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Paddling the Bitou River

December 12th, 2016

The canoe bobs lightly as you reach for the paddle.

In seconds you’re hidden from the Lodge.

You could almost be in Botswana – the paddle leaves sparkling swirls behind you and the canoe slides softly between banks of reeds. It’s just you, the water and the sky. No other human trace in sight. A pair of African Fish Eagles call overhead, on the hunt. Moorhens run across lily pads in front of you. Dragonflies flit lazily from blue lily to green reed. Mmmmm…. Botswana….

No wait. This is better than Botswana! No guide with a gun for a start. You can do this canoe trip totally alone. There are no hippos. No crocodiles. No elephants. This is a huge bonus. You can relax. Nothing wants to chase you, or even worse, eat you. All is peaceful. So quiet.

Paddling the Bitou River

Until suddenly a pair of Egyptian Geese spots you and shouts at you to keep away from their fluffy little goslings. You glide, fascinated. They huff off, disappearing round the bend.

Usually, though, birds don’t mind the canoes. The Little Bittern, the Squacco Heron and the White-backed Night Heron have all been spotted here, unconcerned. Less rare but more beautiful, Knysna Touracos float overhead from tree to tree. Cape Weavers build their nests in the reeds and Yellow and Red Bishop Birds perch brightly amongst them. Shy Black Crakes hide in those reeds, their chicks tiny black balls of down – a perfect Plettenberg Bay birding experience.

Beautiful photo of a Black Crake taken by one of our guests, Frank Bos.

Beautiful photo of a Black Crake taken by one of our guests, Frank Bos.

How far can you go? Well, all the way to the sea, but that’s a long trip. It’s fun to paddle to Emily Moon, have a drink or even lunch and paddle back again. It’s fun to paddle just as far as you feel like and paddle back again, seeing if you can spot the Malachite Kingfishers. It’s fun just to paddle. To enjoy the river.

If you need more of an adrenaline rush, well, there’s always Botswana….

Important information:

  • Unfortunately Bitou River Lodge’s canoes are only for the use of the guests staying there.
  • Canoes can be hired from Emily Moon depending on availability. It’s best to phone first.
  • Do you have your own canoe? You can put it in the water at the start of the R340  to Wittedrif, but be considerate of the fishermen.

 

Dr Evil Classic 2016

September 20th, 2016

‘Day Two. Definitely.’                                                                                                                                              

‘Day Two, the best views!’                                                                                                                                                ‘

Oh, Day One – we love climbing. And those views…!’                                                                                                                                              

‘Day Three, amazing scenery!’

He’s done it again.

Dr Evil, that is.

The 2016 Pennypinchers  Dr Evil Classic, held each year in Plettenberg Bay, has been even better  than the previous four, with cyclists arriving from all over the country & even from overseas, to take part. The three-day race has always been tweaked so that it’s not the same as the year before, but this year it was totally re-invented : ‘You can’t have the same old, same old’ says Dr Evil.

So how was it different?

Registration still took place at Wittedrif High School and Day One started from the school with a rousing send-off from the kids in uniform. It was a crisp, sunny day of climbing up hills & through forests & over farmland, with the final descent taking cyclists back to the school. It was a long, tiring ride but the scenery made it all worthwhile.

dr-evil-riders

On Day Two everyone transferred to Cairnbrogie Dairy Farm, a 25-minute drive from Bitou River Lodge/Wittedrif. This seemed to be most people’s favourite stage. The route passed from Cairnbrogie into the Harkerville Forest & over part of the Red Route, before returning to the farm for some long, rough single-track riding. This was not enjoyed by everyone :  ‘Tough to do on a hardtail, I’m gonna sell it!’  ‘So much cow dung! In my face, even!’  (Did nobody mention that Cairnbrogie is a dairy farm?) But the route ran next to the sea and the views were stunning. Lunch was served in the Cairnbrogie Barn as the last riders straggled in.

riders-dr-evil

Then another complete change of scenery for Day Three. The venue for this stage was a vineyard at The Crags – a part of the Plett Winelands – the Kay & Monty Vineyard, a 20-minute drive from Bitou River Lodge. The weather had also changed – to rainy. The day was short but very steep, with even more climbing than on Day One. Great views from the tops of the climbs, but great caution on the descents, with the tracks becoming slippery in the rain. Big fires & glasses of wine welcomed the cyclists in the tasting-room, where the mood was relaxed & cheerful, everyone mud-spattered, joking & laughing.

dr-evil

Over the three days everything seemed so organized, so punctual, so effortless. Of course it never really is effortless.  It comes down to a lot of organized people working together as a team. Volunteers manned the water stations. Volunteers acted as marshals & sweepers. Volunteers directed traffic.  Volunteers placed banners, flags, directions to the Race Village. Three different Race Villages, that is.

