As the world’s ocean giants swim up the Garden Route coast this season, Ocean Odyssey, the first Blue Flag nature-based boat excursion in the Greater Knysna area, takes me up close and personal with these majestic creatures of the deep.

WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Greyling, supplied (Ocean Odyssey)

It’s a beautiful day on the Garden Route as I board a boat to go whale watching. The air is crisp but bearable and the excitement on the vessel is tangible. A group of children, each manned with a disposable camera their grandmother bought from the Ocean Odyssey shop, are eagerly snapping away at everything – long before we cast off from the Thesen Islands jetty.

Our skipper is Marlon Baartman. He grins mischievously when a passenger asks if he really is named after a deep-sea fish. “Yes, I’m the only coloured marlin out here,” he jokes.

Another indispensable person to the whale watching service is Grant Pietersen, Ocean Odyssey’s official whale spotter. He is in radio contact with Marlon and is heading to the cliffs at Brenton-on-Sea from where he can direct the boat towards the giant creatures that swim amazingly close to the coast here. “We are the only operators in the region that uses a spotter, probably because few other places have the ideal combination of high vantage points and good visibility,” says Evelyn Pepler, the dynamic owner of Ocean Odyssey.

Well-known in the local hospitality and boating community, Evelyn and husband Steff have been operating the popular Springtide Sailing Charters at the Knysna Waterfront for some years. Evelyn bought Ocean Odyssey in 2012 to complement their ocean-going services and she hasn’t looked back. “Ocean Odyssey had its close encounter permit for several years before I bought it, but it had been a relatively low-key operation and many people did not realise that Knysna’s waters were teeming with so many whales, perhaps because one has to leave the Heads in order to see them.”

The operator’s profile has significantly risen since Evelyn obtained it and a feather in her cap is Ocean Odyssey’s recent Blue Flag, which she achieved in October last year, meeting strict standards of excellence in among others environmental education and management as well as safety and security. This 100% female owned operation is now firmly on South Africa’s whale watching map.

Ocean Odyssey’s permit covers the relatively untouched coastline between the western side of the Robberg peninsula and Gericke’s Point at Sedgefield, an area that includes the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area. “The service really sells itself because our permit area forms an integral part of the route followed by whales on their way from Antarctica to the warmer tropical waters. Not all whales require the protection of bays and would not necessarily swim there and hence operators whose permits are limited to bays may miss out on the kind of action that we get in the open water outside the Heads.”

While the humpback and southern right whales are the main attraction in whale season, several other ocean species are often spotted. These include treasures like giant sunfish and leather back turtles, as well as large schools of bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, the rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, Bryde’s whales, Minke whales, hammerhead sharks, penguins, otters and more. Among the pelagic (deep sea) birds spotted are the shy albatross, petrels, sub Antarctic skuas and gannets. “In December last year we even had killer whales come to visit,” says Evelyn.

As our boat nears the lagoon mouth at The Heads, a slinky cape fur seal, dubbed Nelson by the Ocean Odyssey crew, slips off his sunny spot on the rocks and swims closer. The children rush to take his picture as he pops out next to the vessel. “Nelson comes and says ‘hi’ most of the time,” says Marlon, an endless source of marine information as he answers a constant barrage of questions from young and old. Known for his intuitive sense of where the whales are, Marlon spots a spurt of water from a whale’s blowhole not long after we enter open water.

“As Knysna’s only close encounter whale watching permit holder, we are allowed to approach whales to within 50 metres, but if whales approach us we are allowed to stay and observe. Some whales are naturally more inquisitive than others. But, it’s like being in a shop filled with expensive gifts – you are only allowed to look and not touch. Our engines remain on at all times so that the whales can orientate themselves, and if they remain close we will gently move off.”

A humpback whale suddenly breaches no more than 100 metres from the vessel, taking my breath away. Everyone whoops and cheers, and points their cameras in the mammal’s general direction. Some are rewarded when he resurfaces with another magnificent lift out of the water. The sound from their blowholes travels over the water. Their immense size and relative elegance is beyond my understanding. I look – and look again – enthralled by their indescribable, enigmatic presence.

When it’s time to leave I can’t believe ninety minutes have passed. I am sorry to go but happy to have left these beautiful creatures in peace. It’s hard to imagine that a whale hunting station once operated just up the coast in Plett, or that others at the time failed to recognise their majesty and splendour.

As I find my ‘land legs’, I make a quick stop at the Ocean Odyssey shop for a few sea-life themed souvenirs to remind me of my experience – one I am determined to repeat in the near future.

