Road Report #9
The Garden Route to Addo Elephant Park
The town of Strand is directly below us, its turquoise shoreline laced in frothy surf. Beyond Strand we can see the flatlands that segue into Cape Town city center, towered over by Table Mountain.
The N2 is the major highway that runs the length of the southern coast. At this end it carries us up and over the rolling hills. Lush grasslands checkerboard with the chocolate of freshly tilled soil, the egg-yolk yellow of full-bloom canola, and vineyards, always vineyards.
We wind through a forest of what look to be mountain pine. Most of these evergreens seem to be cultivated, growing row on row on row. Many of the agricultural fields have also been planted with windbreaks of evergreens. In other places we see cut lots where the evergreens have been obviously harvested. There are many fruit orchards. Although there were signs saying it was against the law, vendors waved bags of apples at us.
Once we left the N2 to drive south towards the town of Hermanus we were on a much smaller rural road. We were amused to come on a sign warning us to give a thought to the tortoises that cross here. We were on high alert but never saw one. The vegetation is lush and semi-tropical.
Hermanus is a charming, seaside resort town. The weather was so beautiful – blue skies and warm winds. We lunch on the waterfront under patio umbrellas. We are told this is “winter,” a season that we Canadians understand to be filled with cold and icy winds, driving rains and frigid snow. This African “winter” is another animal altogether and we love it – warm sunny days with cool fresh nights designed for peaceful sleep.
There is also an outdoor craft market with all the usual stock so we checked that out again but did not buy anything. By now we are specific about what we are interested in.
For the first time on this trip morning dawned cool and wet. We were off to Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostrich farms and beyond that, George, on the coast. The road we took was called R62 and is renowned for its scenic beauty. To begin with we traveled on a rural connector road, Hwy 324 and were blown away by the lush landscapes.
But once we were actually traveling on the renowned R62 we were underwhelmed. There are some pretty little towns but I think the day was too grey. It rained off and on. The green-clad mountains were all very grey. Being winter the flowers are just now budding. In another month the meadows are probably awash in colour. So I won’t write the tourism hype off as a lie, but in winter it is not worth the drive.
We did not stop at any of the ostrich farms today because we did that on a previous trip. What they offer is a chance to get up close and personal with ostriches; to see where they incubate the eggs and raise the ostriches as egg layers or for their meat and the leather products that are made from their skin. It’s actually a bit gruesome to me. One moment you are exchanging flirtatious smiles with a cute ostrich, the next you are admiring an $800 handbag made from its sister’s skin. Perhaps I am a vegetarian at heart. In any event, I did NOT have an ostrich burger for lunch.
You can also take a ride on an ostrich. It is actually quite hard to hang on. You cannot get a proper grip on the neck because it is made up of dozens, maybe hundreds of vertebrae that all act independently so it moves in all directions.
What happens is that the farmhands catch the ostrich and guide it into a kind of box. Steve got on by climbing up the sides of the rails. He was instructed to hang onto the wings for support. Then they open the gate on the box and the ostrich takes off like a bat out of hell. The farmhands run like crazy after the ostrich, hoping to break the fall of the tourist on its back. Steve hung on for quite a while, but like them all, took his lumps in the sand.
Then the farmhands, more experienced riders for sure, lined up the ostriches and had a race with each riding one. The ostriches did not seem to be any the worse for wear but I won’t say they were having a great time either. I just don’t know.
South Coast - Knysna
Leaving George this morning our first pull off was just a wee way down the highway at Dolphin’s Point. We thought this was just an ordinary viewpoint but it was very cool. Since we were driving east our lane was right up against the mountainside so we pulled off into a narrow parking area there. When we got out I thought we would not be able to see much from this side of the road but I was wrong. We took a path down under the highway and came out at a viewing platform that opened onto this amazing expanse of oceanfront spread out below us. It was awesome. The golden beaches of South Africa rival anything I’ve experiences anywhere else in the world.
We continued on to Wilderness National Park. This is a charming small park, mostly a big campground, that is located on the river. You can rent canoes and kayaks there and stay in the campground or at one of the small rondivills. We had a peek in and they are very clever in their design – bed, table and chairs, kitchenette and ensuite. All in a neat and tidy package.
Being Sunday there was a cycling road race with several hundred participants underway on the N2 highway. It ran from Knysna to Wilderness return, either 50 km or 100 km. Just before the end of the course there was an enormous hill. It is amazing to me that anyone could cycle up that hill at all, never mind someone who’s already pumped over 100 km. It was cool to see people helping each other. A strong rider would be riding one-handed with his or her hand on another’s back, giving them that extra little push up the hill.
