We drove out of Knysna full of anticipation and excitement for the resuming of our journey east.
We had spent our entire time in South Africa so far in the westernised, developed Western Cape – there is so much more of the country to experience and we were keen to get on with it.
As we drove out of town the river estuary and bay looked as gorgeous as ever.
We were heading for Plettenberg Bay, further east along the Garden Route. It was raining a little with a mist overhead but we decided to brave a hike in the beautiful Robberg Nature Reserve. It´s set on a peninsula jutting out into the ocean and the main attraction are the sharks that circle in search of seals for dinner.
We chose the medium-length hike, just under 6km, and getting out on our own two legs was a highlight of the Garden Route – despite seeing no sharks!
The beach was gorgeous…
Especially when the weather started to cheer up and a rainbow came out to greet us.
My portrait of James was high enough up on the dunes that he is immortalised forever!
Tired but happy after slogging up and down sand dunes, we headed for the Thyme and Again farm stall, which came highly recommended, for a lovely lunch and far too many cakes – three of which came home with me in my pockets much to the amusement of James and our waiter!
We had been invited to meet up with a friend we made a few weeks ago at the Cape Town farm. He is travelling southern Africa on a CRF motorbike and had found a ´magical oasis´ called Wild Spirit. We arrived mid-afternoon to find a back-packers lodge with campsite, bar, restaurant, free wifi and a fire for the evenings. Everyone was incredibly friendly, most living the bohemian lifestyle and worrying about nothing.
We settled in straight away and wasted no time in signing up for the evening curry, downing a couple of bottles of wine and linking into the wifi to get on with some serious blog posting!
The campsite was deep in a forest, which I struggled to navigate around and kept getting lost, the facilities consisted of composting toilets and cold, outdoor showers…but the views were amazing.
It was whilst we were here that we visited the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre which is the subject of our second Interlude on the blog. Coming away from there was a wrench but we had a consolation waiting for us back at the lodge.
There were six in actual fact, all keen for cuddles, but Aswan was definitely my favourite.
It was also whilst we were here that James managed to get his fourth international speeding ticket! So he can now claim the dubious honour of being a wanted criminal in Botswana (twice!), Senegal and South Africa.
Driving at night is never a good idea in Africa but the drive back from Tenikwa was short and lovely.
We had planned to stay only one night at Wild Spirit but ended up staying two, we couldn´t drag ourselves away! Most of the residents found it difficult to leave and kept returning – it was easy to see why.
But we had places to go and eventually had to say our goodbyes. We went to the Lookout Deck in Plettenberg Bay for a surprisingly good lunch of hake and prawns with a view.
But then found that the nearest campsite was still in fact our Wild Spirit Lodge! We couldn´t bring ourselves to check in and out three times so stayed in a much less ´spritual´ place but which actually had showers and flushing toilets. I can´t say I was too sorry about our decision but it definitely lacked atmosphere after the buzz of the lodge.
The next day we headed off to the Bramon Wine Estate for tapas and wine tasting. Another wonderful setting.
With a very flexible toilet policy….
We followed up the wine tasting with gin tasting and the tapas didn´t hang around too long!
The last stop on the Garden Route is officially Storms River Mouth with the world´s highest bungee jump off a bridge, a long suspension bridge, national park and canopy tour. I had expected our Garden Route tour to end with a bang and was looking forward to it. But when we woke up that morning it was raining. Hard.
Everything we had planned to do was weather-dependent and we were a bit down-hearted as we peered out of the windows wondering whether it would ever stop. No, was the answer.
We did manage to see the local Big Tree which was impressive but we got very cold and wet walking to it through the dense forest from the car park.
So in the end we gave it all up as a bad job and headed for a cheese farm. Well, when everything else is a disappointment cheese will never let you down!
This cheese farm offered set lunches of, well, cheese! I was excited, James was resigned! Initially we headed uncertainly down the very long, wet, dirt road, seemingly into the middle of nowhere, where Google and Maps.me both said it was and when we eventually found it, it looked distinctly closed. Deciding it was just not our day we drove away but as we retraced our steps back up the dirt road we passed first one car coming in the other direction, then another then three altogether. We hailed one of them and wound down our window – getting extremely wet in the process – to be told that the farm restaurant was in fact open and they had reservations. So we turned around and headed back.
I was very pleased we did! Lunch started with cheesey bread rolls, followed by mozzarella with rocket, a big salad with pears and pine nuts then a magnificent cheese board. All freshly made at the farm that day and served with the scrummiest warm, crunchy bread. Yum!
I have to admit to feeling rather sick by the end of it – especially after insisting on having the pancakes for desert. Who knew there was such a thing as too much cheese??
Apparently James did….
By this time is was mid-afternoon and over the last few days we had started to become all too aware that our 3 month South African visas were seriously running out. I had cut swathes of things from our original itinerary but we were still a few days short. So we were keen to make the most of having been rained off in Storms River and catch up on some time by getting to Addo Elephant Park that evening.
It was nearly 3 hours away, we had about the same amount of daylight left and 10 minutes out of Storms River we would be leaving the relative safety of the Western Cape and entering the far more wild and lawless Eastern Cape!
We decided to get a wiggle on and get going.
We took all the advice we had been given by the locals before we set off. We took my gym kit bag off the rear ladder and tied it down inside. We wrapped the spare wheel bag up in our Packsafe lock so it couldn´t be pulled off without serious effort. We deadlocked the three rear doors and engaged the central locking once we were inside so the two front doors couldn´t be easily opened either.
As we crossed the border into the Eastern Cape province things felt different. The roads were pot-holed. The infrastructure was less obvious. The people less well dressed. We didn´t feel quite as safe.
We approached Addo Elephant park at around 5pm. We were held up for 15 minutes at very long road works where the traffic through was one-way at a time and as we sat there we felt very uncomfortable. Dusk was settling in, there were few people around and we felt like a sitting target. But nothing happened, the guys eventually turned the sign round to Go and we carried on, more than a little relieved.
Our problem now was that we had not booked anything at Addo Elephant Park, the gate closed in half an hour and if there was no space we couldn´t immediately identify any other campsite close by. In our rush to make up time we had taken a bit of a risk.
We drove into the park with half an hour to spare and a very friendly receptionist beamed at me as he handed me our receipt for two nights stay in the campsite and a two day pass to enter the national park. It was with more than a little relief that we pitched up that evening!
I have decided that the major National Parks we visit create so many photos and are so special that they should each have their own dedicated post – as Tenikwa did. So we´ll leave you sitting at the waterhole that evening at Addo, spotting shining eyes in the bushes, a toad and a domestic cat! Fortunately things would get rather more exciting the following day….