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Green Golf on the Bitou

by Simon Murphy - February 22, 2013

The Bitou River (23km long) and Wetland lies in a valley just east of the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay on the southern coast of South Africa. The Bitou River feeds into the Keurbooms Estuary which is one of the most important conservation areas in South Africa. The Bitou Wetland is a vital area from an ornithological perspective and has been popular with bird watchers for many years. The Plettenberg area is also a favoured destination for golfers who enjoy playing the game in an environment where the conservation of flora and fauna is given priority.

Bitou River Lodge

A magical place to stay when you are on the Garden Route is the BITOU RIVER LODGE. This lovely Provençal-style guest house is both a destination in its own right and a base for exploring the area golf courses, forests and woodland, game farms, shops and restaurants all just a ten-minute drive away. A green footprint is important at Bitou River Lodge. Twelve years ago two fields were acquired from a neighbour and more than four hundred indigenous trees have been planted, an ongoing process helping to offset the carbon footprint of the guests.

Canoeing is the ideal way to explore the Bitou River

On this visit, I took a canoe down the river with my niece Vicki Scotcher, a skilled oarswoman, familiar with the local environment having lived in South Africa all her life. While Vicki steered us through the reeds, bulrushes and past the beautiful lilies, I was able to turn my attention to the serene world we were now entering. Within minutes we spotted a pair of Malachite Kingfishers that allowed us to approach much closer than I would expect from the fleeting glimpses you get in England. It is a jewel of a bird, a flash of azure blue in the sunlight. Ten minutes later we saw our first pair of Pied Kingfishers, distinctive black and white birds hovering above the water in front of us.

Malachite Kingfisher Pied Kingfisher

Sue Scheepers, the owner of the Bitou River Lodge, had told us to expect the Malachites, however we then completed the set with a Giant Kingfisher watching us from an overhanging tree. With a speckled black-and-white back and a brown breast, these are the largest Kingfishers though the most difficult to spot against the background foliage. In the next hour we spotted a Purple Heron, the highly nomadic White-Faced Duck and half a dozen more Malachite Kingfishers.

Left: Purple Heron - Top right: Giant Kingfisher - Bottom: White-Faced Duck

There are two golf courses within ten minutes of the Bitou River Lodge, in tune with their environment:

GOOSE VALLEY GOLF CLUB is situated in pristine surroundings offering breathtaking views of the Keurbooms Lagoon, the Indian Ocean, the spectacular Tsitsikamma Mountains and the famous Robberg Peninsular, another nature reserve.

Goose Valley Golf Club

The unique siting of the golf course on the sand dunes provides a perfect base for year round play. A blend of indigenous and coniferous trees complements the views and water features. Originally a 9 hole course designed by Gary Player, Goose Valley is now a 18 hole championship layout that has hosted the South Africa Amateur Championship.

Knysna Lourie

PLETTENBERG BAY GOLF CLUB is set in a private nature reserve. The indigenous flora attracts a large variety of bird life and small animals including bushbuck, vervet monkeys and baboons. Be careful not to stray too far from your buggy as the monkeys are liable to make off with your sandwiches. The course is popular with the local bird-watching club and is home to a large colourful bird known as the Knysna Lourie. Watch out for the red flash of its wings when in flight. The course is easy to walk and the lush kikuyu grass fairways will appeal to both experienced and the occasional players.

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