Last year I ventured out on an epic road trip spanning the circumference of South Africa with my family, exploring her wild and remote reaches. As a family of 6, with 4 young children under the age of 7, we travelled 11,500 km exploring 27 different wild destinations throughout all 9 provinces, while living in a tent trailer. We were blown away by the diversity and natural beauty of our wonderful country.
After retuning to the mundane world of civilisation, we longed for the freedom of travel, constantly learning about one’s self and the world around us. We knew that a change needed to be made. We spent many nights deliberating, researching and discussing the prospect of selling up and riding into the sunset. Eventually we decided that we only live once and plunged forward into the great unknown.
We gave ourselves 6 weeks to sell up and gear up and then it was finally time and filled with mixed emotions of fear and exhilaration as we drove out of Cape Town, the place we once called home. Overcome with the strange sensation that all we had in the world was being towed behind us and that wherever we chose to stop would be regarded as home. There was no turning back.
Exhausted by the 10 hour packing session our first destination was not far, the local Kommetjie camp site. Special friends were at the campsite on our arrival to meet us with G&Ts and to wish us farewell. We surrendered to our first night under a bright full moon and awoke to the sound of birds and rain.
A few days later it was time to set our compass north and head along the East Coast. Pitch black, except for a bright full moon guiding our way, we arrived at Wilderness National Park. In the light of the moon we set up our rig on the banks of the Touw River.
Wilderness National Park is situated in the heart of South Africa’s Garden Route. It is a fascinating combination of rivers, lakes, estuaries and beaches, unfolding against the backdrop or lush forests and imposing mountains. The region is also known as Outeniqua-land. It was once the home of the Outeniqua or “honey people”, a khoi community who gave the mountains their name and made honey from the abundance of flowers in the region.
Legend has it that George Bennet of Cape Town won the hand of his love in condition that he took her to live in the wilderness, so in 1877 he bought the entire area for £500. At the time the almost impenetrable mountain bush and tree cover stretched right down the slopes to the beach, so he had to hack is way through to find the perfect spot to build a house for his wife. Over the next few decades many people started to move into this area taking weeks to get through the many rivers and gorges to access the region via the wagon route, often with the loss of human and animal life.
We were excited to explore the region, and headed out on a hike one morning along the Touw River through the most spectacular indigenous forest we had ever seen. The giants of the forest are Outeniqua yellow woods; they tower above, their great canopies festooned with moss called ‘old man’s beard’. Other giants once roamed here but these elephants are a myth now, only a few supposedly remain, secretly hidden in the depths of the forest.
After three hours we finally made it to a spectacular waterfall. It was icy cold and delicious to drink. The rest of the day was spent exploring the river on stand up paddleboards and kayaks.
The process of preserving the waterways of the Wilderness Lakes has been a long one. The formation of the Wilderness National Park, after much struggle, occurred in the 1980s and it remains an ongoing process. This region is vitally important as three major zones of indigenous forest, four types of Fynbos, lakes and winding waterways can be found here. It maintains a natural ecosystem that is rich in many species of animals, birds, insects and plants. This 500-mile stretch of magnificent scenery falls between the two climatic regions of summer and winter rainfall. Consequently it rains whenever it feels like it, which keeps the area perennially green.
We quickly discovered that constant torrential rain is one of the most challenging conditions to endure while camping. The wet conditions also encouraged mosquitoes. It was quite an adjustment to adapt to this new life but we knew that although this experience was challenging it was worth it.
We knew it was time to start moving on and we began to plot our route and next destination, looking towards the Baviaanskloof region.