street, 044 620 3338
 

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
Die Ou Pastorie Teetuin
Die Ou Pastorie is at the heart of Great Brak River. Delicious meals, a variety of homemade baked goods and delightful gifts make for a must-visit. 8 Long Street, 044 620 2388

Peperboom Restaurant and Deli
A longstanding landmark and favourite pit stop, Peperboom offers designer breakfasts, gourmet burgers and ice-cold beers. The deli offers freshly baked goods. 67 Long Street, 044 620 3081

Periwinkle Crafts, Haberdashery and Jewellery
With over 1 400 different product lines, Periwinkle is a creative oasis with many fresh ideas for arts and crafts, quality craft supplies and a stunning range of silver jewellery. 67 Long Street 082 743 3089

De Vette Mossel Grootbrak
The original fat mussel knows how one is supposed to really enjoy seafood: in abundance, with sand under your feet and the smell of the ocean in your nostrils – right next to the sea. Enjoy more than perfectly prepared seafood, enjoy an experience. Just off the R102, Great Brak River turn-off from N2. 079 339 0170 www.devettemosselgrootbrak.co.za

Beatnix Leatherworks
Beatnix Leatherworks has been handcrafting leather cases and handbags in Great Brak River since 1992. Combining only the highest quality material, design and workmanship, Beatnix cowhide and calfskin bags and cowhide cases are truly timeless. Visit the factory for a quick tour (on request), but note that the factory will be closed from 11 December until 11 January. But don’t despair – you can still find their quality goods at the Shoe Stop. 1 Willow Street,
044 620 2744 www.beatnixleatherworks.co.za

Uitspan Saturday Market
Explore treasure troves of fresh produce, freshly baked goodies, crafts and other gems on the first Saturday of every the month. Held on the public green in front of the Pick n Pay in Charles Street, the market runs from 8am to 1pm.

Festivals
Celebrating all things botanical and fragrant, the Fragrance Fest takes place in February at Friemersheim outside Great Brak River. The festival is linked to the village’s Fragrance Route, a self-drive or cycle route featuring a lavender farming project, farms and attractions. More information on the festival and the route from Great Brak Information Centre. www.proemb.co.za 044 620 3338 gbrmuseum@gmail.com

The Great Brak Muse Fest takes place in Spring each year and includes an array of art, food, workshops and more. www.musefest.co.za
 
Great Brak Information Centre (inside museum)
13 Amy Searle Street, 044 620 3338, gbrmuseum@gmail.com
Open weekdays from 9am to 4pm, except Wednesday 9am to 4.30pm. An information centre will soon also operate from the De Dekke centre off the N2 at the Great Brak River turnoff.

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Extraordinary Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay is so cool the original humans camped here. So did the first Europeans and thousands of seafarers since then. Today, visitors come to see pirates singing, dive with sharks and drink tea dressed in vintage fur. And up the stairs of the region’s only public lighthouse, on a clear day you can see forever.

WORDS Denise Lloyd and Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz and supplied

The history of Europeans at the tip of Africa did not start with Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, but in Mossel Bay on 3 February 1488 when intrepid Portuguese sailor Bartholomeu Dias and his crew missed the tip of Africa and came ashore at Munro Bay.

Several extraordinary experiences are intricately linked to Mossel Bay’s connection with Dias and the town’s convenient position for sailors circumventing Africa. The natural spring from which Dias replenished his water supply still runs today. The Milkwood tree – believed to be South Africa’s first ‘post office’ in which passing sailors left letters in a shoe since 1500 – is still there and a ‘shoe’ post box now serves as a receptacle for those wishing to post a letter or postcard from this historic site. While it sounds quite ordinary to visit a museum, the Dias Museum complex houses several surprising exhibits, including the largest shell collection in the southern hemisphere. www.diasmuseum.co.za

