Surfing in Elands Bay

Sunset at Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Sunset at Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

An eerie mist hangs over a glassy sea, its secrets held close. In the distance, birds float freely while a seal cavorts nearby. The renowned Elands Bay surf break, some 200 km North of Cape Town, lies dormant. I have seen the reef at Elands Bay working to its full potential only once before, and besides the pleasure of surfing this wave, just standing on the beach and watching it crank is a special sight. Nature has indeed done splendid work to create such a remarkably mechanical wave. However, on a recent surfing trip to Elands Bay, that perfect wave of our dreams was nowhere to be seen.

Surfing Elands Bay
Patience pays off when surfing Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Surfing in Elands Bay, for me at least, is a deeply cleansing experience, whether there’s a wave or not, there’s always fun to be had. The scenery, cold water, mountains, dust and sand that dominate the West Coast landscape creates a perfect playground for the soul. The best thing about surfing Elands Bay when there’s no swell is that there are no crowds, you have the reef all to yourself and even better, there won’t be anyone watching. Frolicking in the stinky kelp in hope that the odd wave might come along is certainly fun and it can pay off if you’re patient enough.

Surfing at Elands Bay
The gang about to paddle out into the mist near Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Most surfers wouldn’t even bother when the sea is flat, but surfing in Elands Bay no matter what, forces you to realise that it’s not always about the quality of the waves, but rather about appreciating the experience. Throw some good friends and camping into the mix and you have a recipe for making unforgettable memories that will keep your stoke meter topped up until the swell eventually arrives.

Surfing near Elands Bay
There’s a wave somewhere near Elands Bay. Photo: Gero Lilleike

As it turned out, there was no swell coming our way so we decided to explore the coast towards Lamberts Bay for a wave, however small. Luck was on our side, and we found a tiny gem. It wasn’t long before our wetsuits were on and we paddled into the mist, but we weren’t alone. A pod of West Coast Dolphins welcomed us while we had the time of our lives on this desolate piece of coast. The experience was surreal and full of joy. It was all worth it in the end.

Beach walking at Elands bay
Beach Walking is a good option when the swell dies. Photo: Gero Lilleike
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A fishy affair at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town

This Longhorn Cowfish struck the perfect pose. Photo: Gero Lilleike
This Longhorn Cowfish struck the perfect pose. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photos by: Gero Lilleike

The last time I visited the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town was when I was just a little boy, with eyes wide open in awe of all the creatures that make the ocean so special. Many years on and nothing has changed, except for the camera in my hand. I still look on with the same fascination and bewilderment as I did all those years ago.

The background lighting set the scene for an interesting shot. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The background lighting set the scene for an interesting shot. Photo: Gero Lilleike

There is lots to see and learn at the Two Oceans Aquarium and the various exhibits are both educational and fascinating to observe. The Two Oceans Aquarium is also the perfect place to photograph some of the species that call it home. Here are some of my best shots from my visit and be sure to let me know what you think.

The light was hitting this large White Steenbras perfectly. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The light was hitting this large White Steenbras perfectly. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The Two Oceans Aquarium is situated at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town which is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Cape Town. Whether you want to shop, eat or stare at boats, you can do it all here, just make sure you bring lots of money and a big smile. For more information about the Two Oceans Aquarium visit www.aquarium.co.za

This Ragged-tooth shark was looking rather hungry. Photo: Gero Lilleike
This Ragged-tooth shark was looking rather hungry. Photo: Gero Lilleike

A day on the Garden Route

Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route, South Africa. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route, South Africa. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

I forced my eyes open at 1:30 AM. An hour later my better half and I were driving on the N2 from Cape Town on-route to Plettenberg Bay on South Africa’s world famous Garden Route. The drive to Plettenberg Bay was surprisingly short in the dark and as daylight broke, the scenic Kaaimans Pass in Wilderness lay before us. The morning air was fresh and the scenery full of life, ever-present in the glory of the breaking day. We pushed on through Knysna and then the ‘Bay of Beauty’ welcomed us home. It felt good to be back, even though only for the day.

