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Plettenberg Bay has been especially blessed, with coastline, forest, river, and farmland creating a delightful playground for all ages.

Words by Emma Jordan and photographs by Vanessa Brewer.

The Insider: Emma Jordan has been living in Plett for three years, where she is slowly acclimatising to small-town life. Sometimes she misses the bright lights of the big city, but most days she likes driving through town waving at everyone she knows.

Built on the site of a former whaling station, Beacon Island Resort is a Plett landmark.

We were never ‘Plett People’. It’s not where we went for Easter or Christmas holidays, and I can barely remember the first time I visited – back then it was called Matric Holiday and as a group of girls, free of our parents for the first time, we spent most of our time in bikinis, or foraging for food, or sleeping off the night before that was spent at Plett’s legendary nightclub, The Cave.

Almost 20 years later I decided to pack up my Joburg life and relocate, moving from a flat in Killarney to a small cottage on a farm with sweeping views of the Keurbooms River. There is no shortage of farms around Plett. From smallholdings to sweeping estates, there are tracts of land that are worked for lucerne, rooibos tea or timber. There are polo estates and now, around the Redford Lane area east of Plett, 14 or so wine farms. There’s even a fish farmer.

To most South Africans, Plettenberg Bay is seen as a millionaires’ playground. And rightly so. Each December the homes of the wealthy, otherwise empty throughout the year, are opened up and crews of butlers and chefs are brought in. The owners, along with friends and family, spend their time off sampling the best of Plett.

On the surface, Plett may appear fancy but at heart it’s really a nature- and adventure-lover’s paradise. Not only are there dozens of easily accessible walks (the Harkerville Forest to the west of town provides much-needed shade on hot days), but there are various MTB tracks, along with the paddling, kayaking and swimming offered by the fortunate geographical intersection of river, lagoon and sea. The warm Indian Ocean laps against beautiful Blue Flag beaches– early morning runs take place on the eight-kilometre stretch of Robberg Beach, and lazy afternoon walks are taken on Lookout Beach, before or after a meal at The Lookout Deck, a no-fuss diner that serves good fish and chips and cold beer.

The Lookout Deck sitting pretty at the Blue Flag Lookout Beach.

Across from Lookout, the Poortjies Lagoon is the perfect spot for stand-up paddling – and for picnics with small children, as it’s well protected and the lapping water (as opposed to big waves) means easy crab-hunting or fish-stalking. Boats are kept here or at the marina at the Plett Yacht Club. No boat? No worries. Little put-put boats, which accommodate four to five adults easily, can be hired for about R800 a day.

In my opinion, the best day to do this is when it’s not too sunny and the Keurbooms River isn’t teeming with speedboats and waterskiers. Pack some padkos and chug up the river, stopping at one of the furthest little river beaches (they all have public loos), where you can swim for hours in the soft tannin-infused water.

A few kilometres up the N2 highway is Nature’s Valley – or Nature’s as we affectionately call it. There’s a small cafe at the end of the road, and a pizza/burger joint, but that’s it. No Woolies, no Pick n Pay, only white stretches of idyllic (Blue Flag) beach. It’s very simple and that’s part of the charm. Here, canoes can be hired by the hour and it’s a real joy to pack a light picnic and paddle down the Nature’s Lagoon once you’ve already cunningly driven around and set up camp (trust me, no one’s after your umbrella here).

One of the best spots to stay is also one of the cheapest – the Keurbooms Lagoon Caravan Park has ultimate beach frontage.

The lagoon is also close to the end of the Otter Trail, and many hours can be spent here kicking about and having fun against one of South Africa’s most beautiful backdrops.

Out of season, Plett is a small community. The population shrinks from 130000 to 30000, but unlike many other small seaside towns in South Africa, it’s not just pensioners who live here out of season. New schools mean more and more young families have moved into the area, choosing a ‘lifestyle’ over the fast-paced, adrenaline-driven work schedules of Joburg or the mounting traffic of Cape Town. There’s only one traffic light in town, no beggars, access to local wholesome produce is immediate, and the ability to be free and wild in nature couldn’t be easier. The Plett Facebook community group explodes when law enforcement starts fining dog owners who let their hounds run freely without a lead on the beach. Everyone weighs in.

Fun on the pump track at Cairnbrogie.

Most importantly, the community is tight. Recently, wild fires raged through the valleys surrounding town, burning through hundreds of hectares of fynbos, wiping out homes and outbuildings. One of the houses belonged to the daughter of the local doctor. Within hours of the news spreading, offers of help started pouring in. A friend set up a crowd-funding account to help with the rebuild; moms stopped her in the school car park, with clothes, gifts and toys for her kids.

It’s not the most sophisticated town for dining or culture, and geographically it’s impossibly segregated, but Plett Tourism is working very hard to change this – to involve the entire community in crossover events. Recently, I attended an NGO initiative at the Kwanokathula New School. A social worker told me that a number of people in her community had moved to Plett from Cape Town or PE as their kids were getting involved with disreputable types. ‘The parents wanted more for their kids,’ she told me. ‘They wanted the quiet life.’ Like all Plett people.

