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Friday, March 5, 2021

Garden Route National Park (Wildernes, Knysna, Tsitsikamma)

Nature Reserves, Champion Trees, Forest Birding and a whole lot more.

(Stilbaai, Ebb and Flow rest camp, Goukamma Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay, Natures Valley, Diepwalle Forest Knysna.

23 December 2020

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Diepwalle Knysna forest, one of the walking trails we explored)

Living along the West Coast of South Africa and enjoying numerous seaside activities, it is always an exciting prospect to disappear into the forest during our annual year-end break. This year we decided to spend Christmas in the Garden Route, visiting unique nature reserves and mystical indigenous forests.  


These reserves would serve as a base camp from which we combined day trips to explore the surrounding area in search of Champion Trees, exciting walking trails and elusive forest birds.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Our first Champion Tree recorded on this trip, The Whispering Tree (Ficus burkei) Albertinia, Western Cape)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Dark, mysterious indigenous forests, this is where we found peace, Diepwalle Knysna Forest)








Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Knysna Turaco, a splash of colour as it darts through the forest canopy)



The 1000-year-old grandfather of Stilbaai was irresistible a true Champion. This automatically became our first stop, helping with the long drive, and besides, we had never visited this quaint, historic seaside village.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Freshwater tame eels in Stilbaai, feeding time at the Information Centre, these eels return to the sea to breed )


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Ancient Fish Traps dating back 3000 years were built by the Khoisan)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Eurasian Curlew, feeding near the estuary mouth at Stilbaai)


Day one, Feeding tame eels at Pallinggat Homestead, admiring the ancient fish traps near Jongensfontein and scouting the river estuary's natural beauty for some local birds, was the order of the day. 

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(As you turn off the N2 towards Stilbaai)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The bridge that takes you over the Goukou River into Town central and surrounds)


Despite the second wave of lockdown conditions, Stilbaai appeared to be very busy with eager tourists. It was most pleasurable to escape the masses and head deep into the coastal fynbos, searching for the Champion white milkwood tree in the Langbos coastal forest (Langbos se Oupa).

Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay, Champion Tree
(Langbos se Oupa, 1000-year-old Champion White Milkwood tree, our second champion on our trip)




 
Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(How fortunate we were to capture this juvenile Spotted eagle owl, one of two)


Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay, Champion Tree
(This Champion is hidden in a dense coastal forest on a private farm: Duinekroon in Stilbaai)



Despite the wind damage to this ancient colossus, it was beautiful to admire what must have been a noble milkwood, standing at an impressive 14m in height. According to Alta Kleinhans, who owns the farm Duinekroon, where this remarkable tree finds its home, bees make hives in the tree, thus weakening the structure resulting in some of the main branches breaking off. It was sad to see the Champion in such a neglected and mournful state, but this is nature, and we must accept it. 

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Forest Canin no.25 right on the Touw River at the Ebb and Flow rest camp)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(looking at the Ebb and Flow rest camp with Wilderness in the background)



Day two, we were on our way to the well run Ebb and Flow rest camp managed by Sanparks; this forms part of the Greater Garden Route National Park. Situated along the south coast of South Africa lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world. We were lucky to be able to call this home over the next few days. 
Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Keurbooms river estuary as it enters the warm Indian Ocean at Plettenberg Bay)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The sun setting at the lakes section of the Garden Route National Park.) 


