I'm not saying that I dislike flying - it's just a means to an end for me - but if time permits, I love nothing more than packing the car and hitting the road. I've lost count the number of times that I and / or we have driven the Durban - Johannesburg and vice-versa route but that's simply on the highway, not really getting to see this beautiful country we happily get to call home. Whenever we go to Clarens; whether it's from Johannesburg or from Durban, I know the minute we're in the beautiful Eastern Free State countryside when I spot the familiar Poplar Tree that dots it's landscape. - that's the whole point of road tripping, for me. Getting to explore the old main routes and it's accompanying towns and villages, as opposed to whizzing by on the national roads, not seeing much at all.
Our first road trip took place in December 2010 / January 2011 - all mapped out after we returned home.
We're planning our second official road trip for this December and I can't wait! Unlike our first road trip 6 years ago, we are a little more organised this time around. I still remember Chris saying - spontaneously - all those years back, 'let's go on a road trip!', so happily we piled all our stuff into the back of Edith (Chris' Renault Koleos at the time) and off we went. It was just after Boxing Day, we hadn't booked at any places to stay, heck, we didn't even know where our end destination was going to be! Bearing in mind, the time of year and how fully booked places can be - we were brave like that! Chris did all the driving as I had, had my scooter accident barely six weeks before; so with arm in sling, I was the chief photographer and navigator of sorts. I couldn't do much else really. As I was going through the many, many photos from our adventure for the this blog did it only then dawn on me that I easily took twice as many photos on this particular trip than what I took when we visited the UK - and I took a lot of photos in England and Wales!
The day we left home, it's safe to say, got off to a bumpy start - packing and some light arguing was had - if you can recall those TV adverts from the past where a family would pile into the car and start their journey off in a huff and 50 minutes into the trip happy faces all round, well, that was us! I still maintain that, that Wimpy stop at Scottburgh Mall really saved us! We decided to make Port St. Johns our first stopover, just for the night; I had never been there before and as we were crossing the Mzimvubu River to get to the town centre, Chris told me that the Zambezi (also known as the Bull) Shark could be found in it's waters. I have since learnt that there have been six fatal shark attacks at PSJ's Second Beach in the last five years - so if you're ever visiting that part of the world, take care when going for a swim! The river flows through an impressive gorge known as the 'Gates of St. John' into an estuary located along the Indian Ocean. The town is situated around the river's mouth.
We arrived in Port St. Johns late that afternoon and managed to find a place to stay - luckily!
We left early the next day and, as Chris had packed our camping gear, we thought we may as well alternate accommodation between self-catering and camping! YAY... We stopped along the road in the Eastern Cape to take some photos. We still weren't sure where our next stopover would be but we soldiered on. The one thing I just adore about South Africa is how varied the landscape is; we went from the lush, subtropical climate and vegetation of the South and Wild Coast into the rugged and the slightly semi-arid Eastern Cape.
Chris even wore his 'You look like I can use a drink' t-shirt as he posed at the entrance to the property!
Mmmmm... Cleansing Section...? We were like, ok....
We found ourselves in Port Alfred - after a good few hours of driving - and decided to find a campsite and call PA home for the next two nights. It's situated at the mouth of the Kowie River and is almost exactly halfway between Port Elizabeth and East London; this little town was established in the early 1820's by British settlers whom were moved into the area by Lord Charles Somerset - it's main function was to act as a buffer between the then Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. It officially became know as Port Alfred in the late 1860's after Queen Victoria's son, Prince Albert visited the area. It was the perfect spot for us to journey from inland for a day trip to Bathurst, a relative's farm and Grahamstown.
We were fortunate enough to find a place to camp for the duration of our stay in Port Alfred.
See?1 We did indeed camp! Now for those of you who know us, know that Chris can really snore. I use earplugs to dampen the noise but I didn't realise how bad it really was until Chris told me the first morning we were there that he overheard two youngsters saying how the noise had suddenly stopped after he had woken up! The thought of his snoring bellowing throughout the caravan park did make me laugh.
Coffee in Grahamstown and views of some pineapple fields from the Big Pineapple in Bathurst.
