Soaking up the Scenery on the Garden Route

We bought a fridge! That may not sound like the most exciting – or appropriate – thing for two nomadic travellers to do, however the lack of a camping fridge in the Hilux we were fitting out was the only thing standing between us and the open road. We had spent days trying to find a second hand one with no joy so in the end bought our hosts a new one and paid the difference – well worth it to finally get moving again.

After exactly three weeks going stir crazy on the farm campsite we finally left to start our Garden Route itinerary on Tuesday 26th April. We had a good, robust vehicle, nearly new roof tent, brand new camping fridge and James had checked out and serviced the car so was happy it was in good shape. Henry was likely to arrive in Cape Town sometime around 6th May, just under 2 weeks away. Life was looking up and we were excited – the open road was calling!

We headed back towards Hout Bay through the gorgeous roads and beautiful scenery. This route is all about the views!

Hout Bay is lovely but the main attraction is the ferry to Duiker Island, home of the largest Cape fur seal colony.

There were a lot of them!

And the pups were adorable playing around in the sea.

We drove Chapman´s Peak Pass again to make the most of our time here

And ended up in a rustic campsite in the hills full of farm animals. Including nine peacocks just wandering about doing their thing!

The next morning we headed straight down south to Cape Point Nature Reserve and the Cape of Good Hope.

It was a beautiful day.

We had lunch by one of the many remote, wild bays and were joined by a curious ostrich.

The people next to us were having a Braai with a rack of ribs nearly cooked and smelling delicious. Next thing we know they´re yelling and running around with tasers. We looked over in surprise to see a large, male baboon sitting grinning with sauce all over his mouth and what looked like a rack of knawed bones in his hands! The baboon was happy, the people went hungry….

We took the furnicular to the Cape lighthouse and watched the waves crashing up against the formidable rocks that have been the cause of countless shipwrecks over the years. I tried not to think about Henry sailing towards this very point…

The nature reserve provided endless breathtaking views.

Especially as the sun started to sink.

After a full day we headed to Simon´s Town on False Bay for a surprisingly tasty Korean take-out and a night spent camping at Froggy Point camp site. It was a pretty place right on the coast but that night the wind screamed through threatening to rip the roof tent off its frame and take us with it! The sides of the tent were battered all night and not much sleep was had.

Undeterred, the next morning we were up early and raring to go. Today was penguin day! Simon´s Town is famous for its penguin colony at Boulders Beach, however the penguins themselves are not aware that that´s where they´re supposed to stay so there are numerous warnings to drivers and pedestrians alike to keep watch.

What is it about penguins that is both so cute and so sad at the same time??

We started at Seaforth Beach where any penguins you come across are likely to be more friendly and free to come as close to you as they choose. That day there was only one but he was enjoying frolicking by the rocks.

We scrambled along the rocky outcrop towards Boulders Bay coming across a few little cuties making their nests or just ambling about.

When we finally reached Boulder´s Beach itself we found it was a formal nature reserve, with very high entrance price.

But once in it was worth it to see these strange and wonderful little guys waddling, swimming, nesting and snuggling.

The life of a pengiun seems unnecessarily hard and the odds are stacked against them from start to finish. I couldn´t help admiring these creatures who are the ones who have beaten the odds and made it. Who knows what goes on in those little heads?!

From Boulders Bay we drove round the coastline of False Bay heading east. We took a detour up Boyles´ Drive to see lovely views across the town and the bay but the entire route was just endlessly stunning with remote, windswept beaches, craggy, wild shorelines and few people.

By early evening we had reached the other side of False Bay and – guess what – another penguin colony! This one at Stoney Point and more natural and secluded than Boulders Beach.

It cost a fraction of the price to get in, was quiet, far less windy and bleak and had just as many, if not more penguins.

Ok, I can take a lot of photos of penguins! It´s taken me two days to go through them all and choose so few! I´ll leave you with this heart-rending image of a small creature wandering off course, I just hope he made it back…

Alongside the penguins here we also found some endearing Rock Hyraxes – apparently the only animals that can look straight into the sun.

They seemed happy, I´m sure those are grins on their faces! But surely they´re just big hamsters??

We spent a relaxing night in a luxurious campsite in Betty´s Bay – the local wildlife seemed equally chilled out.

We then drove to Hermanus, but outside of whale season it´s a pretty ordinary town with not much to do so we headed out to the Fernkloof Nature Reserve where I was treated to an unusually willing James suggesting a short hike through the mountain. It was steep, narrow and raining. We were chilly and wet but very happy by the time we came back down. Sadly the mist that engulfed us whilst we were up there meant no photos, not even of the smallest waterfall in the world!

