Plettenberg Bay – Cold and muddy

It seems as if there has been constant travel for the Buckham family.  I suppose we have been away a lot which is very fortunate for us.

This most recent weekend was a very brief trip – for me at least. The mid-year school holidays rolled around and whilst the kids spent the first week of the holidays entertaining themselves at home, the middle week would be spent by the family in Plettenberg Bay at their “goggo’s” house close to Robberg.

The kids are luckier than they know to be able to spend the bulk of their holidays at such a nice place.  My mother in law lives in an eco-estate very near the entrance to Robberg Nature Reserve and they have access to so many distractions to keep their parents sane with so many kids running around.  Unfortunately my time in Plett would be brief with the drive up with the family on Friday afternoon and a return on Sunday evening.

As brief as the weekend was, we were able to jam pack plenty of activities in the short time available.  The first item on my agenda was the long route of the Knysna Mountain Bike Race (75kms), being the first major event of the Knysna Oyster Festival. It had been a last minute decision for me to ride the race and I wasn’t in quite as good a shape as I would have liked.  I needed a little convincing from my Sani2c partner, Bruce, to get out there and join him. 

Despite the inclement weather at the start I was very pleased with my decision to ride.  It is a very beautiful but equally challenging route with plenty of climbing in and out of the river valleys that cut through the indigenous forests that cover the hillsides in this area.  Although much of the indigenous forest has given way to pine and gum the route picks its way from one indigenous stand to the next. 

The highlight of the route is certainly the 25kms of forest trails and single track through a section called “Petrus se Brand”.  This section commences at the 25km mark in the depths of the Knysna forest and takes one to the 50km water table alongside the N2.  There is not an alien tree in sight and at times the trees create a tunnel of cycling ecstasy.  There is associated pain through this middle section of the route, though, with some of the climbs out of the valleys going on for what seems an eternity.  It is amazing how slowly the kilometers tick by when picking one’s way over the rocks and muddy sections as the trail ascends.  There is also plenty of potential pain with the prospect of an error on some of the slippery descents and despite a bit of fishtailing on one or two muddy corners, both Bruce and I managed to stay upright.

This race was also a real opportunity for both of us, particularly Bruce, to bury the disappointment of Sani2c where Bruce’s first opportunity to ride the race was dashed by a miserable chest infection after day one (read my story about Sani2C here).  Much of our disappointment was put away as we rode the entire race together matching each other on the ups and downs perfectly.  It was not a pairs race but we had decided to ride as companions and I am so pleased we did.  Bruce has only been riding for about a year and since I have been doing it for far longer I am starting to worry a little about how quickly he has caught up.  I may have to insist he signs a declaration that he rides with me for at least another 2 years before he moves onto someone a little faster…

We finished the race in bright blue sunshine whilst much of the ride had been in the pouring rain which made sections of the race unrideable through the sticky mud.  Although the times were slower than expected and our bikes were an absolute mess, mud is truly a part of cycling off the road and if we weren’t mentally prepared for that we may as well have done the road race. 

Being the good husbands that we are we sacrificed the post race beer tent and headed home.  When arriving in Plett I walked in the door being careful to avoid flakes of caked mud decorating the recently swept floors of the house and thereby putting me at the bottom of the son-in-law “totem pole”.  Most of the family had retired for their afternoon siesta but Tommy had only one question – “Dad, did you see any birds?”

The answer was an empathic “no” given the conditions and the intensity of the ride but clearly I was going to have to find some time during the weekend to satisfy Tommy’s birding needs.

The rest of the day was a wash-out in a literal and figurative sense.  The rain came through in consistent waves as did the Crusaders centres in the Super 15 semi-final hosted by the Stormers at Newlands.  I had high hopes for my team during the season and looked forward to see them put up a real fight to reach the final for a second time in 2 years. It was disappointing beyond belief, however, to see the way they seemed to roll over against the Crusaders.  We didn’t appear to be on the same rugby planet and a 29-10 thumping seemed flattering.

Oh well, life goes on and we will put ourselves up for more disappointment next year when we embark on the next instalment of the Super Rugby tournament.

Sunday dawned bright and chilly and finally I was able to satisfy Tommy’s urges to do some birding.  We took a quick walk with the whole clan to the gap at Robberg and then paid a visit to the Plett Sewerage Works which always seems to produce something interesting. 

Although not earth shattering in any way we found a small group of African Palm-swifts swirling over two of the settling ponds and aside from a quick fly-by of a Klaas’s Cuckoo and a pair of White-faced Ducks there was only the usual fare on offer.

It was a fairly modest bit of birding but I was delighted that Tommy seemed to have just as much enthusiasm for this ordinary excursion as he had whilst we were doing some adrenaline rush birding in Namibia a few short weeks back. 

There were no lifers on offer (his list seems to have filled most of the standard gaps) and it was a very brief trip but each bird was treated like it was special.

The camera was only put in the car at the last second (thanks to my wife’s insistence) and so there are a few pictures to share.

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