The stunningly beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park – the ‘place of abundant water’ in Khoisan – is a not-to-be-missed Garden Route highlight. It incorporates both a terrestrial and marine reserve extending 5.5km out to sea, protecting an 80km coastal belt of rocky foreshore, reef and deeper sea, indigenous hardwood forests, fynbos, deep river gorges, waterfalls, dramatic sea cliffs, and rivers. Tsitsikamma Forest National Park has two sections: De Vasselot and Nature’s Valley in the west and Storms River in the east. Nature’s Valley has a 3km stretch of sandy beach and quieter walking trails than the main attraction, Storms River Mouth where the river rushes through the gorge to meet the sea and where it is possible to cross via a suspension footbridge.
There are excellent hiking trails of varying lengths from short 1hr trails and day hikes which touch on various aspects of the reserve’s beauty, to the fabulous 2.5 day Dolphin Trail, up to the renowned 42km, 5-day/4 night Otter Trail (must be pre-booked many months in advance) which connects both sides of the Tsitsikamma Forest National Park, leading through forest and secluded valleys, past waterfalls and tidal pools and crossing rivers. The Bloukrans River has to be crossed by wading or swimming, and there are some steep climbs so fitness is essential. The elusive Cape clawless otters may only be detected by their spoor but dolphin, whales, seals, rock dassies (hyrax), blue duikers, Knysna lourie and sunbirds may be seen. If that wasn’t enough to excite you, you can throw yourself off the Bloukrans Bridge – the world’s highest bungee jump at 216m!
The Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park is South Africa’s oldest marine reserve and includes an underwater trail for snorkellers and licensed scuba divers. Dolphins and porpoises can often be seen playing in the Indian Ocean surf.
Cultural heritage sites at the Tsitsikamma National Park include ancient Khoisan caves, shell middens and rock art as well as more recent ruins of fishing settlements.