Under African Skies – The Garden Route

At a car park in Port Elizabeth we were welcomed on board our new nomad truck. The new crew, shaun, Piere and Beatrice seemed good fun and the group consisting of mostly young people and another mother and daughter gave us a friendly welcome as we headed for Addo Elephant park.

At the park we set out on safari. We saw a tortoise crossing the road and soon fell upon lots of elephants, brown with the earth. One amazing sighting was two monitor lizards fighting with each other. One pulled the other from his home and the huge creatures wrestled. We also passed kudu, zebra and had a close visit from a bold buffalo.

DSCN1459.JPG

DSCN1456.JPG

DSCN1443.JPG

IMG_0412.JPG

After reportings of a male lion we went off in search but couldn’t find him. After an exciting game drive we headed for the night to Kudu ridge, a campsite with a big fire and welcoming family with a game reserve. Around dinner that night they told us tales from safari parks and African life.

Day 371 – Addo to Tsitsikamma

We drove back to port elizabeth to say goodbye to four group members, unfortunately including the Swedish mother and daughter. We then followed down the coast stopping for lunch at Jeffery’s bay where a whale was spotted in the distance. We paddled and collected shells on the beautiful beach and then ate lunch looking out over the ocean before driving on to Tsitsikamma village. The national park is made up of Coastal and forested areas and in the afternoon we hiked through the forest made up of huge canopy trees. The attraction of “the big tree” was well
marked but the walk took us in and out of the vegetation avoiding the chongalawlaws (black worms- I have no idea if that’s how it’s spelt?!) Paul, another English guy, kept us amused with his blunt descriptions of travelling through Europe. The mist hung over the forest and as we returned to camp it descended onto us, feeling almost like light rain but actually meaning we were sitting in a cloud.

The roaring fire was occupied by interesting characters and tales of adventure and a challenge arose for Maria from Ohio to demonstate square dancing. With mum and some help from YouTube they managed to organise 14 of us into lines for country dancing and we stripped the willow and peeled the banana. Afterwards the springbok shots were served at the bar, and once again we checked for eagles, lions and snakes before it was safe to drink. Once the dancing began it continued into the night.

Day 372

In the morning we headed into the national park to walk the first part of the otter trail, a 46 km hike which follows the coast. Tsitsikamma literally means jumping water, or place of many waters, and as we pulled up to the coast the waves were crashing over the rocks sending spray sometimes 10-15 metres upward. The walk/scramble took us over rocks, past caves and beautiful flowers to a waterfall, all the time following the sea to our left. The waterfall was tall and formed a black water pool at the bottom which Nils, Piere and Paul took turns to jump into.

DSCN1464.JPG

DSCN1470.JPG

DSCN1519.JPG

DSCN1477.JPG

DSCN1518.JPG

IMG_0422.JPG

IMG_0420.JPG

We walked back and took lunch at a beautiful viewpoint. Back at camp the group was due to enjoy Black water tubing. We were taken in a jeep to Storms river, a small river only 18kms in length and in places only 180cn wide. We descended a steep slope with our yellow tubes and got on the water. Our two guides seemed serious as we paddled downstream but in the first opening waged all out warfare on us, tipping, flipping and launching people from their tubes.

We paddled downstream, stopping for rock jumps and games. In one game you had to throw your tube down then jump from a rock into it. I managed to jump straight through the middle like a hula hoop. There were also much higher jumps up to 8metres. In some areas the water was low and we had to wade so arriving back at the truck later we were exhausted but all smiling. Even back on the truck the guides had a sense of humour telling us they recycle black people to make them into the wetsuits we were wearing.

Dinner was served around the roaring fire and try as we might to be sociable, everyone was pleased when we called it a night and could climb into our sleeping bags for what seemed all too short.

Day 373 – Tsitsikamma to the Crags

The garden route we kept being told was home to the highest bridge bungee in the world. Mum was determined she would never do it, in fact when I left home 1 year ago she warned me I could do anything but bungee, however in the excitement mum got caught up and couldn’t turn down the challenge. A lot of the group were jumping and mum, torturing herself went to stand on the bridge and watch, not able to commit to whether she would jump or not. The bridge was a huge structure over a valley, the jump 216 metres. Estelle, Eva, Shaun, Beatrice and I were watching the camera zoom in on peoples nervous faces as they got ready to jump. All of a sudden in the background I could see mum putting on a harness and a few minutes later standing on the podium ready to jump. We were shocked and excited, she was inches away, but then you saw her come over faint and terrified and ask to go back. 5 minutes of negotiations later and mum edged back from the edge, the whole cafe following the drama on the big screen. I knew she would be annoyed, torturing herself. A few jumpers returned, more people jumped, but eventually mum appeared on the screen again, happier and getting strapped in again. With little time to think she stepped off and bungied. I felt emotional with tears in my eyes, the whole cafe cheered and a crowd which had built up was shouting in excitement! The torture was over for both of us and she had a big smile on her face!