GO TRIPPIN’
Close Encounter Whale Watching (May/June to October/November)
Maximum 12 people per trip
Duration: 90 minutes to two hours
Scheduled trips at 10am, 12pm and 3pm (alternative times can be arranged)
Cost: R750 per person (2015)

Marine Eco Tours (outside of whale watching season)
Maximum 36 people per trip (12 per boat)
Duration: 90 minutes to two hours
Scheduled trips at 10am, 12pm and 3pm (alternative times can be arranged)
Cost: R550 per person (2015)

CONTACT
Ocean Odyssey
TH, 24B Saffron Lane, Thesen Island Harbour Town
044 382 0321 or 082 852 9402
www.oceanodyssey.co.za

Sun, surf and everything in between. South explores 114 things to do in the Garden Route and Klein Karoo this holiday season, from nature and sport to food, culture and absolute ‘must-do’ activities guaranteed to make your stay more memorable. This is Eden: there are literally hundreds of things to experience and this guide will get you started. South challenges you to get out there and explore. Do everything, or absolutely nothing… just do it here!

PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré, Desmond Scholtz, Cape Routes Unlimited, supplied

MOSSEL BAY
Famous for being the place where man survived the Ice Age, and the first recorded instance where Europeans set foot on South African soil, Mossel Bay has a host of fun activities to offer.
LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Point of Human Origins Experience
Four-hour guided tours to Pinnacle Point Cave, the earliest evidence of modern human behavior. Booking essential at least 48 hours in advance. Moderate fitness required, access via steep stairs. www.humanorigin.co.za
Shark cage diving
Four-hour boat trip including dive, weather permitting. Booking is essential. www.whitesharkafrica.com
Walk with lions
www.botlierskop.co.za
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Boat trip to Seal Island in the Romonza boat. Up to 4 000 seals. Departs every hour on the hour from the harbour. 10am to 4pm. Extended times may apply in season. Other times can be arranged. www.mosselbay.co.za/romonza
Local beaches are among favourite family spots in summer.
A complete guide is available at www.visitmosselbay.co.za/play/beaches
Water World, Diaz Beach Resort www.diazbeach.co.za
ADVENTURE
Sandboard the world famous Dragon Dune, the longest sandboard ride in the country. Booking essential. From 8am in season. www.billeon.com
Scuba and reef diving courses, rib rides, snorkelling, bay trips, and dolphin-, seal- and whale watching.
Mossel Bay Harbour. www.electrodive.co.za
Vlees Baai dune 4X4 rides by arrangement. 044 699 1107 or 082 784 8238.
Skydiving www.skydivemosselbay.com
SPORT
Golf
Pinnacle Point Golf Resort www.pinnaclepointestate.co.za
Mossel Bay Golf Club www.mosselbaygolfclub.co.za
UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
Déjà Vu Vintage House and Monroe Theatre. 30-seater vintage theatre, vintage shop and tea room. Open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 1pm. 7 Marsh Street Facebook: Deja-Vu-Vintage-House
St Blaize Lighthouse, one of only two manned lighthouses on the South African coast. Weekdays 10am – 3pm.
The Cape St Blaize Cave was used by local hunter-gatherers and herders over a period of about 200 000 years.
www.visitmosselbay.co.za/attractions/cape-st-blaize-lighthouse-1864
ROUTES
Mossel Bay Art Route www.mosselbayart.co.za
SHOPPING
Craft Art Workshop Communal gallery of locally made art, crafts, gifts, souvenirs and curios.
3 Market Street, next to tourism office. www.mosselbayart.co.za

Mossel Bay Tourism
Corner of Market and Church streets
044 691 2202 www.visitmosselbay.co.za

 

