We arrived at the gates of the Tsitsikamma National Park at Storm River in the late afternoon after we slowly made our way over from Wilderness. After checking in at the main office which was painfully the worst check in experience we have ever had, we headed down the 4km steep incline to the costal camping area where our family cabin was located. It was a quaint log cabin with 2 bedrooms and a deck that overlooked the tented camping area and the ocean. It was an unhindered view given the fact that there were hardly any (i.e. two at most) tents that we had to look onto.
The rocky coast was interesting as the sheets of stone seemed to rise vertically out of the ground and there were large veins of quartz that filled the gaps and cracks that existed in between and in the limestone sheets.
We arrived just before sunset, so we got to witness yet another glorious sunset along this unique coastline that had massive waves crashing onto it.
We tackled another “feels like home” meal with tacos and chocolate chippie chewie squares which was a welcome treat by all of us. However, we had heard that there was a fantastic restaurant on site that specialized in grilled items, and most notably steak…so we were looking forward to a night out one of the nights we were there. When we did, the food did not disappoint….both Deb and I had the chateaubriand, which both of us would not normally order as it is usually very expensive, but it was quite reasonable here in Africa). Wilson somehow polished off a double decker hand made hamburger that had two half pound patties in it. I am surprised he could get his mouth around it!
There were a couple of fantastic coastline hikes that we headed out on, including one that took us across a series of three suspension bridges that spanned the mouth of the inlet of Storms River. This was a major garden route stop for the tour buses, so it was quite busy. However, we found a pocket where it wasn’t too busy and headed out on the hike. It wasn’t a very long hike, but the beach at the end was nice as it had incredibly smooth rocks and lots of interesting pieces of driftwood.
We took the chance to build some inukshuks and find some heart shaped pieces of driftwood! For those of you who don’t know, Deb and I started collecting heart shaped rocks wherever we travelled 15 years ago when we were on our last round the world trip, and it has stuck ever since.
Now the kids are even into looking for an collecting these rocks. However, we have never seen driftwood in the shape of hearts, so this was something special…and collected some to send home with the next shipment home of goodies.
After the Suspension Bridge hike we grabbed some lunch and went off to Bloukrans Bridge where it had, up to 5 years ago, held the record for the highest bungee jump at 216m. We thought that we would be able to see some people hurling themselves off the bridge for a bit of a thrill.
When we got there, there was no intention on any of our parts to actually do the jump, but after seeing a few people actually do it, and gathering up some confidence, and the approval of my wife and kids (well, Wilson didn’t want me to go…but we dumbed it down as he is generally anxious), I went and signed the waiver, paid the fee, and got suited up.
Lulu decided that she wa
[/caption]Lulu decided that she wanted to come as well as a bungee tourist, which was great as it would be nice to have someone with me before I fell into the gaping chasm below the bridge. Last rites sort of thing. Deb really wanted to do it, but Wilson’s anxiety was in full gear and he was trying to talk me out of it. He has a fear of heights, and he is afraid that we are going to leave him, so me jumping off a bridge doesn’t help that matter. So, I guess you could call this “therapy” for Wilson to show him that I am going to come back…
We both walked over on the cat walk that was on the underside of the bridge to the top of the support arch that was on the underside of the bridge. It was pretty unnerving to walk on a floor that was a metal grate that you could see all the way down. Lulu just looked straight ahead and kept walking, but eventually enjoyed the view under her feet. Deb wouldn’t have liked walking across this too much as perforated structures like this give her the willies.
We made it over the cat walk and
[/caption]We made it over the cat walk and got to the big arch that was on the underside of the bridge, full on hearing the big trucks and cars drive over your head and echoing around the cavernous valley below.
There was some nervous chatter betwe
[/caption]There was some nervous chatter between the group of jumpers walking into the staging platform that was countered by the excited and elated “holy crap I just did that” chatter that was going on between the people who just jumped and were headed back onto the catwalk to go back to terra firma.
The music was pumping really loud (in fa
[/caption]The music was pumping really loud (in fact so loud you could hear it back at the viewing platform where Deb and Wilson were), but certainly got you in a great mood and kept the adrenaline going. The workers used it to keep rhythm for pulling up the bungee cord from down below and kept spirits high while the nervous chatter continued. One by one, they wrapped our feet with padding that was attached by Velcro. Knowing how well the Velcro stands up to just wind blowing at our Velcro screen back home and how it can easily come off, I was a bit nervous about this. One by one, Lulu and I watched people fall off the bridge. “One, two, three, BUNGY!” the safety guys would say, and two times they had to actually push people off the bridge. What a great job. Haha. Pushing people off a bridge to the vastness below.