The adrenaline of the group carried us and we drove on to the crags where most of the group was splitting up for activities. Yifat, Bianca, Mum, Shaun and I went into Plettenberg bay, a beautiful coastal town for the afternoon. We were hoping to do a whale watching tour but with high winds we couldn’t and had a look around the beach shops stopping for coffee mid afternoon. Later we went to the lookout over the coastline. The garden route is literally that, a stretch of beautiful and everchanging coast, this bit a lovely example. Plettenberg bay was so called by General van Plettenberg when he landed on this coast in 1652 and declared for the Dutch East India company. Previously it had been settled by the Portuguese who had named it bayie farmosia or beautiful bay.

IMG_0423.JPG

IMG_0424.JPG

DSCN1535.jpg

We walked down to the empty white sands of the beach, got an ice cream and sat eating and chatting when Bianca spotted a whale just off the coast. The whales in this area at this time of year are the southern right whales. Not far from shore we could see him sitting on the surface, spraying water every now and again. He swam left away from us and then turned and made his way back. Our taxi was booked and the time was nearing but we were transfixed by this moving lump in the water. A whale watcher lent us his binoculars through which you got a greater understanding of the incredible size.

DSCN1547.JPG

DSCN1545.JPG

Running back up the hill to meet our taxi we expressed what a great day it had been. We were staying at a camp site by the river and dropped those off with accommodation and started constructing tents when Hendrick came over and said the allocated accommodation for one was a chalet with three rooms, six beds in total, so we opted for the room and relaxed in luxury.

Dinner was followed by toasted marshmallows then a short spell of rain sent us back to socialise outside of the chalets undercover. We played charades and mind games until late.

Day 374 – The Crags to Oudtshoorn

On our drive we made a stop at Knysner (pronounced niesner) which was a harbour town with events frequently happening. With only a short stop we headed to fill mums quota for “proper coffee,” took a few snaps and bought some souvenirs before heading along the coastal route towards Oudtshoorn. We stopped for photos at the Outeniqua pass, a beautiful mountainous area.

DSCN1538.JPG

IMG_0425.JPG

IMG_0429.JPG

IMG_0432.JPG

IMG_0431.JPG

Along the way we had our eyes open for whales and made a stop where we could see three suspected lumps of whale. Through the binocular we could confirm two whales, and also spotted a pod of dolphins breaking the surface. Shaun kept calling us all to get back on the bus but try as we might we stood stuck to the spot. Out of nowhere a whale breached, leaping from the water so you could see its complete shape. Again and again it jumped as it swam away giving us many beautiful views. At magical Africa moments like these I believe watching and appreciating it is so much better than fumbling for the perfect shot, but I did get a few near misses (aka splashes.)

At the accommodation in Oudtshoorn, Nadine, Maria, mum and I shared a room in which to have a girls sleepover. After lunch we headed out to the Congo caves. The 5.4km stretch of cave is at ground level, undulating up and down thorough the mountain rather than dropping below ground, making the caves warm and very humid year round. The caves had impressive formations of flow rock, where water had seeped through over rock to erode shapes, and drop rock where drops had formed new stalagmites and stalactites. The bushmen were believed to have used the entrance of this cave from 10-12,000 years ago until disruption by Europeans 300 years ago. Huge chambers were open for us to walk through and the guide pointed out the ‘honeymoon suite,’ Neville the devil and the cheese toaster to name but a few formations. In one particular chamber, concerts used to be held because of the amazing acoustics. To prove this she sung a few verses of the South African national anthem which echoed beautifully around the cave.

IMG_0426.JPG

We only went 1.2 km into the cave, a further tour can take you a maximum of 2.5km in but narrows down to crawling and crouching. One persistent person once meant that people were trapped inside for 11 hours!

Oudtshoorn is nicknamed the ostrich capital and we were due to stop at the ostrich farm but were too late. Here an option is to ride an ostrich by which they put a bag over its head, you jump on, they remove the bag and it runs whilst you hold on for dear life. The dry humour of our guide meant we weren’t sure of the truth of this until we saw photos! Driving the roads back we saw many of these birds. Shaun said, they are the biggest bird but they can’t fly, they have tried but they still can’t!

Our dinner briefing as always stretched from 5 minutes to almost an hour and Shaun and Piere had us in stitches as they went off on tangents. We then experimented, in the name of sharing cultures, with smors however with no fire available we microwaved the marshmallow, then sandwiched it with the makeshift ingredients available, between a coconut biscuit and a wedge of chocolate. Fine tuning turned smors into ‘German policemen’ as we scrapped the biscuit and insured the chocolate inside the marshmallow like a pig in blanket.

Day 375 – Oudtshoorn to Somerset West

We made our way towards Stellenbosch via the coastal route, heading first through the dramatic mountain ranges, often dropping off into canyons and leaving a trailing route carved out mountainside.

At 9am we pulled up at Ronnies Sex Shop, a convenience store on route 62 which was grafittied, thus birthing a new tourist stop. The once modest shop is now a bar draped in clothing, ladies underwear and business cards. The walls are filled with squiggled messages from people all over the world. Ronnie, a grey old man with a long straggly plait offered the boys a brandy and coke which they readily accepted. Back on the bus, they kept on going and before 10:30 an entire bottle of rum disappeared. While the girls played go fish and celebrity head quietly at the front of the bus, the boys wailed along to power ballads and shared boy talk loudly.

