Hidden Gems Edition 20

Our regular feature in which we explore some of South Africa’s many fascinating, unique, and off-the-beaten-track destinations and experiences you may not have known even existed…

 

The Ferneryluxurious cliffside eagle’s nest 

By Stef Terblanche

 

There’s a beautiful lodge in the Eastern Cape at the base of the lovely Tsitsikamma Mountains and next to the Tsitsikamma National Park, perched high up on a cliff like an eagle’s nest, with a waterfall on the side and an ancient river running into the sea far, far below. It has enchanting views of the rugged coastline, the deep river gorge that cuts through the landscape, and the surrounding plantations of pines and ferns. Here you will rediscover what it is to have a soul. The place… is called The Fernery Lodge & Chalets. 

It started many years ago in 1985 when the founder-owners Frans and Meg Gerber first arrived here from Johannesburg with their three young sons to start a new adventure, with little more than a dream in their pockets. Frans and Meg gave up city life to establish a fern exporting business on the land that had belonged to Meg’s deceased father…and to build their dream home perched high up on the edge of a cliff that forms part of the breath-taking Sandrift River gorge. 

After some years they built The Fernery with its magical display of indigenous ferns and running water, flanked by the nursery. In this tranquil setting guests can view and buy a large variety of indigenous ferns and enjoy light meals and refreshments. The Fernery was followed by the construction of a number of 4-star logwood chalets on the farm overlooking the Sanddrift River as part of their partnership in the luxury Dolphin Trail (a 3 day hiking route including meals and accommodation). These proved to be so successful that Frans and Meg converted their stunning cliff side home into a luxury Lodge. The luxury B&B apartment chalets, each with 2 en-suite bedrooms and a plunge pool on the deck, were added later.

Guests have a choice of staying in luxury suites or in the logwood forest chalets. The latter offer a choice of B&B, self-catering, family or twin. Each is tucked away privately on the edge of the gorge, offering spectacular views of the waterfalls, black-water pools, cliffs, mountains, plantations and the sea. The chalets, lodge and other areas are connected by raised boardwalks. 

We stayed in a B&B chalet. It was the perfect place to return to after a day exploring the area, sitting back on the wooden deck, sipping a refreshing drink, taking in the scenery, and listening to the ample birdlife. On warm nights you can relax until late with a fine bottle of wine and good company in the outdoor Jacuzzi on the edge of the cliff. And, for the colder nights the lodge and chalets have cosy fireplaces.

Enjoy mouth-watering cuisine in the restaurant and definitely do try the very delicious mushroom soup! You also have the option of ordering meat or fish, salads and bread from the kitchen and doing your own braai (barbecue) on the deck of your chalet, as we did. Or enjoy a picnic prepared by the chef at one of the cliff top picnic decks. 

The lodge and surrounding area offers plenty to keep you busy. This includes a gym, sauna, Jacuzzis, hiking trails, swimming, rowing on a dam, mountain bike trails, canopy tours, kayaking, bungee jumping, black water rafting, visiting the Tsitsikamma National  Park,  exploring the awesome Storms River Mouth, or visiting the quaint Storms River Village which even boasts a restaurant cum shrine to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

To get there you follow the N2 (coming from Plettenberg Bay) until you reach the signpost to turn off shortly after the Tsitsikamma Total Petroport and the Storms River Bridge. Then follow the signs or your map until you get to Forest Ferns Estate and the lodge. The location of this 4-star award-winning lodge is exactly midway between Plettenberg Bay and Jeffrey’s Bay and about 160km from both the Port Elizabeth and George airports. Surrounded by awesome scenery and tranquillity, it is the ideal place to rejuvenate and reconnect with nature. 

 

 

Kogelberg Nature Reserveone of the Cape’s finest

By Stef Terblanche

Kogelberg Nature Reserve is considered by many to be the finest and most beautiful of CapeNature’s many protected and beautiful reserves. That may be due to several things, including its location with the sea on one side, mountains on the other, and a beautiful river running through the centre. But more than anything, it owes its reputation to the fact that it occupies a fynbos paradise with minimal human interference. Its exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos means it is considered to be the very heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The reserve presents perhaps the finest example of mountain fynbos in the Western Cape and is a world-renowned World Heritage Site.

