Words and pics Ron Swilling
Recharge your batteries before they dip dangerously into the red by getting into the great outdoors and breathing it all in. The Garden Route is always delightful for a breather from the rat-race, somewhere to stretch your legs on a few day trails. Walk in the wild places where vehicles aren’t permitted, where spectacular trails loop over mountains, through indigenous forests that beat with a life-affirming presence and along coastlines that remind you how magnificent the Earth is.
It's hard not to get a feeling of anticipation and excitement as you enter Wilderness from the west, when the expanse of golden beach and verdant indigenous forest comes into view. The sensation continues as you drive past the lakes to Tsitsikamma. The views never disappoint. Even a few thundershowers and burgeoning development can’t dull the splendour of the spectacular coast or forest.
Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp in the Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park is always my first stop, a place that constantly delights. Camping on the bank of the Touw River on the quieter North Camp side has its highlights, which I look forward to again and again. Swimming and paddling in the river, watching the crimson flashes of Knysna turacos flitting through the trees, walking the trail to the waterfall.
The well-built walkways of the Half-Collared Kingfisher trail wind through a forest of shining leaves. At the end, the pool below the cascading waterfall provides possibly one of the best places in the world for a wild swim.
It is always difficult to leave the ever-so-peaceful Ebb-and-Flow camp where guinea fowl serenade the dawn, but the coast and Tsitsikamma were calling. The rocky coastline with its fresh sea smell and rugged grandeur surrounded by indigenous forest has an irresistible pull. Although a busier campsite, with rowdy kelp gulls, Tsitsikamma’s thundering sea soon refreshes the soul and lures you into Storms River spirit.
There is so much to do at this family paradise, from walking along the Storms River suspension bridge to boat trips, tubing, snorkelling, exploring bays, paddling, strolling, swimming and hiking. The 3km walk to the waterfall that merges with the first day of the Otter Trail makes you quickly understand why this top-notch trail is regarded as one of the finest in the world. Scrambling over rocks and walking through coastal forest or along weathered walkways is simply taking time out for wild beauty.
The Blue Duiker Trail explores the forest, revealing what the area must have looked like before the forests were cut down for furniture and railway sleepers. Mighty yellowwood giants and a notable arboreal collection reaching into the green canopy. Bracket fungi, tangled vines and a colourful leafy carpet suggest its lush past. The path circles back to the coast and giving you the opportunity to revisit a gully, then dry off on warm rocks to the accompaniment of the crashing surf.
Don't wait for your laptop battery to run out of charge, keep it switched off, along with your cellphone. Let the tendrils of your busy life loosen day by day. Allow yourself to be fully present in the moment. Let nature's power surge through you.
Take a Hike
Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail, Wilderness
Starting near the railway bridge near Ebb-and-Flow’s north camp, this trail takes you 3,6km into the trees. Mid-point there's a pontoon to cross the honey-coloured water mid-point, with a few tugs on the rope getting you to the other side. The path then merges with the Giant Kingfisher Trail, taking you to a waterfall and pool surrounded by vibrant forest and the sound of singing water. Bliss.
Waterfall Trail, Tsitsikamma
This 6km trail begins after the oceanettes at the far end of the rest camp. It begins gently with a stroll along the coast and through coastal forest, but becomes more demanding later on when a rocky stretch has to be negotiated. The trail passes a large guano cave and continues to the impressive waterfall and rock pool. A swim in the gorgeous golden water is mandatory.
Blue Duiker Trail, Tsitsikamma
The start to the 6km Blue Duiker trail is near the shop/restaurant. It is a circular trail that loops through the forest and across the road to the coast. After a short uphill walk, you'll reach a lookout platform over the sea. Keep your eyes open for schools of dolphin. The path continues up into the forest, past a small waterfall and a hollowed-out tree trunk, before dropping down to the coast. A celebration of birdsong can be heard along the way and the crashing surf as you near the sea. The path merges with the Waterfall Trail and it’s a gentle walk along the coast back to camp.
There is no charge for walking trails apart from the daily conservation fee, which Wild Card members of course don't pay.
Ebb-and-Flow: camping R170 for 1 or 2 people a night, rondavel in the north camp R320 for 1 or 2 people, forest cabin in the south camp R625 for 1 or 2 people.
Storms River Mouth: camping R310 for 1or 2 people a night, forest hut R500 for 1 or 2 people, oceanette R1 580 for 1 to 4 people.
SANParks central reservations 012-428-9111
Source: Wild Magazine