“ Country: South Africa / World Region: Africa „
Tsitsikamma National Park is on South Africa's southern coast and makes up part of what is known as The Garden Route. It was quite a long drive from the town of Knysna (where we were staying), heading toward Port Elizabeth. It is divided into two parts - Nature's Valley and Storms River. You cannot access one part from the other without leaving the park. I only visited the Storms River section. There is a nominal conservation fee to gain entrance with was R30 (£2.60/US$4) for adults when we visited (late 2011). The Park is very much a marine and forest based park.
One of the highlights of my day here was a boat trip into the gorge and mouth of the Storms River. It cost R66 (£5.75/$8.80) and can only take 6-8 people at a time. I do recommend booking this if you are coming at peak times. If the sea is a bit rough they don't always run, but we were fortunate that they decided to run on the day we were there in the morning as the sea had been a bit rough earlier. You are provided with a life vest and sit astride a long padded bench seat with a bar in front of you to hold onto. I don't recommend wearing a skirt as climbing on the seat is not a particularly lady like procedure, particularly as movements are restricted by the life vest. The boat charges out of the dock area and out to sea first, hitting the waves at speed to the delighted screams of those on board. It is a bit of a thrill ride at this point, and not ideal for those who are not fond of boats or water. The boat then turns 180 degrees and heads toward the river mouth where it slows down. The gorge is absolutely stunning. A floating seal gave us a wave (naturally we all waved back) before sliding back under the water and we meandered a little way down the river admiring the rocks and flora. The trip only takes about 30 minutes and as you exit the river mouth the guide/boat driver speeds up again and heads out to the big waves again, to the cacophony of giggling shrieks from his passengers.
The boat can be caught from near the restaurant and requires you to clamber down a short, steep ladder to access it. The restaurant itself does a very good selection at reasonable prices. I had a mini vegetarian platter (R39) which contained samosas, spring rolls and onion rings with a chilli dip. The saturated fat content was probably quite high, but it filled a hole and offered a change to sit down and watch the waves for a bit. There is an inside section that looked more comfortable, a shaded veranda and a picnic area. There is a bar here, and it is also a good place to get hot drinks. Next door is the gift shop which is identical to every other gift shop I have visited in South Africa and the lavatories, which are acceptable. Whilst standing near here looking out to sea we did see some whales quite close to the shore and this is quite a common occurrence between August-October when they come in to mate and calf, so keep your eyes peeled all the way along the coast.
This area also has a few camp sites (with barbeque sections) and holiday homes for rent and I think this would be a lovely place to stay if you had the time and opportunity, looking out onto the waves. This is called Storms River Mouth Camp and is not the same as Storms River Village, which is outside of the park confines but also has places to stay.
There are a variety of walks to do from here. The simplest is probably the boardwalk path which is a 1km walk to the suspension bridge that crosses the river. My friend did this and she thought it was very nice and fairly simple, although she didn't cross the bridge as she is afraid of heights. Having done some semi-challenging hikes and caving over the last few days, I opted for a shorter walk and some further wave watching. I did the Lourie Trail which is a circular 1.5km walk. The Lourie is a bird but sadly we didn't spot one. It is a simple walk with some uphill and downhill sections. Occasionally slippery due to wet leaves from earlier rain. There is a longer walk (about 3km) that takes you to the nearby waterfall which is more challenging, as well as a number of walks that can be attempted over several days (these need to be booked).
I enjoyed my shorter walk and spent some time watching the waves again and taking far too many photos. Come the mid-late afternoon there were lots of dassies (native guinea pig type animals that are the cousin of the elephant) which we got to watch, as well as keeping an eye out for more whales.
The Tsitsikama national park is an absolute MUST for anybody visiting South Africa. I used to live in South Africa, so I know the country well. In my opinion, Tsitsikama and the surrounding area is one of the best areas to visit if you enjoy nature and the outdoors. Within the national park there are numerous walking trails, from short walks to multi-day trails. One of the most unique features in the park is an underwater trail, which you can do on SCUBA. If driving from Cape Town, stop on the way at the van Staden's river bridge, where you can do the highest bungee jump in the world (220m). While you're there you may as well pull in at the Gouritz bridge and do their legendary bridge swing or bungee aswell. The Storms river estuary is within the Tsitsikama park, and "black water tubing" is well worth doing while you're there. Hang around the Tsitsikama gulleys near to dusk and watch the "Soup Fin" Sharks arrive, but don't worry they are harmless. Avoid the usual Tourist traps and GO TO TSITSIKAMA!!!! You will preferably need your own vehicle, but many of the tour operators should be willing to accomodate your request.
The park is situated some 615 km from Cape Town, 195 km from Port Elizabeth and 68 km from Plettenberg Bay. The heartland of the park stretches some 5 km to sea, protecting a wonderland of inter-tidal life, reef and deep sea fish.