Published: November 9th 2007November 8th 2007
0-60mph in only 3 calendar months
After checking out of our hostel and picking up our hire car, we headed down to the V&A Waterfront where we had some lunch and bought a pair of binoculars which we hoped would come in handy for our rhino hunt. So far, although probably eight times larger than a leopard they’d proved surprisingly more harder to find.
Soon we were on our way and heading east on the N2 in the first of many vehicles we’ll be hiring throughout the year. Secretly, I was hoping that this little hatchback (budget permitting) would be the smallest we‘d have to squeeze into.
Our first stop if you remember from the previous blog would be the coastal town of Hermanus. The name is now shortened and used to be a bit more of a mouthful, being formerly known as Hermanuspietersfontein,
Hermanus is one of those fortuitous finds that you're completely unaware of when choosing your main destination, until by luck, or tip off, you're educated on a geographical gem. This small town, (and what a way to start our road trip) is THE BEST 'shore based' whale watching location IN THE WORLD!!! This would obviously be wasted on us if we were here
On the road
Its a long, long road....with many a winding turn. (Mum - I took this from your book of photographing through a car window at high speed)
at the wrong time of year, but it just so happens that mothers and their calves are in the coastal waters well into November. The type of whale we were watching was the Southern Right Whale, so called because in the days of whale hunting this was considered (due to ease of hunting and the amount of oil that could be extracted) the ’right’ whale to hunt. Thankfully since South African law prohibited the hunting of the 'Southern Right Whale' their numbers continue to double every 10 years, and it would seem like they're all here. Local laws also mean there's not a tourist boat in site to spoil the viewing. And why should there be, the whales are so close to the shore at times, I reckon with a well directed 8 iron I could get my first 'blowhole’ in one....
We walked the shores marveling at the spectacle of so many whales in such a concentrated area. We’d both paid to go on whale watching cruises in the past, and I’m sure at some point during our trip we’ll do it again. But with those expenses somewhere off in the unknown future, it was a real treat to
Whale watching in Hermanus
Drinking Savannah Dry cider, with a slice of lemon. Search this one out Alan!
see these huge mammals with their calves in such a beautifully natural surrounding, and all for free.
We would return to Hermanus on the way back but for now we headed off to our first overnight stop at a place Called Mossel Bay some 425km after leaving Cape Town.
Mossel bay lays claim to the only north facing beach in South Africa and is one of many surfing havens along the Garden Route. Interestingly it also has (according to the Guinness Book of Records) the second mildest all-year climate in the world, the first being Hawaii. We spent our first night in a rather unusual hostel called the Santos Express. What makes this hostel different is that it’s a disused train and the compartments have been converted to rooms. There’s approximately eight cars with each one containing four rooms that share a bathroom and a shower. As I’m sure you can imagine the rooms were very cramped but this was a small sacrifice for the location which was right on the beach. The novelty was enough for one night though despite the sea views, and we made the unfortunate mistake of moving to another hostel that seemed well run and
Whale calf jumping in Hermanus
After 368 photos of splashes, finally it was a relief to see a whale in the shot.
clean, at least on first glance.
In the evening we went down to the promenade and watched the surfers who were out in force, and I wondered if they ever thought much about the Great Whites that might take a day trip along here from shark alley. The surfers were joined by a mischievous seal who wanted to be part of the action much to the annoyance of the dudes trying to do their utmost to look cool. Needless to say the seal was infinitely more skilled when it came to negotiating the waves. For a place that is suppose to have a mild climate it was a little chilly, and although we sat outside for dinner we finished with a warm mug of Milo, which is a chocolate type drink. I found this strangely amusing because with my surname being Milum, Milo has long been a nickname of mine. I’d seen it on shelves in the supermarkets and walked by with a minor celebrity type swagger. This probably stopped being amusing after the second time but Sam still continues to humour me with her best false laugh.
In the morning Sam awoke to the irritating realization that during the
Whales in the bay at Hermanus
At a hundred Rand for 5 shots, the shore mounted harpoons were a little expensive.....but very addictive!
night she had been on the menu for several bed bugs; so much for the clean hostel. Sleeping in the same bed, I’d managed to escaped without a single bite, just as well as I was able to keep my hands on the steering wheel while Sam scratched frantically during the journey to our next stop, Plettenburg Bay, or simply Plett to the locals.
