“That journey is a magical trip. The cruise chugs past steep and thickly forested river walls …, and a long way from any notion of Plettenberg Bay.”
Andy Fermor has been in the tourism game for a long time, maybe two decades. With his wife Debbie he’s been running a lodge (Hog Hollow) that I believe has, – based on two decades’ editorial experience of my own – set a number of standards in terms of hospitality and fair trade. They both looked towards experiential activities for their next adventures. Debbie followed her passion and started horse trails while Andy, a surf enthusiast who loves playing on the Keurbooms river, started a Stand Up paddleboard project with a Cape Town boyhood mate, Mark Tedder. Based at the “Plettenberg” Forever Resorts Keurbooms river campsite, Mark takes guests up the river on a boat, twice a day, to Whiskey Creek.
With a history involving the sail charter business in the Mediterranean and Caribbean areas and more recently a land-sailing business in Muizenberg, Mark is well-equipped for the hospitality and activities industry. He serves champagne and snacks – popcorn, biltong and peanuts – to his two Irish honeymoon guests, the Fitzgeralds, on the way upriver.
That journey is a magical trip. The cruise chugs past steep and thickly forested river walls (including Cape beech, giant stinkwoods and the beautiful Outeniqua yellowwoods), a gorge in anyone’s language and a long way from any notion of Plettenberg Bay. A couple of beautifully sited Cape Nature picnic sites whisper hushed hellos from strategic positions on riverbends, a reminder that this is part of the Keurbooms River Nature Reserve. Knysna Turacos silently flit between banks in flashes of green and red. The grysbok, vervet monkey and mongoose and elusive blue duiker will sometimes be up on the slopes somewhere, but there’s more chance of seeing a Knysna woodpecker or yellow-billed duck from the boat. This part of the Keurbooms river is a peaceful place. It is also pristine, as Mark says, “the Nature Reserve is well managed by Cape Nature, and one of only a few rivers in SA that doesn’t have any inhabitants on the river”. Which means no hair, cars or bodies are washed upstream. The brownish tinge to the clear water is the tannin from decomposing leaves and other organic matter. Barefoot in his shorts and T-shirt, Mark is cut out for this gig, sharing conversation with his three guests on the trip.
The smiling Irish honeymoon couple love the exclusivity of (luckily) having the boat and the river to themselves. Down at Whiskey Creek Mark weighs anchor by stabbing a wooden stake into the sand. He lowers the SUPs from the roof of the boat and shares them out amongst the guests. The newly-weds, John and Catherine, note his instructions, and spend about 45 minutes poling themselves in that stiff-armed SUP fashion up and down the ‘creek’. They adapt quickly and don’t even get their feet wet; John is determined to get his own SUP when he goes home. On the way back the champagne and snacks come out again. The blissful couple clink glasses and take their positions in the bow. Mark doubtless cheers himself at another successful mission completed, while back at the lodge Andy will be satisfied that his guests have had another happy day.