LP Walking Tour of Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

September 15, 2017

Kiyomizu-dera

Everyone I talked to before our visit to Japan, or even travelers I met in Japan for that matter, raved about Kyoto as an absolute must see for its quaint streets and serene temples. The former capital of Japan (794 to 1868) is all that, but these days you will be enjoying the main sights with all the other foreign travelers and Japanese who also love Kyoto. That said, it is still possible to find quiet moments earlier in the morning or at lesser known temples.

Kiyomizu-dera

I visited Kyoto twice during my seven weeks in Japan, once with my Aunt Jan in the middle of September and again with Don the first week in October. For the blog I will be combining the two trips by destination rather than posting them chronologically.

Otani Cemetery

I’ll begin these posts with the Lonely Planet walking tour I did with Jan our first morning in Kyoto. A nice introduction to what Kyoto has to offer.

Kiyomizu-dera

The start of the southern Higashiyama walking tour, the corner of Higashioji-dori and Gojo-dori,  was just a ten minute walk from the Seikoro ryokan where we were staying. We arrived at the Kiyomizu-dera temple at around 9:30. The bright orange complex was already buzzing with visitors on a Friday morning.

Kiyomizu-dera

Some of the buildings were covered in scaffolding and construction cloth diminishing the overall spectacle of the place.

Kiyomizu-dera

The guide book recommends it for the views overlooking the hills and city and the variety of activities such as drinking from a sacred pool and walking stepping stones to find your true love.

Kiyomizu-dera

For garden lovers, though, the hillside temple doesn’t have the impressive grounds that some of the other temples do.

Matsubara dori shopping street

The next part of the walking tour is through the area’s shopping streets. The streets closest to the temple were packed with tourists and school groups but once we reached

Sannen-zakaNinen-zaka

Sannen zaka the crowds quickly diminished and Ishibei-koji alley was virtually empty. This narrow lane is considered to be one of the loveliest in Kyoto.

Ishibei-koji

It’s beautiful in its simplicity; old style Japanese homes with elegant entrances donned with only a few plants and so forth. I realized halfway into the walk that there were signs posted prohibiting photos. Overhearing a local guide we discovered that it gets quite busy at tea time.

Kodai-ji

A flight of stone stairs leads to Kodai-ji temple. Much less crowed than Kiyomizu-dera, the interiors of the new section were adorned with the works of a contemporary artist who has a relationship with one of the temple directors.

Kodai-ji

Flashy in bright primary colors the artwork is in sharp contrast to the traditional temple’s structures. One the curators commented that the locals find the placement of the works here controversial.

Kodai-jiKodai-ji

The surrounding gardens are quite pretty and peaceful despite a rather murky pond. Be sure to check out the stunning interiors of some of the older temples. Unfortunately no photo are allowed in them.

nearing Maruyama park

Maruyama Park

Next we headed to Maruyama Park stopping at the Otani cemetery.

Otani Cemetery

Otani Cemetery

You are not allowed into the section of individual graves sites but it is an impressive sight from the gate. With the markers crowded together up the hillside, it was one of my favorites of the day.

Otani Cemetery

The Otani tomb located next to the cemetery is open to the public, but for me not as interesting and the individual graves.

For lunch we stopped at an udon noodle place near the Yasaka shrine for a relaxing bowl of noodle soup and a beer. Hit the spot after a long morning’s walk. LP suggests you can do this walk in four hours, but only if you don’t spend much time at the temples. We still had a couple more to go after lunch.

Shoren-inShoren-in

We decided to continue north past the park to Shoren-in. A very picturesque and worthwhile stop.

Shoren-in

Walked around the inside of the temple and then back to the front to collect our shoes for a loop around the garden and pond.

Shoren-in

I especially liked the walk up to the hilltop shrine and back through the bamboo grove.

Chion-in

Nearing 4pm, we didn’t have much time for Chion-in, just enough to walk through the enormous gate to a temple set in the trees just past the steep stairs beyond the gate.

Chion-in

At this late hour the tour groups had gone home leaving the grounds quite peaceful. The temple visit is free. A fee is charged at the entrance to the gardens.

 

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Day 5 – Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 18, 2016

Otter Trail Day 5

Woke up just before 6 and rushed to get dressed and down to the beach to watch the changing light on the coast. The moon is still up and the sky begins to turn pink.

Otter Trail Day 5-2

The waves are as impressive as the evening before although the sea has calmed.

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Clear and cold, the coldest morning on the trail, it’s cold sitting on the rocks, but what a view.

