* This article originally appeared here on Getaway Magazine.
“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
As part of the Heritage month celebrations that sparked across South Africa in September last year, I was reminded that our heritage is not only wrapped up in our beautiful people and their customs, but also in our beautiful land. In the Western Cape, CapeNature has been a proud custodian of our natural heritage, and worked hard to make sure that it’s not only preserved but also accessible to all South Africans.
Three friends and I were road-tripping through the Western Cape and all visiting 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 encompasses 2500 hectares of protected marine area, and it is a significant piece of this beautiful coastline.
In July 2017 devasting 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 a lunar-esque landscape. Evidence everywhere of the beginnings of 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.
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 survival. Other vegetation types would take a little longer to cover; the most affected part of the reserve was not nature, but the infrastructure and signage. Fifteen months later and as we walked through the coastal fynbos on the reserve, we noticed tangible signs of the new growth already. The CapeNature team are working hard to ensure the infrastructure will all be restored in the ensuing months.
On the Eastern border of the reserve, at this point, the Goukamma River makes to the ocean, carving a gentle valley as it makes its way. On the banks of the river, you’ll find the River and Forest Lodges. Our home for three days was the Forest Lodge, and even from the pictures I couldn’t have imagined a more enthralling setting. From the undercover parking, a boardwalk meanders through ancient Milkwood trees to the lodge: a spacious wooden cabin suspended in the forest.
A large central living area with a fireplace for cold days dominated the centre and two bedrooms lead off it on either side. the side of the cabin facing the river has a wraparound veranda, which in the centre extends 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 an 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 with our little excursion, 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 Plettenberg Bay a 45min drive each.
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 able to handle both mountainous and coastal terrain. We couldn’t have had a more comfortable ride in the D240, whose boot also happily swallowed all four people’s luggage. I was so taken 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 demanded a lobola that I might not currently manage to afford! I just hope I remembered to apologise for returning a muddy car… thanks Land Rover Cape Town!
- Find out more on Goukamma and book here online
- Both Forest and River Lodge cost R1700pppn for 1-4 people in peak season, and R1060 off-peak, and are the only lodges currently open
- All accommodation is now reopen call the office for the latest update on the hiking trails at 021 426 0723