The Big Pineapple, Bathurst - standing 16.7 metres tall - this gigantic structure is a tribute to the agricultural success of the prickly fruit. Early farmers struggled to grow any crops here until the first pineapple was planted in 1865.
A gorgeous sunset over Port Alfred on our last night.
We left Port Alfred feeling as if we achieved as much as we could in the short time that we were there. We saw Grahamstown and it's surrounds; stopped at 43 Air School and drove around the village of Bathurst. We by now thought that Plettenberg Bay would be the best place to call home for the next three nights, and most probably our last stopover before turning back to head home to Durban. So on leaving PA early one morning, we took a slow, meandering drive down the rest of the coast - stopping at some off-the-beaten track spots for photos and sight-seeing - before entering the beautiful Garden Route area.
We travelled for what seemed like miles and miles along dirt roads that run in-between farmlands to find the little, secluded hamlet of Oyster Bay - one day we'll buy our little getaway beach house there! Just love that little hideaway!
During the course of our road trip, we noticed that in and amongst the various small towns and ever-changing scenery - there were also a variety of pretty flora to be seen along the roads too...
As we crossed the Storms River via the iconic Paul Sauer Bridge - we officially entered the Garden Route - this area stretches from the Storms River on the south-eastern coast of the Eastern Cape to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. It derives it's name from the verdant and ecologically diverse vegetation that is encountered here and around the numerous lagoons and lakes that are dotted along the coast. Notable towns include Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and George - with George being not only the largest of them but also it's main administrative centre. It is know for having South Africa's mildest climate - with mild to warm summers, and mild to cool winters - interestingly, making it the second mildest climate in the world!
Hello there, Garden Route!
The Paul Sauer Bridge.
A short stop and look-see later, we decided to head through to Plettenberg Bay - it was by now 30 December - and as mentioned earlier, we hadn't made any accommodation plans. So as we travelled towards this particular holiday mecca, our fingers were crossed!
It suddenly became very misty as we entered the lush, green Tsitsikamma region of the Western Cape.
Plettenberg Bay (fondly called Plett by most South Africans) is situated along the Keurbooms River and was originally named Bahia Formosa - Portuguese for 'beautiful bay' - by early explorers. It happens to host one of the largest seagull breeding colonies along the South African coast and if that wasn't enough, the endangered African Oystercatcher also lives in the area.
Our first port of call upon arriving in Plett, was to find a place to stay - fortunately - we found a place after driving up and down a few roads but we really should've known it wasn't going to be the best of places - just by judging by the signage outside - but being the ever optimists that we thought we were, we didn't judge this book by it's cover. We really should have though!
We spent our first evening at the above establishment; whilst there, we googled alternate accommodation for the remainder of our stay!
Albergo was our home for the next two nights! Shew! So much better than the first place we stayed at!
First thing first, before we could take a drive around the little town, just to have a look-see, Edith seriously needed a wash...! Some sights were seen before we headed to the vibey main street to find a place to have a bite to eat and something to quench our thirst!
Our New Years Eve was a fairly quiet one, what with all the driving that we had done - we were like, let's skip this one this year. Little did I realise that we would be hitting the road - feeling refreshed - early New Year's Day 2011 for a day trip to Oudtshoorn - 150 Km's away! Chris had spent some time there - at the South African Infantry School - during his army stint and hadn't been back since; I on the other hand had never been. What better way to spend a New Year's Day than seeing the Cango Caves?! We headed towards George, passing a misty coast and Sedgefield along the way.
We stopped briefly at Sedgefield - whilst I was waiting for Chris - an impromptu photo shoot of Edith ensued. I would never admit this to Chris but when he traded her in for Betty, his current Ford Ranger, I was a little sad. So many happy miles of memories were had in her and it all started with this road trip!
Edith in Sedgefield.
After passing through George, we found ourselves on the Outeniqua Hop and the Outeniqua Pass. This mountain pass in the Western Cape connects George and the Garden Route with Oudtshoorn and the Little Karoo - it was constructed between 1943 and 1951 - replacing the Montagu Pass as the main route from George to the interior. It provided gorgeous views and we had to stop for a few photos!
Chris, admiring the view.
