Exploring Tsitsikamma in the Garden Route National Park

Posted on Posted in Eastern Cape, South Africa, Ultimate South African Road Trip

The Garden Route National Park encompasses an almost continuous stretch of coastal land from Wilderness in the Garden Route’s west to well past Storms River in the east. Bevan and I have previously visited the Knysna Lakes and Diepwalle Forest sections of the park and this time we were in for a treat – exploring Storms River in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.

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Storms River Village

Access to the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park is via Storms River Village. This is a great spot for a quick breakfast before heading into the Tsitsikamma Forest or towards Storms River mouth at the coast, or a lazy late afternoon lunch on your way home.

We opted for the former – a good breakfast that would set us up for a long day out and about. The sweet sounds of Elvis Presley boogieing from a jukebox and the neon pink lights of Marilyn’s 60’s Diner were equally as unexpected in a place like Storms River Village as they were hard to ignore! We feasted on waffles and milkshakes and cursed the catchy playlist that was bound to keep playing in our heads all day long.

Elvis decor
Elvis is alive and well in Storms River Village
60s decor
60’s themed to the max!

Although Storms River Village is no doubt full of other interesting places to visit, we had our sights set on checking out Storms River Mouth and the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park and so we did not spend too much longer hanging around town.

Into the Tsitsikamma section of the GRNP

Like many other tourist hotspots, there was a bit of a queue to get into the Tsitsikamma section of the park and limited free parking spaces at the rest camp once we were in. We were reminded again that South Africa has a flourishing tourism sector and news about some of the country’s amazing attractions has been well-spread. The great thing about the Tsitsikamma section of the park though is that it is big, and apart from the main rest camp and Storms River mouth itself, it wouldn’t be hard to find some space all to ourselves if we wanted to.

Tsitsikamma coastline
The beautiful coastline of the Tsitsikamma area

Despite the congestion, there was no ways we were going to miss out on one of the Tsitsikamma’s main attractions! After replenishing our water and sunblock supplies we set off on the paved walkway towards the iconic suspension bridge over the Storms River mouth.

Like Nature’s Valley and other sections of the Garden Route’s coastline close by, the scenery near the mouth was spectacular. Well-vegetated hills meet the rocky coastline, whose jagged rocks are battered by surf. Even on a relatively calm sea day that waves hit the shore in a way that sends spray exploding high above the rocky shelf, and lines of foam develop parallel to the shoreline. Near the mouth at least, Storms River runs through the bottom of a gorge between steeply-cut sides, and this narrow deep river is in almost permanent shade. The deep gorge lends itself to another of the attractions of the area – bungy jumping off of the N2’s Storms River bridge towards the river far below.

Storms River bridge
Suspension bridges towards and across Storms River mouth
Storms River coastal forest
Coastal forest covers the hills around Storms River
Tsitsikamma walkway
En route to the Storms River suspension bridge
Storms River in Tsitsikamma
Storms River runs through the bottom of a steep gorge

Bevan and I completed the easy path under the forest canopy to the suspension bridge, and then waited for our turn to cross. The bridge is long, and hanging free as it does has a fair bit of movement making us grateful for the high chain sides, especially as we looked down through the slats to the churning, rocky sea below.

Storms River suspension bridge
About to cross the suspension bridges
Storms River mouth
Which is worse – Bevan’s hairy toes or the churning sea below?!

The alternating whoosh and then rumble of waves washing up on and receding through a pebbly beach greeted us on the other side and we now faced a decision – continue on the path up a near-vertical cliff to a view site above, or return to the other side of the river. We had come for a hike, and even if this path was going to be more vertical than we had planned so be it!

Close to 400 steps later (we didn’t need to count – some previous hiker had scratched it onto the sign below as a warning to future unsuspecting hikers) and the path leveled out on the clifftop. Unlike the forested slopes on the other side of Storms River, the vegetation up here was characterised by fynbos so typical of the Cape and we found ourselves surrounded by proteas, ericas and restios. From the lookout deck at the view site we had an aerial perspective of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Far in the distance we could make out Robberg Peninsular, and then much closer the forested slopes and rocky shoreline near the Storms River rest camp and of course Storms River mouth itself. From our vantage point we also spotted a Cape fur seal just offshore, and I’m sure in the right season it’d make a great place for a spot of whale watching.

Tsitsikamma fynbos
The fynbos-covered clifftops of the Tsitsikamma section
Tsitsikamma view site
Taking in the view to the west

Scratching the surface

Because of our limited time in the area we prioritized a visit to Storms River mouth. There is plenty more to do in the area however. As well as additional hiking trails (including the famous Otter Trail)  and time on the beach in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, we also would have loved to explore the Tsitsikamma Forest, accessible from Storms River Village. We were back in a situation we have found ourselves in countless times on our Ultimate South African Road Trip – that of keeping a list of things we want to do the next time we get to come back!

Tsitsikamma beach
A sandy beach at the Storms River launch site

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