Driving the Garden Route – from shining sea to shining sea

It’s that quintissential South African holiday – the one everyone wants to do, on everyone’s bucket list. Not just us expats but tourists too, judging by the number of coachs and British pensioners we met along the way. But there is a reason for it being so popular and hopefully this photo-blog can convey some of that reason. For this is one of the more beautiful parts of the country with sea on one side, mountain on the other. And along the way beaches and baboons, wineries and waves. Welcome to the Garden Route.

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Our first stop was Jeffrey’s Bay after flying in to Port Elizabeth and picking up a car. Jeffrey’s Bay is best known as a top surfing destination. I would love to have spent more time there and watched the surfing – it certainly looked pretty spectacular. As it was we were there for an afternoon and enjoyed the beach as well as relaxing in our hotel with our wonderful friends we travelled with – a Swedish family who also live in Pretoria.

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The next morning we headed westwards towards Kynsna, stopping on the way at Storms River Mouth were we hiked up to the bridges spanning the inlet. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a walk – which we made sure was child-friendly (eg not too long). On the return back to the car we bumped into the children’s school counsellor and her family – you never go far in South Africa without seeing someone you know!

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The views in the Storms River area were stunning. I thought this photo was a bit reminiscent of Thailand or China.

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There’s nothing like being by the sea for relaxation and rejuvenation – especially when you live like we do so far from the coast, in Pretoria!

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Later the same day we stopped at another beach in the magnificent Tsitsikamma national park. This one was just endless sand and blue sea and sky…..

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….the sea was a little cold to swim in though, but luckily there was also a lagoon which was warm enough for the braver members of our group to get wet in.

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We spent three nights in Kynsna in this fabulous house on Thesen Island – pefect for two families to share. We had four bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a large sitting/dining area, a brai area outside with tables and chairs and even a pool.

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The views from the house were also stunning – especially in the evening when the sun went down.

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Ever since moving to South Africa in 2015 I have been looking for one of these fellas. Turns out they are a seciality of Kynsna so we were particularly pleased to find one on our garden path one afternoon! (in case you weren’t sure, it’s a chameleon!).

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Our only dud of the whole holiday was an elephant walking experience. We had booked it online and thought it would be a lot more interactive and educational than it was. It turned out we shared three elephants with a large group of pensioners and got to hold the trunk of one elephant for about 30 seconds each. It was not a great experience and was quite costly.

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We did enjoy feeding them at the end though.

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After our disappointing elephant experience we headed to Plettenberg Bay for lunch and more beach/sea fun. For those who can cope with the cold sea water (note: not me).

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Ah those sunsets!

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We left Kynsna and turned inland, heading towards the Swartberg Pass. On the way we stopped at one of the many wineries found in the area and enjoyed a wee tipple and some nice lunch. There was no end of delicious food on this holiday.

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The pass was quite a drive taking us up high on zig-zag roads with fabulous views our across the Klein Karoo.

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The requisite brown notice.

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The views coming down into the Karoo were if anything even more beautiful.

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We spent that night in Prince Albert, a stunning location with amazing light where I feasted on the local spciality of Karoo lamb. But the heat was high while we were there and it felt like a bit of an oven until the rain broke in the night. I would love to go back and experience the town and region on a cooler day.

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Leaving Prince Albert we headed to Mossel Bay where we were staying with my second cousin and family. One of the things that amused us in Mossel Bay was these little dassies (also known as rock hydraxes) which were so friendly you could almost stroke them. I say almost – I tried and got a nibble on my finger from one of the babies for my efforts!

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The next morning we headed to a site just outside Mossel Bay to try out dune boarding! This is apparently one of the best places to do this in South Africa – not only is the big dune there (Dragon Dune) apparently the highest in the country, it is also apparently the “right” sort of sand because it comes from the river not the sea. Which apparently makes it faster. Which is a good thing!

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What was great about the experience is that everyone could join in, from the youngest member in our group (aged 7) to the oldest (me! – my husband decided against it due to a dodgy ankle and together with my cousin was main photographer).

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Having never snow-boarded I had no idea what to expect but apparently it wasn’t exactly the same as doing it on snow. Nevertheless I think those who had boarded before got the hang of it slightly faster than those who hadn’t.

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The second part of the morning saw us flying down the taller dunes on our bellies. Which was great fun – until you had to walk up again. Which was like a month’s worth of work-outs in one go! Totally worth it though.

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After two nights in Mossel Bay, which ended with a fun night out at a local fish restaurant where Afrikaaners danced to country and western songs, it was time for the last leg of our journey and our last night – in Cape Town.

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This was our little house over on the eastern edge of the city near to yet more of my relatives, who we spent another excellent evening with. I got my daughter to pose in the window to make it look a bit spooky and ghosty…..

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Sadly it was time to say goodbye and after a final breakfast and walk in Kalk Bay we were off to the airport and back to Pretoria. I’m not sure yet if we will make it back to Cape Town before we leave South Africa for good but one thing’s for sure – we will return one day.

So that was our trip – a lot of fun and I only wish we had had more time. How about you – any good trips recently? Have you driven the Garden Route? Does it tempt you?

 

 

The Cape Town Posts #1: Beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

We have just returned from a short trip to Cape Town and Hermanus, which presented me with ooodles of opportunities for great photos. I couldn’t decide what to do with these pictures on my blog as there is just too much for one post. So in the end I decided to break it down and do a series of posts. Today I start with Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where we met with some of my long-lost relatives for a picnic last Sunday.

