August has arrived and the end of the year is one month closer. There are still so much uncertainty on when the tourism industry will go back to normal, but it doesn’t mean that we should sit back and not promote our beautiful province anymore. Promote what we have to offer, learn more about what the different regions have to offer and get ready. Visitors will come again.
This month the Experience our Eastern Cape “travel letter” has a look at the hiking and cycling trails in the Tsitsikamma’s Plaatbos forest and visit the Wild Coast to cross the Kei River by pont . We swing by Egg Rock outside Cradock, enjoy the view from Sir Percy Fitzpatrick Lookout near Addo and discover the Old Thomas River Historical Village between Stutterheim and Cathcart. You can tick off activities from the Route 72 Bucket List end off with a stunning video showing off the Kouga Baviaans region.
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Hiking and cycling in the Tsitsikamma’s Plaatbos forest
The Plaatbos Nature Reserve is a section of indigenous forest located next to Storms River Village and managed by SA National Parks. The historic Storms River Pass runs through the forest and is only assessable on foot or bicycle.
Discover the secrets of the spectacular Tsitsikamma Indigenous forest and get taken back to a time where the forest was “home” to hunter gatherers and their existence in the forests. Discover how the forest lives and breathes, hear the sounds of birds like the Knysna Loerie and Green Woophoes; and encounter Hard Pear trees, Giant Yellow Woods and other interesting Forest Flora. Stand next to a giant Outeniqua Yellow wood and feel like a dwarf against this unique creation. You will also encounter beautiful Tree Ferns hundreds of years old.
The hikes traverse through indigenous forests classified as wet, medium moist and dry High Forest. Five routes have been laid out, starting with the 2km Goesa Trail and extending into the Plaatbos Nature Reserve’s Green (5.09km), Red (7.78km), Yellow (8.09km) and Red / Yellow Combination (11.2km) routes.
Mountain bikers can follow the old pass down to the bottom and up on the eastern side. A short ride through the plantation will bring you to the viewpoint from where the beautiful Tsitsikamma coastline can be enjoyed.
Crossing the Kei River by Pont
Crossing the Great Kei River by pont into what used to be the old Transkei is something on a number of South Africas’ bucket lists. It is one of only three ponts in South Africa with theother two being one at Malgas over the Breede River in the Western Cape and the other one at Sendelingsdrift crossing the Orange River into Namibia.
The Pont began operation as a vehicle transport in it’s current form in 1990 and has become a vital lifeline for the communities living in the Centane area. Before the Pont, it was either crossing in a rowing boat or a 154km round trip via Butterworth, just to get a few hundred meters to the other side. In fact, travelers getting to the crossing point too late on their way to their holiday destination often have to do the detour to get to their hotel for the evening.
The Pont is in operation seven days a week, 365 days a year. They only close when the river is in flood or the tide too low. There is usually only one Pont in operation at a time, but during holidays there would be two, or sometimes three, in action. Each Pont can carry two vehicles at a time and the first crossing of the day is made at 7am, when people from the old Transkei side make their way across to work in Kei Mouth.
A little Kei Mouth Pont history received courtesy of a couple of members of the Wild Coast Holiday Association:
Left – Sonny Taylor used to row people across the river before the pont, as we know it today, existed.
Right – The rowboat was used until somewhere between 1977 and 1982 when the business community purchased the red boat to replace the rowboat. One then became two boats run with Seagull motors.
Graham Roebert, Andrew Baisley and Peter Myburg went into partnership and launched the first pont in March 1990. The pont from 1990 is no longer in service today. It has been replaced by newer models over the years, the most recent one having been launched in Dec 2020. There are currently 3 ponts.
Egg Rock outside Cradock
Standing 10m high and weighing in at around 480 tons, you would have trouble cracking the Karoo Heartland’s mysterious “Egg Rock” to make an omelet! Egg Rock is located just 8km outside Cradock. Talking of cracking an egg, there is actually a chunk missing from Egg Rock where, legend has it, the rock was cleaved by lightening in 1937. One can only imagine the ages that have passed in the formation of this giant egg, perched as it is so precariously on the edge of the Karoo plains.
Visitors should take some time to explore the ageless landscape around Egg Rock – beautiful “big sky” Karoo Heartland country – fresh air, blue skies and that sense of peace that seems to be so readily available in the Karoo.
What you need to know
Egg Rock is just 8 km from Cradock on the R61 (Cradock to Tarkastad gravel road). Take the N10 south out of the centre of Cradock and the R61 turns off to the left almost immediately. Entrance is free but be aware, the road is not in excellent condition and shouldn’t be attempted in low rage vehicle.
Sir Percy Fitzpatrick Lookout
The Sir Percy Fitzpatrick lookout off the R336 in Sunland between Addo and Kirkwood probably has one of the best views in the Sundays River Valley. The site was left to the National Monument Council as a heritage for all by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick’s daughter and son-in-law in 1953. Apart from his fame as author of “Jock of the Bushveld” he was regarded as something of a valley pioneer and was not only responsible for encouraging British settlers to the area but was also largely responsible for the start of the Sundays River Irrigation scheme.
The Lookout is worth a visit for the views over the Sundays River and to explore the gravesites here, that include Sir Percy and other members of the Fitzpatrick Family.
Old Thomas River Historical Village
Thomas River, named in 1801, takes its name from an English deserter, Thomas Bentley. Part of Van Der Kemps missionary, Bentley was killed by a poison Bushman Arrow while crossing the river, thus duly named Thomas River.
The original train station, sited between the stone forts, dates from the late 1870’s with the new station coming into being in 1926. The station saw its last train in 1948 when the new line opened.
Thomas River Historical Village nestled between Stutterheim and Cathcart was reborn in 2003 and has been passionately restored by Jeff and Ann Sansom to take you back to yesteryear. Visitors can explore the village at leisure and visit the Private Library, Wagon Museum, Cultural Museum, Motor Museum and the many other quirky and interesting collections throughout the Ramble Restaurant and Pub. Various accommodation options are available for visitors wanting to stay a day or two.
What’s on your Route 72 Bucket List?
Get a taste of what the Kouga Baviaans Surf and Safari region has to offer