We relaxed on the pristine sandy beaches of Plettenburg Bay, enjoying our first deliberate sunbathe since we’d been away. We stayed here (not on the beach) for two nights and being out of season made for very quiet evenings in the town centre. Petty crime is rife throughout South Africa and so locals have taken it upon themselves to provide a service to mind your vehicle in your absence. Some wear fluorescent waistcoats to prove they’re part of an approved scheme. Others, just like the petty thieves, are opportunists that see you park and take their chance. This leaves you in a bit of a predicament, because if you say no, are these the same people who will then break into your car and steel the radio? So approved scheme or not we thought it would
The Santos Express Hostel
Cramped conditions were 'Murder on the Santos Express'
probably be prudent to take up the offer one night. However, rather stupidly, we didn’t really think about the trust involved in such a deal, and gave the lad some change to watch our little hatchback. On our return we laughed at our naivety on seeing that the boy was nowhere to be seen. In hindsight (or maybe just an ounce of common sense) the money should have exchanged hands on our return! Still the car was as we left it, and that was the main thing. Plus we’d just had the most delicious 4 course meal with a bottle of wine that undoubtedly would have cost us at least thirty pounds per head anywhere back home. The presentation was as good as the food itself and the total cost of the bill was the equivalent of approximately 25 pound, including tip! This made the 2 pound given to the young local feel more like a charitable offering.
After leaving Plett we reached our accommodation near Addo Elephant National Park, our furthest destination before beginning our return to Cape Town. A friendly B&B perched up and overlooking farmland and a small river. This was inland and away from any coastal
Empty beaches.........there are bonuses to shark infested waters
breezes and the temperatures whilst here rose to 45 degrees Celsius.
After dropping our bags we went straight to the reserve where we would hopefully see our rhino. On arrival we were surprised to find out that we would be left to our own devices in our little car to game drive our way through the reserve. During our 5 hours drive we saw many animals including elephants, zebra, kudu, jackal, yellow mongoose among others……………but no rhino!
An enquiry to the possible whereabouts of the rhino, educated us to the fact that we were highly unlikely to see any rhino out and about in the midday sun. Our chances of seeing them would significantly increase during the early hours of daylight. With that in mind we booked ourselves a place on a truck for a guided game drive at 6am the following morning.
Following the early two hour game drive we were still rhino-less. We were beginning to wonder whether we’d been the victims of a bizarre, yet intricate and deceptive scam, and that rhino’s didn’t actually exist, like a unicorn on steroids. Could it bet that all those wildlife documentaries we’d watched as kids also meant that David Attenborough
On the verandah....
...at Valley View B&B, Addo
was in on it? Probably not.
Our guide said he hadn’t seen a rhino in the reserve for almost five months, so once again we left having enjoyed the game drive, but frustrated with having missed out on our objective.
Tired, we arrived back at the B&B and had a soak in the pool. We then got into a conversation with our host who informed us of yet another game reserve nearby where there were definitely rhino, and there’s almost a guarantee of sighting of both lion and rhino on their ’Claws and Horns’ tour.
At 14:00 hours that same afternoon, after phoning ahead we were on our way to ‘Schotia’ the Eastern Cape’s oldest game reserve. If you’re thinking that our search for a rhino had become an obsession, you’d be right!!
We arrive to see that sure enough, there’s both mention and pictures of rhino in their brochure. Things look promising. Furthermore, Gary our guide and driver is English, and with our natural national bond he sat us in the best seats, perched up just behind him in the 4x4. We sat with cake-eating grins as everybody else climbed aboard. Our smug expressions would only last until we
As yet untitled
Sometimes Dad, I manage to get the aperture and shutter speed just right. (Yes, I am travelling with Neil 'David Bailey' Milum)
arrived at the entrance to the reserve where Gary proceeded to give a brief overview of Schotia’s history, do’s and don’ts, and reeled off some of the animals we were likely to encounter, such as lions, blesbok, wildebeest, hippopotamus, giraffe, zebra, impala. The list went on and was fairly impressive, but surprisingly he’d forgot to mention one notable large herbivore. The short but devastating conversation followed:
Me: Erm? Gary. You never mentioned the rhinos, you do have rhinos, don’t you?
Gary: Well we did have.
Me: And what does that mean exactly?
Gary: Well up until recently we had one large remaining white rhino, but he died six days ago.
The rhino, a much loved and long standing character within the reserve did have a name that in our suicidal state of emotional distress we both instantly forgot. We were informed that we would still see him, because although all the staff had become quite attached to the two ton horny beast, a decision was made to let nature take it’s course and leave the massive carcass to the lions.
To be honest, going to Africa and seeing the 'Big 4 and a half' didn’t
have the same ring to it. Yes, I'm afraid to say that we did take a few pictures out of desperation. We began to think the chances of seeing a living T-rex were higher than catching a mere glimpse of a rhino.
