6th – 11th March: Addo and Jeffrey’s Bay
Our Garden Route road trip started with four nights in the luxurious Harmony Game Lodge not too far from the famous Elephant Park. We enjoyed staying in an amazing executive suite with a view over the bushveld filled with Wildebeest, Kudu and Impala. Unfortunately, this extravagance was to become the exception to the rule in lieu of more ‘budget’ accommodation for the rest of the trip!
While in and around Addo we spent our time visiting Daniell Cheetah Project, Addo Wildlife and of course the Elephant Park itself. I think Claire and I would both agree that one of the most incredible moments we shared in South Africa was when we both got to play with a young female Cheetah named Chiquita. It was fantastic to learn about the majestic cats and how Daniell Cheetah Project is breeding them to introduce new blood lines into the wild population to save their species from extinction through interbreeding and genetic defaults.
Another close encounter with some big cats came at Addo National Park where we once again came face to face with a pride of lions by the side of the road (see Kruger post for the previous). This time the lions where stationary under a tree cooling down after killing a zebra. It was fascinating to watch them relax in the shade whilst metres away a whole herd of zebras watched on, comfortable in the knowledge the lions were too tired to go for more. It also made for some pretty awesome photographs.
After Addo we moved on to Jeffrey’s Bay for a night. When we arrived, the wind was so strong that we decided against surfing and instead opted for some miniature golf. The almost brand new course was great fun and Claire nearly got the better of me, only losing by about two strokes in the end! Thank god! Later in the afternoon, I decided that despite the wind I needed to get some photos of me surfing in the famous waves and so braved the weather while Claire was buffeted by sand on the beach. Having only caught three waves in an hour and a half I returned to shore disappointed but safe in the knowledge that with a bit of photoshop it would look much cooler than it was.
12th – 15th March: Plettenberg Bay
Arriving in Plett, we had no idea what to expect. We knew we would spend time with my dad’s cousin Philip and that he was keen on fishing, but not much more than that. As Philip described how the next few days would look, I automatically thought I would need a good night sleep, because he was definitely serving an adventurous few days on a silver platter. We started with a small hike in Knysna forest – which Philip did not expect me to enjoy, little did he know how pro at hiking I am now – which took us all the way down to the sea level. The water temperature wasn’t particularly inviting, but Philip braved it and was almost seriously injured by waves and the boulders they were moving under water. The rest of the hike went without a hitch.
Sunday was a family day: we joined Philip and his two boys on their weekly fishing trip on the lagoon. For the sake of summarising the events of the day, I’ll only mention that we had to carry a boat to the deep water from the car, I was recovering from the worst spider bites, a seal kept swimming next to us, and Sam tried – really tried – to row the boat by himself. Six hours in, the sun was setting, we did not catch one fish that we could legally take home, and we had to be pulled back to the jetty nearest the car by a motor boat. But could you believe me when I say this was not the best part of the day? The car’s battery was down, so we got our first taste of push starting a car. Twice, because it worked the first time so we decided to get food, but it didn’t work the second time – and if a taxi didn’t stop to help us it would have been a really long night.
Barely recovered from the previous evening’s exciting time, we set off at 5:30am to go deep sea fishing. There was a mention of sea sickness tablets, but none of us were terribly worried. I had fun, so much fun, I would ever consider doing it again if we didn’t have to set off that early. Sam had fun for the first 30min minutes. Then his stomach had fun acting up on him, so when he wasn’t leaning over the edge of the boat giving free food to the fish, he was curled up in a ball between Philip and I. The day was rated as a semi-success overall: we all felt bad for Sam who could not enjoy himself for most of the time on the boat, but we had over two kilos of fish to take home to cook!
The next day was our last full day in the Plett area, and Philip and kept the best for last: he had got us tickets to go kloofing. This was one of my bucket list activities for this trip, but I never thought Sam would be keen, so thanks to Philip, there was no going back! I will admit, I seriously thought I would abandon when I took a look at how we were going to get down to the canyon: abseiling, when you are afraid of heights and (in general) the unknown, is not the best activity to do. Sam was one of the first people to go, so naturally it looked dead easy, but when they tell you to lean back when you already feel (but actually are not) totally horizontal, you hate your life. Aside from that first half hour, the rest was the most fun I had ever had, jumping into pools of water and swimming in canyons, I was in my natural habitat.
