When it was proclaimed in 1964, Tsitsikamma was the first marine national park in Africa. Since then it was progressively enlarged as more areas on land and sea was added to the Park, and by the time it was incorporated into the Garden Route National Park alongside Wilderness National Park, Knysna National Lake Area, and extensive tracts of state forests in between in 2009, the Tsitsikamma section covered an 80km stretch of coastline, extending on average 5km out to sea.
The name “Tsitsikamma” is a Khoekhoen word meaning “place of much water”, which is very apt as the region receives on average around 1,200mm of rain annually. This is a rugged but exceptionally beautiful area, with forested slopes, shear cliffs tumbling into the sea, deep ravines cut into the mountains by dark rivers over millennia, and enormous waves pounding unrelentingly onto the rocky shore.
The easy trail leading to the suspension bridges at the river mouth, about a kilometre from Storms River Mouth Rest Camp, the Tsitsikamma’s main tourst facility, really gives the visitor an excellent introduction to the Tsitsikamma-area; bringing you into contact with the beach, ocean, forest and river, and many of the creatures that find a home there.
Notably, Tsitsikamma’s list of recorded mammals is dominated by marine animals rather than the large terrestrial game species normally associated with a national park in Africa. That being said, visitors should count themselves lucky to see one of the seven whale or five dolphin species that ply these waters – we were fortunate to see a pod of Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins in the surf and a handful of Humpback Whales breaching far into the sea. On land however the Chacma Baboons and Rock Dassies are ubiquitous inhabitants of the camp. And with almost 300 bird species recorded, many of which closely associated with the ocean and rocky beaches, the Tsitsikamma section is a birdwatcher’s delight. Most of the Garden Route National Park’s 25 species of snakes are seldomly seen, so we were thrilled to witness an altercation between a deadly venomous Boomslang and Southern Boubou while walking around one morning.
Walking around after dark, and seeing the healthy population of frogs and toads at Storms River Mouth, we realised how grossly inadequate our old guidebook on South Africa’s amphibians was to identify the 24 species that’s been recorded in the Garden Route National Park. We remedied that soon after we got back home!
As already mentioned, Storms River Mouth Rest Camp is the Tsitsikamma section’s main visitors facility and understandably one of the Garden Route’s top attractions. Here, wedged between mountain and sea, overnight visitors have a choice of spectacularly located accommodation and camping sites, serviced by a restaurant and shop that stocks basic food items and curios. There are picnic sites for day visitors and a small swimming beach. Guided boat tours and more adventurous activities up the Storms River gorge can be undertaken daily. Unique snorkeling and scuba trails allow visitors a glimpse into the underwater world of the Tsitsikamma, and on land several walking trails lead deep into the forest. At the eastern side of the Tsitsikamma section lies the more rustic Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, just outside the small holiday town of the same name. The renowned Otter Trail, covering a distance of almost 50km between Storms River Mouth and Nature’s Valley over 5 days, is rated as one of the best and most scenic hiking routes on the planet.
Storms River Mouth was the sixth destination on our December itinerary through eight of South Africa’s national parks. It is easily accessible along a good tarred road that turns off the N2 highway between Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth.