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Published: October 6th 2015
I suspect that the reason most people stay in Sedgefield is not for the town itself but it's surrounding area. Sandwiched as it is between the Coast on one side and mountains and forest on the other, it is a great base to explore the beauty of nature. We have taken a few trips so far to visit local beauty spots and I have loved getting to know the area. Hopefully this account which blends these trips will give an idea of the beauty of the area. Swartvlei
If you head towards George on the N2 you will pass Timberlake, a small complex of gift shops and cafés. It is worth stopping for a cup of coffee, and free wifi, but there isn't much there to detain you. Not far beyond Timberland is a turn off to Swartvlei, which is a lake with a small community on the shore. This track, for it is untarred, leads down to a scientific research centre which is part of the Garden Route National Park. The road is wide and straight and passes the beautiful, reed-edged lake.
If you don't take the right-hand turn to the research centre but instead
continue down the track then the countryside opens out and there are lovely views across the lake, green fields and forests. The settlement of Swartvlei is unremarkable... blink and you would miss it. As the road through the hamlet comes to a t-junction, in front is an artsy little shop, which doesn't get much passing trade. We went in more out of sympathy than a genuine desire to see it, and there wasn't much there. We continued up the road, following signs for Karatara. The Karatara River
We had been to the Karatara River after Claire and Grant arrived for the long weekend. The Karatara, or as it is known to the family, "The Coca-Cola River", bears a striking resemblance to the beverage in question. To get there previously we had turned off any main roads and down a different untarred track.
The river is channeled through a bridge. On one side it appears perfectly still and there is a dense thicket of reeds. On the other, the water churns furiously before calming a few metres out. The foam from the moving waters collects and is gradually dissipated in one corner of the river. In
the distance, on both sides are grassy knolls which look inviting but are difficult to get to. We settled for eating on the bridge itself where we had parked the cars.
After lunch Lindsey, Claire, Grant and myself all went for a dip in the river, leaving Sharon on the bridge to watch our things... and take embarrassing pictures of us all. We edged into the water which chilled us quite quickly. For a long way it only went up to my knees and was therefore only just swimmable. Suddenly though the floor dropped away and it was so deep I could only bounce on my toes to keep above the water. Just beyond that part, the water started to get warmer in small patches. Swimming into one of these patches gave an amazing feeling of the warm water reaching out to caress your freezing limbs. Soon though we went back to the cooler shallows to get out. It took just a couple of minutes in the warm sun for us to dry of and fortunately the Coke didn't stain. Karatara
After this adventure Grant and Claire had continued on to explore the town of
Karatara itself. They had reported back to us that it was in a lovely area and therefore we decided to go and see it. The history of Karatara is that the woodcutters who chopped in the Knysna forest had been forcibly re-settled to protect the trees. The government built a settlement of identikit houses on a lovely plain surrounded by mountains. We didn't think the town was very pretty but it's location is stunning.
The road to get to Karatara was extremely difficult, even in the four-wheel drive Landrover. It went up steep hills, down winding mountain passes and wandered through the forests. The surface was deeply rutted from heavy use and parts of it had been washed away in recent floods. The other users of this road range from people driving tiny cars, farmers in tractors, merchants in large vans and even huge lorries driving to a saw mill. You never knew what you would find around the next corner or over the crest of the hill. All along we heard frogs chirping in the ditches by the side of the road.
From Karatara the road continued on to Rheendal. As we had been here previously to
visit Jubilee Creek, we decided not to go further and instead turned and continued through the forest and returned home. Jubilee Creek
When Gandalf had arrived with Alison and Nathan to complete the gathering for the Heritage Day weekend, we decided to visit Jubilee Creek. This is part of the Knysna Forest National Park. Once we entered the park the road was incredibly rough and I felt nauseous by the time we reached the creek. The creek was very shallow and the water was a golden colour. The family entertained themselves by catching frogs whilst I took pictures of the area which was a pretty wooded spot.
After lunch we went further into the forest to the old settlement of Millwood. For a brief period in the 1880s after the discovery of gold in the river there was a flurry of activity and a settlement of 4000 people formed. Unfortunately none of the claims proved successful and less than a decade later nothing but a few cottages was left of the thriving town. The cottages are now a holiday home and a cafe. We stopped at the cafe and discovered a tiny museum to the
gold mining past. Fortified by a coffee we started on the 1km walk up to the mine shafts. Unfortunately, they were closed by the time we got there but it was a lovely walk. Beyond the shafts was a large red shed. We discovered it was a graveyard for old mining machinery. It was fascinating to look in beyond the padlocked metal gates. Outside of the shed was a tiny narrow gauge railway with the old mine carts on it. It looked like a scene from the Wild West.
As we had left the mines we came back to the cafe to discover the whole area was swarming with baboons. There were trees full of the creatures. They can be quite dangerous and have learned tricks, such as opening car doors, to get at human food. These were quite shy though. They stayed away from the car and even dodged out of sight when we tried to take their pictures - apparently they don't feel photogenic. Ebb and Flow
One other area worth a visit in the area is Ebb and Flow, part of the Garden Route National Park. This can be found a little
further along the road from Swartvlei and is basically a large camp site situated on the banks of a river. There wasn't a huge amount to do there but it was a tranquil spot. We had a picnic and by the end of it were surrounded by birds who seemed to want our food but took no steps to get it. One even perched curiously on Lindsey. I spent some time looking for the Knysna Loerie, a rare black bird with vibrant red wings, which Sharon informed me she had seen in the trees. I eventually managed to snap a few pictures as one flew across the river.
After eating, Lindsey went swimming in the cold river. Judging from the number of passing canoeists it was also possible to rent canoes. A few hikes start in the park, though most are day-long treks. We did the first mile or so of one of the hikes which took us down a lovely path through the trees on the opposite bank of the river. This was well maintained and had steps to avoid the steeper scrambles up the muddy path. When he trees opened out, the reflected view in the gently
flowing river of the cliffs on the opposite bank was breathtaking.
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