St Blaize Lighthouse
The only lighthouse open to the public in the Southern Cape, St Blaize offers a unique view of the bay up to Buffalo Bay point. The keeper will take you on a tour, tell you how the original mechanism worked, how it has been automated and other interesting titbits of bygones. Access is via Montagu Street. Monday to Friday 10am-3pm, excluding public holidays. A new, unique opportunity to overnight in the keeper’s old cottage next to the lighthouse can add to your extraordinary to-do-list. While basic self-catering facilities are available, you will have to bring your own bedding. More upmarket accommodation is also available nearby. Booking is essential. 021 449 2400 or lighthouse.tourism@transnet.net

 Classic Caravel
While the life size replica of Dias’ caravel in the museum is well-known, it is not common knowledge that the dry dock hall in which it is housed has exceptional acoustics and is a regular venue for classical concerts. The caravel has even served as impressive ‘stage’ for a Gilbert and Sullivan Society production of Pirates of Pennzance. Future concert information from organiser Cedric Downard at downard@iafrica.com

Pavilion
First-time visitors to Santos Beach may be forgiven for thinking they are in Brighton in England. The twin of this world famous silver domed Victorian beach pavilion was built in 1906. While it may no longer attract royalty such as the Prince of Wales, who visited in 1925, the impressive structure is worth at least a photo in your album. Restaurant 044 690 4567

On track
In the days before floods caused irreparable damage to large sections of the scenic train tracks between George and Mossel Bay, the town used to be a regular stop for the stately Blue Train, and home to the world-renowned Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train. Mossel Bay remains, however, the home of three remarkable track-related experiences.

The Diaz Express, which consists of three restored railway trolleys, offers booked group excursions for up to 32 passengers between Mossel Bay and Great Brak River. In high summer season the service also runs regular return shuttles to Hartenbos. www.diazexpress.co.za

Santos Express Train Lodge, a set of old railway carriages right on the edge of Santos beach, is listed in the Top 10 Quirky Hotels in South Africa. Last year they added two beautifully restored upmarket Royal Suite railway coaches to their backpackers’ accommodation portfolio and restaurant. Dating back to 1919 and 1921 respectively, the en-suite coaches offer king size comfort – two of which boast real Victorian baths. The owners plan to add a silver service dinner carriage. www.santosexpress.co.za

The eclectic Blue Shed Coffee Roastery in Bland Street is housed in the old workshop for petrol-driven railroad trucks. The long table, which forms a focal point, covers a pit where the mechanics used to work under the trucks. www.blueshedroasters.co.za

Harbour wall
Quay 4, better known as the harbour wall of the country’s smallest working port, has become a tourism hotspot with new eateries and unique offerings. In addition to the only shark cage diving experience in the region (www.whitesharkafrica.com) and the town’s oldest tourism product, Romonza boat trips to Seal Island (http://romonzaboattrips.co.za), fresh fish and chips are now served from a red London Bus (www.londonbus.co.za) and the Mossel Bay Oyster Bar (www.mosselbayoysterbar.co.za) offers shellfish and champagne with an unsurpassed view of the bay.

Movies at Monroe
Should you be in Mossel Bay on a Thursday night, the weekly old movie night at Monroe Theatre showcases old, mostly black and white, movies and includes a light meal. See our story on Page 58 about the theatre and adjacent Déjà Vu vintage shop and tea room. 7 Marsh Street 082 415 9588

Historical Mossel Bay on Foot
Few coastal towns can boast 69 beautiful historical buildings and sites within easy walking distance. If history and architecture is your thing, pick up the detailed and well-researched guide from Mossel Bay Tourism on the corner of Market and Church streets and put on your walking shoes – you will not be disappointed.

