We headed west from the park towards the Baviaanskloof. This was another place we had read about in one of the SA outdoor magazines and it sounded worth a visit, especially for an interesting-looking walk. Although not that far from the busy coastline, this valley is remote and fairly hard to get to. The road in from the east was through a narrow gorge on a dirt road. Just how we like it!
The road into the Bavianskloof
We spent the first night at a camp site near the entrance. It was a beautiful location in a deep valley right on the river. No other fool was camping and when we asked the farmer-owner if he had a location that got the morning sun (to help us thaw out) he laughed. The sun apparently doesn’t get up over the mountain before about 11am at this time of year! He gave us a lovely site which had a covered kitchen area and was near the ablutions. We bought a load of firewood from him and got a large fire going to keep us warm and cook dinner.
We knew the morning was going to be cold. Minus 2 we’d been told. So we decided to get up early, get on the road before breakfast and try and find somewhere to stop once the sun was up. It was a wise move. It was very cold and we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen.
Ice on the windscreen in Africa! Outrageous.
Not only that, the riverside looked a bit like a winter wonderland. The farmer had left sprinklers on overnight to water the site. This was the result:
Sleigh bells ring…
We wound our way up the gorge. The only road went through a nature reserve and we had to pay a small fee to go through. It was a lovely area. Our plan paid off and we got up on top to find the sun shining and a warmer if slightly wind swept spot for breakfast. The area is apparently home to zebra and various antelope although we didn’t see anything. It didn’t matter though, it was a lovely drive and we saw no one else up there. Marvellous!
This year saw the 100th anniversary of a huge flood in the valley, when torrential rains had filled the creeks surrounding the area which then poured in to the kloof. The single escape route – the gorge we’d entered the valley through – was not big enough to drain the water quickly enough. Several people lost their lives including several members of one family. We passed a marker post that one of the descendants had erected to show the flood level. It was way over our heads. Scary.
We’d booked ahead to camp at the Bo-kloof guest house, on a farm near the west end of the Baviaanskloof. It was only about 100km but it took until mid afternoon to get there as parts of the road were pretty bad. On arrival, the farmer’s wife was concerned about how cold it was and more or less insisted that we have one of their chalets, offering us a good deal on it. We didn’t argue. Angela was coming down with a cold and we were considerably higher than we had been last night so it was going to be even colder. We settled in, opened up the tent to let it dry out and dragged our bedding inside to do the same. We did a quick clothes wash, getting them up on the line to enjoy the rest of the afternoon’s sun and then went for the walk.
The Waterkloof is a small, narrow gorge that cuts back into the mountainside behind the farm. We followed the track up through the farmyard and into the foothills. The mountain loomed either side and the sides slowly closed in, until we were squeezed onto the river bed, or rather a jumble of rocks with a trickle of water, to get upstream. Then the walls seem to almost join, leaving a cleft barely more than 1 metre wide in places.
The walls were covered in vegetation with mosses and ferns all over the place. In one part, where the kloof opened up a little, a large area of dense green lilies, with the occasional bright white flower, covered the floor. It was a fantastic place, almost prehistoric and well worth the effort to get here. It reminded us of Ludd’s Church on the edge of the Peak District in the UK, which is well worth a visit if you haven’t been there.
Lilies growing in the dank gorge
The walk was not difficult, or long, although we spent so much time taking photos and just stopping to admire it that we didn’t get quite to the top. We we were worried about losing the light before we came down so edged on the side of caution and got down before it got dark.
Once the sun had gone down the temperature dropped. We turned the heater on and were glad not to be camping. In the morning we headed out of the kloof, through another cool pass, and back towards the coast. There were a number of game farms along the way, including one with giraffes which were pretty surreal to see at the side of a public road. We also had our road blocked by some other animals which were perhaps more in keeping with the area.
We chose a route through the stunning Prince Alfred’s Pass and Paardekop Pass, avoiding the coastal town of Knysna. It had recently suffered huge bush fires which had done an incredible amount of damage. Four hundred houses were burnt down including 40 B&Bs, which gives you an idea of the importance of tourism in this area. People also lost their lives including a young fireman. It seems the fires were started deliberately and several local men had been arrested.
Prince Alfred’s Pass
En route we passed a cafe that we’d heard about and where we just had to stop for a pic…
We finally found it…!
We dropped in at the surfers’ mecca of Plettenburg Bay, but just to get provisions. Our camp for the night was at Nature’s Valley, just up the coast. Another SAN Parks site, it was cheap and sheltered. There was also a pub nearby which had the rugby on in the morning… We were expecting it to be warmer down here but disappointingly it wasn’t. Another camp fire to keep warm and an early night.
The morning was much, much warmer. The wind had changed and was coming from the mountain – a berg wind – which, counter-intuitively, was warm not cold. We headed down to the Nature’s Valley pub and watched the Lions play the Hurricanes (this time the result was a draw) and then drove to Storms River. The main road was a toll road but there was another route via the Boukrans Pass. Our gps suggested this was sometimes closed but there were no signs or barriers so we drove on. The tree-lined road wound down a narrow valley with a steep drop to one side and the cliff to the other. The further we drove the worse the road got, with trees fallen across it, several small landslides into the road and some bad potholes. But a path had been cut through so we carried on. It was great fun but we decided that it probably was closed after all… This was confirmed by a partial roadblock (a pile of earth across half the road) at the other side. Ah well.
Back on the road, we headed to a fuel station that was said by our guide book to have one of the most spectacular locations in the country. It overlooked the Storms River Canyon, an awesomely deep and narrow fissure which the main road and footpath crossed.
Storms River canyon
Here’s one for our mums…
The main Storms River ‘resort’ is part of a much larger coastal National Park. It covers the mouth of the river and part of the adjacent coastline. You can camp right on the front here, with the waves crashing in front of you and the wind whipping around you. Hence why we’d opted for the Nature’s Valley part of the park! As we arrived Angela scanned the ocean and there, in the bay in front of us, was a Humpback Whale tail-slapping and breaching. Our first whale since back on the coast and the best view we’d had so far. We watched it for 15 minutes while it frolicked. Brilliant. Too far away for a pic sadly.
One of the reasons to visit Storms River is the suspension bridge across the river mouth. It’s a fantastic structure, with the sea on one side and the deep gorge of the river on the other. You can do a kayak and lilo trip from the coast up the river. It looked like brilliant fun and we were sorely tempted. However a quick check of the water temperature soon decided us against it, especially with the sharp wind that was blowing. Nevertheless, the bridge was more than enough of an attraction.
Around the main car park area we watched several Sunbirds sipping nectar from the Aloes. Beautiful little birds, and similar-looking to humming birds, these fellas clamber and flutter around in search of nectar, probing the flowers with their long and delicately curved bills. Many of them are very brightly coloured, just as these were, but they rarely sit around for long so getting a shot was quite hard!
… feeding on Aloe
We drove back to camp along the Boukrans Pass again, this time feeling a little guilty as we were actually passing “road closed” signs, but we knew it was passable so we went for it. What rebels. We spent 4 nights in Nature’s Valley before heading back inland again to take the R62 through the Karoo, one of South Africa’s must-do routes, so of course we had to do it.