Weekend Escape: Shelter in the storms

25 May 2014 - 02:10 By Paul Ash
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OPEN DOORS: Tsitsikamma Lodge and Spa in Storms River Picture: PAUL ASH
OPEN DOORS: Tsitsikamma Lodge and Spa in Storms River Picture: PAUL ASH
Image: Paul Ash

River paddling, pizza and a warm welcome at last make a satisfied customer of Paul Ash

I did not plan to stay here. I had phoned another place in the village down the road and booked a room when the guy at the desk asked: "Where are you now?"

It was 3pm.

"In Wilderness," I said.

"Well, we close for check-in at 6pm."

Now Mrs Ash didn't raise no fools but till then I had never heard of anyone turning away business just because they wanted to knock off.

Since the sun was still shining and the Touw River was beckoning me for a late afternoon paddle, my chances of making the 6pm cut-off were scant.

I decided to find rest elsewhere, in this instance at the Tsitsikamma Lodge and Spa, where I was assured of a warm welcome, no matter the hour. In fact, just minutes after I'd made the booking, the clerk called back and said I could arrive any time and just to call from the gate and they would open up. That kind of willingness goes a long way in this business.

As it happened, the afternoon paddle with friends up the river turned into an epic - we dawdled too long looking for Knysna loeries and were caught in the first brief squall of winter as we paddled back downriver to Eden Adventures.

Drying off in Pomodoro Restaurant with wine and pizza added another hour or two and it was well into the evening when I headed east down the N2 for Storms River.

Even I would not have let me in at midnight but they were true to their word - a couple of parps on the hooter and the gate swung mercifully open.

My cabin was at the far side of the property, looking into the treeline and the Tsitsikamma Mountains beyond. Crisp air and roaring pines were all the soporifics I needed.

In the morning, I was awake early enough to stroll through the woods before breakfast, down to the old red, arched road bridge and through the glades of natural forest. Sitting on the bridge and listening to the birds, I ruminated on many things, chief of which was that humans are grossly unsuited to a two-day weekend when three really should be the standard. One day to get the knots out of the back and two to have fun.

That way I could have spent the day lying in the forest and the next exerting myself on one of the longer hikes - perhaps the "Striptease Trail", a circular ramble to various natural pools, where attire apparently becomes less mandatory the higher up the trail you go.

After an hour in the forest, a breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes seemed like the nobler option. Walk? Well . the trail and the forest and the mountain bikes would still be there in the morning.

Why go there: For the trees, the clean air, the view of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, the log cabins set among ferns and the feeling that you have escaped into the forest.

What it has: Free-standing log cabins in landscaped gardens. Some cabins have loft bedrooms for kids and all cabins have spa baths. There is also a spa, where various treatments are on offer from the lodge's own therapists.

What it's like: With the wind sighing through the pines, the birdsong and the trickle of water running over stones, it is a close to Zen as you can get.

And the food: The restaurant maintains the backwoodsy log-cabin theme with a large fireplace - it can get chilly on those misty winter nights in the Tsitsikamma - and an informal atmosphere. There is a five-course buffet at night and the usual full-English breakfast in the mornings. It won't blow your hair back if you are a gourmet but it's decent, simple chow.

Rates: Start at R550 per person in a gardenette cabin (R850 single), rising to R660 per person (R950 single) in a luxury cabin. The honeymoon cabin is R830 per person per night. There are various discounted rates for children.

What there is to see on the way: Do stop in at the Storms River mouth - it is beautiful at any time of year but in winter it can be a quite spectacular. There are a couple of fine hikes - one across the suspension bridge near the mouth of the river itself; the other the first day of the famous Otter Trail - as well as kayaking, snorkelling and swimming up the river. Or just picnic on the rocks and watch the Indian Ocean throw itself at the land.

Getting there: Coming from Cape Town, the lodge is 8km after the Storms River bridge on the left-hand side.

Contact: Call 0422803802 or book through central reservations on 0466248525 or e-mail reservations@riverhotels.co.za or see riverhotels.co.za/tsitsikamma.

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