Stormsrivier - The Garden Route, Part 3
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
From Plettenberg Bay, we drove 45 minutes down the road to the little village of Stormsrivier. As the eastern end of the Garden Route, it would be a great place to wrap up this stretch of our travels - and knock out some incredible outdoor adventures!
Small Town Life in Stormsrivier
It’s hard to imagine a phrase that more aptly describes Stormsrivier than “small town living.” In nearly a week there, the warmth and openness of the residents made us feel like locals (the copious amount of beer we drank helped, too, but more on that below).
Laid out in a grid system of a handful of quiet, tree-lined streets, the town has a single commercial drag. In the outlying grids, a dozen or so hostels, lodges, and bed and breakfasts cater to the adventure-seeking travelers using Stormsrivier as a launch pad for some incredible activities. Location-wise, the town sits on the border of the stunningly beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park - the rugged, coastal home to many of these activities.
The terrain has a Vermont-esque - but slightly more tropical - feel. In the shadow of towering, green peaks, the tiny village seems to exist solely to support outdoor tourism. For nearly a week while we called Stormsrivier home, we stayed at the Tsitsikamma Backpackers, a hostel/campground/bar typically catering to - as the name suggests - young backpackers.
What a great spot - massive outdoor fireplace, full kitchen, stocked bar, comfortable rooms, and sprawling lawns. And, being a small town, the Backpackers was only a short stroll under the shade of massive trees to Stormsrivier’s commercial stretch. This proximity made it quite easy to explore the town’s restaurants, cafes, general store, and…
Becoming Tsitsikamma Micro Brewery Regulars
… Brewery! Well, technically speaking, a micro brewery. From our arrival on Sunday to departure the following Saturday, we’d log a lot of time at the Tsitsikamma Micro Brewery.
After checking into the Backpackers, we walked down to the main drag - Darnell Street - to get a feel for the town. With an outdoor patio in the shade of massive (oak? we’re not arborists) trees, the brewery just screamed “come drink beer here!” Well, that’s how Chipp interpreted it, at least.
Over several large drafts of their local brews, we got to know the young bartender, Liam. Lifelong Stormsrivier resident and all-around good guy, he filled us in on the town’s history, the cool things to do in the area, and the brewery’s background.
Apparently the founder, Chris, opened Tsitsikamma after a cross-country road trip in the States. During that stretch, he fell in love with America’s budding craft beer industry and wanted to bring that spirit back to South Africa.
True entrepreneur, Chris also seemed to own every establishment on the south side of Darnell Street in downtown Stormsrivier. In addition to the brewery, this portfolio included: Tsitsikamma Village Inn and its Hunter’s Pub (hotel and pub), Marilyn’s 60s Diner (a straight-from Pulp Fiction, Americana-style nostalgia joint), and a little shop selling locally-made crafts and snacks (incredible biltong and cheese).
Most weekday afternoons, the brewery closed at 2pm. As a rule, Chipp would either A) finish his work and head down to catch last call for an afternoon pint, or B) not finish his work and still head down to catch last call. These latter days typically involved buying a few bottles to go - helped facilitate the writing process in front of the outdoor fire back at the Backpackers.
And, what’s a local watering hole without one, good ol’ fashioned bender? Our last full day in town, we went on a long hike into the Tsitsikamma National Park. On our way back, we passed right by the brewery. As Liam had been the one to tell us about the hike, it only seemed right to drop by and thank him for the recommendation.
On his day off, he and a group of friends happened to be enjoying some beverages on the brewery’s patio. We joined and, as these afternoons often do, one beer became several became dinner and drinks at Hunter’s Pub next door became a late-night pool hop at the hotel… Felt like true locals!
Bungee Jumping Bloukrans Bridge
Despite the time we logged at the brewery, we’d be remiss to not at least touch on some of the other, less alcohol-focused activities during our Stormsrivier stay. One highlight involved the world’s third-highest bungee jump: Bloukrans Bridge.
A massive suspension bridge over a deep gorge, the bottom of the Bloukrans Bridge includes a 216-meter bungee jump. We couldn’t travel halfway around the world, stay 30 minutes from this epic jump, and not take the plunge. Well, Jenna - the reasonable one - quite happily chose not to jump. Chipp, on the other hand, considered it a must.
