Garden Route, Wild Coast and Lions

Published: October 22nd 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Leaving stormy Cape Town, we picked up a rental car to begin our journey around South Africa. No trip here would be complete without venturing to the wine-lands area of Stellenbosch, a gorgeous European town set among some of the most picturesque patchwork of vineyards and dramatic mountain ranges. We sampled the wines at Neethlingshof, a wine farm at the end of a gorgeous tree lined avenue, with rose gardens and delightful wines. Unfortunately we were short on time so could only sample one wine farm in this area.

Driving through the beautiful Western Cape along the Garden Route was interesting in itself. Stunning scenery of golden beaches and forested mountains mingled with mansions and huge rudimentary townships that sprawl for miles along the main roads. We had lunch at a café while we watched people rummage through the rubbish to find their meal of the day.

We stopped at the whale watching area of Hermanus, where at this time of year there can be up to 70 whales in the harbour; it is the world's best land based whale watching area. With the exception of the water spout and the odd tail, we did not see any whales, the waves making them difficult to spot. I think we have been so lucky with some of the animals we have encountered along the way but unfortunately this did not extend to the sea variety.

The first couple of nights were spent at Mossel Bay, a seaside town. The weather behaved itself for our morning walk around the point and up to the lighthouse but the afternoon rain kept us indoors for the rest if the day. Mossel Bay is pretty low key but a lovely place to relax after our busy time in Cape Town.

Plettenburg Bay was our next stop. Plett as it is commonly known, is a little resort town. The weather cleared for us nicely for our walk through Robberg Nature and Marine Reserve. Walking through the bush on the rugged coast, clinging to the side of the cliffs and running down the huge sand dunes made this a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. The view was spectacular. Apart from the odd seal, we did not see any whales but the walk and the view had so much to offer that we did not really mind.

We left Plett after breakfast and decided that we would stay in Storm's River Village for the night and use it as a base to explore Tsitsikamma National Park. What a great decision. Tsitsikamma Backpackers is a gorgeous house set on one acre of luscious lawns overlooking the mountains. We went to Tsitsikamma National Park after lunch to walk to the waterfall on the famous Otter Trail. There is only one word to describe the coast and that is stunning. The walk was challenging, plenty of scampering and clinging for dear life on the cliff face. Inland slightly were beautiful forest tracks and all sorts of blooming wild flowers with the tall canopies of the forest on the mountain side allowing the sun to peak through. Gorgeous birds were nesting in the trees and the rock dassies scampered up the rocks alongside us. The waterfall was right by the ocean, it tumbled over the rocks, through a small inlet where it met with the crashing waves, it was definitely worth the scramble to get there. We took a slightly wrong turn on the way back, it looked like an old path but at the end it had fallen away and we did well not to slide in the mud on the way down to the rocks.

Addo Elephant National Park was a real highlight. The view of the park from our chalets is fantastic. The great thing about this park is that you can self drive, it is far more rewarding trying to spot the animals yourself. After lunch we saw plenty of elephants, kudu and warthog. There were so many of the flightless dung beetles which are protected here and leopard tortoises slowly making their way across the road.

Early the next morning we struck lions feeding on a recently killed kudu on the side of the road. The female lion was asleep in the shade waiting for her turn while the two big male lions fed. We watched the lions peel the skin off the kudu and remove it, and feast greedily while leaving the stomach and intestines on the ground for the scavengers to feed off. They got annoyed with all the attention and then dragged the kill off into the bush for some privacy. When we came back to see how they were getting on, one of the males was very spread flat on his back with his legs in the air, his huge stomach heaving from breakfast, snoring loudly. There was plenty of kudu, eland and warthogs around today. Later in the day we went back to the same spot where we had seen the lions. They had dragged the beast into the bushes by the road. We could see the female tearing at the kudu while the males slept nearby.

The next day on our way out of the park we visited the lions' den, they were still sleeping while the hyenas were prowling. They had already sucked the bones dry but a couple kept on returning to the scene of the kill. The lions could not have cared less, their huge swollen stomachs heaving as they slept, they were not moving for a while. We were so lucky to see lions in this park as only a few have been reintroduced.

