Even the most hardened urbanite cannot fail to be impressed by Tsitsikamma National Park. No words or photographs, however impressive, can really prepare you for the spectacular nature of the park. The thick forest foliage tumbles down to meet the coast of craggy rocks, sandy coves and beaches full of shells – making it is one of those rare beauties that is visually stunning and has the ability to energize the soul.
Tsitsikamma is the jewel in the crown of South Africa’s Garden Route National Park. It straddles the Western and Eastern Cape covering an impressive 80 km stretch of dramatic coastline with lush green temperate high forests and fynbos vegetation. It is the sound of crashing of waves that announces your arrival at the Tsitsikamma’s coast; the waves pound the rocks and claw at the beaches. Whilst just a few hundred meters away the rich green tapestry of indigenous vegetation, that is home to vervet monkeys, genets, blue duiker, bush pig, Cape clawless otters, and leopard, rises steeply away. It is easy to see why many people choose to spend weeks here; it is a nature lover’s paradise and whether you are a bird-watcher, diver, hiker, adrenaline junkie or just like to chill out with a beer by the barbecue, Tsitsikamma has something for everyone.
A good introduction to the park is through its short walks. These showcase some of the most beautiful parts of the park and have been designed with the day visitor in mind. There are two entrance point, one in the Western Cape at Nature’s Valley and the other in the Eastern Cape at Storm River Mouth.
At Nature’s Valley the trails range from 2 to 6 km and can be combined into a single 20 km walk, if you want something longer. Alternatively there is the much longer, 60 km, Tsitsikamma Trail.
At Storm River Mouth there are four main walking trails and the starting point for the famous 41 km Otter’s hiking trail. For those short on time or energy there is an easy stroll along boardwalks that starts near the visitor’s centre and goes to the famous Suspension Bridge and Lookout. This route gives breathtaking views of the coast and passes through indigenous forest. For those wanting a longer walk there is the Blue Duiker Trail that combines forest and coast and includes the Agulhas lookout where whales and dolphins can often be spotted in winter. The Lourie Trail is a shorter version of the Blue Duiker Trail and passes by a pretty waterfall and has plenty of stunning views over the marine reserve. Finally there is the Waterfall trail; this is the main coastal walk. It is a short but demanding walk that follows the first 2.65 kilometres of the Otter Trail. The Otter’s Trail is one of the most famous hikes in South Africa, it takes 5 days to complete and goes through some of the most spectacular parts of the park, many of which are only be accessible to those with the permits to hike the Otter’s trail.
Alternatively, if it is an adrenaline rush you seek, then head for Bloukrans Bridge near Storm River, which has the world’s highest bungee jump at 216 metres (709 ft). Or try a forest canopy tour, where you can zip between the tree tops on wires for an adrenaline fuelled forest experience. Or you can spend your time on the water, racing down river rapids with the unique Blackwater Tubing experience. Tsitsikamma is often referred to as one of South Africa’s must visit destinations and it is easy to see why it has this reputation.
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