16th – 20th March: Tsitsikamma and Knysna
After Plett, we went 30 minutes in the opposite direction of Cape Town to Tsitsikamma which we had driven through a few day previously. On the way we stopped off at Monkeyland in The Crags. In all honestly it ended up being nothing like I expected and much better for it. Instead of cages like in most wildlife attractions, all the various varieties of South American monkeys are free to roam a large fenced-off area of jungle which you then walk through in a small guided group. As a result, you spend the hour in constant fear of having to fight off hordes of vervet monkeys and the like. Trust me, you will never feel more alive than when wondering how to defend yourself from a group of capuchins with only a camera and a lense. On a more serious note, they had mother and son pair of spider monkeys which are unbelievable to see up close. It has really made me want to go and explore South America one day.
We then moved on to Tsitsikamma where we stayed at the backpackers in Storm’s River Village. On the first day we went for a walk to the suspension bridges over the river mouth before booking a snorkelling trip for the next day. Unfortunately, when we arrived in the morning our guide told us that the visibility wasn’t great for snorkelling and so we decided to go on a kayak and lilo trip up the river instead. Although it didn’t quite live up to the adrenaline rush of kloofing, it was still pretty cool to explore the river and its amazing rock faces. I also managed to pull off a front flip into the water without landing on my face which for me was the highlight!
On the next and final day in Tsitsikamma we decided to get up early and hike the first day of the Otter Trail, the Waterfall Hike. It took us about three hours to do but was, in my opinion, the best experience to have there. The hike starts off by taking you though a small forested section before you reach the rocky shore and spend the next two hours or so hopping over boulders along a crudely painted path to the waterfall. It is one of those hikes where the actual trip itself is far more interesting than what is at the end and we really loved watching the waves smash against the shore, exploring the caves and looking at the quartz formations. We’ve done a lot of hiking on this trip and that was definitely one of the best we did.
After our hike we got back in the car and headed for Knysna. On the way we decided to stop off at Lawnwood snake sanctuary having seen a dead puff adder on the road that morning and so that Claire could face her fears once and for all. Our guide was as crazy as he was informative and our estimated hour long visit ended up lasting more like three. However, we had a great time! Particular highlights include watching him pick up venomous snakes in their custom snake pit, getting within inches of huge crocs and Claire’s shocked expression when he put a boa constrictor around her neck!!
We then moved on to Knysna where more of Claire’s family live. We spent the weekend on their remote but relaxing farm. The simultaneously most exciting and terrifying thing about it was the steep and unpaved driveway which winds its way through a forest and up the house (let’s just hope someone from Avis doesn’t come across this). Claire’s cousin James took us on trips to the famous Knysna heads and to Buffel’s beach where we spent the day playing cricket. Safe to say, after six hours preoccupied with smashing sixes into the ocean (just kidding), I was pretty sunburnt… Once again, it was really nice for us to catch up and get to know more of Claire’s relatives until Monday came too soon and we had to head off to Hermanus for the end of our Garden Route trip.
21st – 24th March: Hermanus and Cape Town
Technically Hermanus is not the Garden Route, but it was part of our road trip, so we will forget about that. If anything, it could be considered as the start of the wine route, because the wine there is absolutely to die for. I realised that after getting a bit tipsy after a couple tastings. We went to La Vierge first, where we would have gladly played a game of boules if it hadn’t been 40°c, followed by Creation, where we had the best waiter ever, who has now coaxed me into wanting to buy 5 different types of wine glasses.
The best part of Hermanus was simply to walk around and rest, as we had a very busy few weeks prior, taking walks and listening to the sound of the waves was truly enjoyable. We drove to Gansbaii in hopes to visit the penguin island, but the price was exorbitant considering how many close up encounters we have had for free with those creatures.
On the way back to Cape Town, we took the scenic oceanic route through Betty’s Bay (which also had a penguin colony we visited). Sam managed to (somewhat) guide me back to Cape Town with his memory of the drive back to my relative’s house as my phone decided it would not let us use GPS anymore, so that was a fun drive.
The last few days in South Africa included a lot of driving in various areas near Cape Town including Porterville to visit family, Noordhoek to visit family friends, and the Strand to enjoy our last South African beach view before Australia.