Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa re-visited

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South Africa re-visited

 

Well it’s almost a year since we were in South Africa, so I am finally getting around to finishing my blog on our visit, before we head off on my 60th birthday trip. More on that later

After leaving Swellendam we headed for our next stop, Cape Town, with a stop on route in Stellenbosch. A very pretty town not only famous for its wine but also its Ostrich farms. After a stroll around the town and some lunch, it was time to move on to Cape Town.

As we approached Cape Town things got busier as you would expect, the wide open spaces that we were used to in the east became less and less also things got somewhat bizarre. You see some friends of ours who have been to South Africa a few times told us a story about when they stopped at some traffic lights, they saw a woman in the middle of the road trying to sell a wardrobe of all things. Just the sort of thing that you need whilst out for a quite drive. Well it appears that the entrepreneurship of the South Africans doesn’t just stop at furniture. We stopped at some traffic lights (probably the same ones) and saw a guy waving the biggest fish you can imagine, around trying to sell it to passing motorists. Quite how many days he had been waving around in the South African sunshine I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. Before we checked into our guest house, we decided to stop off and have a look around the V&A waterfront area of Cape Town. The V&A consists of many chain type restaurants and high end shops, all very nice but a bit too commercial and polished for my liking, but worth a visit all the same.

On our first full day in Cape Town we visited Table Mountain. We had pre booked our tickets back in the UK having read about the vast numbers of people visiting, as you can imagine, as Table Mountain along with Robben Island are Cape Town’s biggest tourist draws. On reflection we needn’t have bothered as the queue for the cable cars for people with pre booked tickets was just as long as the queue for people without, Oh well we tried. Our next stop and in my opinion a must see is the District 6 museum. District 6 was an area of Cape Town which was a thriving township community, consisting of blacks, coloureds, “South African’s term for mixed race” and Malay people. The district was demolished because the white South Africans decided they wanted the area for themselves to build nice big fancy buildings and high end houses. The entrance to the museum (which incidentally is housed in an old church, the only building left standing from the district) is free to enter, but once inside I would wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with one of the guides. The guides are all former residents of District 6. Our guide Ruth who was brought up in the district was so informative, and her story was so moving, she was in tears telling us, even though she must have told it a thousand times, very moving indeed. I cannot get my head around how one person can treat another so badly just because of the colour of their skin. We ended our day with a good few cold beers in a bar/restaurant called “Bombay Bicycle Club”.

Our next day in Cape Town was a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the best part of his 30 year sentence. Robben Island is definitely one I would recommend booking in advance. If you are staying in Cape Town for a few days I would recommend making your booking to the island early on during your stay, because if the ferries to island are cancelled due to bad weather you can use your pre-booked ticket for another day.

A must visit if you are in Cape Town for a few days is Boulder Beach, which if famous for its population of penguins, it was just amazing to see them in there natural habitat. Could have watched them for hours going about their daily business.

Now the 26th of March is my birthday, so we asked the owner of the accommodation that we were staying at Acorn House which incidentally I would thoroughly recommend. If she could recommend a nice restaurant for the occasion. She told us about a high end restaurant called La Mouette, at Sea point which a short drive from Cape Town. She said she would try to book a table, but could not promise as it gets booked well in advance, but luckily for us we managed get a table. We decided to go for the six course taster menu, which also comes with a glass a wine with each course. The food and the wine was amazing. If this restaurant was in London the cost of the meal would be astronomical, I’m sure well out of our price range, but the meal was just £60 for the both of us

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Plettenburg & Swellendam

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Plettenburg & Swellendam

After Addo elephant park it was time to move on to Plettenburg, which was about a four and half hour drive away. Some friends of ours recommend we stop off at Storm River as we were told it is worth seeing, so we gave it a look. I have to say it wasn’t as amazing as described. Firstly far too many people than we had been used to, quite the tourist trap in fact, and in my opinion have seen better in my native country of England, like the Jurassic coast of Devon and Cornwall, but at least I can tick it off the list. Arrived at our home for the next three days “Southern Cross Guest House“. Another really nice colonial property, situated on a hill, with a boardwalk right down to the beach. Plettenburg is a nice little town with plenty of shops and restaurants, and some stunning properties to boot, also the prices are so much cheaper than the UK.