At Kogelberg, a sensitive core of 18,000 hectares of the reserve has been kept pristine and wild. Here there is much biological diversity and conservation is always the priority. Only activities which do not adversely affect natural processes and wildlife are allowed and all accommodation and other buildings in the reserve were built strictly in accordance with the latest eco-lodge technology. 

If you have ever driven along the R44 between Gordon’s Bay and Kleinmond, you would have seen and have been mesmerised by the beauty of the Kogelberg. This pristine beauty remains all year round, but changes appearance according to the season. During the blazing hot summer months, it turns into shades of grey, orange, brown and light green; in winter the rains and mists bring torrents of water cascading down rock faces that were bone dry only weeks before, and the veld and mountain hills turn a lovely deep green. 

The whole area is ispirational and one of more than 400 biosphere reserves worldwide. Kogelberg was South Africa’s first registered biosphere reserve and it encompasses the entire coastal area from Gordon’s Bay to the Bot River estuary, and inland to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain.

By now you should have realised that it is also the ideal hiker’s paradise. In Kogelberg Nature Reserve, visitor numbers are limited and low-impact activities which are compatible with the wilderness atmosphere is encouraged. Covid-19 has brought further restrictions, although the reserve is open both for those who want to stay for a while and those who only come here to enjoy a hike. Hikers have several options and should be prepared for fairly rough terrain and unpredictable weather.

Hiking options range from day walks to a two-day overnight route. The day walks are available at R50 per adult and R30 per child and permits may be purchased at the reserve office or bookings can be made via the CapeNature Contact Centre. 

The day walk trails include the Palmiet River Walk, a trail distance of some 10km that takes about 3 hours to complete. From the reserve office you follow a clearly marked trail that winds its way up the valley towards the mountains and all along the Palmiet River. There are some lovely rockpools ideal for swimming along the way, and at one point the bush opens up onto what is called The Beach – a large, magnificent, white-sanded beach on the banks of the river. 

Other hiking trails include the Oudebosch-Harold Porter, a moderate 6km / 3-4hrs hike up Oudebosch gorge into Harold Porter Botanical Garden; the Kogelberg Trail, a moderate to long walk of 24km / 9hrs along Oudebosch gorge passing through Oudebosch montane forest patch and passing in close proximity to the Platbos and Louw’s bos montane forest patches;  the Perdeberg Trail of 22km / 7 – 8 hours from the Iona Wine Estate to Perdeberg peak lookout point; the moderate Three Sisters Trail of 8km / 4hrs  starting from the Kleinmond Golf course; the Houwhoek Trail, a moderate 8km / 3hrs walk starting from the Houwhoek Inn; the Rooisand Ramble, an easy 5km / 2hrs walk along the Rooisand boardwalk at the Botriver Estuary; plus several other easy trails.

The Highlands Trail is a moderate two-day overnight hike that begins at the farm Iona. Accommodation is arranged with the owners. Bookings can be made via the CapeNature Contact Centre. The trail takes approximately 6-7 hours on day one and 8 hours on day two. The maximum group size is limited to 12 people. The Highlands trail leads through private, municipal and conservation land. 

Other activities in and around Kogelberg include various organised forest adventures, gravity adventures, swimming, watching wildlife, birds and whales, and mountain biking.

Accomodation in the reserve consists of the self-catering Mbali Collection of 8 glass-fronted cabins, sleeping between 2 and 6 people each, and the Oudebosch Eco Cabins which are 6 glass-fronted eco-cabins that give occupants breath-taking views of the reserve, sleeping between 2 and 4 people each.

To get there, take the N2 north from Cape Town to Gordon’s Bay, turn left onto the R44, follow the road along the coast past Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay, and just before you reach Kleinmond you will see the sign for Kogelberg. Take the dirt road to the left.