IMG_0287.JPG

IMG_0282.JPG

We stopped for lunch at a beach with huge crashing waves. A short coastal walk took you through dramatic scenery and soaked you under sea spray.

IMG_0427.JPG

DSCN1568.jpg

DSCN1577.JPG

The afternoon coastal drive was pretty and mid afternoon we pulled up in Somerset west to visit the cheetah outreach project. A rather smaller project than I had expected, the centre rescues cheetah from surrounding farmland to protect them and raise awareness of their plight. Cheetah are threatened because of potential inbreeding, loss of land and food to farmland and also being hunted by farmers in order to protect livestock.

One particular project here was the South African cheetah Anatolian shepherd guard dog project which looked after and breed Anatolian dogs from Turkey in order to supply the farmers with a form of non lethal predator control, keeping cheetahs out but alive.

As well as cheetah the site also looks after a few smaller cats, the cervet, the meerkat and the Caracal, as well as two jackals, one only with three legs, all rescued from other situations.

IMG_0435.JPG

IMG_0433.JPG

DSCN1595.JPG

We checked into a very flash hotel, treated on our last night of tour, and got ready for our meal out together. At 7:00 we drove into the town to head to a lovely restaurant for a few cocktails and some food, (the boys were a bit subdued!)

Day 376 – Somerset West to Cape Town

King Charles presented a huge buffet breakfast, complete with champagne! We packed the truck and headed for Stellenbosch, a beautiful old town with a sense of colonialism. It was the second settlement of South Africa after Cape Town and has a widely renowned University. We walked the pretty tree lined streets to Dorp Street, the high street lined with picturesque shop fronts and coffee shops. We visited ‘Oom Sammie se winkle’ an old fashioned everything store which stocked everything from hardware to candles, jams and teas to postcards. Rummaging around we came across costumes and antiques, getting lost as the shop unveiled room after room.

After a good explore we enjoyed a coffee in a sunny spot and then strolled through the arty streets.

IMG_0315.JPG

IMG_0314.JPG

IMG_0312.JPG

At 10:30 we made our way to Spiers farm for wine tasting. Set in a beautiful green garden with lake, the modern tasting room was a beautiful setting.

IMG_0319.JPG

We tasted there white wines, a Sauvignon blanc and two creative blends, followed by three red wines, all mixes of new grape blends including a unique South African blend, the pinotage – a mix between Pinot noir and hermitage. The was a variety of very distinctive flavours, smokey wood to fruity orange. After an indulgent morning we stepped outside for some final photos before heading to Cape Town.

IMG_0349.JPG

IMG_0346.JPG

IMG_0350.JPG

IMG_0338.JPG

Outside the office Shaun gave his final speech, “good morning wonderful people….” and we said our goodbyes to the crew. Estelle, Paul, Hendrick, Nils, Nadine, Yifat, mum and I all met again for lunch in a sunny green market square before parting ways.

Jen picked mum and I up once more from the Grand Daddy hotel and we went together back to their house. Late afternoon after tea and a catch up we went for a walk in the forest with a lovely outlook over Cape Town. It is a lovely feeling to imagine being a local in a place like this, as exciting as touring can be. We ended the afternoon with ice cream and waffles at the creamery.

Day 377

On our last day in Cape Town the sun put on a good show and midday we headed to Clifton beach. Relaxing in the sun was lovely contrasted with the icy water. Mum and I strolled through the rocky bays appreciating our last hours together.

At dinner that night, the phrase “like a duck” was accidentally coined from Jen’s childhood Hairdryer shaped like a duck, to mean really good.

Day 378

Departure day came all too soon. Michael dropped mum and I at the airport where we checked in. I had to pass through to Domestic departures and her to International. We had a selfie across the dividing barrier, then watched through the glass partition as we both scanned our bags. The other side we could only mouth goodbye and watch each other part away.

From my 2 hour domestic flight I spent the afternoon in Johannesburg airport before finally, fully stocked with Amarula, departing on the overnight flight direct to perth.

IMG_0449.JPG

Wow, how fast this adventure has gone, 2 months, such great memories, family, new and special friends and inspiration I will hold onto. I am very sad to leave this amazing continent where I have met such friendly locals and amazing fellow travellers. I hope it is not the last time, for now back to Perth.

After continent four!
Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com
Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com

One comment

  1. So many sights, sounds and smells. Africa is indeed a continent that gets to you and leaves you wanting to know and experience more. I left, feeling I’d only scratched the surface of its treasures and had probing had produced more questions than answers.

    I love the photos. Thank you for an amazing and precious two weeks travelling with you. It was very sad to part company at the airport, standing either side of the glass divide separating domestic and international departures, with our hands pressed against it to gesture a touch. We must have looked odd. So so many happy memories too. Thank you Lauren. Xxx

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s