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Family friendly: Plett, PE & East London

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VIEWS

I have now, unofficially, become a new superhero called Captain Stormer. It has nothing to do with the fact that I support the Cape rugby side of the same name, but is because I seem to attract remarkably adverse weather conditions on my assignments for Caravan & Outdoor Life.

My recent trip to the Eastern Cape was no different from my previous venture to Victoria Bay (see the March edition of Caravan & Outdoor Life). Day after day was filled with rain.

To make matters worse, my tent leaked like a sieve, and the small stream that ran through the tent during the night was eagerly lapped up by my highly-absorbent sleeping bag and mattress. No need to say that camping in a leaky tent, in torrential rain, had me praying for some sunshine.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were days during my week on the road that were warm and sunny. Besides, a road trip is exciting in any weather.

LEAVING TOWN

After an early start, I left Cape Town in a stunning VW Caravelle on my way to Forever Resorts in Plettenberg Bay, and was over Sir Lowry’s Pass before the rush-hour traffic peaked. I made a quick pit-stop in Swellendam for a cup of coffee, and then it was back on the road. Every time I travel up the Garden Route, I am amazed at what a scenic country we are so privileged to live in. We are surrounded by so much wonderful scenery – and much of it is still largely untouched by our ever-encroaching human footprint.

The N2 is peppered with stop-and-go roadworks, so be prepared to add extra time to your trip. The benefit of these roadworks is that you get to leave your vehicle and stretch your legs, which is critical for remaining focused when on long trips. The open road is a wonderful place to be.

PLETTENBERG BAY

I know exactly why holidaymakers flock back to this resort year after year: its setting, right on the slow-flowing Keurbooms River, is truly a dream destination. The camp and caravan areas are under large trees that border the river, and offer shade to all the stands − which also have lush green grass and access to electricity and water. The furthest stand is about 50 metres at most from the water’s edge, so it doesn’t really matter where you decide to pitch your tent or set up your caravan; you’ll always be close to the waterfront.

All the stands and the chalets have a braai area, and wood and other necessities can be purchased at the shop within the resort. The shared ablutions for the campsite are spotless and well looked after, as are the token-operated laundry facilities. Access to the park is through a manned security boom. Day visitors can enjoy the picnic stands and relax at the river’s edge.

WITTEDRIF

On my second day in Plett, I also ventured into the small town of Wittedrif, about 5 kilometres from Forever Resorts. Wittedrif is a sleepy little place where the local butchery is also the local café and post office. I bought some great braai meat there, and two small watermelons which were only R10 each. If you ever want to buy the sweetest-tasting watermelons, make sure you stop at the Wittedrif Butchery & Country Store. You can also post a letter there.

When you tire of all that braai meat, spend a few hours at the Bocca Dolce Vegan Restaurant And Coffee Roastery on the Quarry Lake Estate in Wittedrif, and experience their buffet of gastronomic delights. Whether you’re vegan or not, you’re sure to enjoy the meal.

Sit and play chess at one of the large, carved, wooden chess tables, and take in some of the exquisite furniture and art they have for sale. Frances, the manager, will gladly tell you about the restaurant and farm. It’s quite an amazing place, and well worth a visit.

I arrived at my designated stand in the afternoon, and quickly set up my tent and made a braai fire. The ominous clouds chose just then to release their load of water, so I had to move my camping chair under the open tailgate of the VW Caravelle to avoid becoming wetter than I already was… but braai I always will, even in the rain. After packing everything that would get wet into the Volkswagen, I turned in for the night, only to find a veritable swimming pool forming in the tent. I had to shift my mattress to one side of the tent to avoid the leaks in the roof, and eventually gave up trying to avoid the stream flowing through the tent, in favour of some shuteye. It was a cold, wet night, in which I dreamt of being ensconced in a warm, dry, double duck-down duvet.

In the morning, after a good cup of hot coffee and biscuits, I went to introduce myself to Rozanne Jakins (the financial manager) and Elize Paulse (the front office manager) of Forever Resorts. When Rozanne heard about my wet and sleepless night, she immediately asked if I’d like a chalet for the second night of my stay. I wanted to climb over the reception counter to give her a hug. She also gave me a token for the tumble dryer, so that I could dry my wet clothes and sleeping bag from the night before. What a pleasure to be able to sleep in a dry bed!

The chalets are well appointed and very neat, and have all the accessories (fridge, stove, microwave, and braai area) that are needed for a good holiday. The chalets are also within easy walking distance of the Keurbooms River.

My trip got even better, as the weather was clear on the second morning and gave me a truer feeling of the resort. It’s a paradise for children, with its numerous activities on offer (such as trampolines, swimming pools and putt-putt) to keep them entertained.

The Plettenberg Bay Angling Club is located a few hundred metres on the other side of the N2 from the entrance to Forever Resorts, and welcomes the public with its picturesque deck overlooking the marina. Here you can enjoy some of the great restaurant-fare on offer, and finish the meal with a cold beer. Affordable boat trips are also on offer at the angling club; this overlooks the Keurbooms River as it heads out to sea.

