Ahh, the Tsitsikamma..... My favorite Sho't Left destination for a couple of days' breakaway. Beautiful indigenous forests to sooth my soul, mountains on the horizon, streams running past ancient indigenous trees and forest giants to a rugged coastline where the blue ocean crashes as white waves on black rocks at the foot of sheer cliffs. This part of the Garden Route must be one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. Truly paradise. The Tsitsikamma is a lot more than natural beauty and scenery though. Its also a place of activities and adventures, some adrenalin filled and others a lot more relaxing. I am fortunate that I work in the travel industry and the Tsitsikamma is one of the areas that I get to visit quite often both for work and play. I decided to compile a list of 10 activities, restaurants and accommodation establishment (in no particular order) that I got to visit in 2014 and that is not to be missed. Not that there isn't more, because there is. It's just that I have had first hand experience of these.
#1 Woodcutters Journey
I have a very special place in my heart and soul for an indigenous. It's somewhere I can go to unwind. Somewhere I can sit in silence and allow all my problems to flow away from me, even if its just for a short time. I like to go for a walk on any of the short trails through the forest around Stormsriver Village, but there is another way to explore it and learn at the same time. The Woodcutters Journey is a guided tour down the old Storms River Pass is a specially designed vehicle. The pass follows the old elephant migratory route down to the river and on the way passes tree ferns, stinkwoods, yellow woods and many other tree species. The guide tells you more about the history of the area while pointing out the local flora and fauna. At the bottom of the pass the tour takes a break next to the river for a light lunch or tea and cake. This is the ideal tour for older visitors or those who would like to learn more about the ins and outs of the forest.
#2 Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour
How about gliding through the indigenous forest like the elusive Knysna Loerie? Experience the forest from above. The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour has become a iconic activity in the area and consists of 10 platforms and 10 zipline slides. The tour takes about three hours and is more than just an adrenalin rush. The guides aren't just adventure guides, they also tell you more about the forest and what you see along the way. I had the great opportunity to do a Canopy Tour with the family and it was something the KidZ have been talking about over and over. Something I won't forget quickly was getting ready to push off one of the platforms 30 meters up when suddenly two Knysna Loeries swooped up from below and took the lead for me to follow. An experience you won't forget that quickly.
#3 Tsitsikamma Segway Tour
One of my absolute favorite activities in the area is the Tsitsikamma Segway Tour. A Segway is a personal transporter that is easy to handle and another perfect way to experience the forest. You start off with a 15-20 minute training session on their training course where the guides make sure you know exactly how to handle your Segway safely before setting off. The 1 hour Segway experience takes you on a journey through the quaint Stormsriver Village and follow one of a selection of routes among cool pine forest, the indigenous forest, or to the historical Witteklip bridge. It also takes you through the local township. The 2 hour tour, the one I went on, goes through Stormsriver Village, and into the cool pine forests. From here we entered the ancient indigenous Tsitsikamma Forests and made our way along the paths to the famous and majestic 1000 year old Tsitsikamma Big Tree and back to the village. Once you do it, I promise you won't want to stop.
#4 Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures
How about flying over a river gorge, across a waterfall and along the river itself? You can do it at Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures. The experience includes eight slides of which the longest is 211m. It zigzags across the river gorge, sometimes as high as 50m above the water. Because its open and you aren't amongst the trees, you get a better idea of height which gives you the opportunity to really take in the views and your surroundings as you go along. Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures is situated on the N2 about 10 minutes east of Storms River Bridge and takes about an hour and a half which is ideal if you haven't got that much time in the area.
Because I have done both Tsitsikamma Falls zipline and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, I have had a lot of people ask me which one is better. It's really impossible to say because other than the fact that they are both guided zipline experiences, they don't have much else in common. They use different zipline "setups", the one is a full on tour while the other is more seen as an adrenalin activity, one takes it easy which is more time consuming while the other is a much shorter experience, one involves the forest and the other a river gorge and so I can go on. It really depends on what you want and what experience you're looking to have. If you have the time and your budget allows, I would say you have to do and experience both.
