On the banks of Goukamma, blackened trees are a reminder of the devastating fire that plucked the green from the Garden Route in 2017.
More than a year later, the marks of the fire remain, but are slowly being overtaken by new life, bursting from the soil with colours that stand in stark contrast to the dead trees that tower above.
While this may sound a bit desolate, this surreal landscape of black and colour is a great spot for photographers looking for images full of contrast between destruction and new hope.
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The main attraction is the river however, its source coming from Groenvlei Lake - the Garden Route's only freshwater-lake. It's an easy paddle up and down the river from the riverside picnic area (you can rent canoes from CapeNature), which goes all the way to the ocean.
At the mouth you'll find a semi-open-closed estuary. This means that the mouth of the river changes naturally throughout the year, sometimes running all the way into the sea and other times stopping dead at the beach. The Goukamma beach is an expansive stretch of coast, where you can either listen to the crash of waves or explore the secret lives of the marine animals that make their homes in the rock pools.
In one of the pockets of forests that escaped the fire nestles the River Lodge, glamorous in its rustic tenacity where it's not hard to imagine that fairies and water nymphs may live here. Inside you're warmed by a classic fireplace, while outside the porch overlooks the quiet river, perfect for dining under the stars on warm nights or watching the light of the sun fade into the trees.
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However, the Goukamma Nature Reserve is not yet fully functional - only the River Lodge, the Forest Lodge and the Mvubu Bush Camp are open for bookings while the other lodges and chalets are still being renovated. The hiking trails on the other side of the river are closed until the trails are fixed and signage is put up again, and the reserve is closed to day visitors.
No indication has been given yet when the reserve will be completely up and running, but if you're yearning for a quiet escape in nature where you'll see no other people besides the reserve's staff, now's the time to escape to one of the available accommodation spots and let your spirit wander.
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*Disclaimer: Gabi Zietsman from Traveller24 was hosted on this trip by CapeNature and the vehicle was sponsored by Land Rover, Cape Town.
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