Fishing the Orange River

I’m a sucker for a good outdoor adventure and in my experience, immersing yourself in nature’s flow is perhaps the most rewarding and therapeutic experience you can give yourself, especially if you are in need of mental and physical rejuvenation. Nature, after all, is a wonderful healer… 

It’s no surprise then that my excitement escalated when my equally wonderful wife decided to book a 5-day river rafting adventure on the Orange River. 

This was a bucket list travel experience and I couldn’t wait to finally do it! 

Enjoying the view from the boat on the Orange River. ©Gero Lilleike
Paddling on the Orange River is a relaxing experience for the whole family. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The Orange River forms a natural border between South Africa and Namibia and a 7-hour drive from Cape Town got us to the border post at Vioolsdrif which is a stone throw away from Bundi Lodge near Noordoewer where we would start our river adventure.   

If you’ve ever been to Namibia, you’ll know, it’s hot, arid and desolate. The Orange River is a source of life here and plant and animal life is abundant along the river’s banks and as an enthusiastic fly fisherman, I was hoping to catch a fish. Any fish… 

We were due to paddle a total distance of 85 km over 5 days, but with low seasonal water levels, we would only be doing 65 km, which is a fair distance for 2 amateur paddlers.   

We were, however, accompanied by experienced and resourceful river guides, Patrick and Erastus, who would ensure our safe passage on the river. 

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With views like this every day, the paddle is worth it! Photo: Gero Lilleike

With camping gear and supplies packed and loaded on our boats, we set off down the Orange River. Paddling quickly becomes the norm as the reality of the distance sinks in. Despite the aches and pains, you simply have no choice but to keep pushing on! A headwind is your worst enemy on the water and when it arrives it can make paddling exceedingly difficult and torturous as you fight for every metre gained.

For the most part, we had stunning conditions for paddling and the water was exceptionally clean and clear. The harsh landscape is oddly pretty and the vibrant colours of the dry and rocky mountains stand in stark contrast to the greenery along the river. 

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Anyone for a cup of tea? Mmm… Photo: Gero Lilleike

Camping next to the river and sleeping under the stars is a particular highlight considering that the higher temperatures negate the need for a tent. 

Nonetheless, having a tent is recommended if you are worried about creepy-crawlies paying you a visit in the middle of the night… 

Other campers were apparently forced into their tents when Red Roman spiders were doing the rounds in their camp! 

A troop of noisy baboons kept us up one night with their loud barks that echoed eerily through the warm night while an owl hooted in the moonlight from a nearby tree. Sleeping in the wild definately makes the experience more exciting!

Erustas knows how to catch fish on the Orange River. ©Gero Lilleike
Erastus with the day’s catch. This man knows how to fish! Photo: Gero Lilleike

If you love fishing then the Orange River is paradise. A wide variety of fish species call this river home and some of these include smallmouth and largemouth yellowfish, carp, barbell, bass and kurper.

Erastus has been a river guide for 24 years and he has extensive fishing experience on the river. I was amazed at how successful his fishing exploits were. He was regularly hauling in fish and enjoying his catch over an open fire every evening. What a champion!

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Perseverance does pay off in the end. Photo: Patrick Engelbrecht

By the end of the trip, I had caught 4 different species of varying sizes while some of the fish were simply too big to catch on my tackle and bent hooks were evidence of this. It goes without saying, there are some monstrously-large fish lurking in the Orange River, so be sure to come prepared. 

I was also intrigued by the names given to some of the rapids on this section of the river including Morning Shower, Rocky Waters, Snotklap, Root of Hell, Scorpions Tail and the biggest rapid on this route, Sjambok. Despite their ominous names, we found the rapids to be relatively easy to navigate, which makes this paddle a great option for families. 

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Sjambok rapid can be tricky if you get it wrong. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Remember to pack lots of eco-friendly sunscreen and don’t forget to wear protective and light breathable clothing. On most days, the mountains literally bake and the heat can be stifling. We experienced temperatures close to 50°, but thankfully the river is always close enough for a refreshing dip. 

The Orange River was our home for 5 days and being in this remarkable place was both grounding and humbling. This adventure is easy to recommend and if you are in need of nature’s magical healing powers then you know what to do… 

Book your Orange River adventure with Bundi here!

