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?

 

 

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Exploring the Delightful, Dramatic Drakensbergs

A couple of months ago we took a wonderful African road trip to the Drakensbergs. Located a few hours south of Pretoria in Kwa-Zulu Natal (known colloquially as KZN), this region is renowned for its stunning scenery and mountainous terrain and it certainly did not disappoint. It wasn’t a long trip – just a few days to take a rest from the demands of city life – but the area was so beauiful we felt completely refreshed at the end of our break.

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We stayed at a quirkly little place called Antbear Lodge – where the rooms were all carved from wood but the views were as stunning as they come. We had originally booked this place because it was dog-friendly and we thought we might be able to bring our new puppy with us. But in the event he was too young for his first holiday so we left him behind (in good hands đŸ™‚ ), and enjoyed not having to get up at the crack of dawn to let him out for a pee. There were however other dogs on the property, as well as sheep, ducks, geese and -most exciting of all – horses for riding!

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We didn’t have a fixed agenda but were keen to explore the area a little as we hadn’t yet ventured to this part of South Africa. As it was, we found plenty to do – and the children just enjoyed the freedom to run around on the lodge grounds without restrictions of bars, fences, gates and locks…

One of the days we drove to an well-known paragliding site for my husband to chuck himself off a cliff. The drive turned into a bit of an adventure as the road up to the site was the narrowest, rockiest, steepest and downright most terrifying drive we have yet undertaken in this country. The panorama from the top was wonderful though and as my husband even managed to get a flight in, definitely worth the hassle to get there as this meant his mood was much improved đŸ™‚

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Another day we drove to the Giant’s Castle reserve and walked up to look at some of the cave paintings – something that has been on my “to do” list since we got here. Since I managed to injure my ankle quite badly a few weeks before we went away I was quite nervous about the walk even though it wasn’t more than about one hour to get there. But by taking it easy and wearing “sensible footwear” I was fine and so glad that I did as the paintings are very special. They date back hundreds of years, with some a lot more recent – but are a great reminder that while life has been going on here for centuries, it’s only relatively recently that man has started to dramatically changed the landscape to what we know now. The views from the walk to and from the caves were also magnificent – the whole area reminds me of some sort of “garden of eden”and I can understand why it is such a popular hiking spot.

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As well as exploring nature we also made sure to have a bit of fun. On one morning we rode the lodge’s horses through the fields, admiring the view from a different angle and enjoying the fact that thanks to months of riding lessons this was the first time we could ride as a family without worrying about anyone falling off. Another day we visited the attractions on the famous “midlands meander” – a mix of local craft shops, fun things for the kids to do (candle dipping; archery etc) and foodie places to stock up on things like cheeses and biltong. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate dipping at Chocolate Heaven – seriously, what was there NOT to like about this place? It was a plateful of strawberries, biscuits, marshmallows, bananas, dried fruit and even chillis and biltong should you so wish – all dipped into suprisingly good Belgian chocolate. We walked away feeling a little sick but totally happy. We came to the Drakensbergs for the views; we found amazing chocolate. What more could we possibly ask for?

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Well there was one more suprise and this was something we hadn’t expected. At the end of the “meander” is a place called the “capture site” – the place where Nelson Mandela, masquarading as a chauffeur,  was finally captured after evading the apartheid forces for more than 17 months. The site has been turned into a small museum which was interesting enough on its own. But it is the extraordinary sculpture of Mandela’s head that only reveals itself to you as you take the “long road to freedom” path down the slope towards it that really made the stop worthwhile. Reading about the scultpure online I see there is all sorts of signficance to the number of steel bars used to make it etc. But really it doesn’t need explanation as it speaks for itself.

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And so ended our trip to the Drakensbergs – a wonderful, refreshing, beautiful area of the country that so many just rush past on the way to the coast. I hope we get the chance to return – it’s relatively close to Pretoria (relative being the size of the country) and we still want to try and drive up the famous Sani pass into Lesotho. But if we don’t make it back we will have many good memories to sustain us. Of beautiful views, magnificent sculptures and of course of delicious chocolate!

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