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Hiking the Dunes and Coastal Forest
27 Feb 2014

Hiking the dunes and coastal forest

A hike through coastal forest, where old man’s beard covers the branches and birds play hide and seek, is magic. Add to this the mystery of life these dunefields witnessed centuries ago, and you've got yourself a priceless experience. 

My friend Maggie Langlands and I enjoyed this archeological walk at Dune Ridge Country House the other day. The pathway is cut open just wide enough to have a comfortable walk, with bush pig droppings and recently hatched eggs a reminder that we are the visitors, and should only leave our footprints behind.

It is approximately a 2 hour walk, although Maggie showed me how birders would be doing it – stop-stop, so it surely could take some people much longer. Our guide, Henri Maarman is extremely patient and well informed, and doesn’t mind waiting or answering each and every question.

The trees on the route are well marked, but it was the smaller plants and ground covers that caught my eye, as they just have the most amazing little flowers. Once through the forest you get to the first real “uphill” – but the view from the top of the dune is worth it. 360 degrees of beauty!

Henri guided us over the dunes to the huge middens, testimony that we are indeed part of the Coastal Cradle of Mankind. At most middens in our area you find shells and a few bones, and if you are lucky an implement or piece of an implement, but here are pieces of pottery, small pieces of the rock the Khoi used to draw and Henri also showed us a grinding stone – you cannot believe how soft it is. Once you see this, you can understand why these walks are guided, as the protection of the middens is a must.

The view to the north overlooks the Baviaanskloof Mountains, and on a good day you can see the sea to the south – we could only hear it. We I then convinced Henri to take us a bit further in a westerley direction, through a “short section” of thicket - well, we had to bundu bash, crawl, climb and pretend that puff adders are NOT found here… worth all the scratches and bites once we made it to the other side (don’t worry, this is NOT included in the walk you would be signing up for!).

The Dune Ridge Country House is the proud protector of these forest and dune walks. Groups of 6 can book a guided walk with Sarah Jane Swanepoel on 082 500 4922. It is a true privilege to experience this and wonderful that it is still so protected and well cared for. Picnics can be arranged and the cost will depend on the menu you choose.

Treetop Canopy Tour
20 Feb 2014

Treetop canopy tour in the Tsitsikamma

There are certain things in life you have to do at least once. Or in my case, I only have the guts to do it once. Although as safe as sleeping in your own bed, I have asked myself a few times “what type of a mother allows her children to do this…” before gliding to the next tree!

The Stewarts rewarded themselves with a Canopy Tour in the Tsitsikamma a while ago. What an amazing experience! Of course putting on the safety gear makes you feel very adventurous and extreme, but all in all, safety is number one, and the team really takes good care of you. The tours are only cancelled in extreme weather, but the forest is normally well protected.

The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is a unique eco-wilderness adventure that takes place in the magnificent Tsitsikamma indigenous rainforest, and involves gliding from one tree to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor… “I believe I can fly….”

Most platforms are located in giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the 2½ to 3 hours. It is a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allows  people to enter and experience a previously inaccessible natural environment – and in all honesty, I think there are far less creatures (read snakes and spiders) 30m up in the air than on the forest floor!

The Tsistikamma Canopy Tour consists of 10 platforms and 10 ‘foefie’ slides, the longest of which is 100m. Don’t break too early or you will get stuck in the middle… and remember, there is no turning back either!

The tour begins with a detailed safety briefing, followed by a ‘kitting up’ session where full body harness, pulleys and climbing equipment is issued and checked. A short drive takes you into the Tsitsikamma forest and it is time to monkey around! We were in a group of 7, so we had ample time to get ready and enjoy the slides – and to turn around and watch the faces of those gliding your way!

The platforms provide an unbelievable view of this new world – as you don’t see much while gliding (well, I didn’t!). Any fear of heights is soon lost as you gather in your new surroundings. In between glides the guides explain the ecology of the forest – pointing out different trees and the magnificent giant ferns way below. The bird life is incredible. We saw a Knysna Loerie, and sightings of the Narina Trogon and Vervet monkey are not uncommon.

About three hours later you exit the forest, having undertaken the journey of a lifetime. You have contributed to the creation of new jobs and are helping the forest regeneration project – and ticked off a bucket list item!

Contact: Stormsriver Adventures, 042 281 1836, [email protected]

SUP Adventure
30 Jan 2014

SUP Adventure

There is no bigger reward when you are somewhere beautiful and you know that it was your own sweat and pain that got you there (of course some of us will be sweating more than others, but that’s besides the point!).

I was extremely proud of myself when it took me 3 hours to get to the top of the Storms River, after walking, climbing loads of steps, conquering an SUP, portaging some rapids, to finally swim quietly alongside a little brown duck leading me further and further into the ravine.

I still can’t find the words to describe the beauty of the deep brown river water, famous to the Tsitsikamma, flowing so slowly you feel trapped in a photo taken with slow shutter speed. Every now and then water drips from high up, and you hear the fruit bats from deep in their caves.

