Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Vacation" to the Garden Route (part 1: Tsitsikamma National Park)

Two weeks ago, we took a working holiday to drive the famous "Garden Route" along the South Coast, looking for plants, the occasional dinosaur, and some good port. Our trip took us from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape west to Tsitsikamma National Park, then to Knysna via Plettenberg Bay, and then North into the Karoo via the port and ostrich capitals of Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. The scenery was amazing, and we took more than 1000 photographs, so we're breaking things up into four parts. Today, part one: Tsitsikamma National Park.  

Our route, more or less. Red line indicates adventure route along the R339 and R340 - 60km long, 3.5 hours of driving, all switchbacks.

The real reason Jonah was in the Eastern Cape to begin with was to do some work at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. You may remember the dinosaur Jonah collected while staying at the Murder Ranch. This is the monstrous foot of that animal, with the hands of grad student Blair and preparator Lindikhaya for scale.

Our drive out of Port Elizabeth took us past a big windfarm west of town. The coastal part of the Eastern Cape is flat and windy - the coastal sand dunes there are the biggest in the world - making it the ideal "green power" plant. 

A small detour on the R102 gave us this view of a bridge spanning the Van Stadens River, one of many river gorges along our route. These were created by the bottom edge of South Africa lifting up while rivers cut down to the coast. 

We reached the eastern edge of Tsitsikamma in the early evening and checked in at our digs at Storms River Mouth rest camp. Here's the view from the parking lot. More about the vegetation later.

And here's our backyard. We rented a small, dorm-like and seaweed-smelling apartment in this well-disguised complex.

The view of the Indian Ocean from our back porch. A storm was brewing and the waves were up to 10ft. 

Of course, we didn't have much time to rest because we had to sample the local Helichrysum populations! As usual with field botany, this meant two things: 1. long walks through snake-infested wilderness, 2. it was raining.

Luckily, we didn't have far to go. Helichrysum odoratissimum was literally everywhere you looked.
Kelsey couldn't have been happier!

This meant we had a bit of time to explore the Otter Trail, a 52km walk along the entire coastal margin of the national park.

Here our fearless captain leads us into the sea...

While our practical navigator huddles under a cliff out of the rain.

Soaked, cold, yet having fun, we retired to the lodge for vital supplies: cappuccino and crappy ponchos.

After a warm cup of coffee, and with renewed spirits, we took the walk to the Storms River Mouth itself. This cliff margin scramble includes three suspension bridges. 


Kelsey was not at all scared.

Oops! Rain's back!

We had both noticed a certain...aroma stench coming from areas of the walk. Naturally assuming it was tourist offerings we were surprised to learn it was instead the middens of these dassies (hyraxes). From the wikipedia entry: " Rock hyraxes produce large quantities of hyraceum—a sticky mass of dung and urine that has been employed as a South African folk remedy in the treatment of several medical disorders, including epilepsy and convulsions. Hyraceum is now being used by perfumers who tincture it in alcohol to yield a natural animal musk." Yup, MUSK.

The coastal margin forest is incredibly diverse, and most of the tree species were completely new to us. The most beautiful of the trees are these yellowoods (more in part 2), which unfortunately have been devastated for lumber.

Did we mention it was raining? Did we mention the trail was steep and slippery? Here, our captain riffs on the Bruce Springsteen cover but looks like he should have wiped more thoroughly.

Fun's over, time to press all those specimens! At least we've got some good South African wine to keep us going.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Plettenberg Bay, the Robberg Peninsula, and Knysna, the 50 point scrabble word named town

1 comment:

  1. Jonah, You are living my dream life! The only Otter trail I might see is in Princeton,,, or was that Otter pond?