Few places offer as much diversity of surroundings and experiences as the Southern Cape. We went scratching in our archives for some of the best adventures we’ve had. The complete stories are available on our website southmagazine.co.za until December 2017.
SURFING THE ROUTE, WINTER 2011
Stoked to be among kindred spirits, Gareth Pretorius explored surfing culture for Winter 2011 and met a surfboard designer, ocean-inspired artist, world junior champion, charity surf school owners and a legendary old-timer who remembers when surfers scaled their boards wearing rugby jerseys.
photograph Adrian Skelton
FLY HEAVEN, SPRING 2010
Pieter Naudé revealed a well-kept secret: The Garden Route’s lakes and rivers are prime fly fishing territory and relatively unexplored.
photograph PIETER Naudé
BACK IN TIME, WINTER 2015
Clare van Rensburg took the Point of Human Origins Experience at Pinnacle Point, a unique and intimate tour led by one of its discoverers, archaeologist Dr Peter Nilssen.
humanorigin.co.za photograph Shaen Adey
ICONAT A CROSSROAD, SUMMER 2010
The iconic Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train was attracting 115 000 passengers per year, 70% of them foreign tourists, when significant and repeated flood damage to the George-Knysna track forced its closure in 2006. A George-Mossel Bay tourism steam route operated until September 2010, when the train’s licence to carry passengers expired. In Summer 2010, Athane Scholtz reported on local efforts to repurpose or restore the picturesque route, which incidentally continue to this day. friendsofthechoo-tjoe.co.za photograph Desmond Scholtz
WHALE TRIPPIN’, AUTUMN 2015
Athane Scholtz got up close and personal with humpback whales on a whale watching trip in open waters with Ocean Odyssey, the first Blue Flag nature-based boat excursion in the Greater Knysna area. oceanodyssey.co.za
photograph Lisa Leslie for Ocean Odyssey
WHAT LIES BENEATH, AUTUMN 2013
Large ladies, tight spaces and the villainous ‘Tunnel of Love’ featured in Dale Morris’ funny account and dramatic photographs of the adventure route in the Cango Caves outside Oudtshoorn. cango-caves.co.za
WALKING IN WORDS
Inspired by the work of well-known author Dalene Matthee the Circles in a Forest tour, led by Meagan Vermaas, enchanted Gareth Pretorius and photographer Lisa Leslie. forestguidedtours.co.za
SAVOURING A SLOW PACE
In October 2010 Sedgefield became the first Cittaslow Town in Africa. Locals Desmond and Athane Scholtz shared the town’s commitment to remain mellow and care for its people, visitors and the environment. slowtown.co.za
GHOSTS OF PRINCE ALBERT
Gareth Pretorius and photographer Adrian Skelton took Ailsa Tudhope’s Ghost Walk in Prince Albert, which included a repertoire of spooky stories and a treasure trove of historical facts and fables of the area. storyweaver.co.za
WALK WITH BIG CATS
Timothy Twidle recommended the Cat Walk at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve outside Little Brak River as one of several new activities on the Garden Route. Desmond Scholtz took the photograph. botlierskop.co.za
SLACK PACKIN’ ON THE DONKEY TRAIL, SPRING 2011
Matthew Covarr did the walking (and the words and the photographs), the donkeys did the carrying and the trail guides did the rest on the Donkey Trail slack packing route outside Calitzdorp. donkeytrail.com
MOONLIGHT MEANDER, SUMMER 2012
A mystical moonlight walk to the tidal pools at Gericke’s Point outside Sedgefield revealed an underwater wonderland to Colleen Blaine and photographer Colin Stephenson. 044 883 1015
TAMING THE DRAGON, sUMMER 2010
Sandboarding on the 320m Dragon Dune, South Africa’s longest sandboarding dune, outside Mossel Bay came highly recommended by Gareth Pretorius – who was shown the ropes by champion snowboarder Karin Weich.
billeon.com photograph Desmond Scholtz
WINGING IT, SUMMER 2015/16
Gareth Pretorius and Desmond Scholtz joined ex-SAA Captain Stewart Lithgow to experience Plettenberg Bay upside down, with the controls of an aerobatics plane in their hands. gardenroutegliding.co.za
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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
Walk with cheetahs at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre. Forest Hall Rd, The Crags. Daily from 9am-4.30pm. tenikwa.com 044 534 8170
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
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
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
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.
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 [email protected]
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
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
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
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 [email protected] Bookings Wilderness Segway Tours: 081 796 9946 or [email protected]segwayfun.co.za
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.
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
Click here to view the article as it appeared in South.
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.
