Got your ducks in a row – for Valentine’s Day??

Duck Bitou River Lodge

Soooo  …  Valentine’s Day!

How does that make you feel? Do you absolutely love the whole hearts-roses-and-candlelit-dinner thing? Or does the very idea make your toes curl?

When you think about it, Valentine’s Day is all about being together, and you don’t necessarily have to celebrate that over dinner, do you?

How about….

….. watching the sun go down from Robberg Nature Reserve, with a bottle of bubbly and two glasses?

…. spending the morning learning to SUP on Mark’s boards up the Keurbooms River?*

…. or joining Mark for an afternoon’s champagne cruise up the Keurbooms River?*

…. learning to surf together at Learn To Surf Plett, with Clayton?

…. looking for fireflies at the Garden of Eden’s board walk trail: perfect for hand-in-hand?

….. walking to The Island on Robberg, stopping for lunch on That Bench, with the waves crashing below?

…. canyoning, kloofing and abseiling down waterfalls with at The Crags?

…. paddling the Keurbooms Canoe Trail to spend a night at the Whiskey Creek cabin?

…. OR simply come and stay at Bitou River Lodge on our 3:4:2 Special and enjoy romantic breakfasts and a paddle down the Bitou River together. Instead of a restaurant meal, organize your own barbecue-for-two next to the river, under the stars. Or give us a heads up and we’ll arrange a picnic basket for you instead.  All of which is, of course, available throughout the year for  you ‘all-year-round’ romantics: the 3:4:2 Special, the breakfasts, the canoes, the barbecues next to the river….

Valentines Day Bitou River Lodge

Go on.Uncurl those toes.

Have fun this Valentine’s Day!

* Mark’s website is  , the rest of the suggestions are easy to find online. You’re also welcome to mail me on

Cappuccino Puppy



Think crisp white sheets, cool in summer… or a fat white sofa next to a crackling winter fire…. or solid white walls paying tribute to their traditional Cape-Dutch design…. or a silky white puppy cuddling amongst cushions … cue the violins….

Or not.

Turns out that white wasn’t such a clever colour choice for a puppy living on a farm next to a river. The silky white Zazzi is an enthusiastic explorer of rivers. Also an intrepid investigator of molehills. In that order. So instead of a puppy the colour of cream, she usually looks more like a cappuccino: foamy on top, brown underneath. When she goes plunging & bouncing through the long grass, she comes back covered with freckles of grass-seed, to add to the effect.


But – magic wand – once she’s been brushed at bed-time, the silky white reappears & for twelve hours she looks & feels (& lounges) like a model Doodle.

She might not be the right colour for a farm girl, but she does have the right temperament: nothing is too scary to try at least once. The lessons along the way have sometimes been painful, but she’s learned quickly. She knows, for example, to move away fast from a disturbed fire-ant nest & at the same time she found out that fire-ants don’t survive repeated river dunkings (luckily). She also knows that the horses don’t enjoy visits from her in their field & that they move with frightening, thunderous speed. The cat refuses to play and his claws are best avoided. Sacred Ibises, hunching next to the water like old men in a row, are to be respected. Butterflies are impossible to catch but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try.

And so two months have flashed past since I fetched her in Prince Albert: we’ve owned her for half her life. She’s learning how to behave, how to walk on a lead, how to sit-stay ; and that jumping up is frowned on. She loves puppy classes for the delirious joy of playing with the others – that roughandtumble that only puppies understand – but getting her into the car to drive there requires sneaky subversion. She’s getting very quick to sniff out the double-cross.

Recently we started on the town experiences: pavements, hooting, big wheels, scary sounds, fascinating smells. Hills gives you a check list with your puppy food. So far Zazzi has met a washing machine, a bicycle, a hair dryer & a tumble dryer – but a Hot Air Balloon?? Help. Anyone?


Espresso anyone?



This isn’t a good look on the face of a guest when you pour their filter coffee at breakfast at Bitou River Lodge, Plettenberg Bay. So off you go to try again. Five tablespoons of Bootlegger’s finest filter coffee in a two-cup plunger, this time? Hmmm, they say. Not bad. Just missing that special something…. it’s called espresso.

So how was I going to up my game and provide quality espresso for my guests?

I’d heard stories from other guest-house owners about disasters caused by guests operating self-help coffee machines unsupervised, about the loud noise from the beans being ground, about the problems with cleaning machines effectively.

