Sunshine Coast and the Garden Route

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August 14th 2016
Published: August 14th 2016
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After 3 months, 5 countries, and thousands of miles north to the South of the World, I am nearly at my final destination; Cape Town. Since Johannesburg, Taylor and I have flown to Port Elizabeth, and taken the Baz Bus along the Garden Route. Our penultimate stop on this route, from where I am writing this, is Mossel Bay. It's a very quiet seaside town which is mostly filled with holiday homes for the rich from Jo'burg and Bloemfontein. However, we have found a very cool hostel to hole ourselves up in; a converted train on the seafront called the Santos Express Train Lodge. It feels like a very long time ago now that I was last sleeping on the train between Tanzania and Zambia.

The only activity we have found to do here is to take a boat trip out to the nearby seal island. This was only an hour long trip out to a bit of rock 4 km out into the centre of the Bay, which is home to over 3000 seals. It was nice to see the seals playing about in the shallow sea, but nothing really quite prepares you for the smell! The highlight of the boat trip though was probably not the seals, but getting a glimpse of the Great White Shark fins circling a boat of cage divers. I'm very excited now for my own shark cage diving experience next week in Cape Town.

But I'm getting way too ahead of myself. Coming out of Johannesburg, our arrival in Port Elizabeth signalled the return of sanity, safety, and warm weather back to our journey. It was a welcome relief to once again be able to freely walk around the streets; not that there was much to find in the centre of Port Elizabeth. It's a fairly run down city, with many industries and businesses still seemingly trying to find their feet post-Apartheid. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common theme throughout much of South Africa's urban areas. Personally though, the trip into the city centre was worth it, as high above the Port, we paid a visit to the Elizabeth Donkin Memorial site. The site was a park in memory of the wife of the town's founder, who named the place after her. Within the park were various art installations, including mosaics, and the Nelson Mandela voting line silhouette. My key reason for visiting though was to get a photo standing next to the Donkin Memorial pyramid; a monument that my Grandad frequented during his RAF training days during the war. It was a very nice moment to be part of something continuous within a country that had changed so much since Grandad had been there. However, even the local Woolworths didn't give us enough reason to stay in town much longer (yes, Woolworths is alive and kicking in South Africa, and according to Taf, it's supposed to be an up-market store) so we headed back to our hostel.

The highlight of Port Elizabeth was our day safari trip into Addo National Elephant Park. Ad do is the 3rd largest National Park in South Africa, and is far too big to fully cover in a day - even in a car - but we were incredibly lucky with what we did manage to see. Even though Ad do is home to over 700 elephants, I wasn't expecting to see as many as we did; whole herds would constantly block the road in front of us, often with small babies accompanying them. Our guide was very good at demonstrating to us how elephants effectively communicate with humans, which signals show they felt we were getting too close, and which signals showed when they were happy for us to overtake.

Not too far from the entrance of the park, we were greeted by a small pride of Lions, even though they were hiding away in the thick bush which made photos very difficult. Attenborough doesn't tell you this on TV, but on safaris you don't often get as clear a view as you do on the documentaries. Although, we never saw them up and walking about (very lazy creatures lions), we did get them feeding on a buffalo carcass which they had killed by the road a day or two before. The pool of blood was still at the scene of the crime. Another thing that Attenborough doesn't bring across to you is the smell; the air was ripe with the thick stench of blood and raw meat. Whilst everyone else in the vehicle repulsed, I was just left with a craving for steak. In my defence, I'd seen and smelt worse with the Maasai. The Lions were very majestic and friendly looking creatures though when they had put down the mass pile of blood and bones, and settled down for a nap. You had to remind yourself that they were killing machines, otherwise you would end up like that Chinese woman at the Beijing tiger sanctuary the other week. Natural selection and all.

Common sightings throughout our day drive included warthogs, ostriches, buffalo and various species of gazelles and antelope. However, the most exciting viewing we came across (at least according to our guide) was an aardvark. For those of you that are familiar with what an aardvark looks like, may think that there's nothing much interesting about seeing it, just as I thought. However, an aardvark is one of Africa's 'Impossible 5', meaning that you have next to zero chance of ever seeing one in the wild, primarily because they are very shy, and do are most active at night. Once word got out that one had been spotted, we were surrounded by nearly 20 other vehicles filled with extremely excited Safari regulars. One woman we spoke to said that she had been searching for one for 15 years and that this was "the best day ever!". Meanwhile, Taylor and I were on our first ever Safari (only a day trip at that) and were looking at each other wondering what the fuss was about. Again, my timing has been impeccable on this trip.

At 6.45 the next morning, we hopped onto the Baz Bus for our 6 hour drive over to Plettenburg Bay. The Baz Bus is a minibus almost exclusively for backpackers which takes you door-to-door along the Garden Route. Our accommodation in Plettenburg was just a couple kilometres inland from the coast, up in the hills with stunning views over the valley, called African Array Lodge. It was run by a very friendly and helpful Afrikaans family who knew how to throw a party. On our first night there, we were joined by roughly 40 American students so the owners decided to cook a huge Braai, light some log fires on the outside decks, and hire a musician to play an acoustic set after dinner. It was a real cozy and heart warming evening filled with travellers and locals alike.

The highlight of our visit to Plettenburg was 'Kloofing' at the nearby gorges called The Crags. Kloofing is an activity whereby you work your way through the gorge via abseiling, zip-lining, and swimming, with accompanying guides. The water is so cold at this time of year that we had to wear 2 wetsuits for warmth, so the ability to breathe was limited. Kloofing was great fun but I don't think a career as a stunt double awaits me. I never quite got the hang of the abseiling, so I ended up slipping on the rock and had to be lowered down. We can't be good at everything - unfortunately. The zip-lining was easier; gravity took care of most the work. 2 hours later, and we had finished the course, but the tough bit really came when we had to make the long climb back up to the top of the gorge. It was good practice for climbing Table Mountain I suppose.

The next day we got back on the Baz Bus for the short ride to the aforementioned Mossel Bay. I'm hugely excited for Cape Town as everyone I've spoken to about it says it's incredible; but at the same time, there is a sadness that its my final stop. Hopefully I've saved the best till last. I'll update again after a few days in Cape Town.

Additional photos below
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British Post BoxBritish Post Box
British Post Box

It's nice when you come across little reminders of home.
Santos Express Train LodgeSantos Express Train Lodge
Santos Express Train Lodge

I wasn't expecting to sleep on a train twice on this trip.

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