We pressed on to Gansbaai and the Klipgat caves. Home to some of the earliest humans and set in yet another wild and remote bay.

This would be the first of three caves James has got me into on this trip!

We spent a long time sitting on a bench at the top of the cliffs just marvelling at the beauty of it all and watching the waves crashing against the rocks.

So far our trip had been pretty idyllic but things were about to go downhill a little. We were waiting at the caves for our shipping agent, and owner of the Hilux, to arrive and swap cars with us. He had got someone who wanted to hire ours for 8 months so was going to take it away and leave us with a different one which had just been returned. So we were about to part with the very nice Hilux which James had serviced, the nearly new roof tent and our brand new fridge. We weren´t sure what we were going to get in return but weren´t too worried – what could go wrong??

Whilst waiting we were surrounded by local song birds and I whiled away the time practicing on them with my camera.

Then the car arrived. Hmmm…not quite as polished as the one we were giving up. No storage drawers, just four boxes strapped down in the back with rusty ratchett straps. Battered old fridge that smelt awful and had a charging cable that fell apart whenever you moved it. Inside was tattered and worn and the engine had done nearly half a million kilometers and drove like that might be an underestimate! Our agent confessed to not having had time to check the roof tent in his hurry to bring it to us. We were not hopeful….

Nevertheless, we were grateful for having any steed at all so we quickly swapped all our stuff (plus the nice, new kitchen equipment we had procured for the other Hilux – we figured we could at least keep hold of that!) and headed off to our campsite for the night.

This place was on the coast with apparently lovely views over the ocean. It was also right next to the old commercial port and was a municipal campsite so frills were not on the menu. Neither, it seemed, was security! One of the other campers came up to kindly warn us there had been a spate of thefts so to be extra vigilent. James was very concerned about how exposed the site was to anyone and everyone who might want to wander through. And the connector that should have allowed us to plug the fridge in to their power overnight (no leisure battery in our new vehicle so no fridge once the engine was switched off unless we could power it somewhere else) wasn´t compatible.

So with our food going off in the fridge, all our belongings locked up tight in our battered old Hilux and fingers and thumbs sore from trying to pull out the old boxes to get at our stuff, we tentatively decided now was a good time to try the tent.

I wished we hadn´t! I think it was made sometime just before they built the ark. It wasn´t waterproof. It was moudly. The zips didn´t work so the insects could have a field day with us. And the ladder was a little precarious.

It creaked as we climbed in and the mattress sank to the wooden floor as I sat on it.

So after James had escorted me the toilets and guarded the door to make sure I was safe whilst I washed up, we crawled into our palace and tried to sleep – somewhat deflated and wondering whether we could make it through the whole 9 nights before returning to the farm…..

The next morning we were both tired and pretty glum. What with needing to do some month-end admin and sort a few things out, we didn´t leave the uncomfortable campsite until nearly midday which didn´t even leave much time to do anything exciting to cheer ourselves up.

We headed to Cape Agulhas – the most southerly point of the entire African continent.

It was pretty but busy and we found it fell a bit flat. Maybe not the fault of the place itself?

The big deal about this point on the coast is that it is where the cold Atlantic Ocean on the west coast meets the warm Indian Ocean on the east coast. So as we continued our trip eastwards we might hope the weather would warm up, particularly the nights, and particularly with our new roof tent!

We went into the town and had a lovely late lunch, cheering ourselves up a little, before heading off to Arniston – a pretty little village named after one of the worst of the many, many shipwrecks around these parts. 344 people perished, only six survived.

But the village is now famous for its ancient KhoiSan fishing traps and caves.

We followed our directions to the caves crossing some pictureque sand dunes and along the endlessly beautiful coast. It was getting towards dusk when we parked up close to where we thought the caves were.

But there were no caves to be seen. We clambered down the rocks but just found crashing waves before it dawned on us it was high tide – so everything was under water.

Having had a relatively glum day we decided to throw the towel in and head for the nearest campsite where we could try and reboot ready for low tide early the following morning.

I can´t say that night was any better than the last but we were at least getting used to our new living conditions! And a much more salubrous and welcoming campsite helped enormously. So we were up early the next day and driving back to the sand dunes in the hope of finding what we had come for.

And find it we did!