And then our guide, Seth, summarised it. “I have been living in the Tsitsikamma all my life, and I am still not used to the beauty."

Experiencing this is the ultimate reward for signing up for the new SUP Adventure with Untouched Adventures in the Tsitsikamma National Park. It is the only activity that takes you that high up into the Storms River ravine, and it is a bucket list item before the body says no to too much action, as it is not easy. It is not difficult either, the distances are doable, but please do it if you can.

In total you will do a 40 minute walk – which is 90% climbing steps in a full body wetsuit, carrying your gear! This was the first killer, as we were not used to that at all! The total time spend on the SUP is around 2 hours (I have decided SUP stands for EITHER Stand Up Paddling or Sit Up Paddling, as my legs were jelly after those steps!). Depending on the tide, you might find you just have to steer yourself – however, we had a mean headwind on our way back which turned the last few kilometres into quite a challenge.

On your way to the top you have to climb over some rapids to enjoy an hour’s bodyboarding to the spot where you can’t go any further. Here you are spoilt with some refreshments, extremely welcome at this point, and you can also swim in the fresh water of the Storms River before you have to embark on the return journey.

There is no other way to say it – the SUP Adventure was the ultimate lekkerste lekker thing I have ever done in my life! It takes a half day, but it washed a year’s fatigue away. The beauty of the Tsitsikamma easily put a few things into perspective. 

Port St Francis
23 Jan 2014

Port St Francis Chokka Boats

Port St Francis is one of a few privately owned working harbours in South Africa, and also home to a diversity of restaurants, retail outlets, commercial offices, conference facilities, a visitors centre, as well as residential property and self catering accommodation.

A large fleet of squid, hake and pilchard vessels works from Port St Francis. Sitting at one of the restaurants, visitors can watch the crew offload blocks of frozen chokka (calamari), netted pilchards and see how they re-ice the hake vessels.

The launching of boats, loading and offloading of vessels, crew fixing large fishing nets and fishermen coming back with their daily catches are quite intriguing and fascinating to the visitor and holiday maker.

On the recreational side the moorings are filled by charter boats, deep sea fishing boats and yachts from all over the world. Eco cruises, deep sea fishing expeditions or shorter bay cruises can be enjoyed from here. The moorings are surrounded by residential penthouses and apartments in a Mediterranean building style.

Often NSRI Station 21’s crew can be seen leaving the harbour in a hurry after being called out to a rescue. Before Jeffreys Bay and Oyster Bay opened their own NSRI stations, Station 21 was the busiest Sea Rescue Station in the country, often supporting the fishing fleet, swimmers, paddlers and recreational craft.  

A walk on the harbour wall will give you a different perspective of the view of the greater St Francis. You can start the Two Harbours Walk to the Granny’s Pool from here (about 45 minutes), or you can stroll down the coastline to Shark Point or even further into Cape St Francis and the 18th century lighthouse.

Sitting patiently on Squid Square might reward you with a sight of Sally, the resident seal or the shy otter family. This all contributes to the unique vibe of Port St Francis, giving the first time visitor enough reason to come back, again and again.

SANCCOB Penguin Rehabilitation Centre
19 Jan 2014

Have you ever seen an African Penguin from up close? When in the Western Province you can go to Boulders in Cape Town or take the drive to Betty’s Bay, but here in the Eastern Province you can see (and sometimes touch) the birdies at the SANCCOB African Penguin Rehabilitation Centre in Cape St Francis, next to the Lighthouse. It is an open facility and visitors can just sit and view the penguins and other marine birds, or book a guided tour. During holidays the kids can take part in the Wild About Penguins children’s activity.

The Centre is easily accessible by bicycle or on foot, so why not make a day outing of your visit, as you can also buy some snacks and soft drinks to enjoy on the lawn outside the Centre before you turn back home (do that – the Centre needs all the money they can get to look after this endangered specie).

Guided tours cost R30 per person. The tour starts off with a 5 minute DVD, an explanation of the rehabilitation routine, the home pen birds, a glimpse in ICU and the rehabilitation area itself. Times for the tours are 09h30, 12h30 and 15h00.

Children of all ages can join the Wild About… Penguins holiday program. In a 40 minute session, they learn more about the penguins as birds, their wonderful and unique adaptations and how they use them to survive in our big ocean. The cost is R20 per child.

The Rehabilitation Centre also boasts a shop, open daily between 08h30 and 17h00. Visitors will find a variety of T-shirts, coffee mugs, books, fluffy penguins, necklaces, DVD’s, key rings, earrings, caps, fleeces, penguin memory sticks, arty rocks, mouse pads and books.

For more information or to book a tour/kids session, phone Wilna Wilkenson on 082 890 0207.

- Esti Stewart

Do We Have a Mystery Grave?
2 Jan 2014

Do we have a mystery grave?

Living as we do beside one of the world’s more dangerous coastlines, it is only natural that we should find, scattered along it, reminders of various maritime mishaps and tragedies.  There is a true story of John Reid, who was the captain of the British sailing ship, Cromartyshire, which ran aground in 1901. 