Disregarding our failure, the game-drive itself was actually really good and included a half hour night drive on the way back to camp. It also included a lovely barbeque dinner in the evening.
Just before we left the Schotia, Gary gave us the name of another reserve that he knew had rhino, and as it happened it would be well within reach on our way back to Cape Town. However, sometimes its best to know when you're beaten....and perhaps not seeing a rhino this time would be an excuse to return to the Ngorongoro Crater one day.
We left our B&B the following morning to begin our journey back to Cape Town, we would of course be making several overnight stops on the way back, the first of which was the lovely little town of Jeffery’s Bay. There’s no real reason why you should have heard of Jeffery’s Bay, but any surfer worth his salt out there
is Latin for Noisy Bastards.............(I think)
will certainly be familiar with it. Due to its world famous ’super tubes’ (they’re tunnel-like waves if you’re confused) this place holds the annual Billabong World Surfing Championships each year in July. It appears that surfing shops outnumber convenience stores here by at least 3:1.
Being out of season, we didn’t get to see the surfers in their masses or the super tubes rolling in at full strength, but what we did get was a studio apartment with a large kitchen, dining and living area (normally shared between several rooms) all to ourselves. Our room, a double, has a balcony with sea views and a shower and all for just 20 pound. From our balcony as well as down on the beach itself we’ve watched countless dolphins pass by, some of them no more than 20 metres from the shore. J-Bay is yet again blessed with a stunning beach which seems to be the norm in this part of South Africa.
It was hard to pull ourselves away from Jeffery’s Bay, and watching the dolphins having fun racing towards the shore whilst in the waves, but we soon learnt a valuable early lesson that will hopefully spur us on to
Mother and calf
Notice the calf was slightly deformed with a fifth leg...
make the most of our time away this year. The lesson was: no matter how stunning, relaxing, or beautiful a place might be, you’ll never know how much better the next place is unless you move on. Tsitsikamma proved that very point.
Tsitsikamma National Park, is known as the garden of the ‘Garden Route’ and justifiably so. The name itself translates to, ’place of much water’. It boasts approximately 80km of rugged coast, including 5km out to sea, and is home to the 42km ‘Otter Trail’ one of the most acclaimed hikes in South Africa. We would only stay here for one night but we leave with great memories after first going for a walk along one of many coastal trails, for some three hours. This was followed by a short drive out to another pristine beach and majestic views in the aptly named Nature’s Valley. The area has some dramatic gorges that the main N2 road traverses with several equally impressive bridges. We stopped at one of these during our return journey to our accommodation.
The Bloukrans Bridge is the highest single span arch bridge in the world. Built high above the Bloukrans River that forms the border between
Oblivious to the lion dressed as a waterbuck in the background
the Eastern and Western Capes. However, we hadn’t just come to stare at the bridge, we’d come to see what was taking place just below it. After we parked the car we stood on a viewing platform and watched as several nameless, yet courageous individuals hurled themselves off the supporting arch of the bridge. In doing so they were taking part and experiencing the thrill of the world’s highest commercial bungee jump at 216m. I stood admiring the faith of the jumpers who one by one momentarily put their lives at the mercy of what could only be described as an elaborate, albeit thick, rubber band. At some point in the trip (probably New Zealand) I know I’ll be the one on the platform, and although it was on my tick list, it still didn’t stop me feeling a little nauseous every time I thought about it, which was often.
Returning to our little studio apartment block on the shore, we sat wrapped in blankets on our balcony with a glass of wine and watched as the sun bloodied the sky. As time passed we listened to the waves breaking on the rocks as the clear night sky began to
Pam - the big cat asked us to say 'hello'
reveal a dazzling display of stars. What a beautiful place.
Just like the day before in the morning we were treated to pods of dolphin hugging the shoreline whilst making their way down the coast. Except today as well as the dolphin, we could see whales breeching in the distance. They wouldn’t be the last big mammals we’d see before the day was over…..
We’d decided on a minor detour to a place called Botlierskop, which is part game reserve part ranch, where various animals are bred to sell to other reserves, and yes you guessed it, they have rhino here. Apart from the lions (for obvious reasons) all the animals are free to roam therefore game drives are offered and after rectifying a wrong turning we made it just in time to join one.
