Africa at last. We touched down in Cape Town after a couple of reasonably long flights from Hong Kong via Dubai. It was nearly over before it started when the immigration officer asked for our return flight details. With all the wit and cunning of someone who had been up for 24hrs Doug’s response was….. a blank face. Fortunately she let us off, but not before explaining that normally we would be made to buy a return ticket, whether we wanted it or not.
First of all, here’s a quick overview of where we’ve been and a few stats.
We stayed in the touristy, but lovely Green point and enjoyed Cape Town’s main attractions. The cloud cleared off Table Mountain so we made our move up the cable car for a great view of the city.
Castle of Good Hope.
After watching the Mandela movie as a history refresher (!) we took the trip out to Robben Island. Our tour of the prison itself was given by a former inmate, arrested as a student and sentenced to 5 years. He was clear and easy to understand, apparently this is not always the case, as well as being incredibly passionate and enthusiastic.
Our guide, imprisoned on Robben Island for 5 years.
Soon it was time to get out of the city and down the Cape of Good Hope itself. I didn’t realised till we got there that the Cape of Good Hope is not the most southerly point, Cape Point is. The Cape of Good Hope is a few hundred metres away on the west side. It feels like a fitting place to mark the start of our trip north as many have done before us. The weather was warm and dry, a lot like Sydney in the winter. The area was relaxed and friendly, we even found time to try a restaurant Douglas’ Mum recommended from her trip some 14 years before.
Walking on the beach we saw two dogs in the surf and a seal playing with them. Chatting to the owner, apparently the dogs regularly play in the surf with seals!
After the cape we headed back to Cape Town to meet with an EMC friend, Tony. Sampling cocktails at the V&A waterfront and headed out to the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch.
It was a great relief to have our independence back with the hire car, after a lot of rave reviews we embarked on the Garden Route. It delivered stunning coastal scenery and woodland. We stopped at Wilderness National Park (aka Garden Route NP). After completing some lengthy and detailed paperwork we entered, all few hundred metres of it, to find a 500m boardwalk and some picnic benches. We strolled the boardwalk taking in the sounds of the forest and enjoyed our first African wilderness picnic. One national park we enjoyed stopping in was Tsitskamma, there are a number of short walks and even 3 suspension bridges over the ocean.
The mighty i20 loves gravel shortcuts too.
Suspension bridges at Tsitsikamma NP
Addo Elephant Park was high on our to do list, we arrived in town and checked into the Aardvark backpackers. We were pleased to be shown to our accommodation, our first traditional African rondoval.
Having the SAN Parks pass (A pre-paid pass for unlimited parks access in SA) allowed us to self drive through the park for the last hour of the day, at no additional cost, this would be our rekkie for a full day of safari the next. We were amazed at the number of animals we saw in that short time: Elephants, Zebra, Antelope, Buffalo, Warthogs to name but a few. A heard of elephants block our path as we made our way for the exit, we made it out with seconds to spare as they shut the park gate behind us. The following day we saw more of the above but also our first Lion, Spotted Hyena and Jackal too. We left Addo thrilled. This is a great park, really accessible with reasonable roads (even for a Hyunai i20) and easily explored in one day if you have limited time.
Spotted Hyena, spotted having a drink. Then walked right in front of the car.
After our exploration of the Garden Route, we were focussed on reaching Durban. We needed to get our carnet documents to our agent Maurita in advance of the boat arriving, we had 2 days to complete the journey and the Wild Coast awaited. We took an incredibly scenic inland route on recommendation from the owner of the Aardvark. We were well and truly out in the mountains, passing through small townships that littered the hills, farm animals scattered the verge (and road) and people walked everywhere. This was our first taste of rural South Africa.
With a forecast of snow we pulled up at our farm stay, something we had not considered. Of course it was possible, we’re in the mountains, we can see the Drakensberg Range and its mid winter! I was just like a child waking the next morning after a rumour of snow, had it, hadn’t it, what would it mean if we were snowed in… The grass was still green and the sky a beautiful blue.
We arrived in Durban, encouraged that the boat’s ETA was sooner than we expected. Our hopes were quickly dashed as we met Maurita and learned we had at least another week to wait. We extended our car rental and headed north towards the highly recommended Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Nature Reserve (pronounced Shlu-shlu-we) We spent a full 2 days in the park, testing the Hyundai once again through the slalom of potholes, in search of the big 5. We managed 3; Buffalo, Elephant and Rhino. Another highlight were the numerous Giraffes, so we didn’t leave disappointed. Lunching in un-fenced picnic areas kept us on our toes, fortunately there were no unwelcomed visitors!
The area north of Durban saw many battles in the late 1800’s with Voortrekkers (Boers moving away from the cape peninsular) clashing with Zulus and later the British. (Locals and history aficionados, please excuse the generalisations here) One of the bloodiest battles took place on the Ncome River, where at group of Voortrekkers fought with Zulus. The battle came to be known as the battle of Blood River, the site has two museums – one from each side. As you can imagine the contrasting perspectives of what happened that day were striking. The image below is a bronze monument of the laager (wagon circle) at the site of the battle.
Those of you have seen Michael Kane in Zulu will know the battle of Rorke’s drift. It was the defence of Jim Rorke’s mission against a Zulu attack directly after the British suffered a huge defeat at Isandlwana. The museum was interesting and in places very detailed although the original building had long gone. The Rorke’s drift hotel, whilst too expensive for an overnight stay, commands an excellent view over the river. Well worth a visit if you are near by, but take something more suited to rough roads than an i20. We genuinely worried bits were going to fall off at some points as we rumbled down the tracks at 20kph.
After a night in Greytown, an unremarkable place except for the pleasant B&B and a few beers at the Golf club, we headed back to Durban via Pietermaritzburg. Here we visited the Voortrekker museum on the site of church they built when they eventually settled here. This was the last stop in our history tour.
As we write this we are sat in our backpackers and have received notification that the boat, and hopefully Penelope, docked in Durban yesterday. Customs inspection and collection should be tomorrow (Tuesday).