They say the ship, captained by Reid, sailed from Leith, Scotland in June 1901 with a cargo of 3 000 tons of coal for Algoa Bay. There was a rise in temperature of the cargo, which was first noted before reaching the Cape, but by the end of August, when the ship was off Cape St Francis, the temperature had risen to 212ºF (100ºC) and smoke was pouring from the ventilators. Distress rockets were fired, but there was no response. At 6pm on the 31st the order was given to abandon ship, the plan being to head for Cape St Francis. 

The next morning two lifeboats were in sight of the Cape St Francis lighthouse and they were spotted by the keeper who guided them to safety with flags. 

The third lifeboat, with Capt Reid in charge, was approaching the Slang Rivier in Oyster Bay, when daylight broke. The boat capsized in the surf, and Reid was apparently hit on the head and drowned. The other crew members reached the shore safely. 

The tug, Sir Frederick, was sent from Port Elizabeth to pick up the crew but Reid was laid to rest in a grave near the site of the accident. 

The steamer, Politician, later found the Cromartyshire abandoned off Cape St Francis and towed it to Algoa Bay, where the fire was extinguished.

Approximately a year later Reid’s widow travelled from Scotland together with the memorial stone, which she intended to place on his grave, but no sign of the grave could be found. She nevertheless had it erected where it stands today. 

Walk from Oyster Bay in an easterly direction, following the foothpaths, and after about 1km, you will see the grave to your left.  Make sure you look out for otters, dolphins in the surf and a variety of seabirds. If you walk a little bit further, you will get to Thysfontein – enjoy!

Chokka Fishing
19 Dec 2013

My mom made a rule – if you want to catch a fish, you have to clean it. Very few things are worse than opening the fridge unexpectedly and something is staring at you. No matter if you planned something else for supper, that fish will have to be cleaned, filleted AND cooked in no time, even if you don’t know how.

Chokka is different. I don’t mind the cleaning, cutting or cooking - however – the fun starts (and anyone can try) with the catching.

Find a local who knows where (and when) to find the fish. Even better – make your way to one of the big chokka boats where you can see the men are catching, and throw in your line.

Your gear is a piece of wood, with a line, and tied to the line a dollie (the local word for a jig). The chokka thinks the colourful dollie is food, and will swim towards it – the tentacles on the head will get stuck in the dollie, and the moment you feel the weight, PULL! 

The fun starts now. As you have upset Squidward and he is not ready to die, he is going to squirt you with ink – so make sure you are not wearing your favourite Billabong shirt, as it will never be the same again. Soon you, the boat and everything else are covered in ink. In a short while you will have your quota, so kitchen here we come.

The cleaning is relatively easy – no need to call in help. You pull off the head – remove the ink sack (bucket list – I still want to cook black pasta As Seen On TV as this is the natural black food colouring used), remove the parrot’s beak and put aside.

Then, remove the backbone, it looks like a piece of plastic, and the rest of the insides – easy, all attached, remove the wings (makes a mean potjie) and pull off the skin.

Cut the tubes into rings, season, and stir fry until white – time it, only 2 minutes and you can eat! You can also do a batter but that is more of a mess. Or stuff the tubes. Season and deep fry the heads – delish!!

Did you know – chokka is the South African word for squid, or ink fish, and was caught until the 1980s to be used as bait. After a Spaniard visited the area, he realized that we were using a delicacy as bait and introduced the fisherman of St Francis and Plettenberg Bay to the export markets in Europe. Once cut up and fried, chokka is… calamari (which is NOT octopus!)

Guest Blog by Esti Stewart

Summer Sport in St Francis
19 Dec 2013

We recently had the good fortune to meet Esti Stewart, of and as you would imagine, she was full of fantastic ideas of things to do in and around her little piece of heaven in the Eastern Cape. We knew we had to share her tips with our readers, and so she’ll be guest blogging for us! The first thing you should check out, if there’s any chance that you’ll be in the area, is the St Francis Sport Summer Series.

Summer Sport in St Francis  

The St Francis Sport Summer Series started in 2007, and is a jam-packed program of running, cycling, swimming and paddling events between 16 December and the first Friday in January.

Events start at 08:00 (registration from 07:00) so families can still enjoy the rest of the day on the beach. The series is aimed at healthy family participation with doable distances and multi-discipline events can be entered as teams – which normally is great fun for friends and family.

The sporting program normally consists of:

 • MTB Time Trials

 • Fun Run 

 • Extreme Duathlon (MTB & Trail Run)

 • Duathlon (Swim & Run)

 • Road Cycle Race

 • Swim 

 • Quadrathlon (cycle, swim, run, paddle)

 • Surfski Race

 • MTB Challenge

 • Canal Canoe Challenge

 • Triple Challenge (swim, run, paddle)

The entry fee for the St Francis Sport Summer Series is R60 for adults and R40 for all under 17. Events start at 08:00 and registration can be done from 07:15 on the day.

The series is organized by St Francis Sport and events sponsored by individual businesses. For more information, contact event organizer Eric Stewart on 082 394 7363 or get the final program on

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