Over another mountain pass and back to the coast at Knysna


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Africa » South Africa » Western Cape » Knysna
May 31st 2019
Published: June 1st 2019
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I was just about to think about getting up to finish off the blog from yesterdays travel and the power went out. How could I tell that the power had gone out?

Well, our lodge is out in the countryside and there are few other lights outside providing any indication of what time of the day it is. So when my world went completely black there could be only one reason. So this was our first experience of ‘load shedding’ which we had read was common in South Africa due to a shortage of generation in the country. The authorities are trying to overcome this but two new power stations being built are over budget and construction has slowed.

Anyway an hour later the lights came back on and life returned to normal.

After another bountiful breakfast we packed up and prepared to head away.

The decision for the route to take today to get us back to the coast and our next overnight stay in Knysna has been under considerable discussion.

One of the reasons for coming inland yesterday was to be within striking distance of taking on the Swartzberg Pass which would take us further inland over another mountain pass to the small town of Prince Albert and add another challenging road to our experiences during driving.

Gretchen had viewed YouTube videos of the pass which comes with a warning of being steep, single laned with few passing points if you were to meet an oncoming vehicle, rutted, corrugated and unsealed and no protection for long drop offs if you got the steering wrong. Quite a challenge !

The weather was looking threatening and as we packed the car there were a few drops of rain and it was decided not to attempt what would probably have been the most difficult road the BBA had tried. We both agreed that if the weather turned to steady rain then the task of making it safely to the other side of the mountain range would be made even more difficult.

So with other mountain passes to try as an alternative as we drove back towards the coast we headed back to Oudtshoorn.

A quick stop at a Pick n Pay supermarket for more tonic to help us get through more of the gin and vodka before we catch our flight north to Jo’burg on Monday and a stroll through the supermarket just to check out the prices compared to what we pay back home was interesting in itself. We continue to be convinced that we Kiwis are being well ripped off paying ‘international prices’ for milk. In South Africa the price of standard milk is half of what we pay in NZ and OK there is no GST on food but it is till way cheaper and for what reason?

Walking back to the car we noticed the two men who had been organising their equipment and ladders for some work were now hard at work up the ladders scraping layers of advertising signs off a large billboard. One had a harness on but it didn’t seem to be attached while the other bloke didn’t have any harness. While they weren’t like the guy we saw at the traffic lights the other day standing on the top of the ladder working these guys were still over three quarters of the way up two very tall ladders fully extended. Definitely wouldn’t be allowed in NZ !

It should have been easy to find our way out of Oudtshoorn but we couldn’t find the right highway number and so on the outskirts of town we saw a couple of police cars on the side of the road and asked them for directions to the road to George. A quick explanation and we were on our way back past the supermarket, the two guys still up their ladders and making progress, and right at the robots !

What you ask is a robot ? No, it is nothing to do with those things you see hurrying about doing work with no human involvement.

Robots are what we know as traffic lights! From now on we will understand why the word ‘robot’ is painted on the road as you approach traffic lights ahead.

We weren’t long on the N12 heading towards George when we came across another 3 km stretch of roadworks.It was only a short stop this time and our convoy headed off. In this area they seemed to be making the shoulder more defined by sealing it.

The scenery all around was arid scrubby land with hills rising to mountains in the distance as we continued towards the coast.

Another stretch of road works and a frantically waving flag lady willing us to get past her as the last car before she closed the section off in preparation to allow oncoming traffic through.

It was here that we saw another one of those things that suddenly have you laughing except this was actually happening.

Back home when the centre line needs to be painted a small vehicle is driven slowly along with a man operating a pneumatic gun painting the lines, all automatic, well virtually.

Not so in South Africa (or at least on the N12)! Before us were a group of several men working in unison, each with their own little job, manually rolling a narrow brush head to create the straight white line ! And still unemployment here is in excess of 20 + % !

We were still getting over what we had just witnessed when we had to make a decision as to whether we took on the Montagu Pass or not.The pass was planned by Charles Michell and built by 250 convicts at a cost of 36000 Pounds Sterling and took 3 years to build and is the last of the mountain passes built at that time that is still in its original state.

Gretchen had viewed video of the pass and decided that it was a goer so we took the turn and headed up a narrow valley that we knew would soon have to have the road attached to the hillside.

The state of the road was fairly rough but at least for now there was no oncoming traffic.

The Corolla must have good springs even though we ‘rocked and rolled’ over the corrugations and we gave thought as to how the pioneers would have travelled this same road when it was built in 1847.

The climb to the summit didn’t seem to take very long although we had started the road already on the plateau. Next minute we were on our way downhill and quickly met a 4 wheel drive vehicle on its way up that was a bit surprised to meet us. He slammed on his brakes and backed up a little and there was enough room to pass easily.

Further on it was time for a stop at the official sign for the road at a place where back in 1847 there had been a smithy’s shop. From there we looked over to where the main highway worked its way down the mountainside. On that road the cars were travelling quite fast so clearly the road was sealed.

The end of the road we came across the building that had been the toll house which had a sign next to it encouraging travellers to donate towards the restoration of the building from 1847.Unfortunately the building or what there was of it a couple of years ago had been gutted by a fire that had raged through the area and now all that was left was 4 walls and a chimney.

We joined the main road we had seen from our stopping point on the pass and carried on into George.

George is famous for being the town that hosted the 5th Presidents Cup for golf in 2003 in which Tiger Woods played for the USA team against a team from the rest of the world. The result was a tie 17 all and the cup that year was shared.

It is a busy town with signage that wasn’t too clear and we ended up on a road not taking us down to the N2 that we had expected and so did a U turn to get us back on track.

One of the things that is usually visible as you drive through a town is the local cemetery and George was no exception with its cemetery located on the outskirts just before the on ramp to the N2.

By our standards in NZ the local cemeteries in South Africa have been barren and rather bleak places looking unkempt which is interesting as the locals are out there sweeping the gutters and footpaths to make the streets look very tidy and presentable, not so their cemeteries.

Heading onto Knysna we took a break at ritzy Wilderness Beach for Cappuchino and a muffin, super large size, and at equivalent NZ$4 for the drink and food each we are continuing to enjoy the very low cost of eating out in South Africa.

We hadn’t wanted to get to our accommodation too early and we slowed the pace a little taking in the scenery a little more.

Our B&B was on the entry into Knysna and we found it relatively easily set amongst shady trees.

The owner, Katrin who emigrated from Germany 18 years ago with her husband, greeted us and again we got an option of a free upgrade which we gladly took.

Badgers Lodge has had quite a history in recent years and was completely gutted by the Knysna Fires of June 7 2017, just over 2 years ago. The fire raged for 2 weeks and caused the greatest mobilisation of fire-fighters in South African history with over 1000 homes destroyed many uninsured.

It seems amazing that in 2 years the lodge has been rebuilt and that many of the trees have come back to life considering the apparent 2000C heat that the fire had generated. The owners were insured and Katrin’s husband is a builder and rebuilt the gutted home himself.

The guest rooms are built in traditional African rondele with exposed beams and a thatch room overhead.

We wandered down the road for dinner to a restaurant, the original of which had also been destroyed in the great fire and was back up and running in super quick time. Time to sample pinotage for Gretchen and a chardonnay for me to accompany the pasta meal for Gretchen and battered hake fillets for me.

Tomorrows planned drive further east is just 100km so we will have plenty of time to explore Knysna before we hit the highway.

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