THEY say that some of the best kept secrets are those close to home, pretty much under our noses when it comes to holiday destinations.
One of those secrets is certainly the sleepy little village of Storms River, a scant one-and-a-half hour’s drive from PE and where, all of a sudden, there’s such an abundance of activities that a weekend stay does not do the area justice.
We learnt that as recent guests at the three-star At The Woods guesthouse, a large rambling affair extremely popular with overseas tourists.
While we might jealously guard our beaches and scenery from “invaders”, be they of the overseas or South African variety, it is really encouraging to know that, at this time of year at least, South Africans are vastly outnumbered when it comes to visitors to the Garden Route.
At The Woods is a great base from which to explore the many and varied activities on offer. Rooms feature comfortable supersized beds, a spacious bar fridge and a lovely bathroom with a huge walk-in shower.
A bonus is that each of the upstairs rooms has its own balcony from where you can enjoy stunning sunsets followed by crystal clear night skies with stars outshining any painting. If you can drag yourself away, there’s a TV with a more than adequate supply of DStv channels.
Touches which set At The Woods apart from other B&Bs are that it has extensive, tastefully furnished communal areas, including free wifi for guests, a fire for the chilly months and a pool overshadowed by the breathtaking Tsitsikamma Mountains for the summer months. There’s also a very well-stocked honesty bar. Breakfast, which is included in the tariff, is served on the deck, which is an experience in itself. For the hungry there’s fruit salad, yoghurt, cereal and fruit juice, followed by a full English served with tea, coffee, toast and to-die-for croissants.
There are no self-catering facilities at At The Woods but menus for the three restaurants within walking distance are thoughtfully provided.
Extremely happy with our base for the next two nights we could not resist a lengthy walk after settling in, opting in this case for a fairly easy, even for the not so fit, walking or cycling trail, followed the next day by tackling the Goesa trail, a stunning but more difficult hike through fern forests and meandering streams. While the latter is not suitable for the elderly there are walks galore in the area which easily rival Hogsback, making it a great winter destination.
Also on our agenda was a visit to the Big Tree which has now been proclaimed to be an astounding 1000 years old.
There’s the usual way of seeing the Big Tree – ie by car to the parking lot – and now there’s also a fun way to make the trip, and a way that’s unique in the Eastern Cape.
Introducing the Segway, which Wikipedia describes as a two- wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle.
In actual terms, what it is is a really fun way of exploring the Tsitsikamma forest, a novel method of transportation which can be enjoyed by people of all ages – children as young as eight have done the one-hour or two-hour trails under, of course, the watchful eye of the experienced tour guides.
Guests are given about 20 minutes tuition at the Backpackers base before being let loose on the village, eventually scooting across the N2 (quite an experience in itself that!) before literally effortlessly gliding through the scenic forest.
While you might see Segways elsewhere in South Africa, particularly at airports and on golf courses, Storms River is the only place in the Eastern Cape where you will get to try this unusual and highly recommended form of both transport and family fun.
And that’s where our fun exploration of this charming village, which is normally by-passed on the way to destinations further afield, had to end.
We had run out of time to try out any of the other activities on offer, including horse-riding, the woodcutters journey which takes tourists on a ride through the forest on an all-terrain vehicle, followed by a two-course lunch under the trees at a picnic site, and a three- hour canopy tour through the Tsitsikamma forest.
A little further afield there’s the stunning Nature’s Valley, with a lagoon well worth exploring by canoe, as well as Monkeyland and Birds of Paradise.
Next time we return to Storms River it will have to be for way longer than a weekend. For Eastern Cape residents it’s an undiscovered gem well worth further exploration. And where better to base yourself than At The Woods guesthouse.