Wind: 14.48 km/h
More than thirty years ago the Japanese coined a poignant phrase to explain the sense of well- being one experiences when spending time in the heart of a forest. It’s called shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. Based on ancient Buddhist practises, the philosophy is quite simple: go to a forest, walk slowly, breathe and open all your senses. There is mounting scientific data on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. It is the best medicine for the mind, body and the soul.
It is more important now than ever to take the time to disconnect from this fast paced, techno-crazy world of ours, and to reconnect, with the natural world. With this in mind, and feeling the need for some serious 'forest bathing', I loaded the kids and the camping gear into the car and headed to Diepwalle, one of most magnificent forest realms in South Africa.
We arrived at the Diepwalle Forest Station as the last drops of a much needed, heaven-sent rain had fallen, and the combination of rain, decaying leaf litter, plant perfumes and ozone made for a powerful and heady scent which made us all stop and take a deep and mindful breath.
We had booked the weekend at one of the Diepwalle Forest Tented Decks, which are discreetly tucked within the forest, a short distance from the Forest Station. After unpacking all our gear, the kids immediately set off to explore and I sat on the deck and took in the sights, sounds and smells of the enchanted forest which surrounded me.
For many hours after the rain had ceased, I could hear the sound of raindrops sliding off the verdant leaves of the forest canopy. That and the chatter of children, cicadas and frogs. The therapy session had commenced. Later that afternoon we headed to the Forest Legends Museum, which houses fascinating stories of yesteryear; of woodcutters, timber merchants, botanists, settlers and the elusive Knysna elephant. The children marvelled at the museum's famous elephant skeleton and the stuffed honey badger.
That night around the fire, we played charades, sipped on hot chocolate and chatted into the night while a pair of owls hooted in the trees above us. We slept soundly, and awoke early, just when we could see the sun’s amber rays pierce through the boughs of a thousand trees. It was a perfect summer's day. We laced up our takkies and headed out on the Red Elephant Forest Trail, one of three walks in the Diepwalle Forest. It is marked along the route with a yellow plaque with a red elephant on it.
The kids raced off ahead of me, full of energy and enthusiasm. These forest trails have been blazed through a tightly-knit maze of diverse tree species, some so old that they rise up way beyond the canopy. I often had to remind the kids to stop and take a closer look at the intricate web of life thriving in this ancient forest sanctuary and to take the time to observe the little things along the way. Much of the beauty of the forest lies in the details, such as the velvety, bright green moss which clings to the bark of trees and rocks, which on close inspection are remarkable in their complexity; the multicoloured forest fungi that grows on fallen trunks of decaying timber; the various shades of pretty leaf litter; the wispy, pale green lichen which hangs like chandeliers from the limbs of the trees and the thick, dark green ferns which edge the pathway. Fascinating life forms wherever you cast your eye.
We spent several hours in the forest, stopping often to sit and linger and when we finally exited the comforting cloak of the forest, we felt both rejuvenated and elated. And that's pretty much how the weekend unfolded: long, languid alfresco meals at our tented deck and long, leisurely walks in the forest, time spent connecting with the natural world and with each other. I could have stayed there for a week, but the weekend had to suffice. When we left Diepwalle, our moods were elevated, energy levels increased and any stress we had arrived with was entirely dissipated. All from being one with this ancient forest. It was just what the doctor ordered.
For more info visit: www.sanparks.org
Situated high above the verdant fringes of the Knysna Indigenous Forest is the Diepwalle Forestry Station, which boasts a charming old stone Victorian house dating back to 1894 and which was once the home of a forester by the name Frederick Charles Rabbets. It is just one of a series of houses built in stone at numerous forestry stations across the region during the late 1800's.
Restoration of this heritage building took place in 1998 and soon after, it was lovingly transformed into the Diepwalle Tea Garden, which is passionately run by a group of women from the local community. This community upliftment venture started back in 2004, when twenty five women from the local community each invested R20 to get the project off the ground. At that time, many of these ladies needed employment and those who had procured jobs in Knysna often had to hike the 25km just to get to work.
Diepwalle at that stage fell under the Department of Forestry, who agreed on a nominal rent and assisted the ladies in acquiring the basics to start up their business. Sanparks has generously continued with the original agreement. Members of the co-operative get a share of profits and discounted prices.
