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Look in on the Loeries

670
VIEWS

From the very first time I stayed at Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, I fell in love with this campsite on the bank of the Groot River.

There is something almost magical about the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. The lush vegetation of the indigenous forest, filled with the calls of birdlife, makes one think of a more primitive world from a time before humans decided to spread and destroy and build all over so much of our natural spaces.

[RESORT REVIEW] NATURE’S VALLEY REST CAMP

While almost the entire journey on the N2 highway through the Garden Route National Park is quite scenic and pleasant (thanks to quality of the road and the greenery on either side), it’s when you turn off on the R102 and cruise down the Grootrivier Pass that nature envelops you.

The entrance to the Rest Camp, a SANParks resort, is about 500 metres before you reach the small town of Nature’s Valley.

The first time I stayed at the park was actually completely unplanned. While I had visited Nature’s Valley often in the past, I had always rented a house. My “discovery” of the campsite came while I was on a trip down from far up north in the country. I was actually planning to overnight in Knysna, but it had been a long day’s drive and as I said, I love Nature’s Valley!

Essential Info

Campsites: 65

Electricity: No

Water: At ablutions

Ablutions: Yes

Laundry facilities: Yes

Braai facilities: Yes

Credit card facilities: Yes

Convenience store: No

Pets: No

GPS: S 33° 58’ 19” E 23° 33’ 48”

Coming down the pass, you turn left into a small parking area of De Vasselot, where you will find a neat wooden SANParks office for the campsite. The staff at the check-in are always friendly (as I’ve come to know after repeated visits), even though there is often some issue with “the computer system being slow”.

Don’t let this peeve you. Give them your details, and while they sort you out, browse the wall full of leaflets of exciting activities you can do in the area. The cost per camping site is just over R200 (up to 2 people), and there is a daily conservation fee of R44 per adult (R22 child).

Once you have checked in, you are free to enter the campsite to drive through and pick your spot. Sites are not reserved, so choose a spot that fi ts your needs. Right at the entrance are a few grassed sites that are not under trees, but this is close to the area available to day visitors, and I imagine not having shade during the hot summer months will be unbearable.

As you head down the gravel road and under the forest canopy, you’ll find more than enough spots to set up camp, as there are a total of 65 camping sites. While they are not all clearly numbered, the demarcation is quite obvious as you simply look for the open spaces with a braai (at each site). If you are towing a caravan or trailer, I suggest you maybe take a walk through the resort first, since the road at the last couple of sites gets tricky – even with a car I had to do some back and forth maneuvering to turn around without hitting a tree!

Because the sites are incorporated in the forest, many are quite effectively separated by trees and bushes, giving you the feeling that it’s just you and nature. Other neighbouring sites are open to each other, which should be great for bigger groups. Some of the camping sites also have a wooden bench-and-table unit.

There are a few ablution blocks spread out throughout the camp. As with most national park ablutions, don’t expect 5-star facilities. While time and nature has taken its toll on the ablutions, and they could do with some small repairs and upgrades, the facilities are at least kept clean. The ablutions are spacious, and there’s more than enough hot water.

There are no benches in the showers, but what they lack in storing surfaces for your dry clothes, they make up in hooks – one cubicle I was in had 5 hooks, more than enough for clean and dirty clothes, shoes, towel, and toiletry bag!

Adjacent to the ablution buildings are laundry facilities and dishwashing stations with normal, small basins as well as big cement basins for your potjie. It’s important to note at this point that there is no electricity at the camping sites, although the cabins and forest huts do have power.

The ablutions and laundry facilities have power, which you are allowed to use. I suggest that even if you camp at a site right next to the ablutions, make sure that you have at least a 15-metre cord.

Also note that since almost all the camping sites are completely under forest cover, you might not get much power from your solar panels.

Once you have unhitched the van, cracked a beer, lit the fire and settled in, you’ll notice how peaceful and quiet it is.

There is plenty of bird-life in the forest, and you will almost certainly hear the kok-kok of the Knysna Loerie.

I woke up one morning to find about 10 of them hopping about in the trees right above our camp.

Don’t be surprised to look up and see a deer walking by in the road past your campsite; they tend to come snoop around in the morning and at dusk.

Keep your eyes open for those cheeky vervet monkeys. I’ve had steal a potato right off my table – I had only turned my back for a second when it raced out of the foliage and made off with my the loot before I could blink an eye.

Then it sat in the tree above my camp, nibbling away at the spud while looking me in the eye.

While the vervets are mostly harmless, the baboons can be a bit more serious. Once, after I had just left camp to go for a hike, I was chased down by a SANParks ranger who informed me that a baboon had smashed the passengerside window of our motorhome. The rangers do patrol the camp to chase away the primates, and the last time I was there I did not see a single baboon.

Speaking of hiking, there are numerous day trails to choose from such as the Groot River Trail, Salt River Mouth Trail, and Kalander Trail.

A map (which also serves as permit) is available at reception. More serious hikers will know that Nature’s Valley is also the finish spot for the famous Otter Trail.

Water lovers can enjoy a trip up the Groot River. Canoes are available for hire from Nature’s Valley Rest Camp. Or head to Nature’s Valley Beach for a dip in the ocean or the river mouth.

Word and pictures by FRANCOIS HUYSAMEN

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