There are two out-of-town offerings that should also be on your extraordinary to-do list:
Back in time
In 1997 scientists came upon caves so archeologically important it changed the way science views the origin of humans. The Point of Human Origins Experience at Pinnacle Point is led by one of its discoverers, archaeologist Dr Peter Nilssen, and promises to be scenic and informative. 071 690 8889 www.humanorigin.co.za

Simulator or real deal
Renowned for training air force and commercial helicopter pilots from around the world, the Starlite International Aviation Training Academy in Aalwyndal was the first in Africa to boast a twin turbine helicopter Elite simulator. Ultra-high resolution graphics of Mossel Bay and most of the airports in South Africa will ensure your simulator experience feels extraordinarily real. R1 350 for 30 minutes. Real helicopter flight lessons start at R1 250 for an introductory flight. Tailormade sightseeing trips start at R400 per person, minimum three people. Elsabe Carstens 044 692 0006 or 074 933 0570

Contact
The Things to do in Mossel Bay brochure can be collected from Mossel Bay Tourism or downloaded from the website.

Mossel Bay Tourism
Corner of Market and Church streets,
Central Business District Mossel Bay
044 691 2202
admin@visitmosselbay.co.za
www.visitmosselbay.co.za
Open seven days a week. 8am-6pm on weekdays; 9am-4pm on weekends and public holidays

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Bundu bliss

As creative souls continue to flock to the Southern Cape to escape the rush of city life, several remote galleries and studios have popped up to display the fruits of their new-found peace. South discovered four such havens in the Klein Karoo.

 WORDS Tisha Steyn PHOTOGRAPHS Hans van der Veen

 Kannabos Gallery
When Allana Willox Fourie and husband Pierre are not painting and building television and movie sets for the likes of Sean Penn and Kokkedoor, they can be found on their family farm in the Kykoe Valley in the Bo-Langkloof, about 30km from Uniondale.

Here Allana also has Kannabos, a spacious studio/gallery, which she shares with artist friends. Pierre and his dad, also Pierre, built the space from straw bales packed in chicken wire, and plastered it with a mixture of straw, lime and clay from the nearby river, creating natural red ochre hues.

“The film industry is addictive,” says Allana, her magenta eyes lively. “I love the collaboration with other artists while creating something together. I become alienated when I work here alone.” Hence the friends who come to work with her in silent harmony, drinking tea and eating milk tart, and displaying their art alongside hers.

“I use a medium to express something I am experiencing. I love to paint loosely, with very thick paint – it’s called impasto – it is very free.” But she also uses pastels and coloured pencils for more detailed work, and is starting to experiment with etching. “Your art is you, and you are your art,” she believes.

The succulent nursery outside lends inspiration, not only to her pottery. “The fine detail of the succulents is ideal for etching, so I want to explore this.”

Kannabos Gallery is on the R62 about 30km outside Uniondale on the Oudtshoorn side. Open daily from 8am to 5pm. Allana Fourie 083 444 5237

Kruisrivier Gallery
Roger Young fell in love with the Kruisrivier Valley while working on a film in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he and partner Phyllis Midlane realised their dream of living and working there.

Roger, a woodwork artist and photographer, and Phyllis, a costumier and puppet-maker, moved here from Simon’s Town and immediately set out to restore the buildings on both sides of the Kruisrivier Road, which winds through the green valley: “My studio used to be a schoolroom with 70 kids and one teacher,” Roger says.

Here he creates tables, cabinets, beautifully carved mirror frames and – just for fun – pretty wooden bowls. “I make things to order, but even if not, the pieces usually sell quickly – especially those I had planned to keep!”

The finished products are displayed in the gallery, along with Roger’s black and white photographs, of which he sells prints. These photographs perfectly capture moments in the everyday lives of the people of the valley. “I love these people,” he says passionately. The gallery also showcases some of Phyllis’ work, including papier-mâché sculptures and fabric handbags.

