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Friday, January 29, 2021

Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area

Tranquillity and solitude in the heart of the Garden Route:

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge
(Sunrise over the Goukamma estuary)

Deciding on our holiday adventure in the garden route required careful planning. We wanted to experience the Ancient Knysna forest, surf the warm waters at Buffalo Bay, see new forest bird species, yet miss all the crowds. With the new lockdown rules in place and the closing of the beaches as a result of the second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic, how would our Garden Route experience be affected?

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route
(360 views across Groenvlei and looking towards Sedgefield)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun
(Sunrise over the entrance to Goukamma Nature Reserve) 


Would Goukamma embrace all these requirements and more?

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Tranquil waters along the Goukamma River)


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge,
(Fish Eagles Loft and the sweeping views over the estuary)


This charming nature reserve is managed by Cape Nature, situated on the Cape south coast in the Western Cape. With Sedgefield and Knysna just a short drive away, this made for the ideal getaway. The Reserve covers an area of 2500ha, while the Marine Protected Area extends along approximately 18km of coastline from Buffalo Bay to Sedgefield. With extensive Dune fields and some of the highest vegetated dunes in South Africa. Wide, unspoilt beaches, coastal dune forests and the Goukamma river estuary all compressed in one small area.  A paradise for walkers, hikers with more than six listed trails to choose from, depending on your fitness and time constraints.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Coastal forests in the Buffalo Valley section) 

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Kelp Guls, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds
(Sunrise in Buffalo Bay: Kelp Gulls talking)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail,
(Coastal forests on the Porcupine Trail 13,5km)

Searching for Nightjars in Goukamma from Alex Aitkenhead on Vimeo.

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail,
(Almost at the summit of a large vegetated sand dune above Groenvlei)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Public Boat launch site to Groenvlei)

On the coastal side of the vegetated dune field, we were fortunate to secure five nights at the Fish Eagle loft, located above the Otters Rest main house in the reserve's Goukamma section. Sweeping views across the valleys in the west and the estuary mouth in the east, dramatic sunsets are the rewards for this unique setting. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Otters Rest and Fish Eagles Loft as seen from the coast) 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Large sundeck with braai area, you can witness the best sunrise and sunsets in comfort)

If you're looking for complete privacy, consider the River Lodge, Forest Lodge, or the Vlei Lodge. They are situated in the Buffalo Valley section, far away from the main Goukamma operational offices. Three recently renovated luxury lodges overlooking the scenic Goukamma river and estuary is another excellent offering. 


Cape Nature has two accommodation units available in the Groenvlei section, the Mvubu Bush Lodge and the rustic Groenvlei Bush Camp (due for an upgrade this year). All the accommodation units are self-catering.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forest Lodge set deep in the Coastal Forest and right on the river's edge)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Vlei Lodge on the edge of Bird Vlei)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,



Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,
(Bird Vlei and the private Vlei Lodge)

As an avid birder, we were impressed with the variety of bird species we recorded during our five-day stay. We can recommend with confidence that Goukamma as a birding destination is outstanding. Although Goukamma diverse habitat supports many animal species, it was disappointing that we did not encounter any animals over this period.


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,
(Dramatic sunsets from Otters Rest accommodation high on the dune ridge)


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Crashing waves at the Buffalo Bay Campsite)

If listening to the early morning call of the resident Fish Eagle or the quiet hooting at dusk by the Spotted Eagle owls, then this is Heaven on earth.

Up early for some of the unique forest birds and at night, we searched for Owls and Nightjars. Due to the natural environment's diversity, more than 200 birds have been recorded in this nature reserve. Birding being my main priority, we were very impressed by the variety of birds encounter in each ecosystem. Some of the notable birds we recorded were:


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(It doesn't get more picture-perfect than this) 


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Enjoying Sunset after a relaxing walk on the Galjoen Trail) 


Along the coastline, Kelp Gulls, Swift, Sandwich, Caspian and Common Terns.




Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Juvenile Kelp Gulls at the Goukamma river mouth)



Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Tern roost, Greater Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Breading pair of White-Fronted Plovers)



In the estuary, Cape-, reed-, white-breasted and darter Cormorants, common greenshank and common sandpiper. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(White Breasted Cormorant)



Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Common Sandpiper)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Surprised to find this Cape Cormorant on the estuary)


 

Coastal Forest, recording Knysna turaco, Cape batis, Black Cuckooshrike(male and female), Southern Boubou and the African Paradise Flycatcher.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Paradise Flycatcher found at the Forest Lodge)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
( Elegant Knysna Taraco in the coastal forests) 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Cape Batis captured at the Forest Lodge)


Coastal Fynbos, Bar-throated Apalis, Nedeky, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Red-necked Spurfowl and Forked tailed Dorongo.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Karoo Prinia)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Bar-Throated Apalis)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forked Tailed Dorongo)


Vlei and marsh, Common Moorhen, Malachite Kingfisher, Western Marsh Harrier, Jackal and Common Buzzard.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(One of many Forest Buzzards)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Marsh Harrier over the Vlie section)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher at Bird Vlei)

Goukamma River, African Fish Eagle, Pied and Giant Kingfisher, Common Weavers, Grey Heron.

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Resident Fish Eagle, seen on every day of our stay)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Hunting Pied Kingfisher, a good number of birds seen on the estuary)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Giant Kingfisher with a decent size catch)


Groenvlei Section
, Little Grebe, Red Knobbed Koot, Green Woodpecker, Olive Thrush, Speckled Mousebirds.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(The very busy Green Woodpecker)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Little Grebe: Dabchick at Birdvlei)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Speckled Mousebirds enjoying some early morning sun) 


Intermediate Zones, Blue Crane, Red Billed-Teal, Purple Heron, Diederik Cuckoo and a host of Sunbirds.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Grey Herron on the prowl)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Another odd find, Red-Billed Teal)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Disturbed this regal Purple Heron at Bird Vlei)


Time seemed irrelevant in this setting, surrounded by the Indian ocean and the Goukamma river, the crashing waves and sounds of the dark water lapping on the shore: two powerful forces of nature controlling our mood. Goukamma is the Khoisan word for "dark waters" in reference to the rivers' water being coloured by natural occurring tannins in the soil.

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(African Oystercatchers along the coastline just before estuary mouth)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Surfing in Buffels Bay)

Take the Blue Ferry and cross over the Goukamma River, to explore one of the six-day trails, experience beautiful coastal fynbos together with dense concentrations of milkwood, yellowwood and candlewood found in the coastal forest. Soak up the solitude of miles of unspoilt beaches as the powerful waves chase the rare African Black Oystercatcher. We hiked some of the shorter trails on the Goukamma side, the scenic Blombos trail at Groenvlei is a must if you are feeling energetic. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
( The little blue ferry will get you across the river to enjoy the solitude of the coastline)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(The start for the Blombos Trail on the Groenvlei side, this trail comes highly recommended)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Some of the largest vegetated sand dunes in South Africa, on the Blombos Trail)


Hire a canoe and take a slow meander up the river, one can picnic, swim and fish in the lagoon. Head down to Buffels Bay and surf in the warm water or work on your tan, if this is too stressful, kick back and enjoy the views from the large sundeck while relaxing. The reserve welcomes day visitors and one can braai and picnic right on the water's edge.  Goukamma has it all.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Rough seas near the Goukamma River mouth)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Hire a canoe and take a slow boat up the Goukamma River, we were hoping to find the Finfoot)

Undoubtedly, we will return to complete some of the walking trails that we didn't have time to appreciate and hopefully record some of the rare birds we missed. 


Leaving the coastline and heading deep into the Knysna forests, the tented decks in the Diepwalle section would be our next destination. No holiday experience in the Garden Route is complete without exploring these lush green forests.


Look out for our next adventure as we encounter numerous champion trees, unique forest birds and various walking trails.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Use this Map to plan your Activities)



Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Another great find the Fiery-necked Nightjar on the road towards the Vlei Lodge)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Yellow-billed Ducks  at Sunset, and the supporting cast of Blacksmith Lapwing)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forest Buzzards in an atrial display at sunrise)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Great Egret with small fish)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Grey Heron at Sunset)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Spotted Grunter caught at the entrance gate by the local fishermen)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Scorpion crossing the road on a hiking trail)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area

( The rare African Black Oystercatcher) 

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