Published: August 25th 2007August 8th 2007
View from the shore
After a night up in Franschoek (more winery, lovely dinner at one of SA's finest), headed up and over the mountain pass that dominates the town (starting to feel a little "wined out" by morning), around an hours drive to the pretty little coastal village of Hermanus. Hermanus is said to be the best place in the world to watch whales from the shore, especially during winter (ie. now) as the whales head to the Antarctic to feed during summer, then back up to SA during winter to calve (they're Southern Right Whales which are big, humpy things with balleen for teeth and barnacles stuck all over them). Parked the car, walked over to the shore, and yup... sure enough there was a whale right there (or at least some sign of a thing with swirley water around it). Wandered up and down the shore seeing maybe 3 or 4 whales in total (as usual, the first being the best), unfortunately not looking like much except swirley bits of water with the odd burst from a blow-hole (albeit a very unique looking v-shaped burst of water). I guess when you think of seeing whales you imagine them jumping out of the
Another view from the shore
water all over the place but I suppose that's not such a common thing.
Left after an hour with time not being on our side today (even though the town was nice enough we easily could have stayed a night), headed up and along the legendary Route 62 which is supposed to be some beautiful wine route but isn't really anything at all (the road to get to the route was nicer in all honesty), pulling into Oudtshoorn shortly after dark.
I told Jen about a month ago that I was going to ride an ostrich on this trip if it kills me. Oudtshoorn claims to be the ostrich capital of the world, so what better place to give it a try!! Headed to one of the local farms the next morning, tours, including an ostrich ride are only around $5 each... perfect! This farm uses the ostriches for their feathers (as opposed to the meat), mainly for exporting to Europe (back in the 20's, there was an ostrich feather craze in the fashion industry... still used today in fashion, but also other things like feather dusters, etc.) Ostriches weigh 200kg (440lbs!!); they're 2m tall, can run up
to 80kph, they kick when they fight, each eyeball weighs more than their brain, and you can eat their eggs in a tastey omelette (1 egg = 18 chicken eggs)... to name a few fun facts! Got to feed a couple ostriches which was frightening, went and saw a nest of eggs (the eggs are thick enough we could actually stand on them and they don't break), then headed to the pen for a ride. They had one wedged into this wooden holder with a bag on its head for the guide to contort into different positions to show us stuff, then we got to sit on it for a couple pics (Jen not looking so sure about any of this)... then the fun... they let the poor guy out of the wooden thing, then all 3 "jockeys" start running around the pen chasing the ostriches (there were a good 20 of them in there), each one hopping on the back of an ostrich, racing around in circles on this ridiculous looking bird... hilarious!!
"Alright your turn" they tell us... starting to have second thoughts about all this business, they tell us they'll actually hold the birds and we
Jen feeding one
can use the ladder to mount up... alright, I didn't get dressed up for nothing!! You actually hold their wings for a harness, pinch together with your knees and heels, lean way back... and you're off!! (their feathers are AMAZINGLY soft...) My ride lasted all of 5 or 10 seconds before I lost my balance and rolled off the side, Jen held on a little better until she could be helped off a little more gracefully... all good fun!! Headed outside and watched the jockeys race 3 ostriches down a track (took about 5 seconds)... end of tour - apparently this tour was voted the best tourist attraction for something or rather and I can definitely see why!!
Left Oudtshoorn around noon to make it through "The Garden Route", and into Port Elizabeth. The Garden Route starts in the city of Mossell Bay and heads east up to Port Elizabeth, perhaps a 300km run? According to any guide book (and most people you meet) it's one of those not-to-be-missed things... it's NICE, but if I came all this way to just see the Garden Route (as many people do), I'd be quite disappointed. I guess I imagined at the
very least the highway would run alongside the ocean but there are really only a couple spots where you get to see the water at all (and don't get me wrong... those spots ARE indeed nice). Perhaps the Garden Route is more about the plants and trees you see... maybe we're a little spoiled from our forests back home!
