This story was updated on 21 May 2019.
The very name ‘Storms River’ conjures up mental images of turbulent action and rugged surroundings – and that’s exactly what you’ll find around this quaint little village in the shadow of the majestic Tsitsikamma Mountains and right next door to the Eastern Cape’s world‑famous Tsitsikamma National Park.
The village is the hub for exploring the region’s many splendid natural features and tourists flock there in season, yet despite its diminutive size there are usually plenty of accommodation and dining options available.
If you enjoy a good countryside romp, then take along your hiking boots. If you like swimming and diving or snorkelling then add your bathing kit. For those who enjoy a good dose of adrenalin, well, there are bridges to jump off, trees to swing from, and very big waves full of toothsome sharks to surf on. Just don’t forget your heart pills. But if tranquillity is more your cup of tea, pack a bird book, some binoculars and a picnic blanket and take yourself off to one of the many spectacular viewpoints or designated picnic sites that can be found just a stone’s throw away.
1. Be mesmerised by the sea
The power of the ocean near the Storms River mouth is usually an awesome thing to behold. Massive rollers crash against the craggy coastline and explode with gusto, sending plumes of mist and spray dozens of metres into the air with a loud ‘humph’ and a mighty ‘whoomph’.
This is obviously no place for a refreshing dip and should you try one, you’re likely to end up as pap for the bivalves. However, you don’t really need to get wet to enjoy the splendour of the sea at Storms River. That’s because there are plenty of braai spots, viewpoints and headlands to explore along the coast. Dolphins are a common sight, and it’s an absolute delight to watch them cavorting in the waves while you poke at the coals on your braai.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) fishing is banned along the Tsitsikamma coast, so if you want to eat some fish you’ll have to bring your own.
2. Go aerial sightseeing
The Storms River region is all about awesome scenery, and what better way to take it in than from a helicopter? Roland Black has been piloting choppers since before dinosaurs ruled the earth and as a result flies the metal dragonflies as if they were extensions of his own body. He knows every inch of the Garden Route – coast, mountains, forests, rivers – and loves nothing more than showing people how stunning it all looks from the perspective of an eagle. Speed through a gorge, hover over a towering yellowwood, skim the ocean rollers in search of surfing dolphins – it’s really rather nice.
3. Take a hike
It’s hard to beat the Otter Trail – a 5‑day coastal hike that starts at the Storms River mouth and goes through such glorious scenery it’s been voted South Africa’s best trail time and time again. However, the 6‑day Tsitsikamma Trail (which starts at nearby Nature’s Valley and terminates at Storms River village) gives it a run for its money.
Traversing a section of the Tsitsikamma Mountains and passing through countless stands of indigenous forest, it must be one of the most picturesque trails in the country. Not everyone has the time or inclination to walk such long distances, but that’s OK as there are plenty of shorter hiking trails in the area, ranging from moderate one-kilometre rambles (which even couch potatoes wouldn’t find overly taxing) to hard-core uphill slogs that can cause your calf muscles to spasm in protest.
There are, of course, lots of verdant ferns, babbling Turacos and all manner of other indigenous forest attractions – such as Big Trees and pretty little Narina Trogons – to see. If you want to explore the area on foot and learn more about it while doing so, or if you’re just scared of getting lost, then guided hikes (including lunches and snacks) are offered by the Storms River Adventure Company.
+27 (0) 12 426 5111
4. Swing through the trees
If simply hiking seems tame you could always don your Tarzan loincloth, should you have one (I do), and swing through the trees at supersonic speeds instead. Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours enables you to do just that via a series of 10 steel cables which they’ve slung between sturdy platforms situated among the boughs of the tallest forest trees. A harness prevents you from falling to your doom, while expertly trained staff are there to ‘walk’ you through the experience should your nerves collapse. If you haven’t satisfied your swinging inclinations after this three-hour tour, you could always go do a waterfall zipline cruise with Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures as well.