Squirt, the bike-washers, had to move & re-erect all their masses of poles (to hang the bikes on) from a school  netball pitch (Day One) to a hay barn (Day Two) to a tractor-shed (Day Three), which was hectic.

squirt

But it all worked. So very well.

Will it happen again next year? Not sure. So far there’s no sponsor.

We’ll have to wait & see.

With our fingers crossed…..

dr-evil-leon

 

Top 5 Beach Walks in Plett

March 25th, 2016

Hi – I’m Jessie. I’ve been asked to guest blog for Bitou River Lodge. Why me? I’m a local. I’m the daughter of two “old Plett” locals, so I’m the real deal. I’ve grown up bouncing about on the beach or in the sea, and I’ve learnt a thing or two along the way.

These days, I actually live in Cape Town. And as soon as Capetonians find out that I’m a Plett local – they demand info on Plett’s best-kept beaches. I’m here to make sure that you don’t miss them when you visit!

Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m on holiday I want to eat anything, drink G&Ts, and laze about with my book. If there’s a hammock close by, you’ll probably find me in it. The only trouble with me is once I laze about too much I get itchy feet. I suddenly, urgently, need to work off my breakfast – but not at the gym like I usually do in my 8-5.

My favourite lazy activity is a good old beach walk (just as well I grew up in Plett!). Plett, as I’m sure you know, is home to the most beautiful beaches. I’m here to tell you which are my top 5.

Plett-Beaches

#5 Robberg Beach

This is the obvious beach that you should have found by now. If you’re looking at the sea, Robberg is to the right of the giant hotel on the beach (Beacon Isle, or BI if you’re a local). It’s a 6km stretch of beach and is great for when you want to be social. This is the ultimate beach to walk if you’re a family with teens (this is a popular beach to walk), and also if you’d like to have a lot of spots from which to swim. Usually, there are lifeguards on the beach to make sure you swim safely.

If you’re being more energetic, it’s a great 12km run too!

#4 Lookout Beach

Lookout Beach is on the river mouth – and is one of those beaches which is affected when the river mouth moves. Most of the time, it’s there. Sometimes, it’s not. But mostly is. It’s a beach where I spent most of my time growing up. It’s a fun and relatively safe beach for kids, and there’s a restaurant (Lookout Deck…notice the trend?) right on the rocks. It’s perfect for a short walk, maybe a swim or a boogie board, and then a sundowner or fish and chips at the wooden, laid-back restaurant.

#3 Nature’s Valley

If you’ve never been to Nature’s, you should go. It’s a tiny, tucked away village of holiday homes in the middle of this forest. It’s wild, and simple. People windsurf, paddle, swim, and ride their bikes here. It’s got a very relaxed, small town feeling.

This beach, I must warn you, is exceptionally dangerous to swim at for tourists. If you’re not great at the sea, and you’re not a pro, really don’t take the chance. The water, like the land, is wild. The beach itself is beautiful. It’s stark and has big black rocks, and it’s a perfect place to get an ice cream from the shop and then walk it (and you) down the beach.

zinzi-at-lagoon

#2 Lagoon

I love the lagoon. Access it from Susan Street. This is a place where young families and dog walkers generally hang out. You’ll also find some paddlers and fishermen. The beach depends on the tide, but has no waves and is quite safe. I’ve had many a crab-race here, as well as walked our dogs on the hard sand. Often. It’s my favourite beach for winter, in particular.