The Garden Route Game Lodge is situated on the N2, 7km outside Albertinia and 40km outside Mossel Bay.
028 735 1200 grgamelodge.co.za
In the 1860s famous road builder Thomas Bain and a team of convicts settled at De Vlugt while building the pass that would connect the region’s administrative base, Uniondale, with the timber hub of Knysna. Ever since, the tiny settlement and picturesque Prince Alfred’S Pass have gathered around it an eclectic community of intrepid souls.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
Three very different kinds of roads lead to De Vlugt, none of them fast and smooth. In all cases, the scenery varies significantly from the coast to the Karoo as forests and plantations turn into a semi-desert landscape, red-brown sandstone and layers of blue mountain.
“It’s remote, but not lonely when your hands can find something to do,” says Ursula Peter, who with husband John Allen is among the handful of people who live in the valley permanently. After renovating an 1884 cottage, clearing the seven-hectare property of alien vegetation, making a garden and setting up a honey house, the couple was still far from finished.
“Before retiring to De Vlugt we never realised how popular the pass was. For us, it was a shortcut on our way from the coast and, mountains aside, not particularly beautiful because the surrounding area was covered in alien plants. But we knew there were beautiful waterfalls, pools and an amazing array of indigenous vegetation, and we wanted others to see that,” says Ursula.
Passionate conservationists, the couple has taken it upon themselves to clear the 3km poort section of the pass of alien vegetation – reining in the help of neighbours and at their own cost. In addition, John and Ursula have been identifying places of interest, such as the Bain outspan area where they have planted trees indigenous to the area and an old graveyard, which was cleared of alien vegetation. “There is so much history and beauty here, which we believe should be discovered and explored.”
John, a retired marine biologist and environmental officer, has kept bees since the 1980s and manages hives across the area. The thick, richly flavoured honey is an excellent reason to stop and buy.
The only remaining working farm in De Vlugt belongs to Danie and Linda van Rooyen, who have been farming cattle and vegetables here since the 1970s. “The soil is fertile and the lifestyle calm and quiet. It has been good for long, but we are growing old and have to start thinking about moving nearer to civilisation,” says Danie.
The Van Rooyens’ farm boasts the original house in which Thomas Bain and his family lived during construction of the pass to Avontuur. Thick walls, wooden floors, antique furniture and a coal stove are part of the rugged Bain’s Cottage’s charm. The house has also become a popular holiday cottage. “It is a surprisingly popular honeymoon cottage, mainly I think because there is no cell phone reception and you are guaranteed privacy,” Danie adds with a smile.
Down the road is the Outeniqua Trout Farm, which no longer has trout, but does provide information, accommodation, hiking trails and birding. “When changing weather conditions made fish breeding impossible, we re-looked at what was here and went for it,” says Ingo Venneman, who has since developed with conservation tourism in mind. The farm is part of the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy. “I am just the caretaker, nature is the owner.”
Across the river, the Van Rensburg family owns the property where Bain’s convict crews camped. The station commander’s house, known as The Station, has been in the family since 1928.
“My great grandparents, Esias and Hettie van Rensburg, had 12 children and farmed here through really tough times. Hettie was the local midwife. The family was very musical and my granddad Andrew told of New Years’ parties held on the banks of the Keurbooms River at the drift,” says Ronelle Duck, whose parents Pieter and Desire now own The Station.
Among Ronelle’s own memories are cosy chats in the house’s old-style kitchen, which still boasts a wood stove and a suspended bamboo over which fresh water eels were dried. “De Vlugt is our sanctuary. My best childhood memories were made here; I swam in the river and had hours of family fun. There is no electricity, no television, no cell phones – just the sound of insects and owls. It is heaven.”
Up in the pass, Christopher and Eva Dry have a herd of Saanen goats and provide goat’s milk products to the catering industry. They rent out Cloud Cottage, a characterful holiday cottage in the mountains with an open fireplace and a unique rock-faced bathroom. “People come here to relax, hike and explore on foot or on mountain bikes,” says Christopher.
The most interesting man in the area is retired engineer Katot Meyer, who has turned his grandfather’s old cattle post, Pietersrivier, into a contract stewardship nature reserve in association with CapeNature. “The focus here is on the environment and the intention is to return the area to as close to its original natural condition in the time of the pioneers.”
The camp site is rudimentary but a true reflection of Katot’s off-beat personality. His engineering brain turns conservation issues, such as waste management, into simple solutions intended to change people’s mind-sets. Visitors to the reserve are expected to carry a ‘green box’ for waste disposal (including picking up waste others may have left behind), use toilet paper only in the outdoor flush toilets at the camp site (in the veld, you should carry a water and soap mixture) and smokers must dispose of cigarette butts in a little bottle half filled with water. “If people are uncomfortable with this, they should not visit the reserve,” says Katot.