The tea garden is much more than just a wonderful employment opportunity, but it also provides a perfect platform for skills development. Amerencia, one of ladies involved in the tea garden, was the winning contestant in the popular Green Chef competition held in Knysna, and she was featured on Pasella last year. Aunty Klara, who has been part of this venture from day one, is famous for her heaven-sent milk tart.
The Diepwalle Tea Garden caters for day visitors and also offers a hiker’s menu for the those navigating the Outeniqua Hiking Trail (the Diepwalle hut is situated just across the road from the tea garden) Meals can be ordered the day before from the Rondebossie hut. Visitors to Knysna come back year after year to enjoy the ladies delicious traditional food fare and warm-hearted hospitality.
They have been experimenting a lot in the kitchen and last year they made some very exciting changes to their menu. They also started a herb and vegetable garden, in order to have continuous access to fresh and seasonal produce for their dishes. This year they are planning to open a curio shop, selling items made by the community and which will provide additional means of income for members of this community.
We are open every day for a few hours and happy to open on request. They also bake on order and are able to do catering functions, such as weddings and birthday parties. They hope to soon start Sunday Lunches.
The tea garden lies adjacent to the Forest Legend Museum, a rich historical resource for our region, housing a fascinating collection of photographs, artefacts and stories about the lives of the foresters, woodcutters and the gold diggers that once lived here.
For more info contact: 083 759 0424 or contact the Diepwalle office 044 382 9762/3 and ask them to put you through to the tea garden.
Looking to take a walk on the wild side. Look no further than the Kranshoek Coastal Hiking Trail. Engaging all the senses, this challenging 9km route provides not only the ultimate workout, but also the sweet serenity that comes from being in the great outdoors.
We recommend that you set aside a whole day for this trail, it is certainly not one to be rushed. You can take a dip along the way in untainted forest streams, or perhaps in one of the rock pools along the shoreline. There are so many spots en route which are ideal for picnicking - places to linger and digest the awesomeness of our region's diverse habitats.
The trail leads to the beach, where for some distance the crashing waves will be your guiding companion. But first, you will rove through an old coastal forest, and wind your way down from the plateau into a gorge through which a gentle river flows. You will walk among a variety of indigenous trees, which rise up in unison from the leaf-littered forest floor; you will walk past giant ferns and minute multi-coloured fungi; you will hop across tannin-tinted streams. The roar of the ocean can be heard while you are still deep in the forest, but eventually, from its cool shade the trail opens up onto the pebble strewn beach.
A little way down this beach is the turn off for the shorter 4km alternative route, which is recommended for those who are not quite as fit. It does nonetheless still require a good dose of stamina as there is a fair amount of climbing involved. Throughout the hike, you will come across interpretation boards covering various aspects of the ecology, such as the geological formations and the flora and fauna likely to be encountered here. It is interesting to learn just how these landscapes have formed over millions of years.
The trail weaves its way along the coastline, passing rocky outcrops that form buttresses to the invading sea. It is a kaleidoscope of colour around every corner: boulders draped with vivid orange and stark-white lichen; the emerald green of the forest and the sea’s shifting shades of blue. Make sure to look out for the rare Indo-Pacific humpback and inshore bottlenose dolphins. They often feed in the many rocky reefs close to the shore. Also from early winter and well into early summer one can see humpback and southern right whales skirting our Southern African coastline on their epic annual migration They can often be seen breaching from the shore - a totally mesmerizing sight.
The trail often veers off the beach, moving back into thickets of forest. Parts of the hike are very strenuous as one has to clamber over boulders in the pathway and there are lots of ascents and descents throughout the route. Eventually the trail makes a turn back into the forest for the final 200m ascent towards the plateau. When you finally reach the top, you will be afforded fantastic views of the coastline, this bird's eye view giving you an even greater appreciation for the trail you just walked. The vegetation along this part of the trail is very different, consisting of a variety of Fynbos species such as protea’s and erica’s. This final stretch of about 2km is fairly easy and flat and you will eventually find your way back to the Kranshoek picnic site from where you set off.
Entry is only R22 and is payable at the kiosk at the main gate.
For more information visit www.sanparks.co.za or call: (044) 302 5606
Extraordinary Elephant Encounters. Join our herd, as the trail leads through the Park, offering you spectacular views of the Outeniqua Mountains, surrounded by Knysna forest.