Tsitsikamma National Park

The rugged coastal splendor of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tsitsikamma National Park consists of indigenous forests and handsome coastal scenery.

Province:
Western Cape
Area:
Garden Route
Coastline:
80km
Established:
2009
Famous For:
The Otter Trail

Introduction

The Tsitsikamma National Park is set against the fringes of an emerald-green forest along South Africa's Garden Route, a narrow coastal terrace that shears off into the deep blue canvas of the Indian Ocean. The park takes in 80km of coastline east of Plettenberg Bay, which is 68km from the main rest camp. The nearest major city is Port Elizabeth, which is 141km to the east, while Cape Town is 615km to the west.

The Tsitsikamma National Park habitat is a rocky coastline rising sharply through Afromontane forests to fynbos on the higher ground. The De Vasselot section of the park takes in several stretches of sandy beach and large areas of forest and fynbos. Many handsome tree species can be seen in the dense woodlands. The climate is cool and temperate.

Tsitsikamma is a ramblers dream. 12 trails take you into an enchanting world of tangled bush, dominated by forest giants such as the Outeniqua yellowwood, bastard ironwood and stinkwood. The principal trail at the Tsitsikamma National Park is the Otter Trail (48km), regarded as Southern Africa's finest coastal walk. The trail leads west from the Storms River mouth to Nature's Valley, crossing a landscape of lonely beaches, rocky shores, tumbling mountains bisected by rivers and ravines, and gentle plateaus covered by leucadendron, ericas and proteas.

Reasons to Visit

1

Birdlife

Tsitsikamma National Park is home to a large variety of birds, and birders can enjoy the pristine natural habitat via the various hiking trails. You will constantly be aware of their presence, as they call to each other to acknowledge and alert others to your own presence. They aren’t as easy to spot in the forest canopy, but keep a look out for the Knysna Loerie and the Grey Cuckoo Shrike.

2

The Otter

Tsitsikamma is home to the world famous Otter Trail hiking route. It is one of the most scenic routes along the southern coastline of Africa, as it situated in the only region that receives rain throughout the year. The entire Otter takes a couple of days to finish and has to booked in advance. The first section, known as the Waterfall, accommodates day visitors, and is easy to complete.

3

Storms River

The Storms River itself, along with all the activities it offers, is one of the main attractions in the area. Explore its beauty and have a fun day out according to your preference. Ways to do this include kayaking through the gorge, black water tubing, horse trails, canopy tours and zip line tours, or simply hiking. The river's mouth is also the starting point for the Otter Trail and is a must see.

Useful Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

The Tsitsikamma region is situated in both the Western and Eastern Cape, and can be accessed from both the north and south. Guests traveling to the Tsitsikamma will be welcomed at OR Tambo International Airport or Cape Town International and assisted in transferring to a domestic flight to either George or Port Elizabeth Airport, depending on your itinerary.

Car

By Road

The area is approximately 200km south of Port Elizabeth and 70km north from Plettenberg Bay. Guests traveling to Tsitsikamma will have the absolute pleasure of driving through one of the most beautiful winding roads in South Africa in a private, air-conditioned vehicle. The region is a popular destination to combine with safari areas such as Addo Elephant National Park.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Tsitsikamma has a very moderate climate, with rainfall occurring in both the summer and winter months, usually at night. This means that daytime activities can be enjoyed throughout the year, and makes the perennially green landscape the perfect destination for adventure seekers. The rainfall is the highest from May to October.

Tsitsikamma is accessible throughout the year, with November to April being the peak season. It is also the only area in Africa where rainfalls occurs throughout the year. Ocean and river temperatures drop during the winter months from April to September, but is still comfortable if you are planning water-based activities.

History

Tsitsikamma is a Khoikhoi word where tsi means “clear” or “clean” and kamma means “water” or “river”. Thus, it could be translated into, for example, “clean clean water” or “clear clear river”. The Khoikhoi were nomadic pastoral people that moved around in order to provide their livestock with enough grazing. They had cattle, goats and fat-tail sheep, but preferred not to eat their cattle as it was a sign of wealth. They rather used cows for milk. They also harvested bulbs, roots and fruit from the land. The Khoikhoi that occupied Tsitsikamma were known as the Houteniqua, which translates to “man laden with honey”. The Khoikhoi arrived in the southern Cape between 2 500 and 2 000 years ago.

Shell middens on the coast indicate that Stone Age people occupied the land long before the Khoikhoi arrived. The Europeans only arrived in this area in the eighteenth century. Tsitsikamma National Park is now grouped together with Wilderness and Knysna to form the Garden Route National Park. When Tsitsikamma National Park was established in 1946, a marine protected area was also incorporated along the 80km of coastline.  This was the first marine national park in Africa. Worldwide this is one of the largest single unit Marine Protected Areas with a ‘no take’ policy that includes fishing. This provides a baseline for fisheries research on endangered line fish species.

Wildlife

The animals that are most likely to be encountered are Chacma baboons and vervet monkeys. These primates are plentiful and food must not be left unattended as they will steal it. Numerous antelope species occur, the most common being bushbuck. Other antelope species include common duiker, steenbok, grysbok, klipspringer and blue duiker. The largest predator is the secretive Cape mountain leopard, which is only really seen on camera traps. Caracal is spotted once in a while, and Cape clawless otters can be seen going into the ocean before high tide. From the high cliffs, southern right whales and humpback whales can be spotted in season. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins occur throughout the year.

