Cape Town - I’m all alone, lying in a little cabin on the edge of a rocky coast. The doors and windows are wide open, and my ears are filled with the soothing boom of crashing waves. The air is heavy with ocean spray. The stars burst through the southern night sky.
This is Fountain Shack in the Robberg Nature Reserve, with no electricity, no cellphone reception and certainly no TV or radio. And I’m as close to heaven as I can get. Which is remarkable, given that I’m not far from the centre of one of South Africa’s busiest holiday towns.
Although 50 years ago Plettenberg Bay was a secret hideaway for nature lovers, today it is a small city, with shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and mansions cut into the hillsides, hovering like UFOs over some of the most photogenic parts of the coast.
There is one part of Plett, however, that retains its original beauty. Robberg Nature Reserve is a peninsula abutting the southern end of town, almost entirely surrounded by the temperate Indian Ocean.
The property developers must have licked their lips when they saw this piece of land. But today it’s a nature reserve, managed by CapeNature, and thank goodness for that.
Let’s rewind 120 000 years. Stone Age hunter-gatherers and strandlopers clearly loved this part of the world, because there is extensive evidence of their presence. There are numerous archaeological sites in the reserve, but the only one open to the public is the capacious Nelson’s Cave.
In 1630 a Portuguese vessel – the Sao Goncalo – came into the bay on its return journey to Europe from the east. The 400-odd crew were the first recorded “white” people to see the area, and after making some repairs to their ship, they traded goods with the Khoi.
Some of the Portuguese sailors made a camp on the shore, but the majority stayed on board, only for a huge storm to wreck the vessel against the cliffs of the northern side of Robberg. Almost all the sailors on board drowned, but the lucky few on land were safe.
The sense of disaster and despair must have been immense for those few survivors, but the stunning beauty of their surroundings would have consoled them.
Plett – although it was only given its name Plettenberg Bay in 1778 – would have been a pristine paradise then.
And this is why Robberg is so magical. It is largely untouched and represents the best of a long-gone era – before it was overrun by hordes of holidaymakers – when the whole region was one big chunk of paradise.
The reserve and the surrounding marine protected area is only 20km² so you can get to know it well in one day. The best thing to do is to walk the 10km circular Point Trail. Start at the main gate, and loop around the northern edge of the peninsula, past the point, and then back along the southern side. It’s one of the best day hikes in the country. The views across the bay towards the Tsitsikamma Mountains are mesmerising.
A marine protected area stretches for one nautical mile out to sea along the length of the coast, so from the cliffs above you’ll have a good chance of seeing rays, southern right whales and maybe a few great white sharks.
There is a large seal colony on the northern side, and you can spot them easily from the hiking trail. (“Robberg” means “seal” in Dutch).
The eight-sleeper Fountain Shack is located on the southern side of the peninsula, looking out over a tombolo of sand that connects a large rocky island to the main peninsula.
There’s no luxury here – just bunk beds with canvas-covered mattresses, gas to cook on, outdoor shower (no hot water) and solar for the lights. (Reserve manager Henk Niewoudt says they will soon be putting a small battery-powered fridge into the shack.)
The Fountain Shack was originally built and used by the angling club, and when Robberg became a reserve in 1980 it was agreed that CapeNature would maintain it and rent it out to visitors.
It’s is the only place for overnight visitors to stay, so you have the whole reserve to yourself in the early mornings and late afternoons when the main public gate closes. Don’t underestimate this…you will feel like one of the original Khoi hunter gatherers, living simply in paradise.
I’ll be going back for sure – next time with some friends and family, so they too can experience a bit of heaven.
l Photojournalist Ramsay spends most of each year exploring southern Africa’s wild places, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in the protected areas. Through his project Year in the Wild 2013-14, he hopes to create awareness for conservation and to inspire others to travel responsibly to the continent’s wild areas.
For more information, see www.yearinthewild.com or www.facebook.com/yearinthewild Partners include Ford Everest, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, Safari Centre Cape Town, Globecomm, Vodacom, Frontrunner, EeziAwn, National Luna, Hetzner, Tracks 4 Africa, Outdoor Photo and Birdlife South Africa. - Cape Times