Sitting on a sand dune one morning this past weekend, we found ourselves watching curious crocodiles poke their heads above a river channel in search of breakfast, while sharks thrashed about in the nearby surf, as hippos lurked around in the reeds no more than a hundred meters away. It turns out that this is a corner of the country where you want to keep a careful eye on your toddlers.
Our route planning has needed to be somewhat fluid recently; firstly avoiding international border crossings, then malaria areas, and most recently the path of cyclone Eloise (which thankfully missed us by some margin). The latest re-routing ultimately delivered us to St Lucia and on this occasion route flexibility turned out to be rather serendipitous.
St Lucia sits to the south of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and in addition to being an overwhelmingly pleasant place to unwind, there is also an awful lot to keep the carefree visitor busy. Not many places we know of can provide a morning at a beach quite like Cape Vidal, followed by a lunchtime game drive through the grasslands of the park, and capped off with sundowners while hippos graze on the back lawn.
Our time in St Lucia was bookended with rainfall of an almost biblical proportion which if nothing else, made us quite pleased that circumstance had dictated that we hadn’t spent this leg of the journey under canvas.
At the start of this journey, any casual observer could easily have spotted that we were not exactly travelling light. Indeed, rolling out of Cape Town we would have struggled to find room for an extra Swiss army knife. As a result, opening the vehicle doors at any new destination we often resembled some sort of spring-loaded travelling jumble sale.
And so, while visiting family over Christmas we took the opportunity to lighten our load for the onward journey. We are now a considerably leaner outfit and after some truly ruthless decision taking, we have departed with the absolute bare minimum of only eight face creams. That’s right; now we are really roughing it in Africa. In some ways it’s a bit of a shame, as the last two months of practice manoeuvring items into footwells and strapping whatever remained on the outside, now seems like a waste of time.
After a slightly longer than planned stopover for the festive season – on account of some pesky virus you may have heard of – we are pleased to be back on the road and heading north. Our first stop being the famous Zulu battlefields of Natal.
We have spent a fascinating couple of days being educated on the Anglo-Zulu battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Although described as the greatest defeat in British colonial history, it does seem that these battles – which took place on the same day in January 1879 – didn’t appear to work out particularly well for either side; with both ultimately retreating and carrying massive loss of life. By all accounts the Brits seemed to have quite significantly underestimated their enemy here and this error in judgement gave way to the legend of the Zulu Warrior. Our stay with Nicky and the team of excellent guides has certainly given us plenty to ponder during the kilometers ahead of us into Zululand.
Finally in mobility news; since our last post Harriet has graduated to swimming without the need for armbands, which gave us one less thing to worry about. Though Juniper is now walking, which has given us one additional thing to worry about.
Impressive places to visit are abundant along the Wild Coast, but most of them do seem to make you work quite hard to get there.
We had recieved a few friendly warnings about the road leading to the Haven Hotel, but were reassured that it was really only troublesome if particularly wet. So after three days of rain (and a final nervous morning phone call from the hotel staff), we approached this leg not exactly brimming with confidence. Leaving our comfort zone several kilometers further up the track, we slipped and slided towards our destination with clenched jaws and expletives aplenty. Pleased to have made it down in one piece, we settled the nerves with a few rapid refreshments at the welcoming bar.
The Haven is a well-established Wild Coast destination and has been the choice for many generations of South African families. With the isolation, beautiful beaches and absence of phone reception, it’s very difficult to suggest an appropriate alternative. Our outbound journey was dry and subsequently a cakewalk in comparison.
The couple of nights spent in Port St Johns can be best described as dreadful, and served only to give us a compelling reason to venture into Pondoland. And yes, we had never heard of Pondoland either.
Pondoland stretches over 120 kilometers of the eastern coast of South Africa and is jam-packed with some quite astonishing landscapes. Our first stop was the idylic Msikaba Camp, and the approach from the main road made it clear that our experience getting to the Haven was very much par for the course around these parts. We lost ourselves for only a few nights here, but could happily lose a few months. If rugged coastlines, waterfalls and sunsets float your boat, then happy sailing.
