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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Slaughter on the Salt River

This story was published in the CXpress on Wednesday 29 June 2011. Author: Peter Clyro

FIVE hikers – who wish to remain anonymous – were walking along Salt River in The Crags, east of Plett, when stumbling upon five poachers butchering a bush pig.

Upon sighting the hikers, the poachers made a hasty escape into the forest towards Kurland Village, leaving a substantial part of the carcass floating in the water. Local police officers were immediately informed but at the time of writing it was unclear whether the poachers had been apprehended. The scene described by the hikers is a gruesome one. “The carcass was in the river and the pig skin was hanging in a tree. The rocks were covered with blood and we found the guts lying in the bush. We also found the bush pig’s head floating in a pool nearby – it was really terrible.” They managed to dismantle and partially destroy a trap set up by the poachers. Poaching in The Crags is a common occurrence and with poverty-related social challenges rife in Kurland Village and surrounds, long-term municipal and conservation intervention is needed to curb the on-going poaching of the area’s wildlife. Nature conservation bodies such as the Southern Crags, Redford Road and Natures Valley conservancies are working relentlessly to prevent this practice, e.g. by regular anti-poaching patrols.

Nick van Tonder, an intern conservation student based at Ingwe Forest Adventures, is actively involved in conducting snare sweeps in the Southern Crags Conservancy (SCC) area – part of a snare removal programme in The Crags. “Snares have been an on-going problem with not only our wildlife being caught, but also occasionally domestic animals. The proliferation of snaring incidents at identified hot spotspoints to an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. “We seek to break this cycle by processes that involve property snare patrols as well as community-based education,” says Van Tonder. Volunteering is a key component in nature conservation and organisations such as Willing Workers in SA(WWISA), the Orca Foundation and Ingwe Forest Adventures offer nature loving volunteers the opportunity to assist in conserving nature and making a difference. For more info on these volunteer programmes, contact WWISA on 044 534 8958, Orca on 044 533 5083 or Ingwe on 083 442 6115.

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