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 Sean Samer Interview – Making the World a Better Place

Meet Sean Samer, a man on a mission.

This is the first interview I’ve done specifically for Leatherfoot-On The Move and I have more planned in the future. The world is full of interesting people and it’s always refreshing to hear what they have to say, because you can always learn something new. I met Shaun in Plettenberg Bay in 2011 and have been friends with him ever since, he’s just that kind of guy. Hearing his accent for the first time led me to believe that he hailed from a remote farm in the Karoo, maybe it was the beer, but I was very, very wrong.

There are many people around the world who work tirelessly to help conserve and preserve the natural world. These people are dedicated and passionate about their work, they put energy into it, they live it. It’s not everyday you meet someone who has this passion beaming from their eyes, body and mind, ready to pounce into action and do their bit to help our ailing planet.  Sean Samer is one of these people, a nature conservationist, a friend of nature, a lover of the ocean and a great man. I haven’t seen Sean in almost a year, so I decided to ask him a few questions to find out more about his passion for life and the natural world.

[GL] For those of us who don’t know you personally, tell us, who are you and where are you from?

[SS] My name is Sean Samer. I am twenty two years old and I’m from the small town of Coffs Harbour in Australia. It was a good place to grow up, with lots of wildlife, beautiful beaches, perfect for anyone who is into nature and it doesn’t have that big city kind of vibe. I am now living on the Gold Coast where I’m studying at university. It’s just as beautiful as Coffs Harbour and is closer to Byron Bay, one of my favourite places in the world.

[GL] How did you get into nature conservation?

[SS] With an influence from my parents, especially my dad, from a Native American point of view, I was always connected to nature in a way I couldn’t really understand until I was much older. I first encountered a white tip reef shark on the Great Barrier Reef when I was young. It chased me out to the shallows and I was screaming and running away. That was a profound experience for me. Although I was scared, I also wanted to know more about this creature. After that, I spent months reading every book about sharks and after understanding the animal, I then found out that these creatures were in danger. I then realised this was the case for most animals due to the influence of humans. It was only when I went to South Africa and spent time at the Ocean Research Conservation Africa Foundation (ORCA Foundation) in 2010 that I realised that I myself could make a difference and could pursue my passion and help conserve nature to the best of my ability.

Sean Samer doing what he does best.

[GL] What nature conservation initiatives have you been involved in so far?

[SS] I’ve been involved in a few projects so far. However, since I’m studying, it’s hard to be involved at the moment, so I’m focusing on finishing my course and then becoming more involved in projects in the area. So far, I have taken part in conservation initiatives such as dolphin and whale research, turtle, seahorse and seal rehabilitation, river health analysis, beach cleanups, community development, education, pollution management in townships in South Africa and many more. I also want to start my own projects in the Gold Coast region in the near future.

[GL] What are you studying?

[SS] At the moment I’m studying marine science and management. I am more interested in the marine aspect of conservation so I feel this degree would be an essential step towards my career path and it also teaches aspects of conservation and focuses on environmental and global issues as well.

Sean Samer lends a helping hand in South Africa.

[GL] What is your sole mission as a nature conservationist in the 21st Century?

[SS] The best thing about the present time is that there are so many individual organisations that are stepping up to do something about global issues and in a conservation aspect. My main goal at the moment is to tackle more ‘under the radar projects’ that the bigger organisations aren’t really focusing on but are still relevant and could potentially become a larger problem. I am also trying to bring awareness to the younger generation because it’s important for them to understand these situations, and if they can understand at a younger age then the future may just hold a more conservational outlook, which is what’s needed.

[GL] What are the major challenges facing marine conservation in the world today?

[SS] The bigger the global issue the more challenges arise. Basically there are so many laws and negative attitudes that stand in the way of conservationists, especially in this day and age. It’s important to try to understand the mindset involved in these situations. For example a company that is making vast amounts of money from fishing trawlers is going to think, okay, so these conservationists are telling us that there are only 10 percent of the fish population left in the ocean, even though we catch loads of fish everyday, and on the plus side we are making amazing amounts of money, what do you think they are going to do? Especially in a world where money is an important factor, there is no way anyone can stop fishing.

The purpose of realistic conservation is more to reduce the amount of over-fishing taking place in order to sustain the populations of fish species, so that way, fisherman still have work and fish species may have a chance to replenish. However, there will still be a major effect on the fish population as people have a way around laws, especially when money is involved.

