Some towns just scream adventure: These are the places where weekdays are busy on hiking trails, where fleece is the accepted dress for a night on the town, and where everyone sports a tan. Boulder, Colorado; Chamonix France, Queenstown, New Zealand, Hood River, Oregon. And Tsitsikamma, South Africa.
The difference is, there isn’t much of a town here. Sitting at the remote tail end of Eastern Cape Province at the mouth of the Storms River, I have entered a world that is all about nature and forest and cliff and above all, water: The name Tsitsikamma comes from the Khoi language, and means “place of abundant (or sparkling) water.” It’s easy to see why: Tsitsikamma is bordered by the Bloukrans River to the west, the Eerste River to the east, the Tsitsikamma mountains to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the south. And there’s plenty of rainfall, too, which makes for abundant forest, and occasionally damp hiker spirits.
In Your Bucket Because…
- It’s immediately adjacent to the world-renowned Garden Route.
- If you’re looking for adventure cred, the highest bungee jump in the world is hard to top.
- The combination of natural beauty with world-class adventure opportunities all in one place make this an unusual destination.
- Good for families, adventurers, nature lovers.
Near the entrance to Tsitsikamma National Park, I find myself on the Storms River Bridge, where the Dolphin Trail crosses the river and heads up into the cliffs. Probably South Africa’s best known multi-day hiking trail, the Dolphin Trail is a guided catered three night four-day hike where walkers stay in comfortable huts after a day of stretching legs and lungs on the trail. Leaving the Storms River Bridge, I climbed up to the cliffs, following the trail as it made its way in and out and up and down, overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Some 80 kilometers of coastline here are protected as part of a marine protected area, It is peaceful and quiet, and I stare out to sea looking for dolphins but seeing only waves and the occasional seagull. That peace, however, is only one face of this South African eco-tourism and adventure mecca, which appeals to gentle-spirited eco-travelers and high-octane adrenaline junkies alike.
I saw Tsitikamma’s other face on its other bridge, the Bloukrans Bridge, which marks the border between Eastern and Western Cape Provinces. It’s also the highest commercial bungee jump in the world, with a drop of 216 meters (709 feet).
Adventure Activities in Tsitsikamma
Between hiking over the Storms River Bridge (which I did) and Jumping off the Bloukrans River Bridge (which I didn’t), there are all manner of other adventure activities.
- A scuba diving operator is stationed near the park’s entrance, not far from the mouth of the Storms River. Conditions aren’t always calm, but if they are, both divers and snorkelers will find plenty to see in this protected marine reserve.
- A zip-line course through the yellow-wood canopy forest flies 100 feet above the forest floor. The tour takes about two hours.
- The park is home to superb birwdwatcing. Look for Cormorants, Kelp Gulls and African Black Oystercatchers along the coastline; Pied and Giant Kingfishers at tidal pools and rivers, along with Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. In the forest, look for the Knysna Loerie, Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Knysna and Olive Woodpecker, Chorister Robin and Grey Cuckooshrike.
- In addition to the hut-supported Dolphin Trail (four-day three-nights, fully catered and guide), there is the independent Otter Trail, which offers a more rugged experience.
- Fully-guided rafting and mountain biking trips are also offered.
Information about and outfitters for most activities can be found around the entrance to Tsitsikamma National Park.
Sustainable Travel in Tsitsikamma
It’s tricky for an outsider to write about South Africa and not sound naive. There’s no arguing that crime is a problem here: The first thing I learned on my trip was that our guide had his car stolen that morning. But there’s also no arguing that this is a country with a unique spirit, and the legacy of Nelson Mandela is evident at almost every turn. Tsitsikamma seemed a world away from geopolitics: A lush, temperate rainforest with natural beauty, it was a quietly remote, isolated. More than that, conversations with operators displayed an idealistic heart and soul to this small eco-adventure community. Accommodations are low-key, including self-catering cottages, caravan parks, tentsites, and lodges that sit lightly on the land. Perhaps most noteworthy is the management’s commitment to the ideals of sustainable tourism as a factor in local economic development. There is an emphasis on training local residents, especially members of historically disadvantaged ethnic groups, so they can fill jobs in all levels of service and management.