Plettenberg Bay holds many wonderful childhood memories for me. Our grandparents retired there, first in a white house within walking distance of the lagoon, then on a fabulous small-holding outside Plett – complete with indigenous forest, sparkling stream and an endless supply of real Christmas trees – and then to a little cottage looking towards the mountains in Formosa Retirement Village.
This, of course (despite my being spring-chicken young) was when Plett was still a sleepy little coastal village, pre-‘Millionaire’s Row’ and waaay-pre-Plett Rage. Early morning walks along Lookout Beach to the river mouth or the other way toward Roberg, proffered up pansy shells and foot-tickling welks as they made patterns in the sand. I remember following in my father’s footsteps – literally – on one of those walks: my small 8-year old feet making tiny indents in his 6′ 4″-and-feet-to-match footprints, his long strides making it necessary for me to jump between steps.
Lookout Beach is also where he taught us to body surf, it’s perfectly-timed waves ideal. At Central Beach we’d make sandcastles, my sister, cousins and I, boogie board until we were exhausted and those little pockets at the bottom of our cozzies were filled with sand (what was the purpose of those?) and explore the rock pools around the Beacon Isle as our parents, aunt and uncle and grandparents nattered on the beach. Sometime between 10 and 11 – time was abstract during those holidays – Granny would open up her basket and we’d have tea out of the thermos and Tennis biscuits, our sandy hands adding grit to the sweet mouthfuls. It was idyllic.
But let me get back to this century, when Plett Tourism organised a weekend itinerary and the beautiful Cornerway House hosted us a couple of weeks’ back. What a treat. While Plett is no longer a ‘sleepy little coastal village’ – it’s surrounded by a plethora of activities, places to stay and eat and things to do – it still retains that salty-aired relaxed feeling of ‘beach holiday’.
Our first stop on this trip was the Knysna Elephant Park just outside Plett. I’d researched this and Tenikwa (that we visited the next day) because I am dead against unethical wildlife practices and human interactions with wildlife. Both emerged as star pupils in ethical wildlife management, research and rehabilitation.
Elephants are wonderfully spongy. I can tell you that now, because I massaged one’s elbow. The elephant park is utterly fabulous. After a quick video on who they are, what they do and how to behave around these enormous, but incredibly gentle, creatures, we piled onto a tractor and headed up the hill to give the troupe some snacks and love. Ndeyebo, our incredible guide, told us about all things elephant, while we mingled with two of them. That is, until Thatho got sent to the naughty corner for trying to snack on the thatch of the shelter’s roof while we were chatting (see top, left pic – that’s Thatho in the background).
Then it was off to Plett to settle in at Cornerway House, where we were made to feel like family by manager Kathy, owners, Dee and Anthony and their wonderful staff, Rachel, Gloria, Phyllis and Paul. We dropped our things and headed off to meet an old friend at the beach for lunch and the kind of natter that you can only have with an old friend: long, lazy and interspersed with tears and giggles. As the sun turned the sky pink, we headed back ‘home’.
Set in beautiful gardens, our room opened up onto the verandah. Inside, it’s got everything any heart could desire, all elegantly decorated and, best of all, with the most comfortable bed on earth. I could’ve spent the entire weekend hanging out on the verandahs admiring the garden and pool, reading a book or chatting up a storm with Dee and Anthony over a glass of wine. In fact, we did all of that, in between everything else!
Sunday morning arrived, bright and hot, and after a delicious breakfast we set off to hang out with the big cats at Tenikwa in The Crags. Again, their focus is rehabilitation and education and there is nothing quite so breath-taking as being in the presence of wild cats – from the tiniest to servals to the lounging leopard and posing cheetah, to the magnificent lions, viewed from above.
Sizwe, our guide, was a mine of information and I can now tell you that big cats love cinnamon (it’s put into balls made of wattle, with meat, to provide entertainment and exercise), a cheetah’s purr is so loud you can feel it in your chest and that Maribou Storks called Edwina, Duke and Earl are cool.
It was hot. Really hot, so after saying fond farewells to our new friends at Tenikwa, we headed back toward Plett and popped in at Moss and Maple for an icy rock shandy, salad and pizza. Serendipitously, they’d celebrated their first birthday the day before. Any place that welcomes you with a piece of chocolate birthday cake, from a cake they made that was too big to fit out of the kitchen door, gets 100 bonus points in my book.
The restaurant is a huge wooden structure with wonderful high ceilings, a wraparound verandah and oodles of kids’ play things. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to have a long, lazy lunch and the salad I had, sprinkled with feta and figs, was divine. As a bonus, there is a plethora of goodies to buy inside so finding that gift to take home is easy as pie. (If you don’t eat the sweets you bought as gifts duing the rest of your road trip. Ahem.)
Taking a back road down to Keurbooms, brought back happy memories of walks to Arch Rock and ice cream at what was then the little tea shop, before we headed back to the oasis of Cornerway House for an obligatory Sunday afternoon nap listening to the birds in the garden.
As Monday is wanton to do, suddenly it was upon us, and it was time to set off Eastern Cape-ward. It felt way too quick and we didn’t have time to do loads of things the town has to offer, so we’ll have to return soon.
Thanks for having us, Plett, you’re the hostess with the mostest!
The elephant park is surprisingly accessible with lots of parking, and accessible toilets and ramps everywhere. Even the trip up to the elephants in the tractor has been made accessible, with a (steep, but the guys are SO helpful!) ramp up onto the trailer. The road is quite rough so it’s a little, shall we say, adventurous (and not for the nervous or unfirm), especially if you don’t have great balance but is totally worth it to spend time with the Ellie’s.
Cornerway House, too, is fabulously accessible, made more so by the wonderful people who run it. They are incredibly helpful. The room we stayed in (Veranda room) was lovely and spacious with plenty of room next to the bed for transfers and a great bathroom, including a shower chair!
Tenikwa has ramps everywhere, including up to the viewing deck above the lions (it’s steep, but Sizwe helped). There’s some ‘rough riding’ over grassy bits and dust roads but doable with the help of the guides and, again, totally worth it to see the magnificent cats.
Moss and Maple is huge, flat and has plenty of room to manouvre and a fabulous wheelchair toilet. The entrance from the parking requires a little rough riding but it’s a good way to work up an appetite for their delicious food.
Please feel free to contact me if you like more details on any of the places that we visited.