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[Sunday 11 January 2015 : Cape Town-Nature's Valley] It's over 600 kilometres from Cape Town to Nature's Valley, a tiny seaside village east of Plettenberg Bay - quite a long drive, but luckily for us the weather was uncharacteristically cold and rainy so the trip was more pleasant than it would have been on a typically hot summer's day. A long stop for lunch and coffee at the Windmill Cafe in Timberlake Eco Village between Wilderness and Sedgefield helped, although it must be said that the coffee was mediocre and I wouldn't recommend the place. However, we did buy several jars of "nut butter" there - these are spreads like peanut butter but made from various tree nuts such as macadamia, pecan, almond and brazil nuts.
Nature's Valley is reached via a steep and twisting descent from the N2 national road down to the mouth of the Groot River - this winding road is the old national road that was used prior to the construction of three massive bridges over the Groot, Bloukrans and Bobbejaan river gorges in the 1980's. These bridges permitted the new road to remain high up on the escarpment and not have to descend to the bottom of each of the three river gorges (and ascend again), thus making the drive through this area faster and safer. The new road over these bridges is now a toll road ; the old road has been re-labelled the R102 and serves Nature's Valley and a few small villages that cannot be accessed from the new toll road.
When we eventually reached Nature's Valley we checked into Tranquility Lodge, a Bed & Breakfast establishment as close to the beach as you can get. I'd made the reservation using Booking.com, my favourite hotel booking site (and which I'd used throughout my three week trip round Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2014) so I was pretty confident that the place would be good ; however, you never quite know about a hotel until you see it in person. But there were no worries - Tranquility Lodge is a little piece of paradise within the larger paradise that is Nature's Valley [Aside : For more information about Nature's Valley, read the blog I wrote about it in January 2015].
[Monday 12 January] We'd heard about a very nice walk westwards along the coast from Nature's Valley to the mouth of the next river, the Salt River. So we packed water and some snacks, lashed on sun cream and set off. Pretty soon we reached the end of the beach and clambered over the rocks until we reached a point where we could go no further - the rocks ended in a sheer cliff that was pounded by heavy waves. But a path led upwards through the forest and over a ridge ; when we reached the other side and looked down we simply stared in amazement.
Directly in front of us, and completely hidden from view on the other side of the ridge where we'd been, the sea surged through a gap of about 70 metres between cliffs on either side (we'd climbed up and over the cliff on the eastern side), then opened up into a natural cove with a perfectly calm and sheltered beach. On the far side of the cove the river snaked into the sea next to the cliff, meandering round into what looked like a beautiful, forested valley. The entire scene was just so perfectly picturesque that we stood for several minutes, drinking in the beauty of it, before walking down via some rustic wooden steps to the beach.
To be continued ...