As the Garden Route is one of my favourite destinations in South Africa; there was still one area that I have not yet ticked of my bucket list, Tsitsikamma. This rainforest area of the Garden Route National Park is on South Africa’s southern coast, tucked between the sea and mountains. It encompasses a marine reserve, deep gorges and local vegetation like the world famous Big Tree.
This section of the Garden Route is filled with forestry farms, small villages and action packed extreme adventures. The word “Tsitsikamma” hails from the Khoi language meaning “place of abundant or sparkling water”, probably referring to the clear water of the Tsitsikamma River.
Tsitsikamma is usually referred to as the Garden of Eden, due to its majestic location between towering pine trees, lush vegetation and it’s misty, rainforest atmosphere. This simple lifestyle is what gives the small villages in Tsitsikamma its charms and is one of the reasons it’s been the best place I’ve visited in South Africa. I could have easily spent the whole summer here.
Life in the west around Cape Town is busy. People in the street rarely acknowledge each other. It’s all business, and everyone is rushing somewhere. You keep your head down and go your own way. In Tsitsikamma, everyone was friendly, life was slower, the kids could stay out at night, and there are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy during the day. Though this difference could be said about any rural/city comparison in the world, the analogy certainly applies here, and this is why so many couples and families choose to spend their holidays here.
Like any other proud South African, our fire was lit in the afternoon, ready to grill our meat while we watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean, or as we say in Afrikaans: Let’s have a “braai”.
We made a reservation at the Storms River Mouth rest camp, one of the many parks owned by SANparks across South Africa in unique naturistic locations. The park conserves a considerable portion of the natural biota (all living organisms) of the Garden Route. The park incorporates 80 km of rocky coastline with spectacular sea and landscapes, a remote mountainous region with secluded valleys covered in mountain Fynbos and temperate high forests with deep river gorges leading down to the sea.
The park is located on the oceanfront and reached via a winding road, lined by towering pines, in an area recognised for its wide variety of action adventures – Face Adrenalin offers bungee jumping from the nearby Bloukrans River bridge, canopy tour (a zipline adventure through the Tsitsikamma forest), woodcutters journey , Segway tours, blackwater tubing and quad biking where guests can soak in the gorgeous surrounds of this one-of-a-kind natural area.
The renowned Marilyn’s 60s Diner in Storm River Village is a unique diner stuck in time. The restaurant serves the best burgers, cakes and milkshakes, surrounded by memorabilia collections of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Visitors can also toast the day with one of the locally produced craft beers at the Tsitsikamma Craft Brewery.
Storms River Mouth rest camp, as it turns out, is very much like all the other SANparks I’ve visited, but with one difference; this park has naturally constructed landscapes, striking shorelines and stunning canopied landscapes of lush green trees.
One of the benefits of staying in the park is that visitors are often treated with scenes of dolphins and porpoises in the nearby waters, the Cape clawless otter, duiker, Knysna loerie, and the African black oyster catcher. The dassies (rock hyrax) in the park are virtually tame and visitors can easily take close-up photos of these usually-shy creatures.
The park is also home to the starting point of the 43 kilometer Otter Trail, undoubtedly the best known and most popular of the South African hiking trails, the Otter trail ranks alongside the best trails in the world. This five-day trail stretches westward as far as the Groot River estuary at Nature’s Valley. Accommodation is provided in four beautifully appointed overnight camps and can be booked at the information office located in the park.
A variety of accommodation options is available at the camp. Ninety individual camping sites, all with communal ablution, laundry and washing-up facilities, as well as selected electricity points are located on the ocean front. Forest huts are furnished with single bedrooms and communal kitchens and ablutions. These two budget options are perfect for visitors passing through and wishing to spend a night or two at the park.
Other options include the oceanette units, with bedroom options of either three or four single beds, open plan living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms. A further eighteen open plan chalets are available for accommodation, with kitchens, open plan living areas and double sleeper couches in the lounges.
The family cottages boast two bedrooms each, as well as kitchens, and bathrooms. The popular Storms River Mouth rest camp Honeymoon Cottages are standalone units, with one double bed each, kitchens, and bathrooms.
A restaurant is located on the banks of a river-mouth where guests have an unspoiled view of the cliffs, forest and breaking waters. Looking out over the ocean, I felt like I was in the Rhein Valley of Germany, with only the accents of the locals giving the location away.
The following day we woke up early and headed to the Mouth Trail. The trail is a 2km hiking trail that crosses the small beach and then follows on a boardwalk as it meanders up and down through coastal forest, allowing views of the sea, coast and river mouth. The famous 77m long suspension bridge crosses the Storms River Mouth, taking you to a pebble beach, before ascending steeply to a viewpoint over the coast. You can return immediately via a circular route that takes you over 2 smaller suspension bridges before re-joining the boardwalk.
It was a beautiful, easy hike, though by the end of the return trip I was a little tired since I’m pretty out of shape.
After a while, we ended back at the starting point of the trail. Tourists flooded in and out of the restaurant with more and more tour busses making an appearance from the entrance of the park. A speedboat filled with adrenalin-junkies headed out to sea with the midday sun glistening over the sparking waters.
We stopped at the Park’s shop to pick up some items for lunch and headed back home. The wooden deck of our villa had the most spectacular view of the water – so we had lunch outside, turned the music on, lit the shisha and just relaxed – Life is good!
The following day we headed to Untouched Adventures, located in the park and offers kayak, lilo, snorkelling and scuba activities at the Storms River Mouth. We booked the 2-3-hour Storms River kayak & lilo adventure activity (at only R550 per person) where you can explore deeper into the Storms River Gorge, and experience the long, deep, quiet pools with deep caves and ancient forests.
After our group’s safety briefing, we headed out into the sea with our kayaks. With the GoPro camera strapped to my lifejacket, we followed the tour leader in a line across bumpy waters and into the river mouth. The water turned to a dark yellowish-brown colour, which is caused by the Storms River flowing into the sea. The informative tour leaders gave us a quick history lesson on the gorge, past floods and the bat caves. We headed up the mouth until we reached the river bank.
Here we swopped our kayaks for lilos and paddled up the calm river until we reached a few cliffs where the group had the opportunity to do high jumps into the river. This, coupled with other activities like standing with on your lilo on one leg, and swimming in the cold waters was the best part of the adventure and great fun amongst the group. After the activities, we headed back, and it allowed us to have a 180◦ view the beautiful swing bridge across the river mouth.
For anyone visiting this region, I highly recommend the kayak and lilo adventure! Tip: They rent out wetsuits and shoes – make use of this.
It was a real holiday atmosphere, and its part of the reason why we fell in love with the place. It was like being in England’s countryside – small towns have a similarly close and cosy feel. Surrounding towns include Jeffery’s Bay (98km), Cape St Francis (104km), Oyster Bay (77km), Plettenberg Bay (67km) and of course, Knysna (98km).
I always had a soft spot for the outdoors, and though I’m a city guy, I could easily spend a few months enjoying the area, with all those hiking trails, rivers, woods, and fishing villages.
For more information on the Garden Route, view my article on Knysna, Garden Route.