Nature's Valley

Nature's Valley is a holiday resort and small village on the Garden Route along the southern Cape coast of South Africa. Nature's Valley lies between the Salt River, the foothills of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, the Indian Ocean and the Groot River lagoon. Nature's Valley has a balmy climate and is surrounded by the de Vasselot Nature Reserve which is part of the Tsitsikamma Park, and in turn part of the Garden Route National Park.


Nature's Valley, and the surrounding coastline, was occupied by Old Stone Age or Paleolithic man from 1 million years ago. Paleolithic man lived in the area in caves and under overhangs, collecting food in the tidal zone and hunting for a rich variety of wildlife. Various glacial periods interrupted this coastal occupation. San hunter-gatherers lived in this area from about 10,000 years ago until they were displaced by Khoikhoi herders from the interior.

The Groot River pass

For a long time travel along the Garden Route parallel to the coastline was impossible, due to the extremely deep and precipitous river gorges blocking all east-west traffic. Charles Collier Michell reported in 1839: "there is no practical way – not even a footpath, from Plettenberg Bay to the Tzitzikamma country". Thomas Bain built a road from George to Knysna, the so-called "Seven Passes Road", which took from 1867 to 1883 to complete. Previously, access to the coastal area which lay further east was possible only via the Langkloof valley, which lies immediately north of the Tsitsikamma Mountains.
Nature's Valley only became easily accessible after Thomas Bain completed the Grootrivier Pass in 1880. He and Captain Christopher Harison first explored the route in 1868 to test its feasibility. Harison's interest in the road stemmed from his belief that it could be used to halt the runaway destruction of the forest started by Dutch East India Company woodcutters in 1777 and carried on by their descendants. At the time that Bain and Harison reconnoitred the route, Bain was supervising the construction of no fewer than six passes, so that 10 years would elapse before he could start work on the Groot River Pass. A hundred years later the demands of road transport would dictate the building of a freeway with enormous concrete bridges – a tribute to the skill of engineers, and bringing in its wake considerable collateral damage to the environment.

Permanent settlement

After Bain's completion of the Groot River Pass, the Forestry Department proclaimed three lots in the Valley – one for its own use and the other two sold to private individuals. The first person to settle in the now accessible valley, and who acquired a 69-hectare lot from Telfer Anderson, was Hendrik Jacobus Hermanus Barnardo who had been a foreman at Bain's Groot River construction camp. Barnardo was an enigmatic character who went to extreme lengths to protect the trees of the area, but enthusiastically led the slaughter of wildlife throughout the region. Barnardo married three times and fathered 19 children. Another member of his family shot the last Tsitsikamma elephant in 1881.
In the face of continued pressure to sell a portion of his farm, Barnardo finally relented in 1941 and sold an area of 1.6963 morgen to a syndicate of ten buyers for the sum of £755. In 1943 Baron Ulrich Behr of Kurland bought the option to purchase the remainder of Barnardo's property from the Van Reenen family, who had acquired the option in the 1920s, but had never exercised it. Behr then went through all the steps necessary to have the land proclaimed for development. In 1953 the township was declared and formally named "Nature's Valley" by Behr, a name that had been used by the syndicate at the suggestion of Wide du Preez of "The Crags".

The Valley and surrounding area

A network of trails covers the surrounding hills and beaches. The lagoon offers sheltered water for sailing and canoeing, without powerboating and beach buggies. A walk along beaches and a rocky path leads to the Salt River Mouth after crossing Pebble Beach, a large area completely covered in sea-smoothed cobbles.
East of Nature's Valley is the Groot River Lagoon, which marks the end of the Otter Trail, starting at Storms River Mouth, 60 km further east. This 5-day trail is considered by many hikers to be the finest in South Africa, being strenuous, scenic and extremely varied. The route meanders along the coast through evergreen forest, past boulder-strewn beaches and frequently crossing tannin-stained streams. Huts are available for the hiker at the end of each day, but bookings have to be made well in advance.
The Brenton blue butterfly, Orachrysops niobe, was first described from Knysna by Roland Trimen in 1858, and was not seen again until discovered in 1977 at Nature's Valley and shortly thereafter in 1979 at Brenton-on-Sea. The Nature's Valley population was assumed to be extinct when no more sightings were made after 1984. The cause of this decline was felt to be the absence of fynbos fires causing a shortage of the butterfly's foodplant Indigofera erecta, and accordingly a controlled burn was carried out in April 2003, with a reintroduction of butterfly eggs in August 2005.
In 2000 researchers from the Albany Museum in Grahamstown discovered a number of aquatic insect species new to science in the Salt River, which lies at the western end of Nature's Valley. The isolated position of the river, a lack of fish and its acidic and unpolluted water are thought to have been factors in ensuring the undisturbed survival of these primitive forms. New housing developments within the catchment area of the Salt River may threaten the continued existence of these unique insects.

Selected fauna and flora of Nature's Valley