After a few days in stunning Cape Town (post to follow when we return to the city), we picked up our trusty Toyota Corolla Quest and headed east. We had booked the car for nearly four weeks so had plenty of time to explore the country before dropping it in Johannesburg. Here are some highlights in the Western and Eastern Cape.
After a delicious lunch in a scenic vineyard, we reached Oudtshoorn, our first stop in the Western Cape province. The town is known as the ostrich capital of the world, as they were bred there for their feathers when that was fashionable (1860-1914), and now for their meat and leather. We took a tour of one of the ostrich farms and learnt about these funny animals (one of which nearly pecked Becki).
Another beautiful journey took us south to the coast and along the famous Garden Route. The town is a popular holiday spot for locals in the summer but in the off season it was pretty quiet. From the town we drove up to pretty headlands to admire the lagoon and ocean and then hiked in the nearby forests alongside a beautiful brook.
We fancied a change from the hostels so found a lovely cottage, set in stunning countryside a few hours inland. However, what made it really unique was that it was part of a private university so had a restaurant on site for the students. But this was no normal canteen, in fact it was a French-influenced bistro with crazy cheap student prices. Want an Illy cappuccino? 72p. How about a piece of millionaire shortbread? A rip-off at 24p. Or maybe a delicious cheese and roast tomato quiche with home made chips? £1.44. And every night you could get dinner delivered to your cottage for only £2.10.
On top of this, the owner and his family were lovely and friendly, so much so that we twice extended our stay and ended up being there three nights.
Tsitsikamma National Park
One day we managed to leave the cottage and head to the nearby coastal National Park. Rather than hiking, we decided to rent mountain bikes for what we were told was an easy and mostly flat 22km trail to the coast and back. But after an hour of sweaty up and down on a rocky bumpy track we gave up some way from the end as the route back was the same and we were already knackered. The forest scenery was very nice but it was a shame not to see the sea. After lunch we headed to nearby Nature’s Valley and a deserted beach which was gorgeous and windswept.
A longish drive took us inland again and up to a small village 1300m above sea level, named after the geological term for the ‘bristles’ that cover the peaks of the surrounding hills. Local lore suggests JRR Tolkien visited Hogsback and was inspired by the stunning scenery but that may be embellishment by the tourist board. Nevertheless, we found a nice hostel with fire pits and Hobbit named rooms. They even had a bath you could use on the edge of the mountain with a stunning view. We hiked to an attractive waterfall (named ‘the Madonna and Child’) and relaxed admiring the views.
The Wild Coast: Chintsa & Coffee Bay
The final stops in the Eastern Cape were back on the sea in the area know as the Wild Coast. This stretch of land runs for 350km and is home to the Xhosa people. First off we spent some admiring the wide sandy beach at Chintsa, from down below and from above in our hostel.
Then we journeyed to Coffee Bay (along a horrifically potholed road) which is famed for surfing which we watched from atop the headland above the beach. But we really came to learn a bit more about the local culture.
We signed up for a tour at the hostel but in the end it was just us two so the Xhosa guide jumped in our car. We had hoped to understand the lifestyle of the local people and maybe even meet a few but in the end the stops were pretty random and the guide was quite annoying. The worst moment was when we stopped at a ‘pub’ (more of an off licence) where the guide asked/told us to buy four litres of local maize beer which we had a sip off and then left the rest to the old couple sat outside. It seemed pretty wrong buying more booze for these people who probably had more urgent needs… We did see some caves where ANC supposedly hung out during apartheid but getting there involved bashing the bottom of the car as the road was non-existent.
Nevertheless apart from the last stop it was a good first 11 days but I’m really looking forward to seeing more mountains in the next few days as South Africa seems to do them very well.
Next stops: Drakensberg and Lesotho