This Road Leads to Adventure

The last 300m of Askop Road, outside the Brackenburn entrance gate, had never been tarred. The District Council assured me that according to their records, I was wrong in suggesting it needed tarring, the whole road was in fact tarred for its entire length of 2 km.


The section of road before the entrance gate was gravel top and in urgent need of refurbishment.

From long experience, I knew that arguing with bureaucrats is a tedious waste of time. Being a person of little patience when arguments lead nowhere, the discussion ended there. The problem would be dealt with differently.

A giant machine arrived to restore the road2Thanks to wonderful local contractors; a dear neighbour called Kappie, who makes magic happen; and my long suffering brother, Brackenburn has a spanking new approach road of well rolled aggregate; good rain water gullies; no potholes and enough space for cars to navigate the way in safety.

Then another one took over!2The first rains of winter have come early. The days are cold and wet. Thank goodness the road was fixed in time. The gullies cut along the side of the road work well, leading rain water towards the rivers on both sides of the ridge leading into Brackenburn.

Phoebe inspected the work once everyone had completed the job2The roadway to Brackenburn has always been regarded as a gateway to another world.
The approach runs along a raised plateau. The ground falls away steeply on both sides; on the east side more dramatically so than on the west side as the ravine is deeper.

The Buffels River enters the property on the east side in a deep gorge which cuts through and curves round on itself forming an incredible aerial picture of two camels following each other.

The land itself is thickly forested in beautiful old indigenous trees which climb up the walls of the gorge forming a great blanket of a myriad greens and bronze and gold.
There is only one navigable spot to enter Brackenburn and that is through its entrance gate, hence the portal effect.

Thorn bush and forest make access very hazardous and uncomfortable to anyone attempting to enter elsewhere on foot.

This remoteness creates the other worldly feeling of the reserve. The forest and river host such a varied and health selection of creatures, from the tiny Red Finned Minnows spawning amongst the rocks in the river to the long crested eagle soaring high above the forest. There is always something to hold the attention and to marvel at. The forest trails and accompanying guides are adored by guests from all over the world.

Now that the last section of Askop Road is up to scratch, I trust visitors to Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve will enjoy their journey from Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and the surrounding lodges even more.

Chickpea and Baloo gave it the thumps up as well2We even have a refurbished N2 National Road, which, besides driving the locals mad, has received months of attention from contractors putting down new tarmac and sprucing up the highway. Work in progress at present, (April/2015), soon to be completed. Yippee! So please come and visit Brackenburn and Brackenburn C.R.E.W. soon. We would love to show you all more of the “Best Kept Secret” that is Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve.

Stay over in our beautifully appointed Katuri Cottage which sleeps 6. See our Rates Page for Rates.

In so doing you are availed of more time to spend exploring this section of the Garden Route. There is so much to see in and around The Crags that spending a few hours simply won’t get you far.

Monkeyland, Birds Of Eden, and Jukani are an absolute must- Three incredible sanctuaries at our doorstep. Lawnwood Snake Sanctuary has the most comprehensive collection of snakes I have ever seen and you are accompanied by very knowledgeable guides. Forget the fear factor! These snakes are well looked after, comfortable and stunning to observe.

If you want extreme adventure, there is Africanyon, which offers guests an abseil into the Salt River Gorge where you experience the amazing tea coloured river water so typical of the short, swiftly flowing mountain streams of the Tsitsikamma. Excellent guides accompany you on a trip downriver, towering crags rise up high above you, ferns and dripping water surround you as you float through the Salt River gorge. Big climb out again!
Or you may want to experience a bungee leap off the Bloukrantz Bridge- The highest bridge jump in the world. Mind blowing and very popular.

Swim with seals off Plettenberg Bay at Robberg Peninsular, or take a boat trip on the Bay to observe whales and dolphins. Do a fishing charter trip, skydive… all these accompanied by wonderful back-up.

There are things to do in our end of the woods that will keep you very busy for a week or three.

Come home happy and exhausted to a cosy, quiet, comfortable bed at Katuri Cottage on Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve, after your day out. Please check out the following website for more information as the list of things to do really is endless. There are places to shop; eat; sample local wines; swim; sail; dance; kayak; buy an ice cream; get married….EcoAtlas

Let Brackenburn be the start of your life long road to adventure. You will be very glad to have found this magic spot. It could become the secret you will tell your grand children one day!The inspection team on their way back home again2

Mushroom hunting

Mushrooms1aBoletus Edulis otherwise known as Porcini or Penny Bun mushrooms, pop up after the rains. Never just one or two of them, but rather whole villages of wonderful little brown dome roofs which suddenly greet one on a stroll under the pecan trees in the garden, or further afield beneath the oaks along the driveway.

Regarded as a delicacy, they are harvested and added to a variety of dishes. The delicate flavour of Boletus adds the magic to any dish in which they have been included. Cut into thin slivers the boletus dries well and can be saved for a special occasion.

The secret to mushroom hunting is obviously to know your mushrooms. A very good book to use in identifying the mushrooms which grow in the area is: “Mushrooms of South Africa, a field guide” By Levin, Branch, Rappoport and Mitchell. ISBN: 0 86977 229 5.