Forever Resorts Plettenberg Bay is one of the cornerstones of the camping and caravanning communities in South Africa, and their formula is simple. The place is spotlessly clean and has large grassed stands, is a haven of relaxation for adults, and offers endless fun for children. It’s a very good recipe.

A snake at Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary

LAWNWOOD SNAKE SANCTUARY

Not to be missed, when travelling around Plettenberg Bay en route to Port Elizabeth, is the Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary. Owner Michael Caithness gives you a highly informative one-hour tour, during which you get up close and personal with numerous indigenous and exotic snakes, large pythons, monitor lizards and crocodiles.

If reptiles aren’t your thing, relax in the shade of the coffee shop and enjoy a toasted sandwich and a coffee while your other half takes the children to see the reptiles.

PINE LODGE RESORT & CONFERENCE CENTRE

On my arrival in Port Elizabeth, it became clear to me that there was a storm brewing. There was no way that I was even going to consider putting up my second tent to check it for leaks (for the record, I have three tents,) so I opted for a takeaway and slept in the back seat of the Caravelle.

The following morning,  the weather had cleared somewhat and there were patches of blue sky, so I put up tent number two and my gazebo, and spread the ground sheet, to get into the swing of camping. I quietly rolled up the old leaky tent with its poles and “rain cover” and left it next to the braai for any takers who might want it when I left Pine Lodge. The new recipient is going to have to make it waterproof again. Best of luck!

The Pine Lodge Resort is well manicured, and each caravan and camping stand has electricity and water. There are numerous activities for the whole family, such as the Pirates Cove nine hole mini-golf course, the trampoline, jungle gym and giant chess set. You can even take a donkey-cart ride to the Cape Recife lighthouse. There is a basketball court for the kids, as well as a games room with a pool table, darts, table tennis and mini soccer. Ziggy’s Rock & Reggae restaurant serves great pub meals for the whole family, as well as good beer; and, in season, the Seagulls Coffee Shop offers light meals and freshly-baked bread and confectioneries.

Pine Lodge has 24-hour security, and the only things that go missing there are biscuits or any other tasty bites you might have left out when the Vervet monkeys arrive. I was caught off guard while I had my back turned at the braai. I heard the ice-cream tub I was using to store my condiments being opened in the car; and, sure enough, there was a monkey taking a bite out of my packet of salt. His dietician had definitely not told him about the dire consequences of a high salt intake.

Also keep an eye out for the “cleaning staff”, a family of resident meerkats that patrol the campsite with regularity and munch away at any scraps left lying around. They’re an efficient bunch, and show scant regard for the humans who so frequently encroach on their land with their mobile houses and tents.

Pine Lodge is a wonderful destination for the whole family. You’ll hear the laughter of children in the background, the crackle of braai fires, and the sound of adults in happy conversation as they lounge in their comfortable camping chairs. It certainly is a tasty slice of the best of outdoor life.

THE WILLOWS

The Willows Resort is located on the picturesque coastline of Port Elizabeth, between the suburb of Summerstrand and the seaside village of Schoenmakerskop. This resort offers chalets with one, two, or three bedrooms, as well as single, double, and triple rondavels, and there is also a large camp and caravan park. There are 62 caravan and camping stands, and 12 private stands. If it’s scenic views you’re after, get in early at the campsite and lay claim to one of the front stands that overlook the ocean − the views are breathtaking.

Munkee Bizniz

MUNKEE BIZNIZ

Just outside the entrance to The Willows, I found a restaurant and pub called Munkee Bizniz. Well, if you want some action with young locals, good pub fare, and don’t mind the attention of an inebriated salesman called David who kept photo-bombing my pictures, then head right on down.

Tonya, the manageress, will ensure that you are served promptly, and the locals will keep you entertained with some hilarious stories. Have a look at the huge whale vertebra hanging in the outside seating area, or swing on the fishing buoy hanging from the tree − it’s the largest buoy I’ve ever seen, and about the size of a Fiat Uno. Just be warned: you could get up to some monkey business when there. “Okay, Tonya, twist my arm; I’ll have one for the road.”

All the stands have access to drinking water and 15 amp electricity. Pets are allowed by prior arrangement. The ablutions at the caravan park are neat and tidy, and have tiled floors, and there is a scullery in which to do dishes; plus there are washing lines and a coin-operated laundry. There are 14 standard showers, two baths, and 12 private showers.

Children and adults will simply love careening down the water slide to get their adrenaline pumping. For more-sedate holidaymakers, tanning on the lush green grass beside the water slide while watching all the action is also a very good option. The Willows also has two great tidal pools for the whole family to enjoy a day at the beach.

When I arrived at the campsite, there was a volleyball game in full swing, with both young and old playing. Carefree children were riding their bicycles, and caravanners and motorhome enthusiasts were doing what they do best – relaxing, braaiing, sipping cold beverages and chatting. The seaside seems to bring out the best in people; or is it just that campers and caravanners have more fun?

