Gourmet Capital in the Western Cape

The final part of our South African trip took us back towards Cape Town along the N2 through George, Mosselbaai and Swellandam where we stopped for a light lunch and to stretch our legs. There is a lovely Dutch Reformed Church and an interesting museum so Swellandam would make a good place to stopover en route to the Garden Route. Dutch Reformed church Swellendam After Botsrivier we turned off onto the R321 towards Villiersdorp, a winding road with beautiful views across the Helderberg (formerly known as Hottentots Holland) Nature Reserve and around the Theeswaterkloof Dam. P1130713 Here we turned onto the R45 up through the Franschhoek Pass and stopping for an awe-inspiring view from the top of the Cat’s Road which is a series of hairpin bends winding itself down to the Franschhoek Village like a sleeping serpent. As you drive over the pass on the R45 from Theewaterskloof Dam, you have no idea of that beautiful valley ahead of you. P1130745 Franschhoek has always been a huge favourite of mine. Back in the 1970s it already had a reputation for award-winning restaurants and wine estates, top class boutique hotels, auberges, and guest houses (many located on working vineyards) and speciality shops. Then however, I didn’t have the means to take advantage of what it had to offer, but the surrounding landscapes have always been free. mountains2

This magnificent valley with its huge towering mountains on either side with spectacular vineyards that clad the mountain slopes has the most breath-taking scenery in the Western Cape (if not the whole of South Africa).

The valley was settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots, who brought with them their French culture and wine growing skills when they fled their homeland after Protestantism was outlawed.

Some arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Oliphantshoek (Elephant’s Corner) so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the valley. Soon after the Huguenots settled here it became known as Franschhoek (French Corner).

As you drive into the village from the south you will notice the Huguenot monument, and close by the museum, which chronicles the history of those brave pioneers and the original Huguenot farms.

It is well worth visiting the museum to get an understanding of the history of the region. You will also notice that many of the farms still bear French names and are often resplendent with a spectacular Cape Dutch homestead, towering oak trees and vast vineyards.

We stayed at Auberge la Dauphine (Klein Daupine), on the outskirts of the village. A beautiful spot, ringed by the Hottentots Holland Mountains, and with its own dam and summerhouse where you can sit with a bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine and watch the sun go down turning the tops of the mountains pink and the sky ink blue.

On our first night we ate at “French Connection” having West Coast mussels, crispy duck with raspberry sauce, potatoes dauphinoise and stir fried vegetables (cut beans, carrots, courgette and mange tout), washed down with a superb bottle of Shiraz from one of the nearby cellars – Porcupine Ridge. The following day we went back up the hill to Haute Carbière for their cellar tour and wine tasting which was pretty good and very cheap (R30) to taste five wines. View from Haute Carbiere Carbière belonged originally to a French Huguenot farmer, Pierre Jourdan who was given the land in 1694. In 1982 the vineyards were replanted in the tradition of the Champagne, and focus on Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay cultivars.

“Come quickly, I’m tasting the stars” is a quote attributed to Dom Pérignon when tasting the first champagne. Pierre Jourdan’s distinguished dry elegance reminds us with every tiny bubble gently exploding like a feather on the tongue to re-look at how exciting life can be… ~ Achim von Arnim, cellar-master of Haute Carbière

We bought a bottle of the sparkling, champagne-like ‘Blanc de Blancs’  (R98) to put into our fridge and booked a table in their gourmet restaurant for that night before heading back into the village to have a good wander around.

A host of shops and galleries line Main Street with antiques, artwork, bookshops and bric-a-brac. There are several specialist shops including a chocolatier, where we bought some hand-made Belgian style chocolates (R26), and a fromagerie.

Don’t restrict your wandering to the main Street though as it is rather pleasant to walk along the streets behind where you can see some lovely Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture.