Knysna is a waterfront resort town. The cycle race was part of the Oyster Festival there was a spirit of festivity in the air. On the waterfront we poked around in the shops but quickly discovered that we were out of our league. It was $4999 R (that is about $700 Cdn) for an ostrich leather purse or $70 Cdn for a cushion cover. We did have lunch there in a waterfront café and it was reasonable. We shared a pizza with two double cappuccino’s and a tiramisu for $159 R – that is about $22.
We carried on up the Garden Route. I expect that in the spring or summer when the flowers are in bloom it is probably very garden like but today the skies were leaden and heavy and it did not live up to its reputation for lush scenic beauty.
By late afternoon we had arrived at the municipal campground called the Jeffrey Bay Caravan Park. It is really nice, set right on the ocean. The beach is pristine and beautiful, the surf is huge and crashing. Steve collected a bunch of shells. My job tonight was to do the laundry. The wash and line dry method worked fine in the dry interior but here on the coast it is too cold and humid. Thank goodness we came on a washer and dryer set up. Not cheap. Washing was $20 R x 2 machines and drying was $15 R x 4 = total of $100 R = $14.
But all our clothes and linens are clean once again!
Addo Elephant Park
We arrived at Addo Elephant Park yesterday. Everything we had read indicated that the entrance was at “Kirkwood.” Unfortunately this gate is is actually the back door to a 4 x 4 track that would have been a very bad choice for us, never mind that they would not let us on it anyway. You have to book it in advance and enter by a certain time.
But the gate keeper was able to give us a map of the park and provide directions to the main camp, some 37 km away! Unfortunately while talking with her I left our South Africa map in her office. A sentimental tragedy for us. We could always buy a new map but this one was the original on which we`d spent two years plotting every inch of this trip, then added notes and deviations as we`ve turned dreams into reality. But once we got to the main camp and discovered our loss the office was able to call the Kirkwood Gate and they sent the map over in the morning when staff made the trip between gates. Thanks so very much.
At Addo we were only able to get a campsite for the one night. That was fine as the second night we went to a private campground about 10 km outside the gates called “Homestead B&B”. The property is absolutely beautiful – like a lovely jungle garden. The main house is an old homestead with quite a bit of history attached to it, being one of the oldest citrus farms in the Sundays River Valley. The original homestead dates back to the early 1900s. The property has been developed as a B&B with a full range of accommodation from campsites to backpackers to self-catering to B&B in comfy rooms.
Back at Addo Elephant National Park the campsites are very tight. I don’t understand this as they have tens of thousands of acres and the animals don’t need it all, although in this case the waterhole is directly beside the campsite and I counted 27 elephants right there at the same time.
The facilities are the SAN usual: tent sites and caravan sites all with electricity. There is an ablution block and water. The interpretive centre has lots of interesting displays, an office for booking game drives with a guide, a shop with souvenirs and a restaurant which was very busy. There are also a range of chalets – some were really nice, with front decks overlooking the very busy waterhole. I would love to book one of those if I were ever there again because this waterhole is VERY busy.
We immediately set off on a game drive that night and again the next day. There are more than 500 elephants so they are very easy to spot. We ran into them, almost literally because they march up and down the roadways in big family groups of ten to thirty. We also saw large numbers of them at several of the waterholes. That is an elephant's tail to the right.
As well, the park is home to zebra, kudu, eland and warthogs, red hartebeest, duiker, black-backed jackal, ostrich, blue crane, Egyptian goose, Bokmakierie, meerkats, yellow mongoose, bush pigs, buffalo, vervet monkeys, black headed heron. Besides elephants, the Addo Elephant is famous for the dung beetle. So of course Steve had to stop at every pile of elephant dung and try to spot one. We finally figured out that being winter, the dung beetle has sensibly hibernated.
Our favourite sighting was a female ostrich who we watched settle herself into a dirt hole she’d dug in the ground. There was some grunting and groaning and wiggling about. She stood up and two big eggs popped out of her with a clink-clunk. We were so surprised. After she’d laid the eggs she spent the next several hours digging the hole for the eggs deeper – not very effectively with her beak, but she persisted and the hole did get deeper.
As Steve said, “Every park gives us something different.”
Tomorrow we are heading east, up what is known as the Wild
Coast towards Durban. I am not sure what the “wild” refers
to but we’ll find out.