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Published: September 18th 2013
Cage diving with sharks - check
Whale watching - check
= two bucket list items ticked off. Now what else was there....
Ah yes, the road trip.
Hire car - check
Kate's parents with us - check
On Kris' 34th birthday, we set off on our road trip along the Garden Route. This stretch of road goes along the south coast of South Africa and is a very popular trip. It's about 600km long, and you can do it in a couple of days, or a couple of weeks. We chose five days - which wasn't long enough in the end, but you live and learn. While my mum and I were planning this part of the holiday, we used all kinds of websites and guidebooks to try and find the best routes and the distances between places, and a lot of it seemed to contradict each other. So I might go into a bit of detail about this on the blog, for any of you who might be planning the trip yourself. If you're not, and you're just reading this for fun, to pass a bored hour on a
Friday afternoon at work before you can justify leaving for the pub, or out of politeness to us so you can say you've read it, you can practise your skimming skills on those bits. I'll try and indicate when I'm going to talk about something interesting with some bold
or CAPS or a nice title with an elegant heading.
"Garden Route" to me suggested country houses, hollyhocks and topiary, but maybe that's my head singing "in an English country garden"
Instead it was huge dry mountains, desert, wide, white, deserted beaches, pine forests, and winding roads. The only gardens were those in the towns we passed through. I asked Wikipedia why it's called the Garden Route, and it came up with:
The name comes from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast
Thanks Wikipedia. I don't associate gardens with lagoons and lakes personally, but everyone's different.
Day One: Hermanus to Oudtshoorn
N2 to Swellendam, then R62 to Oudtshoorn.
Our first day on the road was a long one, about six hours driving in total. We drove through the Little Karoo, along roads that stretched out into the distance, with huge mountains on either side of us. Exactly the road
trip we had pictured. I'm not going to describe each part of the journey to you, because I doubt you care, although if you do, some helpful, if slightly sad, people have put videos of the whole trip on Youtube for you to enjoy along with them.
By mid afternoon we had arrived in Oudtshoorn. Pronounced 'oatshorn' - probably. Or something like that. We had several people try to teach us how to say it and fail. I'm not going to feel bad. I couldn't say my address in Haiphong for a whole year.
Anyway, it's a nice little town famous for ostriches, because apparently people used to raise them on big ranches back when it was trendy to wear ostrich feathers (why is it not now). You can visit ostrich ranches, ride them, pet them and then eat them. We only did the latter. We had Kris' birthday dinner at Bella Cibo , recommended to us by our guesthouse, where you could have ostrich steak, saltimbuca and in salad and pasta, among other dishes. Lovely restaurant and massive portions.
We stayed at Gumtree Lodge , owned by the very welcoming and chatty South African Phil and his
British wife, Linda. We had adjoining self-catering rooms which had a fridge and cooking facilities, but also got a great massive breakfast full of local ingredients. Yum. Gumtree Lodge even has its own pub!
Yes, seven rooms, but it's own pub. So we began Kris' birthday celebrations with a complimentary glass of port in front of the fire in the little pub, following by some local 'craft beers' (real ale) recommended by Phil.
We didn't bother with the potentially hilarious, Youtube-video-producing ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn, you may be disappointed to hear, but instead visited two local attractions, the Cango wildlife ranch
and the Cango caves
. The wildlife ranch was basically a mini-zoo which specialises in breeding endangered big cats, with an entertaining guided tour and the opportunity to see some white lions and a white tiger, whose albinism seemed to have also given him special needs
. Oh, and to see a small kid freak out in fear on a rope bridge. The caves had another good tour. We chose the heritage tour over the adventure tour, as the latter included crawling through letter box sized holes in the rock and squeezing through narrow gaps. The guide told
us a story of a woman who got stuck, Winnie the Pooh style, for eight hours. Again, potentially a great Youtube video and/or 'You've been Framed' clip for £250.......but we had to disappoint you again. Anyway, the caves were pretty spectacular. They used to hold concerts in there for the amazing acoustics, but had to stop when people kept taking 'souvenirs' of the stalagmites and stalactites and basically vandalising it.
Day Two: Oudtshoorn to Plettenberg Bay
The next day we had a shorter drive (2-3 hours), so we stopped along the way. The first stop was Wilderness,
where we thought we'd stop off for a coffee on the beach. We stopped in the town and left the car to find a nice place to sit. At the beach, we noticed for the first time something that seemed to be quite common in South Africa - a beautiful wide white sandy beach....with no facilities on it.
It was fronted by a row of houses, but none of them seemed to have thought of cashing in and building a cafe or icecream shop, arcades or a shop selling seaside rock. It was winter, so perhaps these buildings
are temporary and appear at the first sign of summer. The beach was deserted, so we trod some footprints in the fresh sand and then went for a coffee away from the beach.
After Wilderness it was on Knysna
(pronounced with a silent 'k'😉. Knysna is built on a huge lagoon which we drove up to the entrance of and looked out onto the ocean beyond (where there is a strategically placed cafe and ice cream shop. Well done Knysna). Unfortunately we didn't have time to look around the town. We intended to go back, but again, there wasn't time. As I said already, we needed more time on the Garden Route.
From Knysna we continued to our stop for the next two nights - Plettenberg Bay, about another half hour along. Arriving in the town, we pulled out the directions that my mum had sensibly printed off the internet in the UK from one of those websites that calculates directions for you (it might have been googlemaps, but I don't want to point fingers in case I'm wrong). We followed the directions out of the town and up into a residential area, to the street name on
the directions....looking for number 96. We passed number 88, 91, 94, 95....and that was the end of the street. We probably freaked out the bloke getting out of his car with a suitcase at number 95 by slowing right down and staring at him.
We were just wondering where the hell number 96 was, but he probably thought he was about to be kidnapped.
Rather confused, we turned to the booking confirmation for the guesthouse we had booked, Bella Manga Country House
. To be honest, it didn't look like the right area, since we'd booked a two bedroom self-catering cottage in the grounds of a working farm, and we seemed to be on a housing estate that wouldn't be out of the place on Neighbours. Luckily there was some brief location information on the sheet so we followed that to find it.......about 5 miles out of the town to the middle of nowhere and then down a rough track. When we got there, it was lovely. A real rural getaway. Our wooden cottage was in a group of three around a big fire pit and looked out onto a wood. One issue was that it was so quiet. I guess it's winter
and out of season, so there wasn't anyone else staying there. It would have been nice to have another people around to chat to, but we made do with ourselves.
We spent two nights in Plettenberg Bay. We went into the town and were foiled at going whale watching because the weather was bad (which also happened in Hermanus too). The beach was nice and there actually was a place to drink coffee looking at the sea. We also went to see our first safari animals at Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve
. We got driven around in a safari truck by the guide and saw lots of springbok, some zebra, giraffes and rhino and then were taken into see the predators who were in seperate enclosures. It was cool to see the lions, cheatahs and wild dogs
close up, but we were looking forward to seeing them in with the ungulates and doing a bit of hunting!
It was on that note that we left Plettenberg Bay, towards our first real national park experience - Addo Elephant Park....
....some might say could also be called Addo Warthog Park.
However, this blog has got
very long and we've got two more days on the Garden Route to talk about, so I'm going to split it into two.
Sorry, you'll have to wait for the elephant stories.
But do come back, there are some cute pictures!
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