 

 

The Surprising South African Safari

By Jared Ruttenberg

It really could have been a disappointing game drive. Firstly, an over-eager cold front was gifting our little bush escape with every possible downpour of rain it could. As much as the parched earth desperately needed rain, just one day of sun – or even just a few hours – would have been perfect for enjoying the loungers, the lodge pool, and a warm drive through the bushveld. 

Secondly, in my haste to book a little getaway, I hadn’t realized that there were no elephants in the smaller reserve we were visiting. You see, I’d just finished The Elephant Whisperer, and after reading the book I was ready to try my hand at a little pachyderm parlance. Even if it hadn’t worked, I was rather excited to spend some time with these sagely creatures.

Now, with the possibility of rain cancelling the outing, and not a single elephant in sight, off we went on safari, with a vehicle full of strangers nogal. As a guest climbed on board with a plastic tumbler almost overflowing with beer, I turned to my partner with a desperate look that said it all.

We began to pass the mandatory impala, dubbed the MacDonald’s of the bush because of the ‘M’ marking on their behinds and their over-abundance making them the fast-food of the bush. We oohed and aahed over several young giraffe calves that seemed as curious of us as we were of them. 

However, once the rain held back and the landscape began to open, so did the personalities on our open-top vehicle. In true South African fashion, little jokes and jibes began to rise and within a mere 20-mintues of driving I experienced something I never have before on safari: a group of local strangers were transformed into a cackling clutch of friends.

It all began when Terrence, who shortly into the drive, jumped off and proceeded to heed to the call of nature only two meters from the vehicle. Whether it was a lack of modesty or a fear of the buffalo that kept him so close, we all had a chuckle. Jumping back on board he smiled, telling us not to worry that his wife had wet wipes. The look of astonishment (or was it nervousness) on her face told a different story and we were in stitches all the more.

Where I’m more accustomed to being among foreigners on game drives, this was different. We were the quintessential South Africa bunch: Pedi, Sotho, Venda, Afrikaans, English and a Brit – who was very quick to point out that she’d lived in South Africa longer than most of us had been alive!

Refilwe had been silent for the first part of the drive, until someone discovered that he was completing a PhD in entomology, specializing in ants. The looks of surprise were quickly followed by a series of questions about the tiny creatures. It wasn’t long before he was calling for the vehicle to be stopped and was explaining some of the critters and local plants on route.

While Stiaan, our rather knowledgeable 23-year old guide was giving his commentary, informative and humorous facts were emerging from the combined South African knowledge base on board. From, which plant made for the best toilet paper in bush emergencies, to, how ants can count, a startling array of rather amusing bush antics one should follow to ensure you are pregnant with a girl child, to, which plant to boil when pregnant to ensure that the child would have soft and luscious hair. 

Later, our foreign-but-fully-local Brit regaled us with the story about a traditional wedding she’d attended dressed in traditional attire, chuckling that the biggest challenge was that the doek kept sliding off her hair. Of course, someone quickly pointed out that obviously she’d been given too much of the aforementioned plant as a child…

Stopping for sundowners the jokes and camaraderie continued, not even needing extra fuelling from the G&Ts that were freely flowing. Loving the sense of community that had been fostered, and realizing all of us had travelled from Joburg, I tentatively suggested a little reunion gathering at some point. The team was more than enthusiastic, and soon contacts were exchanged.

Despite threatening rain and no sign of ellies, I returned from the most unexpectedly enjoyable, and truly South African safari I’ve ever had. I was reminded that as much as our heritage is a remarkable 22,000 plant and 300 mammal species, they are nothing without the millions of marvellously diverse people who make South Africa and who also have the privilege of calling South Africa home.

Jared Ruttenberg travel-blogs under the name @JAREDINCPT – you can read more of his articles at www.jaredincpt.com.

Please Note: Live Record road trip postponed 

In our previous edition we announced that Mzanzitravel’s Hidden Gems was teaming up with 4 exceptional young South Africans who wished to share with our readers their experiences during a marathon 7-month road trip across the length and breadth of South Africa. Unfortunately, they had to postpone their travels indefinitely due to Covid-19 and the national lockdown level 3. However, if and when they start their road trip, we will keep our readers informed.