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After hot coffee and porridge we pack up, say good bye and leave about 8:45. Low tide today is at 10:52.

Otter Trail Day 5-7

 

We have to cross the river on the far end of the camp before the climbing up to the ridge.

Otter Trail Day 5-8

Even though it is close to low tide the water is still too high cross with boots on. We throw stones in the water to walk on.

Otter Trail Day 5-9

The Germans are just behind us and help. Soon we have a decent stone path across.

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The 6.8K today is supposed to be easier with a stiff climb up followed by a scenic walk along the cliff. It’s almost that good.

Otter Trail Day 5-13

Just a couple of dips down into the forest to cross a stream with a short uphill to remind you that you are still on the Otter Trail.

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The amazing views continue to the very end, with a variety of spring flowers mixed among the fynbos and a beautiful blue sky. The temperature quickly warms to comfortable for walking but not too hot.

Otter Trail Day 5-15

We reach Nature Valley beach around 11 after one last steep descent. Not far from where you hit the beach is a sign to the right saying that trekkers need to take this route to the reception office to check out. If you want to have a beer and burger at the Nature Valley Pub and Restaurant don’t take this route. It’s another 3-4k up the hill. The restaurant is 2k down at the other end of the beach.

Otter Trail Day 5-17

 

One last stream crosses the beach with mid-thigh water even at low tide.

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We finally reach the restaurant at nearly 12PM. Carol and Simon are already washed up. 30 minutes later the whole crew has arrived. One couple actually climbed to the reception office and got a ride back down.

Otter Trail Day 5-18

The trail ends with the Otter’s arsehole, a horrible drink that curdles in your mouth, but something you must do.

Otter Trail Day 5-20

Michael picked us up at 1PM as scheduled. A little more time at the Pub would have been nice.

Otter Trail Day 5-21

Without a doubt if you like rugged seascapes this is one of the most scenic hikes in the world.

 

 

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Day 4 – Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 17, 2016

Otter Trail Day 4

 

The wind howled most of the night, the waves crashing and a few bouts of rain. By morning it has calmed down some. We hurry to get dressed, make coffee and finish packing up. We tried to do as much as possible in the waning evening light of the previous day.

It’s full moon but with the low cloud cover only a light glow in the clouds give away this fact.

We head out at 5:20 in order to be at Blaukrans River crossing near 10:08, low tide.

Past the viewpoint I explored the previous evening the trail dips back into the forest and stays there until nearly light, around 6AM. Eerie walking through the dark woods with a torch, but having 2 groups ahead of us it makes it less daunting.

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Shortly after day break the trail is mostly on the coast with great views of the rocky shoreline. The waves are rocking from the turbulent weather, much higher than we’ve seen in recent days.

 

Otter Trail Day 4-5

The kilometers are marked on this section of the trail. Between 5 and 6 the trail is quite rocky with several boulder scrambles, but otherwise changes in elevation are not so dramatic.

Otter Trail Day 4-6

At about 7.5K you reach the top of a ridge where you can get cell coverage. From here the trail dips back into the forest and aside from the slippery roots is faster going until you reach the viewpoint over the mouth of the Blaukrans River.

Otter Trail Day 4-8

 

With numerous photo ops and a stop or two but otherwise going at a steady pace we reach the river at 10:00AM. Everyone in our group reaches the river within a half hour of low tide, i.e., 10AM.

Otter Trail Day 4-7

From the viewpoint we can see Carol and Simon sitting on the rocks watching the other groups cross. The water is only about shin to knee deep, but we still have to tackle the steep descent down to the river.

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As we reach the river bed it starts to sprinkle. Crossing was not a problem with the deepest section just above my knees.

Otter Trail Day 4-11

For the two coming behind us a strong wave came in, creating a surge that added nearly another foot or more and lasted for the entire set of waves. This should have been the exact low tide point. Everyone crossed safely. A few wanted to go back and cross in higher water to add a little drama to the experience.

 

The sprinkle turned into a heavier drizzle accompanied by an unwelcome wind as we set up the stove to make porridge before continuing up the rock face. It’s a good idea to rest and regain your strength here as there is still another 4K with a stiff climb near the end.

Otter Trail Day 4-12

Past the stretch along the rocks, difficult if you’re not used to scrambling but not technical, the rocky beaches flatten out. The trail crosses a few such beaches interspersed with forested sections.