A Cape Dutch Style House
dutch reformed church
dutch reformed church

After a light lunch (salad) in the village we returned to the auberge to rest. Vineyards and Mountains Dinner at Carbière was, frankly, out of this world. All their items on the menu are available in half or full portions so you can have as many different dishes as you like. They also do tasting menus, pairing wines with each course. haute carbiere We had the Cuvée Belle Rose (100% Pinot Noir fruit portraying elegant sophistication) with our starters of prawn rolls with chilli jam and herb salad /  pea, leek and asparagus tart with herb salad – the pastry was so light it practically melted in your mouth; for mains we both had the chicken stuffed with a layer of lentils and served on a bed of tagliatelle, spinach, spiced cubes of butternut squash and very firm asparagus tips with rocket and chorizo jus which was accompanied with a Brut Sauvage (yeasty with a creamy finish, wild and elegant mystique); dessert was a meringue with raspberries, raspberry coulis and strawberry yoghurt ice-cream (all delicious) and my husband had a most unusual looking desert consisting of 3 tiny sweet spring rolls stuffed with hot dark chocolate and served with a shot-glass of a white chocolate milkshake – exquisite – and this came with a glass of the sparkling Blanc de Blancs.

The whole lot came to R550 (around £40 at the time) plus a R5 tip for the car guard. Currently there are lots of menu options, including wine pairing, from R295 per person .

On our last day in the valley we decided to have a look at a few other vineyards in the area such as Grande Provence, Boschendal, and Glenwood and then drive over the mountains to look around the university town of Stellenbosch. Grande Provence is lovely and has a fabulous setting for their restaurant, Glenwood is in the little valley of Robertsvlei and surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.

wine carrier Stellenbosch however, defeated us as we could not find anywhere to park! We drove around for a while but the centre was absolutely packed so we had a look at it from the car, admire the beautiful Cape Dutch-style homesteads, the university and the tree-lined streets.

On the drive over to Franschhoek from Stellenbosch on the R310 – Helshoogte Road look out for Tokara Winery which is famous as an olive oil producer and located right at the top of Helshoogte Pass. Passing a village called Languedoc you come to Boschendal one of the most famous wineries with exceptional grounds. manor house boschendal The farm Boschendal means “wood and dale” and was granted to Jean de Long in 1685. A fellow Huguenot, Abraham de Villiers bought it in 1715 and was responsible for the buildings you can see today. Boschendal is famous for its “picque-nique”  (mid Oct to April only) which you can buy in a basket and then eat in their gorgeous grounds.

Yellow wood and Stinkwood Armoire
Yellow wood and Stinkwood Armoire

You can visit the delightful manor house with yellow wood ceilings, floorboards and doors set in teak frames and stroll around the delightful gardens, including a very fragrant herb garden.

Naturally, food was not far from our minds and we bought a glass of real lemonade and a chocolate and coffee ice-cream sundae from the Café (formerly slave quarters), sitting under the shade of the lovely oaks in the grounds  and watching the white ducks (pure Jemima Puddleducks) strutting around looking for titbits.

franschhoek town hall
franschhoek town hall

Our final dinner in South Africa was at the “French Connection” again. We had the mussels as a starter (from Walvis Bay) followed by sole and couscous with butternut squash, feta cheese, courgette and a pesto sauce. Finished off with a Dom Pedro Kahlua, double espresso and an amaretto. Sublime!

Need a reason to visit Franschhoek? Believe me when I say it is one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world. And the food and wine ain’t half bad either.

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The Tsitsikamma Forest

After Addo we retraced our steps along the Garden Route towards Cape Town deciding to stop over at another place I have always wanted to visit, primarily because I love the name Tsitsikamma National Park.

Tsitsikamma is a khoi word meaning “place of abundant or sparkling water” and the beautiful indigenous forest protected by the State, is home to centuries old trees such as Yellowwood, Stinkwood, Hard Pear, Ironwood, Kamassi and many others.

Of course those ofyou who are extreme sports fanatics (you know who you are) will no doubt of heard of this region as it is famous for the world’s highest bridge bungee jump from the dizzying Bloukrans Bridge on the old road, zip-lining through the canopy of the trees or going down the Storm’s River itself on a rubber tube! It is well-known for the Otter trail a spectacular trail between Nature’s Valley and the Storm River and many other hiking trails in the Tsitsikamma Mountains amongst mountain fynbos and indigenous forests with wonderful river gorge and mountain scenery. There are plenty of rivers, streams and rock pools for swimming and swinging rope suspension bridges slung near the waters for walkers.

“J-BAY”
After leaving Addo by the Colchester exit we joined the N2 and drove east past the Sundays River. The San people originally named this river Nukakamma (Grassy Water) because the river’s banks are always green and grassy despite the arid terrain that it runs through. It looked a very pleasant spot to visit, but I wanted to pop into Jeffrey’s Bay – a long time favourite surf spot in the 1970s.