And, yes, every December there are still groups of girls in bikinis who flock here minus the shackles of parental care. But things are far more organised, with a ‘Rage’ village set up on the outskirts of town. Long gone are the ramshackle days of The Cave.

Sundowners against a spectacular backdrop of Emily Moon.

 

Where do locals go?

Connie van Willen, teacher
‘I love taking my family for walks in Kranshoek. It’s so beautiful – it has the sea, rocks and forest and is always quiet. Not many people know about it.’

Leigh Gips, Marketing and PR Executive
‘I love Nature’s Valley. The beach is so beautiful and quiet, so natural and raw, and the Salt River walk is my best.’

Sam Duncan, Software Engineer
‘My favourite is being on a boat on the lagoon at sunset, when the water mirrors the sky and everything is still. It’s very special.’

Freedom Ngqokoto, barista at Le Fournilde Plett bakery
‘On my days off I go to Moby Dick’s on Central Beach for cocktails – the mojitos are my favourite.’

 

Plan your trip

Get there there

Plett is six hours from Cape Town on the N2, or two-and-a-half hours from Port Elizabeth. George Airport is 94km away. CemAir flies daily direct to the small Plett Airport from Cape Town, Johannesburg and Margate. From R2900 return.

Stay here

Katuri Cottage is stuck away at the end of Askop Road, deep in The Crags (en route to Nature’s Valley), on Brackenburn Reserve. It’s a quiet self-catering bolthole surrounded by virgin Tsitsikamma forest that delivers deep soul solace. From R1300 for two (sleeps six). brackenburn.co.za

Periwinkle Guest Lodge is located at the top of Beachy Head Drive, just behind Robberg 5 beach. All seven rooms are sea-facing, and three have a fireplace. From R1200 per person sharing B&B.

Keurbooms Lagoon Caravan Park is one of SA’s best. Come out of season and grab a spot on the beach. You’ll be lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea and be perfectly placed to catch glorious sunrises. The ablutions are clean and plenty, and there’s a top-notch kids’ play area. From R120 per person, kids R60.

Beacon Island Resort is a Plett icon, built in the 1970s on the beachfront and standing proud ever since. Part timeshare, part bed per night, it’s an all-around resort with a beautiful pool on the rocks and great facilities for families with kids. From R995 per person. tsogosun.com

 

Do this

Learn to SUP with Garth Ensley on the Poortjies Lagoon – it’s easier than you think. From R200 per lesson, including gear rental. Booking essential. Tel 0712074951.

Head to Cairnbrogie, the perfect place to mess about on a bicycle, whether on a forest trail or the pump track. There’s also a small track for kids, a bike-washing station and cafe. Entry from R50 per person. Cairnbrogie also hosts fun events (such as Plett Starry Nights market and outdoor cinema in December – plus this year, ‘glamping’ under the pines).

Whale watch from June to November to see if you can spot southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whales. Eco- operator Ocean Blue Adventures has the only permit to get a little closer. From R750 per person, kids R400. All year round, dolphin trips go out to sea and around the bay following pods in the west, before heading back past the seal colony at the base of the Robberg peninsula. From R500 per person, kids R250. There is also guided sea-kayaking from R300 per person.

Learn to Stand Up Paddle on the Poortjies Lagoon

 

Shop here

Mungo is a proudly local business that’s a favourite with designers for its high-quality, beautiful linen and handwoven towels. Find it at Old Nick Village, a collection of artisanal shops just off the N2 on the road to Keurbooms Beach.

Natures Way Farm Stall, off the N2 en route to Nature’s Valley, is a good place to stock up for a picnic. It’s on a working farm; the cows come in for milking at around 15:00. The sandwiches, cakes and quiches (a large one costs around R85) are divine, as is the deli selection of local cheeses and salami and whatever’s growing on the surrounding farms. Tel 0445348849

Mungo is known for hand-woven textiles. Image by Vanessa Brewer

 

Eat here

The Lookout Deck, as the name suggests, has wonderful views. Owner Chris Stroebel is on hand running the business, the staff are on point and the food, including fish and chips, calamari baskets and burgers (about R80), is simple and good.

Emily Moon has two parts: a ‘fine dining’ experience in the main dining room and the more relaxed Simon’s Bar, where pizza (from R100) and cocktails can be enjoyed on the deck overlooking the Bitou River. Out of season there are often two-for-one specials and roaring outdoor fires to add to the ambience.

Kay and Monty Vineyards is Plett’s most recently opened wine estate. Named after owner Chick Legh’s parents, it produces a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and delightful sparkling MCC. Situated down a long dirt road (Redford Lane), the drive is worth it for the tasting barn where easy lunches (from R75) are served.

Wine and lunch in the cosy tasting room at Kay and Monty Vineyards. Image by Vanessa Brewer

 

 

This story first appeared in the June 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

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