Early on a Friday morning, the HGTS Tours shuttle arrived at our gate to whisk us away on a roadtrip to join the rest of the Travelling Media team for a wild weekend in Wilderness. I always love a roadtrip, taking in the beautiful surrounds, and at this time of year, bright yellow canola fields as far as you can see. This time though, we were grateful for being able to get the week’s work finished during the trip, so we could head into the weekend with wild abandon and a spirit of adventure that Wilderness requires.
We arrived to a warm welcome by Jonel Ackermann, the GM of the Wilderness Hotel, Rose Bilbrough of Go Travel Bug and of course, our Travelling Media team who had already enjoyed some of Wilderness’ adventures, such as Acrobranch and a beach walk with the knowledgeable Mark Dixon of the Garden Route Trail. The hotel, which had been closed for three years and recently re-opened under new ownership and management, is undergoing major restoration and renovations – but the show goes on and this didn’t disrupt our stay in the least. Quite the contrary, there was an unmistakeable spring-like sense of revival and joy permeating the building and most evident in the staff and service experienced. Both mornings dawned to a scrumptious spread awaiting us in the breakfast room to buffer our energy stores for all the activity Rose had in store for us.
Thousand Sensations Craft Beer Festival
Buzzing with activity, the hotel hosted the Thousand Sensations Craft Beer Festival on the 18th and 19th September, showcasing 24 micro breweries and over 100 craft beers. Chatting with brewers at their stands, all found the festival to be a great success with multitudes of people passing through to taste their brew on the first day, and then returning on the second day, with more informed palates, to purchase their favourites. It was great to meet up with some Cape brewers the Travelling Media team had previously encountered on our travels, so a big shout out to Eversons Cider and Stellenbrau!
There is no easing into adventure in Wilderness – Wilderness IS adventure, so after a bright and early breakfast we met Chris Leggatt of Eden Adventures to be given our canoes for a paddle down river. Damian, our Warrior on Wheels, was not as keen this time as he was on a previous river rafting excursion, but we soon realised that his seated position facing backwards was causing the stress, as soon as we turned him forward facing, it was smoother sailing. It really is a tranquil and beautiful stretch of river, with some lovely bird sightings, and on the way back a fish eagle circling and calling high above. The water was quite low in some sections, causing a few giggles as we took turns getting sand-banked and from time to time racing each other in deeper sections.
Giant Kingfisher Trail
Easing our canoes onto the river bank and making sure they didn’t float away while we hiked, we set off on the Giant Kingfisher Trail, guided by Rose and her knowledge of the bird and plant life along the route to the waterfall. A sturdy boardwalk lines most of the trail making it a steady and easy walk for the not so fit. Unfortunately it is not wheelchair-friendly all the way as there are some sections with stairs, but it was easily enjoyed for Damian as well from his view perched on my back in his backpack. We found this to be a popular walk, with groups of friends, families and children’s groups relaxing on the rocks at the waterfall and enjoying the fine spring morning with the invigorating yet soothing sound of the rushing waterfall.
It was wonderful to come across a business that is as community driven as Cocomo Restaurant. With a number of projects on such as The Precious Tree Project encouraging patrons to help Cocomo plant 1000 trees, providing a platform for local musicians to perform as well as becoming a creative space for others to showcase their art, Cocomo is not just a place to go for a quick meal. It is a place to connect with the Wilderness community over a quality meal, prepared with carefully sourced ingredients and the chef’s passion for his craft. Just a tip – go hungry! Their pizzas are fantastic, made with stoneground flour locally sourced – and ample in size!
FlyTime Paragliders and Dolphin Paragliding
Unfortunately weather conditions didn’t allow for the Travelling Media to take to the skies on this trip, but this didn’t stop the pilots from FlyTime Paragliding and Dolphin Paragliding from meeting us for breakfast and giving us the run down on what to expect on our next visit. Lucille Bueble and Deon Borrett represent two separate companies but they work together to bring the best possible paragliding experiences to the Garden Route. South Africa has strict regulations for flying and it takes four years to become qualified to operate as a paragliding tour pilot. Wilderness has a microclimate that allows for safe flying up to 6 out of 7 days in the summer months. On arriving, guests are giving a safety and instruction briefing before being strapped into their harnesses and attached to their pilot. Children and disabled persons are also accommodated, with ground-crew assisting where a passenger would need to take a few steps on take-off and landing. Highlights for the team include giving guests the experience of whale, shark, dolphin and turtle sightings from the air.
Walk the Track
Although the old Outeniqua Choo-Choo track is no longer in use, it now makes for a most beautiful hiking trail along the tracks. With the mountainside to the right and the ocean to the left. For photographers, this trail is a visual delight with all sorts of vibrant opportunities presenting themselves. Part of the track is covered by a landslide, hence the end of steam rail trips along the Wilderness coastline. We went as far as the bridge before turning back but Rose often takes groups all the way to Victoria Bay, stopping for a break or lunch before hiking back along the same route.
When one of the Wilderness locals passed us on the track, greeting Rose, I had no idea what awaited us around the bend, down the track and through the tunnel. We stopped for a brief photo before entering the dark tunnel, but as we emerged into the light one of the most interesting stories I’ve heard in a while awaited. A cave of delights invited us to explore its depths. This isn’t an ordinary cave, this cave has been the home of Clifford, the local we passed on the way, for 9 years! Shells and driftwood decor adorn every possible ledge and as we follow him into his home, a shrine of every possible ornament ranging from porcelain dolls, mosaics, masks and trinkets are displayed with not a piece out of place. There are numerous bedroom areas, all as colourful and interesting as the rest of the ‘house’. After the tour, Clifford sits with us at the table, insisting on sitting in his chair at the head, and tells us his story of following the Father’s instructions to give up everything and leave Cape Town for the home he was promised in the wilderness. He tells us of his walk of faith and the long struggle and legal battles to make this home his. Kaaiman’s Grotto was originally the site of a restaurant along the rail route which closed due to the landslide that shut down the rail route. Clifford fought numerous battles for years to claim his home and was eventually granted squatters rights before his case was taken on and he won the right to his home. Clifford provides a temporary safe-home for recovering addicts while they look for work. He relies on donations from tourists taking the track walk to take a peek at the caveman’s home to survive, but when asked why he doesn’t make a business out of offering tourists the experience of spending a night in the cave he tells us it is his Father’s home and as such he cannot use it to create an income.
Pink Trees for Pauline
On our last morning we were fortunate to meet with the cyclists from Pink Trees for Pauline just before they embarked on their 529km Vallei tot Vallei Cycle Tour from Wilderness to Franschhoek in support of the fight against cancer. I’m sure many of us at some point have seen the trees wrapped in pink material and wondered about the reason behind it so I was delighted to hear about its origin. Pink Trees for Pauline was founded in 2012 by Carol-Ann Van Jaarsveld in her hometown, Graaff Reinet, in memory of her mother and grandmother, both named Pauline, who lost their battle to cancer. We all know a Pauline, and this organisation raises cancer awareness. The pink material is sold to raise funds for cancer treatments, turning towns pink to create awareness. A unique point to this organisation is that all funds raised in a town are distributed within that town.
Our #WildOnWilderness visit was without a doubt a memorable one and a return trip is a must to experience the rest of the area’s adventures. Thank you to The Wilderness Hotel and Go Travel Bug for making this possible, and to HGTS Tours for transporting the Travelling Media team.