Hidden Gems Edition 24

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…

 

Explore the mysteries of a petrified forest at the Wild Coast Sun

Wild Coast Sun, Sun International’s only beachfront resort, has been a family holiday destination for over 40 years, with an abundance of activities to choose from.

Situated near Port Edward, the area is known for its breathtakingly beautiful and unspoilt beaches.

The four-star resort is perfectly situated next to a petrified forest and offers guided tours to those wishing to embrace the beauty of the coastline.

When you think petrified forest, you may expect to see a forest in the traditional sense, but you would be wrong. The forest does not stand tall next to you but rather underneath – as you walk, you will see 80-million-year-old fossilised trees and deposits on the rocks.

An oblivious person walking along the beach will be completely unaware of what lies below their feet; therefore, a tour guide is essential to appreciate the history and sights from the Cretaceous period and volcanic remains.

 

Did you know that when volcanic material buries trees, the trees are petrified and literally turned to stone?

Tour guide, Lonwabo Dlamini, is very knowledgeable and he shows tour groups the petrified trees, fossilised rocks, shells, animal and dinosaur fragments with great excitement.

Kick off your shoes for the 2km tour and walk along the rocks and discover the tree and log formations, as well as beautiful examples of tightly coiled ammonites, echinoids (sea urchins) and bivalve shells, with the magnificent Indian Ocean on one side and a 10-metre cliff on the other.

The cliff also consists of fossil material, and you follow it along the coast until you get to a series of caves, known as the “White Man’s Caves” – named after shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who sheltered in them during the 1800s.

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions have negatively impacted the livelihoods of these tour guides, who rely on tourists as their only source of income. Support them while ticking something local off your to-do list.

Tour & Contact details: For petrified forest guided tours, at R90 per person, contact Bheki Nzimande on (063) 338 8766. Tours are aligned to low tide, so times vary. For hiking enthusiasts, contact Lonwabo Dlamini on (078) 631 2730 for inland guided tours. Hikes from one day to eight – enquire about the five-day hike through the wilderness that includes four nights in homestay villages and experience the hospitality of the locals.

The ‘other side’ of Oudtshoorn… Volmoed & De Rust

 

Most people know when they hear the name Oudtshoorn that this is the name of South Africa’s ostrich capital situated in the Little Karoo in the Southern Cape. However, you may have noticed, when entering or exiting Oudtshoorn to the west or east, two other quaint little villages filled with the promise of history and local delights. To the west is Volmoed; to the east De Rust. Two villages where very little has changed in over a century, but both welcoming visitors with open arms, eager to share their delightful treasures.

On leaving Oudtshoorn for De Rust, you will pass the village of Dysseldorp, also well worth a visit. Dysseldorp lies in the Garden Route District Municipality some 20 kilometres east of Oudtshoorn. It owes its existence to the establishment of the London mission station here in 1838 and which can still be found here.

Continue a short distance further east along the N12 and you will soon come to De Rust, the name meaning place of rest. You will recognise the village immediately by the well-maintained Victorian homes lining the street on either side as well as the beautiful old Dutch Reformed Church. A number of these old homes have now been turned into delightful B&Bs where visitors can overnight or spend as long as they wish to stay.

While travelling from Oudtshoorn to De Rust you will have been surrounded by ostrich farms all the way and may have noticed one or two of the old palatial Victorian homes of the ostrich barons from a bygone era. To the north you will have seen the majestic Swartberg Mountains range, while to the south lies the Outeniqua Mountains. De Rust lies just before the start of one of its major attractions – a narrow opening through the Swartberg mountains that provides a route to Beaufort West, the Great Karoo and the north of the country.

That opening is known as Meiringspoort, and consists of an  awesome, narrow gorge flanked by soaring cliffs that almost cause the sky above to disappear at times. It runs alongside the Groot River which, contrary to what its name suggests (meaning “big river”), is little more than a gentle stream. But don’t be fooled by that: it has flooded the poort on numerous occasions, and in the late 1990s a spectacular flood forced it to be closed and the road to be rebuilt at huge cost.

