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Tsitsikamma and Plettenberg Bay

Tsitsikamma and Plettenberg Bay
Tsitsikamma and Plettenberg Bay

An Interesting Historical Journey

Long before Van Riebeeck landed in the Cape, Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries charted the bay, and promptly named it Bahia Formosa or the Bay Beautiful.  However, leaving their mark on the region have been an intriguing mix of Middle Stone Age man, indigenous Khoi people, ostrich feather Barons, woodcutters, farmers, gold-diggers, merchants, sailors, craftsmen and ordinary folk.

Plettenberg Bay’s Nelsons Bay and Matjes River Caves were inhabited by Middle Stone Age man for over 100 000 years with the Khoisans leaving a legacy of tools and ornaments.  These caves are still being excavated and deposits of their tools, ornaments and food debris can be viewed in the caves.  

Historical figures include the leader of the Griquas, Andrew Abraham Stockenström le Fleur, who by his people, was looked upon as a new Messiah.  The name of Le Fleur is intimately associated with the history of the Griqua people in this area and his grave can be seen in the village of Kranshoek on the Robberg/Airport Road.

The village of Harkerville was named after Robert Charles Harker who, as a Government resident, controlled the affairs of Plett for 21 years. The family graves are one of the highlights on the Plettenberg Bay town day walk.

In 1779, the Governor of the Cape, Baron Joachim van Plettenberg, renamed the town Plettenberg Bay and in 1910 a Captain Sinclair set up the whaling station on Beacon Island.  Unfortunately Southern Right whales were harvested here until the operation ceased in 1916.  The first hotel was erected by Hugh Owen Grant in 1940 and replaced in 1972 by the current well known landmark on Beacon Island.  One of the original iron pots along with a couple of harpoons can still be seen on the grounds of the hotel.

Plett itself is an intriguing mix of cultures. A woodcutter’s post was established in 1787 and Johann Jacob Jerling, an early inhabitant, was commissioned by the Dutch East India Company to build a storehouse for house timber which was to be exported.

In the 1800’s when the growing timber trade led to Thomas Bain building Prince Alfred Pass and the 90km forest road through the Tsitsikamma to Humansdorp.  Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word meaning, “place of much water". 

Three major passes had to be constructed: Groot Rivier, Blauwkrantz and Storms River.  The Great Fire of the 1868 claimed to have made Thomas Bain’s task of building the coastal road considerably easier.  Bain started construction of the Groot Rivier Pass in 1880, completing the work in 1883 with the present road differing little from Bain’s original.

Moving along the road towards modern day Nature’s Valley, the first owner Hendrik Barnardo, held only the grazing rights to Nature’s Valley until 1914 when the farm, roughly the extent of the present township, was granted to him.  In 1918 Dr. Wilhelm Von Bonde persuaded Barnardo to allow him to build a shack on the lagoon near the mouth.  This marked the beginning of development of Nature’s Valley.  Today this quaint village is still slumbering in time’s gone by and offers a tranquil retreat from modern day demands.

These days, Plettenberg Bay and surrounding Tsitsikamma is an exquisite emerald on the shores of an azure-blue Indian Ocean; it basks between enchanting old villages, celebrates with a passion of interesting culture, has spectacular nature, delicious cuisine and offers a restoration of mind and body. 

Article written by Lauren Gower in conjunction with information and text courtesy of Plett Tourism