In summer, pink and orange watsonias line the turn-off from the N2 into Nature’s Valley, a village in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Winding down into the valley via Thomas Bain’s Groot Rivier Pass, blossoms give way to breathtaking forest and trees, with a huge yellowwood tree looming above the rest. Sometimes called “the Queen of Nature’s Valley”, the magnificent stature of this gentle giant is humbling.
The rest of Nature’s Valley offers equally unforgettable beach and ocean vistas, but it remains quiet and peaceful, with only 84 permanent residents – very different from the development found in nearby Plettenberg Bay.
The village is situated around the Groot Rivier, which opens out via the lagoon into the Indian Ocean, and it is the end-point of the world-famous five-day Otter Trail. This gruelling and incredibly beautiful hike starts at the Storm’s River side of Tsitsikamma National Park, and is known for its tricky river crossings. With knees collapsing and hearts soaring, hikers walk and climb up and down 42 kilometres of coastal rocks, mountains and river mouths wreathed in montane forest and fynbos, with vast and stunning views of the ocean.
Nature’s Valley is geared towards the constant stream of filthy hikers returning from the wilderness. Its only shop, the Nature’s Valley Trading Store, sells emergency camping essentials and Otter memorabilia, and the tree in the adjacent restaurant courtyard is an arboreal graveyard, adorned with worn-out footwear that didn’t survive the trail.
With its peaceful, lovely three-kilometre beach and pristine lagoon, Nature’s Valley is also a perfect getaway for those simply seeking rest. There are bed-and-breakfasts, self-catering cottages and a lovely rest camp tucked away in the indigenous bush. It is not uncommon to see bushbuck grazing among the residences, and there is spectacular bird life, including the exquisite Knysna turaco.
Look out for
Walking, hiking and mountain-biking – three trails around the lagoon (up to five hours), along the beach and through the forest. Trail maps are available at the Trading Store, but trails are poorly marked in places, so keep your bearings to avoid spending a night lost outdoors. Billboards at the lagoon parking lot detail the incredibly rich ecology of the area. The roads are safe and pretty for walking and cycling day or night.
The lagoon offers safe bathing, canoeing, sailing and fishing. Canoes can be hired from the reserve office at the rest camp.
Wander beaches largely unchanged since the strandlopers walked them 2000 years ago. Snorkel in the rock pools and contemplate the sea.
Birdwatching – forest, lagoon and coastal habitats support a variety of birds, including Knysna woodpecker and narina trogon. A nectar feeder at the restaurant is frequented by sunbirds.
Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve – in places, the coastal forest and fynbos almost tumbles into the incredible moody seas. Knysna turacos flash crimson through the canopy, given away by their inelegant croaking calls. Rich animal life includes the elusive Cape leopard, bushpig, baboon, Cape clawless otter, dolphins, and, in season, southern right and humpback whales. A walking trail at Storm’s River Mouth follows the first three kilometres of the Otter Trail, past a cave with shell middens (evidence of ancient human habitation), to a beautiful waterfall. Look out for cute, belligerent “dassies” (rock rabbits) – “the rottweilers of Tsitsikamma”.
Whiskey Creek multi-day canoe trail takes you through the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, overnighting in log cabins on stilts amongst the trees.
Storm’s River and Tsitsikamma offer the Bloukrans River Bungee - the world’s highest (a 216-metre drop with a 180-metre free-fall); Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure (Water zipline tour) and Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours. Head to Marilyn’s 60’s Diner for some post-adrenaline sustenance and their classic Cadillac collection.
Elephant Sanctuary, Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre are animal sanctuaries situated at the Crags between Nature’s Valley and Plettenberg Bay (home to rehabilitated elephants, cheetahs, leopards and caracals).
Lively “Plett”, with its shopping centres, flea market and restaurants is about 15 minutes away, up the steep Pass. Knysna is about an hour away, with its Elephant Park and the famous Petrus-se-brand, Homtini , Fisanthoek and Harkerville forest cycle routes through the “Garden of Eden” in the Garden Route National Park.