Friday, October 9, 2009

Sleepy Hollow

Driving out to Sleepy Hollow just outside Port Elizabeth on a drizzling Thursday, my mind wandered to the tale of Ichabod Crane. I wondered if at some stage during the weekend I would encounter a headless horseman who would hurl his head (or some shape of pumpkin) at me making me throw myself into a bush or a stream. Or even worse, disappear forever. But luck was on my side. Three days of absolute natural bliss and not a wandering spirit in sight. Except maybe the apparition in the nightdress heading for the ablution block one evening, but she may have been staying in one of the caravans.

Sleepy Hollow is situated just off the Blue Horizon Bay road west of Port Elizabeth (but still within the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole) and is a fully functioning caravan park and camping area hidden away in a beautiful valley. Its so hidden, there isn't even a sign on the road, and having been there I know why. I would keep it a secret as well if it was mine. The property has it all. A meandering stream, swimming holes, abandoned mines, a birdwatchers paradise AND very little cellular phone reception. What more would you want for the perfect weekend getaway?

The main activity at Sleepy Hollow is being close to nature and you practise that by either walking or just sitting in you camp chair listening to the birds. The property has several trails criss-crossing the valley taking you to all kinds of interesting spots to explore. Some of the trails are a bit steep going up (or down, depending which way you go) the side of the valley, but they are all fairly family friendly. Most of the trails take you either to a view point overlooking the valley or just somewhere interesting. Does it really matter what the destination is if its only part of the journey? Ok, that just sounded corny, but its true after all.
We spent the weekend there with the Rugrats (Chaos Boy 7 and Drama Princess 4) in tow and they went everywhere we did. Actually, we had to keep up with Chaos Boy who is a bit of an explorer at heart. Pity there is no new places for him to discover anymore. Or is there? Every time he saw one of the signboards pointing out the trails and attractions he ran ahead and knew exactly where to go even before we got there. Everything is well sign posted and paths are well laid out while the picnic spots along the way is well maintained and the grass kept short.

The main trail from the camping area is the Ouma Coffee Trail (don't ask me why the name is called that, cause Ouma never brought us any coffee or other refreshments while walking the trail) which follows the Maitland River up the valley. Most of the other trails as well as the attractions are accessible from this trail. About 600 meters up the trail you get to see the first of three swimming holes in the river. Olienhout swimming hole is the place to be in summer. Its not too deep and relatively close to the camping ground. A hundred meters further upstream is Naboom swimming hole while the big Sleepy Hollow swimming hole is another 500 meters or so along. At Sleepy Hollow swimming hole there is a foofy slide across the water and according to Aunty Bettie its a good 30 feet deep. Personally the water in the river was a bit fresh for me to take a dip. If I get to come back in summer I may just take a plunge, but that brave I wasn't this weekend.

The highlight of Chaos Boy's weekend was exploring the old abandoned mines on the property. There are three old silver and lead mines which date back to the late 1700s. We were informed about these in advance so as soon as we got to the mines, I produced a couple of torches and in we went. Mine 3 is the best one to go down in as I could just about walk up straight, but a guy like Bakkies Botha (Springbok rugby lock) may have some problems. At one stage the passage makes a kink and this means that the light at the end (or in this case the start) of the tunnel disappears. This also meant that whatever just brushed past my ear was more at home in the dark than we were, but soon we got to the end of the tunnel. It was here that I noticed some kind of winged mouse hanging from the ceiling of the tunnel and knew what had just whispered in my ear. Oh well, back to the entrance we go. Quickly.

Another one of the paths will take you, somewhat scrambling over rocks most of the way, all the way up a small gorge to Sleepy Hollow's waterfall. Although not recommendable to anybody pushing a pram, its not too difficult getting to the top. The prize at the top of the gorge may not be the Niagra or Victoria Waterfalls (actually due to the current drought you will probably have more water spilling out of the bath when the Rugrats are cleaning up) but its beautiful. There was a trickle of water flowing over the lip at the top making its way down the side across the moss covered rocks and down the little stream. Heading back down I allowed the family to get a bit ahead of me cause all along the path there are little waterfalls making for the ideal long exposure waterfall shot.

Although we were there with the family and had an awesome time, I would love to spend a weekend at Sleepy Hollow without the Rugrats. You know, the type of weekend where you plonk yourself down in your camp chair with a book and just soak in the surroundings. Even with kids running around the ko-ko-ko-ko sound of the Knysna Loerie, the chwop kewoook kewook call of the nightjar, the fast doo-doo-doo-doo-doo Burchell's coucal, the koi-koi-koi-tjatajatja of the guinea fowl and the occasional call of the fish eagle, and is always present. So it may be an even better idea just to go and find a rock or spot somewhere and suck in as much nature as possible. Plus don't forget your birding guide.

All in all Sleepy Hollow truly is one of Port Elizabeth's best kept secrets. Whether you go there to picnic, to hike or for a overnight stay, its a wonderful "close to nature" experience. Taking down the tent and heading for the gate, I was already going through my dairy in my mind checking when the next long weekend is. Its definitively one of those spots where I would go back to for repeat visits. In my bag my camera sat with loads of pictures about streams, ponds, birds, flowers, insects, mushrooms and so much more.
I wonder if the headless horseman will make an appearance next time round.

Unfortunately they don't have a website, but for locals wanting more information, contact Anton at or 0846751348. Also try Bettie at 083 6600817.


  1. What a beautiful secret place, rugrats and all. Love the look of the swimming hole, but I am a warm weather and water girl myself. Yet another place to add to my growing list of places to see in SA. Thanks for the tour.

  2. Nothing like taking time out to explore.

  3. Oh, that's wonderful...!!

    Chaos Boy and Drama Princess are beautiful. :-)

    And lucky you, it will be summer there soon, and you can go swimming in that swimming hole.

  4. Awesome and adventerous! I'm sure this was a great great experience!

    - Pixellicious Photos

  5. Oh my!! You have described my pefect place Jonker. What a pit it is so far from me or else I would spend every single minute I could there. Sounds like you son is going to be Nature Boy wken he grows up replaceing Chaos Boy. :)

    A lovely and informative post. I must remember it when I am next in your area.

  6. Sleepy Hollow sounds like a wonderful place to explore. I would love to see the mines.

  7. Oh my! I would love to visit there. Your photographs are incredible this time! I love the sunlight in your first photo and the 4th photo is amazing! :)

  8. What a lovely review!! Was finding it hard to find information but appreciate this post so much... Will be heading that way just because of the excitement this article has created in my heart!!