Strange how different things look at low tide, with some warm sun and a more positive outlook! James had now got me into two caves within a week – and this one had such a low entrance we both bumped our heads on the way out so I was feeling quite proud of myself.

With the tide so low, we were able to amble around the rock pools and scramble across the rocks finding all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

Our mojos were still not fully restored however and the next few sites on our itinerary were challenging us to work out what to do. All the towns we were due to drive to (or through) seemed to offer little other than whale watching (and we were firmly out of whale season), wine tasting (and we were driving) or just beautiful views. We were in Napier by this point and one of the top attractions seemed to be the Napier Farm Stall. So that´s where we headed for an early lunch and a rethink.

The Farm Stall was wonderful. We spent 2 hours there eating everything off the menu and buying everything else they sold from crusty bread to cheese straws to chocolate brownies. The diets were on hold for the next few days!

We didn´t want to stray too far from Napier as there was a shipwreck museum in the next town which sounded fascinating but wasn´t open at the week-end. Being Sunday we figured we´d take it easy this afternoon and head back to the museum the next day. So off we headed down long, dirt roads to a campsite we´d found in the middle of nowhere.

Anything in the middle of nowhere, down dirt roads, with no internet coverage, is great when we´re in Henry – comfortable, reliable, fully stocked with food, water, fuel, spare parts and tools. But we were definitely not in Henry. James didn´t trust our new Hilux and was on edge as soon as we started heading away from tarmac roads and towns. He obviously has a sixth sense! Miles from anywhere he tried to change gear when there was a clunk and the clutch pedal dropped to the floor. We´d lost all the gears, we were going no further.

James jumped out and popped the bonnet. My eyes were drawn to the clutch pedal when I noticed a large bolt lying in the driver´s footwell. I held it up – ´could this be the problem?´ James took it off me and rolled his eyes. It was the bolt holding the clutch assembly to the bulk head – or at least it had been!

Now was the perfect time to discover one further downside to our new Hilux….no toolkit! The lovely new toolkit we´d bought for the other Hilux was still in the other Hilux!

So James spent over an hour lying in the most uncomfortable position you can imagine trying to screw the bolt back in to the bulk head from the footwell with his fingers – whilst trying to support himself in a remarkably proficient yoga position somewhat like the crab!

I won´t repeat the words that came floating up to me as I held the door open for him. Some people´s names were mud…I tried to keep as quiet and as far out of the way as I could so that mine wasn´t one of them! But eventually Super James won the day and the bolt was at least half way back on, enough to get us off the dirt road and heading towards the campsite as carefully as we could.

Fortunately the campsite was gorgeous with pristine shower blocks and very friendly owners. So friendly, in fact, that they drove James up to their farmhouse and lent him some tools to fix the clutch pedal properly.

But tempers were distinctly frayed, our moods were low and we went to bed early unsure whether we would be continuing with our journey or calling it quits whilst the Hilux was still in one piece! Henry had never felt so appreciated nor so far away….

The next day turned out to be a public holiday so our shipwreck museum was still closed. We drove to Robertson. Most of it was closed. We went to a supermarket, ate a nice lunch on the side of the R62 (the official road of the Wine Route) and contemplated our journey. It was gorgeous scenery but what were we supposed to do with it?? Unless we wanted to drink lots of wine there seemed very little else. We headed to a campsite, it was closed. We headed to a second campsite – closed. We finally found a third campsite where the elderly owner was puttling about on his tractor and seemed delighted to have us stay.

It was a great find and refreshed our spirits.

We started trying to put a plan together. The shipwreck museum would have to wait as we were now too far away to backtrack. The famous Montagu Tractor ride only ran on a Wednesday and tomorrow was Tuesday. The pretty vineyard with cottages available at reasonable prices was full tomorrow night but we could stay the next night. We seemed to be aimlessly driving around not sure what to do, killing time, the days were going by with nothing being achieved.

The sun set that evening over a glum Jennifer and James. But the stars were amazing and whilst we didn´t know it then this was the low point – things were about to get a lot better!

We woke the next morning to the news that Henry´s ship had finally left Durban after sitting there for over a week. Next stop Cape Town. Suddenly everything started to feel a bit more postive.

Our campsite host came up to visit as we were having breakfast. We have been chatting to locals a lot in South Africa trying to understand the dichotomy that is South Africa and he was one of the most interesting. We spent an hour or more learning about the ups and downs, challenges and beauties of life in this country. One of the major ups is the wine and he gave us his top six wineries to visit in the area and a route through to reach each one.

