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The Garden Route: Knysna, Storms River & Tsitsikamma

A bridge over the water near some rocks

Having heard so much about the Garden Route, we added it to our itinerary. From the wine region, one drives over the Franschhoek Pass a few hundred kilometers into the country, passing gorgeous rolling hills in the shadow of an undulating mountain range. Our drive was peaceful, the kids plugged into the iPad IVs due to the length of it, with our first destination being Victoria’s Bay.

We had booked a 2 bedroom cottage right at the point called Land’s End: it was superbly positioned for surfing and watching the right hand point break take-off, and claims to be the closest house to the water in South Africa. A cottage that has a long history back to 1912 or so, it has been remarkably well maintained, but I did suffer some bad asthma from my allergy to black mold spores… Being 3 meters from the water does not help the moisture situation.

A couple of boxes filled with shells and food.

Staffan out in the waves at sunrise, Victoria’s Bay

Staffan got three days of multiple surfs per day in uncrowded waves, which was much needed for getting used to the new board and getting back into some sort of shape. The kids loved the general area: the tide pool that they could swim in, the fishing pier, the nooks and crannies in the rocks that hosted sea slugs, sea stars, anemones, and sea urchins, and some really laid back towns, both Victoria’s Bay and its neighbor, Wilderness. We saw dolphins and two frolicking bowhead whales a hundred feet from shore. We found yet another divine outdoor play area/organic village/coffee shop/fairy garden (read: commercialized hippy collective) a few kilometers down the road that we visited twice.

A couple of boxes filled with shells and food.

Knysna township

Our next adventure brought us a break from surfing into the heart of the garden route: Knysna and Tsitsikamma forest. We toured the township in Knysna with Emzini tours, trying to get a feel for the infrastructure and the need for solar lights. It was quite educational: a lot of the townships receive government money, but as in all countries, there is a trickle down of administration that determines how it is spent. The township in Knysna, being a smaller town, seemed to be doing really well, comparatively. Almost all the huts had electricity, pre-paid with metered cards, and the water is accessible to most, but not yet metered: free water for those with hook-ups! The township sits on a hill overlooking the inlet from the ocean, yet apparently the township residents rarely make it to the shore. Our guide was a life-long township resident who started up her own tour business with a friend, and routinely brings visitors into her own home, where she cares for her one daughter and 11 adopted kids from the town. She talked straight about the situation: HIV, the stigma associated with it, the suicides that result from being ostracized, the denial, the impact of rape on the female population, and the prevalence of alcoholism. We learned earlier in the trip that it was only about 20 years ago that people stopped being paid in alcohol for their day’s work! What was definitely conveyed was the incredible sense of community and belonging that exists in the townships: with such a strong bond, and reasonable government projects, it seems that progress will continue at an ever increasing pace. The tour owner was happy to receive some Unite to Light samples and has since reached out to see if distributing these may in fact be a good township business for their entrepreneurship development program. Hopefully, that moves forward.

A couple of boxes filled with shells and food.

Finger tattoos for the kids in the township

We pressed on towards Tsitsikamma National forest where we had booked accommodations in Storms River. At first we were a tad suspicious about the hype of Tsitsikamma: the mountains seemed smaller and less stark than what we had already passed, and the surrounding bush and forest seemed nice but unremarkable. All of a sudden we found ourselves crossing multiple bridges that were over deep and narrow gorges that had been eons in the making: the landscape quickly took a turn to be of great interest, each surprising gorge showing us how high above sea level we actually were! We stopped at Bloukrans bridge, a long arched bridge over a very deep gorge where Staffan was afforded a 216m bungy jump: the highest in the world. Having bungee jumped often in my earlier days, I stayed back with the kids, and we agreed I would get a turn at the end of our trip in New Zealand.

A couple of boxes filled with shells and food.

The view up the gorge from the suspension bridge

Over the following 3 days, we hiked through some gorges to the suspension bridges, meeting new furry friends along the way. I also got some much needed alone time to go on 3 trail runs! The town we stayed in was literally a one street village, so I felt very comfortable running in the woods alone. We adored our guesthouse, At the Woods, and even took an entire rain day in the village, entertaining ourselves with home schooling, reading, and a nature walk through very damp and over-brushed narrow trails. I cannot remember the last time I came home from a walk drenched to the bone, and happy about it, but this memory will remain with me. Having thoroughly enjoyed our time at Tsitsikamma, we left for the highlight of our South Africa trip: celebrating Staffan’s birthday at Jeffrey’s Bay, or J-Bay as it is known in the surfing world. It is a famous right hand point break that is one of the top 10 surf breaks n the world by all accounts. Staffan has wanted to surf here for 20+ years: more details in his special surf edition!