A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring the Garden Route

So, after four lovely days in Cape Town we climbed aboard the Bazbus (our ride across the Garden Route), and headed for Stellenbosch, a pretty university town where a new batch of students were diving head first into Freshers Week. As Stellenbosch is famous for its wine, we really had no option but to check out one of the local wineries, especially as we were charged only 35 rand (approx. £2.50) for an hour wine tour and a tasting session. We visited the Bergkelder, a small winery on the other side of Stellenbosch, where they produce a wide range of white and red wines and make many of them available for tasting. South African wine is so good I'm even developing a taste for red; no mean feat considering I'm a dedicated drinker of white wine.

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The next day we moved on to Hermanus, a tiny coastal town whose claims to fame are their whale and shark watching opportunities. We were booked in for shark diving the following day, so chose to spend potentially our final hours walking an hour-long scenic route along the coast to the beaches of Hermanus. The views were beautiful, though blighted slightly by the gigantic forest fire that was raging on the horizon.; the South African Fire Services seem to take the view that as long as a fire isn't near houses, it can do what it wants.

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Our last day in Hermanus was spent cage diving with sharks in Gansbaai, an area famous for its shark population, but unfortunately they must all have been on holiday that day. The conditions weren't ideal, and consequently we only saw two sharks, but it was exciting to see them from the cage!

We then moved on to Mossel Bay, where we were excited to finally encounter some warm sea water, and then to George, where our hotel owner very kindly transported us to Cango Caves, a limestone landmark about an hour away near Oudtshoorn. Humans lived in these caves as far back as the Middle Stone Age, much more recently they were used for opera concerts due to the excellent acoustics, and eventually access was made available only for tours due to the amount of damage done to them by the public.

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The rest of our visit to George was plagues with rain, so we were glad to escape to our next destination; Plettenberg Bay. We didn't arrive until evening and therefore ventured out looking for a restaurant. After a long walk down a very steep hill we found a lovely restaurant balanced right on the beachfront, which John seemed to remember left a great impression on his dad back in the day. The outside deck is treated to sprawling views of sand dunes where the ocean ends, and due to the angle of the beach the waves come in from the side. The added bonus is that you can work off your meal climbing back up the hill...

Our final stop on the Garden Route was Nature's Valley in The Crags; our hotel was in the middle of nowhere and it was lovely to be surrounded by quiet for a couple of days. John quickly made friends with every dog, cat and horse to be seen, and the only small interruption of our tranquility was an incident one night when the door of our dorm was rattling and we thought it was a baboon. Turned out to be a cat. We enjoyed a day of wandering around the surrounding countryside, finding spectacular views, a beautiful waterfall and a camper pitching his tent in a giant treehouse.

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Oh yeah, we also did a massive bungee jump. More on that as soon as I get my hands on the photos....

Posted by kate1401 06:57 Archived in South Africa Tagged george hermanus stellenbosch plettenberg_bay shark_diving mossel_bay nature's_valley Comments (0)

Seatbelts? Where we're going, we don't need seatbelts...

If I was going to suggest the first thing to do when you got to Cape Town, what do you think it would be? Scale Table Mountain? Check out the waterfront? Party on Long Street? No. I would suggest you head to your nearest main road, wait 10 seconds for a bus to swerve to the kerb, and climb aboard. With no ticket machine, seatbelts or passenger limit, these little shuttle buses are a far-cry from any form of transport in the UK, but will throw you into Cape Town life better than anything else. Everyone jumps in, balanced on edges of seats, pieces of wood and milk crates, shouts out where they want to go, and the driver somehow picks up on all of it and drops everyone off en route to its final destination. Everyone else was passing fares around the bus, shouting at the driver and shouting at each other, while a huge bloke with dreadlocks played Adele ballads from his blackberry and John and I clung on for dear life and desperately tried to work out where we were going.

Of course we did all the other stuff too. We skipped the option to hike up the sheer face of Table Mountain, and instead took a cable car to the height of 1000m for beautiful views across the sprawl of Cape Town.

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What is remarkable about Table Mountain is that the top is completely flat, making it easy to walk around. There is plenty of vegetation and wildlife, and we managed to get a close-up of this little fella, a Rock Dassie:

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Later that day we made our way to the V & A Waterfront, a shiny and new area of Cape Town dominated by 5-star hotels, shopping malls and expensive boutiques. However it's still a lively part of town, with beautiful sea views:

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Note: We also had a sneaky visit to the cinema to catch Django Unchained. It was awesome.

The next day was dominated by a visit to Camps Bay Beach about half an hour down the coast from central Cape Town, that had been highly praised by people at our hostel. It was beautiful, but the downside of Western South Africa is that it faces the Atlantic, so even though it is hot the coast is incredibly windy and the sea temperature is like Bridlington in February. John stuck a toe in, and decided to venture no further.

Our last day was spent in the company of John's friend Cameron and his girlfriend Chantal, who took us to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens - shout out to them for a great day. Nestled at the base of Table Mountain, the garden has winding paths and rolling hills that seem to go on forever, and is stunningly perfect.

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Although we spent a night in the insane party district that is Long Street, our best night was our last, spent in our hostel, The Green Elephant. A couple of the lovely long-term residents, Alex and Dean, were describing the typical South African food, and before we knew it they were piling charcoal onto a barbecue to cook us a traditional African braai - a feast of every kind of meat you can think of, with a side of cheese toasties for good measure. It was beautiful, but I for one am glad we only had four meats to cook, as I got full quickly. Dean, Alex and John were happy to take care of my leftovers.

So ended our stay in Cape Town, and at 7am the next morning we waved a sad and sleepy goodbye to the Green Elephant and headed for Stellenbosch. Stay tuned...

Posted by kate1401 08:29 Archived in South Africa Tagged cape_town table_mountain braai camps_bay kirstenbosch long_street Comments (2)

The Itinerary

24th January - 20th February: South Africa

20th February - 27th March: Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore

28th March - 22nd May: Australia

22nd May - 19th June: New Zealand

19th June - 17th July: Japan

17th July - 26th August: China/Hong Kong

Posted by kate1401 15:30 Tagged itinerary Comments (0)

The Final Countdown

So after all these months, our trip is upon us! I'm swinging between extreme excitement and extreme panic, but the English weather is certainly helping push me out of the door. According to the BBC, the temperature in Cape Town is currently averaging about 25 degrees Celsius, whereas my back garden looks like this:

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You can imagine my excitement to be packing my shorts, sandals and bikinis (although not so thrilled about all the mosquito repellent). Of course I have had to reel in my excitement to make sure I don't over-pack; my rucksack is going to make a great weight-lifting tool as it is;

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Of course I'm going to miss all my friends and family,and I'm terrified of all the things that could go wrong, but the next 7 months are going to be amazing. This blog is going to be my way of documenting all our adventures, as well as proving to my parents that I'm still alive. Happy reading!

Posted by kate1401 14:44 Archived in England Tagged home packing setting_off Comments (0)

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