When I started chatting travel and general nonsense to three Dutch girls in Khayelitsha, I never expected they would adopt me for an adventure road-trip on their last weekend in the country.
Even as I studiously concentrated on the guide book to South Africa, I struggled to get my head around the mammoth journey we were about to embark on; our first sleep was supposed to be Jeffrey’s Bay (JBay) = 765km away.
Following the picturesque N2 road from Khayelitsha we passed through the almost non existent Swellendam, avoided Mossel Bay with its reputation of being rather ugly and headed onwards for what seemed like forever in the cooking-pot car showing 35•C.
In our haste to reach JBay, our day was being melted away inside the vehicle as opposed to being out discovering idyllic beaches, jumping in the pounding white surf and chilling in a retro café in town. JBay is a surfers paradise; there is little point going unless you are planning on surfing, like watching it or have a few days to spend talking it, drinking it and learning it … we had none of the above and time was not on our side. We ended up falling short of our intended destination by some 200km, so by 6pm we began telephoning hostels in the surrounding areas … in the height of South Africa’s summer holiday season. Imagine heading to the beach on a bank holiday weekend …
Plettenberg Bay is one of the Garden Route’s major destinations. Backed by majestic mountains, it overlooks miles of sandy beaches and the moody tidal Keurbooms lagoon whose crystal waters say “snap” back at the sky. Our guide book warned us not to “judge a hostel by its looks” but we were just grateful to the four travellers who had cancelled their booking allowing us to seek refuge at such short notice.
With a patio overlooking the entire stretch of beach – all the way to St Francis Bay on a clear day, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to view the sunrise over the ocean at 05:10 the next morning, even after a deafening night of brain bashing, nightmare inducing dance music from the club opposite.
The hippy-esq market is small yet quaint, selling every type of souvenir or tasty morsel you might desire -perfectly representing the trendy and popular town.
Stopping at Knysna and taking a stroll in and around the Quays of Thesen’s Island, we really should have tickled our taste buds with the ocean-fresh Knysna oysters, however it was just long enough to break up our comparatively short journey through to Wilderness.
Set in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness NP has birds, snakes, deer and other wildlife a plenty … as our trundle down the decked Pied Kingfisher Route to a waterfall proved; one Mole Snake, a little grey snake and a spiders nest the size of my head was enough to keep us on our toes.
An evening of indulging in the delights of lasagne and chocolate waffles at the Friday night market was in order before sleeping it off amongst the ants, dragonflies and mosquitoes which were quite apt for staying in ‘the wilderness’.
All too quickly it was over and we were starting our 485km journey back to the township taking a minor detour to the Cango Wildlife Park – a glorified zoo where you get to pay lots to stroke a cheetah, hold a snake, have pictures with a tiger and generally support the unnecessary caging of animals which don’t even belong in this country … needless to say I would suggest bypassing this and visiting Cango Caves instead!
What little we saw of the Garden Route acted as a wonderful break for me, but its towns and parks have been massively developed – not always for the best, and so I would agree with Lonely Planet when it states “so if you leave South Africa without having seen the Garden Route it isn’t a disaster. If you leave having only seen the Garden Route, it might be.”
• Be reasonable in your assumption with how far you can travel in one day
• Do not skimp on time in unusual places – this is not traveling, this is just ticking towns/countries off a list
• Check out whether it is the holiday season and how far in advance you may have to book
• If in doubt, stop and investigate – take a wander, say yes to the locals, live a little and make it an adventure
The Garden Route starts from Mossel Bay and continues for 200km on to Storms River Mouth. Plenty of accommodation on all levels throughout.
We stumbled upon this place when we took a wrong turn on a walk back from the funky shops on Kloof Street and ended up walking down Bree Street. A poster said there was jazz at 11 Breee Street that night so later we walked back and went up the long stairs. At the top we paid about £7 and entered a room that was decked out with a stage, fairy lights, candles and plastic chairs and tables dotted around. A small hatch in the side was the bar and we settled down for the show to start not knowing what to expect. What we got was Mike Rossi, one of the most amazing jazz saxophinists I've ever seen. The music was amazing and his sets were interspersed with Xhosa indigenous music from local musicians. Despite the horrific house wine (which was a surprise in South Africa) the evening was very special and rich. Highly, highly recommended
This small gem of a beach is much loved by locals, both human and penguin. Situated within a sanctuary for 3000 African Jackass penguins, the crescent of white sand is backed by dense vegetation in which the penguins nest. The sheltered bay is surrounded by huge boulders on which children love to climb and leap into the sea. Penguin couples waddle down the beach to cool off in the water and seem happy to swim among excited children, posing for photographs or playing Pied Piper as they lead curious kids into the rock crevices to explore. A fantastic family day out is on offer including a visit to the penguin breeding sanctuary or a delicious lunch at the restaurant adjacent to the free parking area where local traders sell African artifacts. An entrance fee to the beach is charged (about 50p) which helps fund the penguin conservation.
Boulders Beach, about 45 minutes drive from Cape Town, close to Simonstown.
Google map: bit.ly/ubjLTM
Boulders is home to the adorable yet bizarre African 'Jackass' penguin. Just a walk down the road from Simonstown, near Cape Town, Boulders is wonderful for picnicing, surfing and building sandcastles. I first visited this bay when I was about eight years old with my family and some friends. It was nice to be so at-one with nature, yet still have a family holiday. The boulders the beach is named after are also great fun for climbing and jumping off into the warm ocean. The only thing I would be wary of is checking around your car before you leave, just incase one of the penguins has fallen asleep in the shade!
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