Big Tree open to public again

[Image] The majestic tree is a favourite with
visitors to the area, and may now be
viewed again after a 36-month hiatus.
(Image: Wikimedia)

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Janine Erasmus

Tsitsikamma’s Big Tree is once more open to the public – the ancient Outeniqua yellowwood, estimated to be between 600 and 800 years old, was inaccessible for 36 months because of roadworks in the area carried out by South African national Roads Agency (Sanral).

Tourists to the region and local residents are again able to admire the giant specimen, which stands almost 40m high and has a girth of almost 9m.

Sanral has pledged to help make the area more attractive to visitors, with the construction of a new secure public parking area that can accommodate up to 74 cars.

The famed Tsitsikamma (a Khoi word meaning “place of abundant water”) Big Tree lies within the boundaries of the spectacular Garden Route National Park, on South Africa’s southern coast. The park’s manager Nomvuselelo Songelwa said that management was thrilled about the re-opening.

“Sanral’s improvement of the road infrastructure has also enhanced one of the icons of the secrets of the forests that we manage in the Garden Route,” she said.

“This provides us with an opportunity to plan an even better tourist product in the area in the near future. To all tourists and locals, you have not seen the Garden Route without marvelling at one of nature’s big secrets in Tsitsikamma.”

Noble tree

The Outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus) belongs to the same family as South Africa’s national tree, the real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius). The Tsitsikamma forests were the centre of a thriving timber industry in the Knysna area, until the yellowwoods became threatened.

The majestic tree is open to viewing all year around. Interested visitors can park their cars in the parking lot beside the N2 near the Paul Sauer bridge over the Storms River – often incorrectly called the Storms River bridge.

The walk to the yellowwood is about 1km in total and takes about 10 minutes through lush indigenous bush. For the more advanced hiker there are two other trails starting from the same point, one of 2.6km and one of 4.2km.

From the shadow of the Big Tree visitors can also gaze over the forest from a look-out deck, and the more energetic can wander down one of the trails that are accessible from this point.

Place of abundant water

The Garden Route National Park spans the Western and Eastern Cape provinces and is managed by South African National Parks, the organisation that oversees many of the country’s most sought-after conservation areas, including the Kruger National Park.

The 121 000ha park was proclaimed in March 2009. It is one of just four national parks around the world which permit people to live within its borders, and the only one on the African continent.

Eco-tourists are in their element here, as the park boasts large tracts of ancient forests, a variety of ecosystems, special marine protected areas, gorges and cliffs, hikes and walks, and the world’s highest commercial bungee jump – almost seven terrifying seconds of free falling from the 216m-high Bloukrans bridge.

It encompasses the former Tsitsikamma and Wilderness parks and the Knysna lakes, making it an area of complex biodiversity. The coastal borders extend a few kilometres out to sea, protecting a variety of deep sea, reef-dwelling and inter-tidal creatures.

Vegetation biomes range from Afro-montane forests, protected inter-tidal and sub-tidal zones, the Knysna estuary, lakes in the Wilderness, lowland fynbos and the mountain catchment areas.

The indigenous fynbos vegetation and vast forests of Outeniqua yellowwoods are a popular tourist drawcard, with many flocking to the area to experience its green tranquillity.

While adventurous types are well catered for, those who prefer a more sedate experience have not been forgotten – there are a number of top-class spas in the area, as well as several golf courses which feature beautiful scenery and a mild climate.