Unknown surfer scores at Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Unknown surfer scores at Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike

With the warm winter sun on my back, I proceeded into town and made my way to Lookout, which only two years ago was a firing right-hand surf break that I surfed on a regular basis during my 11-month stint working in the region. The Keurbooms River Mouth perfectly sculpted the sandbank at Lookout to create what many surfers in the area believed to be one of the best waves on the Garden Route. Lookout worked best in bigger swell and broke hard, barreling all the way across the river mouth. Paddle fitness proved to be a big factor in the lineup, especially considering the long thrilling rides Lookout offered. The picture above gives you an idea of what Lookout was capable of delivering on a regular basis and it certainly got better than this. Lookout really was an amazing wave and anyone who surfed its gems will toast to that, but sadly Lookout is no more.

The old Keurbooms River Mouth at Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The old Keurbooms River Mouth at Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike

In mid-July 2012 heavy rains in the area forced the Keurbooms River to form a new mouth a few hundred meters up the beach which ultimately brought the world-class right hander to its knees and at a blink of an eye the perfect Lookout wave surrendered itself to the forces of nature. The pictures above and below show Lookout at present and as you can see, the river mouth has now filled out with sand and the wave that brought smiles to so many surfers faces, including my own, is nowhere in sight. I stood there reminiscing and looked out to sea and watched as a whale breached with Mt Formosa standing tall in the background. I smiled for every great memory Plettenberg Bay held for me.

Present day Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Present day Lookout. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The sun was high and I had to move on to visit some life-long friends I had made during my time in Plettenberg Bay. My first visit was with Brenda Berge, the owner of one of the most beautiful properties in The Crags called Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve. Brackenburn is tucked away in the heart of The Crags and offers superb self-catering country-style accommodation that can’t be matched anywhere in Plettenberg Bay. The surrounding Tsitsikamma forest is well suited for people who want to go ‘Into the Wild’ and experience life in the forest on the banks of the Buffels River, but remember to hike within your means, the terrain here takes no prisoners, I know.

The sun was setting and I waved my goodbyes to Brenda and Brackenburn only to shake hands with Rocky Reeder once more. In 2011, I wrote a travel review entitled Rocky Road to Heaven which showcased Rocky Road Backpackers as a must-visit destination in The Crags and on the Garden Route in general. Almost two years later and fact hasn’t changed. Rocky and Marietjie are still fine hosts as always and if you are looking for the very best backpacker accommodation in The Crags then simply follow the rocky road, there’s no turning back. Oh yes, there’s also an outdoor jacuzzi and a new putting green to rock your world this winter, so enjoy.

Wreck is always beautiful. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Wreck is always beautiful. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Inevitably, my decision to drive through the night caught up with me and I hit my pillow hard as a result. I awoke to a sunny day and decided to go for a quick walk at ‘Wreck’, which is an excellent surf spot in the armpit of Robberg Peninsula. The historical significance of ‘Wreck’ is outlined in my piece entitled The Splendour of Plettenberg Bay and I suggest you read it if you are vaguely interested at all.

Before I could say hello Plett, I was saying goodbye instead and found myself behind the wheel again, slowly making my way down the N2 with Cape Town in my sights. We drove through Wilderness and made a quick stop at Dolphin Point to take some photographs of the surf breaking in perfectly calm conditions. The sheer beauty of this place should make the Garden Route a blatantly obvious destination for anyone planning a trip to South Africa. Your flight is leaving now, get on that plane.

Perfect surf on the Garden Route. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Perfect surf on the Garden Route. Photo: Gero Lilleike

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On the fly at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway

Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway
Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway

Words by: Gero Lilleike

Photographs by: Gero Lilleike and Steve Erwin

I look at Steve and he smiles, his face is brimming with excitement, I know that look, we’re on the fly. The dirt road leading to Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is narrow and high with the Holsloot River sparkling in the bright morning sun below. We smile some more, for this very river bears our joy, the elusive Rainbow Trout that lured us here.

A little over an hour and a half passed since leaving Cape Town and after a brief supply visit in the small wining town of Rawsonville, we found ourselves here, in what would make every fly fisherman drool with envy, the Stettynskloof Valley, the perfect setting to test your fly fishing mettle.

Leatherfoot on the fly in the Holsloot River
Leatherfoot on the fly in the Holsloot River

Not only is Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway a superb and well recommended dry-fly fishing venue in South Africa, it’s also an equally superb wedding venue, a place where knots are tied, with the river, mountains and sky bearing witness to the deed. Steve and I however had Improved Clinch knots to tie, and after a friendly welcome we descended on Campsite 6, our trout haven on the banks of the Holsloot River.

