South Africa is officially cold! Beautiful, friendly, easy to travel around but cold! We are heading into winter and the temperatures morning and evening can be anywhere from 6 to 16 degrees and generally damp. We recently had two days of 31 degree heat but apart from that it doesn´t get any warmer than late teens. When you have no ´indoors´ and no central heating, believe me, you get cold!
But we have no complaints, we are back on the open road, we are travelling through the country finally working our way around all the places we had planned to visit. Fresh air and life has been breathed into our days. And as for our nights, we have been spending them under an endless sea of stars.
We set off from the farm on Tuesday afternoon with only 3.5 weeks left on our South Africa visas to see everything we wanted to see in this lovely country. We drove a couple of hours down the road – back to where we had left off in our borrowed Hilux two weeks ago – and camped at one end of the Tradouw pass ready to start treading new ground the next day.
The campsite was pretty but its main attraction was that it was somewhere different – and we were finally back with Henry and all his comforts.
As I woke up early the next morning and saw the view out of my window I smiled and wrapped myself more tightly in the bedding not sure why I would ever want to be anywhere else!
But there is always too much world to explore so we were up early and driving the sweeping Tradouw Pass over the mountains. It was tarmac, as so many are these days in South Africa, and the weather was a little gloomy, but the views of the dam and the mountains were still lovely.
The next pass, the Seven Weeks Pass, was much more our thing.
We actually went up it then straight back down again stopping only for an impromtu trail-side lunch.
We´d done a lot of driving by this point and the nearest town was Calitzdorp – known as the Port capital! Those of you that know us well will understand that the rest of the day was going to be a write-off…
We did port tastings at three of the top vineyards and came away with six bottles! Where we thought we were going to put them all is anyone´s guess. The lovely lady at De Kraans visibly winced when we suggested packing the vintage ports we´d just bought into the rooftop box!
We needed to find somewhere to camp for the night so headed up a remote mountain pass recommended by friends. We found a beautiful, isolated, windswept campsite with only one other couple staying so the four of us huddled inside Henry sipping wine, putting the world to rights and sheltering from the rain.
The worst of the weather passed overnight but when we woke there still wasn´t much of the world to see!
We were pretty sure there were gorgeous views out there, but who knows! We were on the Swartberg Pass by this time which soared through the mountains with twists, turns and steep drops at every step.
After about half an hour we turned a corner and, as if by magic, the world suddenly appeared before our eyes. And it was worth the wait!
We were heading towards the Cango Caves. Evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. James loves caves and I am strangely drawn to them and to the history but as a terminal claustrophobe I don´t get to go in many. From other posts you will have noticed I´d been doing quite well up to now but these caves were a different matter – entirely underground and apparently so extensive it would take 45 years to explore them all! So it was with some trepidation that I headed down, holding tightly onto James´ hand.
But it was worth the effort in spades!
They were absolutely stunning, I have never seen such incredible beauty underground.
At first the caverns were huge, the walkways clear and wide and everything was well lit. So I was relatively relaxed – my exit may not have been visible but it wasn´t hard to find. I could enjoy the amazing shapes and patterns carved by nature in awe.
But as we were taken deeper into the caves things got smaller, lower, darker and my mental route back to the exit less clear.
We´d been down there for 45 minutes when I finally threw the towel in, squeezed James´ hand a bit too tightly and declared defeat – I needed taking back out, quickly. I was, however, very proud of myself when the guide declared it was the end of the tour anyway and we were all heading back out. I´d done it! A whole cave tour! Even James looked proud of me….
We had a quick, celebratory pizza in Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich capital of the world. The town is known for its feather palaces built in the 18th/19th century for ostrich feather merchants and we drove around the streets spotting them – playing feather-palace bingo! They are all either private houses or businesses so we couldn´t go in and we finally gave up on our game and headed out of town towards Mossel Bay. On the way out we saw acre after acre after acre of ostriches grazing on huge farms. I´ve never seen so many ostriches in one place! Somehow seeing these creatures in a national park is going to feel a little less exciting from now on!!