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Then the trail turns inland for the longest climb of the day passing the k12 marker on the way to the top. Once at the top the trail dips and rises along a sandy track through fynbos, winding around to another section of spectacular rock faces.

Otter Trail Day 4-15

The weather remains turbulent, spitting from time to time. At k13 we can’t believe we’re not there yet but soon the trail turns the corner and you can see down to the Andre camp at a rocky beach and the next morning’s trail climbing back up again. It’s a steep descent aided by a long section of stairs.

Otter Trail Day 4-16

Camp is set up like all the others – no shower though. Hut 2 has amazing sea views right in front of the porch. There is a metal gate across the doors to prevent monkeys from entering. The weather is clear for the moment but just as we finish lunch a squall comes in. The pattern repeats throughout the afternoon. Most of the hikers take a long nap. As the tide comes in you can hear the water filtering through the large round rocks line a giant rock tumbler.

Otter Trail Day 4-17

Squalls continued to pass throughout the afternoon. Finally around 5PM the air started to clear and the wind died down.

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Otter Trail Day 4-22

Don and I have sundowners on a log on the beach, watching the enormous waves crashing on the rocks, maybe 20 feet, the largest we have seen yet. The South Afrikaners made a fire in the common area but then leave rather early so it’s just us and the Germans by the fire before dinner.

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Day 3 – Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 16, 2016

5:30 wakeup.

Otter Trail Day 3Cloudy morning to start but they soon break for a beautiful morning of clouds and sun.

Otter Trail Day 3-2

The morning’s hike is much more in the open with frequent views of the wave pounded coast.

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The trail continues to climb and descend. 2k in is the Elandsbos River crossing, the first of the day. We reach it at around 8AM low tide was at 9:33. We follow the trail up-river hoping for stones to hop across, but the river is rather deep here and we head back to the beach.

Otter Trail Day 3-7Easy crossing in shin-deep water with a soft sand bottom.

Otter Trail Day 3-8From here the trail climbs up to where the vegetation meets a rock wall.

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The trail continues as before climbing and descending with frequent open sections.

Otter Trail Day 3-11

At 3.9K starts a long section through the vegetation followed by the steepest and longest ascent to the top of the hill where the trail descends back down to the Lottering River.

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Otter Trail Day 3-16You can see camp across the river mouth, incredible setting with spectacular views from this point.

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Rain is coming in from the sea and it starts to spit on us. We hurry down to the river.

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At low tide you can cross along the stones, beware they are very slippery.

Otter Trail Day 3-26

 

One last punishing climb awaits you on the other side (not as bad as the one before) but it still doesn’t seem fair somehow. A few minutes later we are at Oakhurst camp. At camp the cleaning crew hasn’t come yet but arrives soon after we do.

Otter Trail Day 3-22

We sit at the fire pit and prepare porridge and coffee. The clouds soon clear leaving a beautiful sunny day. This is a gorgeous spot, possibly the best of the hike.

Otter Trail Day 3-21Otter Trail Day 3-23Otter Trail Day 3-24Otter Trail Day 3-25I climb the rocks on the coast for better views but with the tide coming in I’m nervous to venture to close to the edge.

Otter Trail Day 3-27Ann and Joe climb above the crashing waves. Around 12:30PM the weather changes again. This time bringing high winds and rain clouds from inland and heading up the coast. A nearby lightning strike makes me jump, but within the hour the sky doesn’t look so threatening anymore although the temperature has dropped.

Otter Trail Day 3-20

Lottering River at Low Tide

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Lottering River at High Tide

In the afternoon at high tide I go back to the viewpoint overlooking the river. The beach is nearly completely submerged and you can’t tell where the stepping stones are beneath the brown water.

Otter Trail Day 3-29

Walking back past the turnoff for the huts towards the start of the next day’s hike the trail climbs up with fantastic views of the camp and the coastline north of the river.

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We will pass this section in darkness tomorrow, as we have to get an early start in order to cross the Blaukrans River at low tide.

Otter Trail Day 3-33

Bad weather has moved in again with passing squalls. In the evening we decide to have a communal fire.

Otter Trail Day 3-32

The South Africans actually bring fresh meat for multiple days if not for the entire trip to cook over the coals. Dehydrated meals are hard to come by and not well thought of in this country.

We go to be early for a 4:30 wakeup.

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Day 2 – Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 15, 2016

Otter Trail Day 2Woke at first light, not much color in the sky but then closer to 6 I was pulled out of bed by a pink sky. The sunrise was at the very edge of the mountains to the northeast but the sky glowed a soft pink from end to end.

