The name says it all…Garden Route. Well, may depend on what you imagine the word “garden” to mean: is it a manicured and structured area, beautiful and tame; or do you imagine a tangle of colours, enormous trees and intriguing plants, teeming with birdlife? Our Garden Route is the latter, a place where indigenous forest gives way to endemic Fynbos and dune vegetation, where a dramatic, rocky coastline gives way to beautiful beaches; a place where elephants once roamed the forest and colourful sunbirds swoop amongst the proteas. Plettenberg Bay lies at the heart of this region, along the Southern Cape coastline of South Africa; a region known as one of the most biodiverse and naturally rich in the world. Below are just a few reasons to use Plettenberg Bay as your base to explore the natural wonders of the Garden Route.
Garden Route National Park
The South African National Parks along the Garden Route are linked into one large region: the Garden Route National Park (or GRNP). The park spans an impressive 121 000 hectares and includes the areas of Wilderness, Tsitsikamma and Knysna Lakes, with Plettenberg Bay at the centre of this massive reserve. Tsitsikamma is Africa’s oldest Marine Protected Area and both the Knysna estuary and Wilderness lake areas are regarded as critical focus areas for conservation. The Garden Route National Park is an excellent example of “conservation without boundaries” and is popular with tourists for camping, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, diving and birdwatching.
Tsitsikamma National Park
If you have not visited Tsitiskamma National Park, be prepared: it will steal your heart. The coastline was proclaimed a Marine Protected Area in 1964 and the park boundary stretches 5km out to sea, protecting a wonderland of inter-tidal life, reef and deep-sea fish. The park offers a variety of activities including snorkelling, hiking, Segway, scuba diving and paddling. The abundant wildlife, both above and below the waves, includes whales, dolphins, otters, sand-sharks, dassies and much more. Whether you choose the coastal or forest sections of the park, there are marvels to behold: the “Big Tree”, an 800-year-old Yellowwood tree which stands 36m tall and has 9m circumference. Magnificent coastal vistas, giant trees, waterfalls, Fynbos – the Tsitsikamma National Park is one of South Africa’s greatest treasures.
Garden Route Biosphere Reserve
A vast area of 698 363 ha of the Garden Route has recently been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Biosphere reserves are learning places for sustainable development, whose aim is to reconcile biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources, according to UNESCO. The area is home to more than 450 000 people, large mammals including elephants, rhinos and buffalo, and shrubs and herbs of relevance to the indigenous people of the region, including the KhoiSan. The biosphere reserve includes Tsitsikamma, Goukamma and Robberg Marine Protected Areas, Wilderness Lake Ramsar site, Garden Route National Park and two components of the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas World Heritage site: the Nelson Bay Cave and the Langkloof Valley, the latter being critically endangered.
Robberg Coastal Corridor
In early 2011, in a ground-breaking approach to land conservation, a few visionary landowners made an application to the Minister for Environmental Affairs and Development Planning of the Western Cape to declare the properties along the Robberg Coastal Corridor a Protected Environment (PE). The declaration was signed by Minister Anton Bredell in 2015. The coastal corridor comprises 20km of pristine coastal land between Robberg Nature Reserve and Harkerville State Forest. In 2014, a new species of Fynbos, Psoralea vanberkela, was discovered along the corridor and has further encouraged landowners and conservationists to work to protect this sensitive Fynbos region. Chris von Christierson, owner of the property within the corridor on which the new fynbos species was discovered, believes that this unique area is irreplaceable. “If we do not protect this last remaining lifeline to the Peninsula, Robberg will become an ecological desert within a few generations.” SANParks has contributed by clearing pine, hakea, port jackson, blackwood and black wattle from the Robberg Coastal Corridor. Approximately 100 ha of coastal fynbos has been cleared thus far, through the Land User Incentives (LUI) programme, over the past 3 years by a team of 13 people. With the support of CapeNature and South African National Parks, and with funding from the Table Mountain Fund, this Protected Environment heralds a new era in conservation in South Africa. Explore this coastal region by hiking Robberg Nature Reserve and Harkerville Coastal Trail.
Robberg Nature Reserve
Those who visit Robberg Peninsula and Nature Reserve are forever inspired by its sweeping ocean views, rock formations, historical significance, and marine life. Robberg is a nature reserve, national monument and World Heritage Site. Rocks from this region date back 120 million years – to the break-up of Gondwanaland. Nelson Bay Cave, with evidence of prehistoric occupation along the coastline 125 million years ago, is located on the peninsula. With three circular hikes, the peninsula is popular with hikers, trail runners and birders and the seal colony on Robberg (meaning “seal mountain”) is home to some 5000 Cape fur seals. Hikers are always thrilled to see the seals swimming in the shallows, sometimes stalked by a sleek Great White Shark, dolphins and whales in the surrounding waters and the striking Witsand Sand Dune which leads down the magnificent “Island” of Robberg. Important for hikers: there is no water on the trail, so bring along your own bottles, sunscreen and good walking shoes.
Keurbooms River Nature Reserve
Keurbooms River Nature is a relatively small reserve of 740 ha in Plettenberg Bay. It is a World Heritage Site that promises an exquisite natural adventure along the unspoilt Keurbooms River amongst towering kloofs and indigenous forest. The reserve can be explored on walks, boat trips and canoe trails. Swimming, paddling and birdwatching are favourite activities as the abundant birdlife provides a varied soundtrack in the silence of river and forest.
Nature’s Valley is most famous as the final stop on the renowned Otter Trail and falls within the Tsitsikamma National Park. The Otter Trail is considered by many to be the finest hiking trail in South Africa and Nature’s Valley more than lives up to that reputation. The village is little more than a hamlet surrounded by forest, lagoon and beach and offers many excellent walks and hikes in the surrounding area. The most popular of these is probably the Salt River hike, which leads walkers along the coastline towards Plettenberg Bay, before ascending into the forest and back down to the Salt River mouth and a deserted beach surrounded by forest and coastal cliffs – this is another little paradise on the Garden Route and well worth the walk. In 2000, researchers discovered several aquatic insect species new to science in the Salt River. The isolated position of the river, lack of fish and its unpolluted water are thought to have been factors ensuring the undisturbed survival of these primitive forms.
So, where will you be going next to get your nature fix? One thing is certain, Plettenberg Bay and the Garden Route are a destination of choice for nature-lovers!
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