SECRETS OF THE KOUGA REGION
Sunday, 2nd August 2020
Let's talk about the wondrous secrets of the Kouga region. Firstly, do you know where the Kouga region is located? This lovely little region stretches along the coastline from Oyster Bay to Gamtoos (including the coastal villages of St Francis Bay, Jeffreys Bay and Cape St Francis), circling inland to include the farmlands around Hankey, Loerie, Patensie and Humansdorp which border the Baviaanskloof Megareserve. 'Kouga' is thought to mean 'place of plenty' or 'place of the hippopotamus' in Khoisan. Either is appropriate, really, as the region is plentiful in natural attractions and there is a river called Seekoei River (Afrikaans for hippopotamus, literally sea cow).
So, now that you're geographically oriented, let's explore some secrets of this Eastern Cape gem located just outside Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth).
As the name suggests, 3Rivers Trails traverses the vast swath of wilderness between three rivers: Gamtoos, Van Stadens and Elands. It's a paradise of over 200km of trails, 65 km of that is singletrack, with exceptional views and astounding natural beauty. All thanks to the agreement of 15 land owners granting access to their various properties - an absolutely unique opportunity for bike riders. You won't be disappointed.
The Baviaanskloof (Dutch for 'Valley of Baboons') Megareserve spans 500 000 ha of some of the most untouched and biodiverse wilderness in South Africa. The reserve is a part of the UNESCO Garden Route Biosphere Reserve - identified as protected for its unique, diverse flora and fauna. This is vast, open country with deep valleys, big mountains and bigger skies.
Take advantage of all the natural splendor by camping 'Innikloof' (In the valley) on the Honey Clough Farm. The farm has been in the Wait family since 1822, and is located at the eastern edge of the Baviaanskloof in the fertile Gamtoos Valley towered over by the Winterhoek Mountains. It's also a working citrus farm with abundant attractions for nature-lovers, especially hikers and birders. Arrangements can be made with neighbouring farms for bikers and mountain bikers to explore further afield and a night spent under the stars will illustrate just how big the skies of the Baviaanskloof can seem.
The Chokka Trail
Have you ever dreamed of walking along an endless coastal trail enjoying sunshine, sea air and good company, while watching for dolphins, whales and otters? That's pretty much the Chokka Trail...with the added benefit of slackpacking (so, no heavy backpacks - just a day pack)!
St Francis Bay - Port St Francis - Cape St Francis - Oyster Bay. This is slow travel at its most lovely. The 62 km trail is conducted over four days and three nights, overnighting comfortably in charming guesthouses and eating lunch on the trail - al fresco. Lunch has never tasted as good as it does on a coastal trail after working up an appetite with activity and salty sea air. The animal, chokka is also known as calamari or Cape Hope squid and this exceptional Kouga experience includes a canal cruise and, for its namesake, a calamari tasting.
Kabeljous Nature Reserve
Due to the popularity of the Eastern Cape's national parks, our local nature reserves are often overlooked. Don't make that mistake, as we're so fortunate to be able to meander this 2,5 km stretch of coastline complete with dune thickets, forest, bushveld and wetlands.
Avid hikers can choose from various walks - ranging from 3 - 7 km - and could expect to see some of the 100 bird species to be found on the reserve or bushbuck, duiker, bushpig, grysbok, caracal and mongoose. There is also a picnic area at the estuary, so make a day of it and tick another exceptional Eastern Cape nature reserve off your travel list.
Camino means journey or path in Spanish, and Baviaans is Dutch for baboon - so this hike is literally Journey of the Baboons (or perhaps, more accurately, Journey through the Valley of Baboons).
The four-day hike traverses the Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountain range, following ancient roads and footpaths - either on foot or by horse. This minimal footprint allows voyagers to enjoy the beautiful unspoilt surroundings the way that nature intended. The 95 km route begins in the Klein Karoo, conquering a few mountains to finish at the edge of the Tsitsikamma - sheer, undiluted natural bliss.
Bush near the beach at Pabala Private Nature Reserve
It's one of South African travellers' toughest decisions: a beach holiday or a bush holiday? In the Eastern Cape, there really is no need to choose. Pabala Private Nature Reserve offers the best of both with free-roaming wildlife, beautiful birdlife and fynbos-covered scenery all within a short drive of the oceanic dream that is the Kouga coastline.
Visitors can enjoy photo safaris, bird-watching, 4x4 trails, hikes and trail running in addition to daily game drives, kayaking, fishing and picnicing. It's a wonderful family destination.