I spent my last day in Cape Town/South Africa taking the cable car to the top of table mountain and walking around the top of it. I had another cloudless day for it and the views up there are even farther than from day before at cape point. The number of lizards far outnumbered the tourists, especially when I got 50m from the cable car exit. So nice being here in the off season!
Now I’m at my hostel, waiting for my airport shuttle for my 12 hour overnight flight to London. It is not on Air France for anyone wondering… It’s been a long time since I’ve flown BA, I wonder what the service is like these days. I have just read that there is a probable tube strike in London for 48 hours, approximately the 48 hours I am going to be there, and the forecast is for cool temps and rain. Ah England in summer and chaos, I can’t wait! Signing off from South Africa…
After the previous days unwanted ‘excitement’, my second day was much better. I was out of the city all day on a tour of the Cape peninsula. The weather was as good as possible for the time of year, no clouds to be seen, warm enough with the only downside a strong wind, apparently the wind is almost ever present here just changes direction some times. Along the way to the cape of good hope the first stop was Hout bay.
After that, boulder beach in Simonstown to see the breeding colony of African penguins there. I thought the penguins here were the same tiny things as in Australia that don’t really look like penguins, but these guys are pretty cool! Not that much larger but much cooler looking, and this was way more penguins than I’ve seen in one place before.
After eating lunch, we rode bikes down the last few km of the road to the cape point, and saw some ostriches along the way.
The wind was incredible at the point, I haven’t felt wind like that since I was in NZ. The scenery around there looks a little like Southern NZ too.
We hiked up to the cliffs and on to the lighthouse, the views from up there are awesome, looking all the way across false bay and back down to the cape of good hope itself.
I got back to Cape Town just before a beautiful sunset and a great view of table mountain form my hostel. Then I headed out for a dinner of springbok, the national animal here, that I was going to have the previous night before I was mugged and lost interest in it. Springbok was delicious and I had almost as fun waiting for the food to arrive watching the restaurant host run around like a crazy man trying to keep everyone happy, reminded me of my restaurant managing days…
This is my last night in South Africa, tomorrow if the weather hold I’m going to take the cable car up table mountain to see the view from up there. Then I’m flying to London tomorrow night, arriving early the next morning. It’s been nearly 3 years since I’ve been back in the UK, I can’t wait.
I got up in Cape Town on the morning after my wine tour and (after finding out where exactly in the city I was since the night before it was dark and things were somewhat hazy) I headed out to see the main centre of the city and do some shopping. Unfortunately since it was a Sunday, almost no shops were open so once I’d explored the main drag of Long street and surrounds.
The french open final was on in the afternoon and there was no way I was going to miss that with this years scenario, I stopped at the first pub on Long St not exclusively showing springbok rugby and they had it on and guinness for accompaniment.
After that thoroughly enjoyable experience I headed back towards my hostel when I had a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. Two guys walked up behind me, and started asking for money. I thought they were beggers until they got more aggressive… nope, just street robbers. At least one of them had a knife, albeit a small one and they were demanding my money. I didn’t have a backpack or any valuables with me, I haven’t carried that stuff with me anywhere in public here, so after I handed over all the cash in my wallet (luckily only about 200 rand [$25usd] ) they walked off, didn’t take my wallet which had a credit card in it also.
I’ve been aware of the crime in this country, I was just struck by the fact that this didn’t happen after dark in some remote area or poor area. This was about 4:30pm on Kloof St, a major road about a block from some trendy restaurants and some nice apartments. People frequent this street and that didn’t detour them, it’s also the route I was told by the hostel staff was safe, even after dark. Following the standard advice not to resist was damn hard, especially since they didn’t seem like tough guys and the knife was barely big enough to have done much of anything with and I still remember some of my self defense from a few years back. I guess you never know what else they have under their clothes though, the first instinct was to kick the guy with the knife somewhere very painful and run, but since I didn’t have much cash there was less of a need to risk anything. I now completely understand why I’ve seen stands with electric tasers for sale at market stalls here. I wish I would’ve had one with me to zap the bastards with. Tasers, mace, hand guns. These are all carried daily by South African people, along with surrounding their homes with barbed electric wire and 6ft brick walls to avoid becoming a victim in this high crime society. After being here for 3 1/2 weeks, and not just due to being robbed, I’m sold on these being a necessity here, not an over reaction like I first thought. It’s sad and a statement on the state of the country here, but if I was living here I’d be doing exactly the same.
