Category Archives: Garden Route National Park

Tsitsikamma (Garden Route National Park)

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.

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Diepwalle (Garden Route National Park)

Originally, most of South Africa’s Garden Route between the mountains and the sea was covered by dense forests. Unfortunately these forests have been exploited on an industrial scale for wood and ivory since the 1760’s and the town of Knysna owns its existence to the lucrative trade that required access to a harbour for exporting. At various times attempts were made to protect pockets of forest from harvesting, but it is not until the 1880s, when a professional forester was appointed as superintendent by the colonial government, that any real effort went into the protection and sustainable use of what remained. Today only about a third of the indigenous forests remain, with a large proportion of it being protected in the Garden Route National Park, proclaimed in 2009 when several state forests were amalgamated with the Wilderness and Tsitsikamma National Parks and the Knysna National Lake Area.

North of Knysna, the Diepwalle State Forest was one of those pockets of forest afforded protection. One of the main attractions here is the enormous King Edward VII-tree, an Outeniqua Yellowwood tree estimated to be over 600 years old, towering almost 40m above the forest floor and so named by a group of British officials who were entertained to a picnic here in 1924. Diepwalle is also known to be part of the range of the last few remaining Knysna Elephants. In the 1880s it was estimated that between 400 and 600 elephants still roamed the Garden Route, yet today, a little over 100 years later, there may be only one lone cow remaining (even elephant researchers and park staff differ on exactly how many are left). Unless they are exceptionally lucky, the only contact visitors are likely to have with a Knysna Elephant is not along the Elephant Walk trail through the forest, but rather with the skeleton of one that is on display at the Forest Legends Museum at Diepwalle.

Diepwalle is easily accessible from Knysna, a short drive along the gravel R339 (Prince Albert’s Pass) leading to Uniondale. We spent a morning in the area while on our December holidays visiting eight of South Africa’s national parks. Guests can stay a night or two here on the unique camping decks set among the trees in the deep forest shade. Apart from the fascinating museum, there’s also picnic sites and a community-run tea garden serving delicious treats.

 

Wilderness (Garden Route National Park)

South Africa’s Garden Route is a 300km stretch of diverse and exceptionally scenic coastline between Mossel Bay in the west and the Storms River in the east, sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean. The process of protecting the Garden Route from exploitation and human encroachment has been a long one, and is still ongoing. From the 1960’s various small pieces of the area east of the small holiday town of Wilderness received formal protection, culminating in these being amalgamated into the newly proclaimed Wilderness National Park in 1987 and the years thereafter. In March 2009, the erstwhile Wilderness National Park became an integral part of the expanded Garden Route National Park (covering a total of over 1,500km²), when it was joined with the Knysna National Lake Area and Tsitsikamma National Park through the proclamation of enormous tracts of state-owned land joining them.

The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is centered on South Africa’s very own “Lakes District”. The original area encompassed by the Park straddles six lakes (Groenvlei, Bo-Langvlei, Langvlei, Rondevlei, Swartvlei and Island Lake), the Wilderness Lagoon, Serpentine and Touw Rivers, indigenous forests, and both rocky and sandy beaches along the coastline.

Before the Wilderness National Park was proclaimed, the area where the Garden Route National Park’s Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp is situated today was the Ebb-and-Flow Nature Reserve (administered by the George municipality and today Ebb-and-Flow North) and the private Siesta Caravan Park (today Ebb-and-Flow South).

Birdwatchers and photographers are in for a treat when visiting any of the three hides next to the lakes in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Parks. We had time to visit two of them in December – Malachite (on Langvlei) and Rondevlei, and could easily have spent all day at either.

Given the amazing diversity of habitats in the park, it is no surprise that the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park abounds with a wide variety of birdspecies, and while the area doesn’t support much in the way of large mammals apart from shy bushbuck, bushpigs and very seldomly seen leopards, it does give visitors the opportunity to walk around unhindered looking for the smaller fry.

Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp is the Wilderness section’s main visitor node. Here there are accommodation and two expansive camping areas for overnight guests, a newly opened picnic area for day visitors, and canoes for hire to explore the Touw and Serpentine Rivers. A network of walking trails of varying length traverse the area, many of them starting at or near Ebb-and-Flow. The Park also has several beaches for sun-seekers and bathers. Privately-run accommodation establishments and camping sites, shops, restaurants, fuel stations and more are available in the nearby towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield.

The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is easily accessible along the N2 highway running from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, and is just a few minutes’ drive from the airport at George. We recently spent three nights camping in the lovely Ebb-and-Flow North camp, the fifth stop on our 2017 summer holidays in eight of South Africa’s national parks.

What a trip it’s been!

Happy New Year to all our friends here at de Wets Wild! We hope that 2018 has lots of opportunities to explore the outdoors, for you as well as for us!

We have just arrived back home safely after another epic summer holiday in South Africa’s wild places. All in all we were away from home for 24 nights and traveled a total of 5,550km, exploring eight of this beautiful country’s National Parks.

The route for our epic December 2017 holidays

Of course we came back with literally thousands of photos, which we’ll be sharing here in the coming weeks. We tried to post a daily update as we went along – here’s a quick recap.

Our 2017 in pictures

Looking back at the places we stayed at during another year of enjoying South Africa’s beautiful wild places.

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If you enjoy de Wets Wild as much as we enjoy sharing our love for South Africa’s wild places and their denizens with you, please vote for us in the 2017 South African Blog Awards.

We’ve entered the categories for “Best Travel Blog” and “Best Environmental Blog”, and you are allowed to vote for us in both. Clicking on the badge below will bring you to the voting site. After voting, you’ll receive an e-mail requiring you to click on a link to confirm your votes.

Thank you very much for your support!

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What a way to end a day…

A glorious sunset to end our visit to the spectacular Storms River Mouth.

Early tomorrow morning we’ll be heading off to the next destination on our summer itinerary.

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If you enjoy de Wets Wild as much as we enjoy sharing our love for South Africa’s wild places and their denizens with you, please vote for us in the 2017 South African Blog Awards.

We’ve entered the categories for “Best Travel Blog” and “Best Environmental Blog”, and you are allowed to vote for us in both. Clicking on the badge below will bring you to the voting site. After voting, you’ll receive an e-mail requiring you to click on a link to confirm your votes.

Thank you very much for your support!

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Now this is brave!

While walking along the edge of the Tsitsikamma forests at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp today, Joubert and I came across a very brave Southern Boubou tangling with a deadly venomous Boomslang. The bird succeeded in driving the snake away, apparently none the worse for the encounter.

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If you enjoy de Wets Wild as much as we enjoy sharing our love for South Africa’s wild places and their denizens with you, please vote for us in the 2017 South African Blog Awards.

We’ve entered the categories for “Best Travel Blog” and “Best Environmental Blog”, and you are allowed to vote for us in both. Clicking on the badge below will bring you to the voting site. After voting, you’ll receive an e-mail requiring you to click on a link to confirm your votes.

Thank you very much for your support!

SA Blog Awards Badge