Platbos is a reserve in the Garden Route.
Surrounded by the Tsitsikamma National Park Section of the Garden Route National Park, Platbos Reserve is 82ha of dedicated conservation land; an environmental refuge where the unique Afromontane forest and Cape fynbos flourish. The climate is temperate and pleasant whether it be a sunny day highlighting the vivid colours of the sky, forest and flowering fynbos, or a rainy day when the natural surrounds feel eerie and primitive. The Garden Route National Park consists of a narrow strip of land on the coast of the Indian Ocean, which means the visitor can enjoy the mountain scenery, the rainforest and the beaches and dramatic rocky coastline for which the Tsitsikamma is renowned.
The Tsitsikamma Park is one of the most visited in South Africa, because of the pleasant climate, the beauty of the scenery, the wealth of things to do and see, and also because environmental travellers enjoy the wilderness and the biodiversity. Although the area is protected and the fauna and flora rule supreme, accommodations and facilities at Platbos Reserve are commodious and the location is conveniently close to beaches, shops and restaurants, and several cultural and natural attractions. The Cape flora found on Platbos Reserve is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The area has a very interesting political, social and environmental history. Palaeontological evidence abounds of the prehistoric hominins who peopled the coastline. Archeological digs at Plettenberg Bay's Robberg and rock art in the De Vasselot section of the Tsitsikamma National Park indicate that earlier people were what are called strandlopers in South Africa, or beachcombers. By the time European traders and colonisers arrived, in mid-1600's, the people of the Cape were mainly Khoisan and Bantu peoples.
In the 18th century the port town of Knysna became a center of timber trade, which precipitated a woodcutter period of deforestation that saw some of the oldest trees in the forest, especially the yellowwoods, cut down. The forest suffered less damage than might be expected, since the woodcutters were selective about trees, leaving the forest canopy intact, and allowing the saplings to survive.
As the area developed forested areas were occasionally cleared to make way for plantations of exotic trees like pine. Initially the Reserve formed part of the wild Tsitsikamma forest. It was privately owned at the time when South Africa proclaimed the area a protected National Park, and for several decades served as farmland for potatoes and pine plantations. The soil became degraded and the forested parts on Platbos started to dwindle. However, in the late 1990's the property was bought by an environmentally-minded family determined to attempt forest rehabilitation. Thus it became Platbos Reserve.
The local community consists of the permanent and seasonal residents of the seaside town of Nature's Valley, which is 4km from Platbos Reserve, and the community of Covie, a settlement also close to the Reserve. The Western Cape has a wonderful social reputation of warmth, hospitality and humour, but service is often below par.
Afrikaans is the language most commonly spoken as a first language, but many residents also speak isiXhosa and English.
'Platbos' is an Afrikaans name, meaning 'Flat Bush / Forest'. This is a rather descriptive name, as the Reserve fits onto the plateau between the Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean. The fynbos fields stretch to the edge of this shelf, and views of the ocean can be seen from almost any corner of the Reserve.
The Tsitsikamma is an ancient forest. The Podocarpus genus (Yellowwood) is possibly as old as 105 million years, and some of the Tsitsikamma's most famous yellowwood trees are between 600 and 800 years old. Palaeontological evidence suggests the forests on South Africa's coast have existed for 20 thousand years. It is not suprising that the Tsitsikamma is a slow growing forest that struggles to recover once it is reduced.
Many factors play a role in the shrinking of the forest, including climate change over millenia which favoured savannah grassland and fynbos vegetation to weather the arid climate. Currently the Tsitsikamma rainforest survives on a fraction of the precipitation the world's other temeperate rainforests need. Deforestation and the introduction of exotic plants by colonialists also placed the forests under pressure. Even now, while the forests of South Africa's Garden Route are protected Parks, exotic plants like the Blue Gum and Australian wattles continue to consume most of the water in the soil and, growing much faster, crowd out indigenous species.
Also, the pioneer vegetation of the Tsitsikamma forest is Cape fynbos, which consists of obligate seeders and which needs fire to germinate. Since the trees in the Tsitsikamma forest lose their lower branches as they reach the forest canopy, the forest is largely fire resistant. Fire, however, endangers the young trees on the forest edges. If this forest nursery burns down with every fynbos fire, the forest cannot advance.
Forest rehabilitation is therefore a long-term project that is very labour-intensive. It involves firstly attending to the health of existing forest by clearing it of invasive plant species. Secondly, pioneer and nurse vegetation must be planted or protected. These plants on the edge of the forest prepare the soil for saplings, and faster growing indigenous trees, like the keurboom, offer saplings shade under which they flourish. The forest nursery should also be protected from the Western Cape's aggressive fires, by maintaining firebreaks.
All those involved in Platbos Reserve's conservation and rehabilitation effort realise that they will not see the results of their efforts in their own lifetime.
Flora and fauna
The Tsitsikamma forest is an ecological wonderland. It can alternately be describes as a coastal temperate rainforest or an Afromontane forest. The forest on Platbos Reserve includes many if not all of the special species of tree found here, such as Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), Outeniqua Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus), and Stinkwood (Ocotea bullata). It is beautiful inside the forest, as if you are inside a cathedral. Sounds are muted, and the call of the birds are clear and simply enchanting. The forest canopy lets through dappled light, but keeps the air moist enough to smell of earth and humus. It is this forest that is so difficult to rehabilitate. It can take hundreds of years for the forest edge to advance only meters. The fynbos prepares the way for a nurse population of trees (such as Virgilia divaricata, or Cape lilac). Only under the shelter of these fast growing trees will the trees that characterise Tsitsikamma forest grow at all.
The meadows of fynbos look and feel completely different. Fynbos consists of low shrubbery, and what makes it so special is the variety of flowers and colours. Fynbos's most wonderful attribute is the spicy, woody fragrance. In a fynbos field like this the air is full of the smell.
Platbos Reserve is home to several bush and forest mammals, such as the shy bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus), caracal (caracal), Chacma babboon (Papio ursinus), bushbuck (scriptus) and many more.
The forest and the open fields hosts a vast variety of different bird species. If you are a bird watcher you will enjoy the exquisite and very rare tauraco, which is popularly known as the Knysna lourie (Tauraco corythaix) in the forest, and several species of colourful sunbird in the fynbos.
Since it is a wilderness area snakes, spiders and insects are also plentiful.
Although the forest is called a temperate rainforest, it manages to survive on very little rain. The rainfall is approximately 945 mm per annum. This is very low compared to other temperate rainforests, such as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North America which has annual precipitation of 200-400 cm. The summer, especially January and December, is the rainy season. Rainy weather varies from persistent drizzle and misty days, to storms and cloudbreaks.
The temperature ranges between 23°C/17°C in January and 17°C/10°C in July. The fact that the Reserve is on the coast of the warm Indian ocean explains the balmy climate.
Located just off the N2, on the R102, the Reserve is easily accessible by car. It takes about 3 hours to drive there from Port Elizabeth, and around 6 hours from Cape Town. The closest airports are in Port Elizabeth (201km away) and George (130km away).
Walk on the wooden walkways and manicured paths to Bass lake, Erica falls, the forest deck, the brookside clearing and the picnic clearings in the fynbos.
The Reserve is 37km away from the beautiful and vibrant coastal town of Plettenberg Bay where many boutique shops, galleries and ocean adventures can be had. Platbos is only 4km away from the quaint seaside village of Nature's Valley, which boasts several kilometers of pristine beach, coastal and forest hikes, a lagoon and a local pub restaurant. The Reserve is also close to The Crags, a tourist destination full of things to do and see. They include: