Published: August 7th 2009August 6th 2009
Our destination that first night back in South Africa was Augrabies Falls National Park, a three-hour drive from Upington. En route we stopped at a winery / distillery and sampled some lovely wine and even lovelier brandy and liqueurs. The north west is a very dry and barren area, but the inventive South Africans have worked around the conditions and produce some fabulous wines, grapes, raisins, fruit and nuts from this land. We reached Augrabies and didn't expect much more than a waterfall in a dry, dusty area, but instead found a little oasis in the desert and enjoyed it so much, we stayed an extra night. The waterfalls are amazing, but the whole ecosystem of the park is fascinating as you pass through the relative lushness of the river valley to the dry, arid desert. We spent tons of time exploring on foot and also in the car in this massive park. We did a wildlife viewing drive early one day into the larger park and saw Gemsbok (Oryx), Klipspringer, Giraffe, a black Spitting Corbra, tons of Rock Dassies and birds. The drive takes you through this incredibly diverse area that gets close to the river in some areas and
far out into the driest desert in others. We loved this park and recommend anyone visiting the Northern Cape Province to check it out. We also recommend staying in the park. The amenities are great, including two swimming pools available for use by campers (yippeeeee!!!!!!) and clean toilet blocks.
Leaving Augrabies, we headed west toward Springbok and our next stopover. We didn't know if there was a campground in the town, so we asked at the info centre and she recommended we stay at Goegap Nature Reserve if we didn't mind being out of town a little ways. We decided that a Nature Reserve was more our style than a municipal campground and after doing a little grocery shopping headed out to Goegap. We checked in at the office and were advised to take the "tourist drive" around the reserve (we couldn't do the 4x4 drive in our small VW Golf). Being the only car in the reserve made for a very nice, leisurely drive. We took our time, drove slowly, took tons of photos and enjoyed the beauty of the nature reserve around us. We saw Gemsbok, Sprinkbok, Rock Dassies, and array of birds and lizards and a
puppy. Yup - a puppy. Out in the middle of nowhere, there is a puppy (maybe a golden retriever pup) sitting high up on a rock ledge looking around. Not sure how he got there, not sure who was his owner, and he didn't come down when we called him, so we don't know what happened to him. Very strange, since we were the only campers in the whole place too.
The next morning we were up early and off for a day of driving, with the coast being our next destination. We had found this little back road on a map (the fact that it wasn't on all the maps should have been a clue ...) and headed off to see some of the lesser known sights of the Northern Cape. What we didn't realize is that the road was so rough and corrugated, it took us over four hours to travel approx. 150 km. This called for Plan B. Plan B was to take the cutoff road that passed through Namaqualand National Park and then put us back near the main road. Once we set off on the second road, the surface improved immensely. We were able
to travel at a constant speed and not feel like the car was going to fall apart around us! It was just as we passed out of Namaqualand National Park (the place to be for the spring flowers by the way) that we saw a small antelope on the side of the road. We had seen a couple along the way, but they were too far away for us to snap a shot of one. This little guy was just meters away so we stopped and fumbled for the camera. By the time we got the camera out of the bag, the little guy panicked and tried to jump through the fence. He was unsuccessful and managed to get one of his hind legs tightly caught in the fence. We jumped out of the car to help him and after we realized that we couldn't just bend the wire fence to let his leg free, I told Peter to cut the wire. He wasn't so sure his little Leatherman could do the job, so he gripped the wire with the pliers and cut with all his might. The wire snapped immediately and the little Steenbok landed on his head and
then jumped up and bounded quickly away. We knew he wasn't hurt and we felt a little proud at saving a wild animal on our travels!
After our "Animal Rescue 911" moment, we hopped back into the car with the aim of making it to a winery or two before closing and then finding a campsite for the night. Unfortunately our wine tasting plans did not pan out, but we did manage to find a superb camping spot for the night. We ended up in Strandfontein, a beautiful little vacation spot on the coast near Vredendal. The site came recommended by the helpful staff at the Namaqualand Winery, although they were unable to ply us with wine, this was an excellent recommendation!
We had a lovely spot overlooking the water, a toilet, shower, sink and wash sink all to ourselves (we had our own key to these facilities) and friendly neighbors to boot. The couple across from us had also been at Augrabies and recognized us and came over to say hello. They were a delightful couple from the Kimberley area and they were generous enough to share their hot water with us in the morning so we could
Augrabies Falls National Park
Klipspringer couple. These tiny antelopes passed calmly in front of our car and then thoughtfully posed for pictures!
have a cup of coffee! We would have loved to stay longer, but we were on a time schedule, having told Peter's cousins when we would be back in Cape Town. We packed up and headed off to see if we could find the wine tasting cellar of Namqualand and any other wineries along our way. The first one we stopped at was expecting a group in a few minutes and asked if we wouldn't mind to wait and go through the tasting together. We agreed and enjoyed a stroll around the shady garden of the Seal Breeze winery while we waited for the other guests to arrive. The group turned out to be a 4x4 tour with participants mostly from the Johannesburg or Northern Cape Province areas. The wine and the garden setting was lovely, but it was the tour group the left the biggest impression. Most were surprised to meet foreigners in this out of the way place, but were also happy that we got off the beaten track to explore more of South Africa. We ended up chatting with a few people and finally had to tear ourselves away as we had a fairly long day ahead
of us. A few miles down the road we came upon the Namaqualand Wine Cellar that is set up to do tastings and we couldn't resist one more stop. It was definitely worth our while to stop and sample some of their delicious wines, grapes, raisins, and homemade jams. We ended up having lunch and buying more wine than we could carry home, but we didn't care. The best part was as we were leaving, the woman who had been helping us came running out to our car and handed us a large bag of grapes "for the road". What a wonderful treat!
We headed inland toward Clanwilliam and the heart of Rooibos country. We visited the Rooibos Factory and learned that all the rooibos products in the world are supplied from this Rooibos Factory. There are some smaller independant farms cropping up here and there, but for the most part, all the rooibos grown in this area (the only place in South Africa that it is grown commercially) is processed through the Clanwilliam Rooibos Factory.
We turned "Caspar" the friendly car toward the coast again and made our way to Lambert's Bay, a place that Peter was
anxious to see. Lambert's Bay is home to one of only six Cape Gannet colonies in the world. The unique Bird Island Nature Reserve is connected to the mainland by a narrow breakwater and is home to the most accessible Cape Gannet colony in the world. We spent the night in the Lambert's Bay caravan park, again overlooking the ocean, although we had to use the shared facilities (sigh ...). The following morning we set out for Bird Island and marvelled at the beautiful, blue-eyed Gannets for ages.
When we finally tore ourselves away from Lambert's Bay we headed off to Franschoek, in the Cape Winelands region. We stayed at a huge institutional hostel, but it was close to town and inexpensive and the owners were friendly and welcoming. They recommended a couple of wineries to us to visit the next day. We set off early (no tent to pack - YAY!) and were the first visitors to the Cabriere Wine Estate and enjoyed several samples. The next stop was not a winery at all, but rather a wine shop, so we hopped back into Caspar and made our way toward Stellenbosch and the home of our favourite South
African Wine - Stellakaya. We lucked out at our very first visit to Stellakaya and had a fabulous tasting with one of the accountants of all people, on our second visit we were not as as fortunate as the winery was closed. This being our third visit, we crossed our fingers for at least an open winery! Things did not look that promising as the tasting area was closed for a private function and most of the staff were busy involved with the event so they could not help us. Then luck swung our way and the winemaker herself came out to assist us. You may remember us mentioning that she is the fist Xhosa woman winemaker in the world. She not only got our order together, she also made a couple of phone calls to inquire about shipping their wine to Canada and also found us a contact in Ontario that brings in Stellekaya as part of a wine club. We left the winery laden with bottles of wine to take home for us and some information on how we could possibly aquire more once we were home - we were definitely very happy campers!