+27 (0) 42 281 1836; [email protected]
Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures
+27 (0) 42 280 3770; [email protected]
5. Check out the wolves
In the bad old days when there was a problem with ‘terrorist’ types on our borders who were tricky to find in the bush using conventional methods, the military of the day struck upon the idea of training wolves to do the job. Surprisingly, the wolves (which were acquired from North America) turned out to be untrainable, unpredictable and very unhappy (the hot African sand burnt their feet), so the project was disbanded. Rather than see them put down, the Tsitsikamma Wolf Sanctuary (a non-profit charity and wolf rescue centre) offered to take the unneeded and unwanted animals under their wing. Now their progeny live out their lives in natural packs in large woody enclosures a mere 11 km from Storms River village.
+27 (0) 82 956 4175
6. Cruise up the Storms River
The Spirit of Tsitsikamma is a passenger boat which departs from the Storms River mouth in Tsitsikamma National Park every 45 minutes and slowly cruises up the spectacular Storms River gorge. At some points the fern-encrusted walls are so high and the river so narrow that the sky above is reduced to a tapered slit of brilliant blue. Bats abound, as do swallows and swifts, and when the water is at its clearest, stingrays and sharks can often be seen in the depths. The more adventurous can kayak further up the river with the Untouched Adventures company and then transfer onto inflatable mattresses to get even further up the gorge.
I don’t know if I got lucky, or if otters are normal company on this tour, but when I did it recently I spent an amazing half hour with an inquisitive little chap who playfully swam beside me. It’s a beautiful and spectacular trip.
+27 (0) 42 281 1607 ext. 251
The Bloukrans Bridge, where the busy N2 crosses the churning Bloukrans River, is the highest single-arch object of its type on earth. Just standing on its edge and peering 216 metres down into the chasm below is enough to turn your knees into castanets and your spine into an earthworm – making it the obvious place for the world’s highest commercial bungy jump. If you’ve ever felt like leaping to your doom (or throwing a relative into a gaping chasm), then Bloukrans may well be the place for you.
Chickens and lily-livered cowards are allowed to watch from a vantage point close to where the braver people jump, but don’t expect to be let off the hook lightly. Everyone is encouraged to jump, no matter what age or size they are.
+27 (0) 42 281 1458; [email protected]
8. Scuba, snorkel, swim
Tsitsikamma is one of the only nature reserves in the world to boast an underwater scuba and snorkel trail on which people can meet some of the park’s underwater residents. Fishing for and collecting marine life has been a no-no in Tsitsikamma National Park for many a year and consequently there is now an abundance of happy and healthy marine organisms to see.
A protected bay close to the river mouth ensures that visitors will not be swept away by giant waves, and if the weather has been kind (i.e. no rain for a while) the underwater visibility can be good. Sand sharks are common, as are rays and other inshore fish species. Keep an eye out for the pretty and colourful nudibranchs (sort of camp and flamboyant sea slugs) as well as soft corals, starfish, anemones and urchins,
Snorkelling and scuba equipment can be hired at the park and qualified scuba divers can get their air tanks filled for a nominal fee. If you don’t scuba or snorkel, don’t worry, you can take a course in either right there in the park. Or else just enjoy the swimming, since the sea in the bay is usually calm enough for you to do so.
+27 (0) 42 281 1607
+27 (0) 73 130 0689; +27 (0) 76 959 2817; [email protected]
9. Explore on two wheels or four
The history of Storms River is closely tied up with that of the timber industry, so logging trails and dirt tracks criss-cross the landscape – and what better way to explore them than on a mountain bike? The Tsitsikamma Mountain Bike company has mapped out several routes, including a 10km loop up to Storms River Peak and back. The more adventurous have the option of a 22km circuit that takes in the old Storms River Pass before leading you to a wonderful viewpoint overlooking the national park.
For those who prefer a less taxing method of exploration, the Woodcutters Journey, a guided 4×4 tour, allows you to get in a good look at the forests and old passes from the comfort of a specially adapted vehicle or a nicely padded tractor-drawn trailer.
Where to stay
Words and Photography Dale Morris, dalermorris.com