24.06.2017 - 03.07.2017 17 °C
After leaving Witsieshoek we drove to the beautiful little village of Clarens. We travelled along the Maloti Route, which skirts the Northern Drakensberg near the Lesotho border. On the way, we passed through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park at dusk. By chance, it happened to be an incredible time of day to drive through the amazing landscape. The last of the light from the setting sun brought out the beautiful yellow/orange colour of the sandstone cliffs, before silhouetting the outlines of the jagged hills as we drove westwards. The next morning, we enjoyed wandering around Clarens, where every other building seems to house an art gallery. There must be plenty of local artists inspired by the surrounding mountain landscape! We then drove back to the Golden Gate Highlands, where we hiked the Wodehouse Trail, which goes up to the highest points of the park with impressive views over the sandstone rock and Drakensberg Mountains in the distance. We normally set a fast pace when we are out walking, so we got a bit of a shock when a guy came and overtook us who looked dressed for a walk in the city! It turned out he was an Italian guy visiting South Africa on a work trip, which explained his limited selection of clothes. We managed to keep up with him and chat as much as possible in the high-altitude air, as well as helping each other out with navigation.
We continued on the Maloti Route to the town of Ladybrand, where we stayed in a beautiful old sandstone house. Here we were well looked after by the owner of the guesthouse, who was one of the most hospitable people we have met. We are lucky to have stayed with some very kind and generous people during our four months of travelling so far, but Kaye from “17 on Beeton” really was exceptional. She cooked us both steaks about the size of our heads, as well as giving us a lovely bottle of South African brut, all on the house! We now had a lot of driving ahead of us before we reached Port Elizabeth down on the coast. We decided to break up the journey by staying a night in the little village of Steynsburg, which looks like it hasn’t changed since the seventies or eighties! We stayed in a homestay with a very eccentric and humorous owner named Dennis. It appeared that Dennis, who is a very talkative guy, just wanted people to chat to during his retirement, having previously worked all around the world in the hotel and catering business. We still have no idea why he chose to live in Steynsburg, but now he is planning to leave and having a bit of a battle on his hands to sell the property, which has been on the market for around five years!
From Steynsburg we drove through the semi-arid desert of the Karoo, which accounts for a huge proportion of the South African landmass. Eventually we reached the pretty little town of Graaff-Reinet, which has lots of old-style Dutch houses. We broke up the journey by walking around the town, before driving up the hill in nearby Camdeboo National Park, which provides a view of the eerie “Valley of Desolation.” This is a view for many miles where there is next to no evidence of humanity, just miles and miles of scrubland. It was odd to see, as we have visited so many famous viewpoints of spectacular scenes elsewhere in South Africa, whereas here was famous for having a view of nothing in particular!
After a night in Port Elizabeth we started on the famous Garden Route. We got a bit of a shock as we headed west along the coast, with our little car getting pummelled by strong winds and heavy rain coming in off the sea. Our first stop on the Garden Route was at Storm’s River, which was an apt name given the inclement weather conditions! We walked along the rocky coastline, which was getting a battering from some impressively big waves. With the wind, rain and cooler temperature it felt a lot more like home than anywhere else we had visited in South Africa! We stayed in Storms River Village in a beautiful spot called ‘Armagh Country Lodge’, where we were really kindly given our biggest upgrade of the trip, from the most basic room to the fanciest suite in the whole lodge! We’re not sure if the upgrade had anything to do with the fact that the owner is originally from Armagh (hence the name!) but it was a very nice surprise after a day of windy coastal walking. After a restful night and cooked breakfast, we were well prepared for our morning activity - bungy jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, the highest bridge bungy jump in the world!
Having already signed up and paid two days before, Charlotte had found plenty of time to worry about all the possible dangers of jumping from a bridge 216m above the ground! Obviously, the guys in charge sensed Charlotte’s apprehension, as they lined her up to jump first. The walk out to the middle of the bridge was scary in itself, with a view through the grated metal floor, all the way down to the ground far below. Before long, Charlotte had her ankles tied up and attached to the stretchy rope which would be the only thing stopping her from falling to her certain death. Charlotte had just enough time to become thoroughly terrified, before being ushered to the ledge by two of the guys who supervise the operation. After a little coaxing and persuasion, all that was needed was a little nudge to send Charlotte tumbling over the edge like a sack of spuds!
Once Charlotte had successfully tested the equipment, I felt confident to give it a go myself. It was definitely the scariest thing I have ever done, with the land and sky turning into a green and blue blur, while it felt like I had left my stomach behind on the bridge somewhere! Even the bit at the end, once the rope had stopped bouncing up and down, was terrifying, as I dangled around 70m above the valley floor. I had the scary sensation that the strapping around my ankles was loosening, so I couldn’t wait to get lifted back up to the bridge before I had to test out the safety harness around my shoulders! Still buzzing from our jump, we let off a bit of steam by spending the afternoon walking at Nature’s Valley, which is much more tranquil and sheltered than Storm’s River.
We spent a night at Plettenberg Bay, a very affluent place which feels much more like somewhere in Europe than in Africa. We enjoyed walking along Robberg Beach before travelling along the coast to Knysna. We were worried that Knysna would be a smouldering ruin, following the devastating forest fires which razed over 5000 houses to the ground just a couple of weeks before. Thankfully it is still a lovely town, although the surrounding forests which it was renowned for have all been destroyed. Maybe all the rain back home isn’t such a bad thing when at least we don’t have to worry about such horrific forest fires. After floods in New Zealand, a cyclone in Australia, terrorism in the Philippines and a small earthquake in Japan, we have certainly had our experience of natural and human made disasters on this trip!
We participated in Knysna parkrun, making South Africa the fourth country in which we have run the timed 5km. With times of 19:44 and 23:30, thankfully our fitness hasn’t plummeted too substantially during our big adventure! After watching the second test in the Lions series in New Zealand, we continued our journey along the Garden Route to Mossel Bay, where we enjoyed some more coastal walking along the St Blaize trail. We spent a night inland at the lovely little town of Swellendam, from which we drove many miles over unpaved roads to reach De Hoop Nature Reserve, back on the coast. Here we walked along the whale trail, which was an amazing walk along sand dunes and beautiful beaches. When we spotted several whales out at sea, splashing the water with their fins, it really was the icing on the cake!
Golden Gate Highlands
A familiar sight on South African roads. Why not save the money of putting up the sign by spending it on repairing the potholes instead!
The Valley of Desolation near Graaff-Reinet
Getting ready to bungy
St Blaize trail, Mossel Bay
Hard to believe it is midwinter in South Africa!
Whale watching at De Hoop Nature Reserve