Pietersrivier features the Burchell Trail, which follows the ox wagon tracks of legendary botanist WJ Burchell in 1814, and sledge tracks over the Outeniqua Mountain dating back to 1774. It has become a significant research site and the base of a water-neutral project in which riverside eradication of alien species has resulted in the reclamation of water equal to 150 homes being supplied with 6m³ water per month.
Real outdoor types will find Pietersrivier extraordinary. It is top-class 4X4 territory and has five hiking trails, one of which includes an overnight option in an indigenous forested kloof. A bird-watching trail features rare birds such as the African sedge warbler. An annual guided hike in the footsteps of Burchell includes areas of true wilderness. There is a water hole, at which leopards are known to drink, which is also great for swimming.
Prince Alfred’s Pass (R339) Named for the second son of Queen Victoria, the 68km Prince Alfred’s Pass connects with Uniondale via Avontuur and is considered one of Thomas Bain’s greatest achievements. Completed in 1866, it is the longest mountain pass in the country and the second oldest still in use. The mostly gravel road reaches an average altitude of 848m and is 1010m at the summit. Access: From N2 east of Knysna, take the Uniondale turnoff (R339). From the N2 east of Plettenberg Bay, take the Wittedrift turnoff (R340), link-up with R339. From the N9 south of Oudtshoorn, take the R62 and then the Avontuur turnoff (R339).
THINGS TO DO AND SEE between Plett and De Vlugt Keurbooms River Game Trails: accommodation, hiking, mountain biking, game drives. gametrails.co.za Outeniqua Trout Lodge: information centre, accommodation, mountain biking, hiking. outeniquatrout.co.za De Vlugt’s Finest: honey, seasonal organic vegetables, short nature walk. 044 752 3014 Angie’s G-Spot: popular bikers’ stop, pub, accommodation. angiesgspot.co.za Bain’s Cottage: Thomas Bain’s old house self-catering accommodation. 044 752 3333 Cloud Cottage: accommodation, goat’s milk cheese. cloudcottage.co.za
THINGS TO DO AND SEE between De Vlugt and George Pietersrivier Nature Reserve: camping, 4×4 trails, hiking, mountain biking. pnaturereserve.co.za K’buku Mountain Lodge: accommodation, pub and grill, hiking, bass fishing, quad bikes, 4X4. kbuku.co.za Kannabos Art Gallery: fine art, succulent nursery. 083 444 5237 Langkloof Gallery & Sculpture Garden: art, tea and light lunches by appointment only. 083 589 2881
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.
Experiencing stunning Plettenberg Bay from the air is amazing in itself, but doing it upside down, with the controls of an aerobatics plane in your hands – now that’s a rush!
WORDS Gareth Pretorius PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
As we taxi down the runway and I listen to ex-SAA Captain Stewart Lithgow communicating with the control tower at the small aerodrome in Plettenberg Bay, I can’t help but think airline captains all have a distinct timbre to their voice.
Unlike the many other times I’ve been in an airplane, I am not crammed into economy class with my knees around my ears and someone’s screaming child trying to drown out the sound of a Boeing engine. Instead, I’m crammed into a tiny yet powerful two-seater plane, shoulder to shoulder with the pilot, and a second control stick between my knees.
Stewart earlier told me this little plane had power, but as we take off the feeling of energy is electrifying. I keep telling myself ‘surely he is aware of the fast approaching trees at the end of the runway’ and ‘at some point we should pull up’. I have a tendency to squeal like a four-year-old in times of panic and stress, but I hope this won’t emerge during my aerobatic adventure. And um, those trees are very close now!
At what feels like the last second, we pull up and rise in a flash of blue and glinting sunlight to 1000 feet. The gorgeous splendour of the Plettenberg Bay coastline spreads out beneath us. But this isn’t a sightseeing experience – for that I’d recommend the glider experience, serenely soaring above the breakers like a sagacious seabird. Nope, we are on the hardcore bird of prey adventure and before I can respond to Stewart’s, “Are you ready?”, we enter the invisible rollercoaster of the skies and initiate our first straight roll. The nose of the plane heads upwards into the blue, while somewhere to the left the earth is now upside down and the sun is beneath us. The moment is quite bizarre and my mind does its own flips as it tries to grasp this reversal of the norm, but then with another roar of the 200 horsepower engine, that same terra firma returns to its rightful place in the greater order of things.
