South Africa: Garden Route

I started my trip in the north of South Africa. If you want to read part 1 of mt South African adventure first, click here!

Day 4: arrival in Knysna

Our domestic flight from Johannesburg to George takes us only 2 hours. We are now in the arrival hall of the little airport of George. This flight helped us to save a lot of time. If we would have to drive all the way down here, it would have taken us a full day. A transfer bus awaits us outside and takes us to Knysna. The scenery we now see along the way is so different from the north. South Africa is called “A World in One Country” and it deserves this title!

Knysna is the most touristic town of the Garden Route and located in the Western Cape province between hills and along the Knysna river. It is called the art capital of the region because of its many art galleries. Knysna is alive, there is an abundance of shops and restaurants and this is my kind of town! Knysna is also known for nearby located Tsitsikamma National Park. You can easily spend a few days in Knysna, we have only one night and I already know that is too short.

At the end of the afternoon we arrive at the Lagoona Inn where we will be staying tonight. It is a mid class B&B style hotel. The owners are very friendly, the place feels homely and from here we have a beautiful view over Knysna lagoon! We are offered a welcome drink and then check into our rooms. Almost everybody decides to relax and freshen up in their. Not us! Wendy and I go outside and we go for a walk. We know we only have about an hour and a half, but why waste it inside.

We walk towards the lagoon. There is hardly any wind and the temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius, It is quiet this time of day and it feels like we have the lagoon to ourselves. The lagoon is connected to the sea through a passage between the mountains called Knysna Heads and now the tide is low. We walk over the jetties and watch birds trying to catch something to eat. The sun is about to set and we decide to sit down on one of the jetties to enjoy the amazing view. I just love sunsets, it does not take much to make me happy and watching the sun go down in this amazing setting just makes my day! We walk back to the hotel, where we are expected for dinner. We have a cozy night with good food and wine: life is good!

Day 5: from Knysna to Oudtshoorn

After an early breakfast we visit some hotels like Knysna Country House, Bradach Manor and Aestas B&B. Everywhere we visit, we are greeted by friendly people and a welcome drink. It guess it does not matter where you stay in Knysna, there is always amazing view over either Knysna or the Lagoon or both. The athmosphere is relaxed in this town and there is plenty to do and see. When going from one hotel to the other, we see an arts and crafts market and I understand that Knysna has markets quite often (also food markets of course). Again I wish I could stay for a few days.

If you love playing golf, then this location is also perfect for you, since there are beautiful golf courses in the area. After our “work” is done we visit Knysna Waterfront. The Waterfront is a popular hotspot for both tourists and locals. You come here for leisure activities, dining and shopping. It is a good thing I am not a shopaholic, but I do love buying souvenirs. If you do like shopping, then get that card out of your wallet. You can find designer clothing boutiques, jewellery designers, tourist shops, art galleries, décor shops, etc. I end up buying some handmade souvenirs from an art gallery: a ceramic hippo, zebra and giraffe who look very cute.

We leave Knysna at the end of the morning. We drive to the “ostrich capital” Oudtshoorn and visit Cango Ostrich Farm. Upon arrival we have lunch first and weirdly enough no ostrich ;). Then we have a guided tour around the farm. We get to see lots of big birds, we get to feed them, we see eggs hatching in an incubator and I take lots of photographs since the ostriches are very photo genetic animals.

Almost 90% of the world’s ostrich population can be found in South Africa. Oudtshoorn is located in the Kleine Karoo, a semi-desert, where the landscape is hilly but predominantly arid. Yet over the years, the world’s largest ostrich industry has developed here. The big birds are big business I can tell you that!

Around 3 pm we arrive at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. Upon arrival we are immediately in love with this amazing place. Its location is a bit remote, but everything a person needs can be found here: accommodation, food and a little shop. The Lodge is located right on a lake, where all kinds of colourful (and noisy) birds gather and where five hippos feel at home. Buffelsdrift is also home to 3 orphan elephants that grew up here and that we get to feed at the end of the afternoon.