On entering Jeffrey’s Bay from Port Elizabeth you drive along the Kabeljous Estuary and Nature Reserve which is a walk-about reserve and has a safe swimming beach. It is an excellent fishing and bird-watching area so it’s probably worth staying near ‘J Bay’ for this alone. The Noorsekloof Nature Reserve (near the golf course) has a 3km trail running alongside a stream from which you can see many species of bird and some small buck and if it is bird-watching you are after then the Seekoei River Estuary, as you enter the main town, is the place to go. There is an abundance of water fowl and a hide overlooking the river.

Kabeljous
Kabeljous

“J-Bay” as it is known to the locals, brings to mind surfing, sunshine and beautiful beaches – and you’d be right. Home to the Billabong Surfing Festival every July and rated among the ten best surfing spots in the world, surfers from across the globe come to enjoy the rolling breakers. As often happens I was disappointed with what I found there. It does have a lovely long and sandy beach, though at the time of our visit a distinct lack of surf, and therefore a deficit of surfers. There is apparently a Surf Museum and a Shell Museum which unfortunately we didn’t know about at the time as they would have been intriguing to visit.

Surfing in 'J Bay'
Surfing in ‘J Bay’

All I saw was a depressingly long Main Street lined with identical shopping malls and boring holiday resorts. On reflection after the open wilderness of Addo all these signs of humanity were a little bit too overwhelming at the time.

Tsitsikamma P1120992We continued onto the R102 to Humansdorp before re-joining the N2 and making our way to the Tsitsikamma Lodge where we had booked a delightful log garden cabin complete with spa bath!  Slightly more luxurious than the rondavel  in Addo.

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It felt good to be sitting outside on the private deck having a couple of Castle lagers and updating my travel journal before heading off for a stroll in the beautiful surrounding forest. P1120954 Dinner at 7 p.m. that night was in the lodge restaurant – a set menu – broccoli soup followed by fish and salad, roast leg of lamb and seasonal vegetables, desserts and cheese and biscuits. We didn’t quite make it to the end and were in fact in bed by 9 p.m.

Tsitsikamma Forest
Tsitsikamma Forest

Nature’s Valley
The following day we headed out to Nature’s Valley, the plan being to make our way back to the lodge from there stopping at various sites. Unfortunately we had to go along the N2 and therefore through the toll plaza between The Crags and Storm River as there was no alternative route due to the R102 being blocked by the flooding in December (remember the tjoe-tjoe?). Chris from the lodge said that the problem was that local government was waiting for the national government to declare it a disaster area so that they will pay for it. Meanwhile until someone decides who has to pay for the repairs nothing is done!

Natures Valley
Natures Valley

Nature’s Valley is incredible – far nicer than Jeffrey’s Bay – in my opinion. Wide, white sands, a safe lagoon for swimming and all in peaceful, natural surroundings. No shopping malls and no garish developments, just a small community with one pub/shop/restaurant at the far end and some local pink-bottomed baboons! urban baboonThis is one end of the otter trail which is considered to be one of the best trails in the world. It is not an easy trail; it is 42.5 km long and takes five days to complete. It follows the rugged coastline and cliffs returning to the shore line to cross rivers. Many years ago my sister-in-law did the trail and considered it one of the best things she ever did in her life. Sadly I have not done it and probably never will now given the steep descents, difficult river crossings and dangerous rock scrambles. We ventured a little way along the Salt River Walk which starts from the shop at Nature’s Valley and is around 9 km long. It takes a circular route along the beach and into the scrub forest. beach to the eastWe followed the route in the opposite direction, along the beach until it wound up into the bush and became too steep to continue. I often get quite annoyed with myself at not being able to do the things I took for granted thirty years ago. Joints too stiff, overweight and under-fit, nervous of slippery slopes and sudden drops are the curses of becoming older and spending too much time working on computers.

