The first time you gaze upon the Sphinx you are filled with awe. Awe at the sheer size of the reclining feline, awe at it’s antiquity and awe at it’s accompanying trio of pyramids. Then the intrigue starts infecting you – how was it built? Why was it built? What stories could it tell of passing history? It is with little doubt that the Sphinx deserves to be in the class of one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Even more excitingly, the globe has recently selected a new flush of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, of which South Africa’s very own Table Mountain has been selected amongst some global greats.
Fortunately work and adventure have taken me to some of the others, but exploring the Garden Route, the current selection got me to thinking of what exceptional natural features we have on our own doorsteps, and what would be the Seven Natural Wonders of the Garden Route.
Definitely Gerikes point has to rate as one of the Seven Wonders. 3 km from Sedgefield, this is our very own Sphinx in the Garden Route. The peninsula is named after an eminent surveyor who loved fishing there, though on marine charts it is identified as ‘Lion Rock’ due to it’s feline shape when viewed from the north east. Endowed with geological beauty, it boasts spectacular rock pools that are ideal for snorkelling or simply investigating for a host of intertidal wonders. During whale season it’s bay offers these gentle leviathans protection from storms and if you are fortunate you will get a glimpse of the pair of resident Humpback Dolphins.
The Robberg Peninsula, is a second proposal. A geological remnant that was formed by three epochs of deposition, it attributes it’s presence to the fact that the base layer of Table Mountain Sandstone, which is resistant to erosion, is raised above the current sea levels, thereby preventing any wave erosion. Thankfully Cape Nature have realized the magnificence of Robberg and maintain an infrastructure of paths and picnic sites in the reserve. Boasting a perfect Tombola (an hourglass shaped beach between the island and the mainland), a breeding colony of Gulls, a seal colony and some of the most captivating vista’s of the Titsikamma mountains, it is definitely a must on the list of things to see.
The Lakes comprising Groenvlei, Swartvlei, Ruigetevlei, Rondevlei, Langvlei and Island Lake are equally unique. Formed approximately 2 million years ago as a result of sequential ocean retreats and inundations, they are Africa’s southern most coastal lake system. Their importance as a bird breeding area and the habitat they provide as a estuarine fish nursery have earned them the international status as a RAMSAR site to protect their ecological value.
A well hidden and little known feature, except to a handful of cyclists, is the Brackenhill Water Falls. A popular tourist site in the 80’s and 90’s, vehicle access has been closed by the land owners. The water fall is a not the highest or widest, but tucked into the rolling forested hills, it is impressive. A blatant gash in the landscape, a gorge has seemingly formed out of nowhere and the river drops over 50m to the river bed below. The forces that contributed to it’s formation are most intriguing.
Our most famous feature in the Garden Route is probably the Caves at Pinnacle Point in Mosselbay. Touted as offering the oldest evidence of the origins of modern humans, this site has received a lot of international attention recently. In essence, the cave is the only one in the world that can offer an uninterrupted geological time line fixed in the stalactites on the cave roof that can be correlated to the midden profiles on the floor of the cave and is a joint research site of 50 international archaeologists.
A definite must visit feature in the Garden Route has to be one of our ‘Big Trees’ There are a few of these towering giants reaching heights of over 30m and living in excess of 800 years. Dispersed survivors of the deforestation of the Garden Route, these majestic trees deserve to be visited. Climax canopy species that inhabit a pocket of forest that represents 80% of the remaining Afromontane Forest in South Africa, a mere 20% of the entire forest prior to human colonisation of South Africa, they carry the name of Outeniqua Yellowwood, Podocarpus falcatus. My personal favourite is the giant at Woodville, though others can be found in Blanco, Diepvalle and Harkerville
The Garden Route also boasts the highest vegetated fossil dunes in South Africa. Located between Kaaimans and Brenton on Sea, the highest point is 210m above sea level. There are three parallel dunes, the middle one forming the cliffs that tower over the Indian Ocean. The inner range starts with the island in Island Lake and includes Cloud Nine. The third dune is a submerged reef about 2km out to sea and is well used by fisherman. These dunes formed at the same time that the lakes formed and are a combined result of hydro and wind deposition of sand which give them their distinct lined patterns on the exposed cliffs.
With this selection of our very own natural wonders, enjoy exploring them as summer advances and I hope you will all vote for our very own Seven Wonders of the Garden Route by being custodians dedicated to preserving their inherent beauty.