Our final nights in the Eastern Cape were spent at the unique creation of Mark and Lynette’s Protea Ridge. Mark has enjoyed a career as a props guy in the movie industry and as a result, it’s safe to say that there is nowhere in the world quite like Protea Ridge. If you’re looking for that perfect blend of eccentricity and outrageous hospitality, then this is the place for you. What a pleasant and unplanned surprise.
We crossed over the Mtamvuna river to leave the Eastern Cape behind, and while the smooth tarmac of KZN provided a welcome respite, we were certainly sorry to say goodbye to what has provided the most interesting days of our trip so far. We barely scratched the surface of this region, but the scratches we did manage have already prompted our plans for a return. What a superb corner of this country.
Last week began in the picturesque surrounds of Kingsvale Farm close to Bedford in the Eastern Cape, and in the hospitable arms of Ken and Simone. Ken had recently left behind the big city and the rock ‘n’ roll life of an environmental consultant in order to take the reins of this farm, which his ancestors first established in 1855. As he proudly showed us around the impressive backdrop to his new career choice, it was difficult to question Ken’s decision. The girls revelled in the freedom of farm life; seeing goats being sheared, lambs being nursed, swimming in reservoirs, and generally burning themselves out every day.
Leaving our gracious hosts behind we headed to the ominously named Wildcoast. Having not planned our arrival into Morgan Bay particularly well, the brewing storm was about to make us pay. On what was somewhat of a gusty evening, we emerged from the regular bathtime routine carrying three towel-clad and shivering cherubs, just in time to watch a couple of splintered fiberglass poles rip through our tent canvas.
As the situation unravelled in front of us, we very quickly adopted the calm composure of a man who had just been set on fire. After a civilised and constructive discussion about our life choices, we hastily found the most sheltered position available to us and set up tent number two, which itself was a bit of a challenge. The pleasing consolation to all this being that the youngsters found the whole thing to be most entertaining and rather enjoyable.
One night in and one tent down; welcome to the Wildcoast, rookies.
Those of you unfamiliar with South Africa may not appreciate some of the questionable actions from the ranks of Government over the past decade. Take for example the good folks running Eskom, who, as the State’s electricity public utility have not exactly showered themselves in glory during the past few years and as a result, the country still endures periodic blackouts. For some, this particular State owned enterprise has come to represent the ills of leadership in this country. You can imagine our surprise then, to have spent the past month hopping between the State-funded and world class South African National Parks (SAN Parks).
These places are excellent. And not just in the context of this country, but in the context of any other corner of the word we have sampled. What’s more, given that the jewel in the SAN Parks crown still awaits, we are feeling pretty buoyed by the Wild Card pass we purchased before leaving Cape Town, which gives us entry into all these highly underrated parks.
We took a week in Storms River Mouth, which provided a quite breathtaking setting in which to pitch a tent. A fortnight previously, an affable and well travelled chap by the name of Roy spoke highly of Storms River, but did suggest that as a priority we find good shelter from the wind. In hindsight, we didn’t really pay enough attention to Roy and having now comprehensively tested our kit, it’s fair to say that the weather at this time of year is not for wimps. However, the rain, wind and relentless crashing ocean combined to create some sort of extreme ambient white noise, which seemed to send everyone into a solid nights sleep. Which was a pleasant surprise.
The Otter Trail begins at Storms River and although circumstance at this time in our lives has not allowed us to indulge in a hike along this world famous stretch of coastline, we did manage a quick jog on Day 1 of the five-day trail, and by all observations the hype is thoroughly warranted.