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The landscapes in this part of the world are breathtaking. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Big Wave World Tour coming to Dungeons, South Africa

Grant 'Twiggy' Baker about to tame the beast, Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Kimi Stewar Billabong XXL
Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker about to tame the beast, Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Kimi Stewar Billabong XXL

Words by Gero Lilleike

It’s on!!! The time to whip out the ‘Big Guns’ is looming on the horizon as the monster that is Dungeons is set to come alive for the 2014/15 Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) following the announcement of the official tour schedule by the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP).

The BWWT will see the world’s finest big wave surfers tackle surf no smaller than 25ft and South Africans will witness the full power of Dungeons bearing down on their heads, so yes, there is definitely reason to be excited.

The BWWT is split into a two-part schedule, with generous window periods for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the gnarliest big wave spots in the mix. The 2014/15 BWWT schedule is as follows:

Southern Hemisphere (April 15, 2014 through August 31, 2014):
• Punta de Lobos, Chile
• Pico Alto, Peru
• Dungeons, South Africa

Northern Hemisphere (October 15, 2014 to February 28, 2015):
• Todos Santos, Mexico
• Punta Galea, Basque Country Spain
• Pe’ahi (Jaws), Maui HI

Dungeons and Pe’ahi (Jaws) are new events to the tour and will hopefully add some big wave flavor to what looks to be a tasty treat for the contestants and big wave spectators around the world. Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, the current BWWT leader,  will no doubt be chuffed to surf in his home waters and put on a show of a lifetime in front of a home crowd. All we need now is for ‘The Kraken’ to emerge from the depths of the Atlantic and kick up some serious swell when the times comes. For now, all we can do is wait…BRING IT ON!!!

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.

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

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

The State of South African Politics, ‘The New Frontier’.

Johannesburg "The Next Frontier"

Every South African and many people around the world, regardless of color, are aware of South Africa’s sorded history regarding race and politics. The word ‘Apartheid’ or “Seperateness” is inextricably bound to South African culture. The word itself need not be spoken today, but can rather be seen on every South African street, in every South African dorpie, town or city. The word itself lives deep in the tearful eyes of every South African walking on this beautiful land.

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. The Apartheid Government clearly neglected this, hands down.

In the name of a living legend, Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom can be seen as the the embodiment of freedom itself, a symbol of freedom, living proof that freedom, through love for our fellow brothers and sisters, is indeed possible. Madiba’s message was as clear as day, but where has our ‘Rainbow Nation’ gone wrong?

Here we are, together, with 17 long years of ‘democracy’ behind us. Have we made progress? Definately. Are we free? No. Will we ever be free? It depends. If we were to open our eyes and look around, we will see many truths that we may prefer to deny. I look around and see millions of South Africans living in poverty, in need of food,water and shelter. I look into the eyes of our youth and see the hunger to learn and play freely without fear. I see HIV/AIDS .  I see hungry people.  I see immense potential, but I also see lying, greedy and corrupt leaders who could care less for their fellow brothers or sisters but who only care for themselves. Are we still living in Apartheid? Most likely, yes.  What can the people do? Everything.

With the municipal elections around the corner, this is our chance to call for change, for the sake of every loving South African alive today. Lets direct our future. Lets get this right. The time is now. South Africa, I still love you.

South Africa I Still Love You

South Africa, I still Love You

Written by Gero Lilleike

People fascinate me. I go watch a movie at a friend’s house and I’m not there for even five minutes and some junky is outside in the street trying to break into my car. There is no radio in my car, nothing, because it was stolen a few weeks ago, ok.  “Sorry, the other guys got here before you my brother” is what I thought to myself.

The gear lock was on as was the steering lock and the anti-hijack would have kicked in anyway. This thief was going nowhere quickly, thankfully. The street guard managed to chase the thieves away and they disappeared into the Jozi night, as they always do. The bright chaps managed to unlock my door but broke the lock so I couldn’t lock my car.

I then thought. Well, I guess I have to get that fixed pretty soon.  It’s that, or I could make my car a home for homeless people instead. The next morning I shoot off to my trusty mechanic and he sorts it out no problem. I pay him, done.

As I step out the office I notice that my car has been washed. I only realised a second later that an elderly Madala was standing not too far away. I greet him and ask him if he washed my car. He responds, “Yes sir, I wash your car.” I thanked him and gave him a note for his kindness. He took his hat off in delight and bowed to the side and then said “thank you sir, wherever you get this money, I hope you get more”.  I replied and said “I hope the same for you my brother”.  South Africa, I still love you.