Indian Ocean, Plettenberg Bay & Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa

Plettenberg Bay sits on the Indian Ocean off of South Africa’s east coast. My mother and I flew to the coastal town of George (named for George Rex, whom, rumor says was the unclaimed first son of King George III). George serves as a bit of a golf mecca in South Africa having hosted the President’s Cup at the Fancourt links.

After and hour and a half’s drive we arrived at our B & B, An Ocean Watch Guest House ( Set atop the sweeping hills of Plettenberg Bay, Ocean Watch is owned and operated by Judy and Glenn Batchelor-Adams. I say owned and operated because most all guest houses in South Africa are run by the owners. There are no “chain” of guest houses. I strongly recommend would be travelers to South Africa stay in the guest houses along the way as the experience offers a window into getting to know the local people better and a chance to stay in a small, well run, clean facility. The American idea of a B & B is different from what is offered in South Africa. Most Americans equate a B & B with an expensive weekend retreat into the mountains of a less traveled destination. In South Africa, while large hotels abound, B & B’s are prolific and serve as a means to host international guests as well as local South Africans. Each B & B in South Africa usually has between 4-8 rooms and the structure is set apart from where the owners may live. Breakfast is included in the price, copious and puts any American hotel to shame. Cereal, fresh juices, fruit, cheese, cold meats, yogurt and a mix of newly baked bread start you off. The hot breakfast of your choice (eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc.) is then available. The meal is hearty enough that I usually eat the breakfast and only have a small snack midday before eating dinner later in the day.

An Ocean Watch Guest House fits the description above. It boasts 6 clean rooms, complete with separate bathrooms, TV, refrigerator and coffee/tea setup. I chose one of the non sea facing rooms to save a few dollars but made sure that my mother was in one of the sea facing rooms at the front of the house. Spread out in front of her was a view from her bed that took in a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean. The sun rose over the deck just off her bedroom.

Glenn and Judy came in each morning to greet their guests and deliver the fresh bread and fruit to their cooks. Glenn was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and served in the Rhodesian military during the country’s efforts to fight the communists. He was reluctant to discuss his military past out of concern for his guests’ interests but once he saw I wanted to know more about his military service he told me enough to make me realize he was in some serious battle zones. He fought during the height of the Cold War and served a valuable role in holding off the communist rebels from invading Rhodesia. Neighboring Angola was fighting the same enemy as was most of southern Africa. Meeting B & B owners like Glenn make the experience more worthwhile.

My mother and I took off driving east on the coastal road after taking part in the breakfast that neither of us should have eaten due to its size and caloric value. The destination was Tsitsikamma National Park, located about an hour’s drive from Plettenberg Bay. Tsitsikamma means “Place of Many Waters” in the local Xhosa language. However, despite my mother’s predisposition towards being terrified of heights, on the way, I could not resist showing her the bridge where the world’s bungi jump is based, the Bloukrans River Bridge. I’ve taken a few past customers here and they have partaken in the jump of over 200 yards. Yes, 200 yards. Think about free falling the length of 2 football fields and you might start feeling only slightly nervous. Set your feet on the edge of the bridge’s precipice as you will not be able to feel anything but anxiety and the desire to turn around and admit you made a mistake.

I bungy jumped off the bridge at Victoria Falls and have never been so focused in all my life. That focus was entirely concentrated on the feeling of impending doom I had just agreed to take on. There is nothing like raw fear to cleanse the mind of the intricacies of day to day life.

Tsitsikamma National Park is accessed through a long winding road as we exited the highway. I say long but the entire length of the road once off the highway might only be about 5 miles. However, we immediately begin to feel the change of scenery as we dip down in altitude. The trees loom large over us like creations from a children’s novel. Elephants roamed these forests only 50 years ago and we can see how easily they avoided man with the dense vegetation providing easy cover.

As soon as we cleared the dense vegetation, the Indian Ocean appeared out the right window in scenes of waves crashing against rocky outcroppings. The water arrived at shore with such force that the spray and foam shot into the air 20 or 30 feet. We drove for a few miles with endless views of the same desolate but beautiful scenery until we came upon a flat area where small building overlooking the sea were made available for rent from the South African National Parks Service. These log structures offered kitchen and bathroom in the cabins. Cook out facilities were nearby as well as camp sites. These type accommodation options offer South Africans and budget travelers exceptional access to what South African has to enjoy.

There was a restaurant overlooking the water as it crossed underneath a swinging bridge. I had some very nice hake and chips and my mother dined on her usual chicken salad. Again an again, we witnessed one breathtaking view after another. The variety this country has to offer in such short distances traveled is hard to believe. It almost feels like you are on the set of a Hollywood film as the changes come at you so quickly.

We drove back along a rural road where Nature’s Valley can be found. A small coastal community, Nature’s Valley, as we were told by one of the locals, has but 40 year round residents. The population grows in summer as there are a number of vacation homes but Nature’s Valley being only accessed through a rural road made it feel like a world away from civilization. The homes and people looked like any you might see in an American coastal town, but the twists and turns down the access road to get there made us feel like we could stay here for years and never be found. Such are the niceties of this fine country.

After a day of sightseeing what nature had to offer, we turned our attention towards the restaurant just around the corner from our B & B, La Cucina. Serving seafood and italian dishes, we took a seat by the fire, ordered what we pleased and watched the Olympics on TV as the sun fell below the sea filled horizon.