We soon discovered that we weren’t alone. On the opposite bank, a male baboon was rustling in the bush and vanished upon sighting us. His bark of disapproval at disturbing his morning tea party followed shortly after. Peace then returned to the Stettynskloof Valley with only the gentle sound of water trickling over rocks to be heard.

Steve strikes the first catch of the day
Steve strikes the first catch of the day

We agreed to fish first and set up camp later considering that the trout would in all likelihood be off the bite in the heat of the day. I came armed with numerous fly patterns suitable for various conditions but opted to start with the Rough And Buoyant (RAB) fly, which is also funnily known as the Red Arsed Bastard. The RAB fly was specifically developed by Tony Biggs, a well-known South African angler, for use in the clear streams that are common in the region and is a must-have fly to carry in your fly-box if you plan on fly fishing in the Western Cape.

Steve's first catch of the day
Steve’s first catch of the day

Unsurprisingly, after only five minutes on the water, with my first cast barely out, I heard Steve shout with enthusiasm as his first trout rose to the occasion and gobbled his fly. Steve’s take set the precedent and he went on to catch three more trout during the day. The hunt was on and we decided to explore and fish the pools further downstream. The trout were breaking water and I neatly presented my RAB on the surface. Two seconds later my first rainbow of the day came to greet me, perfect timing indeed.

The earthy and vibrantly colored Holsloot River was clear and refreshingly cold, offering pleasant respite from the mid-afternoon heat and with the river beside us we had lunch and relaxed under the cool shade of the trees with a semi-cold beer in-hand, discussing our assault tactics for the upcoming ‘evening rise’. The evening shift soon came and we were on the water once more, but this time we weren’t so lucky. The trout weren’t on the bite and activity was scarce, making the situation increasingly difficult to read and somewhat frustrating.

By sunset, we hadn’t caught anything, even after trying various tactics such as changing flies and adapting and refining our casts, our attempts were futile, the trout had the upper hand, for now. A warm fire and well-deserved meal was our reward for the day and with the full Moon overhead and bellies full, we retired to the comfort of our tent for some sleep.

Life is good on the banks of the Holsloot River
Life is good on the banks of the Holsloot River

The trout in the region were introduced in the 1890’s and are wild with no stocking taking place here. The specimens are small, averaging between 10 and 16 inches and light tackle is therefore preferable which will give you the impression of a much larger fish at the end of your line, but only when you manage to hook one. The Holsloot River is somewhat unique in that it’s born from a dam at the head of the valley and the water temperature is a couple of degrees cooler than other streams in the area, making it more fishing-friendly in the hot summer months when other streams are too warm.

Fly fishing paradise
Fly fishing paradise

The sound of the river guided me out of my slumber and I was soon sipping on hot cup coffee and eagerly watching the river for any sign of activity, all was calm, the trout were nowhere to be seen but Steve’s snoring could be heard for miles. It wasn’t long before the sun kissed the mountain peaks and I decided to get my line in the water. After my third cast, I felt a light tug and a nibble, I had landed my second and last trout of the day.

Steve on the morning shift
Steve on the morning shift

We fished for the rest of the morning with no success and pulled all sorts of tricks out the bag, but nothing worked. The trout had enough of us and weren’t going to be gulled again. Our time at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway had come to an end but at least we would return to Cape Town pleased and satisfied that we experienced the Holsloot River and managed to land some of the Rainbow Trout that call it home.

Happy about that one
Happy about that one

The scenery at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is nothing short of phenomenal, with mountains, farmlands and the river creating appealing scenery for anyone and everyone who appreciates nature. The moment you arrive, Dwarsberg grabs you and absorbs you, it truly is a special place that is well worth a visit if you are exploring the Cape Winelands and surrounds. Do yourself a favor and get there, you may very well find that you never want to leave.

For more information about Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway and it’s accommodation options visit http://www.trouthaven.co.za or email info@trouthaven.co.za.