The bus trip from Knysna to Stellenbosch was slightly under 1000km and
took around 9 hours. It felt like the bus ride that would never end, I got on at noon and arrived long after dark, the bus was pretty full due to the group of loud, annoying american university students traveling on it. This was the 2nd bus ride I had to endure with the same group of people (who are remembered by most bazbus travelers I’ve met along the route since Durban) luckily it will also be the last. We did pass some great views along the way…
Day 1 in Stellenbosch was wet, miserable and very English in nature. I walked around the town centre a little in the morning, it’s a great setting with lots of tree lined streets and old colonial buildings.
I spent the rest of the day at the hostel to avoid the weather (along with everyone else staying there), fortunately the french open was on tv all afternoon. My second day I did a wine tour of the areas winelands, it was a full day out visiting 4 wineries and cheese factory and stopping for lunch somewhere in the middle (where exactly I don’t recall). There was a great bunch of people on the tour, apparently on avg we all had about 1 bottle of wines worth of sampling during the day, the weather couldn’t ruin the day. Got back to the hostel just before dark and had time for one more drink at the bar with everyone else before I had to leave and catch my bus to Cape Town. Fantastic day out, wine tours ftw!
I arrived in Jeffreys Bay at 9am following the short bus ride from Port Elizabeth. Only four people on the bus for the last two legs now, and two of the others have gotten off at the same stops as me. It’s amazing how few backpackers are here now! Jeffreys Bay is a home to a crescent shaped bay and almost continuous beaches running around the bay, it’s also supposed to be one of the top 3 surfing spots on earth (I hear it’s slightly better on Venus though). My hostel was a great chilled place 2 minutes from the beach, this is my view of the surf from the balcony.
The weather was perfect so I grabbed one of the boards from the hostel and went to fulfill the previous days goal. After a couple hours of not the most successful attempts, I dried off and went down to explore the town itself. Not that disimilar to the Australian and NZ surfer towns I’ve visited. There’s lots of surf shops, various sorts of accommodation all over the place with coffee shops and trendy restaurants lining the main street. One of the hostel staff recommended a good and unique seafood restaurant here (this stretch of coastline is known for good seafood) so I tried that for my belated birthday meal since all I managed the day before was a meat pie at a service station on a brief stop on the bus. The restaurant was out of town at the marina, on the beach. No floor, it was a semi permanent building (tarp walls and a solid roof) with an open braai and tables and benches on the sand, a pretty cool way to serve seafood. I had a good sized platter of all the good shellfish, served with freshly made bread and dips all for about $20usd. Now that’s good value for seafood!
I left J-bay the next morning for Knysna, passing seemingly endless amounts of tree farms along the way. Aside from the fact that several South Africans had told me not to miss it, one of the reasons I decided to spend a day here was that they had their own local beer brewery here, making something other than piss poor lager, this is extremely rare in South Africa. Since I’ve looked for, and found good beer in most countries I’ve traveled too (before anyone gets excited I did fail to find good local beer in Taiwan or Korea) I was convinced that there had to be something here, hell even Japan had some good beer. So after I got off the bus and checked into my hostel I went straight into town looking for lunch and a the local beer, found both and the beer, a english bitter variety, didn’t disappoint. I am looking forward to even better beer available everywhere in one week exactly when I arrive in London, South Africa has flown by.
Knysna is built on a tidal lagoon, protected by the costal cliffs, making a very sheltered harbourfront. Since I only had time for a one night stay here I didn’t have a chance to do any of the activities around the areas, just checking out the town, which was what I was motivated to do anyway. It’s safe to walk around, full of shops and cafes and lots of oyster restaurants.
Now that I have had a good beer in South Africa my next stop is Stellenbosch (last stop before Cape Town!) in the heart of the winelands. I went through three different wine regions in Australia and none of them disappointed, so I’m looking forward to touring this one. It’s also been recommended by pretty much every South African I’ve met.
I spent a couple nights in Durban, partly because something I ate the other day didn’t agree with me and I didn’t feel too great my first day there. 2nd day, much better. I was actually able to walk around the city! Hadn’t done this anywhere in South Africa yet! I walked all the way from the upperclass suburb I was staying in, to the city centre, the harbour front and checked out the Indian section of town. There’s a huge Indian population here, and plenty of market stalls and shops to show for it. It was busy, but didn’t seem dangerous apart from their being pickpockets around, hardly the first place I’ve been with pickpockets. I didn’t take many pictures, none in the market area, following advice about not being pickpocketed here.