Sean examines a beached Pygmy Sperm Whale in Plettenberg Bay.

[GL] You mentioned that you want to start your own projects on the Gold Coast, can you elaborate and explain what these projects are and what they aim to achieve?

[SS] I figure that between Queensland and NSW, the Gold Coast region is one that is most heavily influenced by humans and has a need for conservation due to the high level of tourism and the population of people residing there. It also has beautiful beaches and marine life, if you know where to look. I feel like there is a lot that can be done here and I have a few ideas such as beach cleanups, dune care, dolphin distribution and whale migration research and also conservation education in schools and for the public. I have more ideas coming and it’s still a work in progress and hopefully in my time off from University I will get a few things going.

[GL] Do you have any words of wisdom you want to share with the people of the world?

[SS] One quote which I think about every day is a Native American quote my dad told me when I was young, it goes like this, “Only after the last tree has been cut down, the last river has been polluted and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that money cannot be eaten”. The truth behind this quote is more relevant than ever in today’s world and it scares me.

The one thing I don’t want in life is to one day have children, a house and a steady income but then have my kids ask me “dad what was a whale? “ or “ how come I see pictures and there used to be lots of fish and now there is hardly any?”. I want to be able to take my kids to a headland and show a whale breaching and I will work as hard as I can to make sure that this is possible.

[GL] What advice can you give people who are seeking a career in nature conservation?

[SS] Even though I haven’t exactly reached the level of having a career in conservation, my best advice is that it’s all about passion. My passion definitely gets the better of me, however, it has put me in the mindset where I’m not in this to make money or anything. It’s more about seeing the ways in which nature is being affected by global issues and me feeling the absolute need to just help.

The more issues I find out about, which is basically an endless list as far as I’m concerned, the more my passion flares and I know either way in life I’m going to pursue this passion with everything I have. Passion is a very underrated thing and it’s very useful in terms of conservation.

[GL] How can people get hold of you and be part of your projects?

[SS] I can be reached by email at s.samer.10@student.scu.edu.au and I will be putting more information about the projects on Facebook.


[GL]
Thanks for the chat Sean, the world needs more people like you, keep up the good work and keep me updated.

[SS] Will do, thanks for your time Gero, cheers.

Sean examines a turtle at the ORCA Foundation in Plettenberg Bay.

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

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

Pygmy Sperm Whale stranded on Keurbooms Beach

On Friday 10 June 2011, a 2.97 m male Pygmy Sperm Whale washed ashore on Keurbooms beach in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. The Pygmy Sperm Whale is one of three species of toothed whales in the sperm whale family. They are a pelagic species, which means they are found in open, deep water. Even though they are deep water mammals, they are very rarely seen out at sea. The weight of this particular specimen was not determined but fully grown adults can weigh up to 400 kg.

Their primary food includes squid and crabs and they have between 20-30 teeth. Not much is known about their breeding habits and their population numbers remain unknown. Pygmy Sperm Whales are mainly found in the temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

The cause of death of this particular Pygmy Sperm Whale remains unknown. The Orca Foundation along with Port Elizabeth Bay World and Cape Nature performed a dissection on 14 June 2011 to determine the cause of death. Blubber samples were taken along with an analysis of its body and organs. Upon analysis, many parasites were found underneath the blubber however the parasites do not affect the health of the whale. The whale was bleeding internally and decay made it difficult to determine the exact cause of death. No shark wounds were found on the Pygmy Sperm Whale, however, abrasions, possibly from rocks, were found on the specimen. In 2010, four Pygmy Sperm Whales, of the same species, stranded on Robberg beach. Although Pygmy Sperm Whales are a rare sight, strandings are a common occurrence around the world.

 

If a stranded animal is found whether it be a bird, fish, dolphin or whale, dead or alive, please call the Orca Foundation on 082 782 4459 so that the animal can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. For more information visit the Orca Foundation website at www.orcafoundation.co.za

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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

The Sunday Monkey Bird Walk

Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike

Squirell Monkey

It was mid morning and I had to force myself not to sleep anymore, hard work on a Sunday. I looked out my window and another great day lay before me. I had no plan for the day but plenty of time to think about it. A cup of coffee later and I was onto something. I felt like taking a walk, with shoes on. Another cup of coffee down the hatch and I decided to take a walk, with shoes on, to see some animals.

