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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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

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