Storm’s River Mouth escaping the waves on MooibaaiOn the way back to the lodge we drove down to Storm River’s Mouth. What a spot! Wild and windy, with huge waves crashing on the rocks, such raw beauty! There is a lovely restaurant “Tigers Eye” overlooking the river mouth and small sandy beaches – Mooibaai and Sandbaai and jewel-like sunbirds flittering in the trees.

view towards the river mouth

We could have taken a boat into the gorge itself, which looks pretty amazing, but getting on and off the boats looked a little tricky in the considerable swell of the ocean so we decided against it.  By the way, the ‘black water‘ colour of the Storm River is caused by tannin leaching out of plant matter; much like tea. sunbirdWe wandered a little way along the Mouth Trail up to Strandloper Cave and along to the rope suspension bridge and lookout point. Unfortunately we couldn’t go onto the bridge itself because the final part of the boardwalk leading to it had been burned in a fire – it was being repaired though so hopefully open again by now. Though working on African time, you never know!

storms river dryfhoutbaai

Whilst we were exploring a sudden sea fret descended turning everything into one of those eerie sets out of a horror movie – all ghostly shadows and shapes amid the constant boom of the ocean.

wild weather approaching

waves breaking

storms river mouth

I was mesmerised by the surging waves coming in and breaking on rocks only metres away from the car with such force and incredible energy. And right next to the shore a group of rock hyrax (dassies) were having their supper. Next time I am in this region I shall book a forest cabin right on this shore. (Book through SanParks).

rock dassies

Our final stop was at Storm River Village where you can do a Fern Tree Walk, but we were all walked out by then so instead we opted to retreat to our log cabin for a very large vodka and tonic and a welcome soak in the spa bath! Luxury!

storms river village hut
Storms River Village

A Table and a Tablecloth

Rotating Cable Car
Rotating Cable Car

Considering the number of years during which I lived in Cape Town plus numerous visits since, it is surprising that I have only ever been on top of Table Mountain on three previous occasions and then only once was a bright and beautiful day when you could see for miles. The thing you have to remember about this particular mountain is that it often gets covered in cloud (the ‘Tablecloth’) blown in from the Atlantic by a wind known to locals as the ‘Cape Doctor‘, especially in the summer months. And if it is windy then the cable car does not operate – so don’t rely on it to get you back down.

If  you intend to visit the Mother City and want to go up the iconic mountain then my advice is that you keep your eye on the weather forecasts and get up there as soon as you can. Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow may be raining or windy and if you do get up then make sure you allow sufficient time to explore as there is a surprisingly large area up there.

On top of Table Mountain
On top of Table Mountain

Many things have changed on the top since the 1980s – but not the 360° views of Cape Town, the ocean and the neighbouring peaks. There is now a large self-serve restaurant and deli and an ice-cream shop and walled, paved courtyards and pathways which makes it a much safer pleasure to walk around taking in the views and there is even a route suitable for wheelchair users. You can of course still wander off on hiking trails and indeed there is the Hoerikwaggo Trail (Hoerikwaggo meaning ‘Mountains of the sea’ in the original Khoekhoe language), a five day trek for serious hikers linking Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.

Lion's Head
Lion’s Head, Cape Town

As neither my husband nor I are in the flush of youth we took the cable car up and down. (I once attempted climbing to the top via Skeleton Gorge on my first visit to Cape Town back in 1973, but I was thwarted by the weather closing in suddenly and having to retreat below the clouds. I did come away with a rather splendid spider bite though, so have an everlasting reminder on my forearm.) The recommended route for the walk hike up is via Platteklip Gorge to the Upper Cable Station which, at 3 km, is not long but it is  fairly strenuous and can take between one and three hours to complete.

Signal Hill
Signal Hill

The weather was perfect, the bluest of African skies and not a breath of wind. It seemed as though everyone else had the same idea though and we ended up parking half way down the mountain slope so we were quite breathless before we’d even reached the lower cable station. When stepping out at the top I felt very emotional seeing the wonderful panorama spread beneath my feet. I was home.

View to Cape Point
View to Cape Point

There simply aren’t words apt enough to describe the stunning vistas. South to Hout Bay and Kommetjie along the spine of the Table range all the way down to Cape Point you can even see the curvature of the earth.

North you have the Lions Head and Signal Hill looking like a slumbering dragon on the shores of Table Bay, with the Cape Town Stadium, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Robben Island in the distance. (header photo)

There are three signposted walks and several viewpoints from which you can view Clifton and Sea Point, the Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula.

The Table Mountain National Park is also a World Heritage Site. There is a lot of Fynbos vegetation on the mountain, with over 1 460 different species of plants and populations of Rock Hyrax (Procavia capensis), commonly known as Dassies, are plentiful on the mountain.

