Pretty much every place Bevan and I have been priviledged to visit on the Ultimate South African Road Trip has been worthy of more time than we had to explore it. If we had given in at every spot though, we would be looking at a few extra years on the road! We made the exception for Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route however, and spent a leisurely week exploring its surrounds.
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Getting to know Plettenberg Bay
This gem on the Garden Route is instantly recognisable. The iconic Robberg headland defines the bay, with the Beacon Isle Hotel taking up a prime beachfront position. Mountains ring the bay, and the sunset is reflected in a million hues of pinks and purples in the meandering waterways of the Keurbooms River and Estuary. Scenery like this takes my breath away every time I see it, and the one reason I’d choose not to live here is for the risk of taking all of this for granted.
That, and the sharks! Of all of the coastal towns we have visited recently, Plettenberg Bay undeniably seems to have had the most shark activity in recent years. This must surely be attributed to the seal colony on Robberg Peninsula? In the winter months in particular, Great white sharks patrol the coastal waters off of Robberg for an easy meal in a fat and inexperienced Cape fur seal pup. Hikers on the peninsular can look into the waters below for these “men in grey suits” swimming inshore.
Plettenberg Bay is rich in other marine life too. A variety of dolphins frequent the bay, and over the winter months whales can be seen from shore on their annual breeding migration towards Walker Bay and beyond. Divers can explore incredible soft coral reefs alive with sponges, anemones, a great diversity of fish and of course the soft corals themselves.
Plettenberg Bay in itself is a delightful holiday town. Added to this, with so much to do close by including exploring the forests of the Garden Route National Park, nearby coastal towns like Knysna and George and of course an amazing coastline, Bevan and I decided to give ourselves a bit of extra time in the area.
Surfing Plettenberg Bay
Proximity to the beach means that Bevan is going to surf! Our visit coincided with some great surfing conditions and so the schedule of the first few days of our visit revolved around tide tables and weather charts. Plettenberg Bay has a number of surfing options. A few years back sandbanks deposited by the Keurbooms River on Lookoout Beach created what became known as the super bank – a groomed sandbank with perfectly shaped waves. That bank has since disappeared but old faithfuls like the Plett Wedge and Keurbooms beach break are still great options. What a pleasure too to be back in the land of warm seawater!…
Exploring Nature’s Valley and the Salt River
Nature’s Valley is a short drive northeast up the coast from Plettenberg Bay. As the name implies, it is a small holiday town nestled in the midst of the unspoiled natural surrounds of the Garden Route National Park. Because of this, the drive down the R102 from the N2 freeway is best done slowly to enjoy the incredible scenery you will pass. Towering Outeniqua Yellowwood and other trees dangle hanging lichens and ferns that sway gently in the breeze, and troops of baboons forage by the roadside. On the beach, the coastline stretches into the distance and the long sandy beach is broken by sections of rock and steep headlands. The beach has not a drop of litter, and no polluted smog obscures the horizon. Nature’s valley indeed.
Nature’s Valley is the end point of the famous Otter Trail, a multi-day hike that traverses the coastline between Storms River and Nature’s Valley. We decided to do some hiking of our own while we were there, and set out on a circular trail to the Salt River mouth.
The path leads from the beach at Nature’s Valley up and onto the steep vegetated dune which offers incredible views over the coastline below. After this initial climb the path enters a section of coastal forest and only emerges from the cool of the trees near the Salt River itself. Descending onto the banks of the Salt River we could see why this hike is only recommended at low tide – the high tide mark was almost at the base of the vegetation and quite a few meters higher than we would have expected! Salt River mouth itself is a beautiful cove sheltered between the high dunes on either side, and feels like a wonderfully private place to do some swimming or picnicking.
Unfortunately with the tide already starting to fill we couldn’t spend as much time on the beach as we would have liked and next time will know to make a full day of the trip. We had been told that the return route followed the rocky coastline back to Nature’s Valley and that there were some steep sections we’d need to scramble over. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not the one afraid of heights, because at times it felt like the pathway got terribly narrow with nothing but jagged rocks and crashing waves below! Nevertheless, we made it safely back to Nature’s Valley just as the evening light was starting to bathe everything in a golden glow. I’ll say it again – this area is incredibly beautiful!
Continuing with our journey north
We continue with our slow journey back towards Durban and home. This stretch of coastline is among our favourites though so there will be no rushing through it! Next stop is Storms River as we begin our foray into the Eastern Cape province.
We’d like to thank John and Donna of the International Surf School for having us to stay during our time in Plett. We really enjoyed the visit!