GEORGE AND SURROUNDS
George has a historic charm and offers an array of exciting events to delight holidaymakers.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Outeniqua Power Van
Departing daily, this rail bus takes you up the Outeniqua Mountains through forest, four passes, six tunnels, overlooking waterfalls and a view of George you will never forget. Booking is essential.
Outeniqua Transport Museum [email protected] 044 801 8239; 082 490 5627
Southern Africa Golf Hall of Fame and Museum
An interactive museum of the history of southern African golf, including stunning collections of memorabilia and a Hall of Fame. Entry R50 for adults, children 12 to 18 years R25, children under 12 free.
Oubaai, Herold’s Bay www.golfhalloffame.co.za
Outeniqua Transport Museum
Open Monday to Saturday 8am – 5pm (summer). Entry R20 adults, R10 children under 12, free for children under six.
044 801 8289 www.outeniquachootjoe.co.za/museum
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Redberry Farm     
Pick your own strawberries, mini-train, bubble ball, pony rides, bumper boats, restaurant and more. Largest hedged maize in the southern hemisphere. www.redberryfarm.co.za
Valcor dairy farm                 
See how a modern dairy farm operates. Standard dairy tours daily from 2.30pm – 3.30pm. R30 per adult and R15 for children. Booking advisable. 082 331 8618 www.valcor.co.za
Let’s Go Bowling
Eight-lane ten-pin bowling alley, restaurant and coffee shop. Booking advised in season.
Mountview Lifestyle Resort, 1 York Street 044 873 2232 www.letsgobowling.co.za
Three Chameleons short golf course
Nine-hole golf course, putt-putt, clubhouse serving bar meals, play area and jungle gym. Monday to Thursday 8am – 7pm, Friday and Saturday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 8am – 6pm. 044 876 9988
ADVENTURE
Garden Route Paintball Games
Herold’s Bay Road www.grpaintball.co.za
Quad biking
Montagu Pass, night rides and more. www.quadgardenroute.co.za
For more information on trails, tracks and waterways for hiking, biking, canoeing and much more, check out www.gardenroute adventureguide.com.
NATURE
Garden Route Botanical Gardens
Dam, wetland, lawn for picnics, bird hide, environmental centre with public botanical displays.
Garden hours: 7am – 7pm (summer) Office hours: Monday to Thursday 8am – 5pm, Friday 8am –2.30pm. Entrance is free. 49 Caledon Street www.botanicalgarden.org.za
SPORT
Play a round of golf on one (or all) of the world-class golf courses in George: Fancourt The Links, Oubaai, Fancourt Outeniqua and Montagu, Kingswood, George Golf Club.
www.fancourt.co.za www.kingswood.co.za www.georgegolfclub.co.za Oubaai: 044 851 1234
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
The Exchange indoor go-kart racing
Monday to Saturday 11am – 8pm, Sunday 2pm – 6pm.
AET Industrial Business Park, Nelson Mandela Boulevard, George Industrial 044 875 0077
ROUTES
Seven Passes back roads between George and Knysna. Access via Nelson Mandela Boulevard (former Saasveld Road).
Montagu Pass to Herold village. Stop at Herold Wines. Open Monday to Saturday 10am – 4pm. www.heroldwines.co.za
FOOD
Outeniqua Farmers’ Market
Saturday 8am – 2pm  N2 Sasol garage turnoff, east of George www.outeniquafarmersmarket.co.za
Van Rensburgs Foods
60 Courtenay Street, parking in Ironside Road www.vanrensburgsfoods.co.za
Lancewood Cheese factory shop
Ironside Road (opposite Van Rensburg’s) www.lancewood.co.za

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

 

WILDERNESS
One can only be inspired by the wild beauty of Wilderness, with its majestic ocean views and endless stretches of white beach, which lends itself to long walks and dreams of faraway places.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Big Tree at Woodville
Decked trail, picnic areas. Easy 45 minute walk through lush indigenous forest, which starts and finishes at an 810-year-old yellowwood tree. Hoekwil turnoff from N2 towards the mountains. Look for signage about 13km in.
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Eat, shop and play at Timberlake Organic Village between Wilderness and Sedgefield. The fairy garden is a real treat for children. www.timberlakeorganic.co.za
Kingfisher Day Hike in Wilderness National Park. A 7km circle route with waterfall and rock pools at its furthest point. Access via camp or dirt road at waterworks. R32 per adult, R16 per child (age 2-11) per day. Obtain a permit at the gate or office. 044 877 1197
ADVENTURE
Eden Adventures
Kloofing, abseiling, and canoe hire. www.eden.co.za
Wildwoods Tree Adventures
An obstacle course in the sky. www.timberlakeorganic.co.za/play/wildwoods-tree-adventures
SHOPPING
Milkwood Village Night Market Fridays 4pm – 9pm. 044 877 1888

Wilderness Tourism
044 877 0045
[email protected]

 

SEDGEFIELD
The first town in Africa to be officially granted ‘Slow’ status, Sedgefield is known for its quality mellow lifestyle, a strong adventure and sport tourism industry, and the most famous food market in the country.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Moonlight Meander along Swartvlei beach to Gericke’s Point. Experience life in the intertidal zone during new and full moon. Guide Judy Dixon reveals the mysteries of the amazing creatures living there. Booking is essential.
044 883 1015 or 072 390 6667
ADVENTURE
Surf lessons, waterskiing, kite-boarding, wake boarding, stand-up boarding, beach volleyball and beach golf at www.afrovibe.co.za
SPORT
Sedgefield Links Golf Club
A nine-hole short course and clubhouse.
N2 west of town, Swartvlei Beach turnoff 044 343 2379
Bicycle hire, including tandem two- and three-seaters. Details of several cycling routes and a monthly full moon ride at www.cycleworx.co.za/routes
Horseback riding in the forest or lessons at Kraaibosch Equestrian centre. Michelle 081 515 0741
Many hikes and day walks in the area. Get a map from Sedgefield Tourism.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
Garden Route Trail Park Mountainbiking, trail running, pumptrack and BMX track, The Trail Café eatery.
www.gardenroutetrailpark.com
SOMETHING UNIQUE
Mosaic Art Route Book a tour or do a self-drive of the many mosaic pieces in and around town. Map and information from Sedgefield Tourism.  044 343 2658 or [email protected]
Masithandane 044 343 2110 or [email protected]
SHOPPING
Saturday outdoor markets offering fresh organic and local products.
Wild Oats Community Farmers Market www.wildoatsmarket.co.za
Scarab Art and Craft Market  www.scarabvillage.co.za
Mosaic Market, also known as the ‘Middle market’ www.mosaicmarket.co.za