Leaving Addo, we headed towards Cintsa on the Wild Coast. We stopped in Grahamstown; the home of Rhodes University, this gentile English town was a great place to stop fpr a coffee. We continued further down the road for lunch at Port Alfred, an old seaside town. We arrived in Cintsa late in the afternoon. People had raved about Buccaneers Backpackers so we expected something great. The location was cool, set on a hillside overlooking the beach, but it is very run down and expensive for what it was. It was a little unclean and was infested with ants. However, the food was fabulous, we had an Indian feast cooked by the mamas from the township nearby.

The following day we went on a cultural tour with African Heartlands Journeys. Our first stop was a rural township just before Cintsa East. In the formal part of the township life had clearly improved since apartheid, with mostly proper (although small) housing, electricity and running water but the people here are still incredibly poor. Forcibly removed from their homes during apartheid they were forced to live in these communities and carry identification passes. If they were caught outside the township without the pass, they were detained for 90 days without trial.

The drought here has made things hard so most people have to fill up at the water tank every day. All children are educated in the township with properly qualified teachers, not like before. We visited the school, they were practising their singing, voices like angels as they all sung in harmony; songs about empowerment and AIDS. The children are fed at the school twice a day, made possible by an organisation called Friends of Cintsa. They had to cook outside on the fire though because they had run out of gas. Usually this is the only food that the children will receive, unfortunately alcoholism here is rife. The school opens in the weekends and public holidays so that the children can at least get a meal.

We met the principal in the computer lab, with a number of old donated computers that they managed to get working again. It was troubling to hear that the school had been broken into a number of times with locals from the townships stealing the food that they hide here for the children or stealing the computers. This despite the barb wire in the ceiling void, they break in through the roof anyway.

In 2014 they estimate that there will be 25 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Given this horrifying estimation it is surprising to learn that President Zuma does not consider the epidemic at the top of his priorities, the government's education budget on HIV/AIDS for communities has been cut.

In contrast to the formal township, on the side of the hill is the district known as 17. This is private land where the owner originally allowed 17 squatters to reside until permanent housing was found. This has not happened and 17 has now increased to hundreds of homes in squatter like conditions with no running water or electricity. The cables that we did see were exposed, in one area they went straight through a puddle. Our guide told us that children are electrocuted here all the time.

We met Mike who runs African Heartlands. We had arrived on a very important day. The community had entered into a national competition for communities with the support of NGOs to improve conditions in the townships through local initiatives and the judges were in town to have a look. In this community they had a huge problem with rubbish, there was no refuse station or rubbish collection. As a result all rubbish was just thrown out the windows. This initiative provided rubbish bins, refuse bags and included educating the community to collect rubbish, put it in the bag and take it to the main road where the rubbish trucks would collect it. The initiative must have made significant progress; when we went to 17, where the initiative had not been implemented, the amount of rubbish lying around was staggering. They had already won 15,000R and were hoping to win the national competition which would give them a substantial amount to progress the scheme to 17.

After visiting the township we headed to Ngingxolo, a Xhosa rural village headed by the famous 91 year old Mama Tofu. She taught us all about the Xhosa culture from birth and marriage until death, their traditions and beliefs, the food they eat and how they build their traditional houses. She was an encyclopedia of knowledge. Mama Tofu shared some of her memories of the apartheid era, her son was actually incarcerated in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and died within two years of his release. She was an avid cricket fan, pictures of her with her hero Jacques Kallis adorned her walls. It was quite funny watching this 91 year old show us how to bat and explain her frustration that Kallis always get caught behind at first slip!

Dinner at Country Bumpkin was delicious, a cavery buffet. The owner was an Austrialian woman who added a touch of home to her cooking with roast pumpkin, cheese broccoli and cauliflower, roast potatoes and fresh strawberries.

After all the excitement on the coast it is now time to head inland to the Drakensburg Mountains.

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26th October 2010

I'm currently reading a book called Roots of Outrage that Sean's Mum sent us. It's about South Africa, mostly set during apartheid and it's so interesting to learn what went on then! It's really cool to read that you're visiting these places. I can't wait to go myself one day.

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