#5 The Big Tree
The Big Tree is as part of the Tsitsikamma as the Tsitsikamma National Park down on the coast is. Probably the second most visited spot in the area by tour groups (don't go and quote me on that now). The forest around this 1000 years old tree (I'm sure when I was still guiding 7 years ago the signs still said 800 years) forms part of the Tsitsikamma National Park which now is a sub section of the Garden Route National Park. The Big Tree is a great leg stretch stop if you are just passing through or something to go and do early morning or in the afternoon to take your mind off all the other things you can do in the area. From the parking area it's a nice easy 500 meter walk along a boardwalk to the tree. Americans seem to be disappointed when they get there, but it is because they are used to Redwood Trees back home. She is a biggie though and stand 36.6 meters tall with a circumference of nearly nine meters and a canopy spread of about 33 meters.
#6 Regyne Protea Farm
Did you know that the biggest commercial protea farm in the world can be found in the Tsitsikamma? No? Well it is. About 8 or so years ago I used to visit the farm on specially organized tours with British tourists, but Dewald Niemann of Oudebosch Farmstall now offers groups regular tours to the farm. During a visit you don't just get to see the proteas growing in the fields, but also how they pick, sort and pack them for export. The warehouse isn't that big, but it's an amazing sight walking into the cold storeroom and seeing the whole place full of flowers waiting to be shipped out. The tour also includes the protea nursery where Hanli Viljoen may just take you around to show off all her babies. This is another of the activities in the area that I got to share with my family this year. Bookings can be made through Oudebosch Farmstall and there are minimum numbers so give them a call in advance to check if there is a tour going.
#7 Marilyn's 60's Diner and #8 Oudebosch Farmstall
I'm combining #7 and #8 in one heading as they are both restaurants.
Visiting the village of Stormsrivier, you would never expect to find a place like Marilyn's 60's Diner there. It's all neon and chrome with lots and lots of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and 60's memorabilia. This is also where you would find the annual Elvis Festival Africa. Very cool indeed. Marilyn's is great for a burger and chips lunch stop, because burgers and chips is what you eat at a place like this. Their milkshakes also go down like a dream after a walk in the forest while a midmorning coffee between activities is also an option. Right next door there's also a new micro brewery, but that I'll keep for next time after I have had a chance to try it out.
One of the most popular stops in the area is Oudebosch Farmstall on the eastern side of the Tsitsikamma. Oudebosch is more than just a regular farmstall. It has three main components to it. There is the supermarket servicing the surrounding farming community and tourists heading to Eersterivier and a curio shop where you will find mostly South African crafts and gifts. The main reason people stop here though is the restaurant / coffee shop. Oudebosch has a full lunch menu which is very popular but they are truly famous for their mouth watering roosterkoek made right there in the restaurant on the coals.
#9 Tsitsikamma Village Inn
The Tsitsikamma is truly blessed with a wide range of excellent accommodation establishments starting with camping and self catering in the Tsitsikamma National Park to backpackers hostels, B&B's, guesthouses and hotels. My favorite place to stay is the Tsitsikamma Village Inn, right in the heart of Stormsriver Village, where the main building dates back to 1845. The hotel has 49 free-standing rooms and is laid out like a village with each cottage individually styled, themed and decorated to match specific colonial building styles found on the Garden Route. Facilities include the De Oude Martha Restaurant, the Hunters Pub and Cafe Bacchus. I prefer to have dinner in the Hunters Pub just because its a lot more cosy than the restaurant, but the food is great no matter where you eat. The hotel is also very centrally located allowing one to explore the village and surrounding forest on foot without having to take your car. I know I should try out some of the excellent guesthouses nearby, but I'm always drawn back to the hotel thanks to great hospitality by owners Chris and Irma. Plus they always invite me back so how can I say no?
Eersterivier is one of the secret gems of the Tsitsikamma. The village is hidden away right on the coast close to Oudebosch Farmstall and consist of privately owned holiday homes. Accommodation at Eersterivier is on a self-catering basis in these holiday homes and can be booked through Tsitsikamma Seaside Accommodation. Eersterivier offers a serene seaside holiday experience. Days are spent on the beach, doing hikes along the coast or through the surrounding fynbos, doing shore based whale and dolphin watching or playing golf at the nearby Fynbos Golf Course. Either that or just grab a good book and enjoy the magnificent coastal views from the deck of your house. We spent a weekend Sho't Left in Eersterivier recently and the KidZ just loved the area.
As they say in television infomercials, "BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE." These are just the ones I did in 2014 so watch this space and I will report on more Tsitsikamma activities, restaurants and accommodation in 2015. Right now I'm compiling my list of things to do so I won't mention names just yet.......