An hour into my 9.2 km hike on the Robberg Nature Reserve, I looked over an expansive vista with several other hikers. No one said a word. All five of us soaked in the moment and even though we were a crowd, we were all enjoying a solidarity moment staring at the ocean and no doubt, reflecting on something private. It was a lovely moment. It was an in-the-moment moment. It was a split second that doesn’t come along often in life and one made all the sweeter by the fact that the previous two days were rain soaked. It was the moment that made me decide I was in good enough shape to attempt a strenuous hike instead of sticking to the easier one. It was a moment I questioned as a snake slithered a mere foot from feet (I think it was some type of adder snake) and later as the tide was coming in fast and I had to move as quickly as I could through a difficult section of the trail. Despite questioning my fitness, preparedness for a solo hike, and general timing of the tides, I spent four hours immensely content to be experiencing the beauty of the Garden Route.
Despite having lived in South Africa for over two years, this was my first visit to the Garden Route and when I told co-workers I was going to Plettenberg Bay, everyone commented on the beauty of the area and proceeded to list Wilderness, Knysna, or Mossel Bay as favorite destinations. No one named Plett and so I expected a largely built-up town with teeming concrete apartment buildings . Instead I was treated to a town that in the off-season seemed rather sleepy. There were no large concrete structures but rather large houses with sea-facing vistas and loads of pensioners. At a mere 1.5 hour drive from the nearest airport, Plett is also relatively easy to reach and I advise renting a car in George in order to be able to properly explore the area. I arrived at the Plettenberg Hotel sufficiently exhausted that lunch and a single glass of wine overlooking the dour, drizzle soaked beach was enough to help me decide that my evening would be dedicated to watching the rain fall through the glass of the windows in my room. Plus my hotel was lovely and overlooked an expansive sandy beach.
Breakfast was included at the Plettenberg Hotel and I had a bit of lazy Saturday start. The weather alternated between sunshine and downpour in the hour every hour. My scheduled boat trip to see dolphins, whales, seals, and other assorted marine life was cancelled and I had to plan last minute activities to fill the time. I started off by visiting Mungo, a store specializing in linens to do a bit of holiday shopping before heading a few kilometers down the road to Bramon Wines. I chatted with the guys working the tasting room who directed me to a nearby beach in Nature’s Valley. It was only 20 minutes down the road and I drove through the rain to reach the beach. As I arrived, the rain parted and I surveyed the desolate beach from a driftwood perch. It was just me and the waves. The ocean has a way of swallowing you whole and causes you to reflect on your life especially as the rain soaks through your clothing. Sometimes you have to get wet to enjoy the moment.
By the time I walked back to my car the rain was only spitting and by the time I was back in Plett, the sun was peaking out through the clouds. I had set my route back to the hotel, but as my stomach started grumbling I decided to make my way down to Central Beach and the Plettenberg Bay Skiboat Club for mediocre, but entirely necessary fish and chips and a lager from Mitchell’s Brewery. The rain began all over again and my clothes had just started to dry, but the mad dash to the car soaked me all over again. This was beginning to be a theme for my weekend by the sea. After a visit to the spa, I spent the late afternoon in the summer lounge sipping on a Pimms Cup and booking my next trip trip to the Garden Route because after 24 hours I knew I had more exploring I wanted to do. A double rainbow arched across the beach as the sun gradually faded away. If I sound a bit lyrical, its because this place will do that to you. It seemed like awe and wonder were around every corner. I had a dinner booking at the hotel restaurant which was packed with guests and locals alike who were there for the fresh seafood in the aptly named Seafood Restaurant.
Sunday was a stunner of a day and this was the day that I planned to hike at Robberg Nature Reserve. Initially I had only planned to do the moderate 4 km hike, but when the trail forked an hour in, it seemed a shame to only limit myself to a two hour hike. Plus this moderate hike had been relatively easy so I figured I should go for the longer, more strenuous trail. The scenery was splendid and it felt like a gift to get lost in my thoughts free of the distractions of my phone. There were seal colonies, nesting sea birds, the largest grasshoppers I have ever seen, and some ferocious biting ants. When you round the point the waves crash over the rocks and the sea mist leaves a layer of salt on your lips and skin. The wind howls and it is exhilarating and a bit terrifying to be on ones own. This was the moment in the hike where I had to do some serious scrambling over rocks and I may have even muttered an expletive laden sentence as I had to pull myself up on a practically vertical section of the trail. This is not an easy hike and, as I had been warned, it requires a degree of fitness that I am not entirely sure I possess. It’s easy to see why parents are advised against attempting this walk with small children. That being said there are some ropes bolted into the rocks to aid hikers through trickier sections. If you count yourself amongst the sedentary, you should be able to master the shorter 2 km meander and I definitely recommend that you spend some time in this breathtaking spot.
With a fair amount of time dedicated to self reflection under my belt, I drove back to the hotel. The hotel was kind enough to allow me to use a different room for a quick shower and to change out of my sweaty clothes. I treated myself to a burger and then hopped in the car for the quick drive back to the airport in George. This is the kind of weekend that brings clarity, self-reflection, and causes you to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. I am looking forward to my next visit.