I thought it would be the perfect day to visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I arrived at the gates of Monkeyland where a friendly monkey ushered me to the reception area where I paid a very special price of R200 to visit both sites. A bargain some might say. The monkey behind the till gladly took my money and directed me to the waiting area where Neil, the monkey guide, was to start the monkey tour. In the near distance of the forest, I could hear my fellow primates swearing at each other, quite a freaky racket to bear witness to, but amusing nonetheless.

Within a few minutes, a troop of monkey tourists gathered and Neil, the monkey guide, arrived to start the hour-long monkey tour. Welcome to Monkeyland, the world’s first multi-species free roaming primate sanctuary. The main focus of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, is to rehabilitate and release previously caged monkeys, apes, lemurs and birds into a free-roaming environment, some of which originating from many parts of the world.

Monkey feeding

The monkey tour began and we soon reached the first feeding point, an elevated tray laden with fresh fruit. Within seconds all kinds of monkeys, apes and lemurs were making their way from the canopy above to feed on the fruit buffet below. It was a primate feeding frenzy like I have never seen before. I was very tempted to join in the feast but resisted for obvious reasons. In the distance, I could hear my primate friends swearing at each other again. I chuckled to myself as monkey chaos ensued around me. It was a remarkable moment in time and a remarkably sad one too.

We continued with the monkey tour, spotting the odd Vervet here and a Lemur there and then the forest fell quiet, not a sound to be heard. Neil, our monkey guide, was indecisive as to what route to take next. He then shared some interesting facts about monkeys, answered some monkey questions and soon we were back on the monkey trail. It wasn’t long before a bridge lay before us, suspended in the canopy, offering a scenic view of the beautiful forest surrounding us. We crossed it carefully and upon reaching the other side, the monkey tour ended and Monkeyland was but a fleeting monkey memory.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden was next on my hit list. I have never been an avid birder but I saw the value in the experience. In the car park, I looked upon this mammoth bird sanctuary before me and thoughts of Jurassic Park filled my monkey brain. I proceeded to enter Birds of Eden, but with caution, as a good monkey should. In the first five minutes, a big white Cockatoo flew straight towards my head, I ducked just in time and it perched right beside me to feed on some seed. That Cockatoo freaked me out.

Welcome to Birds of Eden, a beautiful place indeed. I decided to really proceed with caution now. There were birds flying everywhere, it felt like every bird was after me as I entered their maze. I had to watch my back, often. This was a birder’s paradise, a surreal experience, really amazing. About half an hour into my walk, a large Blue and Gold Mawcaw got sight of me and flew swiftly towards me and tried to perch on my shoulder, I quickly ducked, denying it the pleasure. These birds were really freaking me out now. I laughed out loud and taunted them to leave me alone.

I looked up and saw my friend, a large male Chacma Baboon patrolling the top of the sanctuary, it was defending me, obviously. I walked a little faster, with the end of my Jurassic Park experience almost in sight. With a sigh of relief, I made it, I was free again. Free?

I took a moment to ponder on my day. Although the experience of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden was fun and informative, a deeper concern was pecking at my monkey brain. Why are these sanctuaries here, I asked myself? I thought about it and soon my monkey brain came up with the answer. We live in a sick and twisted society. Humans cage wild animals as pets and these animals lose their ability to survive in the wild. So, we build sanctuaries for them, to save them from doom, where they spend the rest of their lives slowly re-learning what they already knew before they met us, how to be wild… For all these animals, these sanctuaries and all those around the world, at least provide a taste of the freedom they once knew. As human beings, it’s the least we can do for them, for we live in cages of our own and freedom we know not.

I got into my car and drove away and in a field nearby I saw my friends again, a troop of foraging baboons. I waved goodbye. They smiled and waved hello. Finally, it dawned on me. I’m just a monkey too and so are you.

If you ever happen to be driving through The Crags or if you are on holiday in Plettenberg Bay and are in need of some rehabilitation from the outside world, stop over at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and support them, for they are doing a sterling job for the conservation of our beautiful wildlife. It’s a great experience your monkey brain won’t forget.

For more information, contact +27 (044) 534 8906 or visit their websites at http://www.monkeyland.co.za / http://www.birdsofeden.co.za