Plettenberg Bay offers a tempting mix of adventure & indulgence
After hiking in the Robberg Nature Reserve, supping on the Keurbooms River, and sleeping in the wondrous Sky Villa Boutique Hotel, Sanet Oberholzer sees why 'Plett' is one of SA's most beloved holiday towns
They say you have to try before you know. In my case, I knew I would fall in to the river before I even got onto my stand-up paddle (sup) board. Once you relinquish the sides of the boat, it requires a delicate balance of confidence and core strength to keep upright and paddle onto the water. In my case, no amount of advice in the form of "look straight ahead" and "extend your left arm" could help me as I felt the inevitable approaching and gave in to the impending fall.
As I surfaced, the first thought in my head was to placate the pitying stares and questions of "Are you OK?" from the snugly dry onlookers on the boat. "I. Am. OK." Falling into the Keurbooms River in the middle of winter does, of course, have the tendency to knock the air straight out of your lungs.
My new-found policy, however, is that, if at first you fall from your paddle board, you get back up and promptly sit down. This worked like a charm and once I managed to position myself on the paddle board in a more horizontal position, the shock of the ice-cold water having thoroughly woken me up, I could enjoy the natural beauty surrounding me.
Situated just outside of Plettenberg Bay, the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve is a haven of dense forest of yellowwood, stinkwood, ironwood and western keurboom after which the river is named. It flows into Plett's Keurbooms Lagoon to the south from which it winds its way between the trees and narrow banks of the river inland, sheltering an abundance of birds, monkeys, mongoose and even bush pigs - a rare sight we were thrilled to see as we made our way up the river with Sup Keurbooms on an afternoon champagne cruise.
No power boats are allowed upstream beyond a certain point, making this a splendid escape in the heart of the Garden Route, whether you're in search of stand-up paddling adventures or simply want to enjoy the peace of the river while munching on a bite of biltong and sipping on a glass of bubbly.
It is the allure of natural beauty that draws visitors to the Garden Route and the surfing town of Plettenberg Bay is no exception. If not the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, visitors can find their outdoor bliss when visiting the Robberg Nature Reserve. A Marine Protected Area and World Heritage Site, the reserve was declared a national monument after evidence of middle and Stone Age inhabitation was found in a few of its surrounding caves.
Of the 2.1, 5.5 and 9.2km hikes, I opted to do the longer one that wraps around the peninsula without the faintest idea what I was getting myself into. It was more spectacular than I could have imagined with views of Plett at the foot of the sea and an ocean breeze in the air, but be warned: the beauty comes at a price. You need to be prepared for a constant game of climbing up and down and up again.
Once you've made your way to the tip of the peninsula, you descend to the foot of the reserve, where a rocky climb over boulders had the eight-year-old in me giggling with glee. The home stretch was a unique mix of gruelling and lovely as we carried our heavy feet through beach sand at the foot of a massive dune.
Creeping along steep edges, often without any handrails, this is not a hike for those with a fear of heights: it's thrilling and a little scary at times, a sentiment I was happy to discover a fellow adventurer shared with me after we had victoriously finished the hike and it felt like rigor mortis was setting in.
After a successful day of literally conquering mountains, there is no better place to rest your tired bones than the beautiful Sky Villa Boutique Hotel. Part of the Cape Summer Villa Collection, Sky Villa is perched on a hilltop and offers a 360-degree view over Plettenberg Bay, the Keurbooms River, the Indian Ocean and the Tsitsikamma and Langkloof Mountains.
The space is a delightful mix of unusual architecture, stunning art scattered throughout the hotel and a combination of both elegant and quirky décor in bold colours that beckon to visitors to unwind and kick back.
The food alone is reason enough to visit Sky Villa. The new chef at the helm, Rich Rorich, is whipping up dishes that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Using herbs and vegetables grown in the hotel's garden, the menus are seasonal, original and fresh. Rorich's version of Tom Yum Soup is a must-have: it is full of warmth and packs a punch of flavour. If you're in search of a feast for your senses, the beetroot and Tsitsikamma goats cheese ravioli with red cabbage, pickled fennel and apple is a delight.
You can easily spend days munching on the soulful treats coming from Rorich's kitchen, but if you're in search of a taste of local and find yourself in Plett on a Saturday morning, take a quick drive to the Harkerville Market nestled between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna.
A mix of farmers' market, craft market and flea market, this is where the locals congregate over a hot breakfast, a selection of home-baked breads and treats and a hearty cup of coffee or healthy smoothie. Make a point of visiting the Sjokolat Brownie Masters who have a selection of organic, fair trade gooey goodness that will "welcome you to the dark side of life", as they proudly claim.
Between the adventure and the indulgence just do not forget to dip your toes in the water. It is sand, surf and sea that put the town of Plett on the map, after all, and a visit would not be complete without the feeling of sea on your skin.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
SKY VILLA BOUTIQUE HOTEL
The hotel boasts 14 luxury rooms, each with a private terrace and five-star amenities, including Netflix and Showmax.
Rates - including breakfast - start from R2,200 for mountain-facing rooms, R2,700 for sea-facing rooms and R3,300 for deluxe rooms with a view of both.
On-site facilities include a restaurant, gym, sky pool with jets, a sky bar (open during the summer months), a wine cellar, a snooker room, complimentary wifi, conference areas and a wedding venue.
Conservation fees of R50 for adults and R30 for children are payable at the entrance to the Robberg Nature Reserve.
You will need comfortable walking shoes and plenty of water. Stick to the marked paths and avoid starting the hike too late in the day - safely navigating the path requires ample daylight. Be warned: even the easier 2.1km hike will require a certain level of agility to clamber up and down the rocks on some stretches of the path.
For more information, visit capenature.co.za
Stand-up paddle boarding, is a cross between canoeing and surfing. SUP Keurbooms organises a two-hour cruise up the Keurbooms River to Whiskey Creek, where a guide sets you up and shows you the ropes of supping.
Cruises depart from Plettenberg Bay Forever Resort every day at 9.15am and cost R450pp. The price includes champers, water, snacks and beach towels. Remember to pack an extra set of clothes if you fancy yourself the type who might fall into the water.
• Sanet Oberholzer was a guest of Cape Summer Villas.