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A sun-dappled path in beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

Lying in the shadow of the magnificent Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is known as one of the most beautiufl botanical gardens in the world – certainly it is one of the loveliest I have ever been to. It is cleverly divided into different areas such as the Useful Plants garden, the Fragrance garden and the Fynbos walk. Grassy slopes, hidden ponds, covered walkways and inviting clmbing trees abound, making the park a perfect destination for familes. We chose a spot in the shade, with a picnic bench for the more elderly of the long-lost rellies, and based ourselves there while the youngsters ran around, fed the visiting Egyptian geese and generally enjoyed the freedom of an enclosed and safe space.

Hello geese!

Hello geese!

As well as plants, flowers, lawns and trees, the gardens have a wonderful curving tree canopy walkway. Known informally as the “boomslang”, which is the name of a local tree snake, the shape was apparently inspired by a snake skeleton. Certainly it is a wonderful experience to stroll across the gently shaking enclosed walkway, watching from above the antics of the birds and other visitors to the park.

Strolling across the boomslang.

Strolling across the boomslang.

There were plenty of areas we did not have a chance to explore, and even as a non-gardener I could see there would be lots of interest here for a good full day trip. As well as the main body of the park, there are also short walks and longer trails – some of which take you to a waterfall, and you can also start a hike up Table Mountain itself from Kirstenbosch. You must however take your personal safety and security into consideration if you do this – the garden’s website includes safety guidelines.

Truely magnificant scenery.

Truely magnificent scenery.

All in all, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Kirstenboschi if you do find yourself in Cape Town. It’s a beautiful respite from the more hectic city life and a great way to unwind after sightseeing, touring, business, partying – or whatever else brings you to this part of the world.

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Escaping to the wild: but is it fair on the kids?

There is a program on television in the UK at the moment called Escape to the Wild. In each episode, the presenter Kevin McCLoud visits a different British family who have chosen to leave the rat race behind and set up home in a wonderfully wild and remote part of the world. So far, we have seen the von Engelbrechten’s on a beautiful island in Tonga, and the Pickerings living in the shadow of a volcano in Chile (there has also been an episode in Belize but I haven’t caught it yet). It all looks amazing, idyllic almost.

But is it? Both times while watching – and I know many of my friends were thinking the same thing – all I could focus on was the children.

The first family, the ones on the island in Tonga, were home-schooling their three boys. The seemed like a lovely family and the boys appeared exceptionally well-behaved, happy and surprisingly normal. This could, of course, be all down to the editing; but there didn’t seem to be any major problems in the way they were being brought up. Although the oldest boy (by now a teenager) had decided to give boarding school in New Zealand a go. He’s probably hoping to meet a girl.

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There was no mention in the documentary of how the second family were educating their children, beyond the no-doubt fantastic education they were getting living in a new and fascinating country and helping their parents build a house out of earth and kill wild boars. The children were definitely school-age so I am sure the parents did have this planned out – there were other people living in their neighbourhood (unlike the von Engelbrechten’s in the South Pacific) so perhaps the kids were due to start at the local school.

But schooling apart, I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of a future these children had. Yes, it looked idyllic. And yes, the parents who had escaped from their stressful lives in London or Wiltshire kept telling us how amazing it was (and the views were, truly, magnificent). But children need more than beautiful views, sparkling seas and erupting volcanoes.

Socialising with others is such an important part of childhood. All of these children were aged between about seven and thirteen, exactly the sort of age that children learn how to make (and keep) friends, about bonding, about relationships with people outside of their immediate family. These children only appeared to have each other to do this with – and, as we all know, a relationship with a sibling is a very different thing that with a friend. You can more or less say what you want to your brother or sister and they will still stick by you. The same certainly can’t be said of friends.

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There is no way of knowing of course what the future holds for these particular children and, chances are, they will be fine. They seemed to have eminently sensible parents who were able to give them a lot more attention than many of their contemporaries were likely to be getting back in Blighty.

But I still worry about children whose parents take them away from all that they know and love because they, the parents, are fed up with a certain life-style. More and more I am reading about families who give up everything and move to very remote and isolated parts of the world with their children – and I don’t mean people who are doing it for a year or so, I mean people who see it as a permanent thing. People who think it will be easy to educate their children themselves, and people who haven’t really thought through the implications of what happens to those children when they reach a certain age.

As well as anything else, what if those children decide at some point they don’t want to live like this? And what if, in the future, they want to go to university in their home country – but haven’t got the necessary qualifications. Of course there are good schools everywhere – local and international – but a lot of people are purposefully choosing more remote areas to live and work (now that technology has allowed them to do so), places where schools like this simply don’t exist. And, as in the two families in Escape to the Wild, there don’t seem to be any other children.

I am very open to hearing more about this, as I will admit I don’t know a lot about this sort of lifestyle. I recently decided to leave a Facebook forum because of a discussion around moving abroad with children which didn’t seem to consider the needs of those children at all. It felt very much like the parent wanted to do something for herself, and the children were just going to have to come with her. I might have been totally wrong but I could feel my frustration at this person and decided better to back out than say something I regretted.

So please, if you have done something like this, or are planning to, do come and tell me about it. If I am wrong, I would love to know. Or if you agree with me, I’d like to know that as well 🙂 All views are welcome here!

Beach photo courtesy of Elyse Patten; friends’ photo courtesy of David Amsler