Discovering Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa

Leaving Grahamstown

By morning the wind and rain had finally calmed down and we faced a day that was overcast but still clear enough to actually see the streets of Grahamstown.

Breakfast at the Colonel Graham Guest House is served in a pleasant open plan dining room with high ceilings. They offer a good fruit salad and the normal selection of cereal and yogurt with a few baked goods. The cooked breakfast is the typical eggs, toast, meat and grilled tomato and mushrooms.

Driving through town we felt like we had entered a time warp with many of the local blacks dressed in fifties style fashions, long skirts and hats, against a back drop of colonial architecture. Only the cars gave away the true era, although many of them were older models as well.

Starting the Garden Route

We snapped a few photos and headed on to Tsitsikamma on the beginning of the Garden Route.

Traffic on the N2 was light with plenty of passing lanes and we made the national park in about three and half hours. The sky was finally starting to lighten, with patches of blue sky along the coast but dark clouds still threatened inland. Here the contrast between the Wild Coast and the Garden Route becomes much more evident. There are few poor black townships or people wandering the roadside through this region. More and more picturesque cattle farms with healthy green pastures and fat cows grazing in the sun light.

There are still not many views of the coastline, a few going through Port Elizabeth and striking sand dunes around Jeffreys Bay.

Entering Tsitsikamma

As we near the national park the vegetation becomes denser and rain forest like, but still no views of the sea until we turn off and head toward Storm River Rest Camp at Tsitsikamma. Here are the dramatic views we’ve been looking for. The relatively small park hugs the rocky coastline with many of the tent and cabin sites just off the beach.

Even from the more secluded forest huts you fall asleep to the crashing surf. After yesterday’s storms the surf was pounding and the sky blue.

I could sit by the sea all day long and watch the waves crash on the rocks and still laugh every time a big one hits and explodes fifty feet into the air.

The camp restaurant has awesome views and serviceable food. Although the menu is rather extensive the food is not worth commenting on.

Forest Huts

The forest huts turned out to be better than we had expected. We were hoping to get into one of the better cabins or oceanettes with kitchen facilities. But booking so late we ended up in a forest hut with communal kitchen facilities. The new looking and comfortable huts are set back into the trees, offering a little more privacy.

They are furnished with two smallish twin beds, a largish table with bench chairs, and shelves with dishes, basic cooking implements and extra bedding. There is also a barbeque on the small front porch. Flush toilets are shared but close to the huts.

Trail to the Suspension Bridge

In the afternoon we explore the trail that leads past the camp restaurant and shop, along the river mouth and to the suspension bridge. The board-walked trail is not very long, climbing up and back down the cliff-side facing the inlet through a shaded canopy.

Unfortunately the suspension bridge was closed. They did have a section open where you could cross over the bay that enters the river basin but not actually over the river itself, thus missing the opportunity for the views up the gorge.

On the way back we stopped by the Klip rock and watched the surf. A great perch in the low warm light of the late afternoon sun. The crashing waves just as thrilling as ever.

Walk on the Beach

Walking back to camp rock dassies, something like a tailless nutria, come to feed on the grassy areas. Shy during the day, the hillside is now covered with these large rat like things.

Despite their presence we grab our sundowners and find a spot on the coast to watch the sea in the last rays of the sun. Clouds have started to form in the west but the winds have calmed making for a pleasant evening.

Grilling at the Forest Hut

Don grills the South African sausage on the porch grill and prepares an accompaniment of spaghetti with powdered mushroom sauce in the communal kitchen. He returns to our hut with tidbits of SA encounters – an elderly couple from Pretoria’s first visit back to the coast in more than thirty years, and a young American on a Fulbright scholarship who teaches high school in a township in the wine county. After a cozy dinner in our small hut sleep comes easily.

October 3, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.

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