With all the news this week I thought it was topical to share my pics of Zimbabwe. I lived in Zimbabwe until we moved to South Africa when I was five. I have strong memories of living there. My parents worked on a flower farm growing chrysanthemums. My first year of school. Our friends dairy farm. Open spaces. My cousin doing cartwheels in our garden. Growing strawberries. After we left my dad was heart broken. Zimbabwe was his life, in his bones, but he wanted a better life for our family. I went back for my cousins wedding and visited Victoria Falls while I was there... what an incredible experience. It is the most beautiful peaceful country. It is one of the most incredible places I've ever been... and long to go back again. I am so excited about the sudden changes in the country this week... the celebrations on the news and in my facebook feed have been tear jerking, I've had goosebumps every day! Exciting times ahead...
Gondwana is a private game reserve near Mossel Bay on the Garden Route. As part of our last South Africa trip we stayed there for 3 days. If you know me, you know I never go for fancy hotels or accommodation, I will always opt for an interesting Airbnb or a homely guest house. The main reason we chose Gondwana was the location which was perfect as it was in the middle of our planned route. It was the height of luxury, but also fitted the bill of unusual interesting accommodation. We also had Chris's parents with us and we weren't sure they would have enjoyed staying in rustic safari tents we'd stayed in before so we thought we'd treat ourselves to a few days of luxury. We arrived covered in dust after about half an hour on a dirt road. We were greeted by friendly Gondwana staff who handed us cold face cloths to clean our faces. They parked our cars for us and took all of our luggage to our rooms while we checked in and enjoyed a welcome cocktail .
We stayed in one of the thatched roofed rondawels in Kwena Lodge. These modern circular huts are based on traditional Khoi-San bushman huts. They are built in a half circle around a small valley so they all have an amazing view. Each one is a stunning open plan room with a bathroom/ shower and verandah that looks out into the valley. They have fireplaces and a sky light above the bed to look at the stars. All of the accommodation is in the main game reserve so the animals occasionally wander through the camp. While we were there we had zebra, eland and elephants wandering through.
We arrived in the afternoon with just enough time to get ready and head out on our first of 6 game drives over the next 3 days. We had paid for full board so had all our meals and 2 game drives a day included. Our guide, Brian who was from Zimbabwe looked after us and took us out on every drive so we had just one dedicated person who we got to know quite well over the few days we were there.
Over the time we were there we saw zebra, rhino, kudu, hippo, wildebeest, red hartebeest, elephants, giraffe, eland, buffalo, ostrich, cape zebra, sable, impala, springbok and lion (plus a few more... I don't want to bore you too much! :-)). Early on in the first drive became apparent that there were pros and cons to being on a private game reserve. One of the first things we did was drive to see the lions which weren't on any of the main tracks. They were tagged and the rangers always knew where they were. Having been on game drives before it felt a little bit odd and ever so slightly like a zoo rather than a large game reserve with wild animals. The animals are of course wild, but part of the fun of a game drive is not knowing what you will see and having no guarantee that you will see everything. It makes the special chance encounters even more special. After this most of the animals we saw were by chance so it wasn't all like that.
On our second night after dinner one of the guides walked us back to our hut in the dark. He flashed a torch down our path and as we were saying goodnight to Chris's parents, Chris noticed a puff adder in our path. It was crazy! The guide quickly called for help who came and safely removed the snake to move it back into the bush away from the camp... that was an exciting end to our day and very nearly the end of our holiday! :-)
One of the pro's of being on a private reserve is the special attention, time and knowledge you get from a dedicated guide. Brian was brilliant. He was so knowledgable and pointed every bird, plant and tree as well as any larger wildlife. There wasn't anything he didn't know about. He was known by all of the other guides for always being the last back from the drives. We were supposed to have sundowner drinks and snacks on each night drive during sunset. Our sundowners always landed up being in the dark as we'd been driving longer than planned. Even in the dark the sundowners were amazing! We had a table covered with wine, beer, spirits and really tasty different snacks each day.
We learnt a lot about the challenges of being a smaller private reserve. Poaching is a major issue. The rhinos have to be closely followed at all times. The luscious fynbos landscape is not a natural environment for some of the animals, they have issues with taking in too much water - most of the Springbok had died because of this. As there are so few, the lions are swapped out with other game reserves to stop inbreeding in the prides. The cost of some animals is incredibly high, so they may only have a few whereas others are free, but they need to keep a balance between them. There are issues with disease which can be fatal when you have limited animals. There are also really amazing things about being a small reserve such as the conservation projects. A couple of things Gondwana are focusing on are protecting and preserving the endangered fynbos vegetation and the long term sustainability of the Desert Black Rhino, White Rhino, Cheetah, Bontebok, and Cape Mountain Zebra.
