Stutterheim for the soul

Fly fishing at Gubu Dam
Fly fishing at Gubu Dam

We South Africans live with an enormous amount of stress and anxiety, which seems to pile on heavier as time passes.

Economic difficulty, drought, load-shedding, crime and political uncertainty take their toll on our spirits, and 2019 was positively brutal.

That is why we love travelling — it gives us the chance to forget about our everyday worries, to open our hearts and minds, and to rekindle the childlike spirit of adventure hiding beneath the weight of everyday responsibility within us.

A few years ago we paid a brief visit to the Kologha state forest in Stutterheim and were completely blown away by its enchanting beauty.

We vowed at the time to return and explore it more thoroughly and decided that this mossy, lush paradise tucked away deep in the heart of the Eastern Cape was the perfect place for our family to start the new decade, to gain some perspective and realign our souls with the magic secreted in the untouched nooks of our beautiful country.

Located an hour from East London and just over three hours from Nelson Mandela Bay, Stutterheim is the ideal spot for a revitalising weekend getaway guaranteed to refresh your spirit and rejuvenate your soul.

In keeping with our spiritual goal and the area’s otherworldly charm, we chose to stay in handcrafted eco pod chalets at the foot of the Amatola mountains, literally a stone’s throw from SA’s second largest indigenous forest.

The charming chalets at the Shire Eco Lodge are reason enough for planning a getaway to Kologha forest.

Enjoying the eco chalet accommodation at Shire Eco Lodge
Enjoying the eco chalet accommodation at Shire Eco Lodge

Taking its name and inspiration from JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the hobbits, the bulb-shaped pods were lovingly handmade by owner Rob Scott and his family and their somewhat arduous building journey is documented in both photos and words in the chalets, making for a fascinating read.

Every little detail has been well planned and carefully selected to blend in with the stunning environment — from the distinctively curved wooden beams, to colourful handmade ceramic tiles, custom wooden furniture and fittings, and the pièce de résistance — the round glass reading nook where you can literally lose yourself in a dreamlike cocoon without even having to leave the comfort of your wooden bubble.

But we were not there for the accommodation alone and after a divine night’s rest we tore ourselves from the cosiness of our oversized mushroom and headed for the forest, which was suspended in cool mist and inviting us with reverberating birdsong.

We joined up with the yellow and red state forest hiking trails and were soon ascending a mountain covered in green foliage, strange fungi and colourful flowers, all flourishing under a canopy of towering, moss-covered trees.

I have never visited another forest with as much floral diversity under the canopy, and we enjoyed photographing and trying to identify all the verdant forest dwellers.

It started to rain — a delicious fine mist that was manna from heaven after the terrible prolonged drought the Eastern Cape has been suffering.

Instead of trying to find shelter, we opened our arms and danced along the paths, drinking in every precious drop in sync with the thirsty forest around us.

We followed a sign marked “The Lemonwoods”, wondering if we would be able to identify these particular trees among the huge variety of giants surrounding us.

As we rounded the final corner and entered into a parallel realm of enormous trees with huge lemon-coloured trunks that had annexed the whole forest, we had without doubt reached our goal.

We admired and hugged the trees then skipped back down the forest paths to the Shire, scattering happy toads that were playing in the puddles along the way.

Next up, trout fishing at nearby Gubu Dam, which is widely considered one of SA’s top freshwater fly fishing destinations.

The 109ha dam is stocked with both rainbow and brown trout and can easily be fished from the banks.

We tried our luck from the dam wall, which clearly showed how low the water level was.

Our boys hooked and released some lovely rainbows and thoroughly enjoyed trying to tempt these gleaming fish to devour their feathered imitations of the local insects and water life.

Back at the Shire, we enjoyed a braai in the soft rain and ended our day playing 30 Seconds in the little glass bubble reading nook.

Day two dawned to the chorus of a thousand birds and the boys went fishing again while I chose to rather lie in and enjoy the luxury of doing nothing.

When we first arrived at the Shire, we had noticed lots of plants growing in large shade houses and were fascinated to learn that Rob has one of SA’s largest collections of indigenous bulbs, which he sells to collectors all over the world.

Coincidentally, our eldest son, Jacob, recently started growing his own collection of rare indigenous plants and bulbs, so this felt like an uncanny stroke of extremely good luck.

Rob took us on a tour of his impressive collection, helped Jacob identify some of his plants, and gave him tips on how to find and care for these gems.

This was the cherry on top of our weekend and the combination of the unique accommodation, magical forest, brilliant trout fishing and one of a kind bulb nursery had ticked all our boxes and more, making our weekend in Stutterheim the most perfect way to start 2020.

It took just three days to shed layers of anxiety, and to emerge feeling inspired and excited to see what adventures the decade has in store for us.

  • Sarah Dirsuwei is the creator of the Chasing the Rainbow travel blog. For more family adventure travel inspiration visit www.chasingtherainbow.net

Need to know

Shire Eco Lodge

Chalets have a double bed and two single loft beds

Rates are R795 for one night or R1500 for two nights (for two people)

E-mail rob@shire.co.za to book

Shire Wild Bulb Nursery

shirebulbs.co.za

Trout fishing at Gubu Dam

Day passes are R150 a rod (fly-fishing only) and are available from Shire Eco Lodge or from the Amatola Fly Fishing Club

www.amatolaflyfishingclub.co.za

Kologha Forest

There are multiple hiking trails ranging from 1-17km. Entrance is free

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