The next day we decided to visit Monkey Land, not a very inspiring name, sounds almost like a theme park, but well worth the visit. It’s situated around 10 to 15km away from Plettenburg, and is a centre for the care and rehabilitation of a wide variety of monkey species. They have been rescued from laboratories, people that have kept them as pets also ones that have been injured in the bush. The guided tour lasts around one hour and is very informative indeed. Also watching the monkeys playing around and getting up to there antics is very amusing indeed.

Next we drove to Knysna which is about the same distance from Plettenburg but in the opposite direction. Another place where the guide-book recommends. It is situated on a large lagoon which is very nice, but with rows and rows of identical houses built on a man-made island, all a bit like the film the Truman Show. So you can tell we was not very impressed.

Our final day in Plettenburg was spent visiting Robberg Nature Reserve. Now I have to say it’s well worth the visit. Be warned though the map that they give you at the entrance only vaguely resembles the route you will take. There is no warning that the route can be quite treacherous in parts and very steep. So good walking shoes are a must and take plenty of water. We only did the short route which is around a 8km circuit which takes you to a place called the gap. Which consist of a very large sand dune leading to a wonderful beach. Word of warning, the return route is somewhat difficult to pick up and there are no real signs denoting where to go. All we knew that with the aid of the poor official map was follow the water’s edge to the rocks and you will then see the hundreds of footprints left by previous walkers. The return leg of the walk is a lot shorter but more difficult as you have to transverse along the water’s edge, with signs warning of high winds and freak waves. “No mention of that at the entrance” you can choose to take the longer walk to the end of the peninsula  which is  around 14km, but apparently this involves walking along a narrow ledge with just a rope to hang onto. but all that said it was well worth it.

Our next stop was the town of Swellendam, just overnight to break up the journey to Cape Town. You have a choice of two routes from Plettenburg to Cape Town, either the N2 which takes in the garden route. Or the R62 which goes through the Karoo, a very dry flat plain which receives little rain. Many years ago is was a very dry arid desert. Seems very strange as its surrounded by rolling mountains and green hills. The route then takes you through the amazing Tradouw pass, a very winding and picturesque road indeed.

Swellendam is a very nice little town with quaint shops and a few restaurants. From the guide-book there appears to be a few high-end restaurants dotted around, especially good if you are a foodie. Many were closed though as it was a bank holiday, but we found a nice one open called Vagabond serving good food at very reasonable prices, would highly recommend. Next stop Cape Town.

Camp Figtree & Addo National Elephant Sanctuary 

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Camp Figtree & Addo National Elephant Sanctuary 

The flight to Port Elizabeth was a nice short hop, it took around 1hr 30 mins. It was quite strange to be on such a small plane only 56 seats. Luggage collected, rental car picked up and we were on our way. The journey took around one and three quarter hours to Camp Figtree as there was a fair few km off road (getting quite the expert at off road driving). Camp Figtree is high in the hills about some 10km from the park entrance  and is just an amazing place. We had booked a game drive the next day into the park. We were picked up by our ranger Saul who was a very nice chap indeed. It was great as there was just four of us in a nine seater jeep so we had great views and plenty of space. Addo is the third largest game park in South Africa and covers an area of some 445,000 acres.It was started in 1931 with just 11 elephants. Now it boasts some 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra. Top Tip, you can opt to drive through the park in your own vehicle, maps are supplied at the entrance, or you take a guided safari like we did. Which I would recommend  as the Rangers really know there stuff, not only about the wild life but the plants, birds and the Eco system of the park itself and most importantly know where to look for the wildlife, which after all that’s why you are there. It wasn’t long before we saw quite a large group of Wart Hogs, cute little things especially the baby’s. Felt quite guilty really, as earlier on in our trip I had a Wart Hog steak, it was tasty though. Next it was male Kudu. A very impressive creature, much larger than the female and with huge horns. We then saw a lion although it was away in the distance and only discernable with the the aid of my zoom lens. Quite how Saul our ranger spotted it just with his own eyes I will never know. Next up was what we were in the park to see, a large group of elephants at the water hole, I roughly counted around forty just amazing. Then Saul pointed out in the distance a long line of elephants, male, female and baby’s making there way to the water hole. We waited and watched, and slowly they came towards us, crossed the road and walked right past our jeep, so close you could touch them. Mission complete. A truly amazing day.