We are lucky because we check in and that means we to get spend the night here. It keep getting better once we see our accommodation. We are staying in luxury tents right by the water and we even have our own private jetty. The tent is more luxurious than all the hotel rooms we have visited so far. Wendy and I feel extremely blessed to be here (and I am sure the other travel agents feel the same). The tent is beautifully decorated, the bathroom is gorgeous (for sure I will have a bath while watching over the lake) and on our private jetty there are 2 sun beds from where we can relax and watch over the lake. We have really comfortable beds, soft towels and bathrobes to wear. I can get used to this!

The water in the lake is low, it is the end of the South African summer, which means that part of the lake has dried up. There is a large wall between the lake and the Lodge, so that the hippos cannot visit the tents and it goes without saying that we are not allowed to be on the other side of the wall ourselves. This time of day the hippos are hiding somewhere. On the dry parts of the lake we see lots of birds and bokkies walking around. I feel like I am in paradise.

It is still warm this time of year and since we have some free time on our hands, we get changed and go for a refreshing swim in the swimming pool. The pool is located between the tents at the lakeside (there is another row of tents behind us (also for families). At the pool we find bath towels, toilets, sun beds and there is a coffee/tea maker, so it is a great place to relax for a few hours and what a setting we find ourselves in.

After one hour we need to get dressed again and feed the 8 year old elephants. They are well looked after here and we enjoy a game of football with the little gentle giants (who will turn into big gentle giants). It is time for a drink and dinner in the restaurant, which is located in the main building. This time we do have ostrich on the menu and it tastes delicious and the South African wines as well. Cheers!

We do not sleep a lot this night. I guess we should wear ear plugs, but Wendy and I do not want to. We hear a lot of animal sounds and are curious which sounds comes from what kind of animal. The sounds coming from the lake are from the hippos, they make funny and snorting sounds. We doze off now and then, but at 2 o’clock in the night Wendy wakes me up and we see a large group of springboks right in front of our tent. We quietly sit on our sunbeds. They are aware of us sitting there, so it is important to stay still. We go back to bed and try to sleep for a few hours and at 6 o’clock we hear a nibbling sound next to our tent and we see beautiful Nyala antelops who are grazing. We quickly put on our bathrobes to take photographs and we are the only ones who walk outside this time of day. We wonder who is watching who, because these animals are not shy.

We do not go back to bed, but just relax and I have my bath with lakeview. For breakfast we have an extensive buffet of food to choose from before we check out to continue our journey. Buffelsdrift was an absolute highlight and there is so much to do here: you can go on a game drive, go stargazing, join a meerkat safari… you name it. I loved it here!

Day 6: from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch

We continue our journey via Route 62 (this route connects Port Elizabeth with Cape Town). It is also known as the Wine Route, because route 62 leads through the wine-growing areas of Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, Robertsen and the Kleine Karoo. It is the one of the longest wine routes in the world (if only I could take a few boxes of wine home with me ;).

When planning your trip to South Africa you need ot make decissions. If you want see both the north and travel along the Garden Route, you need at least 2 weeks. If you have less time, then I suggest you choose between the 2 areas. Even on this route there is so much to do and see like wine tours, safaris, tribal art, cultural tours, museums, hiking, mountain climbing, 4×4 routes, canoeing, horse riding, ostrich riding, fishing, caving and even skydiving. The scenery on Rout 62 is beautiful and again we discover a completely different part of South Africa.

We stop for lunch in Montagu, at the Mimosa Lodge. We get to look around and see beautiful artwork everywhere. They have lovely rooms, a peaceful garden and the lodge is a perfect place to unwind. So far I have seen so many great accommodations here in South Africa and Mimosa Lodge for sure is one of them! It is such a relaxing place and the food is just amazing! That is what you get when you have an amazing chef who uses local produce and their own wine, which is very good. The Mimosa Lodge is a piece of paradise here on Route 62!

From Montague we drive to Knorhoek Guest house. Originally this was a clay and stone structure housing stables, a blacksmith room and coach house. Nowadays the Country Guest House offers modern comfort with old world charm on a working wine, so it is written on their website; I agree though! We get to see the rooms, which are lovely and we get a tour around the winery and the best part is that we get to taste various wines. Being on a trip like this makes me realize how fortunate I am. I am indeed One Lucky Traveller!