Sadly I crossed the Smeg coffee machine (red!) off my list.

How about a Nespresso machine then? But … those pods are not at all eco-friendly and our Lodge is committed to green solutions.

What else? I was stumped.

Then I had not one but five Italian guests arrive, along with an espresso-fanatic German who travels everywhere with her own tiny Moka pot which makes one cup of espresso, stove-top. I was fascinated. The traditional Italian method of percolating coffee on the stove made perfect cups of espresso over and over again.

So I found a family of Bialetti Moka Pots: Papa Bialetti, Mamma Bialetti and Bambino Bialetti. Between them they can make sixteen cups of strong, black espresso at a sitting, or can serve just one guest or two.

I received rigorous training from my experienced team of six guests (it’s not as straightforward as you might think).  I asked some horrifyingly naive questions: Can you use boiling water in the bottom chamber? A shocked chorus of NO’s!  I thought it would speed things up, but speed, I learnt, is Not The Point. Even if you do have a polo match to get to. Why won’t the Mamma Pot function at all on the large gas burner? Because it’s not hot enough, go figure. You have to have a blast of heat directly under the pot – and again, Speed Is Not The Point. Are espresso cups an essential part of drinking espresso? YES!  Right, got it – and also got the cute little cups.

Even with the cute little cups I don’t think I’ll ever get used to drinking such strong coffee – but it was so much fun learning how to make it properly and seeing the new look on my guests’ faces…


Big up to Rudston, Nadia, Diego, Gillian, Patrizia and Regine, who got my year off to a stylish start!

August 2017 – Plett – Building and Growing

Photo: @gotravelbug
Photo: @gotravelbug

Ten weeks ago we were living with the strong smell of smoke everywhere we went in Plett. We scanned the hills for billowing smoke clouds and raging flames, day and night. We checked the wind strength every few minutes. We donated food. Clothes. Shelter. We cried a lot. We hugged strangers.

It was devastating for all of us. We’re still getting over it.

But finally we’ve had soaking rains that will have put out the last of the fires in the deepest tree roots in the most inaccessible valleys. The fragile grey ash will soon be full of green shoots. Plett is growing again.

In more ways than one…

All the volunteer units are involved in a massive training exercise today, to be better prepared for potential disasters: this involves many locals giving up a lot of time to help others. Even sometimes, their lives. We heard today that our 24-year-old volunteer firefighter, Brad Richards, is being awarded the Order of Mendi for his bravery during the fires.

“Brad was already at the gate and I ran onto the deck and I said to him: ‘Brad, the world doesn’t need another hero and please be careful’ and he said ‘Ma don’t worry. They need me. It will be fine’ and he left.”

It wasn’t fine. He never did make it back home. We honour him.

We honour everyone who helped during that time. The people who raced around in the path of the fire, cutting dogs free from their chains in Kranshoek. The people who rescued terrified horses. All the helpers in the old Edgars shop, who tried to make sense of loss & bewilderment. The evacuees from Kranshoek, who softly sang hymns throughout that long night in the community hall….

Turning a traumatic experience into one filled with hope.

And Plett is, once again, hope-filled. Rubble has been removed. Homes are being rebuilt. Trees have been pruned back, gardens replanted. Many new jobs have been created, which is always good news.

And, as well, we have two new eating-out experiences in Plett, both excellent in their totally opposite ways.

Golden Palm Plett

The Golden Palm, in the Lookout Centre, is a tiny Asian Steam Kitchen with a small, delicious menu. Chris can only seat twenty and only opens for lunch and sometimes for dinner. Make a booking!

Old Rectory Plett

The Old Rectory, next to Hobie Beach, has also opened and is well worth a visit. They’ve kept sections of the original old house, as well as the thatch, and it’s beautiful. A champagne lunch on the terrace is a real treat.

So don’t think of Plett as a sad grey place. It’s not. Only ten weeks after the fire-storm we’re building and growing. Don’t stay away!

Paddling the Bitou River

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

‘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.


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.


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.


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.


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…..



Top 5 Beach Walks in Plett

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.


#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.


#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!


Birding conundrum at Bitou River Lodge

‘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

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?


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!



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.


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.


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!



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

Dr Evil Classic Muddy 2015

Dr Evil 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.