Mushrooms2Boletus cannot be misidentified and ideally they are harvested when their gorgeous brown domes are firm to the touch and the tubes on the underside are cream coloured.

Leave the ones that are soft and spongy when pressed as they are past their prime. Their spores will make new young mushrooms to harvest.

On Brackenburn there is a constant battle of wills as the wild animals seem to enjoy Boletus as much as we do.

Taking an early morning walk, the excitement of Boletus discovery leads to squeals of delight. More so as it is often simply good fortune to come upon them before the wily noses of porcupine and bush pig have come upon them first.

Our favourite dish is thinly sliced Boletus gently fried in butter with perhaps a little chicken stock. This might be added to scrambled egg or eaten on crusty fresh bread with a green salad.

The Tightrope Walker

Birdsong and late summer cicadas greeted washday morning. February heat was intense. Thin clouds were swirling along the ridge of mountains to the north.

The sheets would be dry in no time. Maybe the rain would come and maybe it wouldn’t.

Certainly the maize growing region north of the mountains was facing a torrid time. Not enough rain during the growing season and relentless heat had decimated the maize crop. A hike in food price was imminent if no rain fell soon.

I imagined a similar February which had occurred more than 150 years earlier.


To experience the temperate climate which blesses the Garden Route of the Western Cape of South Africa is a delight.

Extreme weather conditions, such as drought, floods, fantastic lightning storms and wild fires, do occur, but these are extraordinary rather than the norm.

The great fire of 1869 recorded by Patricia Storrar in her book: “Portrait of Plett”, must have been terrifying. (1978, ISBN-0 908379 12 9)

January 1869 had seen a heat-wave in Plettenberg Bay and by 9 February a super hot northerly “Berg wind” fanned a bush fire along the coastal plateau towards the bay. The fire storm devastated the countryside, burning houses, livestock, indigenous forest and wildlife. It raged through The Crags and the howling gale blew the ash onto sailing ships 3km out to sea.

A great swath of land belonging to William Newdigate of Forest Hall in The Crags was razed to the ground. This was renamed Ashlands. The area directly north of Brackenburn is still called Ashlands.

Today The Crags has two Fire Protection associations which monitor weather conditions so that bush fires might be attended to before they become uncontrollable. The faintest whiff of bush smoke gets the lines of communication going.


As I held up the corner of the last sheet to peg it to the clothes line I watched the cloud along the mountain ridge, keeping an eye out for smoke and contemplated the fine line between comfort and disaster. Before I could peg the sheet down a tiny chameleon (Bradypodion ventrale) on the clothes line beneath the descending peg stretched out its arms and latched onto my finger.


I was shocked that I had not seen it attached to the clothes line. It hauled its little body onty the unknown entity of my hand. Thin tail twirled around my finger, it watched as I focused my phone for a quick snap shot.

Hastily the chameleon was transferred to a flowering shrub where it might find flies.

As it loosened its surprisingly tight grip to continue its journey I marvelled how we all walk life’s tightrope. How often we put our faith into hands we trust will lead us into safety rather than destruction.

In so many ways tiny messages are re-enforcing the decision to create a place of rehabilitation for wildlife, and thus write the next chapter in the existence of Brackenburn Private Nature Reserve.


Two days later the heat is overcome by soft drenching mountain rain. The cats sit stiffly on the porch, resenting the puddles; unimpressed by the sound of rain on the old zinc roof and the gurgle of water in the gutters.

I am reminded that even the finest line has two sides to it.


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A November storm had left the lawn grass spangled with a great field of rain drops which sparkled in the beam of torch light. It was so beautiful I stood mesmerised by the simplicity of this natural gift. Abundance and wealth expressed in millions of droplet diamonds which covered the night time lawn as surely as Midas would have, had he so desired to express his immense wealth. Given a few hours and the rising sun, I knew this moment of plenty would fade. The grass would just be green; the morning heat would chase the splendour to memory. So the nightly ritual of “piddling the dogs” was extended. Torchlight floated over the green blanket of priceless gems. Diamonds, Sapphire, Citrines, rubies, emeralds, all mine, always. Even the dogs enjoyed rolling and stretching in the delicious wet lawn and then shaking their coats free of an immense treasure before loping back inside and upstairs to bed

Down to the river

The river, oh the river! How that dark burbling stream worked its magic on our decision to buy this perfection.
It took a steep hike down a well cut track to reach the stretch of Buffels River that hosted the water pump. Down a winding path beneath the forest canopy. Stopping to marvel at new finds of fungi, miniature orchid, a squirming, multi- legged invertebrate that would be remembered and identified later, lichens, butterflies, baby trees. The ever present sighing forest, old and growing older, indifferent to our trespass. Everything still and seemingly asleep, till focus brought a watching bush buck into view. The forest protected us all, hid all, offered us all time to see and learn the things which were to mean the most in our lives.
The track opened onto a thickly ferned bank which sloped down to a fast flowing, tea coloured stream. The rock pools were filled with Red-finned Minnows. Fully grown, these tiny fish measure in at barely 10cm in length, so they are really small.Red Fin MinnowThe rock pools! Dark and inviting. Always busy, always overflowing one into the next. The river gushed on below the canopy and disappeared round the steep walls of quartzite and dripping ferns.
How many dogs over the years have withstood the temptation to bound into those pools and snap happily at the rushing water? Too many to recall. It surely was one of the most joyous places on earth. Also one of the most sustaining and honouring places if peace was sought or direction begged.
Tree fern stood sentinel amongst Cape Chestnut that stretched over the river from one bank to the other. Epiphytic ferns clung to the bark and tiny white orchid flowers hung in minute clusters from their mother plant growing high above the river.
Dappled light played with bold sunbeams and dragon and damsel flies wafted up stream. In the eddies shiny little River Boatmen swirled to and fro. Forest leaves floated by.
The river in any season has never been less than magical.