The scenery speaks for itself
The scenery speaks for itself

Surfing in Muizenberg

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike (unless otherwise stated)

I awake to the gentle sound of the sea and as I rise from my slumber, I look out my window and smile. Not too far away, 3ft waves roll toward the beach, beckoning me to go play. The sun is out, the sky is blue and it’s time to go surf. I arrive at ‘Surfers Corner’ in Muizenberg and find myself in chaos as throngs of people bustle on the beach and in the sea, soaking up this beautiful day like seals in the sun.

Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

I suit up and make my way to the waters edge. Everywhere I look I see people, most with some sort of surf craft at hand. Muizenberg is one of many crowded surf spots in Cape Town and I would even go so far as to say that it’s quite possibly the most crowded surf spot in South Africa. The wave at Muizenberg is generally quite small and breaks gently, making it a particularly popular beach for people wanting to learn how to surf. Paddling out at Muizenberg is like driving into oncoming traffic, you constantly have to dodge and dive to avoid collisions with other surfers. Getting a wave to yourself is a rare occasion and everyone paddles for the same wave making it a free-for-all wave frenzy. Surfing etiquette? What’s that? I wasn’t out for long and before I could even react a surfer rode over me leaving me to bleed in the sea.

The view at Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa

Apart from the perils of surfing at Muizenberg, it can be a fun place to surf, especially when there’s a record to break. In 2009, the Earthwave Beach Festival saw 443 surfers take to the water, attempting to set the Guinness World Record for the most surfers to ride a single wave. The attempt was successful, with 110 surfers riding the same wave, beating the old record of 100 set in Santos, Brazil in 2008. To this day, Muizenberg holds that record proudly.

Another interesting fact is that Muizenberg is considered to be the birth place of surfing in South Africa. The earliest recorded surfing event in South Africa apparently took place in Muizenberg in 1919 when Heather Price, a Capetonian woman, befriended two American marines who disembarked in Cape Town on their way home after World War One. The two kind gentlemen happened to have solid wood, Hawaiian style surfboards and proceeded to introduce Heather to stand-up wave riding. The photograph of Heather Price surfing in Muizenberg speaks for itself.

If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Cape Town and have the nerve to learn how to surf, visit Muizenberg, rent a board or a surf instructor and go for a paddle, you might be pleasantly surprised at how fun surfing really is. Good luck and enjoy.

Steve Erwin (Surf Shack), The Best Surf Instructor in Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa

The Splendour of Plettenberg Bay

Words & Photographs by Gero Lilleike

Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo, a Portuguese navigator, called Plettenberg Bay ‘Baia Formosa’ or ‘Bay Beautiful’ and if you have witnessed its beauty, you would confirm this truth. One of the beautiful splendours of Plettenberg Bay lies tucked away in the bosom of ‘Ponta Delgada’ or Robberg Peninsula, a golden beach, called Wreck.   

I am certain that out of the thousands of people visiting Wreck every year, few are probably aware of the events that took place on that very beach 382 years ago. It’s an intriguing thought, but would knowing change the experience of being on that beach?
 

Wreck Beach, Plettenberg Bay

I have pondered many things while surfing in this beautiful bay and when I’m blissfully floating in the waves at Wreck, revelling in the splendour of this place, my mind calmly drifts out to sea into the vast expanse of the past. The sweet smell of history hangs thick in the air, for with every breaking wave, history is made and a tale is told. In my mind I scratch deeper into the ocean of the past and for a solitary moment in time, I imagine…

The history of Plettenberg Bay is as lengthy as it is remarkable and has been sufficiently portrayed by the late Patricia Storrar in her book Plettenberg Bay, and the Paradise Coast, a must read for anyone vaguely interested in Plettenberg Bay and the surrounding coastline. 

Plettenberg Bay with 'Ponta Delgada' on the horizon

   
In the name of history, it was Baron Joachim van Plettenberg, a Dutchman and Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, who gave Plettenberg Bay its name in 1778. Nearly 300 years before van Plettenberg set eyes on this beautiful bay, a fearless Portuguese sea farer, Bartholomew Diaz, set sail aboard the São Cristóvão from Lisbon in August 1487. Embarking into the unknown in search of a safe trade route to India via the Cape of Good Hope, Diaz made his first landing in the cape at ‘Aguada de São Bras’ in February 1488, at what is today known as Mossel Bay.

