In the heart of the scenic Garden Route on the Cape south coast, near the mouth of the Goukamma River, lies a secret hide-away: the Goukamma Nature Reserve. Close to Sedgefield, it lies approximately 40 km east of George and 25 km west of Knysna.
The nature reserve includes a 14 km long coastline, a marine protected area, an extensive dune field with some of the highest vegetated dunes in South Africa, coastal forests and fynbos vegetation, the Goukamma River and estuary, and the freshwater lake, Groenvlei, which has no in-flowing river and no link to the sea.
Goukamma's diverse habitats support many animal species, from grysbok, to vervet monkeys and otters. Groenvlei has six fish species (two indigenous and four alien).
More than 220 bird species have been recorded, including spoonbill, African fish eagle, African marsh harrier, Knysna lourie, klingfisher, the rare African black oystercatcher and occasionally the endangered African penguin.
The marine protected area is home to bottle-nosed and common dolphins. Southern right whales can also be seen close inshore from about July to October.
Goukamma lies between the winter and summer rainfall areas. There is no cold wet or dry season, although the rainfall is higher in spring and autumn, and less in summer.
The weather is unpredictable, with some warm days in June and July and the odd cold day in summer. Prevailing winds in summer are southeasterly and in winter are westerly.
Watersports and swimming are permitted in the river and ocean. And this lake is one of the best bass-fishing areas in South Africa.
Visitors have a choice of four different day-trails, angling, picnicking, swimming, sailing and canoeing and windsurfing. Canoes are available for hire. A horse-riding trail is available for riders who bring their own horses.
No over-night trails are available, but avid hikers can chose between four different day-trails. Bookings are not necessary, but hikers must obtain a permit at the reserve on arrival.
• Beach walk (14 km, 4 hours): Arrange transport at Platbank, or an out and back walk.
Inaccessible during high spring tide.
• Circular route (8 km, 2-3 hours): Hike along a fynbos ridge with views of the coast,
upriver and estuary. The route returns via a climax milkwood forest.
• Goukamma to Groenvlei (16 km, 4-5 hours): The route stretches over the vegetated dunes. Arrange transport at Groenvlei.
• Lake walk: a short flat walk along Groenvlei's southern shoreline in indigenous forest and lake fringe vegetation.