Immersed in the absolute delight of the moment, I can barely keep track of Stewart describing the exact movements and checks he is executing. Just as I’m about to bleat another joyful squeak, we roll to the right in a perfect four point hesitation roll, then into a Cuban eight, then into another straight roll. I am euphoric, a ridiculous grin as wide as the horizon that keeps changing axes in front of us stretches across my face. And in an instant it changes. Stewart’s voice fills my headphones, “Now it’s your turn.” Wide eyed, I grip the control stick.
The thing is, if you’re going to take control of an airplane a couple of thousand feet over the ocean and perform crazy maneuvers – that only an hour ago you would have bet money on took years to learn and perfect – you’ve got to have the right person sitting next to you. Stewart is the perfect, premium class wingman. A retired SA Airways pilot, he has over 23 400 hours of flying time. Do the maths: that’s almost 1000 days spent in the air. This SA Air Force trained pilot has had an illustrious 45-year career, which includes highlights such as performing in two presidential inauguration flyovers; being one of the pilots of the acclaimed Flying Lions Aerobatic Team for 10 years, as well as being part of the team that landed a Boeing 747 at Rand Airport in Germiston. The runway at Rand is only two metres wider than the aircraft undercarriage – a metre either side. And as Stewart emphatically points out, “It’s short, very short! We had to put it down on a pin point spot.”
For a man who has spent so much time in the air, he is incredibly grounded and delightfully energetic for someone who has supposedly retired. “When you learn to fly, you learn to fly,” he said earlier as we chatted in his hangar at the Plettenberg Bay airport, surrounded by his red glider and his white RV-7, the trick plane I was about to perform unimaginable maneuvers in. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting in a Boeing, or soaring in a glider, the principles remain the same. One might weigh 370 tons, while the other a mere 560kg… flying is flying.”
Stewart was taught aerobatics when he was 18 while flying in the South African Air Force and he reiterates that it never leaves you. The confidence he exudes is probably the reason he is able to run the highly successful business he does. At only R850 (December 2015) for about 10 minutes of extraordinary ecstasy, it’s no surprise that he’s booked from sunrise to sunset during season. No matter the client, whether young, old, man or woman, he manages to talk them through doing straight rolls, barrel rolls, and Cuban eights. All his years of sitting in the cockpit have given him the innate understanding of who he’s taking up and what to get them to do. “If I see they’re starting to turn green and beads of perspiration are dripping down their forehead, I level the plane out and we do a fly over Robberg and then head back to the airport, but most times they just listen to my voice and follow my instructions and perform the tricks.”
I must admit at this point in the interview my stomach does its own Cuban eight and I try to grapple with the fact that I too will be doing said maneuvers. Then, not 20 minutes later, there I am, control stick in hand, following Stewart’s instructions: “Raise the nose… level the wings, check the horizon and pull back… pull back… keep going… you’re in control. Look up… now see the horizon… bring her round… allow her to level out and there you go.”
As my inner girlie begins to release a squeal of delight, the captain’s voice fills my headphones: “And again, another roll. Pull back…” As the G-force gets closer to 4, my squeals of rapture likewise increase. I spend the next five minutes lost in a series of whirls and twirls and absolute bliss. I now know why people become pilots. It is an utterly breathtaking experience being in control of these incredible machines up there in the skies. Icarus may have flown too high and melted his wings but Stewart Lithgow will take you to just the right heights – and then allow you to take yourself to the spaces beyond!
OTHER SKY ADVENTURES IN PLETT Gliding
An experience in a motorised glider allows you to soar like a bird above the gorgeous Plettenberg Bay coastline. And at the right time of year, what better way to watch whales or spot sharks!
Price: R650 per person (December 2015)
Duration: 30 minutes Skydiving
Launch yourself out into the blue beyond as you skydive and parachute into the most scenic drop zone in the world! Experience the rush of a 35-second freefall at 200 km/h!
082 905 7440
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 [email protected]
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 ofPennzance. Future concert information from organiser Cedric Downard at [email protected]
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
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
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
Mossel Bay Tourism
Corner of Market and Church streets,
Central Business District Mossel Bay
044 691 2202 [email protected] www.visitmosselbay.co.za
Open seven days a week. 8am-6pm on weekdays; 9am-4pm on weekends and public holidays
In a tiny sandstone building near the end of a busy street, a vintage-besotted family charms the hearts of visitors with their quirky shop and boutique movie house, providing an unforgettable trip down memory lane.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
Knock on the door of 7 Marsh Street in Mossel Bay, and a soft-spoken woman is most likely to open. Dressed in genuine fur, a little bling and a hat or headband, she’ll invite you into a treasure chest of original vintage clothing and accessories that will pull at your heart strings. And just when you think you’ve taken it all in, Joan Carstens will invite you for a vintage high tea.