Sedgefield Tourism
Main Road (same building as Absa)
044 343 2658 or 044 343 2007
www.visitsedgefield.co.za

 

KNYSNA
For many years a haven for artists and alternative free spirits alike, Knysna offers an eclectic mix of old and new, culture and nature.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Visit the caves at the Knysna Heads Knysna Tourism 044 382 5510
Knysna Forest
Visit Diepwalle Garden Route National Parks forestry station. The museum houses a Knysna Elephant skeleton and various elephant walks are on offer. Also see the King Eduard VII Big Tree and refuel at Diepwalle Tea Garden. If you are exceptionally lucky, you may see the elusive Knysna elephants.
Visit the Dalene Matthee Memorial and her namesake, “The Dalene Matthee Big Tree”, an 880-year-old Outeniqua yellowwood.
Millwood mine
Experience the history of the 19th Century gold rush. Visit the Forest Legends Museum.
www.gardenrouteadventureguide.com/millwood-mine-walk for details of a hike in the area.
Details on all the above are available in the Knysna section of the Garden Route National Park.
Main office 044 302 5600 Forest station 044 389 0129 www.sanparks.org/parks
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Have a picnic at the Wild Side at Buffalo Bay beach.
Off the N2, between Sedgefield and Knysna.
Knysna Pledge Nature Reserve.
Just north of the CBD, you will be amazed at this oasis with streams and forest. The reserve’s highest point has a spectacular view of the town, Knysna lagoon and Knysna Heads.
10 Bond Street, 044 382 3712 or 083 629 9201 www.pledgenaturereserve.org
ADVENTURE
Feel the adrenaline rush while sandboarding at Brenton-on-sea. A minimum of four to book a tour. www.duneadventures.co.za 072 474 0210
SPORT
Learn to surf with Tripout Surf School or join an organised snorkelling trip to the Heads.
083 306 3587  www.tripout.co.za
Golf
Take to the greens at Pezula, Simola and Knysna golf courses.
www.pezulagolf.com  www.simola.co.za  www.knysnagolfclub.com
Experience a nine-hole night golf game at Black Waters mashie course near Buffalo Bay. Equipment hire available.
www.blackwaters.co.za  044 383 0105 or 083 739 9175
UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
Get to know the local Rastafarian community with Rastafarian Tours. The community at Judah Square is the largest of its kind in South Africa. Brother Maxi (House of Judah elder) 073 479 0860
Sista Kerri (Sisters’ Council) 083 502 2229  www.knysnalivinglocal.co.za/judahsquare
ROUTES
Identify the beautiful and rare forest trees on the Timber Route, which made Knysna’s wood famous.
www.timberroute.co.za  044 382 1118/9/0
Meagan Vermaas’ Forest Guided Tours offers unique guided walks and tours into Knysna’s lush, emerald forests. Explore the history and mystery of the forest, from Khoisan to early explorers, woodcutters and the goldmines of Millwood and Rheenendal. www.forestguidedtours.co.za  073 3636 522
SHOPPING
Knysna Local & Organic market and restaurant.
Operating as Grain Mill Organic Bistro and Shop, it’s the place for veggies, pasta, bread and takeaways, spelt, health products and much more. Tenants also sell cheese, coffee, flowers, clothing, arts and crafts. Open Monday to Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm, Saturday 8:30am – 2:30pm.  3 Union Street (behind Thesen House).  083 635 9634
Friday night market.
A wide array of food is available, from pizza and pancakes to exotic flavours from the Thai Kitchen.
Fridays 4pm – 8pm out of season and to 8:30pm in season.
Next to the Knysna Montessori School in Narnia Lane, Welbedacht.  www.thefridaymarket.co.za
Be the captain of your own holiday in a Knysna houseboat on the iconic Knysna Lagoon.
TH34 First Floor, Long Street on Thesen Island  044 382 2802  www.knysnahouseboats.com
Experience, discover and explore the Rheenendal Ramble. Accommodation, restaurants, crafts and tea gardens.
044 389 0092  www.rheenendalramble.co.za