You may also see porcupines, mongooses, girdled lizards, agamas, snakes and butterflies. Several indigenous bird species can be seen, including Redwinged Starlings, Cape Verreaux’s Eagles, Rock Kestrels and Sunbirds.

Under Milkwood

Table Bay

A couple of hours later and armed with hundreds of photos we reluctantly went back down and I drove over to the R27, the west coast road, through the western suburbs of Milnerton (a former home) and north towards Tableview, Sunset Beach, Bloubergstrand (blue mountain) and Melkbosstrand (milkwood trees) to take that infamous photo of Table Mountain across Table Bay.

Table Mountain
Table Mountain

I was not surprised at how much this area has changed over the years with so many new housing developments, but so unattractive in my opinion, just dreary looking little boxes and some pretty ugly high-rises. But with exceptional views.

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This is a place where I spent a lot of time dune walking with my first-born in my arms and usually trying to get out of the wind which whips the sand across your legs with painful accuracy. Not today though. Scarcely a breeze.

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Sitting, hugging my knees on that powder-soft white sand I stared at Cape Town, snuggled at the head of Table Bay, with its incredible back-drop, and remembered the happy days I had spent there.

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Eventually we returned to Constantia and spent another couple of hours in Kirstenbosch before driving down to Hout Bay to dine at the Mariners Wharf – this time more Kingklip, chips and tartare sauce followed by Cape Brandy tart and ice cream for him and a Fruit Pavlova with berries, raspberry coulis and granadilla sauce for me.  A bottle of sparkling Nederburg Cuvee Brut accompanied to celebrate our last night in Cape Town. Total cost £34

Mariners Wharf
Mariners Wharf – Hout Bay

Have you been on top of Table Mountain? Or another mountain which stirs the soul?

Loads of Ellies

“Addo Elephant National Park is set deep within the dense valley bushveld of the Sundays River region of the Eastern Cape. The original Elephant section of the Park was proclaimed in 1931, a time when just eleven Elephant roamed the area.

Today, however, over 450 Elephant makes the Park its home, as well as Cape Buffalo, Black Rhino, a variety of antelope species and the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo.

The evenings are punctuated by the howls of the black backed jackal and the grey Cape Francolins (pheasant) call cackalac-cackalac-cackalac welcome the dawn.”

Going to Addo
We left Knysna at around 10 am  after another delicious breakfast and set off on the N2 towards Port Elizabeth. An uneventful journey apart from a heavy rainstorm near Jeffrey’s Bay and a 20 minute wait at road works. We followed the brown sign route to Addo Elephant National Park which was a bit of a strange route leading to the R335 as it took us through a township on the outskirts of PE and not a route I would have chosen myself. The sky was still heavy and we saw some dramatic lightning on the horizon, but it stayed fine. We reached the park at 2.30 pm and drove to our pre-booked little rondavel overlooking the main entrance Nyati water hole which is floodlit at night.

 

basket-weaveThe rondavel was quite sweet – a queen sized bed, some drawers, a separate toilet and shower complete with flatty (a very large spider who eats mozzies so we left him alone) and a wash basin. There was a fridge on the stoep and a table and chairs and braai facilities nearby plus a communal kitchen. The view was idyllic – from the stoep we had a feast of kudu, warthog families, ostriches and Egyptian geese around the waterhole; there was lots of evidence that elephant went there, but sadly we never saw any visiting. That’s not to say we didn’t see any ellies though. Far from it.

Kudu Pair
Kudu Pair

We took a short drive around the park before dark and saw warthogs, kudu and elephants. Sitting only feet away from two large, though young, elephants and watching them drink from the waterhole and greet each other by linking trunks was amazing – I have been fortunate to see elephants close up before, but this was a first for my husband and he was entirely mesmerised by the experience. There were times to come, when that experience was a little too close for comfort. After all these are wild animals, and more than capable of overturning a car.

ele-parting

Dawn Game Drive
It was 5.30 am. It was dark, it was cold, it was cloudy and it was raining. We were up because we had booked to go on an early morning game drive. The best time of day to see all sorts of wild animals, or so we have been told. At that moment all I wanted to do was turn over, pull the duvet over my head and go back to sleep!