It was here that the local Hottentots or Khoikhoi first encountered the ‘pale men from the sea’. The Portuguese came bearing foreign gifts, hoping to trade cloth, trinkets, bells, caps and necklaces in return for water, food and local knowledge of this new found land.  The locals perceived Diaz’s goods unfit for trade and the communication barrier proved overwhelming, ultimately leading to conflict with Diaz spilling the first blood, killing a local with his crossbow.

Wreck viewed from Robberg Peninsula

Diaz moved eastwards, discovering a hidden lake which was most likely the Knysna Lagoon viewed through the now famous Knysna Heads. Further up the coast, Diaz discovered Robberg Peninsula which he named Cabo Talhado and ‘Baia das Alagoas’ or ‘bay of the lagoons’, known today as Plettenberg Bay. Diaz and his entourage kept pushing east, discovering Algoa Bay and finally reaching the farthest point of their voyage, the Fish River in the Eastern Cape, where Diaz turned around and sailed back to Portugal.

The route to India had now been realised and it was 10 years later that Vasco De Gama also set sail from Lisbon on the São Gabriel, to accomplish what Diaz could not, landing in Calicut, India, in 1498. Like Diaz, De Gama landed in Mossel Bay in 1497 and although De Gama had better luck trading with the locals, he too couldn’t resist conflict and proceeded to fire two bombards at the locals as well as taking aim at the helpless seals of Seal Island. This event marked the first sound of cannon fire to be heard along South Africa’s virgin coast. Many more ships would endure this ‘Great Trek’ to the east in years to come.

Wreck, Plettenberg Bay

 
One particular Portuguese ship, the São Gonçalo, is forever bound to the history of Plettenberg Bay. Within the pages of Drama at Ponta Delgada, also authored by Patricia Storrar, the tale of this Portuguese merchant ship is well documented, revealing a fascinating story.  

The São Gonçalo arrived in India in the year 1629. In 1630, along with two other vessels and captained by Fernao Lobo de Menezes, the São Gonçalo set sail from Goa, India, homeward bound for Portugal. Later that year, somewhere off the southern coast of South Africa, the São Gonçalo began taking on water and was eventually forced to abandon the convoy and seek refuge in the calmer waters of Plettenberg Bay.

Approximately 100 men are believed to have set up camp in the dunes of Wreck, the armpit of Robberg, leaving close to 400 men onboard the São Gonçalo to conduct repairs to the stricken vessel. Some fifty days after dropping anchor in Plettenberg Bay, disaster struck, and the São Gonçalo was tragically ripped to pieces in a storm somewhere in the bay with fellow countrymen looking on from the beach in horror as those on board perished, their dying screams fading away into the deep, dark depths of the sea. To this day, no evidence of the whereabouts of the São Gonçalo has been found.

Plettenberg Bay

Over the next few months, the castaways set about the task of building two boats in which they hoped to escape this unforgiving paradise. They eventually succeeded and split into two parties, both sailing out of Plettenberg Bay in 1631. One boat set sail for India, the other for Portugal. The boat heading for India reached Mozambique safely while the other was rescued by the Portuguese vessel Santo Ignacio de Loyola on its return voyage from India. Almost a year after being rescued near Plettenberg Bay, the men onboard the Santo Ignacio de Loyola were almost home, but at the mouth of the Tagus River, near Lisbon, the ship sank, drowning all on board.  

On the horizon I see a wave of time steadily making its way towards me. This is my ride home. I paddle onto the wave and stand to attention as it carries me gently to the shore. Somewhere beyond these peeling waves, a dark shadow looms, forever enshrouded in the mystery that is the sea, in peace, a wreck lives here.

A wave breaks in Plettenberg Bay


Historical sources: Patricia Storrar, Plettenberg Bay, and the Paradise Coast and Drama at Ponta Delgada.

The Otter Trail

Rock Jumping on the Otter Trail

 

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

 There’s nothing quite like rounding up a bunch of good friends and planning a trip into the wild, it’s one of the best travel moves in the book.  When my long-time friend, Gavin, invited me to join his hiking party on the Otter Trail, I simply couldn’t decline, this was an opportunity of a lifetime, right down my alley. 

The Otter Trail

With a bit of research, I soon realised that the Otter Trail was going to be something special, unlike anything I have ever done before. The Otter Trail is a five day, 42.5 km trail situated in the Tsitsikamma National Park, forming part of the Garden Route from the Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley. If you’re like me and don’t have significant hiking experience, planning and preparing for a five day hike can be tricky business and should be done thoroughly and thoughtfully.

