South Africa: Garden Route

If you want to read part 1 of my South African adventure first, click here:

Day 4: arrival in Knysna

Our domestic flight from Johannesburg to George took us only 2 hours. We are now in the arrival hall of the little airport of George. This flight helped us saving 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 to take us to Knysna, which is the most touristic town of the Garden Route. The scenery is so different from the north; South Africa is called “A World in One Country” and deserves this title!

Knysna is 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 and there is also an abundance of shops and restaurants: my kind of town! Knysna is also known for the nearby Tsitsikamma National Park. You can easily spend a few days in Knysna, we have only one night here and I already know that is way too short. We arrive at the Lagoona Inn where we will be staying tonight. It is not a luxurious hotel, but a mid class B&B style hotel. The owners are friendly, the place feels homely and from here we have a beautiful view over Knysna lagoon! After a welcome drink and checking in to our rooms, everybody decides to relax and freshen up. Not us! My room mate and I go outside, we check out the property before going for a walk.

We walk towars the lagoon, where it is beautiful and especially this time of day. The lagoon is connected to the sea through a passage between the mountains called Knysna Heads. It is low tide, we walk over jetties while watching birds trying to catch something to eat. The sun is about to set and we sit down to enjoy the amazing view. I am happy we did not stay in our room, but that we enjoyed the sunset. I just love sunsets, does not take much to make me happy! We walk back at the hotel, where have get served a wonderful dinner. 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. And everywhere there is an amazing view on either Knysna or the Lagoon or both. The athmosphere is Knysna is relaxed. There are lots of markets and I wish I could stay for a few days. It is also an ideal location for golf lovers, 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 spectacular views. It is also a perfect spot for shopaholic’s. It is a good thing I am not a shopaholic, but I do love buying souvenirs. But if you want to go nuts, you can find designer clothing boutiques, jewellery designers, tourist shops, art galleries, décor shops, etc. 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. We have lunch here first (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 and I take lots of photographs since they are very photo genetic animals. We also see eggs hatching in an incubator. 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!

In the afternoon we drive to Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. Once we arrive we are immediately in love with this amazing place. It is a remote place, 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 get to spend the night here. We check in and it just gets better once we see our accommodation. We are staying in luxury tents (we call it clamping) right by the water and we even have our own little jetty. The tent is more luxurious than all the hotels we have visited so far and me and my room mate (and I am sure the others too) feel extremely blessed to be here. The tent is so beautifully decorated, the bathroom is gorgeous (for sure I will have a bath with this view) and on our own jetty there are 2 sun beds from where we can relax and watch over the lake. We have comfortable beds, soft towels and bathrobes to wear.

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 of course we are not allowed to pass the wall ourselves. On the dry parts of the lake there are lots of animals walking around. I feel like I am in paradise. It is still warm this time of year and we get changed and go for a refreshing swim in the swimming pool, which lies between our tent and that of the neighbours. At the pool we find bath towels, toilets, sun beds and there is a coffee/tea maker, so a great place to relax for a few hours.

After one hour we need to change clothes again and feed the 8 year old elephants, who are well looked after and we enjoy a game of football with the little gentle giants. Then it is time for a drink and dinner. This time we do have ostrich on the menu and it is delicious and the South African wines as well… cheers!

We do not sleep this night. I guess we should wear ear plugs, but we do not want to. We hear a lot of animal sounds and are curious. The hippo’s make funny and snorting sounds… We doze of now and then, but at 2 o’clock in the night my room mate 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 watching us, so it is important to stay still; one move and they will be gone. We try to sleep for a few hours and at 6 o’clock we hear nibbling at our tent and see bongos who are grazing. We quickly put on our bathrobes to take pictures and are the only ones who walk outside. We wonder who is watching who, because these bongos are not shy.

For breakfast there is an extensive buffet and then we check out to continue our journey. Buffelsdrift was an absolute highlight and there is plenty to do here (which we did not have time for): you can go on a game drive, do some stargazing, join a meerkat safari… Buffelsdrift is a peaceful place to relax, but full of life! I know, it sounds like ad advertisement (and seriously, they are not paying me ) but who cares: I loved it here!

Day 6: from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch

We continue our journey via Route 62; which connects Port Elizabeth with Cape Town. Also known as the Wine Route, 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 bottle home with me ;). There is so much to do along this route: wine tours, safari drives, tribal art, cultural tours, museums, hiking, mountain climbing, 4×4 routes, canoeing, horse riding, ostrich riding, fishing, caving, and even skydiving. The scenery along the way is beautiful and again we discover a completely different part of South Africa.

We stop for a hotel visit in Montagu, at the Mimosa Lodge. We get to look around, beautiful artwork everywhere, lovely rooms and we get a delicious lunch served. 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, well… that is what you get when you have an amazing chef who uses local produce and they have their own wine, which is very good… Oh, another piece of paradise here on route 62!

From Montague we drive to Knorhoek Guest house. Originally a clay and stone structure housing stables, a blacksmith room and coach house, the Country Guest House offers modern comfort with old world charm on a working wine estate (as written on their website). I agree! We get to see the rooms, which are lovely and we get a tour around the winery and of course we get to taste various wines. Being on trips like these, study/educational trips, makes me realize how fortunate I am… 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 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, there are hotels, wine shops, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and museums. It is easy to park your rental car and wander around on foot. Our overnight hotel called Stellenbosch Hotel was declared a National Monument in 1987. The location is perfect, very central and the exterior of the building is beautiful. It has a restaurant and cosy courtyard and the locations is perfect, very central. Rooms come in all sizes and you can feel the history of the building while staying here.

That evening we are free to do as we please. We go for dinner in small groups in one of the many restaurants in Stellenbosch. 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 a very sweet lady and during the trip she gave us all kinds of information on both the country, its history, travel tips, etc. We pass by 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 have a partner in crime/wine now, 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 accompanying us on this trips. He tells us beautiful and very funny stories. He teaches us some Afrikaans and everyone should have Johan as a guide during a guided holiday; he knows a lot. His work is his passion and it shows! We pass by Oom Samie Se Winkel and on the way we see beautiful wine farms.

Just outside of Stellenbosch we have an appointment with Brian Vandayer from Jorvan Community Outreach. This foundation has several projects and we visit 3 of them. Our first stop is at a daycare centre. The children are well looked after, they get to play and are being taught things. One of the ladies who looks after the little children just radiates when she talks about her work; a true labour of love.

Our next stop is at a kitchen in the midst of a township. Here two 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, from which vegetables are bought immediately.

Finally we go to a school and are welcomed by about 180 children between the age of 3 and 10 (some may be older) who just want to cuddle and play. We have brought coloured pencils and drawing paper and they are happy with it. Toys are something they do not have much and if I ever go back, I will certainly take plenty with me. The children love the digital cameras and ask us to take pictures and want to view them directly on the screen. Before we leave I ask them to sit down all together (which turns out to be 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 of which accommodates around 1.5 million people! The “heavier” projects are out of route and we do not get to see them. But that is maybe for the better. These visits have a purpose, they are not meant as a touristic excursion. They have to create awareness and raise money so they can continue the good work! We have become a lot wiser, Brian taught us a lot. We realize we live the good lie 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!

If you want to read the last part of this trip, just click here:

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

March 8, 2012

One thought

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