We leave Knorhoek behind us and go to Stellenbosch. It is the second oldest town in South Africa and known for its natural beauty and oak-lined avenues, Cape Dutch architecture, history and culture and of course its wine routes. Stellies – as it is known – is a university town, so despite its heritage it retains a youthful vibe. When the students have their holidays it is more quite, but this is an amazing town. The saying goes that you are not a full-blown “matie” (Stellenbosch student) until you have been kissed in The Avenue, or until an acorn falls on your head. Well, both are relatively easy to achieve so they say.

Stellenbosch is surrounded by wine farms and offers many hotels, wine shops, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and museums. It is easy to park your rental car here and wander around by foot. Our overnight hotel, the Stellenbosch Hotel, was declared a National Monument in 1987. The location is perfect, which is very central and the exterior of the building is beautiful. It has a restaurant and cozy courtyard. Rooms come in all shapes and sizes and you can feel the history of the building while staying here.

During the evening we are free to do as we please. We go for dinner in small groups in one of the many restaurants Stellenbosch has to offer. It is a full moon tonight, the temperature is just great and we sit outside and enjoy a good meal (and some more wine). After dinner I go for a walk with Leonora, the representative of the agency who organized this trip for us. She is very friendly and during the trip she gave us lots of information on both the country, its history, travel tips, etc. We stop at an art gallery where there is an exhibition and we see lots of people having a good time. We are not sure if we need an invitation, but we go inside, have a look at the artwork while enjoying the (free) wine that is being served. I feel like a teenager, I have a partner in crime/wine with whom I am crashing a party 😉 and enjoying free wine!

Day 7: from Stellenbosch to Cape Town

The next morning after breakfast we drive through Stellenbosch. Apart from Leonora we have a guide named Johan who is the sweetest and he is accompanying us on this trip. He tells us beautiful and very funny stories. He teaches us some Afrikaans and everyone should have Johan as a guide during his/her holiday, he knows really a lot. His work is his passion and it shows and his stories never bore us! We pass by Oom Samie Se Winkel and beautiful wine estates.

Just outside of Stellenbosch we have an appointment with Brian Vandayer from Jorvan Community Outreach. We need to see not just the touristic part of South Africa, but also everyday’s reality. This foundation has several projects and we visit 3 of them. Our first stop is at a daycare centre where little children are well looked after, get to play and are being taught lots of things. One of the ladies who looks after the little children just radiates when she talks about her work, which is a true labour of love.

Our next stop is at a kitchen in the midst of a township. Here 2 ladies who own almost nothing themselves, came up with the idea of cooking for those who cannot afford food at all. At first they only cooked for children, later adults were welcome too. They feed about 150 people daily (7 days a week!)! We collect some money on the spot, give it to Bryan and vegetables are bought immediately.

Our final stop is at a school and we are welcomed by about 180 children between the age of 3 and 10 (some may be older). The children just want to cuddle and play. We have brought colour pencils, drawing paper and some toys with us and they are happy with the gifts. Toys are something they do not have a lot of and if I ever go back, I will certainly take plenty with me. The children love the digital cameras and ask us to take photographs and then want to see them directly on the screen. Before we leave I ask them to sit down all together (which turns out to be a mission impossible), but it makes a pretty picture. I see happy faces of children who just need to be loved and looked after.

All these projects are located in the middle of or just outside the townships, the largest township accommodates around 1.5 million people! Jorvan has “heavier” projects, but not for us to go and visit. These 3 visits like we have just done, have a purpose. They are not meant as a touristic excursion. They have to create awareness and raise money so that organisations like Jorvan can continue the good work! Brian has taught us a lot. We realize we live the good life back in Europe and we raise some more money so that he can spend it on one of the projects. He is a special man who, together with his family, does an amazing job!

We move on to Cape Town and that is another story. If you want to read the last part of this amazing South African trip, just click here:

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

March 8, 2012

One thought

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