The Tsitsikamma Park is my favourite place in the world, though Lord Howe Island is a close second. It is ‘just a beach to some but for me there is the history mentioned before. It has magic. The cabins and Park office huddled against the fynbos covered cliff, the sound of skiet rok (shooting rock) where the ocean continues to throw it’s fury, the pathways in the dense underbrush in the gulleys and slopes, hidden tunnels of green safety, and the sea mist hanging over it all. This place is alive. It breathes. I can feel the seas power here like no other place.
Ailine was keen to be down on the beach for sunrise. The web had 6am as gate opening, so we were there, but it has changed, to 7am. David tried a track but that was blocked so we returned for the excellent breakfast.
I had four main things to cover; walk to the swing bridge over Storms river, walk the short blue duiker trail, watch skiet rok, and walk some of the Otter trail.
The bridge walk is fairly strenuous, and about 1km long, Most is on board walk, but it is up and down along the cliff edge. The bridge is substantial, now part of the Dolphin trail to the west. We saw a blue duiker nibbling leaves, not a usual sight. I crossed to the bay on the west side watching the waves crash on a shore littered with pebbles, boulders, twigs and sticks. But bus loads of people arrived disturbing the peace as they rushed for the selfies before moving to the next view in their limited time. I later counted 10 busses and 500 people at least. The restaurant burned down and has been replaced with a marquee on the rocks very close to skiet rok. Some pollution was evident behind it too. However Ailine and I spent a lot of time shooting the wall of water coursing over the rock, a difficult thing to do as the big waves are infrequent and easily missed. In the mid 90’s visitors were few, perhaps 20 at any time. The jagged slate sheets provided shelter for a variety of aquatic life – what remains is a mere shadow.
To get away from the crowd, I climbed the blue duiker trail to the cliff top, through the tunnel of green trees on the edge, up timber steps or rocks, emerging into the sunshine in the 2m high fynbos. Flowers were not abundant as they were on our visit in the 80’s, but still good to see. Here one only hears the sea roar and the wind swish, or a bird twitter.
We had lunch at the marquee, then David and I started on the original Otter trail, now the waterfall Day walk. The start of the Otter is now near the entry gate. The fall is said to be 3km taking 3 hrs return. We started but David ran ahead while I savoured the walk slowly (legs still feeling the climb two days back) till I reached a long section of boulder hopping. I cannot believe we crossed that so long ago with four kids and packs. I doubt I could do it now. David returned, 45min each way.
We left at 4, stopped at the Storms River motor bridge (1954), where two Swiss girls asked for a lift to PE. Lemon Tree Lodge suggested a place next to the yacht club for a meal. We found it with some difficulty in the harbour – a dodgy area. The place is a fishermans ‘club’; it was very rowdy but the food was cheap and good served by an energetic articulate Xhosa. An interesting place reminding me of ‘The Great Gatsby’, a people trying to forget the situation they are in. On the street at the traffic lights was a white man about 28 begging in the strong cold wind. Not the first we saw, Every house in the up-market area around Lemon Tree has a high wall and electric fencing. The owner spoke of her concern for the future, as this city has a strong black presence. Many names of streets and venues have been changed – the Bay is now Nelson Mandela Bay, not Algoa. Grahamstown is no longer. Businesses have been expropriated. The owner here has a beautiful large home/B&B, in a posh area, but could it all be lost? In contrast, we have met many who are pleasant and helpful even the watchmen at night. The Xhosa guy at the 1820 Monument stated the obvious when I queried about his feeling in a building commemorating an invasion from his perspective – “we cannot change history, we must learn from it”. I fear he may be outnumbered, certainly out voted, by those whose desire is to gather power by encouraging the masses to do as they please. The rural towns are still in good shape, but the cities are lost.