Phyllis, with the elegant poise and grace of a ballerina, learnt her skills with needle and thread at her mother’s knee. After her dancing days were over, she focused on designing and making intricate costumes for local and international ballet, opera and theatre companies, as well as breathtakingly beautiful wedding dresses. She also dresses puppets for the well-known Handspring Puppet Company, and did the material engineering for the internationally acclaimed War Horse theatre production. She will also be re-costuming puppets for the international opera Il Ritorno d’Ulise, which goes on the planks next year. “Commissions from Handspring add a welcome additional income,” she says.

Roger, who was fired as a teacher for being “too creative” many years ago, also presents photography courses.

Once visitors have experienced the tranquility of the gallery, thriving kitchen garden and nursery, they tend to return. “People often visit the gallery and end up having supper or staying over in the cottage we hire out on the premises,” says Phyllis. “We are living our dream. This is where we have found our roots and one is always conscious of the beauty of nature,” they conclude.

Kruisrivier Gallery is about 34km along the Kruisrivier turnoff from the R62 between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. Open daily from 8am to 5pm. 044 213 3296

Marcia’s Studio
Another to have swapped the demands of commercial arts for a studio in the bundu is Marcia Vermaak, who left Johannesburg and her very successful set building business in Bezuidenhout Valley to settle along the Groenfontein Road last year.

She designed the house/studio, which also doubles as gallery. “It is more a studio where people can watch me work than a gallery,” she says, pointing to shelves stuffed with goods usually found in hardware stores.

Here she works magic with materials such as resin, polyurethane and gypsum, which she has used for 25 years to create movie sets for more than 40 films including District Nine, The Avengers, Adam Sandler’s Blended and most recently Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie.

“I was tired and needed a break,” she says, sitting at a table on the wide veranda, sipping ginger beer, overlooking a field where a neighbour’s calves graze. “The movie industry owns you, and you don’t have time for anything else.

“I searched the internet for two years for suitable property. One day I decided to stop dreaming and do something, or give up my dream.” So six years ago she bought the property 11.5km outside Calitzdorp. “I wanted a house with its own water and solar power, and with a mountain and river on it.”

Her art is extraordinary: her thorough knowledge of materials mainly used for set building, allows her to create amazing works of art, mostly sculpture – haunting creations with a message: ‘Melting’ ice men made from resin that sharply reminds of climate change and global warming; and faces of Africa in different finishes mostly created by stain, portraying the rich variety of the people of the continent.

Moviemakers still call her, but her answer is always a courteous “No thanks”. “For now I want to concentrate on my own art: there are so many different materials and new concepts that I want to try out. I am surviving on my savings, but hope to interest people enough in what I create so that they would want to buy it.”

For an extra income and much to the delight of Calitzdorp residents, Marcia offers outdoor movies twice a month. “They bring their picnic baskets, folding tables and chairs, and watch a movie under the stars…”

Marcia’s Studio is 11.5km down the Groenfontein Road outside Calitzdorp. Open 8am to 5pm on most days. 082 338 8782

Oude Poskantoor
Once an old post office serving areas as remote as Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), the Oude Poskantoor gallery outside Calitzdorp is a weekend-only affair of art, food and stoep talk.

Mike Muuren and Peter Giani, an interior decorator and horticulturist respectively, work from Glentana in the week and bought the property in 2008 as a weekend getaway.

The Oude Poskantoor housed a post office during the late 1800s, and in later years also a general dealer and petrol station.

Mike and Peter turned the building into a gallery where mainly local and regional artists display their art. Some of the artists are Helen Pfeil, Anny Maddock, Irma Welman, Dennis Kalil, Amri Pretorius, Leonie Brown, Doris Brand, Benjamin van Wyk and Esbé Grabie.

“The gallery is informal, and anybody who believes their art is beautiful may display it here,” says Mike.

Eventually a coffee shop was set up on the stoep, where visitors like to linger over a menu of light snacks and cold and hot drinks. “We are completely off the grid: no municipal water or electricity, only solar energy and water pumped from the river. It has been going surprisingly well. If we were to open the gallery four days a week, we might afford to do this full time, but we are not ready to retire yet!”