Filled to the brim with beautiful items, Déjà Vu Vintage Clothing and Accessories is the culmination of a lifelong passion for all things vintage that retired school teacher Joan shares with her actor daughter Cornelle. “Every item in here has a story – from grandchildren arriving with suitcases filled with their late grandmother’s treasured evening dresses to a 1940s bridesmaid’s dress discarded in a thrift shop box on the sidewalk,” says Joan.
While most items are priced, not everything on display is for sale. “There are some pieces that I am too attached to – like my irreplaceable collection of more than 60 fur coats and a lace wedding dress for which I’ve been offered a lot of money on several occasions. Yes, I could have made some good money, but the value of the garment in my hand and heart is priceless.”
Joan says suggestions to move her shop to a big city, where she could make a lot of money, hold no appeal. “This is my service to my community. I am known to pay good money for worthy pieces and sellers are assured the garments will be loved and cared for. I provide a good home for other people’s memories and ensure those who buy from here have the same appreciation for the clothes and what they represent – they were, after all, worn by other people who may have had some of their most beautiful memories in those garments.”
While she sometimes buys from second hand shops or fetes, Joan believes the treasures find her. “When people bring me clothes and accessories, I love to hear about the stories associated with the different pieces.”
Joan admits to being a “hoarder with a purpose”. Tiny pieces of paper are saved for decoupage and decorations, fabric scraps for kiddies craft projects, and old stuff just in case… She also has a flat where she keeps more clothes, about 400 hats and endless boxes of gloves, scarves and other accessories.
A special guest experience that Joan and Cornelle offer to groups in the shop’s adjoining little theatre is a vintage tea. An elaborately decorated room with a raised platform, the Monroe Theatre hosts a weekly vintage classic movie night as well as on appointment, live cabaret shows, vintage high tea, and the mother of all children’s parties for girls – with dress up, photo shoot, little ladies high tea, children’s theatre and beaded crafts to take home.
A red carpet and a glass of sparkling grape juice welcome me at the door. I get to pick a fur stole for the occasion, with matching gloves, a hat and pearls. Some of the other guests scrounge around the shop, disappear behind a curtain and return in stunning vintage outfits.
The first discussion, of course, is about the furs. “Obviously we don’t condone slaughtering of animals for new furs, but we also believe in preserving heritage and memories… these furs are the loving handiwork of people who lived at least 65 years ago and they represent people who have lovingly worn and preserved them, often for several generations,” says Joan. There is also an option to choose a delicate lace shawl or velvet jacket for those who do not wear fur.
The high tea table is laden with delicious homemade treats – tiny quiches, heart-shaped cucumber sandwiches, date balls, cheese cake in heart shaped cups and Joan’s legendary rainbow cake. And filter coffee or tea from a vintage pot. Guests are seated at tables decorated with vintage crockery and flowers.
As we savour the eats, we wonder aloud how the women of yesteryear ate without soiling their gloves – or kept their fur stoles from slipping off.
When the sun comes out, we sit outside in our elaborate outfits. Passers-by slow down to get a better look. We smile and wave like royalty.
Joan’s husband, Dewaal, is a keen photographer and takes nostalgic photographs of the guests in their regale in a self-styled photo booth behind the stage. The pictures are presented to guests on a CD to take home.
In addition, guests can enjoy a good book in the reading room in the attic.
Those who’ve attended them highly recommend the weekly movie night at the Monroe Theatre. The 35-odd people lucky enough to get their hands on tickets each week are treated to a light meal and a show for R55. Lawrence of Arabia, My Fair Lady and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are among the favourites.
By the time I leave, I feel like family and the jovial sentiment lingers long after my departure – what a unique and extraordinary experience with an exceptional family.
Déjà Vu Clothing and Accessories offers:
Vintage clothing and accessories – including wedding gowns – for hire and sale
Costumes for hire (clothing from the 1920s and onward; theme costumes; children’s costumes)
Vintage photo shoots
A 1964 DKW vintage car for hire
Rare and second-hand books
Crockery, collectables and crafts.
Monroe Theatre offers:
Vintage classics and art movies
Live cabaret shows
Tea room (traditional English cream tea with hats, gloves and shawls; vintage high tea; tea for two in the attic; special occasions and events; children’s parties; and little ladies high tea with dress-up, photo shoot and activities).
Déjà Vu Vintage Clothing and Monroe Theatre
7 Marsh Street, Mossel Bay
Joan Carstens 082 415 9588
Cornelle Carstens 082 338 4364
Facebook: DéJà Vu Vintage House