Knysna Tourism
40 Main Street, Knysna
(opposite Knysna Mall)
[email protected] 044 382 5510
www.visitknysna.co.za

 

PLETTENBERG BAY
Known as South Africa’s version of the Riviera, this playground for the rich comes alive in December, offering a variety of beach and nature activities amidst a serious party vibe.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Hike Robberg Penninsula. Not only a nature reserve, but also a national monument, rocks from this region date back 120 million years. Pristine beaches and a cave to explore.
Office hours 8am – 5pm
044 533 2125/85
www.capenature.co.za/reserves/robberg-nature-reserve
Take a Whale Watching cruise or dive with seals with Ocean Blue Adventures.
Hopwood Street, Central Beach
044 533 5083
www.oceanadventures.co.za
Offshore Adventures offer swimming with seals (not for children younger than 12 years).
Hopwood Street, Central Beach
082 829 0809
offshoreadventures.co.za
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Birds of Eden is the largest bird aviary in the southern hemisphere.
Off the N2, The Crags
044 534 8906
www.birdsofeden.co.za
Monkeyland is the largest wild-primate, free-roaming sanctuary in the southern hemisphere.
044 534 8906
www.monkeyland.co.za
 
Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary
www.jukani.co.za
Elephant Sanctuary
www.elephantsanctuary.co.za
Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation Centre
www.tenikwa.com
Blue Hills Bird Farm
Exotic birds, touch farm.
www.bluehillsfarm.co.za
Radical Raptors at The Heath. Bird of Prey rehabilitation and awareness centre. Daily raptor flying displays. 11am, 1pm and 3pm. www.radicalraptors.co.za
ADVENTURE
Kloof down waterfalls and along a natural river in an indigenous forest with Africanyon Adventures.
044 534 8055 or 082 323 4349
www.africanyon.com
 
Safari on horseback
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve, also offers game drives.
R340 Uniondale, Wittedrift Road
044 535 0000
www.plettenbergbaygamereserve.com
Hog Hollow horse trails
A one-hour meadow trail with wildlife, a two-hour forest trail or a three-hour Cruise the Crags Trail on horseback to Monkey Land, Birds of Eden, the Mill Craft Centre and Bramon Wine Estate.
082 771 3745
[email protected]
www.horseridinggardenroute.com
 
Plett Skydive
www.skydiveplett.com
 
 
SPORT
Enjoy a game of golf at the picturesque Goose Valley. This 18-hole course is Gary Player-designed.
044 533 5082
www.goosevalleygolfclub.com
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
The Tin Shack Tasting Room at The Heath is a local wine, craft beer and local product experience. Craft beer, in particular, has taken off in the Garden Route.
www.theheath.co.za
UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
La Carla Atelier
Pop in for a lesson in the history of Venetian masks, buy your unique handmade mask. A chocolate shop, serving everything chocolate, is open in season.
N2, turn off opposite The Heath.
082 499 6295
www.modelvision.co.za
 
Enjoy a bottle of bubbly and a lazy lunch in the vineyard at Bramon, Plett’s first wine estate.
N2 The Crags
044 534 8007 or 073 833 8183
www.bramonwines.co.za
SHOPPING
Old Nick’s Village offers unique shopping, from soaps to curios, mohair and bamboo-woven products.
Off the N2
044 533 1395
www.oldnickvillage.co.za
The Global Village is a treasure-trove of jewellery, clothing and crafts.
Piesang Valley Road
044 533 5150
The Heath boasts an eclectic collection of crafts and gifts, locally produced wooden furniture and home decor items. Restaurant and children’s play area.
N2, Harkerville
044 532 7724
www.theheath.co.za
Thyme and Again
A roadside farm stall with the best lemon tart and homemade pies.
N2, Keurboomstrand
044 535 9432
www.thyme-and-again.co.za
Harkerville Market
Saturday 8am – 12pm
Off the N2, between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna
www.harkervillemarket.co.za

Plettenberg Bay Tourism
044 533 4064
Mellville’s Corner, Main Street
www.plett-tourism.co.za