If you are interested in taking good wildlife photos you will have a much better chance here than on a standard game drive. Brian would take so much extra time to make sure we had got as close as possible and stayed as long as we needed to get good photos. He would also dedicate a whole drive to ensure we found different animals we hadn't seen previously. It was good too to have time to just sit quietly and appreciate the animals too without rushing off to finish the drive.
Overall Gondwana was lovely. Even though there wasn't the volume of animals you would see at a national game reserve it was still wonderful to be out in the open, under the African sky, waking up really early and heading out on a drive in the cool dusk eagerly hoping to see animals, seeing incredible African sunsets. Enjoying early morning coffee and rusks and evening sundowners. Going for massages. Spending our days lounging around in the heat, reading, eating and swimming. The staff were wonderful and it was really nice to experience a little bit of luxury for a change :-)
We slept, ate and played at: Gondwana Game Reserve
This is the second time we've driven Route 62 and I think it was even more spectacular than the first. We drove in the opposite direction as we were heading from Cape Town towards Port Elizabeth. We started in Worcester and finished in Oudtshoorn with the Cango caves and we took the Robinson mountain pass back to the coast. We spent the night part way in Barrydale in the interesting and quirky Karoo Art Hotel. I don't want to say too much about it as I have written about it before (you can read my previous post here), but I thought I'd share my photos from this trip...
As part of our trip we spent a couple of days drinking wine. A lot of wine! Surrounded by beautiful scenery. It was great! We based ourselves in Stellenbosch and managed to fit in 7 vineyards over a couple of days, one day on our own and one day as part of a private tour.
In Stellenbosch we walked around looking at all the bookshops and little galleries. It is such a beautiful place to just wander or stop for a coffee or brunch. We obviously stopped to see the famous 'Oom Samie Se Winkel' again with all its little goodies too!
On the day we drove ourselves around (well, Chris drove us which was so kind and a huge sacrifice! :-)) we started the day at Simonsig Vineyard. Chris's brother Tony had Simonsig MCC (South African equivalent of champagne) at his wedding, and his parents have bought it ever since. We all love it, so it was so amazing to visit the vineyard! We got there pretty early and were one of the few tables there... we took our time, enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and slowly drank our wine. It was wonderful and probably the best vineyard we visited on the whole trip!
The second vineyard we visited was Delaire Graff. The main reason we chose it was I was desperate to see some of Lionel Smit's paintings and had heard there were a few there. I have followed Lionel Smit for a few years and absolutely love his huge colourful portraits. There were quite a few Lionel Smit paintings, so I was super happy. It turned out that Laurence Graff has a huge personal art collection, a lot of which is on display at his vineyard, including the famous Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff which was a wonderful surprise. Everywhere you look there are the most incredible sculptures and paintings all in the most beautiful surroundings. Absolutely stunning vineyard!
Our final stop for the day was Vergelegen, one of the oldest vineyards in the area. Chris and I have been there previously, but wanted Chris's parents to see it, as there are some lovely Dutch buildings and incredible 300 year old camphor trees. We had a lovely lunch with peacocks walking between our tables.
On day 2 our driver and tour guide Tarryn picked us up in a minivan. Our first stop was Rustenberg Vineyard. This was a lovely small vineyard surrounded by fields of cows. I think one of the bonuses of going with a tour guide is getting to try out some of the lesser known vineyards. The big ones are beautiful, but do attract crowds of people. Rustenberg (and all the vineyards we visited on our tour) was off the beaten track... we would never have even known about it. We were the only people there so we got special attention and the wine was great!
Our second stop was Villliera, who specialise in making MCC (Méthode Cap Classique - South Africa's champagne) where we drank our wine under the trees, followed by a hearty lunch at Delheim.
Our second to last stop was Uitkyk vineyard and our final stop Lavenir. At Lavenir we relaxed in a lovely garden, enjoyed some cheese and ham platters and sampled a whole lot more wine. Tarryn also showed us her champagne saber trick where she opened a bottle of champagne with the swipe of a sword.