At 6.15 am we were off on a two-hour drive. We didn’t see very much to begin with – it was wet and cold and if I was an animal I’d still be hiding in my den or burrow or wherever it is they spend the night. My hands were becoming numb – at this rate even if we spotted anything I’d never be able to work the camera. Suddenly we stopped. Everyone held their breath and looked around. The guide pointed to a shape in the distance – we looked, we wondered, and then we saw a caracal come into sight, the small cat slowly strolling towards us, its characteristic dark tufts on the large pointed ears and the long tail swinging behind it. Suddenly it stopped and stared right at us, then turned around and walked away, the flash of its white undersides contrasting with the black backs of its very prominent ears.

Satisfied now that the pain of getting up so early was worth it, we forgot about the cold and eagerly awaited the next “spotting”. It was a black backed jackal trotting away into the bush. It too stopped and looked around towards the noise of the vehicle, they apparently have an acute and well-developed sense of smell and hearing. The black-backed jackal is a slender creature and its sides, head and legs are a sandy tan to reddish gold in colour. Their back has a saddle from head to tip of tail that is black and white mixed hairs. Often the edges of the saddle are framed in bright rust.

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We next came upon a large herd (20+) of elephants making their way away from a water-hole into the bush – ranging from very large females to very small infants, then saw several ostriches, and in the very far distance, a lion.

ostrichOn returning to the main gate we interrupted a mother elephant with her very young calf having breakfast. The infant snuggled under its mother for a drink as Mom stripped the leaves from the top of the trees, pulling down the branches to reach the tender tips. As the vehicle slowly approached them trying to persuade her to move out of the way, she suddenly became quite cross and turning from her destruction of the trees and bushes alongside the road she faced the vehicle, stood with legs splayed, shook her head and her large ears menacingly, swung her long trunk and mock charged us. It is widely known that elephant cows are very protective of their young and she was no exception.

Elephant and babyThe warning was just that though, and having made us aware of her displeasure of being disturbed at breakfast, she quietly shuffled off into the bush with baby following closely behind and within seconds the pair had disappeared. It never failed to amaze us how quickly these huge animals could vanish almost into thin air!

Not just Ellies

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On a later drive on our own we managed to see some of the other inhabitants of the park including Burchell’s zebra, tortoise, the interesting dung beetle, kudu, red hartebeest, warthogs,  the fiscal flycatcher, the fiscal shrike, ibis, bokmakierie, greater double collared sunbird, and a bushbuck.

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We were amused by the sight of a campervan stuck at the side of the road because a tortoise had crawled underneath, to take advantage of the shade no doubt, whilst they had stopped to view a herd of elephants.

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We were uncomfortably close to a large herd of rather muddy ellies returning from Harpoor Dam and had an even closer encounter with a huge bull elephant near Janwal Pan where fortunately we had just entered the gate at the lookout point and we were slightly higher than the giant. I prayed he didn’t step on my hire car which looked very white and very vulnerable all on its own. ele-familyWe then walked to the viewpoint overlooking the water hole which was void of any animals. Just as we were about to leave a cow arrived with three youngsters of varying sizes, right down to a tiny little thing which didn’t seem to know what to do with its trunk.

ele-drinking

The youngsters played around in the water like young toddlers everywhere having such fun, whilst Mom drank her fill, spraying the water into her mouth providing us with the most beautiful photograph. Eventually they’d finished drinking and entertaining us and off they went again, so we returned to see if our car had survived the onslaught of the elephant walk.

at-the-waterhole

That evening we sat outside our rondavel with a bottle of good South African red and watched the kudu and warthogs around the Nyati Water Hole for a couple of hours before going across to the restaurant for a meal.

Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Flycatcher

The downside of Addo is the restaurant – it is very basic and the food is poor. No gourmet dinners and not much in the way of fresh fruit or vegetables. You are much better off taking your own food and cooking it on the braai or in the communal kitchen.

Leaving Addo
On day three it was time for us to leave and make our way back up the Garden Route towards Cape Town once more. We set off at 9.30 am after a rather meagre breakfast of fruit salad (mostly apple and very tart pineapple) with yoghurt and muesli, a stark contrast to the amazing breakfasts we’d been having in the B&Bs. We decided to leave the park by driving through to the southern access road and exiting at the Colchester Road gate which is on the N2 about 33 km west of Port Elizabeth. This took us along the early morning game drive route and once again we saw the kudu, ostrich and warthogs – disappointingly no cheeky meerkats on this visit.

