We had very ambitious plans for the garden route. It quickly became apparent that we couldn’t enjoy it as much if we tried to drive all the way to Durban, and then on to Johannesburg (Joburg), in just 7 days. So, we modified our plan and decided to stay longer in fewer places and go north to Joburg once we reached Port Elizabeth.
On the way to see whales in Hermanus, we made a few quick stops along the way, several of which were recommendations from our Airbnb host. We came across the most beautiful chimes at Peace and Plenty and handmade Kapula candles. As I did in many other places, I took down website info and email addresses to ensure I could get in touch with these vendors once I had enough space to accommodate their talent.
We then stopped at a wine estate, Benguela Cove, somewhat under construction, hoping to have a wine tasting. The other vineyards were either out of the way or in a completely different direction. We found decent reviews for one close by and were glad we stopped when we did. Our taste tour guide was from Zimbabwe and his father currently lived in Zambia. The weather was lovely and he walked us through the different smells and tastes as we looked over their estate lake. I joked about how it was necessary to have access to pure scents in order to get any of these ingredients right, and sure enough, he introduced us to Le Nez du Vin – the nose of wine. It was a large case that resembled a coffee table book. Once you opened it, there were 50 small vials of liquid, embedded in the red velvet, with numbers under each one. This was akin to the wine enthusiasts bible. The booklet on the left confirmed each of the smells and Vivek and I began our guessing game. There were vials with everything from lemon and cloves to scents of smoke. I was told that Vivek had a better sense of smell than I did, and apparently there was nothing to feel bad about since male olfactory senses were actually superior to females’.
As we finally made our way through and past Hermanus, we didn’t have any luck with observing whales from the cliffs above. This was quite a disappointment as I remember being able to see large tails splashing the ocean’s surface several years earlier. Everyone was a bit hesitant to confirm that we would indeed see any whales as this was the beginning of whale- watching season. We weren’t able to take a boat out given a bit of the rush we were in, but hope we didn’t miss much. That said, the drive was absolutely stunning, so much so that Vivek was saturated with all of the “amazing” everywhere…”enough of the amazing already”.
One of our stops on the Garden Route was Cape Algulhas – the actual southern most tip of the African continent. There are several misconceptions, especially for those not from the area, that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern most tip. Though there was quite a bit of on-going construction – in an attempt to get more tourists in the area – we were one of the few people there.
We started making our way to Knysna, where there were recent forest fires, 2 weeks before we arrived, that ravaged the landscape. We had no baseline to compare how beautiful it was prior to the fire and didn’t expect the damage to be that extensive. Houses had been razed to the ground, electricity wires were stuck melting in time, and the foliage was all a crisp black. Several people were displaced but the fatalities were fairly low given the extensive damage. It was one of the largest fires in recent history, that spanned 400km and went on for 4 days…it was still one of the most beautiful places Vivek or I have ever visited. We were shocked at how quickly government efforts progressed in clearing burnt trees and responding in such an immediate manner. Local vendors persevered and were open to the public, and a couple of weeks later, Knysna still expected to hold their popular annual Oyster Festival, which brought people together from the region.
On our way in to Plattenberg Bay, we stopped by Robberg Nature Reserve for a short Hike around the headlands. The winds were howling as we walked around the leeward side of the hill, and almost knocked us off our feet as we arrived at the Gap – a small valley within the headland that acts as a wind-tunnel. As we walked onwards down to the seashore, we came upon a cave that was inhabited several thousand years ago. This cave, combined with the bend around the hill multiplied the speed at which the wind hit us. At one point we had to be literally on our hands and knees to avoid being blown away in the gusts.
A little past, Plattenberg Bay lay a somewhat mysterious sounding Arch Rock. It was marked as a view-point on our map and sounded interesting enough for us to want to check it out. As we began following the trail on our map, we quickly realized that this was not a oft-trodden path. The trail started along the beach, after which we had to use a rope to climb uphill into a wooded path that followed the contours of the seashore eastwards. As we continued on we stopped a couple of times to see whether the endevour was worthwhile, and to take a note of the remaining sunlight. Finally, the trail dropped off towards another beach, with large diagonally striated rock formations on the opposite side. We walked across the beach towards the rock formations sticking out of the ocean and as we were trying to find our bearings on the map, realized that this rock actually had a passage cut right through it, and formed an Arch. The hike had been well worth the effort now that the Arch Rock was found afterthe fairly convoluted hike, but as we stood there taking photos we realized that the tide coming in and out of the arch, was steadily rising. We walked back towards the small beach, which was covered in a small layer of water already, and rushed our way back up the hill and towards the parked car.
We spent our final night on the Garden Route in St. Francis Bay. We had a quiet lunch and were up early to see the sunrise before setting off on our long drive north towards Johannesburg. On the recommendation of our AirBnb host, we took an inside road via Graaff-Reinet which was much nicer than the highway. We drove through a lot of beautiful coutnryside and farmlands dotted with windmills before finally joining the highway towarss Bloemfontein. We made a quick stop in Bloemfontein to pick up some supplies, and drove on to Kroonstad to spend the night. After a quick dinner and some TV we were ready to crash.
The next morning we completed the final part of the trek towards Joburg. We returned the rental at the airport and had lunch. We were excited to be able to spend some time in Joburg with friends before continuing on our journey, and were very happy when coincidentally we happened to bump into one of our friends at the airport. Both Vivek and I were all drived-out and happy to catch up with friends and stay put for a few days in Joburg before making our way to the warmer coasts of the Southern hemisphere.