Botlierskop is a lot more personal than some of the other reserves we’ve been to, with it’s own hotel and restaurant set in beautiful grounds. They offer both horseback rides and 4x4 game drives in order to view the wildlife and with my time in the saddle being extremely limited we chose the latter. Yet again our guide was very knowledgeable and informative as
Jeep with fold-out tent
For the next generation of camper
we viewed creatures of all sizes, ranging from giraffes to tiny, extremely venomous scorpions. But the highlight of course were those precious rhino. Aloof as ever, they remained under the shade of a tree as we stopped about 100 yards away. After numerous attempts we’d completed our Big 5 hit list, and had the photos to prove it. It wasn’t in the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Crater as we would have liked, but just observing these endangered tanks of the animal kingdom was special enough.
Our final two stops on the way back to Cape Town, included Swellendam and a night back in Hermanus.
Swellendam is a picturesque town nestled at the foot of the Langeberg Mountain Range, and the third oldest place of European settlement in South Africa, dating back to the mid 1700‘s
Hermanus needs no further introduction as we once again stood on the shores, sat outside the cafes and walked the promenade all of which allowed us unbroken views of the whales in the bay.
We returned to Cape Town for our last four nights on the African continent.
During these last few days we booked ourselves a tour across to the infamous Robben Island.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the flat piece of land lying approximately 10km from Cape Town has a checkered past and among other things Robben Island (Dutch for ‘Seal Island‘) has been a military base, a hospital for the then socially unacceptable and of course a prison. It’s been the latter on more than one occasion, and gained notoriety following the political incarceration of more than 3000 men during South Africa’s apartheid era including of course the great Nelson Mandela.
It was slightly disappointing that Mandela himself wasn’t awaiting our arrival as we disembarked the ferry, I can only guess he must have had something come up at the last minute. However, another former prisoner was there to greet us, and gave us a guided tour of the former maximum security facility, including the obligatory peek into Mandela’s old cell, (not that he has a new one). Never was there a better example of the saying ’you can’t keep a good man down’ than that of the celebrated elder statesman, former president and winner of more than a hundred awards including the Nobel Peace Prize. Not bad for a man who spent 27 years in the clink courtesy of
In a cave at Tsitsikamma
Caves........cheaper than hostels
some bullshit regime.
The return journey on the sea provided a great view towards Cape Town with Table Mountain draped in the tablecloth. It really is a fantastic looking city.
Between eating down at the V&A Waterfront, and wandering around people watching, our last notable appointment over the remaining few days was an afternoon at the Cape Town Planetarium. Already on our travels we’ve stared with hyper-extended necks up at the seemingly diamond encrusted night sky so many times in complete awe that we decided to educate ourselves on a few constellations. It was a fascinating afternoon, as we relaxed in our fully reclining seats and were guided through a mock, domed night sky aided by an extremely complicated looking star projector. We learnt about Nebulas and how to identify certain stars including Sirius, the brightest of all the stars not including the sun. We had a run down on the constellations and how they related with the signs of the zodiac. My favourite constellation, probably because it’s so easy to recognize is Orion’s Belt, consisting of three bright stars in an almost perfectly straight formation. The information was delivered by a female lecturer who‘s enthusiastic but soft voice was
One of the hikes at Tsitsikamma
One wrong step would mean certain death....
dangerous in such a sleep inducing environment, and although interesting, we were surprised not to hear any snoring.
That night armed with our new found knowledge we walked out into the night and stared up at a unusually cloudy sky. Not a star in sight!
Oh well, it would seem that our constellation recognition would not only have to wait another night, but indeed another continent. Our time in South Africa, and the African continent had come to an end. It had been utterly brilliant, and if you’re one of those people who has always wanted to do a safari but never quite got around to it, perhaps preferring not to give up that annual beach resort holiday, stop dragging your heels. Getting close to wildlife in its own backyard, especially large animals that we only ever see on TV or at the zoo stirs something deep within the human psyche. The beauty of all animals and the struggle they face will make you not only come home with some amazing photos and memories, but it will also make you think a little more about the environment, and that can only be a good thing. Whether it’s never using another
The way to Mordor
Must follow Gollum, hobbitses
plastic bag, putting your appliances on standby or signing a petition to stop the needless slaughter of majestic creatures so that some pretentious restaurant can put a ’tasteless’ dish on it’s menu, or a fictitious Chinese remedy can be sold on the basis that it cures your failing libido.
Coupled with the wildlife on land, in the water and the air, the landscapes are amazing, and gorillas, the annual migration, Kilimanjaro and Victoria Falls are just 4 experiences that remain on our tick list and will bring us back to this breathtaking part of the world.
But it’s no time to get sentimental already, we’re now headed to a country so large it’s a continent on it’s own. A country that Sam has not only lived in for a year and visited seven times already, but was last there earlier this year. However, it’s my first time down under, and we have nine weeks, the longest we’ll spend in any one country, and I can’t wait……………………….
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