For 25km the road follows the contours of the gorge and river, ducking underneath overhanging cliffs and crossing the river 25 times, with beautiful picnic spots, swimming pools and magnificent waterfalls,  dotted all along the way. At the far end of Meiringspoort the road emerges at Klaarstroom, 55km east of Prince Albert. Before pioneering feats of engineering produced the Southern Cape’s spectacular mountain passes after the mid-1800s, Meiringspoort offered one of the few places that allowed travellers to cross the forbidding Swartberg Mountains from the Little Karoo to the interior going north.

De Rust is a hub for local arts and crafts, cheese and dessert wines, and you will be pleasantly entertained in some of the local stores and eateries. You can visit nearby ostrich farms, go on hikes or take to some mountain bike trails. There are many guided tours on offer here and plenty to do both here and in the surrounding areas.

Now double back driving through Oudtshoorn towards the west on the famous Route 62. Turn left after some 7 ½ km onto what is Church Street, although at this point you will still be surrounded by open veld and farms. Drive south along this road, crossing the Olifants River until you reach the magnificent La Plume Boutique Guest House & Spa.

From this point on you are entering the village of Volmoed, although it is more a loose and scattered collection of homes, a post office, a shop, B&Bs, and a beautiful old church, interspersed and surrounded by farms, than a formally laid-out village. The name of the village means “filled with hope”. It used to be called Armoed, or “poor hope”, but the villagers and farmers of the area many years ago decided they did not want such a negative name and changed it.

Kruisrivier: An historic old house and large palm and eucalyptus trees next to the road between the Kruisrivier and Calitzdorp

During the Anglo Boer War of 1899 – 1902, British imperial forces on their way to the front in the Boer republics of the north, often used to encamp in the area. The village originally took shape around the beautiful old sandstone Dutch Reformed Church that was built here to serve the farmers of the area. Visitors can enjoy the offerings of nearby ostrich farms, hiking trails and 4WD trails among other things. The veld is filled with interesting fauna and flora, and if it is fresh Karoo air, peace and quiet you are after, this is just the place to be. There are a number of superb accommodation options available in the area.

Contact: De Rust Tourism Bureau Tel +27 (0)44 241 2109 or Tel +27 (0) 44 279 2532 or

email enquiries@oudtshoorn.com; or for Volmoed contact Oudtshoorn Tourism at Tel +27 (0) 44 279 2532 or email enquiries@oudtshoorn.com.

 

Tietiesbaai… the West Coast’s Bay of Breasts

At first glance it may look like just another typical gorgeous little West Coast bay with boulders, kelp and a white-sand beach in the middle of nowhere. But Tietiesbaai is much more than that. It is an institution, especially with farmers from the region who have camped here during their holidays for generations, and more recently with city folk who have come to discover its tranquil charm. Although during high season it transforms into a bustling little city of tents, caravans, and holidaymakers.

Its name, literally translating as bay of breasts, or breast’s/titty’s bay, has become a source of cheeky amusement over the years. Stand on the rocks by the water and look inland, and you will see a hill to the left rising behind the bay that, with a nipple-like rocky outcrop on top, may conjure up an image of a woman’s breast. Other than, some nude bathers over the years may have contributed to the legend. It’s not quite clear.

Tietiesbaai is the westernmost beach along the West Coast and is a popular camping spot. It is located within the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve near the Cape Columbine lighthouse. The Cape Columbine peninsula with its nature reserve of the same name offers not only a delightful wildflower-watching experience, but also a spectacular coastal setting, the last manned lighthouse in South Africa and the quaint nearby West Coast fishing village of Paternoster. Stay overnight in Paternoster with its thatch-roofed fisherman’s cottages, famous local hotel and colourful fishing boats lining the beach.

Being close enough to Cape Town and other large towns for a weekend getaway, it is very popular with families or groups of friends looking for a getaway enjoying water sports or sunset braais. It is an excellent location for swimming, kayaking, snorkelling, scuba diving, angling or kitesurfing, and for enjoying those delicious West Coast lobsters cooked on an open fire.

Contact: Tel 27 (0) 22 752 2323 or email paternoster@sbto.co.za or go to http://capewestcoastpeninsula.co.za/paternoster.