I knew we were close to the Little Karoo town of Oudtshoorn when we started passing ostriches grazing in fields along the road! I had - in the past - seen ostriches before but never in the 'Ostrich Capital of the World!'.
Alphen aan den Rijn is a town in the Netherlands.
Oudtshoorn is a town that after two ostrich-feather booms (1865-1870 and 1900-1914) was truly established. It is the largest town in the Little Karoo region; the town's economy is primarily reliant on the ostrich farming and tourism industries. Apart from ostriches, the town is famous for the Cango Caves - our New Year's Day destination. The Cango Caves are located in Precambrian Limestones at the foothills of the Swartberg Mountain Range just outside the town - the principal cave is one of the country's finest, best known and most popular tourist caves - it attracts many visitors from the world over. Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over 4 Km's, only about a quarter of this is open to visitors - who may only proceed into the cave in groups supervised by guides. I remember when Chris and I went in, we were given the choice to do either the regular or the 'sporty' route; as I was in my sling, no climbing and crawling for me! We saw some awesome sights within the caves but just like visiting Table Mountain, every proud South African (or tourist too) should add this to their 'to do list' - even if you never do it again, at the very least you can say you have done it. Who knew it would be open on New Year's Day too?
After leaving the Cango Caves; we stopped outside the South African Infantry School; located within the Oudtshoorn Army Base. Chris spent some time there during his compulsory military training - known as conscription. It was his first time coming back to visit. I had a vague idea of what conscription was but thought I'd do some research on this subject - just out of interest - and because I feel that the after effects are still felt by those young men who were put into situations that they should never have had to deal with at their age.
I found the following, informative information on the South African History Online website:
The Defense Amendment Bill, designed to make military service compulsory - note that these men had NO choice in the matter - for white, young men was passed on 9 June 1967 - with the support of the opposition. Conscription was instituted in South Africa in the form of 9 months of service for all white males between the ages of 17 and 65 years old. Conscripts became members of the South African Defense Force or the South African Police. They were used to enforce the then government's stance against liberation movements, anti-apartheid activists and the 'communist threat'. In 1972, conscription was increased from 9 months to 1 year, as well as 19 days of service annually for 5 years as part of the Citizen Force. Towards the middle of 1974, control of northern Namibia was handed over to the South African Defense Force from the South African Police, and in 1975, the SADF invaded Angola. To keep up with operational demands, Citizen Force members were then required to complete 3 month tours of duty. In 1977, conscription was once again increased, this time to 2 years and 30 days annually for 8 years. Due to an increase in guerrilla activity in the early 1980's, camps were once again lengthened in 1982 to 720 days in total. A movement in South Africa began in 1983 to co-ordinate various groups in the country who campaigned against conscription and encouraged conscientious objection. This group was called the End Conscription Campaign. The ECC had wide support from students, religious groups and even the United Nations. Activities of the ECC were curtailed by the then South African Apartheid government from 1988 - 89, but restrictions were lifted in 1990 as part of the country's move towards multi-racial government.
After finding out the above information, I am left feeling slightly saddened; I totally understand that a country needs a defense force and that that's a good thing but it should never be forced onto someone - there must have been 1000's of young men who were against the whole conscription process and most of these guys probably live with the PTSD that their time in the army created - my heart goes out to them. I am so grateful that it was eventually done away with and that goes for Apartheid too!
As we were heading back to Plettenberg Bay, we passed the adorable De Oude Meul Restaurant and decided that that's where we would have our New Year's Day lunch! Luckily, it wasn't fully booked and we were seated overlooking lush green fields with livestock grazing in the distance.
On our way to the Garden Route, we crossed the Van Stadens Bridge, and being the iconic structure it is - Chris kindly stopped for me to take a photo or two. I barely placed a foot onto the bridge when all of a sudden a police vehicle arrived out of nowhere! The police person kindly asked me to go back to the car and advised that no person was allowed to walk across the bridge. It's been well documented as being the 'Bridge of Death' - in 2005 a group of private donors raised the 1 million South African Rands required to install a video-camera surveillance system on the bridge - to date, 20 people have been saved from jumping to their deaths using this camera. So, I really shouldn't have been surprised by the police showing up but in retrospect I'm glad to know it was working that day - even though I just wanted a photo!
