Storms River Gorge

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Storms river

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Coming from the city to Storms River Gorge is like arriving on another planet. Below is a typical South African pub on the beach, where mountain, forest, ocean and beach meet each other.

If you want to eat in a more formal setting there is a restaurant right next door, that is if you do not mind the odd local visitor popping in for tea.

Yellow wood carved by mother nature transformed into furniture creates a relaxing setting. Yellow wood trees grow naturally in the forests of the area.

Storms river mouth is a prime example of God's paintbrush at work. It is set in a National Park where commercial forestry has threatened to destroy most of the indigenous forests. Thanks to the government of South Africa's serious stance on preservation of South Africa's natural treasures, it is protected from development. There are miles of coastline preserved in this way.

The river crawls into a narrow, curving gorge which can best be seen by chartered boat rides or from the suspension bridge over the mouth of the river. The bridge can be reached by walking trail of about half an hour. The entrance fee for a family of four is just over R100.

The forest and ocean is teeming with wild life. The forest is the home of a beautiful bird with red-tipped wings called the Knysna Lourie which can easily be spotted on the nature walks and drives available in the area. Don't bring your alarm, because bird song will wake you every morning at sunrise.

International tourists travelling the Garden Route of South Africa by coach make this a regular stop. The Park caters for one day stops, campers and comfortable self catering accomodation. A conference centre is also available for business travellers.

Below is the mouth of the river.

The route to the mouth is lined with easy access walkways making it possible for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy nature at its best. A suspended bridge allows the best view of the narrow gorge where blackwater rafting is favoured by more adventurous tourists.

This is Bloukrans Bridge in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. It is roughly ten minutes from Storms River Bridge further inland, where you can relax and pick out some lunch at the Cliffhanger Pub. When setting out on the road from Port Elizabeth to Plettenberg Bay, this would be your first stop after Tsitsikama Falls Adventures. But as we shall see, this is no ordinary bridge....

You see, when driving accross, if you have your windows open, you may hear a faint scream in the distance, as if coming from underneath the bridge. What you hear is people of all ages throwing themselves off the bridge in five minute intervals.....

Face Adrenalin signs are plastered all over the grey concrete, and strange ropes hang over the edge, stretching beneath the gaping gorge in the earth's crust. This is not the work of graffiti artists, but rather, some very organised local thrill seekers.

To get there, these brave people have to fit a harness to their upper torso, cross the ten minute walk along the cliffside of the gorge and pass over a terrifyingly thin plate of steel right beneath the tar road. On arrival, they are ushered by local folk to a little wooden bench, where padded loops are tied to their feet, attached to long strechy ropes. After nervously pacing up and down on one spot for a few minutes, two helpers hold their arms outstretched, whilst they hop to the end of the platform and peer over the edge to face the planet in all its glory.

And then, they take the plunge. A complete leap of faith to view nature up side down at great speed. Usually it is quiet until the rope tugs at their feet to let them know they have arrived. Then you can hear the faint scream.

Getting down is the easy part. If they have paid their fee, a helping hand arrives soon enough to hoist them back up to the suspended pile of concrete. Then its back along the top of the bridge to solid earth.

Then back up to the restaurant for a hot meal and cold beer to watch their friends take the plunge on wide screen live TV footage!

If you prefer the gentle way down, grab a flyer for further details on tandem paraglyding right next door.
This is of course Bloukrans ....

The ultimate thrill.

Paul Sauer Bridge over the Storms River has a spectacular petrol filling station and rest point about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay.

It sits on top of Storms River gorge that sharply splits the earth in two.
At the west end of the bridge is some of the last natural forest left in the area, where elephants have roamed freely for centuries.

The area hosts Kurland Polo club and hotel, Tstsikamma Canopy Tours, Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures, Bird World, Lawnwood Snake Park, the elephant sanctury and monkey land. Picnic spots are available in the ancient forest. Watch out for free roaming baboon and monkey troops out to steal your lunch.

When planning a garden route trip, start from Port Elizabeth and slowly cruise to Cape town, leaving enough time to explore gems such as these. The trip takes six to eight hours without stopping. However, there is plenty of bed and breakfast accomodation along the way. The spectacular Outeniqua range spreads along the garden route coast all the way to Cape Town.

Helicopter rides are a great way to get close to the peaks and cliffs.

The cliftop restaurant and shops offer local cuisine and other curios. Local arts and crafts include stone and wood carvings from all over Africa. These carvings are usually not available commercially eslewhere, as the artists have no means to export their work.

The mountains are the home of proteas and fynbos (fine bush), earning their home the title of Garden Route. In spring, the mountains burst into a mass of colour, covered in this breathtaking flora.

The bridge offers a unique opportunity to explore a civil engineering triumph. Walkways on top of the bridge and around the base allow an up close and personal look at the nuts and bolts that hold it all together.

The river is so far down that it can only be viewed from the middle of the road bridge by foot, and even from there it is hard to see with the naked eye.

Lawnwood snake park offers an unforgettable education of local reptiles.

Beware that the tranquil mountains are crawling with poisenous snakes and ocean waters are infested with man eating sharks.

About ten minutes after the bridge towards Plett is the turnoff to the river mouth. The mouth takes a whole day to explore on its own, so leave plenty of time for this special place.