Sheep and owls

The commitment to upkeep, to keeping the flock of Dohne-Merino sheep going, clearing fields and maintaining fences and water reticulation took the biggest chunk of savings and physical well being. Keeping the roofs clear of debris as well as gutters remains Priority One as we rely on rain water collection for all our needs.
Predation of the flock by Caracal and then leopard was the catalyst to change. H_orig_caracalsTom Dicey, who had sold me much of the flock and who had offered so much appreciated advice to one who, though fond of sheep, knew very little as to their dosing and shearing and general maintenance; Bought them all back from me when I threw in the towel. Admitting defeat was a sore lesson I had to learn. Not having sheep to keep them short, the fields became fallow.
Slowly the re-forestation started. Bush buck came ever closer and then made the garden their permanent home as did bush pig, badgers, skunks and so many other creatures who had kept a very low profile waiting in the woods while the sheep had taken centre stage.
The birds have always been a delight to anyone sitting quietly under the spreading Camphor tree in the front garden. Robert’s Birds was at hand to identify and educate. Soon we were adept at identifying from bird call which of a myriad birds, was perched unseen and serenading.
Summer nights sparkled with pulsing fire flies. An evening walk with the dogs was lit by glow worms and hordes of skimming fire flies. Night jars would huddle on fence posts or warm patches of drive way and startle upwards as the dog entourage passed. It took a while to understand this symbiotic relationship of night jar and dogs until I realised that the dogs in passing were flushing insects into the path of happily waiting bird.
Our evening walks were also observed by Wood Owls, who would carry on involved conversations with each other as we passed beneath them. Grass Owls swooped and hissed up on the open fields hunting Vlei Rats. The stillness of pre-dawn would offer the soft sad hooting of a Barn Owl that nested near the entrance gate.

A blessing or …………

There never was any serious discussion as to whether buying Brackenburn was the sensible thing to do. We were enchanted and the seduction that took place that day never really ended. Being entranced by the place has proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Experience magnificent scenery at BrackenburnThe responsibility of our stewardship of a remarkable piece of land has been ongoing and has proved to be both joyous and tragic over years of residence in this much loved spot at the end of Askop Road in The Crags.

First impressions

Brackenburn was at the very end of a gravel track that ended at a firmly closed farm gate.
I hopped out of the yellow Isuzu bakkie and swung the gate open, drove through and closed the gate. A Boubou Shrike called in the bush next to the gate and a pair of fish eagles circled high overhead. The pungent smell of forest hung close as we drove down the long entrance way. There were tall trees and in the air the scent of newly mown lawn grass.
Pulling up behind the rambling zinc roofed homestead, Mom and I climbed out of the bakkie and took in an amazing scene. To the south, the forested foreground fell away dramatically to deep gorges and hills, beyond these the expanse of open bay filled out. On the right, stretching into the bay lay the peninsula of Robberg. Surrounding the back yard, where we had parked, stood various outbuildings and a dog announced our arrival. Loeries (Knysna turaco) bustled about in the surrounding trees.

We were ushered into the homestead, greeted with the smell of floor polish and wood smoke. The rooms were huge with dark wooden ceilings. It was cool and quiet; Quirky and welcoming; Old and enchanting. The lady of the house was flustered but charming.
Standing in the shaded front lawn to the north of the homestead one looked out over more dense forest and deep gorges towards the unbroken range of Tsitsikamma Mountains, with Mount Formosa taking centre stage. The expanse of lawn stretched down to another rickety farm gate and on to sheep fields and more endless beautiful views across the forest. The Buffels River wound its way through the gorges. One could hear the river from the lawn, as one could hear the waves breaking on the rocks on the shoreline.

A new home

“I’ve found a place you need to look at.” Was what Mom greeted me with on my return home that fateful day.
She said it calmly, but one look at her tense bright eyes gave the game away. She was bursting with excitement. We had tea and she talked.
Mom was an inveterate explorer. Left on her own while I working, Mom explored the countryside. She was never happy in the boring house we had moved to after leaving The Reef. She’d fixed up the garden and planted trees and Proteas. Repainted and refurnished, and still it remained just a house. It was too close to the saw mill and the brick making kilns to ever be quiet or truly dark at night. Her soul rebelled. We both craved the peace and stillness offered only by being remote from other habitation. We wanted starlight and owl song. We wanted a home.