Chris thought this road sign was particularly funny considering my shoulder was non-functioning at the time!
Once we departed Plettenberg Bay, we decided to make Port Elizabeth our last stopover before heading home to Durban; with the above in mind, we decided to travel on the old main route to safely see the Van Stadens Bridge.
The Van Stadens Bridge, as seen from below.
Both old and new bridge can be seen behind me.
Port Elizabeth - also known as the Friendly or Windy City - is not only one of the largest cities but also seaports in South Africa, it also happens to be the southernmost large city on the African continent. I always thought that Cape Town was further South - we learn something new every day, it seems! It also forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
After finding a place to set up camp, we chilled for the rest of the day, by going for a walk along the beachfront and in the evening we took a ferris wheel ride at a fairground that had set up shop along the beach. I am not the best when it comes to heights; so I should've known that coupled with the breeze coming off the ocean, it was going to make for a windy ride!
We took a drive to Uitenhage, a small town famously known for it's Volkswagen vehicle manufacturing - turns out that this car factory is the biggest in Africa. Truth be told, there really wasn't much else to see in the town that was founded in 1805 but hey, we could at least say we saw it.
Our last day in Port Elizabeth was spent taking in some of the sights, which included a visit to Bayworld - whenever I'm in PE, I always visit Bayworld! I do love Durban's Moses Mabida Stadium but if I had to choose another one to fill it's architectural shoes it has to be the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. It's just a pity that it seems to be situated in and amongst what looks like a light industrial area! Yikes!
It was time to leave the Friendly City and make our way back home to sunny Durban - we had just two stops to make before hitting the road - the first was Nanaga Farm Stall, just outside Port Elizabeth. If you've ever travelled that route, you can't miss it. The second stop was in Grahamstown.
As we were driving into Grahamstown, on our way back to Durban, we noticed that we forgot to visit one more important place - the 1820 Settlers National Monument - you can't miss it, it's right at the top of the hill on the edge of town. It has been described as a living monument which not only serves to honour those brave English settlers but also contributes to the community which it surrounds - a memorial with a purpose of sorts - the building serves as a centre for creative thought and activity. It was designed to be used mainly as a conference centre in order to encourage free debate and open discussion - today, it's use extends past this; especially during the Grahamstown National Arts Festival when the venue hosts concerts, theatrical dances and productions.
Grahamstown now behind us, we hit the road home to Durban - as much as I love going away - there's always a part of me that can't wait to get home. I love being home!
There were so many photos taken that I liked but this one is definitely close to the top of the list.
After many hours on the road, we made it home late that evening - we barely managed to unpack Edith before just chilling; according to Edith's odometer, we had travelled 3 571.5 Km's - not bad going for an unplanned trip!
I suppose you're all wondering what - in hindsight - I have learnt from this road trip and what we plan to do differently this coming December / January?
Well six years have gone by, so being slightly older - and hopefully wiser too - we have planned ahead in the sense that accommodation is already booked and paid for; so no stressing about where to call home at our various stops! The days of Chris being able to take two weeks off for us to go galavanting across the country have long since passed because the boss has to be back in time for when our office reopens in the New Year! So instead of travelling the West Coast (one day, one day...), we're kinda following (slightly) the same route but this time around, being more prepared, we can relax and truly enjoy our time away. Truth be told, I'm just looking forward to getting away with my dearest Chris!
The main thing is to make sure your vehicle has been checked and declared fit for travel; second is to stick to a budget - nobody wants to starve making it through to payday, end of January! Take lots of photos. Laugh, at others and yourself too. Keep hydrated and take turns driving. Make a road trip music compilation. See sights you might not get a chance to see again - there are oh so many to see in South Africa. The last - and most important part - have a rough plan in place but don't be so rigid that you can't divert from it!
So whatever or wherever you may find yourself this coming festive period; have fun and be safe if you're on the roads.
Until next time,
Oh! Before I forget; Amy, we're spending a day with you and yours too. Chris is looking forward to meeting you! Feel free to check out her blog - amykaymademyday.wordpress.com - you know you want to!