This really surprised me. People were falli
[/caption]This really surprised me. People were falling off the bridge, like they were timid to do this. I can understand that they were nervous, but hell…you are strapped in, money paid up, waiver signed, at the edge of the bridge and you just do a little slide off the edge? Going off the edge is not the scary part. The scary part is at the bottom of the line when you wonder if you are the one that the rope is not going to hold for! A leap from a bridge allows no possible question about the direction you are heading. Down. Down. Down.
So, it was my turn. I give Lulu and big hug and a kiss on the cheek (she refuses to give me a kiss on the lips, and even at this time when it might be her last!) and I go over to the harnessing area. I was the last guy to go, which I really liked as I could watch everyone else go and see how they did it.
I get to the edge, and look out. It is about 4pm and the sun is casting a beautiful orange hue across the valley and the eucalyptus trees have released their gas into the air and it has mixed with the sea air which is making the horizon above the trees a misty blue colour. I wave at Deb and Wilson across the way at the viewing platform but they are too far to see me, and I am in shadows.
The workers give you some pump up words and tell you to strike “the pose”. I am going to quote a newspaper article that hangs at the registration area as I think it is totally appropriate:
“Another thing that the brochure fails to address is whether you have a ‘Jesus’ complex or not. I only mention it because it’s absolutely appropriate. Your feet are bound together. Two of the jump crew guide you to the edge of the platform, one under each arm of your outstretched arms. You are striking the pose of history’s most famous martyr, lacking only the stigmata and a direct link to the Divine”.
Perfect and to the point. Making sure that I know that I love my family, I make the ‘I Love You’ symbol with my fingers and go down into a squat position.
Then I launch myself up and out as far as I can into the air that is in front of me. No point in dropping off the edge. No point in quietly saying “Here I go.”. Do it with gusto, or don’t do it at all.
And I am so glad that I did.
At first you don’t really realize how fast you are falling as the ground is coming up at you, and it isn’t until you look at the viewing platform that is rapidly moving the opposite direction from you, that you realize that you have reached what my physics professor called “terminal velocity”.
You feel a real heaviness to your body as you fall, and given the fact that I am still working off all of the awesome food in Europe and French pastries, I am heavier than usual.
Then you hit the end of the line and you feel the bungee progressively stretch out and you slow down.
I knew it was coming, but the thing that I didn’t realize was how much head congestion you get and pressure in your head you get when you hit the bottom. Obviously the normal valves that prevent blood from flowing back down your legs are useless when you are in this position, and your bodily fluids aren’t attached to a bungy cord, so when your physical body tissue stops, the fluid keeps going. And then it gets better as you bounce up.
Then it gets worse as you hit the next bottom nadir. Then you reach equilibrium when you are not bouncing anymore and it is just a steady pressure in your head and you feel like your eyes are bulging out.
BUT IT WAS FREAKIN’ AWWWWEEEEESSSSOOOOOMMMMME!
Lulu was super stoked to see me come back up and she gave me a massive hug. Then she said, “Dad, you are a legend.” That was better than jumping. Love that kid to death. Then we had the biggest smile,s and we danced around to the tunes that were blaring and then we headed back over the cat walk to Deb and Wilson. Lulu and I made bets as to how fast Wilson would run over to us and give us a big hug.
To our surprise, he had a big smile on his face and let us come to him, and we engulfed him in the excitement that we had from the jump. Deb was taking pictures and she was pretty happy to see me too…in one piece, and with a massive smile on my face.
“You have to do it”, I said, and she agreed. But, she and Wilson were talking after the jump and he said that they were talking and maybe they could go skydiving in New Zealand. Over his fear….check!
We headed back home and had dinner at the awesome restaurant on site, the Cattle Baron, and then settled in for the night with an awesome sunset to set the stage.
The second day we were there, we did the Waterfall Hike, which was a 6.3km round trip hike that took us along the coastline to a beautiful waterfall that had a swimming hole at the bottom of it.
Along the way, we walked on pitchy paths through the costal forest, and scrambled along the rocky coastline. It was a very challenging hike that we are proud that the kids stuck with it and made it the whole way.