Back in Cape
Town we stayed with Dee and Sydney again - thank you Dee and Syd for your hospitality! We managed to visit almost everyone in our short time. We were also able to sell our tent to a couple we had met in Namibia who would be travelling in South Africa for another 6 weeks. We were happy that our tent could continue on it's travels, it was a great little tent and perfect for backpacking. Tamara and Clayton were happy to have a cheaper alternative for accommodation and hoped that when they were done with it, they could pass it along again! We hope so too!
After a little souvenir shopping we had to get on with the task of repacking all our gear and sorting out some of the things that would not make the trip home with us. Of course packing the wine properly was a priority! We managed somehow to get every thing into our bags - we didn't even need to use the extra bag that we purchased - just in case! The shocker though, was getting to airport and having to pay for our overweight luggage. We just had not thought about the weight
at all and since we were flying with a budget carrier, they charge for every ounce of weight you are over! We sucked it up and paid, but it made us nervous for the rest of our flights, particularly our budget flight from London to Calgary. We spent quite a bit of time scheming about how to redistribute our weight to pay the least amount in overweight charges.
The flight to Johannesburg was uneventful and since we had pre-booked with a hostel (not in a township this time!) we had someone come pick us up. We spoke to Roger once we were established in our hostel and had a great dinner out with him and his girlfriend. He insisted that we come and stay with him for our last night and he would get us to the airport the next day. We agreed, as we had pretty much come to the conclusion that Jo'burg is a tough city to be a tourist in. All the backpackers and hostels are in suburbs and it costs you money to be transported everywhere. We did take advantage of the City and Soweto Tour offered at our backpackers and then had them drop
Augrabies Falls National Park
Driving through the river crossing near the entrance to the park.
us off at the Apartheid Musuem. We are glad that we took the tour, as we both had images of downtown Jo'burg in our minds that were very false. I imagined gangs wandering the streets with guns, looking to rob any unsuspecting tourist. Peter was sure that all the abandoned buildings would have broken windows and we would see down and out people on every street corner. The reality was much more boring, with busy shops, people on their way to work and not a gun toting gangster in sight! We went up to the highest point in Jo'burg and enjoyed views over the sprawling city. It is true that many downtown buildings are abandoned, but the government is cracking down on the building owners demanding they renovate the buildings or the government will take ownership. It has worked as several buildings are being renovated and it is important to South Africa that Jo'burg is an approachable city for the 2010 World Cup. I hope they succeed.
Soweto is city of it's own and the tour is a little lame, set up for the tourists for sure. I wouldn't be afraid to go into Soweto on my own, and
if I ever find myself in Jo'burg again, I would like to stay in Soweto. We did visit Nelson Mandela's home; a musuem that honours the first child killed in the 1976 uprising, 12-year old Hector Pieterson and of course we finished with the Apartheid Musuem. In terms of human brutality, it was an emotionally exhausting day. It never ceases to amaze me what harm man can do another man. The Apartheid Musuem is a definite must see for any visitor to Jo'burg. It is impossible to understand the mentality that ushered in this regime, but it is so important for us to educate ourselves so that this does not happen again.
Our stay in Jo'burg ended with an enjoyable braii evening with Roger and friends and a comfy bed at his place. Thanks Roger! We packed up again, this time needed the extra bag we purchased as we picked up our hiking boots and rain coats from Roger. We had left them in Nelspruit with John when we left last time, and John managed to get them back to Roger, who had them waiting for us on our way through! Thanks John and Roger! We appreciate you helping
Augrabies Falls National Park
Rock dassie up close and personal.
us out with our hiking gear!
We managed to get on our Qatar Airways flight without much ado, they were only concerned with the weight of the carry on luggage and did not charge us for our overweight bags - whew! The flight was via Doha, Qatar and was a very pleasant flight overall. The food was good, they were feeding us every hour it seemed, and the seats were surprisingly comfy. We had a 5-hour layover in Doha on our way to London, but it went quite quickly and the next thing we knew we were off to London!
Yes, folks - there will be ONE more blog! We will get this next one off much quicker I promise!
Thanks for still following along ...
Laini and Peter
There are more photos below