"Keurboomsrivier" Keurboomsrivier by mke1963

Keurboomsrivier Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 4 photos

A 2 1/2 hour trip up the Keurbooms River provides a relaxing introduction to the indigenous forests that are still found in the narrow gorges all along this stretch of the coastline. A lack of easily accessible roads through the gorges along the Tsitsikamma coast makes it difficult to see this part of the world, except by treks of several days. Those who do not have the time to spend two to six days hiking the long-distance paths can see a great diversity of ecosystems along the Keurbooms river. Organised boat trips start (at 11am and 2 pm) from the ferry pier, reached from the N2 turn-off immediately east of the bridge over the Keurbooms estuary. Just downstream of the bridge, the river is wide and exceptionally shallow, most of it being less than 50cm deep, and only one arch of the bridge is usable by anything but canoes.
The river is 70km long, rising near Uniondale at the eastern end of the Little Karoo, but is navigable by powered boats for only the first 5km: vacationers make the most of it, with every manner of water-borne activity from high-speed power boats, houseboats and Zodiacs all trailing screaming children on boards, skis and banana boats. For the first kilometre, the grassy bank is lined - packed, even - with tents, all just inches apart. This is one of South Africa's most popular campsites, and getting space requires booking a year ahead. On both sides of the river, the steep slopes climb away for hundreds of metres, cloaked in pale fynbos, crags and cliffs. On the western bank, outside one of the few houses on the river bank is a huge Cape chestnut (Calodendrum capense), flowering pink in the summer months; several other smaller species can be seen further upstream. More common, and also more common here is, unsurprisingly, the keurboom or blossom tree (Virgilia oroboides) growing at the very edge of the dense undergrowth along the banks. Yet more impressive upstream is the spectacular Outeniqua Yellowwood, South Africa’s national tree (Podocarpus falcatus), protected by law now. It can usually be recognised by its sheer size and the huge spread of its crown, draped in Old Man’s Beard lichen, giving it the classic ‘out-of-focus’ look from a distance. Closer up, the bark can be seen peeling in huge, curled strips from the trunk and branches, and it seems to form a particularly black canopy when viewed from underneath. Given the huge price that Outeniqua Yellowwood now fetches at auction in South Africa (upwards of 20,000 Rand per cubic metre), it comes as a surprise to discover that barely a century ago, this giant of the indigenous forest was unloved and unwanted by timber merchants and furniture makers as the wood is extremely hard. Many were chopped down and just left to rot in situ, so that smaller, more economically viable trees could be planted. Along the river valley, Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) can also be seen, a smaller, more slender tree with a pale smooth bark and a more open crown.

Until the 1880s, the Keurbooms River was a difficult boundary between the Western and Eastern Cape, and two enterprising brothers - the Stanleys - started a horse-drawn ferry crossing to cater for travellers along the coast. Although successful, a road bridge was desirable, and a road was built - at some substantial cost and with many engineering difficulties along the impossibly steep river bank. Sadly, the river bed was unsuitable for the foundations for a bridge, and all that road-building effort and cost was wasted: the road now simply forms a nice walk along and above the river until it comes to an abrupt end. At least the Stanley brothers are remembered, as the island in the estuary is named after them: it is the only privately owned island in South Africa.
A bridge was finally opened in the late 1920s, but was destroyed by floods just a few years later in 1931. Of course, the Keurbooms was just the first of a whole succession of deep gorges carrying short, steep-sided river valleys to the sea from the Tsitsikamma range. The great South African road-builder Thomas Bain, accompanied by an equally capable forester Captain Harison, surveyed a route through in 1869, but the road was not completed until 1885, such was the scale of the engineering. Today, the N102 road follows that zig-zag route through all the gorges, while the new toll road skims across the tops, leaping the gorges on a succession of huge concrete bridges.

The river winds its way through history, exposing the sharply inclined quartzite beds, some 400 million years old. Although the Keurbooms valley is famous for its indigenous forest, there are also bands of untouched fynbos, unspoilt by invasive aliens – although a few straggly bitter aloe trees can be seen towering above the bush. More exploration is made difficult by the steep sides of the gorge. A combination of the geology and the vegetation of the area creates a classic blackwater ecosystem, highly acidic and high in tannins, providing an instant deep suntan for swimmers: it is an ephemeral effect though, disappearing instantly out of the water! The short length of this river and the fact that it doesn’t pass through much farmland on its way to the sea creates incredibly clean water. The influx of the tides creates a brackish water that attracts marine fish in great numbers – many can be seen in the water, many kilometres from the mouth of the river. The biodiversity doesn’t end with the flora and the marine animals, as the forested gorge has rich birdlife, from African black and greater double-collared sunbirds to grebes, pied kingfishers and white-breasted cormorants, while the mammals are a little more elusive: this is wild enough to be leopard country.
The river has three sandy beaches, each a kilometre apart, and successively less crowded than the previous one; the final beach that can be reached by powered craft is just a tiny sandy strip, backed by Outeniqua Yellowwoods.
The forest here is extremely difficult to access, but doing so, even for a short while from one of the three riverine beaches will be rewarding. The area on both banks until the third beach is in the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve, but beyond the third beach it turns into the far larger Whiskey Creek Nature Reserve.

  • Last visit to Keurboomsrivier: Dec 2005
  • Intro Updated Jan 29, 2006
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