We stopped and had a picnic lunch at the falls, and of course we had to swim.
Deb, Wilson and I swam up to the base of the falls, which was about 25m away, but Lulu didn’t want to go any further than a few meters from the entry point. Wilson and I climbed up the falls a bit and found a place where there was a deep enough hole that we were able to jump off into the water.
The water in the hole was quite chilly, but the water coming down the waterfall was actually warm as it was warmed up by the rocky face that was absorbing the heat from the sun beating down on it.
The hike reminded us a lot of the West Coast Trail out on Vancouver Island, but this was much more rugged and challenging.
I was pretty sure that it was part of the Otter Trail, which is known as one of the great walks in South Africa to do. It is a 42km trail that people take 5 days to complete. Put that one on the bucket list to do on the next trip to South Africa…
We made it back to our cabin where we kicked back and started to eat (and drink) out the fridge as this was the last self catering spot that we were going to be at before we headed out to Vietnam.
We tried to have a campfire on our last two nights there as the kids wanted to have marshmallows (which are actually hard to find in South Africa…but we found them in a small corner store in Storms River of all places. So, the kids were excited to roast them, but unfortunately, they didn’t taste anything like home….so that treat was short lived.
Just as we were headed off to bed, the park ranger came to our cottage and asked us if we had candles since they were running the power on the generator. When we asked him why the generators were on (we noticed the power was flickering earlier on in the evening), he said there was a fire on the farm close by and it had burned some of the wires that brought power to the park. We had noticed a little bit of smoke while trekking on the Waterfall Trail, but nothing major. We grabbed a couple of candles and thought nothing more of it.
Additionally, the wind really picked up. Like gale force winds strong. So, having a fire with sparks flying around you in a forest wasn’t a very good idea. So we left the bag of wood for the next people coming.
When we got up on the final morning, the winds had picked up even more. You could hardly stand up, and it reminded me of the winds that we experienced at the Cape of Good Hope. The waves were enormous and were throwing spray easily 25m into the sky as they crashed into the rocky shore. I went down to the tented camping area below us and felt like one of those news reporters that were giving a live update from a hurricane location!
I took some photos, and then just watched the wondrous power of the wind and water before me. Obviously, it was quite cold, so I headed back to the cottage to have breakfast and get all packed up.
After this was all done, Wilson and I went down to the camping area again, and the two of us (despite me promising Deb I wouldn’t do this) ventured down onto the rocky shore below. Now, you have to know that there was still about 50m of land between where we were and where the waves were. But the waves pulled you in. Lets get a little closer and see how big they are. The wind whipped us around and the sea foam past us, which was kind of gross as it was brown-green and smelled horrible. Frog barf as one of my friends used to call it.
I then took it too far, and climbed up on the rocky ridge that was the last ridge before the ocean, but still 25m from where the water was. The wind picked up and it pushed me back…I stumbled and the vertical orientation of the rocks made it very hard to balance yourself on, so I fell down on to the rocky beach below. Tuck and roll number three…this time, I rolled to the other side to protect my twice injured bike falls. I have to stop falling.
I knew that I had gone too far, and Deb was not going to be happy with me. Additionally, I had taken Wilson, and put him in undue danger despite him telling me “Mom’s going to be mad, she said not to do this” as we walked down. I should have listened to his voice of reason. I walked back to the car with my head down and my tail between my legs. I felt like I should have been in the penalty box with Guy Lafleur…”Two minutes for lookin’ so good”. But not lookin’ so good. What a bonehead move.
We checked out and headed out the road towards the N2 where we were going to head towards Port Elizabeth, and the sky grew very cloudy and smoky, to the point where visibility was limited to about 25m in front of us.
Once we reached the N2, we saw a number of police cars driving in the opposite direction to us, so we knew something was going on. We looked up on the internet what was going on around us as we suspected that the “fire on the farm” was much more than what the park ranger had told us about the night before. And it was.
There was a full on wild fire that started near George (near Wilderness, where we had a mini-shopping spree before hitting the beach), and it literally followed us, but was just a day behind every move we made. That was a little crazy, and a little scary as it was evidence of how oblivious to the world news that was happening around us.
It was very sad as there had been 8 deaths from the wild fires, and that night there had been three deaths, including a baby, in a small mountain village where people were landlocked and trapped, so they couldn’t escape. We counted our blessings and moved on towards Port Elizabeth, our final stop in Africa before we headed to Vietnam.