What’s amazing to me is how you can walk through one area and see 75% white people, then walk into the city centre and not see a single one. The problem for me is, the upper/middle class white areas aren’t really interesting, just shopping malls, typical western food restaurants and peoples houses. All the hostels seem to be in these sorts of areas, to reassure people about the safety. At least here in Durban the hostel staff gave me the options of: city bus, taxi or walking into the city centre. Much preferable to Pretoria where it was, “stay on one road if you walk to the mall and taxi if you want to go anywhere else”.
I left Durban and spent about 10 hours on the bus to get to Cintsa, a small beach town on the wild coast home of supposedly the best hostel in South Africa. I had to see what that was all about. I arrived just after sunset but there was still just enough light to see the perfect view of the awesome little cove I had from my window.
Maybe it’s a good backpackers in the summer when it’s busy, but not this time of year. I spent my first day just chilling around the beaches, when I was finished with that, early afternoon, there wasn’t much else to do! The internet wasn’t working and there was hardly anyone else around that I saw. In the evening a few more people arrived on the bus, like me the day before, and after eating dinner in the bar we were playing cards when just before 10pm they called last drinks at the bar. 10pm, at a hostel, last drinks. At that moment the title of best backpackers in South Africa became a laughing matter to all of us there.
The next day, which happened to be my 22nd birthday, was decidedly uninteresting. All of the (few) events put on by the hostel were cancelled because it was too windy, I was going to go surfing. Instead all of us sat and watched the french open until the bus came to take us somewhere more happening, sort of. Got the bus to Port Elizabeth, for the only reason that it is a compulsory overnight stop on the bus route, the next morning I continued on to Jefferys Bay to do something a little bit more interesting for my birthday..
Since I’d already done the hike available to me from the hostel and had another day before the next bus to Durban came along, I decided to take their other day trip the next day into Lesotho. Lesotho is a tiny nation completely surrounded by South Africa in the Drakensberg mountains. It’s a place of nice views and people still living in traditional round huts. Unfortunately since the border closes at 4pm you don’t really get to see a whole lot on a day tour, you don’t even get to any of the towns, just the rural border area.
We drove in, this takes a while since the roads are very poor here, stopped by the rural school and took a short hike. The weather was perfect and the scenery is nice, though not quite as dramatic as the previous days hike. After that we stopped by one of the huts to try some local sorghum pineapple beer, interesting. Then we met one of the village medicine women, tried a local dish and before you knew it the time was up and we were back on the road to the hostel.
A somewhat interesting day, though not as good as I thought it could’ve been. We didn’t even get our passports stamped entering Lesotho since they took down that border post several years ago because not enough people were using it! So now my passport shows I left and re-entered South Africa on the same day but doesn’t show what country I left it for! Scam!
Caught the bus to Durban the next day, arriving a couple hours early (the benefit of the bus not having hardly any passengers on it all day). Nice being at a hostel where I can walk around the (upmarket) area surrounding it without any real warnings!
Because of the limited bus service through this part of the country (3 times a week from Joburg to Durban) I had to stay for at least 3 nights in the Northern Drakensberg. Nothing wrong with this except that without your own transportation here the only interesting things you can really do during the day require going on a tour run from the hostel, more money. I don’t think I’ve ever paid for a tour just to go hiking in the mountains before, but that’s how I spent the first full day. Ah well, at least it was a good hike.
The hike was to the 2nd highest (in terms of the vertical drop) waterfall in the world, despite the fact that it’s the dry season here now and there was only a trickle of water going over the falls. That didn’t take away from the hike at all though, the mountains here are awesome.
Usually climbing to the top of the “ampitheatre” peaks takes 2 or 3 days, but the tour guide took us on back roads to a remote starting point 2500 meters high. We hiked up to about 3100m at the top and then back down in a loop. The weather was perfect, clear skies, great visibility and not too cold. The hike itself was easy for the most part, the only semi challenging bit was scrambling the last 250m up over rocks with no real trail. Nothing serious though.
The panorama from the top was fantastic.
Tugela falls, with a distinct lack of water.
On the way down, it was mostly gradual decent except for 2 chain ladders on sheer rock faces. One was 15 meters, the other one 25 meters. These had been hyped up by other people, but were very anticlimactic, too easy guys!
We were hiking for 5-6 hours in total and the view changed several times on the trail. Standing on top of the shelf with a 1km drop-off right next to you and the whole mountain range stretching in front of you is quite a sight.
I had one more day in Pretoria before the bazbus (hop on hop off backpacker bus, my mode of long distance transit here) left for the Drakensburg mtns, I used it to get supplies for my time there, it’s pretty remote and I didn’t want to get stuck paying for meals at the hostel.