#1 Keurbooms

This is my top of the list, and for those of you who don’t know it, lucky you! Keurbooms beach is a massive beach – and has many entry points and routes. My personal favourite is the route from the Keurbooms Hotel (close to Strandmeer), You walk through extensive fynbos on this winding path through the dunes on the way to the beach. When you get there, you’re often the only one there. It’s perfect for a run, for finding pansies, and for spending some time in nature. It’s a place I go to unwind.

Now that you know my favourites, try them out, and let me know which are yours!

Keurbooms

My top 5 hikes in Plett

March 17th, 2016

This is a tough one. How does one choose one’s favourite Plettenberg Bay hikes … beach…? forest….? river….? mountain….? In Plett we have them all!

But these are probably my top five:

1. The Robberg Half ( type: fynbos peninsula)

Robberg-Hike

From the safe parking area on Robberg itself, you take the left path. Enjoy the views over Robberg Beach as you walk to The Gap. Then keep going on the left side. The path gets steeper until you pop out on top. Then it’s a gentle meander through fynbos until you get to Witsand, a huge sand dune. You could choose to go straight here, to The Point, but I prefer to turn right & go down to the beach. The tradition is to run the last bit. And scream. Then swim. Or walk round The Island first. Then swim. Turn your back to The Island & complete the half-circuit of Robberg, ending back at your car. It should take you 1 – 2 hours.
• Wear closed shoes (there are ants) & take water.

2. The Salt River Trail, Natures Valley (type: coastal forest)

salt river 2016

From the shop at Natures Valley, walk onto the beach & turn right. You’ll find a path over the rocks, which is not for the faint-hearted, be careful. There’s also been a small landslip but it seems stable & well walked. The path climbs from the pebble beach into the coastal forest & then down to Salt River Mouth, where you can swim. The path then goes uphill through the forest for quite a way before you turn left to the Lookout Point & then back down to Natures Valley. It should take you 1 – 2 hours.
• Only go at low tide. Ask at the shop if you’re unsure.

3. The Perdekop Trail, Harkerville (type: indigenous forest)

Harkerville forest hike

Park opposite the Harkerville Forestry office, issue yourself a permit & take a map. The trail is signposted with a horse-head logo. It’s an 8 km hike through wonderful indigenous forest. It should take you 1 – 2 hours.
• It can be unpleasantly muddy after heavy rain.

4. The Kranshoek Trail, Harkerville (type: coastal fynbos)

Kranshoek Coastal Walk

To get to the start of this trail you need to drive through the Harkerville forest to the picnic site. Leave nothing visible in your car. Cross the little river above the waterfall & follow the path down to the sea, enjoying the views as you go. The forest ends where the rocky beach begins – go left. There are two paths back up the cliff: the shorter, steeper fishermen’s path which you’ll see first, or the longer route further down the beach. Footprints mark the trail. It should take you 2 hours or 4 -5 hours depending on the route you choose.
• Wear good shoes as the beach is rocky. Take water.

5. The Garden of Eden Mini-Hike (type: forest boardwalk)

Boardwalk Plett

This is a perfect family hike if you have littlies or oldies, or if you’re pushing a pram or a wheelchair. The boardwalk winds through lovely indigenous forest & ferns, crosses the river several times & has bench-&-table areas to stop off at along the way. The mossy trunks make good places for children (& fairies) to hide. Bring an umbrella & walk here in the rain. The boardwalk saves you from the mud & the trees keep the worst of the wet away. It will only take you 20 – 30 mins.
• The boardwalk can be slippery when wet.

Contact us at Bitou River Lodge for more information or to book your accommodation in Plett. www.bitou.co.za or info@bitou.co.za

Birding conundrum at Bitou River Lodge

January 29th, 2016

‘How can you tell for sure what kind of a bird is what?’ my nine-year-old self asked my taciturn Scottish uncle, a well-known ornithologist & author. ‘You kill it’, he said with a fierce look at me.

Which was pretty much the end of my interest in birding – and in ornithologists.

I thought of my Uncle Leslie when I received the photo from Plettenberg Bay birder Bruce Ward-Smith, proof finally that we’d identified the birds correctly. I wished that I hadn’t wanted a photo so badly when we first saw them.

It was while I was walking the dogs at Bitou River Lodge eighteen months ago that I first saw them. It was almost dark & they came out of the sky over my head, clearly alarmed, shreeee-ing at us to go away. Three owls. Barn Owls, I thought. Our first Barn Owls!