I have been getting into my cooking classes recently. I think it's a lovely thing to do as part of travelling, to learn a bit about another countries food and culture. I searched to see if there were any in South Africa and found The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour in Cape Town. It was brilliant. We started walking the colourful cobbled streets of the Bo-Kaap with a mini tour and stopped in one of the little shops to have a look at some of the ingredients we'd be cooking with and then headed to Zainie's lovely house. There was a group of about 8 of us and we all mucked in. We learned about the different Cape Malay spiced including 'mother-in-law' and 'father-in-law', ('mother-in-law' being a bit spicier) and learned to mix our own masala spice. And then we cooked dhaltjies (chilli bites), samoosas, rotis and Cape Malay chicken curry, all of which we got to enjoy afterwards. If you are in the area and want to learn a bit more about South African food and cooking, I would definitely recommend it.
This was my third visit to Cape Town and Chris's parents first ever holiday to South Africa! We had 6 days which was great and long enough to do almost everything we wanted to (leaving a few things for next time). I could never tire of visiting this city... it is incredible and honestly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I thought I'd share what we did in case you need any ideas... this is not a comprehensive list, just a few things I have done and enjoyed on my last few trips.
1. The Waterfront - There are so many good restaurants, shops and you have an amazing view of Table Mountain. There is also the Waterfront food market with local food stalls and the Watershed, an industrial building with over 150 stalls selling locally produced and designed crafts and goods... you won't see this much unique, creative, high quality stuff again, so if you see something you really want, buy it!
2. Table Mountain - This is obviously a must! You can hike or get the cable car up/ down. If you are limited for time and have a clear day you should definitely go up! We decided to go up on our first day and am so glad we did, as every day after that there was cloud covering the top and we wouldn't have been able to see a thing if they even let us up!
3. Cape Peninsula - If you want to do all of the peninsula, down the east coast and up the west, you either need to plan for a very long day, or spread it over 2-3 days and take your time enjoying all the stops! I would recommend starting with Kalk Bay (have breakfast at Olympia Cafe), and then have stops at Simons Town (you can take a boat trip from here), Boulders Beach (to check out the penguins on the beach) and finish the east coast with Cape Point. On the west coast start with driving Chapmans Peak, stop at Noordhoek (you can go horse riding on the beach), Hout Bay and then up to Camps Bay. These would be my main stops, but there is so much more to see and explore in-between these.
4. Cape of Good Hope - Most people just head straight to see Cape Point, where you can see the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, but there is a whole national park with trails you can explore. Look out for the baboons, penguins, eland and bontebok.
5. Bo-Kaap - This incredibly colourful multicultural area with it's cobbled streets is definitely worth checking out. It used to be a township and the centre of Cape Malay culture. More recently it has become very popular with other people buying houses... it is still a feast for the eyes though! There is a very good Bo-Kaap museum which is in the oldest house in the area.
6. South African cooking class - there is a brilliant Cape Malay cooking class in the Bo-Kaap. You will go on a little tour, check out one of the local shops and then cook loads of tasty food in one of the colourful houses!
7. The South African National Gallery - The brilliant gallery is located in the company gardens with a backdrop of table mountain. There is lots of interesting and thought provoking art, definitely worth a visit.
8. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens - These are hands down the best botanical gardens I've been to. So lovely and peaceful and surrounded by mountains. There is a fantastic greenhouse, restaurant and cafe, loads of sculptures and walkway among the tree tops where you are high up with the birds and have a different view point of the mountains and gardens.
9. Groot Constantia - This is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. We had a fantastic lunch outside under the trees with the best views, followed by a really good wine tasting. If you don't have time to head to to Stellenbosch and the winelands definitely try and stop here as it is so much closer and just as good. If you do have time try and do both!
10. Hermanus - This is a bit of a drive, but if you are in Cape Town between June and December you have a high chance of seeing wales. It is a gorgeous drive and a lovely stop for some lunch or a stopover even if you don't see wales!
Nelson's Eye - Fantastic steak house
Olympia Cafe - Bakery and breakfast in Kalk Bay
Mooiberge - Strawberry farm for breakfast
Miller's Thumb - Seafood
The Power and the glory - Awesome little place for good breakfast. coffee, or a beer in the evening
Amber Tree Lodge - We have stayed in a private room here twice now. Fantastic location and lovely reasonably priced hostel
Bo-Kaap Cape Malay Cooking Class
From Durban we travelled North along the coast to spend a couple of nights in the bush! Our first stop was a Raphia Palm forest in Mtunzini. Other than the raised walkway, the forest is left to it's natural course and attracts deer and vultures that eat the palm nuts. It is a lovely peaceful place and we were the only ones there. We met one of my friends for coffee and then headed on to iMfolozi Hluhluwe Game Reserve, stopping briefly at an amazing roadside market selling curios, crafts and fruit.