TSITSIKAMMA
Renowned for its breath-taking natural beauty, the Tsitsikamma offers a host of activities in nature, from gentle hikes and horse rides to a spine-chilling bungy jump and even a little rock ‘n roll nostalgia.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
Bloukrans River bridge bungy jump
The world’s highest commercial bungy jump at 216m, this free-fall is not for the faint-hearted.
Also enjoy the view from the Bloukrans and Paul Sauer bridges.
www.faceadrenalin.com
Bloukrans viewing point: Follow the signs from the N2
Paul Sauer: Stop at the viewing point off the N2 and take a walk along the pedestrian walkway.
The Otter Trail
The foremost trail in South Africa, this 5-day, 46km hike from Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley along the Tsitsikamma coastline is a must-do for enthusiastic hikers.
www.sanparks.org
SPORT AND NATURE
Day walks, hiking trails, horse trails and mountain bike routes
Big Tree, Ratel, Goesa, Fynbos, Plaatbos, Rugbos, Dolphin, Cadeau and Captain Harrison walking trails. The hikes all offer magnificent scenery and vary from an easy 1.8km to more strenuous trails of up to three days.Multi-day hikes booked in advance.
www.sanparks.org
Storms River Village mountain bike route
A 22km route along the old national road through the Storms River Pass. Be sure to stop off for a swim at the old Storms River Bridge.
www.tsitsikamma.info
 
 
ADVENTURE
Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours
Zipline 30m above the forest floor. Ten slides to ten platforms with an experienced guide.
Tour lasts 2.5 – 3 hours
042 281 1836
www.stormsriver.com
[email protected]
 
Tsitsikamma Woodcutters Journey
Learn about the history of the area as you enjoy a drive to the old Storms River Pass. Booking essential.
Tours conducted in all weather, but may be cancelled for safety reasons.
042 281 1836
www.stormsriver.com
[email protected]
Untouched Adventures
Kayak, lilo, scuba dive and snorkel in Storms River gorge in the Garden Route National Park.
Storms River Mouth harbour.
073 130 0689 / 076 959 2817
[email protected]
www.untouchedadventures.com
 
 
FOOD
Marilyn’s 60s diner
Step into yester-year and immerse yourself in the 60s, complete with checkered floors and a jukebox. Enjoy all-American cocktails, milkshakes, burgers and ‘dogs with a difference’.
042 281 1711
www.elvisfestival.co.za
 
 
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Big Tree
A 500m wooden boardwalk leads to a giant yellowwood, estimated to be 1 000 years old. Access from N2.
Garden Route National Park, Storms River Mouth
Declared in 1964 and encompassing 80km of coastline in a marine reserve, this is a must-see scenic destination. Storms River Mouth rest camp, restaurant and three hanging suspension bridges.
Access from the N2
www.sanparks.co.za
Tsitsikamma Segway tours
Guided offroad Segway tours and mountain bike hire.
Children must be 1.1m tall. Booking is essential.
Storms River Village
081 320 3977
www.segwayfun.co.za
Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure
Eight ziplines over the Kruis River. Unique views of three waterfalls. Longest slide is 211m.
Children from age three and up welcome.
082 578 1090 / 078 463 2739
www.tsitsikammaadventure.co.za
[email protected]
 
 
Tsitsikamma Tourism
Dewald at Oudebosch Farmstall
042 285 0562
www.tsitsikamma.info

KLEIN KAROO
The Klein Karoo’s offering is diverse and fun-filled.

LEGENDS (A bucket-list must)
The Cango Caves is the biggest show cave system in Africa and the country’s oldest tourism attraction. Follow signage from Oudtshoorn. Open 9am – 4pm. www.cangocaves.co.za
Meerkat Adventures
Bookings essential. Children must be older than ten years.
www.meerkatadventures.co.za
CHILDREN / FAMILY
Wilgewandel Holiday Farm
www.wilgewandel.co.za
Cango Wildlife Ranch
www.cango.co.za
UNIQUE
Ostrich farms
www.chandelier.co.za
www.highgate.co.za
www.safariostrich.co.za
 
ROUTES
Some of the country’s best sweet wines are to be found on the Klein Karoo Wine Route.
www.kleinkaroowines.co.za
SHOPPING
Klein Karoo Ostrich Boutique www.kleinkarooboutique.co.za

Oudtshoorn Tourism
80 Voortrekker Street
044 279 2532
www.oudtshoorn.com

In a secret valley between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna hides a magic carpet of roses – one with its roots in ancient history but with a distinct African and uniquely South African twist.

 WORDS Heidi Sonnekus PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Greyling

There are 6 000 rose bushes in Rae Gilbert’s gardens at Bosky Dell. It was an empty nest project – done on her own terms, in her own time and for her own family – never intended to be open to the public.

However, Rae says: “Some time forever ago, a friend of a friend visited my neighbour up the hill and on a walk around their premises, glimpsed a corner of my garden below. She wondered what I was doing, building Versailles?”

Recognising exceptional gardening on sight, the curious visitor – who just happened to be Sheenagh Harris, president of the World Federation of Rose Societies – asked her hostess to phone Rae and arrange a visit.

But for this bit of synchronicity, Rae’s garden may never have been opened to the public nor would it have morphed into a magnificent venue for musical and artistic events. Today her Pavilion and Lovers’ Walk draw brides and grooms from across the globe.