Otter Trail Day 2-2Scrambling on the rocks still in my PJs and tennies was not easy but worth the effort.

Otter Trail Day 2-30Back at camp we had a leisurely breakfast and packed up. No tidal crossings to worry about today.

Left camp around 8AM.

Otter Trail Day 2-3Morning starts with a steep climb on a muddy track through the dense forest. Most of the day’s hike would be through shaded forest without many viewpoints. Each, however, was spectacular.

Otter Trail Day 2-5

Otter Trail Day 2-4Starting with a short climb up Skilder-Krans, a rocky viewpoint.  It’s just 1.8K in from Ngubu camp. Leave your bag at the bottom.

Otter Trail Day 2-6

Back on the main trail the track climbs and descends on a fairly rugged track with rocks and roots but does not involve as much boulder hopping as the previous day.

Otter Trail Day 2-7There is a river crossing at about kilometer 4 with a steep descent and climb back up on either side.

Otter Trail Day 2-8The river was fairly low and an easy hop on the rocks a short ways downstream from the trail.

Otter Trail Day 2-9

Otter Trail Day 2-15Past the river is the Blue Bae (Bay). The trail down to the beach is at K6. Note that the map scale and location of the bay on the map is off.

Otter Trail Day 2-12

 

To reach the bay, a short trail downhill through the forest leads to a descent down a short albeit slippery- when-wet rock face. Cross the rock out cropping to reach the beach.

Otter Trail Day 2-13Otter Trail Day 2-14Awesome wave action but I’m sure this a dangerous beach with swimming inadvisable as there is a strong under tow. At high tide it may even be completely submerged.

Otter Trail Day 2-11

However, it’s a great lunch spot and photo op.

Otter Trail Day 2-10Otter Trail Day 2-16Past the turn off for the beach is the steep climb to the viewpoint overlooking the bay. You can see it looming above from the beach. The best view we’ve seen so far of the coast line.

Otter Trail Day 2-17From here the trail continues through a drier prettier forest to Scott camp.

Otter Trail Day 2-19

The huts are situated on an inlet with great wave action in the mouth of the river. Huts catch the afternoon sun.

Otter Trail Day 2-23

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Otter Trail Day 2-21

Otter Trail Day 2-28Unfortunately there was no water at the tap and we had to walk up stream to get water and wash up.

Otter Trail Day 2-29The right branch has a nice pool with a waterfall.

Otter Trail Day 2-24Otter Trail Day 2-25Other than the lack of running water the camp is set up like the first one.

We eat dinner by the fire. The fire is hard to start because the wood is not cured and the air is damp. Go to bed early for an early start in the morning.

Otter Trail Day 2-26Fog rolls in at sunset turning the landscape a dusty pink.

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Day 1 – Otter Trail, Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 14, 2016

Otter Trail Day 1-8

The Otter Trail is a 5 day/4 night trek out of Storms River Rest Camp in Garden Route National Park along South Africa’s southern coast. It is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and reservations are a must as the access to the trail is restricted. Only 12 people are allowed to start each day and you must camp one night at each of the 4 camps. For more information on the trail and making reservations visit the Sanpark website.

Otter Trail Day 1

Sunrise at the chalet

We spent the night before starting the trek at one of the Storms River Rest Camp chalets. As it is 4k back up hill to the check-in office and the start of the trek, the day before we had arranged a 9:30AM transfer back up the hill with the park office at the entrance.

Otter Trail Day 1-2

Breakfast at the restaurant was easy. The usual fare of a choice of eggs with or without meat, tomato, mushrooms and even hash brown patties. OK but not as good as at the B&Bs where we’ve been staying.

When no one showed up by 9:45 Don walked back to the restaurant to ask at the reception desk there. “Yes someone is coming,” he was told. Shortly after 10 a car with cleaning staff drives by and tells us, “They are going to get another vehicle”. 5 minutes later he returns in a pickup with one service person in the cab passenger seat and one in the back. So, they don’t have a specific transfer service for hikers but you can get a ride back up to the top from one of the service trucks that drops the cleaners off at the various chalets at around 10AM – checkout time.

Check-in for the trail is fairly easy. They look up your reservation and have you fill out the indemnity form. You can sign as each other’s witness. As we are foreigners we had to pay the international conservation fee, 180R per person per day, but we did not have to show ID. If you are trying to get a reduced rate as a SA resident ID may be required.

We were given a map with the low tide times written at the key river crossing points and a tide table, but we did not have to watch a video.