This area encompasses the world-renowned Tsitsikamma, Wilderness and Knysna areas. We were looking for tranquillity combined with an actioned packed holiday experience. Booking three nights stay in the self-catering forest cabins on the Touw River banks, how fortunate we were to secure this venue at the Ebb and Flow rest camp.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Mirror water disturbed by ducks, a tranquil setting in the Plettenberg Bay area)

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Serpentine River as it links from Island Lake to join the Touw River)


Having researched a list of target forest birds for our adventure, we set ourselves a goal of ten new birds for our life list. A challenging task, so we contacted some local birders in this area to assist with suitable sites for these target birds. 
Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Half-Collared Kingfisher Walking Trail, this ends at the waterfall and a welcomed swim in the river)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Touw river as seen from one of the walking trails)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(North Camp view from the Half-collared kingfisher Trail)



The Half Collard and Giant kingfisher walking trails are where the gruelling task of location some of the rare forest birds began. Forest birding is no easy task; low light, skittish birds and poor visibility through the forest canopy, hence it so difficult to secure a good photo.
Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Woodville big Tree, Outeniqua Yellowwood, Champion Tree and well over 800 years old)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The waterfall at the end of the Giant Kingfisher trail, a delightful location for a picnic and a swim)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(A view of the walking trail and the lush indigenous forest)


The Woodville Big Tree is a short drive from the Ebb and Flow, our third Champion Tree on our list. A reliable source confirmed this location for the very shy Chorister Robin-Chat. We were appreciating this 810-year-old Outeniqua Yellowwood Champion Tree while enjoying echoing bird melodies and the smell of damp undergrowth. Exiting the walkway past the Big Tree, we scanned around the picnic area, looking for the Chorister Robin. On queue, there he was, hustling scraps from the day visitors, delight as we ticked off our first target bird. It wasn't long before we had a Grey Cuckooshrike in full view, another significant find.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Chotister Robin-Chat, seen at the picnic site at the Woodville Big Tree)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(This was our first Narina Trogon as seen at the Plettenberg Bay Golf course, such a remarkable forest bird)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(A rare glimpse of the Grey Cuckoo Shrike at the Diepwalle Camping Decks, we also ticked one off, at the Woodville Big Tree)


My early morning Half Collard kingfisher walk yielded some more Chorister robins, as well as the mesmerising White-Starred robin. The repetitive calling of the Narina Trogon was daunting, but how would we get a glimpse of this elusive bird? It was frustrating. The cathedral of mature forest trees invites you into this mystical world were large sections of the trail follow a wooden boardwalk to the beautiful, refreshing waterfall. Food for the soul as we spent most of the morning traversing this enchanting forest trail.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The Touw River just before it takes the last bend and entres the sea at the Wilderness)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Touw River bridge between North and South camp at the Ebb and Flow rest camp)

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(the pontoon river crossing point)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Canoe parking lot for the Half-Collard kingfisher walking trail, you proceed on foot from this point)



Departing from the Ebb and Flow rest camp and relocating to Goukamma Nature Reserve hosted by Cape Nature. Close to Knysna, with mysterious forests and giant Outeniqua yellowwoods, forest birding and most importantly, far away from the crowds.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Buffelsbay beach during the lockdown, after 5pm the police would depart and everyone flocked to the beach)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Vlei Lodge in Goukamma, very private, excellent birding opportunities here)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The view over the estuary from our accommodation at the Fish Eagle Lodge, we got to see Fish Eagles every day on our five nights stay)


Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area must be one of the most underrated destinations. Spending five glorious days exploring this small hamlet along the east coast, its diversity of landscapes and birding opportunities is exceptional. Mesmerised by the energy from the crashing waves and the river estuary's gentle lapping on the shores, time slips away.  

(Please click on the link below if you would like to read more about our experiences in the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area)




Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Narina Trogon, seen in the Diepwalle Knysna Forest, what a remarkable bird) 


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Scaly-Throated Honeyguide, this image was taken in Natures Valley) 


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Female African Paradise Flycatcher at the Woodville Big Tree)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The call of the Black-Headed Oriole can be heard in most of the forest sections in the Garden Route) 


We booked a local bird guiding company, Plett Birding (Ian Pletzer), relying on his local knowledge to locate our main target bird, the Narina Trogon.