Oude Poskantoor is situated on the Groenfontein Road, 14.5 km outside Calitzdorp. Open Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 5pm but locals are known to visit until late. Mike Muuren 083 285 4751

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Back in time

In 1997 during an environmental impact assessment outside Mossel Bay, two scientists came upon a cave so archeologically important it would change the way science contemplates the origins of humans. South takes the increasingly popular Point of Human Origins Experience at Pinnacle Point, a unique and intimate tour led by one of its discoverers, archaeologist Dr Peter Nilssen.

WORDS Clare van Rensburg PHOTOGRAPHS Shaen Adey, Jenya Zhivaleva, Brian Witbooi

Leaving the manicured greens of the Pinnacle Point Beach and Golf Resort, we descend off the edge of a steep cliff onto a narrow wooden platform. A magnificent vista lies beneath – the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean sweep up to the boulder-strewn bluff and pound out an ancient tempo; orange and grey lichens cling to the sandstone cliffs; sea spray is thrown high into the cool air as seagulls wheel and dive below; and 175 creaking wooden steps descend to sea level, offering our exclusive tour group an opportunity to step back in time.

“The Pinnacle Point Caves contain both a unique record of human habitation – spanning a period of at least 120 000 years –and a unique record of the climate from about 400 000 to 30 000 years ago,” says Peter. The caves were declared a Provincial Heritage Site in 2012, an initial step in the bid towards gaining recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

He and Jonathon Kaplan, director for Cultural Resource Management in Mossel Bay, first identified Pinnacle Point’s historic significance during an environmental impact assessment in 1997 ahead of the construction of the golf course and adjacent Garden Route Casino. As the duo stepped into what is now known as ‘Cave 13B’, Peter admits to a “shiver of gooseflesh”. The archaeologist immediately recognised the value of the fossilised sediment piled high against the cave wall. It was later shown to contain a deluge of archaeological evidence, including the remains of stone artefacts, pieces of shell, charcoal from fires, shards of bone and debris from the manufacture of tools.

The cave that had so entranced Peter in 1997 was later found to be one of 54 heritage related sites ranging from open shell middens to geological and cave sites. This now represents one of the densest concentrations of Stone Age sites in the world.

Due to a series of excavations beginning in 2000, the Pinnacle Point caves have been the focus of intense scientific research by a multi-disciplinary team of more than 40 scientists from around the world. The team is led by Dr Curtis Marean, an associate director of the Institute of Human Origins and professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. Known as the SACP4 Project – South African Coast Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment, Palaeoecology and Palaeoanthropology Project –it is the largest scientific project of its kind in the world, having so far received more than US$10 million in funding from the USA’s National Science Foundation and the Hyde Family Trust among others. Research has resulted in publication in prestigious international scientific journals such as Nature and Science. Current research focuses on caves 5 and 6, which show evidence of occupation from 90 000 to 50 000 years ago.

“The coastline is home to some of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made regarding the origins of all people alive today,” says Peter, our energetic and passionate tour guide. “This coastline was one of a handful of refuges where anatomically modern humans survived an Ice Age that lasted until approximately 123 000 years ago. Since all modern humans stem from a founder group of some 3000 African individuals, this location represents a point of our human origin.”

Early excavations led to the discovery of fossilised fragments of shellfish and animal bones amongst the Stone Age refuse piles or ‘middens’. These artefacts provide a glimpse into the lifestyle and ‘Paleo-menu’ enjoyed by Pinnacle Point’s Stone Age occupants, a staggering 162 000 years ago.

“The nutrient-rich waters of the Agulhas Bank provided a predictable and abundant marine food source. When the tide was out, the fridge was open.” White and brown mussels, limpets and giant periwinkles were collected from the exposed rocks and provided a portable and rich source of protein and omega oils.

