Garden Route National Park

This national park is a recent agglomeration of Tsitsikamma, Wilderness and Knysna National Parks, and is responsible for conservation of some of South Africa’s finest coastline and natural lakes, and the last biggest tracts of indigenous true forests in the country. It’s also home to the famous Otter Trail, which winds its way along cliff-edged shorelines, forests and river estuaries. The legend of the Knysna elephants pervade the area – the most southerly occurring elephants on the African continent may well still live here in the thick forests and fynbos. Size: 121 000 hectares. Situated on the southern coastline of South Africa.

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Days 47-52 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Storms River spectacular

The ocean swell at the Tsitsikamma section of Garden Route National Park has been immense recently.

I have been staying at the beautiful Storms River restcamp, which is located between the coastal cliffs and the surging sea. This is one of my favourite restcamps in the National Parks system. The wooden cabins all have superb views, the staff are very friendly, and the scenery is among the most photogenic I've encountered. And when the sea is raging, the waves break dramatically onto the rocky coastline, just metres from your cabin. Night and day you can hear the BOOM! of the waves, and although it's deafening, it's actually a very soothing sound.

Here are some photos of the huge swell and the beautiful coastline...

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Of seahorses and elephants and people

On my way to Baviaanskloof, I stopped over in Knysna to chat to some of the SANParks scientists who work in the Garden Route National Park.

After chatting to them, I realise how complex the situation is. The Garden Route National Park encompasses some of the most diverse habitats in the country, stretching 160kms over 148 000 hectares, from the town called Wilderness in the Western Cape to beyond Kareedouw in the Eastern Cape,

“This park includes mountains, forests, beaches, oceans, rivers, lakes and estuaries,” SANParks scientist Rod Randall told me yesterday at his office on the edge of Rondevlei, one of the five Read more »

Flying high! Wilderness from the air

At the end of last year, I was fortunate to be taken paragliding over the Wilderness Lakes section of Garden Route National Park. It gave me a great opportunity to see how beautiful this area is.

But also, it gives a great perspective on the challenges that organisations like SANParks face. In among the rivers, forests, beaches and lakes which the rangers have to conserve and look after, there are literally thousands of people, homes, cars, roads and trucks. It's an open access system mostly...the public are moving in and through the national park on a daily basis. Check out the photos below, and see how close the N2 national road (surely one of the busiest in the country!) is literally metres from the Touw River Read more »

Seahorses and sewerage…the delicate balance of Knysna estuary

Knsyna is famous not only for its indigenous forests, but also its estuary, which is the biggest – and most ecologically important – in the country. According to several scientific studies relating to birds, fish and plants, it ranks higher than all other estuaries in terms of its natural importance.

Incredibly, according to research supplied by SANParks, it hosts 43% of all of South Africa’s estuarine natural life – all the more incredible, because the Knysna estuary is just 1 800 hectares in size,  and is home to some rare, endemic species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world – including the Knysna sea horse.

This sea horse is found here as well as in the nearby Swartvlei. It is one of six seahorses found in SA, and is the only species in the world that is on the IUCN’s Read more »

The ellies of Knysna…the mystery of the reality

The Knysna Forests…home to the southern-most elephant population in Africa, and the only free-ranging, unfenced elephants left in the country.

Yesterday I went for a walk with Gerrit Slinger, a field ranger in the Goudveld section of the forests. About thirty kilometres behind Knysna in the foothills of the Outeniqua mountains, Goudveld includes both indigenous forests, commercial pine plantations and swathes of fynbos.

Gerrit and I walked down a steep gorge to the banks of the Homtini River, which was flowing strongly from the recent rains. Gerrit told me how he last saw an elephant (a bull) in February, and other rangers have also seen them. On one occasion, an elephant charged him!

But how many still remain here? The rangers – according to Gerrit – think there are at least Read more »

Circles in a wild forest

The so-called “Wilderness” section of the Garden Route National Park is astoundingly beautiful. It consists of a series of large lakes fed by the Touw River, and these lie between the traditional Knysna forests and a beach more than 30 kilometres long.

The four lakes are world renowned birding sites, and two of them – Langvlei and Rondevlei – are RAMSAR sites, an international accreditation, meaning that they are protected from all human interference or development. You’re not even allowed to canoe on them.

The Ebb & Flow campsite lies at the end of the Touw River gorge, which is thickly forested with indigenous trees – huge Outeniqua Yellow Woods, Saffron, Ironwood, Beach and Real Yellow Wood trees. Without a doubt the best way to see the gorge is to paddle up the dark, clear Read more »

Up the Storms River!

The Tsitsikamma coastline is one of the more beautiful in the country. High cliffs covered in fynbos, deep gorges bedecked with indigenous forests and dark, clear rivers which flow from the Outeniqua mountains into the sea.

The Storms River is one of the most impressive of these waterways. The gorge is several hundred metres deep in places, especially near the mouth of the river, which is near the main restaurant area of the National Park. There’s a fantastic suspension footbridge over the river’s mouth, but the best way to see the river and the gorge is with a paddle in your hand.

However, the river is not for novices, and its highly recommended that you go with someone who knows the terrain, and respects the power of nature. We met up with adventure guide Marthinus van der Read more »

Arriving in heaven

I think we have arrived in heaven. For the next two weeks we are staying in the Garden Route National Park, in the four different sections of the park – Storms River Rest Camp, Natures Valley, Wilderness and Knysna.

Storms river rest camp was very kitted out for tourists, and is a popular international stay-over spot. There are a variety of different types of accommodation (all self-catering), with a shop and restaurant for those who like to eat out. Most of the chalets and camp sites are right by the sea and we fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the crashing of the stormy waves against the rocks. There is a lovely walkway through the forest to the dramatic storms river mouth, which can be crossed on a Read more »

We’ve done it! The Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma

We’ve done it!

The Otter Trail is probably South Africa’s most famous hiking trail. Named after the Cape clawless Otter which can be seen (albeit rarely), this 5-day, 4-night 42-kilometre quadricep-burner of a trail is certainly beautiful, giving hikers a chance to see some of the most pristine coastline in the country.

Only twelve people are allowed to walk any one section of the trail every day, so you’re assured of being all alone. It starts at Storms River and meanders westward along the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, to end at the beautiful Nature's Valley village. Hikers spend the nights in simple yet sufficient wooden log cabins, situated right on the shoreline, offering views that are in my top ten of all time.

This stretch of our country’s Read more »

Off to do the Otter Trail!

We're just about to leave on the Otter Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park! This is perhaps South Africa's most famous hiking trail - for it's scenery, it's challenge (there's a cumulative climb of 2 700 metres) and it's pristine ecosystem - the entire coastline here is a Marine Protected Area. It's a beautiful day here on the southern Cape coast. The forests are lush. The fynbos sparkling from a bit of rain we had last night. And the ocean is bluueeeee...We arrived here from Gamkaberg late yesterday, and took a few photos just to let you know that this place is like so many others in South Africa - uniquely beautiful!

See you in a few days when we're finished the trail.

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