I discovered that my hostel here in Pretoria is very close to the main rugby stadium in the city and today was game day. Roads blocked off, security people and police all over the streets watching peoples parked cars and people “brai”ing all over the place wearing the team colours, in the road, on the sidewalks, in their driveways. It resembled the outside of a stadium before a American college football game, just spread out all over town. I ate lunch in the main square of one of the suburbs here which had a live band warming up the crowd of people for the game and a massive projecter for everyone to watch the game on. The Pretoria team won, apparently the super14 semi final and they’ve been celebrating ever since, I can hear the 2 local sports bars from my hostel and there’s been cars driving like mad honking their horns all evening. They sure do love their rugby here, I can’t imagine what it was like when the Springboks won the world cup in 2007!
I left Pretoria early the next morning, via Joburg on the bazbus for the Drakensberg mountains. The bus, 16 seater minibus, only had 4 of us on it and only me and one other guy were going to the Drakensberg. When we arrived at the hostel in the gateway to the Northern mountains there was hardly anyone else staying there either. It’s low season in this part of the country for tourism but I expected a few more people around!
Day 4 we took a trip to another reserve for a change of scenery in an attempt to spot some different animals. On the way there we passed a large herd of buffalo, several giraffes and a jackal (african version of a dingo). We also saw another white rhino running in front of us. It’s amazing how light on his feet he was for such a huge animal, almost dancing in a curvy line down the road before running off. I finally managed a few, albeit not great photos, of a rhino. Brilliant to watch!
Then, in the other reserve, all of a sudden a snake appeared in the middle of the road. What happened after that was so fast it was unreal. I didn’t see it at first because I was looking off to the side at that moment, but the snake rose up off the ground, then there was a collective gasp by everyone, the guide on the front viewing seat jumped half up onto the front of the vehicle, the snake dropped down again, the vehicle stopped and the next thing I knew the snake was directly below me at the back of the vehicle hissing and moving very quickly into the nearest bush. That snake was a 2 meter long black momba, one of Africa’s deadliest snakes. It can kill you in 45 minutes. No wonder the guide was jumpy.
We stopped at a campsite in the other reserve for lunch, then headed off on a drive. The terrain was more hilly in this reserve and slightly more open making it easier to spot stuff. First we saw a large group of baboons not far from out lunch spot. Then, coming across a large open area we saw a group of impalas, a few warthogs that retreated into the distance very quickly and a couple more jackals.
Not far away from there was a group of wildebeast mixed in with impalas. Apparently the wildebeast are quite stupid animals so they hang around other animals who have a better sense of danger.
After a short walk, we stopped at a water hole on the way out of this reserve with 3 hippos in it, slightly more visible than the one previously seen.
On the way back to our camp, just before leaving the other reserve one of the best moments of the safari happened. We saw a couple large bull elephants eating and stopped to watch. We’d seen lots of elephant by this point but these 2 weren’t very far off the road and were pretty large ones (for elephants even). One of them soon wandered away, but the other one slowly came closer. We stayed here for around half an hour and eventually he slowly walked within 3 meters of us, alongside the vehicle, eating as he went. Every now and then he’d stop and look at us, but wasn’t bothered in the slightest. Being so close to a wild elephant is amazing, I took videos but even they don’t convey the awesomeness of the experience.
Lots of various kinds of antelope on the way back to camp and a few more giraffes. After a braai (South African bbq) of ostrich sausages we went out on another freezing cold night drive…
Didn’t see much this time, though at the end we saw a couple jackals running alongside us.
The weather, which was awesome on days 1 and 2 had become much cooler and overcast on days 3 and 4. The last day however was warmer with hardly a cloud to be seen. We didn’t see much on our early drive, went back to camp, packed up and headed out of the reserve. On the way out we saw a family of warthogs come out of nowhere, cross the road and disappear on the other side just as fast.
Several kinds of antelope, including the quite large, waterbuck. We saw several different groups of baboons, and this one with a baby.
My last sight of the park was a herd of elephants eating just off the road. Nice way to finish a fantastic 5 days. I saw 4 or the big 5, countless birds and smaller animals and had a great time the whole week. We didn’t find any leopards or cheetahs, though this isn’t too surprising and never saw any zebras (though we did see their tracks), slightly more strange but overall we saw a lot of wildlife and had a great experience doing so.
I’m back in Pretoria now for another day, leaving here tomorrow morning for the Drakensburg mountains.