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Close to where we almost literally bumped into the herd of elephants yesterday, we found another group, though this time there were other cars with us, so the elephants didn’t feel quite so threatening – this group consisted of three females and their two babies – and although we were to go along the steep hill where the lone male lion was sighted in the distance, we did not expect to see lions at this time of the day.

Shortly after the spot where yesterday’s lion was seen, my husband thought he’d seen something at the side of the road ahead. We pulled up at the side of the road and I think both of us stopped breathing when a young male lion and 2 lionesses walked out of the bush onto the road in front of us.

lions

We were completely alone and they really are much larger than you think this close up. Whilst I was trying to operate the camcorder they carried on walking right up to the car and several thoughts rushed through my mind as to whether I’d heard of lions attacking a car, whether they liked or disliked the colour white (the colour of my car) and whether my collision damage waiver covered me from a dent in the roof from a large cat leaping on top, until after approximately 30 seconds I lost my nerve and throwing the camcorder to my husband, quickly put the car into reverse and retreated some metres up the road.

The three lions sneered at me and calmly walked back into the bush. Considering that at that time there were only nine lions in the entire park we were incredibly lucky to see three of them together.

Continuing on into the Colchester section we were thinking how much nicer it was than the public road we had come in on when a kamikaze warthog leaped across the road practically in front of my wheels and a little further on a black bushbuck darted across. Fortunately neither was injured.

bush buk

The landscape is fantastic, sweeping hills, large termite mounds, prickly pears and in the distance the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere.

view

On exiting the Colchester gate I reflected on our visit to Addo – it had been enthralling, slightly scary at times and certainly worth the drive there. As the price for a night at a private game park is way too expensive for us we went to Addo and we don’t regret it for a moment – and should you find yourself in the Eastern Cape, South Africa – nor will you.

The Garden Route

Probably the most famous drive in South Africa, and certainly the Cape, the Garden Route offers beautiful stretches of coastline, lakes, mountains and giant trees. The route is sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains and the Indian Ocean and although extremely busy in the peak summer season, is a lovely region to visit in the autumn when the weather is still warm enough for outdoors activities, especially hiking.

George to Knysna
We joined the route at George (see Road Trip: Route 62) and made our way through the traffic to connect with the N2 from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. After the tranquillity of the Klein Karoo, it was a bit of a shock to hit commuter traffic once again. Driving through the Kaaiman’s River Pass along the N2 to Wilderness and seeing the string of lakes I was already regretting my decision not to stay in this lovely area as it looked fantastic and an obvious spot for bird watching. Anyway, another excuse to return to South Africa. Sedgefield is the next village en route and another lovely place among the lakes and sand dunes. This whole area is quite sensational.

Leisure Isle

Knysna
We arrived in Knysna at around 5:30 p.m. staying on the Leisure Isle on the edge of the lagoon with views to the Knysna Heads. OK, so maybe this wasn’t a bad decision after all!

If you have read my previous postings about this trip, (Cape Town Revisited and Route 62), you will have realised that I am no stranger to these parts of South Africa. Though saying that, I have also only ever stopped overnight once along the Garden Route and that was in Plettenberg Bay.

I travelled along this route many times during the 1970s and 1980s on account of us living on the Western Cape Peninsula and my in-laws in the Eastern Cape. Except for a coffee and a brief stretch of the legs Knysna has always been a town that we passed through, but I have always wanted to see more of this region hence the reason to stop here on this visit.

Salvia leucantha

A town that has always attracted artists and hippies as well as bird watchers (Knysna Loerie, Woodpeckers etc) Knysna has been a popular tourist spot and has grown quite a lot since the 1980s with the addition of a new waterfront complex. I was determined on this visit to actually have a chance to look around the town, and I wasn’t disappointed. After settling into our lovely B&B on the edge of the lagoon we walked to the centre of the Leisure Isle to a restaurant called “The Tides” which had an extraordinary chef. Dinner was calamari, prawns and our first Dom Pedro! We were hooked. Forget Irish coffees from now on we wanted Dom Pedros (preferably the Amarula variety), which are basically grown-up milk shakes. Seriously you have to try one. Knysna lagoon tide outWalking back from the restaurant we were struck by the fact that it was the first time on our holiday that we felt safe out walking at night, (this may have had something to do with the security guard at the entrance onto the island). It is not generally a good idea to walk anywhere in South Africa and especially not at night. The fantastically clear sky with millions of stars above us was stunning. A perfect end to a perfect day.