According to the purists out there, the Garden Route ends at the suspension bridge over Storms River, and so we left one of the country’s best-exported draw cards behind and headed further into the pleasing contrast of the Eastern Cape. Our first stop was Addo Elephant Park and this place doesn’t pull any punches; it’s a massive area full of elephants. Like those before it, this SAN Park was near flawless, and the kids were quite taken aback by the close encounters with wildlife. All combined to deliver a very memorable couple of days.
In a nutshell, we have struggled to find fault in these superb places which seem to showcase the very best of this country. Perhaps the thoroughly good team in charge of SAN Parks could have a crack at the Eskom portfolio for a while. Just to get the lights back on.
Our time in South Africa over the past few years has been largely spent expecting a new baby or nursing a new baby. As a result, we never really ventured with much gusto beyond weekend trips from Cape Town. As we plotted our route for this journey though, the voices championing a stop at Wilderness were plentiful. So we decided to stop.
We departed Prince Albert – a town to be remembered for some very colourful characters – via a thoroughly enjoyable drive over Swartberg Pass. Pitching camp on a rainy Sunday afternoon on the edge of Wilderness National Park did not thankfully set the tone for the week. There is a lot on offer in this corner of the world and while we have sampled a good slice of the family friendly hikes, enchanting forests and impressive beaches, we have left much to return for.
In wildlife news, aside from an impressive flyby from Egyptian Geese while canoeing on the Touws River, notable bird sightings include the Narina Trogon and Knysna Loeries; the latter of which was even confidently spotted by one of the youngest in our ranks.
It’s pleasing to report that our camp logistics are slowly improving. This week for example, we introduced a discreet potty station towards the rear of the camp. The intention being to reduce night runs to the loo and more crucially, to prevent our living quarters becoming an unregulated latrine. We had great success on this front and encouragingly it has been used almost exclusively only by the children. Almost. It did though result in the occasional awkward encounter when exchanging morning pleasantries with a perfect stranger, while both parties politely ignore the plastic pot brimming with a cocktail of hydration.
Currently in The Crags above Plettenberg Bay and judging by the fine seafood lunches on offer, this place is about to give our budgeted per diem a bit of a seeing to.
In those peaceful years of marriage before deciding to start a family we would often observe those distressed looking parents attempting to negotiate a gaggle of toddlers at an airport, or a restaurant, or a beach, or wherever. What idiots, we would smugly think to ourselves; what are they doing?
And it was this superior wisdom that we applied when deciding to once again throw most of our belongings into storage and take our three young daughters on a camping trip around South Africa for the next few months.
Previous followers of this blog may recall that we rolled into Cape Town Waterfront a little over five years ago on a couple of well-used bicycles. These next few months are intended to provide another slight detour for us, and so we thought it might warrant reigniting this account. The next chapter though, is likely to deliver somewhat contrasting content from our first installment. Indeed, if it is tales of cross-continental cycle exploits that you’re after, then this is no longer the place for you. If however, you’re keen to know the results of a pressure test between a volatile two-year-old and an overpacked family car, then stay tuned.
To ease ourselves into this, we couldn’t have selected a more appropriate first stop. Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is held in high regard by the family circles of Cape Town and for immediately apparent reasons – it’s a magnificent spot. However, given that two from our party of five had never spent a night under canvas our first evening was approached with a healthy dose of trepidation, as this was going to provide the litmus test for our next few months.
It was moderately worrying then, when we all emerged at daybreak and the regular morning offer of ‘tea or coffee Dear?’, prompted a request to make this morning’s coffee Irish. In our almost ten years of union, never had such a request been made. More worryingly though, this was 7:30am of the first morning; we haven’t packed nearly enough whisky for all this. Reassuringly, the next few nights passed without incident and the single malt remains in stock.
After passing through the implausibly big and quite breathtaking Karoo, we are resupplying – while being hammered by some unrelenting wind – in the very pleasant town of Prince Albert, before heading south.
Two months after finishing in Cape Town, although our own productivity levels have tapered off somewhat, a few journalists have taken some interest in our trip and written their own accounts of our journey.