We arrived at Mossel Bay late afternoon and were immediately surprised and disappointed to find it´s a large and industrial town – not at all what we had expected around here. We tried three very grim campsites before finally opting for the least-bad. It could have been worse, we were on the sea with lovely views, but if I posted a photo looking backwards it would kind of spoil the atmosphere!
Mossel Bay is famous for being the ´Cradle of Human Kind´. The importance of the Pinnacle Point Caves was discovered in 1999 when a standard archeological survey carried out prior to building a golf course and up-market housing estate discovered evidence of modern human behaviour significantly earlier than had previously been believed.
Despite being somewhat caved-out from the day before, we headed off next morning for a guided tour by a real-life archeologist. These caves were a different matter altogether – more about views and crashing waves than being stuck in the dark underground!
We clambered down 175 steps to sea level and climbed in to the largest cave to see 70,000 years of human tools, bones and art.
When we made it back up we decided to pretend we were normal people for a couple of hours and sat in the rather posh golf club restaurant having the most delicious breakfast. We talked about what our lives could have been like if we´d carried on working, building the businesses and earning lots of money for many more years. We could have eaten in posh restaurants, stayed in smart hotels, been on luxury holidays and lived in an expensive house. Yeah, we could, we decided, but we´d rather be happy!!
Getting back to real life as quickly as we could, we headed for a small detour to drive the Outeniqua Pass. Another fast, tarmac road where we felt like we were flying through the sky on the top of the mountains. But still just a road, alongside HGVs and commuters. So rather than head back the same way we cut across to the Montagu Pass which we´d seen winding its way through the other side of the moutains.
We hit the jackpot, it was a dirt road, windy and remote.
We found an old viaduct where Henry showed he hadn´t quite got the hang of hide-and-seek!
We were heading for the town of George. For some reason I had been very curious about it since I started planning our South African journey. It was just a big town, clean, quite quiet. The Dolphin viewpoint fell flat in the drizzly weather and we were both tired so we decide to camp up early. We found the Victoria Bay campsite just outside town and were grateful for yet another gorgeous night under the stars, with the sounds of the sea crashing against the waves and not another soul around to disturb us.
We were doing well on our itinerary, life was fun, everything we planned to do we had enjoyed. Life was good.
We headed towards the nearby town of Wilderness intending to join the Touw River cruise at 11am. It was in the national park so we had to fill in forms and pay entrance fees but to our frustration we found the cruise went at 10:30am so having gone through all that we´d missed it! Fortunately there were other cruises running later in the day so we headed back to George and the Transport Museum whilst we waited. The town was in the middle of load-shedding so the museum was in darkness – it didn´t matter too much to us but they felt so bad about it they let us in for free!
It was fascinating, especially if you like all things travel-related! Taking us back in time to an era where things were done rather more luxuriously – we peered in to the carriages to see dining cars, lounge areas and sleepers.
We didn´t realise it at the time but we were to become quite familiar with George over the next few days, but more of that later! For now we headed back to the national park, checked in to the beautiful river-side campsite and waited for our river cruise to start. The setting couldn´t have been better.
And the cruise itself was breath-taking.
It was just the two of us, our hugely knowledgable guide Mike (who knew a lot about Landrover garages by complete and happy coincidence) and a lot of birds…
It was a chilly but crystal clear day – perfect weather for sailing.
And my zoom lens was kept busy with the locals!
We were so relaxed, everything seemed right with the world. We even spotted a woodpecker sitting on the deck on the river side.
Alongside numerous other birds of all descriptions.
Including one I even knew the name of – the lovely Egyptian Goose.
As we disembarked we surprised another local busy having her dinner…..
Before heading back to our campsite, still in the national park, for a much-needed dinner and bed under a blanket of stars.
We needed a good night´s sleep – little did we know but Henry was about to throw a huge spanner in the works of our idyllic travels. The next week was going to be rather less restful and a lot more frustrating than we might have hoped!