The Tsitsikamma harbours a secret world in which the deep-forest delights of indigenous woodland unfold along South Africa’s unspoilt Sunshine Coast. Situated where the scenic beauty of the Garden Route fades into the solitary Eastern Cape seashore, this area must rate as one of the undiscovered gems in South Africa’s tourism crown.
Serenity seems to have staked a permanent claim in backwater villages such as Nature’s Valley, where a permanent population of about 100 residents live their lives in a delightfully laid-back way. Take time out and escape into what the Khoisan called “the place of many waters” and reclaim some much-needed soul space.
Tramp into tree-lined tranquillity along the Tsitsikamma or Otter Hiking Trails, merging into a tangle of afromontane forest fecund with towering podocarpus giants draped in shrouds of bearded moss. Share the shadows with shy bushbuck and elusive forest hog or look up and revel in the neon splash of Knysna loerie and narina trogons frolicking in the overhead canopy.
If backpacking sounds too much like Boot Camp for your liking, go for the immediate gratification option along any number of delightful day hikes: trek along Kalanderkloof into a whispering slope thick with keurboom or ramble along the river to where the Pig’s Peak viewpoint opens up on seductive coastal scenery that is sure to leave you breathless.
Saddle up your mountain bike to zigzag the wild ride down from the coastal plateau into the sweeping forests below. Engage low gear as you head upwards, cresting above the tree-line to take in the views stretching way beyond the blue lagoon. Soldier on along gravel tracks through a pine-scented plantation playground before hitting the high-speed home run. Clip in and careen down curves and chicanes to blast across the Groot River Bridge.
Explore the upper reaches of the Groot River, navigating the placid blackwater pools glinting beyond the bridge to glide into a fairytale world. Negotiate river-stone rapids along a gentle current coursing past the soft swish of reed beds, scanning the sweeping boughs for occasional malachite kingfishers or the tell-tale ripples of Cape otter dipping down into their dark domain. And when the cliffs loom dark and high, turn tail and follow the flow to where this gentle river becomes a shimmering estuary.
Easy access from the N2, friendly accommodation establishments and an exciting blend of attractions make the Sunshine Coast the perfect destination for your next getaway. De Vasselot Camp Site (Tel. 044 / 531 6700) at Nature’s Valley offer stunning camping, affordable forest-hut accommodation and kayak rentals at R12 an hour. Upmarket accommodation is also available at a range of private guesthouses or at the award-winning Tsitsikamma Lodge (Tel. 042 / 280 3802).
Garden Route National Park (two hours from Port Elizabeth) – www.sanparks.org
Tsitsikamma Tourism Association – www.tsitsikamma.info
Nature's Valley (30 minutes from Plettenberg Bay) – www.natures-valley.com
Garden Route Info – www.gardenroute.org.za
Eastern Cape Tourism – www.visiteasterncape.co.za