Living in Sedgefield we are extremely fortunate to have the Goukamma Nature Reserve right on our doorstep.
The 2500 hectare reserve lies between Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay and can be accessed from both sides of the reserve although the main offices and main entrance are just outside Buffalo Bay.
The reserve falls under the auspices of Cape Nature.
A short distance beyond the Goukamma Nature Reserve entrance on the Buffalo Bay Road there are picnic sites and canoes for hire.
You can paddle up the river or explore the area towards the river mouth. At times the mouth closes naturally.
Initially, if you paddle upstream, the river flows within the bounds of the nature reserve.
This gradually gives way to peaceful farmlands and dairy cattle and horses will come into view.
You can beach your canoe when you reach the The River Deck restaurant on your right and you can either stop for a breather and enjoy very decent snacks or lunch or you need to portage your canoe over the small weir and continue paddling up river.
You can pass under the N2 highway and shortly afterwards will come to the Black Waters River Lodge.
You can also pull the canoe out there and have a lunch at their open-air restaurant or even play a game of golf.
Time yourself so you get back to the start before dark. Its easy to lose all sense of time in the tranquility of nature.
There is no access for public transport in the main body of the Goukamma Nature Reserve which means that the area can only be explored on foot.
This provides visitors with a real sense of being out in untrammeled nature.
It is unspoilt and has no gimmicks or mod-cons to interest pseudo-nature lovers.
This is its best defense and greatest attraction!
To access the secluded hillside offices that are on the Buffalo Bay Road, turn right at the gate of the reserve and drive along a winding dirt road past the picnic site next to the Goukamma River and double back up a steep incline to reach the car park.
There you will be able to purchase various permits for fishing and walking and maps to orientate yourself to the many hiking trails.
The added advantage of Goukamma Reserve is that it has 14 kms of coastline and the adjacent ocean is a Marine Protected Area reaching nearly 2 nautical miles off shore.
This can only be appreciated through walking the shoreline or boating out on the sea. Recreational angling however, is only allowed from the shoreline.
Near the outer limit of the marine reserve is an unbroken length of submerged fossilised dune 12kms long and 2kms wide. It lies about 3,5kms off shore.
The crest is roughly 10 meters below the surface and this reef provides a breeding ground and nursery area for several species of fish.
It also attracts fishermen to the area. There are much needed moves afoot to increase the demarcated MPA to include the drowned dune to protect several species that are being over-fished.
Goukamma Nature Reserve also incorporates Groenvlei known to some locals as Lake Pleasant, because it is....pleasant!
The calm water is a translucent sea-green colour and reflects the sky perfectly like a mirror.
It is the only freshwater lake on the Garden Route and has no river inlet but is constantly refreshed by a subterranean spring.
Here one can swim, boat and fish in soft clear water. The black bass fishing is reputed to be excellent.
The Cape Clawless Otter Trail starts off at Groenvlei and takes hikers alongside the lake through a magical dune forest before the path climbs steeply up the dune into fynbos where one gains increasingly wonderful panoramic views of the Outeniqua mountains, the lake and over the dunes to the sea and to Gerickes Point.
One can hike down into the valley and up over the next dune and eventually down to the oyster beds on the coastline.
If you don’t want to do the return journey you can walk along the beach and climb off it up the boardwalk at Platbank. Just be sure that the tide will allow you to do this, it’s best to check with the Cape Nature Office.
I suggest this as a winter walk as there is little protection on the dunes from the heat of the summer sun and between the dunes it can be hot and airless.
One can also spot migrating whales from the top of the dunes in the winter season.
There is also the very enjoyable Porcupine Trail that starts at Groenvlei and ends after crossing the Goukamma River on the pont. This is a distance of about 13,5 kms.
We have done it by having people start at both ends and meeting somewhere in the middle and swopping car keys so that we don’t have to hike back to get to our vehicles!
Several walks can be taken from the Buffalo Bay side of the Goukamma Nature Reserve but you have to cross the Goukamma River on the pont first - an unusual start to a hike!
The circular Bush Pig Trail takes you inland up and along the dune, through some coastal forest down to the sea.
Then you double back and go around the back of the dune and alongside the river and along the side of the dune back to the pont crossing.
This walk is probably less strenuous the other way around!
We have done it several times but seem to do it in reverse. Nevertheless we have always enjoyed it.
On one occasion we came across a grizzly find – the bones of a full grown baboon that had been picked clean!
Could it have been a leopard kill we wondered – we know it is possible.
The 12 km Galjoen Trail is a beach walk from Platbank to Buffalo Bay. However, one needs to do this at low tide so you should consult a tide table.
If the river mouth is open then you will most likely need to walk inland to cross over the Goukamma River via the pont. You need to organise transport back to your starting point or arrange a cross over procedure similar to the Porcupine Trail.
Going out the reserve gates and turning right to Buffalo Bay, drive a short distance and then turn right into the parking lot next to the sea.
Cross over the road to do the Buffalo Bay Trail.
This trail takes you up a gentle slope to overlook the village of Buffalo Bay then down through a piece of forest and along the dune to give you stunning panoramic views of the bay area.
You then come down onto the beach and depending on your time frame can either walk left towards Brenton-on-Sea and back again or turn right walking along the beach to the Buffalo Bay outdoor restaurant overlooking the sea.
Otherwise you can continue to walk towards the caravan park and in the quiet season request permission to walk through the resort that is situated on a grassy peninsula completely surrounded by the ocean.
The rocky outcrops along this part of the coast provide roosts for hundreds of white-breasted and Cape Cormorants.
Within the Marine Reserve this is a popular and scenic campsite in the summer months as the bay has a superb swimming beach and is also a favourite for surfers. You can frequently see pods of dolphins surfing the breakers.
If you want to stay a while to enjoy the area to its maximum, you can overnight in the Goukamma Nature Reserve at bush camps overlooking Groenvlei or opt for the rondavels outside Buffalo Bay near the river and the beach.
All in all Goukamma Nature Reserve presents a magnificent natural environment of ocean, river, beaches, dunes, fynbos, coastal vegetation and forest.
These attributes offer a variety of great outdoor activities such as picnicking, birding, swimming, fishing, canoeing and several different day walks all of which are worth doing.
At the right time of year, between May and December you have a good chance of spotting the Humpback and/or Southern Right whales when walking along the dunes and also a good chance of seeing them at Buffalo Bay.
In the last few years Killer Whales are also being seen more often.
Dolphins are seen frequently along our coastline.