In the days leading up to our big adventure, I had to decide how to fill my backpack, a task all on its own. A checklist goes a long way in ensuring that all the essential items, such as whisky, are not forgotten. Planning is a fine balance between taking what is needed and leaving out what’s not. The saying ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ applies as well as ‘you pack it, you carry it’. I failed to heed these warnings and the result was hellishly painful.

Hiking Party at the Waterfall

Our hiking party arrived at reception, faces beaming with excitement, itching to get this adventure underway when a large man with a heavy Afrikaans accent says, “the first part of the trail is closed due to rough sea conditions. We can get a ranger to give you a lift to the first camp”. Excitement instantly mutated into bitter disappointment and bleakness ensued. After a quiet word outside we decided to do what every self-respecting Otter hiker would do, go hike anyway, but not before placing a beer order for our fourth day, a wise move indeed.

View of Ngubu

Ngubu Huts, the first of four overnight huts was 4.8 km away. One by one, we disappeared into the wild and were soon surrounded by ancient Tsitsikamma forest, making a steady decent to the thundering sea below. From the rocky seashore we witnessed an angry sea lashing out all along the coast. After clambering over rocks for an hour we stumbled upon a surreal waterfall and the guys had an absolute blast jumping off the rocks into the cold water below. Well refreshed, we got back on the trail towards Ngubu. We arrived to find quaint huts tucked away in lush vegetation overlooking a magical sea view. Soon a fire was burning and we spent the afternoon sipping on fine whisky and watching 15ft surf bombard the coastline. The scenery was wondrous. We were in paradise and we couldn’t believe it.

View from the Skilderkrans Quartzite outcrop

The next morning I awoke to a throbbing whisky headache that disappeared fast at the thought of hiking another 7.9 km to Scott Huts. We set off in the blazing sun hiking through forest for most of the day, encountering two Puff Adders, Seagulls, Oystercatchers and a few clumsy Knysna Loeries along the way. This particular section of the Otter Trail is gruelling, with many steep inclines and declines for most of the way. It’s on these hills where planning counts. My backpack was insanely heavy and I felt more like a dying pack mule than a hiker, with sweat pouring off my chin, I hoofed it to Blue Bay where we stopped for a well deserved lunch on an isolated beach. The hills continued to wreak havoc on my body for the rest of the day, eventually arriving at Scott Huts completely bushed. Just beyond our doorstep, in all its glory, lay the Geelhoutbos River Mouth, a view that replenishes the weariest of bones.  After a solid meal of two minute noodles and biltong, I turned in early to rest for the next day in the hills.

Scott Huts at the Geelhoutbos River Mouth
 

My eyes opened to the smell of fresh coffee on the fire and after breakfast I was ready to face up to the 7.7 km ahead of me. Thankfully my backpack was getting progressively lighter and walking became easier. Gavin and Craig decided to do some snorkelling, a nice way to have a break and enjoy the sea life flourishing in the clear rock pools.  We harvested a few mussels and cooked them for lunch on the beach at the Elandsbos River Mouth, a prime spot to relax, swim and recharge. Two hours later, we crested a hill and stumbled upon Oakhurst Huts, nestled alongside the Lottering River Mouth, another spectacular view to lull us to sleep as we keenly anticipated the 13.8 km hike waiting for us on our fourth day.

Lunch at the Elandsbos River

With stiff legs and tender feet, we set off early to make it to the Bloukrans River on time for low tide. The even terrain allowed us to cover larger distances faster and by midday we reached the 10km mark at the Bloukrans River Mouth, the most dangerous river crossing on the Otter Trail. Crossing the Bloukrans River was easy and we settled for lunch on the rocks. We spent another two hours on the trail before reaching Andre Huts at the Klip River Mouth. 

The Bloukrans River Mouth

It wasn’t long before our camp erupted into pure elation as we spotted our beer runner swiftly making his way down the mountainside towards us. Within minutes we were sipping on the sweetest nectar in this neck of the woods with smiles beaming from ear to ear. We proceeded to construct a bonfire on the pebble beach and watched the sun set slowly over Plettenberg Bay in the distance, a beautiful ending to our last night in this amazing place.

