Cape Town -Keurbooms River

History of the Keurbooms River Plettenberg Bay

Keurbooms river mouth

Keurbooms River Mouth

The mouth has moved and Lookout beach is gone, see the photos here

Plettenberg Bay the holiday playground of the rich is situated on the coastline of one of the most beautiful bays along the southern coast of South Africa. It is here that the Keurbooms River, which flows from its source in the Langkloof, north of the main Tsitsikamma mountain range, enters the sea. During its early days of existence the river flowed 300 metres above its present level. Today after gouging its way through the mountains it flows through some fantastic gorges on its way to the sea.

Keurbooms River

Keurbooms River

The river situated about 8 kilometres east of Plettenberg Bay is named after the Western Keurboom (Virgilia oroboides) or choice tree which flowers twice a year during August and September and the again in December and January. Over the early years of the existence of the Cape Colony and its expansion along the southern coastline eastwards the Keurbooms river formed a natural barrier between east and west. It was a difficult river to cross so the task fell to the Stanleys in the early 1880's to build the first road bridge across the river.

 Old Keurbooms River bridge

The old Keurbooms River bridge

Unfortunately nature frowned upon the bridge and shortly after completion the bridge was swept away during a flood. A manually operated pontoon was introduced onto the river to allow vehicles and people to cross the river. The pontoon however required that a road be built along the eastern mountainside to allow vehicles to access the pontoon. This necessitated cutting into a cliff face and then using the backfill method introduced into South Africa by Thomas Bain to build and stabilise the road surface. In the construction of this short piece of road rocks were cut and packed on top of one another without any type of cement to hold them together. Such was the workmanship that this road which is no longer used still stands today.

The pontoon operated on the river for a number of years before it became obsolete. Today there is a modern concrete bridge across the river. From this modern road bridge the river is navigable upstream for about five kilometres.

It is this stretch of river we are going to visit today.

We board the ferry on the southern side of the bridge and then move slowly northwards upriver under the bridge and over the sandbanks which are the shallowest part of the river. The water in the river is pristine and is the orange colour of strong tea. As one moves upriver the water gets deeper and the colour appears to be darker. About a kilometre from the bridge we enter the gorges gouged through the mountains by the river and cruise through indigenous forests and cliffs on either side of the river. The forests grow on the river banks and cast deep shadows over the river. Of the original forests that once grew between George and Port Elizabeth only 1% or 50000 hectares are left. A sad tale of destruction caused by the colonists of South Africa as they raped the beauty and natural resources for personal gain.

Yellow wood tree

Outeniqua yellowwood tree on the bank of the river

Today some of the indigenous trees such as the Outeniqua yellowwoods, Cape beech, giant stinkwoods and ironwoods can still be seen standing tall and proud in the forests along the river. A number of birds live in the forests and if you are lucky you might even see the crimson flash of the Knysna Loerie, a beautiful crested bird, endemic to the Knysna area, as it flits from tree to tree.

White backed night heron

White backed night heron

The highlight of any trip up the river will be the sighting of the very reclusive White backed night heron which also frequents the forests along the river. As the Keurbooms is a tidal river the tide pushes in through the mouth filling the estuary and the upper reaches of the river with salt water. Fish use this opportunity to enter the river to feed and many of them find their way to the upper extremities of the river where they are sometimes caught by anglers fishing from the banks or from boats. The following species are found in the river. Cob, leervis, spotted grunter, white steenbras and sardines.

The estuary of the river provides a home for a number of creatures such as pink prawn, the protected pansy shell and the very scarce Knysna seahorse, as well as further upstream the mud prawns that live in the mud on the banks of the river.

A 740 hectare nature reserve has been declared in the area along the banks of the Keurbooms River and includes the forests and the river.

From your boat as you cruise upstream some common animals that live in the forest may be spotted. They include bushpig, dassie, caracal. genet, baboon, vervet monkey, blue duiker, bushbuck, grysbok, leopard, mongoose and the Cape clawless otter. The leopard being the largest cat that has not been hunted to extinction and still roams wild in certain areas of South Africa.

Along the course of the river are a number of sandy banks such as Whiskey creek, and Bikini Beach where one can stop off for a picnic and a swim in the river. These beaches are extremely popular to river users. Many visitors to the area hire kayaks and canoes and paddle upriver to enjoy the natural beauty that unfolds. Although the weather is best during December and January the best time to experience peace and tranquility on the river is outside South African school holidays when the river is not crowded by holidaymakers.

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Keurbooms River