• A little weekend away.
I think this could accurately be described as practice for the Mongolia rally … a road trip along the Garden Route in a hire car for 3 days, 2 nights and with 3 Dutch girls.
We left Khayelitsha at 10am on a Thursday morning and followed the picturesque N2 route through Swellendam, passed Mossel Bay and onwards for what seemed like forever in 35deg + temperatures …
I was starting to get the impression we were doing a tour of petrol stations along the way … after the fourth one it was suggested maybe we stop at a town; but to no avail! Destination: Jeffrey's Bay. In case you don't know, Jeffrey's Bay is a surfers paradise .. i.e. if you don't surf there is no point going there … unless you are planning on surfing or maybe just like watching it or talking it or drinking it or something. We were not surfers. But it was the furthest point along the Garden Route and some journey-goers wanted to visit.
It was also suggested that we may not actually make it that far in one day. This suggestion proved to be correct. We ended up reaching Nature's Valley at 6pm and had to start telephoning hostels in the area to try and get somewhere else booked. To put you in the picture of how busy this area is at this time of year – imagine a bank holiday and going to the seaside! The summer holidays have just started and everyone who is anyone heads to the garden route and the beaches to get away – from all over South Africa! We eventually found a hostel who had just had a cancellation – conveniently a room with 4 beds in!
Plettenberg Bay is one of the Garden Route's major destinations. Backed by majestic mountains, it overlooks miles of sandy beaches and the moody tidal Keurbooms lagoon whose crystal waters say “snap” back at the sky. Our guide book warned us that we shouldn't “judge a hostel by its looks” so we were a little suspect of what we might find. In fact, it was so unhostel-like that we drove passed it twice and walked passed it too before asking directions. Plett backbackers is RIGHT next to a petrol station and is the blandest grey building I have ever seen with the smallest “Backpackers” sign on the side. Once inside 'Tony' showed us the reason this hostel is one of the most sort after in Plettenberg: it has a patio overlooking the entire stretch of beach and you can see all the way around the headland – to St Francis Bay on a clear day. It was instantly decided we would try and get up for the sunrise in the morning … time would tell.
After that 8 hour drive we were definitely in need of some food and celebratory beer and the surf cafe would be perfect. Our Spanish waitress was unfortunate enough to be given our table to look after as we were not only indecisive but also had lots of questions followed by amendments of our food orders. It was later explained that she (the waitress) had only been there a couple of weeks and her main purpose was to learn English as it wasn't too good …feeling sufficiently guilty for confusing her we just ate what came!
Bed time arrived and, being exhausted from the drive, we hit the sack around 10.30pm only to find that the town actually comes alive at around 11.00pm and continues through the night until 3 or sometimes 5 am. Oh joys. Well, we just had to incorporate the dance music into our dreams!
The 5am wake up call came and 2 out of the 4 of us rose to our feet and sleepily navigated our way through the hostel to the patio for our first class seats watching the sunrise. Absolutely stunning and well worth it … especially as we could just go back to bed now for a couple of hours.
In the (proper) morning we went to the supermarket to get supplies and sat once again on the (should-be) prize winning patio taking in the sights and sounds before another painfully long drive to Wilderness. It actually wasn't as far as we thought it might be and stopping at Knysna on the way gave a welcome break.
Knysna sprawls around a stunning tidal lagoon whose entrance is guarded by two rocky cliffs called The Heads. Within the lagoon are 19 tiny islands all linked via a bridge system making it feel like a giant floating reed island or something! Our stop here was brief but pleasant. Onwards to Wilderness and the picture of the longest most beautiful beach I had read about so far. Set in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness National Park is full of over 250 species of birds and many snakes, deer and other wildlife are a plenty. Hmm, speaking of snakes, on our little wander to the Waterfall following the 'Pied Kingfisher Route' a little grey snake was nearly stood on before it slid away and then a MUCH larger black snake with yellow front was disturbed from its afternoon basking. This must have been about 6ft long and it moved rather fast out of our way and up a tree. PHEW! Just as we thought the animal situation couldn't get worse we saw a spiders nest the size of both my fists together … apparently the spider itself is about the size of my palm … and there are thousands in the nest …
Two hours later we reached the waterfall which was quite nice; the brown but clear water wasn't all that attractive for me to jump in but some did. We had rather a rapid descent from here though as by now it was 5pm and not only did we want to be back before dark but we were told there was an evening market in town and that is started at 6pm!
We made it back and we made it to the market where there was live music, jewellery & craft stands and most importantly; food! Once our tummies were stocked up again we could enjoy the rest of the evening; later rewarding ourselves with a MASSIVE strawberry-and-cream-topped-waffle! Yuuummmy!
Our backpackers was literally in the wilderness; ants, dragon flies, spiders and worst of all; mosquitoes. The necessary precautions were taken and after dowsing ourselves in stinky insect repellent we slept fitfully until about 8am.
Next destination; back to Khayelitsha! I couldn't believe how far we had travelled and how far we still had to travel back. All for two nights; it did seem a little insane. Oudtshoorn was to be the next stop. A crazy 1 1/2hour drive to go to Cango Wildlife Park. A glorified zoo where you get to pay lots to stroke a cheetah, hold a snake, pet an elephant, have pictures with a tiger and generally support the unnecessary caging of animals which don't even belong is this country. Needless to say I didn't go in and do not regret it! I would have rather gone to Cango Caves which are one of the highlights of South Africa but apparently we didn't have time for both. Anyway, moving swiftly on, it was now 2pm and I had to be back in Khayelitsha before dark (as it is unsafe to drive in them at night especially as white tourists). With only two very brief petrol station breaks we made it back at 7.30pm before the sunset at 8.15pm. Perfect timing.
I think this is one of the longest journeys I have driven in just three days … but my question to you is … how many kilometres do you think we covered?