After rigging you up in a full-body harness, the guides walk you out to the edge of the gorge. Underneath the bridge, you clip into a zip line and glide halfway across the gorge to the middle of the span. For the non-jumpers, there’s also a catwalk to take out to the jump area to watch your idiot spouses dive off a perfectly good bridge…
Was it worth it? 100 percent. Was a 216-meter free fall into a rocky gorge absolutely terrifying? You bet. And, what people don’t tell you about bungee jumping is that you have to deal with this free fall multiple times. The whole nature of bungee jumping is an elastic line. So yeah, you fall, stretch out, and almost touch the water at the bottom. But then… You’re launched back up to repeat the whole falling process again.
When you finally stop this up-and-down thrill ride, you realize that you’re hanging upside down, blood rushing to your head, entirely reliant upon the guides rappelling down from the bridge to pull you back up to solid ground. After getting back to solid ground, it took a few minutes for the adrenaline to quit pumping.
Ziplining over Tsitsikamma Falls
From Knysna to Stormsrivier, the Garden Route is slashed by a series of deep gorges, precipitous drops that have formed over millions of years of erosion by rivers draining out of the highlands into the Indian Ocean. The Stormsrivier (Storms River in English) is actually one of these deep gorges, with the town named after it.
Just down the road, the Tsitsikamma Falls - a series of cascading waterfalls in one of these deep gorges - tumble down the Kruisrivier. While you can see these stunning falls on foot, a better way exists: zipline. Through Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures, visitors can strap into a harness and plunge down a series of eight ziplines, all of which criss-cross back and forth over these beautiful falls.
The two of us, led by a pair of guides, hopped into our harnesses and strolled out to the first zipline’s platform. You clip onto the line, sit back so your connecting cable takes weight, and launch out over the falls. Option 1 for slowing down on the far side is your hand brake. Option 2? Massive, mattress-like pads in case you fly into the far side!
Great way to see some incredible terrain without the, well, slightly more aerobic elements of hiking.
A Kayak and Lilo Adventure on the Stormsrivier
We drove through the sprawling Tsitsikamma National Park out to the coast for our final outdoor adventure in Stormsrivier: a kayak and lilo trip.
When people initially recommended this to us, we had no idea what “lilo” meant. During our first trip to Stellenbosch, we’d learned about the Afrikaans language’s quite literal nature. While not an Afrikaans word, per se, lilo embraces this literal spirit. Simply put, lilo means to lie low, that is, lie down on a rigid, pool-float-like raft and paddle with your arms. Yep, that’s it.
Through Untouched Adventures, we’d get some first-hand experience with this technique. At the mouth of the Stormsrivier - where it dumps into the Indian Ocean - we linked up with our two guides, put on life jackets, and dragged our tandem kayak to a boat launch.
For the first leg, we kayaked across a quarter-mile-ish stretch of open ocean, fighting the crashing surf - but mostly our own kayaking ineptitude… Eventually, we got the hang of it, started using the waves to push us along, and made our way to the mouth of the Stormsrivier gorge.
The next leg, we kayaked up this gorge, the walls on both sides towering above us. After 30 or so minutes, we reached a cascade and guided the kayaks onto the rocky shoreline - time to transition to the lilo portion of the trip!
Prestaged by the company, a half dozen floats rested on the rocks. Securing our kayaks, we each grabbed one, scrambled up and over the cascade, and hopped into the water on the top side. Equipped with these low-draft “vessels,” we used our arms to paddle upstream, winding our way deeper and deeper into the Stormsrivier.
At a wide, deep pool, we paddled over to shore and relaxed in a patch of sun. For the next hour, we swam, cliff jumped, and hung out in an absolutely gorgeous environment. To protect this brackish ecosystem, visitors can only enter the Stormsrivier gorge on these guided trips. Even without these restrictions, due to the gorge’s steep walls, the only way to get there (short of rappelling off the walls) is with a kayak and lilo. So yeah, we may as well have been in the middle of nowhere - amazing.
After the return journey, we took advantage of one of the park’s other highlights - the Cattle Baron restaurant. Perched on the rocky shoreline with waves crashing an arm’s length away, the place offers incredible views up the coast. Ravenous after our excursion, we had some drinks and devoured huge platters of fish and chips - couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day!