Stopped briefly in Knysna, then headed to Plettenburg thinking we might stay the night (and in fact 'Plett' was really nice), but unfortunately our little car had to be dropped off early the next morning in Port Elizabeth which was another good few hundred kms, so we made the decision to forge on. We'd been doing a lot of figuring out with regard to our final 10 or 12 days on the continent - originally we wanted to squeeze Mozambique in for a week or so but realized that would be too rushed so decided to stay in SA for the remainder of our time. Our time with the car ran out, but the "Baz bus" that all the backpackers use is $$ EXPENSIVE, so we decided on renting a second car to finish up! (works out to be nearly
Ride 'em cowboy!!
the same as the bus...) I suppose we could have gone back to public transport but so many of the things to do are really out in remote spots making it difficult.
Port Elizabeth (or "PE" to the locals) is quite big (around 3 million people)... the hostel we chose wasn't the greatest (most were full for the weekend) but it was nicely situated near the beach and boardwalk. In the morning we went and got the windshield replaced before returning the car to save the $40 processing fee (got a crack on the dirt roads back in Namibia at Sossusvlei). Had to wait a day before renting another car for insurance purposes (it's a long story...) so basically just wandered around the beach area for the day. Took a cab the next morning to the airport to get our shiney new VW Golf (white and clean this time), hit the highway to head back the way we came a couple hours west, staying in SA's surfing mecca, Jeffreys Bay (making a very important stop on the way out of town...).
Not far out of PE is the Seaview Lion Park; pulled up the driveway to be greeted
Got some good videos of the ride we can show later...
by their "Friendly Giant" (actually, it was a giraffe... was his name Jerome?) - hopefully they aren't raising him for lion food. Started by checking out a few of their adult lions near the back of the property, featuring a couple rare White Lions (no, not the rock band), a couple beautiful tigers (no idea why they have them), and plenty of regular lions (probably dozens?), mostly female but some male. The first thing we noticed was how thick and healthy looking the females were - any we'd seen in the parks were much thinner (turns out many of the ones in the parks are actually diseased - this lion park raises healthy ones to sell to the national parks to "cleanse the lion population"). What's a White Lion you ask? It's actually a recessive gene that all lions carry causing some of them to be white (as opposed to a separate breed of lion). Actually got to drive our car into the lion cage (after signing a waiver of course) but in all honesty the lions really didn't even bat an eye.
Drove down to the office where in behind the restaurant they have all the "teenage" lions
Seaview Lion Park
Female White Lion
in pens with this great little, rickitty, overhead walkway to view them (as well as a couple other animals such as Meerkats which are really fun to watch). Then the fun: for only $6 or so, they have 3 little cubs in a cage out front (3 months old at the moment) that you can get in and pet, hold, play with... SO cute!! They're really not as soft as they look, they're quite heavy (maybe 40lbs?), and LOVE to grab dangley things and not let go (apparently you can see their wild side if you try to take a shoe away... girl that worked there got a good bite before we climbed in the cage). They were in sleepy mode for us which was nice after the biting story (but then just after we got out we watched them all get fed bottles!) It seemed to me that the hand raising of them couldn't be good if they're selling them to parks (imagine having one come to play as you're setting up a picnic lunch in Kruger); when I asked about it he said that's why they have the progression to the back of the property (the ones at
the very back don't see people at all... still not sure about the tiger though). Fair enough... if it DOES work, I get to pet lion cubs and they can make money to raise more!!!
Headed to Jeffreys Bay (or J-Bay) for 2 days after that which doesn't have a lot to do unless you're a surfer (some claim it to have the most perfect tube wave in the world). Stayed at a great little backpacker called Ubuntu which had some of the nicest staff of the trip running it. Did a bit of shopping and walking around, laid on the beach a bit, watched some movies... pretty much everything surfers do, but without the surfing I suppose!
There are more photos below