Just on our drive into the game reserve to check in to our chalet we saw a hippo out of the water, rhino, warthog, wildebeest, zebra, kuala, impala, kudu, a herd of buffalo (the first time I've ever seen buffalo!!!) and an elephant. It was very dry which makes it easier to spot animals, but it was so incredible to see so much before we'd even had a game drive. It was such a treat to be back in the bush with it's huge open spaces and enormous night sky. We had an amazing African sunset that night on the way to our cabin. We had a simple dinner and sat outside on our verandah drinking wine surrounded by the sound of animals and insects. Our electricity was switched off at about 9pm so we got ready for bed by candlelight and had an early night.
We woke up at 4:45am for an early morning game drive and breakfast in the bush. We drove around for a few hours... saw loads of buffalo, rhino, elephants, impala and nyala. By the time our drive ended it was absolutely sweltering. We left and drove to our guest house in St Lucia. We checked in, freshened up and headed out for a boat trip on the estuary. We saw loads of pods of hippos really close up while they swam and played... I've never seen hippos that close, it was actually quite scary. We also saw crocodiles, birds and a lone buffalo by the water and towards the end of the trip we had another spectacular sunset over the water. We went out for a seafood dinner and fell asleep totally exhausted after a very long day.
I have very strong memories of the Drakensberg when I was younger. We once went on a camping trip with some family friends and a few times drove nearby just to get a glimpse of the snow on the mountains. It is dramatic and stunning. On my recent trip back to Durban the one thing I really wanted to do was go back to the Drakensberg. I planned a trip with two close friends for a couple of days. We stayed in a chalet in the Northern Drakensberg right up in the mountains. I had the most incredible few days... we arrived when it was getting dark and woke up to sunrise and baboons. We hiked in the heat and took a dip in the icy water to cool down, stared at the most stars and biggest sky I have ever seen. We saw bushman paintings, loads of birds and wildlife. We braaied, chilled, talked, laughed and cried. I hadn't seen these two friends properly for about 10 years and could not have imagined a better weekend away or special time to catch up with old friends!
As part of my trip back home to Durban I desperately wanted to go to the Drakensberg, so I planned a road trip with two of my most special old friends that I grew up with and hadn't seen for a long time. On the way to and from the Drakenberg we drove through the Midlands Meander, a lovely stretch of gentle hills with little shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, farms, spas and golf courses between Pietermaritzburg and the Drakensberg.
Our first stop was the Mandela capture site, which has a huge instalment of Mandela's face and a museum. The sculpture is a huge instalment of 50 tall steel columns that slowly come into focus as you approach the sculpture and they all line up. The 50 columns represent 50 years since Mandela's capture. If you go and struggle to see it, try looking through your camera... for some reason I think your eyes play tricks and see right through it and your camera flattens what you see. At least mine did anyway until someone explained it to me.
Next we stopped at Piggly Wiggly for breakfast and some shopping. I had bacon, banana and berry french toast and a red chai (there are all sorts of red drinks in South Africa, red chai, red cappuccino, red late... they are all made with a shot of strong rooibos tea!). The shops were great too... I bought a Christmas decoration, a wire bird ornament, some cushion covers and some Simonsig Wine.
We stopped Ardmore, a gallery and shop with the most fascinating pottery. Each piece is a unique piece of art (we actually studied it at school!) and costs about £2000! When we went they were all away on holiday, so we could still look around, but you can usually visit the workshop and see the artists making the pottery too.
On the way to Drakensberg we stopped at Bierfasl, a traditional German pub and restaurant serving very tasty German food and beer. On the way back we stopped at Blueberry Hill for lunch... it is up on a hill, has large glass windows looking out at the fields of Nguni cattle and plants everywhere. The menu is full of blueberry flavours. I had blueberry lemonade, bunny chow with a blueberry chutney and we shared a blueberry cheesecake after... it was such a stunning place.
I always tell people I am from Durban as it is easier than explaining where Hillcrest is, but I actually grew up in Hillcrest, which is about half an hour from Durban. Last year I went home to Hillcrest for the first time in 10 years! I hadn't been back since my dad passed away, always opting to go to Cape Town when I visited South Africa rather than facing the past! I finally decided it was time, and I'm so glad I did. I got to catch up with some really special friends and see Hillcrest and Durban with fresh eyes. Some of it was painful, but it was mostly special and beautiful!