Off I went to share the exciting news with our guests.  But no.

We had the Radue family staying with us at the time and 13-year-old Joel told me at breakfast – to my consternation – that he’d seen the owls & that they weren’t Barn Owls. My jaw dropped. No? No. Better than that. They were African Grass Owls. Much rarer. But only slightly different.

So how could Joel be so sure? He couldn’t see that the upper parts were darker brown than a Barn Owl’s would be, because it was too dark. The difference in size between the two owls is a mere two centimetres. Their call was similar to a Barn Owl’s. So how? He could tell because the African Grass Owl flies with its legs dangling below its body, unlike the Barn Owl.

Impressive, Joel. And he was right, of course.

African Grass Owl by William Radue

African Grass Owl by William Radue

Ray Goodwin came out to have a look & confirmed the sighting. Mike Graham tried to get a photo, but the light was never going to be good enough. William Radue took the only photo we had of the owls. Until Bruce Ward-Smith phoned to say that he’d found an African Grass Owl on the road outside our farm. It was dead, hit by a car. He’d taken photos. Did I know anything about African Grass Owls in the area?  It was a horrible moment.

That was our African Grass Owl, almost a member of the family. We’d protected their nesting area. We’d stood silently in the dusk, waiting (mostly unsuccessfully) for a glimpse of them. We’d learned to identify them by their chirping call when they weren’t alarmed, by their  ‘skreeee!’ when they were. We’d hoped they would stay, hatch out more owlets, enjoy living next to the Bitou River as much as we do.

But they’ve gone.

Bruce’s photo finally allows us to admire in detail the beautiful feathers, the vibrant colours, the life that once was of this magnificent and rare bird. How fortunate we were to have had them here for a few months and – who knows? –  perhaps they’ll return.  Maybe in 2016 we’ll see African Grass Owls at Bitou River Lodge once again. Here’s hoping.

African Grass Owl by Bruce Ward Smith

African Grass Owl by Bruce Ward Smith

More on Birding in Plettenberg Bay

Biking the Plett Winelands

October 21st, 2015

Last weekend Plettenberg Bay was alive with the sounds of clinking glasses at the Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival, a new celebration of the emerging Plett Winelands and their fantastic wine and bubbly. In addition to the festival, the popular Tour de Plett MTB race was held- you know the one, that challenge mountain-bike race in the Bitou Valley with spectacular views, stunning forest single-track, three floating bridges and a finish on Central Beach?

Tour-de-Plett

Oh dear, you missed it?

So then you probably missed the Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival too? Great music, great food, free tastings of the local wines & bubblies? Also at Central Beach? Sorry for you – but all is not lost!

Plett-Winelands

Luka-Wines

There’s a consolation prize.  Here’s the thing : those wines & bubblies are still in Plett! Yup. As they’re made here, there’s an endless supply. And there are lots of mountain bike trails to choose from, with spectacular views & stunning forest single-track (sadly, no floating bridges). The best part is that it’s possible to combine biking with the Plett Winelands, pedalling with tasting, friends with family….

How, you ask?

Option 1 would be to join Cycles In The Forest  , who organise an MTB ride for you at The Crags, taking you off-road & through forests & farmland, stopping off for wine-tastings on the way.

Option 2 is more Do-it-yourself, also in The Crags, where many of the Plett wine estates are located. Firstly, you’d leave your car at Bramon Wines where you’d immediately book your table for lunch. You’d then hop on your bikes, cross the N2 & cycle up the Redford Road to Newstead Wines for your first wine-tasting. Fortified, you’d head for the hills up Redford Road, passing farms, polo fields & dams until the last road on the left (5 km) where you’d follow the signs to RE Vineyards, which has a beautiful tasting room set in vineyards, with polo ponies leaning over fences & charming Lloyd to tell you about their award-winning ‘Sav’ & their ‘Champu’ MCC.

RE-Wines

As you cycle away from rare earth, Redford Lane Wines  is on your left, a small very specialised vineyard. Leanne Lane as owner, chef & manager, is passionate about the wines she makes : one hectare of their Sauvignon & two new hectares for Nebbilio & Barbera grapes. With the interesting wines, the dam, the horses, the biltong paté & the tame Hadeda Ibis, this is a wonderful family stop.