A plan instantly formed out of the mirkiness of the last few days. We would do a tour of the wineries today, sipping a few tastings but mainly just soaking up the atmosphere. Tonight would be a campsite. Tomorrow would be the tractor ride then that night at the cottage in the vineyard where we could put our feet up and survey the rolling mountains and vineyards that make this place so special.

That day was a good day!

We managed four wineries, each as beautiful as the other. The sun was out, the wine was good and everyone was friendly – giving their time freely to tell us about their winery and their wine. We were given extra helpings, special tastings and wonderful food.

James fell in love with the first place, an old Victorian building with rooms carved out of stone alcoves. He took lots of photos so he can recreate it in our forever home!

We did a fascinating cellar tour where we tasted the wine straight out of the barrels at different points in their fermentation.

And we decided that a bottle of South Africa sparkling wine will be the perfect way to celebrate Henry´s return.

Things carried on their upward trend as we pulled into our campsite for the night. Very friendly hosts who couldn´t do enough for us. Completely isolated with skies as big as they come full of the most stunning stars imaginable.

We had the place to ourselves so we lit the Braai and sat up late watching the fire.

And a short walk to the small dam the next morning was well worth the effort. The whole place was pristine.

But for all the fun of visiting wineries, the Montagu tractor ride that next day was a unique experience that exceeded our expectations. It has become something of a legend in this area. The owners of the Protea Farm started driving tourists up their mountain in a tractor decades ago and it is now one of the must-dos and not just for visitors, we spoke to plenty of locals who go every year.

Even the resident dog has his own seat!

It´s the scenery that makes the trip as special as it is.

With far reaching views across the valley.

We were treated to a siting of a pair of duikers frolicking.

And everywhere you looked the wildlife was bursting out of the charcoaled remains of a forest fire a few years ago.

When we had chugged our way to the top of the mountain we had the most spectacular view across the Breede River Valley. In the hikers hut we had apricots, plums and apples and befriended a Cape Townian couple who are as obssessed with the UK as we are with Africa!

One final breath-taking image of the valley greeted us as we headed back down

And then it was a long afternoon spent over lunch – deep fried doughnuts, home made bread with three different jams, 5 different potjeikos, honeyed parsnips, chocolate brownie with ice cream…the diets are definitely going to wait!

From there we waddled back to the car and on to our cottage at the Bushmanspad vineyard estate. We had definitely lucked out – it was gorgeous.

So gorgeous in fact that we decided to stay two nights.

We had a proper bed! We could charge all our gadgets. We had breakfast and lunch on the terrace and a warm fire in the evening.

And we did very little else! It was bliss!

But bliss is one thing. We are still a member of the Sidetracked team short. What about Henry?? We left him a few days earlier just departing Durban on the MCS Chloe. As always, every website we were using to track him said something different.

Since then he had been chugging his way slower than expected from Durban towards Cape Town.

He was still on track to arrive on 6th May but only just, he was starting to fall behind.

But suddenly, when we woke after our first night in the cottage, he seemed very, very close.

In fact, he was now closer to Cape Town than we were!

Our day of restful bliss was spent pressing refresh on the tracking app!

As he edged closer and closer our hearts started racing. Could this be the end of the shipping saga at last?

He stayed just outside Cape Town for hours and hours in the afternoon, not anchored just stopped. We knew ships can wait days to berth but the Transnet port web-site said it expected the MSC Chloe to berth at 2am the following morning.

I woke early only to find the web-site was, as usual, wrong! But the ship was underway – going in the wrong direction away from the port but at least going somewhere. As I anxiously watched over breakfast – and whilst we packed up the Hilux to head off – the ship slowly turned in a large circle and was finally heading directly towards the port.

We set off from the cottage, this time heading back west towards Cape Town and, hopefully, Henry. On the way we returned to the Napier Farm Stall for another lovely lunch. As we sat down we logged onto the wifi and checked up on Henry. My heart lurched.

The MSC Chloe, some 37 days after leaving Antwerp and 3.5 months after leaving Henry in Abidjan, had finally moored at Cape Town.

James and I stared at each other for a moment, not quite sure whether now was the right moment to leap off our chairs and scream. Instead we shook hands and smiled.

Our baby was back in the same country as us and his long, long sea voyage had come to an end. But we knew there was still a way to go yet, with nearly 2,000 containers to offload in a port notorious for high winds, old cranes and unreliable equipment we have to keep our excitement in check for a few more days before we can finally be reunited…..

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