I spent most of my time seeing people, having meals and catching up. But I managed to fit in a few things like waking up at 5am to go to the Shongweni farmers market for breakfast. This market is AMAZING! If you don't get there at 6:30am you will sit in about 5km of traffic waiting to get in! We walked around to see all the stalls and had a lovely hearty breakfast! It was weird walking around and bumping into old school friends, but good to see familiar faces and be surrounded by South African accents, home cooked food, biltong stalls, buckets of proteas and amazing crafts. Getting up that early also means you are totally rewarded with beautiful sunrises and stunning misty views.
I visited the Makaranga gardens. Oh my goodness, they were so beautiful! Actually better than the botanical gardens in Durban! We just walked around for about an hour exploring the amazing gardens with it's incredible indigenous and exotic plants and trees, Japanese garden, ponds, birds and sculptures. We went for a nice cold Savannah in the restaurant to cool down afterwards!
I went for a drive and lunch with a friend in the valley of a thousand hills with its stunning views! I can't believe we used to live a 10 minute drive from here. You can stop and see the halfway point for the 98km Comrades Marathon and all of the plaques commemorating people who have completed the marathon 10 or 20 times. There is the Umgeni steam train that you can catch (we used to go and watch it come in with my dad! :-) or you can check out the little shops at the arts and crafts village. There are also lots of really good restaurants and cafes with views of the hills...
Obviously I am biased, but this really is a beautiful part of the world!
Having grown up near Durban and travelled a lot since I left, when I recently returned I came back with new eyes. There was so much I hadn't seen before. One of the things I decided I had to do was see Warwick Junction and the traditional African Herbal market. It is not an area that a lot of white South Africans would just walk through and to me it was an unknown as I didn't know anyone else who had been, My friend Kelly said she knew of a guide who could take me so as soon as I landed I contacted Bheki who agreed to take me around the next day. It wasn't one of his standard tours, so I was super pleased he agreed!
Bheki met us on Musgrave road, hopped in our car and showed us a safe place to park near the markets. Our first stop was Victoria Street market. It was a fabulous mix of African and Indian with arts, crafts, african jewellery, traditional outfits, spices and all sorts of interesting things.
After Victoria Street Market we went to the Traditional Herbal market which was fascinating! I was nervous about walking around this part of Durban with my SLR camera, but before we met Bheki assured me that the market is so safe, if anyone attempted to take anything from me everyone in the market would react before the police could get there! He was also great at guiding what I could take pictures of and what I really shouldn't...
There were doctors, dentists and abortion clinics, clothing and all sorts of natural medicines: herbs, bark, plants, animal carcasses and bones and so many things that I had no idea about. Right next to the market was a mosque which shows the wonderful mix of cultures and religions in Durban.
We walked through the train station where Bheki first arrived when he moved to Durban and out under Warwick Junction where there is a hub of buses and taxis heading in every direction, and some HUGE pillars painted by Faith 47, a South African street artist who does the most amazing stuff all over the world. These pillars are painted with six murals of people who work in the markets around Warwick Junction, they are amazing!!!
I toured Warwick Junction with Bheki from Kude Tours
Durban is the third largest city in South Africa. It is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa, it has loads of good beaches, is very popular for surfing and has a subtropical climate. The largest ethnic groups are Zulus, White English South Africans and the largest population of Indians living outside of India. This mix means Durban has a great mix of religions, traditions and fantastic food, most famously Bunny Chow which is particular to Durban. Durban attracts a lot of South African tourists, but most international tourists would opt for Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Johannesburg, which is such a shame as Durban has so much to offer!
I grew up near Durban and we'd often pop down for the day to go to the beach, but on my recent trip back it was the first time I returned as a tourist. I thought I'd share a few of the awesome things I got up to as I'd love to encourage more tourists to consider Durban as part of their trip to South Africa.
1. Take a stroll along Durban beachfront. The beachfront was redeveloped for the 2010 FIFA world cup and has a lovely promenade that you can cycle or stroll along. Try and go early in the morning when it is cooler and quieter. (If you happen to be there in June, you might be lucky enough to catch the sardine run!)
2. Visit the Moses Madhiba football stadium. Even if you're not a fan of football, you can take the sky car to the top for a view of Durban.