Redford-Lane

From here it’s mainly downhill all the way back to Bramon Wine Estate  to taste their award-winning wines & the famous Blanc de Blanc, followed by a delicious homemade-bread-&-tapas lunch in the vineyards. Aaahh, life is good!

But wait, there’s more!

Until 16th December 2015, Bitou River Lodge will be offering a 3:4:2 Special on our four-star accommodation next to the Bitou River and give you a bottle of Redford Lane Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate your arrival!

Aaahh, life is not just good – it’s wonderful!

Biking-Plett-Winelands

Sue

To Book your Wine & Wheels Special Offer: email Sue on info@bitou.co.za  quote Wine & Wheels 342 when booking.  Let us help you to cycle the Plett Winelands in beautiful Plettenberg Bay!

Dr Evil Classic Muddy 2015

September 24th, 2015

The End!  #muddy #tired #worth it  And just like that the Dr Evil Classic is over for another year.

Dr Evil 2015

Dr Evil 2015 – Muddy

The ‘Dr Evil Muddy’, is how most people will remember it. Bikes slipping & sliding downhill and slipping & sliding uphill. Chains jamming. Gears seizing up. Brakes failing.  What didn’t fail, however, was the sense of humour of the cyclists, who (mostly) grinned through it all.

The hosts, too, were unfailingly cheerful about the invasion of their school. On the first day, the start chute was lined with Wittedrift High school-kids cheering the cyclists on. When ‘Greg’ had to go home to fetch his shoes, everyone waited for him & gave him a hero’s clap to send him on his way. Prefects handed out medals. The netball courts were used as a cleaning zone. Bikes were stored in the school hall for safety. Everyone was welcoming.

There were a few hiccups of course. Two cyclists couldn’t find Cairnbrogie (“But they said it was in Harkerville!”) & missed out on that day’s ride. The mud made Day Two, shorter & more scenic this year, but still difficult, a day of falls & injuries. And ironically, with the rivers flowing full & the fields sodden, Wittedrift High ran out of that very commoditiy – water – on the last day, & had to send all the bikes home covered with mud. Minor details these – the race was, once again, a total success.

And, in the end, the mud became a badge of pride. It told a story: three days of challenges, accepted & survived. Three days of concentrating only on the partnership of body & bike. Three days of forgetting about work worries. Three days of exploring some of the secret trails around Plett. A muddy bike meant you’d done it.

Hopefully they’ll come back & do it all again next year for the Dr Evil Classic 2016.

Just without the mud.

Dr Evil Classic Countdown

September 15th, 2015

Dr Evil Classic‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Cape Town in April, ‘Nah. It’s too far to come for a three-day race.’

‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Upington in April, ‘Bring it on!’

And there you have it. The Dr Evil Classic is about attitude, pure & simple.

Face it, Upington isn’t an ideal place to train for the Dr Evil. Hills are hard to find. Mud is scarce. The Dr Evil is all about hills, every year – & this year, mud will be that extra ingredient to add to the challenge.

We’ve had so much rain that our valley, where the race is held, is totally waterlogged. The Bitou River is wide & brown. The water lilies are drowned. Our neighbour’s field has become a pond for Yellow-billed Ducks, Spoonbills, African Black Ducks & even Cape Teals. Flocks of Sacred Ibises keep our ponies company. The sun pops out happily after each bout of rain, but doesn’t do much to dry up the wet. And with so few days to go until the start of the Dr Evil, we’re running out of sunny days. The wet is here to stay.

But the guys who cycle the Dr Evil will take it in their stride, mud & all.
On Wednesday they’ll arrive, assemble their super-bikes, register, eat ; & go to bed nice & early. We’ll wave them off the next morning, clean; & get them back a few hours later, filthy, tired, cursing Dr Evil (he’s used to it), but ready to do it all again the next day. And do it well.

They’re here for the challenge, for the adventure, for the satisfaction of working successfully as a team. They’re here for the cameraderie. They’re here to do better than they did last year.
They’re here because it’s fun.

It’s all about attitude. The Dr Evil Classic… Life…