Otter Trail Day 1-5

The trail starts just next to the Otter Trail room. There isn’t much interesting in the room. You can sign their guest book and weigh you bag. Bathrooms are also available.

Otter Trail Day 1-6

The first part of the trail is now through the forest back down to the coast. Day hikers can still come in along the coast from the campground as far as a waterfall. This used to be the start of the multi-day trek as well.

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The amazing views of the jagged coast and crashing waves begin as soon as you emerge from the forest to the shore.

Otter Trail Day 1-10

From here to the waterfall the trail alternates between sections of boulder hopping along the coast to wooded sections, still rocky with numerous tree roots. The going is slow and can be very slippery. Going quite slowly with numerous photo stops we reached the falls in under 2 hours.

Otter Trail Day 1-11

Falls 2016

Tsitsikamma

Falls 2011

The falls were not as voluminous as we had seen them 5 years earlier.

Otter Trail Day 1-27

Gap 2016

Tsitsikamma

Gap 2011

This was good thing though as when the water is high there is a tricky gap in the rocks that must be crossed. At the lower water level it’s an easy step.

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The falls is the last point where day trippers are allowed to go.

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From the falls to the Ngubu camp the trail is mostly through the woods with the rocky shore blocked from view by vegetation. Just past the falls is the nicest big pool for swimming that we saw from the trail.

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As you get close to camp watch for the trail that leads down to your left to camp. We missed the turn off and had a nasty time making our way through the branches and down a slippery slope.

Took us another hour and half to get from the falls to the Ngubu camp.

Otter Trail Day 1-17

There are two huts at the camp, a lower one and an upper one. The SA couple who reached camp ahead of us took the two lower bunks in the lower hut. Both huts have the same configuration, 2 sets of 3 bunk beds with a shared ladder in between. We took a lower and middle with our heads next to the wall.

Otter Trail Day 1-21

Shower

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Common area

The camp also has two cooking areas, one shower stall – not much privacy, and one flush toilet. It would turn out that all the camps have the same basic layout.

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After we settled in we went to the shore for a quick dip in very cold water. We found a shady spot to watch the waves and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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Perfect temperature for lounging though it may be a little cold for swimming.

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We ended up sharing the hut with 4 young Germans, 2 of whom had recently moved to SA. Very nice bunkmates and no snorers!

Many folks bring fresh meat to cook on the brae. There’s enough wood available to make good coals for cooking the meat.

Don and I stuck to our instant meals, but hung out with the others by the fire.

Otter Trail Day 1-23

Turned in around 9PM.

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Arrival at Tsitsikamma, South Africa

September 13, 2106

Tsitsikamma-12

This is our second visit to Tsitsikamma part of Garden Route National Park, a dramatic shoreline of blue water and awesome waves crashing on stratified rock formations, some coated in an orange algae that pops against the blue water and sky. I fell in love with this park 5 years ago and have always wanted to come back to do the Otter Trail, a 5 day/4 night trek along this amazing rugged coastline. It has not disappointed on the return.

Plett to Tsitsikamma

We arranged a transfer with Judy at Otter Trail Transfers for 800 Rand. Judy, very nice and personable, also runs the Ocean Watch B&B in Plett, although she may be giving up both businesses soon and moving to Cape Town. You could possibly also arrange a transfer with Noel, see the Plettenberg Bay Post.

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Before starting the trail we’re spending one night at one of the honeymoon chalets at Storms River Rest Camp. We have 8A which is just a 5 minute walk to the restaurant.

Otter Trail Day 1-3

 

This row of chalets from 1 to 11 has some of the best views in the complex. There is also tent and camper camping just off the rocky shore.

Otter Trail Day 1-4

Note that the various accommodations run along the coast, so some are much further from the restaurant, which could be a problem if you don’t have a car.

Also note that the start of the Otter Trail and trail check-in is  4k back up the road where you enter the park, not very convenient for staying in one of the chalets or eating at the restaurant before the trek, although we were able to hitch a ride with some of the park staff.

Accommodations can be booked through SANparks.com.

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The honeymoon chalet is a cozy little cabin for two, rustic but comfortable with an adequate bathroom and kitchen facilities, a comfortable living area and a spacious bedroom and awesome sea views with a constant show of waves crashing on the rocks.

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View in front of the chalet

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View from the restaurant

Just above the restaurant there is a short trail that climbs to a suspension bridge over Storms River.

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Tsitsikamma-11

Looking up Storms River

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