3. Go for lunch and some shopping at the Spice Emporium, a fantastic Indian supermarket selling spices, incense sticks, recipe books, sweets and every imaginable ingredient you could need in Indian cooking.
4. Watch the sunrise and the hundreds of birds flying overhead at Wilsons Wharf.
6. Go for a ride in a rickshaw along Durban beachfront. I have only ever seen rickshaws like these in Durban. My first ever ride in a rickshaw was with my dad when I was 5 and we caught a train from Zimbabwe to South Africa to look for houses for our family to move! :-)
7. If you happen to be in Durban in April, you might catch the Festival of Chariots, the colourful Hari Krishna parade. If not you could take a drive to visit their ISKON temple (Sri Sri Radha Radhanath)
8. Go for a walk around the Botanical Gardens and try their famous scones with apricot jam and cream, a South African cream tea!
9. Take a tour of Warwick Junction and the traditional African Herbal market
10. Visit uShaka Marine World
Slightly Further Afield - If you want to extend your stay in Kwazulu Natal, which I think you definitely should, you could include the following:
2. Visit the Valley of a thousand hills, take the Inchanga Steam Train or do a township tour
3. The midlands meander
4. Go on safari at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve and on a hippo boat trip in St Lucia
5. Sani Pass
Whenever I go home to South Africa my first stop is always at my grandparents, Oumie and Oupie in Kriel (Mpumalanga). Kriel is a coal mining town with a huge power station that Oupie worked at for years. It is a small Afrikaans place that most South Africans haven't even heard of. We spent all of our school holidays there. My family moved so many times when we were younger and are all over the place now, so going back to Kriel is like going home... it is the only constant place we've ever really had. I love how familiar everything is, Oumie's rose bushes in the garden, their ornaments and furniture, the sound of the doves outside, home cooked Afrikaans food and the sound of Oupie playing guitar and harmonica. I am incredibly blessed to have such amazing grandparents and somewhere familiar I can always go back to.
Cape Town has got to be one of the best cities in the world... I think it is in my top three! Despite growing up in South Africa I have only been twice so far... once many years ago I spent 18 hours on a bus from Joburg to Cape Town and stayed with one of my school friend Natasha for a few days. And then more recently with Chris, it was the last stop on our holiday after visiting the winelands.
We did all the usual things... we took a bus tour around the sights, cable car up to table mountain, had lunch at the waterfront, did chapman's peak drive, drove to Cape Point and went horse riding on the beach in Noordhoek. There is a lot we didn't get to do and hope to on our next visit, but it was enough to seriously fall in love with this place. It is an exciting, arty, multi-cultural city, with great night life and beaches surrounded by beauty, mountains and sea... I want to move there forever!
We stayed in an awesome eco-friendly hostel called Amber Tree Lodge. We booked a twin room, which meant we had our own space, but could use the shared kitchen, courtyard and balcony (with an amazing view of table mountain!). It is really central so you can walk into town for shops, bars etc... and it is super cheap!
A perfect end to an awesome holiday...
On our last trip to SA, after exploring Route 62, we headed to Somerset West and the Winelands. We were lucky that my friends mom lived there and let us use her home as a base to stay and explore the area. And what a beautiful area it is. Vineyards surrounded by mountains, beautiful beaches, penguins, whale spotting, Cape-Dutch architecture, good food and really good wine... what more could you ask for?
We started off with a beautiful coastal drive to Hermanus. On the way is Betty's Bay where you can see the Jackass/ African Penguins and the odd Dassie. It was not the right time of year so we didn't get to see any whales (you need to go from around June to November), but the drive was still worth it.
We stopped at Mooiberge strawberry farm for an amazing breakfast surrounded by strawberry fields and mountains. I had a muffin topped with bacon, strawberry jam, creme fraiche and toasted hazelnuts with a strawberry smoothie - obviously! This is really fun place, with cool scarecrows all over the place. You can pick your own strawberries, and they have a well stocked farm stall!
Stellenbosch is worth a stop if you don't use it as a base. It is a university town so has plenty of good places to eat and drink. The streets are lined with oak trees, cafes, art galleries and boutiques and there is plenty Cape Dutch architecture to be admired! It is also worth visiting Oom Samie se Winkel (Uncle Samie's Shop). It is an institution in Stellensbosch which started as one of the first trading stores in 1907. It is a popular tourist stop now, and stocks everything from dried fish and biltong to tobacco, fruit, sweets, clothes and books.