Evidence shows that resources were sustainably harvested. “The middens contain multiple shell horizons representing occupation at different times. Shellfish specimens are initially large and with time the specimens get smaller and then the people stop harvesting. They obviously revisited the shore months later and saw that the coast had recuperated.”

Numerous scratched and cut bones found in the caves show the inhabitants also occasionally relied on a variety of game from the surrounding plains. The bones of dassie, Cape fur seal, black wildebeest, eland and giant Cape buffalo stud the middens.

The archaeological evidence at the Pinnacle Point caves has turned research on prehistoric living on its head. “Until very recently it was believed that ‘modern human behaviour’ – such as the making of composite tools with intricate stone blades and points, which represent major development in mental capacity – first appeared in Europe about 50 000 years ago. Evidence at Pinnacle proves such behaviour to date back as far as 160 000 years,” says Peter.

His eyes light up as he passes around a sharp silcrete bladelet, demonstrating how our forefathers fashioned these cutting tools by skilfully chipping away the grey rock with a heavier hammer stone. Our Stone Age predecessors then used fire to anneal and harden their stone blades.

There is also extensive evidence of symbolic art. Dozens of pieces of used ochre were found in the sea caves. The iron oxide-rich mineral was ground into a pigment and may have been used for “social, symbolic, ritual and spiritual activities”.

Peter began leading visits to the caves in partnership with the SACP4 Project, the Pinnacle Point Homeowners Association, Heritage Western Cape and the Oystercatcher Trail in 2013. Each tour begins with an absorbing lecture and concludes with a guided tour of two caves – the famous 13B as well as a smaller cave used for scientific measurements to ensure that the irrigation and fertilisation treatments of the golf course above are not interfering with the caves.

Blending his personal philosophy with comprehensive research, Peter paints a fascinating picture of human origins and encourages his audience to imagine the scene from the Middle Age.

He describes humans’ current behaviour as a species as “dysfunctional”, adding that humans were more successful in antiquity due to a close connection with nature and a deep reverence for life. He views the archaeological record discovered at Pinnacle Point as a road map to a more sustainable future and his infectious motivation for conducting the tour is grounded in his belief in the need to reconnect people with nature. “I want to plant a seed about who and what we are; a closely related family who have lost our innate connection to nature. Within us lies the potential to adapt and change our behaviour as a species.”

Stepping into the famous Cave 13B is a surreal experience. About 30m deep and several metres above sea level, the cave is not currently being excavated and is conserved. Densely packed sandbags protect still unexcavated midden, and remains of the midden strata (about waist deep) are just visible on the opposite wall. The layers show fragments of shell, bone, charcoal from fires and layers of sand preserved and cemented in place by dripstone fossilisation. It is also possible to make out evidence of the fossilised dune that sealed off the cave, preserving it 90 000 years ago. Important artefacts were excavated and removed from the cave; including human remains – a skull fragment and two incisors.

The ocean roars outside the quiet cocoon of the cave. Here lies the ancestral home of some of the oldest people to walk the planet. Here lived a society of innovators, inventors, prehistoric artists, jewellers, and story-tellers, a symbolic and spiritual people integrally connected with nature.

As the other tourists meander out of the cave, silence descends. It is possible to imagine our forebears, adorned with ochre paint, sitting around a roaring fire at the mouth of the cave, sharing a harvest of seafood foraged from the shoreline, beneath the brilliance of an African full moon.

Take the trip
Duration: 4 hours
Cost: R450 per person and 50% discount for children under 12 (September 2015) (group size eight to preferred maximum of 12 people).
Dress: Comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
Fitness Level: The only access to Pinnacle Point Cave PP13B is via a series of steep wooden stairways and boardwalks. The climb back up can be taxing unless you are mildly fit.
Pack: Camera and hat.Inaccessible to prams and wheelchairs.

CONTACT
Point of Human Origins
071 690 8889
info@humanorigin.co.za
www.humanorigin.co.za