Spring Break!! The Garden Route

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Africa » South Africa
November 8th 2007
Published: November 13th 2009
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Spring break! It was the beginning of September and after almost two months of studying abroad at Stellenbosch University, we were ready to hit the road! We had booked Cape to Addo Safaris and our trusty tour guide, Keith, and his truck/van/bus (still not sure what to call that vehicle) picked us up bright and early right at the entrance to Concordia/Academia. We loaded our luggage into the tiny trailer attached to the back of it and we were on our way!

After a quick stop in Hermanus, we made our way to the Birkenhead brewery. There was an assortment of beer to sample, none of which I was particularly fond of. Then again, generally speaking I don't care much for beer. The brewery grounds were gorgeous though and we spent a bit of time outside enjoying the sun and taking photographs.

Next we went to Cape Agulhas, the southern most point in Africa. It is supposedly the location where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Since we would be spending the night there, we first went to drop off our bags at the hostel. All of the hostels that we stayed at during this trip were nicer than I could have imagined. In this first one, the room we stayed in was quite large and had either four or five sets of bunk beds in it. All of the girls stayed together in that room. There was a pool, although I think it was empty at the time, two or three large dogs, a bar, and a common kitchen. After we were settled in, we drove out to the dock with the owner of the hostel. Divided up into two smaller groups, we went whale watching in his boat. The first group had a whale swim right underneath their boat (I posted their photos). It swam so close, that one of the girls, I wanna say Theresa, reached out and almost fell out of the boat trying to touch it. My group did not get that close to the whales, however we were still amazingly close. In addition to that, the sun was setting, casting a faint orange tint over the water, the whales, and our trusty skipper.

Since there was a beach only a short walk from the hostel, a few of us who woke up early went for a walk along the beach. I was able to pick up some seashells to add to my collection, the first ones from the Indian Ocean! (and they actually made it all of the way home, they're on my dresser at my grandmother's house!).

Our next destination was reached by means of a road that was only big enough to allow one vehicle at a time. If another vehicle was coming, one of them would have to pull off to the side of the road in order to allow the other one to pass. Fortunately, most of the ground was flat and the road was mostly straight, reducing the possibility of head on collisions. In South Africa, even on two lane roads (one lane in each direction), it is not uncommon to see a slow vehicle drive on the shoulder of the road so that other vehicles can easily pass it.

Soon enough we arrived at our lodgings in the Little Karoo (or Klein Karoo, klein means little in Afrikaans). We stayed in cabins that were shared by three or four people. I'm not sure why, but there were at least half a dozen freely roaming peacocks outside of our cabin. I tried to get a good shot of one of them, but it kept turning itself around so that I could not photograph it from straight on. Stubborn bird. That afternoon we took a short hike around the grounds near where we were staying. The terrain reminded me of the Marlboro cigarette advertisements.

The place also had a hot springs pool where we spent some time relaxing. Later that evening a rather inebriated member of our group who was dressed in pajamas made further use of the hot springs by wandering back into the pool!

The Cango Caves, which are also located in Outshoorn/Klein Karoo, was one of the next locations on our list. Although there was a sweet sounding adventure tour option, where you climb ladders and slide through parts of the tunnel that you can only access by crawling, we only had enough time for the standard tour. The most memorable part of the caves is the huge van Zyl's Hall. It is about 90 meters long, 50 meters wide at its widest point, and between 14 and 18 meters high. Inside there were many outstanding rock formations, the most memorable being the 'organ'.

Later we made a stop at the Cango Wildlife Ranch, an endangered species breeding facility. After touring the facilities, we were given the opportunity to pet cheetahs, cheetah cubs, or white tigers. The animals had been raised in the facility and the money that was paid to interact with the animals would go towards their conservation projects.

We spent a night in some quite large cabins beside a river. In the afternoon we had donned bikinis, splashed sunscreen on ourselves, and went down to the river to sunbathe. Swimming was also an option, as was using the kayaks. I was not particularly fond of the idea of going swimming in the river, simply for the fact that I was sure the water was cold. When I told our tour guide this, he found it to be unacceptable, picked me up as if I were a small child, walked out onto the dock and tossed me right into the river.

Finally we reached Addo Elephant Park. It is definitely the place to go if you want to see a lot of elephants. We were driving right beside elephants and watched as they crossed the road right in front of us. We saw one giraffe, several zebras, a few ostriches, and some other smaller animals. Although we saw a sign "Beware of lions, alight from vehicle at your own risk" we did not see any lions.

The apex of this trip for most people was bungee jumping from Bloukrans Bridge, the highest and largest bridge in Africa. Although I didn't do the jump myself, I will never forget watching as nine of my friends threw themselves from the bridge. Since I have back problems, I decided against taking the risk of bungee jumping and I opted instead for the 'flying fox', a 200m cable slide. So instead of jumping from the bridge, I dangled from a cable while I slid out to the center of the bridge. Although it pales in comparison to bungee jumping it still gave me a bit of a rush. I was fine until they asked me to step off of the platform, where I freely dangled, supported only by the straps that were fastening me to the cable. Right before they gave me a push sending me out and underneath the bridge I felt a slight bit of panic. After I actually started moving though, I was able to just look around at how beautiful the river valley was. The best part was how behind the bridge, the valley opened up into a larger body of water. By the time I came to a stop at the center of the bridge, I was hoping that they would just let me hang there and look around a little bit longer.

Although I cannot remember what the rooms looked like in one of the hostels we stayed at, I do remember being greeted with a feast. Not long after we had arrived, we were treated to an amazing dinner of ostrich steaks, potatoes, and lots of other food. The ostrich steak was really delicious, it was impossible to walk away the table hungry.

We were incredibly well fed during this trip. Every night, except for the night we ate at a restaurant in Addo Elephant Park, there was a meal prepared for us at the hostel. In another of the hostels, they set up a huge buffet/braai outside. The yard behind the hostel was huge and they also had a lot of lights set up. After dinner two boys sang and danced for us around the campfire.

The most memorable event from our last night in the hostel was this: At about 1 a.m. one of our incredibly intoxicated friends disappeared for quite some time. When she reappeared, she was sporting some caramelized carrots and several other kinds of food. Apparently she had gotten the urge to cook.

"Dude, where did you get this food?"
"In the kitchen..."
"In the kitchen?! Whose food is this? We didn't bring this food..."
"Just eat the carrots! Come on, they're good for ya!"

Luckily, we'd be leaving in the morning before anyone could notice that their food was missing...

Some other beautiful places that we stopped at for incredibly short periods of time but were very beautiful include: Tsitsikama National Park, Knysna, and Jeffery's Baai. We drove into Tsitsikama National Park to watch the waves crash into the shore in front of an awesome sunset. We stopped at Jeffery's Baai to relax in the sun, watch some surfing, and do some shopping. Although it was still kind of cold, there were a surprising number of surfers in the water. I had never seen anyone surf in real life before, so it was exciting to watch.

These pictures are from September Spring Break when I studied at the University of Stellenbosch July-November 2007.

Credit for certain photos belongs to: Domink Roth, Theresa Martin, Tami Renard, Michael Cuelen. I would have labeled them accordingly but I can't remember whose photos are whose any more. Sorry!

Additional photos below
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Cango CavesCango Caves
Cango Caves

The organ.

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