I would like to give a special mention to Mike, Camp Figtree’s General Manager. A really interesting guy from Zimbabwe. He is very passionate about conservation, he also told me he had set up various community projects in his native Zimbabwe to promote conservation of the native wildlife. Alongside running Camp Figtree he has his own company conducting game drives. A very informative and interesting man. So if you are visiting Addo give his company a look, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. ElephantDawnSafaris

Durban

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Durban

Well that’s the first leg of our African adventure over, we have travelled approx 3000km so far. We have one night in Durban before we catch our flight to Port Elizabeth. We arrived in Durban around lunch time. The journey which was around 228km and took around 2:45 minutes. We decided to stop for some lunch. On the R617 on the Midlands Meander Route, by chance we stumbled across the Pickle Pot Cafe, glad we did amazing little place a real gem, good food nice owners, worth a stop. As we entered Durban it was immediately apparent how lovely the place is, a very modern cosmopolitan city indeed. We had only booked one night in Durban as our connecting flight to Port Elizabeth was the next day. Straight away we knew that we should have booked longer, as the place had a good feel it. As Durban boasts large Indian population our guide book recommended a well rated Indian restaurant called Mali’s which was very handy indeed as it was in the same street as our B&B, Goble Palms Resort, which incidentally I would also recommend staying as is a very beautiful old colonial house. Back to the meal, I can honestly say it was one of the best Indian meals I have had. Starters, main dishes and bread for two and a bottle of wine all for around £30.

Sani Pass. Weather stops play.

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Sani Pass. Weather stops play.

Arrived at our next stop, Sani Valley Nature Lodges. When we arrived the weather was a little cloudy, but not to bad contrary to the weather forecast. Our lodge was situated on the edge of a large lake with the Sani valley mountain range in the background, just perfect. Prior to arrival we had booked a tour the following day to take us to the top of the Sani Pass by 4×4. Now Sani Pass is the highest point in South Africa and is on the border of South Africa and Lesoto, also perched right on the top is supposedly the worlds highest pub so we were really looking forward to our trip. During the night the rain lashed down, with tremendous thunder and lightning, making us a little concerned for our trip the following day. This is not the first time we have experienced weather like this on our trip, but normally the next day the weather is bright and clear, but on this occasion it wasn’t to be. We awoke to thick fog, so bad in fact we could not see across the lake, or any of the mountain range. So we made the decision to cancel our trip up the pass. It was a difficult decision as we had been told that if the weather is bad at the bottom it could be glorious at the top. As it turned out we learned later in the day that some people that did go up could not see a thing at all. Good decision. Oh well maybe next time. So we spent our day visiting the little towns of Himeville and Underburg. Would recommend a nice little Coffee shop called the Lemon Tree, give it a look. Also by chance by reading a local paper we discovered a great little family run cheesery. The owner was very nice man indeed, he explained how he had completely changed his tact in life from a stock broker to setting up from scratch and now running his own successful cheese business. So after sampling most of is cheeses we had to buy some

The next morning was a different story indeed, bright sunshine, blue skies and amazing views over the lake and of the mountains. It was made extra special as right outside of the lodge was a herd of Zebras, just so close. One even came right up to the window and peered in, amazing. So our trip to Sani Pass wasn’t wasted after all.