Andre Huts Viewpoint

 
The final stretch of the Otter Trail from Andre Huts to Nature’s Valley is only 6.8 km, winding through Fynbos, the trail is mostly level making it a reasonably easy hike. We arrived in Natures Valley in high spirit and decided to visit the only restaurant in town, The Nature’s Valley Restaurant & Pub for a tasty meal, some more beer and many more laughs.

Natures Valley

The Otter Trail is considered one of the best trails in the world but due to its overwhelming popularity, the waiting list can be up to a year or more but is certainly well worth the wait. Our epic adventure was over and at least we would go home knowing that what we experienced was unfathomable. The magnificent scenery along this stretch of coast is simply unreal and makes you appreciate every second of your life. Do yourself a favour and book now, you won’t regret it.

Hiking at its best

 For more information on the Otter Trail visit:  http://sanparks.org.za/parks/garden_route/camps/storms_river/tourism/otter.php

The view before Andre Huts

The Spirit of Ubuntu

Words by Gero Lilleike
Photos: Ubuntu Backpackers

 

Ubuntu Backpackers


Like a bright star shining in the night sky, this place lights up for one reason and one reason only, surfing. Once a year, Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape of South Africa becomes the focal point in the surfing world with the Billabong Pro being South Africa’s most anticipated surfing event held at the world famous Supertubes.

Ubuntu Entertainment Lounge

Surprisingly, I’ve never stayed in Jeffrey’s Bay and witnessed it in full swing but I was excited to witness it myself and booked into Ubuntu Backpackers. I decided to put the luxury of a bed aside and pitch a tent instead. The facilities at Ubuntu Backpackers are more than comfortable with everything you could possibly need at your disposal. Apart from camping, Ubuntu Backpackers offers ample accommodation in the form of five double rooms, one four sleeper mini-dorm and a ten sleeper dormitory.

Ubuntu Jazz
 

Ubuntu Backpackers is a friendly place filled with friendly people and owner Daryn Sinclair, with his cool, relaxed attitude is no exception and the vibe seems to rub off on everyone here. With a spacious, upstairs entertainment area, lounge and deck area, there is always time to socialise and meet new people in a warm atmosphere. The layout and artwork of Ubuntu Backpackers creates a warm homely feel and it certainly lives up to its name meaning ‘humanity to others’.

Ubuntu Artwork

 
With a world class surf break in sight, it’s easy to climb into the sea. Ubuntu Backpackers is ideally situated near Supertubes and the waves can be seen from the balconies. When the Billabong Pro is running, Jeffrey’s Bay turns into a buzz of activity with people from all walks of life descending on the town to feast their eyes on the great waves and the brave men who ride them. Parties are held throughout the town for the duration of the contest with bands and DJ’s rocking into the early hours of the morning, every night. If you are seeking peace and quite, go surfing, or escape into the surrounding garden, you will be pleasantly surprised to find hammocks and couches to keep you chilling for hours.

Ubuntu Quiver

So if you ever in Jeffrey’s Bay, surfer or not and find yourself in need of accommodation with a sweet vibe, pull into Ubuntu Backpackers, a fun experience is waiting for you here and you might just catch the wave of your life too.

Surf Of Your Life

For more information visit www.jaybay.co.za

Bloukrans Bungee Madness

The sun was out and the Bloukrans Bridge lay before me in all its greatness. It’s been three years since I first jumped off this world renowned engineering marvel situated some 40 km from Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route in South Africa.

Any way you look at it, jumping off this bridge is an experience that encompasses a hint of madness and requires courage of considerable preportions. For most of us, the thought of lunging off a bridge standing 216m tall is simply nightmarish.

However, in danger lies the pleasure and on this particular day my job was not to jump but rather to capture this act of madness. Walking over the grated steel towards the jump zone can be a hair raising experience. Far below, the Bloukrans River makes its journey to the sea and the reality of going over the edge set in. My heart started doing flip-flops and the fear of dying crept into my mind. It wasnt long before I had my harness on and the time to descend into the Bloukrans Gorge had come.

