19 January 2013

South Africa - Garden Route to Addo Elephant Park - Part 1

Keurbooms River - Near to Plettenberg Bay
The Garden Route of the Western Cape, South Africa is world famous and one of the best attractions in the Cape, other than Cape Town!! Sorry - we are slightly biased as regards our Mother City! Our drive started at about 9.am and traffic was not too heavy given that the school terms have started for the year and the crazy peak holiday season is past. There are a number of good places to stop for breakfast or a snack along the N2 - favourites are the Blue Crane Coffee Shop and  Die Rooi Alwyn (The Red Aloe). The latter is situated amongst a few interesting shops - one selling gorgeously scented candles, interesting goodies and children's items.
Santos Beach. Mossel Bay
Mossel Bay is an interesting town (see my "Memories of Mossel Bay" Blog) although perhaps not as well-known  as the other towns on the Garden Route. The history goes back to Bartholemew Dias and the museum complex is well worth a browse. Mossel Bay currently (2012) has 3 Blue Flag beaches and the swimming in these waters is perfect for families as it is safe and the waters are warm. With various activities available, such as Shark Cage Diving, trips around Seal Island or a visit to Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, this town could capture your interest for a few days or a purely lazy week's beach holiday. It remains one of my favourite places for a laid back beach break. The obligatory drive down Marsh Street and around the Point has to take place before we can say good-bye to Mossel Bay and head further down the coast. On our way out we were driving behind a lorry with about 5 workers on the back. One has to assume that they were happily finished work for the day or else truly hammered as the one guy was dancing away to the music on his MP3 Player and nearly fell over every time the lorry turned. Another chap was laughing so heartily that his missing front teeth were most prominent! We passed them further along the highway - still dancing and laughing at me when I took a quick photo!
Further along the N2 you will pass Little Brak, Great Brak, Herold's Bay and a number of holiday places along the coast. If you have the time, a wander into any of these will give you insight into the South African culture of "beach" holidays. Many of the homes will be tightly shut waiting for the next holiday period when the owners will descend with the braai tongs, boerewors and many beers. Retirees also favour the Garden Route for it's tranquillity.
Once past George, you have the option of branching off to Victoria Bay - a well known surfing spot. Just watch out for the rip near to the rocks on the far side of the beach. It's a tiny little place that attracts many day trippers and has a character all of it's own with just 1 road. Perfect for a lazy day or two.

The road now starts to twist and turn until you reach the Wilderness. Do stop here to look at the very long beach which stretches forever. The Touws River runs through the village and is idyllic.
Our first overnight stop is at Wilderness at Moontide Guest House which overlooks the river. It's a perfect spot for a break. The beach beckoned soon after checking in so off we headed to stretch the legs after our drive from Cape Town. Wilderness beach is perfect for long, long beach walks, especially so at low tide. You can walk for miles, inhaling the fresh sea air, greeting the loc als walking their dogs or spotting the strange bits of flotsam and jetsam on the shore. A number of jellyfish had washed ashore and the little creatures feeding on them were quite intent on getting their fill. Rather grim looking actually!

Wilderness is known for being a perfect spot along the coast for paragliding and the Friday afternoon gliders were out catching the thermals above the road. What better way to finish off the week? It' s a gem of a place with the scent of the milkwood trees all round. Such a unique scent - thankfully, milkwood trees are protected and cannot be cut down. Besides the beach, there is a boardwalk along the lagoon, plus a more arduous walk up the Kingfisher Trail. This trail goes up to a waterfall and takes about 3 hours return. It is approx. 13 km and is a great way to blow out the cobwebs or stress of the city. Most of the trail is along a board walk so it can be completed by anybody with a reasonable fitness level.
Moontide has canoes for a leisurely paddle up or down river - for those who prefer just watching others do this, the deck is just the place to enjoy the scenery from the shade! The original home was built in 1928 and hosted many illustrious guests during it's heyday. Fact is often stranger than fiction and a passionate love triangle resulted in the death of  the mistress. Sadly, the house was then abandoned and by the time it was put up for sale it was in serious need of repair. Purchased by Maureen Mansfield, it has been restored, improved and expanded to the current guest house which opened to paying guests in 1994.
Supper was enjoyed at Salina's Restaurant overlooking the beach. I chose tapas thinking it would be light, leaving room for dessert! Well, 3 Thai Style fishcakes, 4 Chicken Satays and roasted peppers were too much although I did manage most of it. James enjoyed a huge plate of calamari. The desserts sounded good so we managed to find some extra space - and they were delicious! With a great view of the ocean and friendly staff, it was a relaxing experience. Unfortunately, it appears that diners the previous day were bothered by smokers on the patio and were apparently told that "smokers also have rights" Really? In South Africa where restaurants are all supposed to be non-smoking? If that had happened to us we would have walked out, never to return!!!
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we headed off to take some photos and found an every bigger number of  paragliders floating effortlessly above the highway. So if you fancy this idea, try a tandem experience. It looks so effortless and free. At current prices of R550, it's a great way to experience the views over Wilderness - if you dare!
Sedgefield has a Farmers Market called Wild Oats which takes place every Saturday morning. It is so popular that parking is always a problem - get there early and enjoy breakfast before spending all your money. Afterwards you can hire a kayak to explore the lagoon.
Knysna was our next on our agenda to visit a friend who owns and runs "Shoreline Villa" situated near the Heads. What an amazing spot right of the Knysna lagoon. Just gazing at the view would be enough for me to unwind totally. This house is perfect for couples on holiday together or those with children as the house is hired out fully furnished and equipped for a superb holiday experience. At low tide one can walk to Leisure Isle, another gem of a place.
Knysna has many activities to enjoy - our favourite is a visit to Featherbed Nature Reserve. A scenic boat ride across the lagoon takes you across to the Nature Reserve to enjoy amazing views from the Heritage site. Lunch is under the Milkwood Trees and then a stroll down 2.2km path leads you back to the ferry. For those who only want a cruise you can choose from South Africa's only paddle driven vessel or the John Benn or for those seeking more of a thrill, try the rivercat cruise to the heads (weather permitting)
After a brisk walk around Leisure Isle, we headed back to "Shoreline Villa" for a much needed icy drink, before driving  back to Moontide for a relaxing few hours on the deck before wandering into the village to eat at "The Girls" Restaurant. This is run by 2 girls - in case you are wondering - and opened in 2007. They have won many awards and it's a cool place to dine with good food, relaxed ambience and a chef (one of the girls!) who takes the time to visit each table. It's a welcome personal touch.
Sadly, we had to leave Moontide the next morning after another great breakfast on the deck.
Next instalment - Wilderness to Storms River.

© Judelle Drake

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