We spent about two days visiting loads of vineyards. A few that we visited were:
- Spier - They do a good buffet lunch and have cheetah and owl sanctuaries too.
- Vergelegen - Founded in 1700, it is one of the oldest vineyards in the country. They have really beautiful gardens and enormous camphor trees that have been declared a national monument.
- Simonsig - They have a really good champagne that we still drink now!
There were a few more, but these were the highlights. For all of them we just turned up and asked if we could do a wine tasting. A tasting cost £3 at the most and you usually taste around four different wines. A lot of them do breakfast, lunch, food and wine pairings and generally have beautiful grounds... so are worth a visit even if you are not that into wine.
And we couldn't leave without seeing Somerset West's beautiful beaches.
Route 62, named after the famous Route 66 in the US, is a stunning road that runs parallel to the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. On our last visit to South Africa, we decided to drive the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to George and then joined Route 62 from Oudtshoorn to Worcester before we left for Somerset West and the Winelands.
We took the Outeniqua Pass from George, which takes you on narrow winding roads through the Outeniqua mountains, which were really incredible! The Outeniqua pass is a relatively modern road, but there are a lot of passes to choose from, so you can join wherever suits you!
Our first stop was Oudtshoorn, which is the ostrich capital of the world. Driving through Oudtshoorn with it's wide, tree-lined streets, jacarandas and vintage houses feels like you have stepped back in time... which is pretty much how we felt for the rest of the journey, in a good way! The people are friendly, the landscape is beautiful and it is altogether a much slower pace of life.
Our next stop was the Cango Caves, which you can explore with a guide. We had the option of a standard or an adventure tour. I did the standard and Chris did the adventure which involved crawling though and climbing up loads of narrow passages. I was quite pleased with my choice when we left the caves and saw all the articles of the people who had got stuck and had to be rescued by the fire service! Chris enjoyed it though... and if you like caves it is a really impressive and well worth the stop.
For a lot of the way it was really hot and dry... completely opposite to the garden route. We drove past countless vineyards; through sleepy Calitzdorp (which is the home of pink port in South Africa... unfortunately it was a Sunday and everything was closed!); stopped at Ronnie's Sex Shop, a little bar on the side of the road that you would miss if you blinked. It is run by Ronnie, a crazy old, well-travelled man, who seems to be permanently drunk. Despite being in the middle of no-where, the stop has become very popular and the bar has autographs, bras, t-shirts and business cards everywhere you look. It is worth a stop for a nice cold beer and a chat with Ronnie!
When you reach Barrydale, the scenery changes again, from hot and dry land to green mountains and colourful fruit trees. This area is known for its vineyards, orchards, peach and apricot trees, rock climbing, hiking trails, hot springs, art galleries and bird sanctuaries... it is a photographers paradise!
We stayed in a small peaceful cottage on someones land, where there were also a few rock climbers camping in the garden. We went out for dinner to a little art gallery/ cafe down the road for some home-cooked stew and some of their own wine. Down the road was Leidam Bird Sanctuary, which you can't really miss if you are staying in Montagu. You can hear the birds before you see them... hundreds of Herons, Egrets, Cormorants, Ibis, Weavers etc. I am not a bird watcher (I got the names from the little viewing deck!), but you can't help be fascinated by all the birds in this small space.
With all it's beauty and diversity I can't recommend Route 62 enough! I will definitely be returning next time I am there!
When I was growing up I heard of the Garden Route many times, but had no idea what it was. I imagined it was just a tour of some beautiful gardens. My dad hitchhiked there many years before and said that it was beautiful and that one day he would take me. Unfortunately he never got to do that, but on my last trip to SA, I was lucky to finally visit. It was a privilege to show Chris this beautiful part of my country. Following our stay at Pilanesberg, we flew to Port Elizabeth and drove the Garden Route to George. I think it actually finishes in Mossel Bay, but we wanted to drive Route 62 too, so we decided to leave Mossel Bay for our next visit and cross the Outeniqua Mountain Pass to Oudtshoorn.
As soon as we left Port Elizabeth and joined the Garden Route, the scenery changed dramatically and we knew we had arrived. As it was Chris's first time in South Africa he kept pointing out how different the landscape was every time we visited a new place. We'd gone from my grandparents' house in Mpumalanga in the mining town of Kriel, to the hot dry bush in Pilanesberg, and now to a luscious green oasis. Each time it was like arriving in a new country. You drive along a smooth wide quiet road for hours with mountains, forests and vineyards on one side and dramatic gorges, rocky shores and sandy beaches on the other. We did it over a couple of days, which was fine, but involved a lot of driving. I'd really like to go back one day and spend 1-2 weeks there just lazing on the beaches, hiking through the forests, drinking wine and just soaking it all in. It really is a stunning part of the world.