The friendly staff members at Willows reception welcome you with a smile, and are always glad to help point newcomers in the right direction. They offer a comprehensive map of the resort, which clearly demarcates the position of the rondavels, campsite, laundry, scullery and ablutions.

The Willows Resort & Conference Centre offers something for young, old and everyone in-between. It’s a place where sun-filled days and starlit nights dance to the crackling melody of a roaring braai fire.

NATURE’S REST

Near the Nanaga Farmstall, just outside Colchester, I decided to leave the N2 and take the more scenic R72. This is the coastal road past Alexandria, Kenton-on-sea and Port Alfred, then across the Great Fish River and past the Hamburg Nature Reserve, Kidd’s Beach and into East London, to my final destination at Nature’s Rest. I’m so glad I chose this route − it is much more scenic, and less busy, than the N2.

On my arrival at the resort, I was met by Gré-Marr Hattingh, the manageress, who happily led me to one of their rondavels when I mentioned the lightning and heavy thunderclouds above. It was only minutes after I’d put all the camera gear and bags into the rondavel that the heavens opened. Did I mention earlier that I am called Captain Stormer?

The rondavels are well appointed, with all the necessities − fridge, stove, sink, cutlery, crockery and utensils − to make your stay that much better. A hot shower offers welcome relief after a long day, and the comfortable beds and crisp sheets ensure proper rest. The rondavels are set on the lush, green, grass incline above the Zamnyana River, which flows out towards the sea less than a kilometre away. Birdlife is abundant here, and I spotted herons, pied kingfishers, cormorants, weavers and ducks during my visit. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the water monitors as they slink into the water when they hear you coming.

You’re sure to bump into Alec, the resort maintenance manager, and his dog Goku, a cross Setter-Labrador. They can often be seen on walkabout early in the morning, or you’ll hear his quad bike in the distance.

Gré-Marr will tell you all about the long history of Nature’s Rest, and Katherine (the marketing manager) is equally forthcoming about the beautiful resort. I was lucky enough to be offered a trip in Alec’s quiet, electric-powered boat down the Zamnyama River from the jetty at Nature’s Rest. What an experience, to travel down the estuary towards the sea with dense forests on either side of the waterway.

The beach and sea is accessible by a footpath from Nature’s Rest; it’s about a 20-minute walk, following the river. Always have a camera with you, because you’ll spot lots of flora and fauna that you’ll want to document. The area is overflowing with life.

The caravan and campsite is one of the most picturesque I’ve seen: it’s set right on the river bank, with lush green grass, and dappled shade offered by large trees. No music is allowed in the campsite, which is a good thing, as it allows you to tune in to the surrounding orchestra supplied by nature itself. You hear the screech of an occasional fish eagle, the chatter of weavers, and the splash of a fish as it jumps out of the water − or that of a pied kingfisher as it dives into the water.

On the second day of my stay, I mentioned to Gré-Marr that I was having a braai in the evening, and that she and any other staff members were welcome to join me, as I was on my own. I certainly underestimated the turnout. Within minutes of my having lit the braai fire, I had no fewer than six adults and a whole array of kids in tow. Now, thats what I call getting to know the staff. We chatted and laughed around the braai fire for hours, and Alec had the sense to bring along a huge bag of backup braai wood.

Nature’s Rest certainly came to the party, and whenever I’m back in East London, there is only one rest place I’ll be going to … Nature’s Rest.

WRAPPING UP

What I really enjoy about travelling (and I do love driving), is that you are forced to live in the moment. We are so conditioned to worry about what lies ahead and about things that are irreversible in our past, that we forget to live in the now. Now is all there is, when you’re on the road. It’s the perfect way to live in the moment, and we find our highest resonance when road-tripping and enjoying the great outdoors.

For Stuart’s review of the Volkswagen Caravelle, click here.

WHERE I STAYED

FOREVER RESORTS PLETT

CONTACT: Rozanne Jakins / Elize Paulse 044-535 9309

Website: www.foreverplettenberg.co.za

Email: plett@foreversa.co.za

GPS: S34°00’01.7″, E23°23’55.3″

PINE LODGE RESORT & CONFERENCE CENTRE

CONTACT: Reception 041-583 4004

Website: www.pinelodge.co.za

Email: frontoffice@pinelodge.co.za

GPS: S 34.0101°, E 25.6887°

THE WILLOWS RESORT & CONFERENCE CENTRE

CONTACT: Marita Loftie-Eaton 041-396 2000

Website: www.thewillowspe.co.za

Email: marita@madibabay.co.za (Google says: willows@madibabay…)

GPS: S 34.02 36°, E 25.68 87° (Google says this is in Norwood… Probably messing with my head.)

NATURE’S REST

CONTACT: Kathleen/Amelia 043 736 9753

Website: www.naturesrest.co.za

Email: reservations@naturesrest.co.za

GPS: S 33°03.904′, E 27° 50.315′

By Stuart Reichardt

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