Tsitsikamma

New Year was spent in the Wilderness.
Not wandering around, dazed and confused in some ethereal, mystic dream-like state, trying to ‘find ourselves‘. Wilderness is a small coastal town on the Garden Route with a pleasant, quiet campsite on the Touw river about 3 miles inland from a coastline of beautiful dunes and golden sandy beaches.

20140109-101528.jpg

A bottle of Bollinger and sweet-chilli prawns on the Braai.
Not what we’re used to but, if you’re going to be away from home for New Year you could do a lot worse.
I’m glad we chose the Lang Elsies River Camp. Every other campsite we saw was full to bursting again with holidaying families who had brought everything with them except the front door and had basically set up middle-class versions of the poor ‘Townships’ (shanty-towns) found outside most towns in South Africa.
The surrounding area is lovely though: a necklace of coastal lagoons, sandy dunes, heavily wooded valleys, rolling wheat fields and vineyards.
Like ‘The Sound of Music‘ meets ‘The Beach Boys‘.

After a couple of very relaxing days (‘relaxing‘ means downright lazy in this instance) we headed east along the coastal section of The Garden Route.
Knysna made a nice stopping point for breakfast / brunch. It’s a marina town set on a 5-mile diameter bay, making an attractive, calm, sheltered harbour with only a narrow outlet to the sea. It has a Monterey / Cape Cod feel to it.

20140109-101951.jpg
Snoek (fish) & Chips for breakfast.
Marvellous.

As we entered the Tsitsikamma region of the coast we crossed a number of impressive bridges over the numerous gorges that run down to the coast from the surrounding mountain ranges.

As it turned out, the one we stopped to photograph was the Bloukrans Bridge – the biggest single-span bridge in Africa.

20140109-102333.jpg
….and also the site of the world’s highest bridge-based bungee jump (according to the Guinness World Record’s Certificate they have).

20140109-102842.jpg
No, of course that’s not me – can you imagine what my momentum would do to an elastic cord accelerating towards a finite point?

The Tsitsikamma region is a massive inland, coastal and marine National Park. We camped at Storms River Mouth, another of the South Africa National Parks (SAN Parks) network.

A beautiful site on the edge of a rugged coastline surrounded by indigenous semi-tropical forest.

20140109-103459.jpg

The coastline has a number of mountain / gorge walks and a couple of lovely small, sheltered beach areas…

20140109-103721.jpg

…but the real magic to my mind are the rock formations between the Indian Ocean and the camping pitches.

20140109-104340.jpg

The rock strata of granite, slate, mica, quartz and conglomerate were laid down horizontally but, over millions of years, have been forced vertical to stand upright like a filo pastry on it’s end. The alternate strata are a multitude of colours.

20140109-104953.jpg

They create some fascinating rock pools.

20140109-105224.jpg

The whole place is lovely when the sun shines (which it has done about half the time we have been here) but even more facinating when the weather is rough (which it has been the other half of the time we’re here).
The view from the Penthouse…

20140109-105552.jpg

Those vertical rock strata (and the subsequent troughs they create) mean that even when the sea is calm 500 metres off the coast, the waves break against the coastline with tremendous force.
Plumes of water are sent like fireworks going off up 20-30 meters into the air when the wave fronts hit the rock faces.
But maybe it’s the noise that’s actually the most hypnotising…..prap (as the wave breaks with a snap)….waahuumpp (as it strikes the ridges)… then a thud (like dropping a heavy book on a stone floor) as it crashes back down on itself.
The people in the foreground here give some scale to the waves.

20140109-110158.jpg

This goes on day and night and in some pools the waves break with such force that they create a permanent foam (like someone has poured washing-up liquid into a jacuzzi).

We’ve had a great five days at Tsitsikamma (including blazing sunshine and superb lightening / rainstorms) and met some really nice people – like Carl and his family who had a chat with us about a drive they did north to Ethiopia some years ago: then wrote out 2 pages of notes & tips for us).
In particular, Theresa, Dale, Caitlin & Aiden – whose environmentally conscious business is trying to prevent South Africa from using so much plastic). They saved our braai food from the thieving seagulls, gave us loads of tips about the SAN Parks that we’re heading to, used their phone data to find out how we could get mobile data locally, and thought it highly amusing that only a Brit would persevere with a braai in a lightening and rainstorm.

Once again, disappointed to leave, but we’re heading further east (the same direction the storms have come from) towards Addo Elephant National Park for the next 5 days or so.