At dusk, several bat species come out of their caves to feed on insects. Numerous nocturnal species like large-spotted genet, bush pig, porcupine and striped pole cat move around in the small hours of the morning. The indigenous forest is home to large numbers of birds, of which the Knysna Turaco (Loerie) is the best known. During the day, the calls of red-chested cuckoo, Knysna Turaco and Burchell's coucal can be heard and at night they are replaced by the calls of Cape eagle owl, spotted eagle owl, fiery-neck nightjar and common thick knee. In pristine sections of the forest, the beautiful narina trogon will mesmerize bird watchers. At night, the forest transforms into a mystical wonderland when the fireflies come out. 

Vegetation & Terrain

Tsitsikamma is known for its steep cliffs and massive river valleys, not to mention the ancient Cape Fold Mountains to the north. The bedrock consists of heavily weathered metamorphic rock. The bedrock is heavily jointed, meaning that weaker zones in the rock formed parallel to each other. One can see this on the coast, where the weaker areas weathered away along the joints forming little gaps that resemble ‘slices’ in the rock. Geologically, Tsitsikamma falls within the Table Mountain Group, within the larger Cape Supergroup. The original rock that formed this group was deposited in a shallow marine environment 510 to 400 million years ago.

Tsitsikamma is best known for the lush indigenous forests with their towering yellowwoods. Other massive species include the red elder, Cape ash, hardpear and black stinkwood. Between these trees, you may also find 'monkey rope' or wild vine that the primates use to move through the forest. There are, however, much more plant species within the four types of fynbos. These four fynbos species are short Asteraceae fynbos, tall fynbos, Passerina fynbos and Restoid fynbos. Tsitsikamma also contains semi-aquatic flora and aquatic plants. The semi-aquatic flora includes plants like reeds, sedges and bulrushes. Aquatic plants include species such as pondweed and seagrass.
Activities

Tsitsikamma is an adventurer's paradise. With so many things to do in the area, it’s actually hard to decide what to do first. One of the favorites amongst tourists and locals is kayaking up the Storms River. The trip through the gorge offers scenic views of the river, the ocean and the area's vegetation. Another popular attraction can be reached after a short walk into the famous Tsitsikamma forests. The Big Tree, so-called as it is an incredible 36.6m tall with a circumference of 9m, is a must see. If you like forest adventures, a canopy tour is in order. Here visitors can zip line from tree to tree through the forest over giant ferns.

Tsitsikamma is also the home of the world-renowned Otter Trail, a five day hiking expedition that must be booked a year in advance due to its popularity. The Waterfall Trail, which is the first section of the Otter Trail, is a great alternative for a day walk and takes approximately 3 hours to complete, but we would advise you to spend some time at the pool, swimming and admiring the waterfall. Adrenaline seekers can take a leap from the Bloukrans Bridge – the highest bungee jump in the world. Mountain biking, Segway tours, tubing, golfing, scuba diving and many more activities are available in the area, so be sure to let us know what your preferences are.

Experiences to be Savored

A striking view of the Storms River Gorge in the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Zip-it!

The best way to view the Tsitsikamma is from the top. If you are in the area, we can arrange for you to enjoy a canopy tour within the forest, or zip line across the Tsitsikamma Falls to get an eagle's eye view of the landscape and its beautiful features.

Forest fresh

Taking a hike into the Tsitsikamma forests or having a picnic at one of the various sites strategically placed within its reaches, calms the senses and relaxes the mind, as you breathe in the fresh air whilst surrounded by pristine flora.

Forest to Ocean

Following the Tsitsikamma forest to one of the rivers that cascade down the cliffs into gullies and streams, and then following the water to its final destination, the Indian Ocean, is one of the most rewarding excursions through the various landscapes that the area encompasses.

FAQ

What other attractions are there to visit when in the area?
Other attractions to consider close by are the Knysna Lakes Area and Wilderness.
Can we go fishing by the ocean?
This is a widely debated and controversial matter in the area, and although it was allowed, it is now strictly forbidden to fish in the park.
Can we swim in the ocean?
Yes, there are also a variety of activities to partake in while at the coast, such as diving, snorkeling and kayaking.
When is the best time of the year to view dolphins and whales at the Storms River mouth?
Dolphins can be seen all year round, however the southern right whales only migrate here to breed and calve in the winter months. They are mostly seen between August and October, with possible sightings in June and July as well.
Does the park get busy?
Yes, the park is quite popular with tourists and locals, and can get quite full in peak seasons. Decembers are especially busy.
Is it safe to cross the Storms River Suspension Bridge?
Yes, it is safe. It was rebuilt to ensure safety and stability. Do not hang over the edges or fool around, however - it is right above the churning waters where the river and ocean meet.
Are there any limitations on weight and age for zip lining in the forest?
There are no weight limitations (as long as the harness can fit, you can go). Kids under 3 and pregnant women will have to sit this one out, though.

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