“At the time my effort was still very new in terms of gardens,” Rae recalls. Yet word spread via Sheenagh and her rose-connections through the South African gardening fraternity and Rae started receiving groups of rosearians and garden lovers by appointment. Now it has become a much-loved part of her life and a full-time business employing eight locals.

A rich history
Bosky Dell has a marvellous history. Drastically abridged, it goes like this: The central part of Rae’s beautiful house next to the Bos River used to be the hunting lodge of an early Plett harbour master, circa 1840. Afterwards it was farmed – a few sheep, cows, vegetables and probably sweet potatoes, the latter being the go-to crop and staple at the time.

Later the slopes were cleared and pines planted on the steep, cool, acidic south-facing slopes. “Since pine and intensive chemical farming does not support local wild- or birdlife at all, the place was sadly quiet when we moved here from Johannesburg in 1997. And of course pine are very thirsty and the harvesting hard on the environment.”

Rae and her husband Greg chose to semigrate to this area “for the same reason everybody else does: to be able to live in a saner way”. Greg is still involved in the development of medicinal drugs, and the rose garden is but one of many things the dynamic couple is involved in.

They got rid of pine, blackwood, wattle, blue gum and rooikrans. Fynbos was encouraged to do its natural thing outside the electric fences, which keep (most) of the wildlife off the plot and out of the rose gardens. “As the pine and aliens went, in came mongoose, grysbok, caracal, bushbuck, snakes and – listen to that! – birdlife and song.”

Rae describes her magical rose carpet as a “formal garden with indigenous elements”, a bit “fruit-salady”. It has some very formal lines inspired by The Château de Villandry in France and, locally, the Cape Dutch Babylonstoren in the Drakenstein Valley, circa 1690.

She knew she wanted to offset the formal European designs with something bright and ethnic. In the end, a little ethnic rug beneath her feet started her muses dancing. The design with triangles became the cornerstone of her creation, albeit not visible at regular eyeball-level. It is a secret part of the design she delights in, one that “only birds and pilots – and the neighbours on the hill” – get to see.

She smiles at how often planes on their way to and from the Plett airport do an impromptu 360-degree turn and second pass-over to ensure the pilot’s eyes did not deceive him/her (birds are less fussed and don’t do a double take).

However, the beautiful garden she now enjoys did not come easy. Rae had to flatten a little knoll, create a sub-surface French drain to deal with topsoil as fertile as the moon, depleted by years of bad chemical farming practices. Rae desalinated, trucked in hundreds of cubic meters of topsoil, improvised, adapted and learned – and still her first batch of 600 roses drowned while she was on holiday.

She originally chose roses named after South Africans, like the gorgeous Gwen Fagan, named for the doyenne of heritage roses in South Africa and author of Roses of the Cape of Good Hope. But Rae has since ventured into the fields of heritage and heirlooms. She delights in the idea that forebears of some of her blooms originally flowered in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

A personal favourite is the Russelliana or Spanish Cottage Rose, possibly introduced to South Africa by the Portuguese trade ships centuries ago, which she found growing along the bank of the Bos River.

Rae loves the sense of history that roses bring. “Despite their ‘promiscuity’, there is a genetic lineage that can be traced and that remained pure despite hybridisation and interbreeds.”

She runs the garden biologically – pathogenic bugs and fungi are kept in check with friendly bacteria, insecticides are out. Rae loves sharing her roses and has “lent” her garden to artists for exhibitions, floral- and social clubs for inspiration, the Plett Animal Welfare society for fundraising, an athletics club for a trail run and eventually to the public for visits.

She invites guests to “treat the rose garden as you would a park in Europe: bring along a book, blanket and picnic, and spend the morning or an entire day. Take your time, enjoy a cup of tea and feed your soul: stop and smell the roses!”

Visit Bosky Dell
Entry Free
Facebook: Bosky Dell Farm & Rose Garden
044 533 0074
[email protected] or [email protected]
Address:  HH34, N2, Plettenberg Bay. (Turn off the N2 opposite The Heath.)

TIMES November 1 – April 30; Wednesday to Friday 10am – 2pm; Saturdays 10am – 1pm. Closed on Sundays.
Guided/special interest tours available by appointment.

Please pay for your self-service tea/coffee and slice of home baked cake (R30 per person) at the goodwill box in the Pavilion.
Keep your eye on small children at all times – there are unprotected water features.
No pets, smoking or music.

Click here for a low res pdf of the original article as it appeared in Summer 2014-15.

Spring is about new beginnings, hope and enjoying the simple things in life – and the Fragrance Route echoes this sentiment by taking visitors on a journey to celebrate the coming summer while also bringing hope to the small village of Friemersheim outside Great Brak River.