Today I wasn’t going down alone. I was accomanied by a Face Adrenalin crew member who would ensure my safe return. Soon I was attached to the wench and we started our descent into the Bloukrans Gorge. The experience was freaky. The wench was creaking earily and I thought my end was merely seconds away. The thought of plummeting to my death consumed me. I laughed at the thought and wondered why I had done this. 

Within a few minutes we found ourselves in the trees below. The feeling of touching the ground was surreal. I only had five minutes to get into position, I had to move, quickly. It wasn’t long before the jumping commenced and my camera went snap, snap, snap.

After savouring the pleasure of capturing the madness, it was time to return to the safety of the bridge. With the wench securely attached, our ascent began and the thought of dying became too real once more. Half way up, we stopped. The operator was toying with our emotions, leaving us hanging there to contemplate life and what it means to be alive. I shouted into the gorge with my echo carrying for miles into the empty vastness of this place . The wench creaked under our weight. Thank goodness we were moving again.

I reached the bridge, my legs were weak and my heart was beaming with happiness. Being alive never felt better. Today I learn’t to appreciate every single moment, because every moment is sweetly rare. For more information visit www.faceadrenalin.com

Rocky Road to Heaven

   Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike 
 
Over the years I’ve learnt that the beauty in travelling lies in the mystery of adventure.  Finding a rare gem is rare but so is taking the road less taken and when it happens, it feels great. No matter where you are in the world, an extraordinary and unique experience is never too far away, just waiting to be discovered.  
The Rocky Road View

 

With adventure sitting on my shoulder and a pirate map in hand, I set out to find that gem. The road led to me to Natures Valley, the ‘Jewel’ of the Garden Route, where nature boasts her undisputable beauty, a remarkable place indeed. With the sun setting fast, I pressed on through the magnificent Groot River Pass towards The Crags, Plettenberg Bay.

 I soon reached The Crags and saw a sign, ‘Rocky Road’. Adventure tapped me on the shoulder and I hit a left onto a long, rocky ‘stofpad’ road. I arrived, taken aback by the astounding beauty of this place. Eureka, I found the gem and checked in. Rocky Reeder, the owner and legend, showed me to my luxury tent set in a beautiful garden with green pastures, forests and mountains painting a perfect country scene.

The Luxury Tent (Photo: Glen Murray)

 

As the setting sun fell behind the Tsitsikamma mountains, the cool, nippy air called for fire. Nothing beats a good old South African braai. Rocky and Marietjie, his partner, are master chefs and cook the tastiest, mouth-watering meals, much needed when the beast needs to feed.

The Fire

 

You are always bound to meet interesting folk at a backpackers, it’s the name of the game and Rocky Road Backpackers is no different. Kris ‘The Kiwi’ barman is a great guy, always making sure a cold beverage is sliding down the gullet. One of the highlights of Rocky Road Backpackers is the outdoor Hot Tub, driven by a wood fire furnace, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, especially in winter.

The Hot Tub

 

The Rocky Road Adventure Kitchen cooks up some great activity meals. The Garden Route offers a myriad of adventure options to satisfy any adrenalin junky. Some of the adrenalin charged activities include bungy jumping, skydiving, canopy tours, extreme hiking and many more. A hike into the Tsitsikamma forest is my cup of tea and the experience was simply surreal. It’s tough going but worth every step. Graceful streams make their journey to the sea and on the banks, forests rise to meet the bluest of skies, a truly splendid experience.

The Forest

 

 The accommodation at Rocky Road Backpackers is more than comfortable and makes for a peaceful nights sleep. Accommodation options include fully equipped luxury tents, dorm bed and bunk rooms and double rooms. Bathroom facilities are strategically placed in lush gardens and are uniquely and beautifully decorated, with a distinct natural outdoor fairy feel, a pleasure to behold.

The Fairy Bathroom

 

Rocky Road Backpackers is also home base for volunteers participating in active community development projects in nearby Kurland Village under the wings of Willing Workers in South Africa (WWISA). Rocky Road Backpackers is a special place. The warmth and friendliness that Rocky and Marietjie exude will make any traveller feel right at home.

The Cozy Rocky Road Lounge

If you are travelling on the Garden Route and find yourself in the vicinity of The Crags, Plettenburg Bay, find the Rocky Road to Heaven, it’s the place to be. For more information about Rocky Road Backpackers, visit http://www.rockyroadbackpackers.com