“I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses. We must never forget that it is our duty to protect this environment.” – Nelson Mandela
In the Western Cape, CapeNature has been a proud custodian of our natural heritage, and the organisation works hard to make sure that it’s not only preserved, but also accessible to all South Africans.
Three friends and I took a road trip through the Western Cape and we visited Goukamma’s Forest Lodge for the first time. Driving from Sedgefield to Knysna, I’ve passed the reserve countless times but hardly paid any attention to it. It forms a significant piece of this beautiful coastline, encompassing 2500 hectares of protected marine area.
In July 2017 devastating fires ravaged both Kynsna and Plettenberg Bay, damaging over 1000 homes, and leaving large sections of the Garden Route drive charred. Where the N2 once dissected pristine forests and plantations, it suddenly felt as if you were driving through an lunar-esque landscape. Seeing now the beginnings of the regeneration was a powerful reminder that in the natural world, death can often be the engine room of life, and quite literally, out of the ashes new life was rising.
Also read: Soaking up Knysna’s return to bounty
A large part of Goukamma was also burnt in the fires. Some of the Goukamma vegetation is fynbos, a fire-adapted biome that needs occasional fires for its persistence. Other types of vegetation will take a little longer to recover; the most affected part of the reserve was some of the infrastructure and signage. Walking through the coastal fynbos on the reserve, already there were tangible signs of the new growth. The CapeNature team are working hard to ensure the infrastructure will all be restored soon.
On the Eastern border of the reserve the Goukamma River retreats from the ocean, carving a gentle path through the valley. Here, on the banks of the river you’ll find the River and Forest Lodges. The latter became our home for three days and even from the pictures II’deen, I couldn’t have imagined a more enthralling setting. From the undercover parking, a boardwalk meanders through gnarled milkwoods to the lodge: a spacious wooden cabin suspended in the forest.
The large central living area, with a fireplace for cold days, separates the two bedrooms. The river-side section of the cabin has a wraparound veranda, which extends out at the centre point to form an enchanting outdoor dining area where we ate, read, and enjoyed sunset storytelling and sundowners.
What to Do
Although some of the paths are still closed from fire damage, when you’re not enjoying relaxing in the cabin there is enough to explore around the lodge. It goes without saying, that when your lodge is located on a beautiful river mouth, naturally one of the best ways to explore is by kayak. Goukamma has several boats available for hire at the picnic site at a nominal rate. You may even be as lucky as I was to have a African fish eagle fly overhead.
A five-minute drive takes you to the river mouth, adjacent to the little coastal village of Buffalo Bay. Enjoy a long walk along the coast, and as we did, a Magnum ice-cream from the beach-front shop. The reserve is an ideal home base from which to explore the Garden Route; Knysna is only 20 minutes away, and then George and Plett are about 45min drive each, in opposite directions from here.
Land Rover Cape Town had kindly given us a Range Rover Velar for our road trip – we took the adventurous route from Cape Town that included braving Swartberg Pass and so we needed a vehicle ready to handle both mountainous and coastal terrain. We couldn’t have had a more able and comfortable ride in the D240, with a boot large enough to swallow all four people’s luggage. I was so taken back by the Velar that I announced to the team I’d be proposing to her at the end of the trip. One of team gently reminded me that as sincere as I was, she carried a dowry that I might not currently manage to honour! I just hope I remembered to apologise for returning a muddy car.
• Find out more on Goukamma and book here capenature.co.za 021 426 0723
• Both Forest and River Lodge cost R1,700 per person per night for 1-4 people in peak season, and R1,060 off-peak. Vlei Lodge is closed until 09 March 2019 for maintenance.
• The hiking trails are still closed and will be reopened later this year. Call the office in the Goukamma Reserve for the latest update 0443830042