WORDS Tanya Waterworth PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré

Great Brak resident Heleen Coertze launched the Fragrance Route last year to help the community of Friemersheim, which was battling high levels of poverty exacerbated by a lack of transport and distance from nearby towns.

“I thought we must do something for this community and I had the idea for a lavender project, where community members could grow lavender on their properties,” she says.

Following consultation with community leaders, the first lavender bush was planted last year. A natural off-spin was the 36km Fragrance Route from Great Brak to Friemersheim and back – an olfactory feast that can be traversed by car or bicycle.

“This is a wonderful route for nature lovers. As you travel along the route, you can spot a huge variety of wild flowers peeping out from behind bushes, as well as indigenous trees and fynbos. There’s just so much to see,” says Heleen, as she takes South on a tour of the route.

Her artist’s eye is drawn to nature’s delicate palette of colours in an array of flowers, including arum lilies, agapanthus, proteas and aloes. The air is saturated with the fragrance of wild flowers to be explored and savoured.

On the road
Our first stop is Hakuna Matata game farm where we meet Christine Jordaan, who has also been integral in establishing the route. Apart from lions, zebra and buck, the farm is home to an extremely rare pair of yellow aloes.

Next up is the Santa Bonné protea farm, where visitors can buy fresh proteas. Owner Adine Kirsten says it’s important to phone ahead as the stock available depends on the flowers being picked each day.

A quaint sign graces the entrance to Friemersheim, home to Petra Jordaan’s lavender nursery, which provides support to 17 lavender farmers in the community. The farmers grow the lavender bushes on their own land, spoiling visitors with a feast of flowers from all angles. Petra says visitors should call ahead so she can meet them at the nursery and guide them around the town.

“We have just set up the nursery and have eight different types of lavender. Most people believe there is just one purple lavender – there are in fact 420 different types. We have purple, pink, white and yellow.

“The golden rule for our lavender farmers is that they must grow a minimum of 10 plants per plot,” says Petra, who buys stock from the community and sells the plants to nurseries or private buyers.

Leading farmer Hester Uithaler, whose lavender blooms are a testimony to her green fingers, meets us in her front garden, which is a profusion of colourful flowers and delicate scents. “This year, I’m growing more lavender than vegetables. I like growing things,” she says.

Another successful farmer, retiree Oupa Speelman, says the cash from the project provides an income for a number of families.

Heleen says they plan to expand the project as additional low-cost houses are being built in the village. “Lavender is very easy to grow, with almost no watering required once it has taken, which is why it is such a good project. I always tell the farmers ‘the feet of the lavender doesn’t want to be wet,’” she says.

Heleen says the best flowering months are from mid-August to mid-December, when she buys fresh stems from the farmers every week.

“We do bunches of fresh flowers, while some are also dried. There is a trend to infuse food with lavender, as well as use it for bath soaps and salts. Dried lavender is also very popular at the moment for wedding confetti.”

Optimising marketing
To optimise marketing, Heleen launched the Pick Me line of lavender products, which includes lavender and chilli shortbread, lavender fudge, rusks, soetkoekies and a lavender infused salt. Non-edibles also feature in the line, and Petra makes lavender soap on a stick and lavender scented candles.

It may only be small beginnings, but the Fragrance Route is a shining example of rural tourism at its best, and visitors to Friemersheim are welcomed like old friends.

Buy Lavender products
Peperboom restaurant, Great Brak River 044 620 3081
Klipheuwel Padstal outside Klein Brak River www.klipheuwelpadstal.co.za
Stoepsit shop, Vleesbaai turnoff from N2 www.stoepsit.co.za

Places of Interest
The Pink Haus Gallery, art and crafts 044 620 3085*
Botlierskop Catwalk, walk with lions 044 696 6055*
Hakuna Matata, game farm 044 620 5179*
Santa Bonne, protea farm 083 553 1500*
Friemersheim Church
* contact ahead

Where to stay
Loch Broom Guest Farm 082 786 2316
Lavandula Country Weddings 082 550 0800
Hakuna Matata game farm 044 620 5179
Self-catering Farm Cottages 083 995 9779
Yellowwoods Wedding Venue 044 696 6766
Zorgfontein Eco & Wildlife Reserve 044 696 6055

Getting there
Take the N2 off-ramp into Great Brak’s main road, Long Street. A good starting point is the Peperboom Restaurant, with its well-established rose garden. From there follow Long Street and turn left into Amy Searle Street, where you’ll find the Pink Haus Gallery.

Although the tar gives way to a dirt road after 14km, there is no need for a 4×4.

Get the official Fragrance Route map from www.greatbrak.com or pick one up from the Info Centre in Great Brak.