Sunrise and an early morning drive to Plettenbergbay to meet with Ian, what an adventure-filled morning we had, successes as we connected with the Narina Trogon and a host of other marvellous forest birds. It was exciting to go deep into the forests and photograph these often shy and challenging birds.  

Contact Ian Pletzer, for Assistance on your next birding adventure in the Garden Route.

Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route





Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Queen of natures Valley dominates the Landscape, Juanita providing some scale to this majestic tree)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(We finally connected with this elegant Queen: Outeniqua Yellowwood)


One of our objectives during our Garden Route visit was to document the Queen of Natures Valley. Situated on the N2, right before you reach the bottom of the mountain pass along the Groot River. Towering over the forest canopy, a majestic yellowwood, worthy of her title as queen. We introduced ourselves to this iconic tree, regarded as one of the finest specimens in the Natures Valley.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Diepwalle Camping Decks, what a wonderful experience camping deep in these mysterious forests)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The King Edward 7th Champion Tree in the Diepwalle Knysna Forests, 40m high and well over 800 years)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Daleen Matthee Champion Tree in the Goudveld forest Knysna, this is also the starting point for the famous Circles in the Forest Trail)


Our last destination would be the isolated camping decks in the Diepwalle Knysna Forest. There was no stopping us now; this was heaven, we were in our happy place, ready to drive back in time through the historical Knysna Forest. The King Edward and Dalene Matthee Champion Outeniqua Yellowwoods, both well over 800 years, have been given a mythical and permanent place in South Africa through the works and literature of writer Dalene Matthee. She found inspiration for her numerous novels in the heart of this forest. We felt privileged to walk down one of these dark and mystical retreats, named after her famous novels, Circles in the forest(Kringe in die bos)

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Waking up to the early morning sounds of the forest was a dream come true, the 600 f4 always ready for action)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(The boys having some fun)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Up before first light and connecting with this Champion at sunrise, not a person in sight for Hours, King Edward 7th Outeniqua Yellowwood)


Today the woodcutters and gold diggers are gone, so are the majority of elephants. However, traces of the past still linger within the lush Knysna forests. These dense green forests hold many myths and legends, preserved and protected by the forest for many years.
Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(On top of the world, Spitskop viewpoint, at 918m this is the highest accessible peak in the district)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Sunrise in the Diepwalle Knysna Forest, this is the staff accommodation)



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Dal Van Varings, translated as the valley of the ferns, sad that we didn't get to spend more time at this hidden treasure)


We followed this route, designed to take us on a magical journey of discovery on a path rooted in the memory of time.

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Having some fun at the King Edward 7th Champion Tree)

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Dal Van Varings, translated as the valley of the ferns, sad that we didn't get to spend more time at this hidden treasure)




Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Diepwalle Knysna Forest, this image, taken from Spitskop provides some perspective on how remote we were deep in the indigenous forest)


It was another unforgettable experience, sad to be heading home, but content with the knowledge that we will be back, inspired by the prospect of more adventures to follow. 

Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Dal Van Varings, translated as the valley of the ferns, sad that we didn't get to spend more time at this hidden treasure)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Sunset walk along the Wilderness Village Walking trail, beautiful boardwalk along the touw river towards the estuary mouth)(



Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Rooted in Time, a guided route that takes you back in time through the historical Knysna Forest: 10 informative stops that provide history and images of how this working forest functioned)


Knysna Forests, Diepwalle, Ebb and Flow , Goukamma, Natures Valley , Big Tree, Champion Tree, Forest Birds, Birding , Birding in the Garden Route, Garden Route
(Woodville big Tree, a circular walking trail provides a perspective of the ways of the forest)


List of  Forest Birds we added to our Life list: 

Narina Trogon 
Grey Cuckoo Shrike
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Scaly-throated honeyguide
Black-Capped Puffback
White Starred Robin
Olive Bush-Shrike
Chorister Robin-Chat
Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher
Yellow-Throated Woodlands Warbeler
Grey Sunbird






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