One other thing to add about South Africa is the load shedding, which means that on certain days and at specific times, there is no electricity. I can’t say that it affected us in any major way, but you have to get used to the idea that there may not be electricity when you want a shower, but hey, showering by candlelight is fun! Sometimes you may not get a cooked breakfast, and sometimes you will find traffic cops directing traffic through towns as the robots (traffic lights) aren’t operating, but on the whole it just adds to the fact that you are somewhere different. I am not sure how I’d feel if I was trying to run a business though!

A Lazy Day Around Knysna
After the effort of driving all day yesterday from Cape Town to Knysna, around 500 km, we decided to take it easy today. It started out fairly cloudy with a little bit of blue sky which disappeared over a perfect breakfast. We first took a stroll around Leisure Isle to walk off the impressive breakfast and also to see if we could spot any birds. scarlet-chested-sunbirdWe did manage to snap a couple including this lovely tiny Scarlet-chested sunbird right in the garden where we were staying. We then drove into the town and to the Waterfront. We first went to the station to see if we could get tickets for the Outeniqua Choo Tjooe, the steam train that runs between George and Knysna, but unfortunately all we could tell was that it didn’t appear to have been running for a while as there were no signs of a timetable or any notice saying when the next train would be and no-one in the ticket office.

We spotted a meter lady (lots of car parks in South Africa employ parking officers who take a fee for parking as there are no self-service machines) and asked her if she knew what was happening with the train; she told us that it had stopped running because of the flood. [1] Another reason to come back – I have always wanted to do this train journey as the rails cross over the lagoon, pretty spectacular!

The Oystercatcher

We went for a stroll around the Waterfront instead, which has the usual souvenir shops and restaurants (but much, much smaller than the one at Cape Town) and by this time the sun had broken through the cloud and it was pretty hot.

[1] (We later discovered that it was not running due to heavy flooding which had happened seven months ago!) knysna marinaAfter taking some photos of the lagoon, a very noisy duck, a heron and the Waterfront, we drove to Brenton-on-Sea, a place I had never heard about, but never visited and I’m not sure I want to share it with you either! It is such a lovely place. To get there you go back along the N2 towards George, but immediately after the White Bridge turn off and go under the N2. brenton beachBrenton has such a fantastic sandy beach with rock pools and unusual sandstone rock formations  at one end (similar to Kenton-on-Sea, which is a lovely resort between the cities of Port Elizabeth and East London). You can walk along this beach to Buffalo Bay – which is a popular spot for surfers; it is around 7km return.

Since we were still feeling tired from yesterday’s driving we decided not to do the walk, but still ended up wandering leisurely along the beach for an hour or so and saw several oyster-catchers on the shoreline. Glimpsed lovely views over the lagoon on the way back to Knysna. african black oystercatcher (Food note: On the Brenton road look out for Pembrey, a lovely country restaurant) lagoon to the headsWe returned to the lodge and whilst my husband had a rest, I went wandering in the lagoon which was now a sandy beach as the tide was out. This spot is fantastic for families and young children as it is so safe and the water is shallow and warm. I did get a bit wet when I waded through to the shoreline and hit a shelf: the water went from ankle to thigh deep!

We returned to the Waterfront for dinner at “The Dry Dock“. Food was OK, slightly “Nouvelle cuisine” so small portions, which was fine by us. I had a Wanton Vegetable Melangee to start with followed by Linefish, Aubergine, Avocado and Grapefruit, and my husband had mussels and calamari followed by Linefish with Prawns. We should really have had oysters as Knysna is famous for them, but unless they are cooked we actually don’t like them. Finished with Dom Pedro Amarula again – I told you, they can become addictive and I don’t even like ice cream! sunset-over-KnysnaOh, and did I mention the incredible sunset? The whole lagoon turned orange – beautiful! I just had to leave my meal to dash to the balcony edge and capture this scene.

We finished the day sitting outside our room in the warmth of the evening listening to the sound of cicadas and the gentle lapping of the waves in the lagoon – so peaceful, I could get used to this.