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Nature’s Valley: The Pearl of the Garden Route, Western Cape, South Africa

Nature's Valley Accommodation

At the northern tip of the Garden Route, on the border of the Western and Eastern Cape, I turn off the N2 highway to zigzag down the spectacular R102, dodging fallen rocks as well as a troop of baboons squatting, appropriately, just beyond the baboon warning sign. 10 Kilometres later, at sea level; a sign indicates the opportunity for a cup of tea. This is Nature’s Valley, the Garden Route’s best-kept secret.

A tiny enclave nestled within the Tsitsikamma forest, Nature’s Valley is the only residential area actually located inside a South African National Park. A couple of kilometres in length and a few hundred metres in diameter, it has about a hundred permanent residents and one trading licence. Flanked by the Indian Ocean, a placid lagoon, and mountain slopes covered with indigenous forest, I am only 30 kilometres from bustling Plettenberg Bay yet totally immersed in nature.

For both locals and regular visitors alike, the Valley exerts an irresistible lure. Some say it’s simply the leisurely life style, a place where you can stroll barefoot along the beach before breakfast, glimpsing orcas, dolphins and whales, then cross the dunes to the Valley Inn garden for a coffee and local gossip. While walking the trail behind Forest Drive, where wild grape vines hang tentacle-like from ancient milkwoods, you might suddenly encounter a Cape Bush Buck grazing quietly in the dappled sunlight.

All will agree that this is a place of infinite beauty where time seems to stand still. Urban-escapees, nature lovers and even a bungee-jumping crew share a passion for this secluded, beautiful patch. Many residents are pensioners who bought their land back in the 1950’s when the area was simply a farm with subdivision rights. Some locals can still point out old livestock watering holes in their gardens.

Nature’s Valley never evolved quite like other settlements. Electricity only arrived in the mid-80s and, at night, there’s still a virtual blackout observed in respect for the lifestyle of the earliest dwellers, the Tsitsikamma forest’s wildlife. These include a prolific bird species, the ubiquitous bush pig, the Cape Bushbuck, vervet monkeys, baboons, and even the occasional leopard. All these creatures lay their claim to this territory and show scant respect for garden picket fences.

Even some of the oldest among us chose to return here. In 2003 one of the world’s most primitive and rarest sharks, a Megamouth, found its way to the beach of Nature’s Valley for its final resting place. Identified by one of the local fishing enthusiasts, only about 15 sightings of this unusual species, generally a Pacific Ocean-dweller, have been recorded.
What else makes Nature’s Valley so special? It could be the pristine two to three kilometres of white sand beach separating ocean from forest. Many weary hikers along the Otter Trail certainly think so as they approach the grand finale to their 5-day hike and look out over the valley from the vantage point of this eastern cliff. This is a hiker’s paradise with short walks, lengthy trails, rugged hikes and luxury hikes. All reveal the beauty of indigenous fynbos, forest, mountains, coast and rivers. The Otter Trail was the country’s first official hiking trail and still ranks as one of the best.

The Tsitsikamma National Park conservation area extends 80km out to sea at Nature’s Valley so all sailing and water skiing is relegated to Plettenberg Bay although water sports include snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, canoeing, rowing and kayaking, either in the ocean or lagoon.. Activities a little further afield include a serene river-ferry cruise at Keurbooms or black-water tubing down the Storms River.

Monkeyland, the Buffalo Hills Game Farm and Forest Ferns are other attractions. You can play polo at the prestigious Kurland Polo Complex and there’s cycling and horse riding close by. The more adventurous can skydive, paraglide, soar in a motorised glider, abseil, and attempt the highest commercial bungee jump in the world, a breathtaking 216m adrenalin-charged seven-seconds of free fall off the Bloukrans River bridge.

For those who simply wish to soak up the timeless beauty of nature, you don’t need to venture far but what ever it is you wish to see or do in Nature’s Valley, be prepared for it to steal a piece of your heart.

Maaike Pypekamp
Nectar Cottage, Nature’s Valley
www.nectar.co.za : the definitive guide to activities in the area of Nature’s Valley


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