IF YOU don't try, you'll never know. In this case the challenge was whether we could fit four bicycles into my aging VW Fox for our trip down to Wilderness, to SANParks' Ebb-and-Flow camp, in their Garden Route National Park, where we were booked for our December holiday.
It turned out to both be do-able (one in the boot and three on the roof) and of super value once we were there.
The first evening, after a lengthy wallow in the warm waters of the Touw River, we cycled back to our cabin. While I lit a fire, and after serving Dad a glass of wine, the boys set off to check the lie of the land, returning with news of a tortoise, a bushbuck, a school friend and a little shop (which, we soon discovered, sold a bewitching ice-cream called Amabula Bula).
Our pine-log cabin was bordered on two sides by dense fynbos, intersected by the trails of bushbuck and bushpig.
The outside bins are fixed above ground to avoid the nocturnal forays of the wild pigs and the additional instruction to visitors is to only put refuse in them in the morning. True to their mysterious character, the bushpigs never showed themselves – but it was wonderful to know that they were there.
Swallows dipped and swooped above the fynbos and we could hear their chicks chittering in the cabin eaves, where they were nesting.
From the deck, we could see the reedbed of the Serpentine River, luminous white in the dusk against the darker fynbos and riverine forest beyond, coiling past some 80 metres away and snaking eastwards. As the light drained from the sky, the peeping of the frogs multiplied until their voices were rolling together in a single shimmering song.
One day, we paddled high up the Touw River and then linked with a walking trail. It's a paradise up there and the walking is easy because of a beautifully constructed raised boardwalk. Old man's beard festoons trees like Gothic chandeliers and monkey ropes dangle down. Tiny little chocolate-dropping frogs hopped over the fallen leaves and Knysna loeries flitted between the branches. Kingfishers perched above the limpid, tea-coloured river and back towards the open water, we heard a fish eagle call.
Getting back was a challenge because the two younger boys ran out of steam. We tied their canoes onto the back of mine and I pressed on very slowly with my oldest boy scouting up ahead and their boats snaking behind. It was hot and tiring – but great fun for the kids, who spent the journey scrambling into each others' boats, jumping into the water and hanging on behind.
There were more adventures in our five short days, including cycling up to the Map-of-Africa (the topographical phenomenon formed by the confluence of the Silver and Kaaimans Rivers). An incredible view, a great sense of achievement and a chance encounter with boilermaker Herman van Rensburg, refugee from the hard streets of PE, who helped us out with his trusty scooter – all this made it special.
On another occasion we canoed all the way to the mouth of the Touw. Passing paddler Jeff helped me tow the little ones for a while and two little girls jumping on a trampoline at their riverside home scrounged an old rope to help the process.
At the mouth, we stashed our paddles in a bush and walked into town, somewhat bedraggled and very hungry. A kind waitress, at the pizzeria where we treated ourselves, wrapped us up in blankets at a prime table on the sidewalk. We packed doggy bags in the canoe drums and paddled home in the moonlight.
The SANParks' Wilderness office also has a good working relationship with local adventure sports company Eden Adventures, which makes even more activities available to visitors, like paragliding, kloofing and abseiling.
Next time, we would like to explore the other sections of the park, like above Knysna where there are hiking trails, mountain huts and remnants of the 19th century gold rush.
Then again, what I would really like to do is go back to Ebb-and-Flow and, this time, paddle down the Serpentine all the way to Island Lake where, I know, another adventure awaits.
TO GET to SANParks' Ebb-and-Flow camp, head west from Port Elizabeth on the N2. Pass through Knysna and Sedgefield and, about 2kms before the Wilderness village, look out for a sign to the right saying Wilderness National Park. Take this road down to the park's south gate.
A highly recommended stop along the way is Radical Raptors, at bohemian farm stall The Heath, 7kms west of Plettenberg Bay. There, falconer Dennis Robson rehabilitates and displays a wide range of birds of prey. It's a stunning show.