We stopped all along the way to take photos, go for little walks and just take in the scenery. First was Storms River Gorge, which you can view from a bridge above. It is huge! We drove a little further along where you can enter the Tsitsikamma National Park and walk along a series of suspension bridges to see the river mouth. A little further was Bloukrans Bridge, the world's highest commercial bridge bungee (216 metres above the Bloukrans River). After standing on the Storms River bridge, which rattled every time a truck drove past, I had no hope of ever convincing Chris to do the bungee with me, and I'm too scared to do it on my own, so I'll have save it for the next visit!
We stopped in Plettenberg Bay for lunch. It has miles of beautiful beaches and there were young surfers everywhere we looked! They all piled into South African taxis with their surf boards to get to and from the beach, which after growing up in South Africa was unusual, yet pleasant to see. I don't know if it has changed now, but in Hillcrest it was very separated... white people would never catch taxis, it was considered too dangerous and you would stick out like a sore thumb. But here everyone piled in together, it was great! We had an amazing Mozambican lunch before heading to Knysna.
We stayed in Knysna for the night in a lovely guest house. We had our own wooden apartment set among the trees. Everyone we met here was super friendly. We went out for a cocktail and there were a lot of backpackers out drinking too, and then had an incredible seafood platter for dinner. This is something we used to have as a treat growing up and I have not really seen anywhere else since I left South Africa. It was so good!
The next day, we explored Knysna. They have a lovely little waterfront, and the area is known for its oysters, so has several oyster bars. We drove up to see the Knysna heads, which are two dramatic sea cliffs at the entrance to the Knysna lagoon.
Our last stop was Wilderness beach, where we dipped our toes in the sea before heading to George and then leaving the Garden Route to join Route 62.
This really is one of the most beautiful road trips! There are so many other things to do if you spend a bit more time in the area - national parks, hikes, shark cage diving, surfing, bird watching, camping - the list is endless and depends on what you're into. I'm so glad I finally went and found out that it is not just a series of pretty gardens!
I am not particularly good at writing about my experiences - I would much rather share them through photographs and let you see for yourself. But there are some things about being out in the wild, open spaces of South Africa that you cannot see or experience through photos alone. It is the feeling of the sweltering sun on your skin, the dust in the air, the constant buzz of insects... the silence! It is the incredible activity everywhere you look, from dung beetles to huge elephants slowly crossing your path. It's the feeling of sitting eating outside in the cool evening air under an enormous clear sky with more stars than you've ever seen, quietly waiting and watching for shooting stars, hearing lions roar in the distance while you lie in bed. It feels like stepping back in time, to a place where you are not in charge, to a wild wonderful place before people arrived. There is something about being in the bush that gets under your skin, and you come away with memories and a feeling you will never forget!
Last time I went home to South Africa, Chris and I stayed at Pilanesberg Game Reserve for 4 nights. One of my close friends recommended it as a wonderful game reserve that is small enough for you to explore (you can buy a self-drive licence for your visit), has all of the Big Five and is only a 3 hour drive from Johannesburg, which sounded pretty great to me!
There was a really good range of accommodation, from luxury chalets to campsites where you can pitch your own tent. We chose to stay in a fixed tent in Manyane Resort as it was a fairly cheap option, and meant we didn't have to lug camping gear across the world and we got to sleep in proper beds! There was a little shop in the campsite and a braai outside our tent so that we could cook our own food. Our tent had a little fridge too so we could bring our own food and drinks. There was a bar, restaurant, swimming pool and mini-golf which kept us entertained when we weren't on a game drive or chilling with a beer and book on our verandah.
On our first morning we woke up to a herd of deer walking through the mist just past the trees, followed by a troop of baboons being chased by one of the game rangers. It was so beautiful and exciting, I didn't want to spoil the moment running for my camera!
We decided it was worth it to pay for a self-drive licence so that we could take a drive through the game reserve each day we were there. It meant we could really take our time exploring and getting out at the different hides where you could see more birdlife. We also paid for a game ranger to take us in for one morning and one night drive which was really worth it. They shared a lot of their knowledge with us and had walkie talkies to talk to the other rangers and share where some of the Big Five might be so we got to see more of the big animals than we might have seen on our own.