Category Archives: South Africa

Travelogue: Drakensburg

DRAKENSBERG
12-15 May 2017

We were fortunate enough to be invited by our friends Vern and Kaya to his family’s sharehold on a house in the Drakensberg for a long weekend; an invitation which we grabbed with both hands!
Vern’s family had owned their stake in the cottage for decades – since his early childhood – and he spoke of it so animatedly that our only concern was that there wouldn’t be enough time to do all the cool things he told us were on offer at our destination.
Getting together for a planning session (and a curry) 2 evenings before departure helped enormously as we crafted both an itinerary and a grocery list so, with everything in place, all we had to do was bide the 2 sleeps and 2 long work days until our roadtrip to the ‘Berg.
Friday eventually came and Christian fetched me from my office a little later than planned, thanks to the commencement of a fine drizzle that both heralded the start of a much-publicised coldfront and the inevitable traffic chaos that comes with the slightest sign of any weather interruption. Within half an hour the route that Christian had taken to get to me that we were retracing to begin our journey was already frought with traffic light outages and bumper-bashings. Ah, Joburg. There’s no place like home… but we were quite happy to leave the carnage behind us for a weekend!
It wasn’t so bad and about another half hour later we were on the open road, with Christian expertly juggling the challenges of the rain and a team telecon (on mute, so they couldn’t hear my tiktiktik on the keyboard of my laptop while I finished up my Friday).
The weekend forecast of a coldfront was not a word of a lie and we’d gone from a literally short-sleeve start to the day to a very chilly, very early sunset, pitch black by 5pm.
We made good time and hit Harrismith by 6pm for the ritual refresh and rewater. That pitstop sure has changed since my first memory of it (in the 80s); it boasts a better restaurant selection than many shopping centres in the Big Smoke now! But we weren’t shopping – and the raging fireplace in the bathrooms reminded that we were headed for our frosty mountain adventure.
Back on the road, our progress was slowed by chevrons guiding us through the perpetual upgrades in the Harrismith interchange and onto the magnificently improved R74 (that had been a colander of a road when we’d travelled to Spionkop for a wedding in 2011). Unfortunately all good things come to an end and the last section of the journey was on tarmac pocked so badly along both sides that Kaya had already advised us to stick to the middle of the road wherever possible.
Arriving into the ‘Berg we used the major resorts as our guide and were soon at the Drakensberg Sun, our neighbour for the weekend. The “cottage” (as Vern modestly referred to the 4 double-bedroom home) is in Bergville Estate, a quaint little suburb behind the Drak Sun with traditional family-style bungalows on old-school suburban-size plots winding up the mountain from the valley on tree-themed roadnames. Ours was Bottlebrush.
With only an overnight bag each, there was little settling-in to do, so after the “R2 Tour” (as Vern called it) of our home for the weekend, we focused on helping with the finishing touches on dinner.
A little drizzle had not deterred our hosts from pushing the proverbial boat out on the evening meal and there was a mammoth stuffed chicken on the Weber under the covered patio with ovenbaked veg and more pork sausage stuffing in the oven making the house smell heavenly! Kaya whipped up a brown onion gravy while Christian was tasked with manning the roast potatoes and I laid the table, and we were soon clinking glasses with an epic roast meal to celebrate our arrival.
Half an hour later we were in a similar situation to the poor bird that was no longer. Stuffed to the hilt!
With a crackling fire on the go, we retired to the lounge with red wine, Lindt balls, a pack of cards and a new game that Vern taught us (“Knock Knock”) for entertainment.
Mountain life was going to suit us juuuust fine!
We woke on Saturday to a chilly morning (that was apparently, ironically, nowhere near as cold as home, thanks to the killer coldfront that had hit Joburg in our absence) and stuck to the  programme, heading out to Valley Bakery for breakfast and to procure the baked goods and treats we’d mapped on our weekend plan.
It was easy to see how this eatery had earned its place as top restaurant choice in the ‘Berg, with mingling aromas of strong coffee and fresh bread and the option to browse, sample and buy all sorts of sweet treats – and the reserve some Pasteis de Natalie (custard tarts), which Vern and Kaya had had before… and had missed out on on a previous visit where the fresh tarts were being put on display when they arrived, but were all gone by the time they finished their breakfast!
Revitalised (and 8 Pasteis in hand), we ticked off the other “admin” item; we restocked our firewood. Well, more accurately, the boys sorted the firewood while we snuck in a cheeky homemade chocolate tasting and browsed the local craft store which, in my case, lead to the purchase of the world’s softest scarf.
Back at the house, we took advantage of the break in the drizzle to investigate our surrounds. The valley is gorgeous and the estate immaculately maintained – presumably by the hotel, that trades access to its facilities in return for use of the estate’s roads for more convenient access to its timeshare chalets.
We were exploring the hotel’s lakeside paths when the rain returned so we caught solace in the hotel bar, The Grotto Lounge, to grab a cocktail (also on our To Do list). We were in luck to not only get a comfy table for 4 in the quite-full bar, but also to have stumbled across the hotel’s afternoon indoor entertainment – quiz and bingo.
Naming ourselves after our cocktails, The Bloody Marys swept up first place in the quiz and picked the bottle of red wine as our reward. We passed on the bingo since our quiz round had been more of a test of patience than trivia with just 10 questions being draaaaawn out by the quizmaster to fill an hour! He was fond of prefacing every question with pointless things like “I would love to know…”, adding superfluous dramatics onto the questions (“what is the shortest element on the Periodical Table evaaaa?”) and then consulting with every person in the room before revealing the correct answer. Our sweeping victory on 7/10 (the nearest contester was 4/10) was a great note to leave on, so we headed back to our cottage.
Even with the intermittent drizzle, the afternoon was moderate, so we made the most of the scenery, taking to the (covered) patio to continue the afternoon’s theme, cracking open the cottage’s copy of Trivial Pursuit. The challenge of it being the 1982 UK edition didn’t concern us at all and we rehashed the excellent quizmaster skills we’d learnt earlier on to turn what can be a serious boardgame into a marathon giggle!
Between our inability to roll exact dice and the taxing questions – jogging non-existent memories of Yugoslavia and Rhodesia, arbitrary connections to the Royal Family and impossibly detailed entertainment questions about TV shows that haven’t aired in 40 years or more – the game took us through dinner preparations (another slap-up affair, with bacon-wrapped fillet prepared on the Weber and served with Kaya’s (now) famous mushroom sauce. WOW!) and into the evening, with a crackling fire to keep us company.
Sunday morning started the way every great Sunday morning does, with a giant fry-up. Christian had woken up motivated and hit the kitchen so the rest of us roused to the delicious aroma of frying bacon. And eggs. And sausage. And mushrooms. And beans. There was so much food, we didn’t even have enough space on the plate to bother with toast!
Feeling a little guilty after the extravagant feast and spurred by the fresh, clear morning, we decided to take a walk to the Blue Grotto, which is easily accessed from walking trails signposted from the lakeshore in the gardens of the Drakensburg Sun. It’s an easy walk with well-marked tracks through the indigenous forest and we were soon at the Blue Grotto, admiring the waterfalls and rock pools. Way too cold to enjoy them in the water, but pretty to look at nonetheless.
The trail isn’t circular so we retraced our footsteps and were ejected from the hike back at the same starting point… which is also the launch point for another, shorter, walk around the lake. Since the weather was still good and we were still (moderately) fresh, we kept going and circumnavigated the lake, over the dam wall and back up through the hotel gardens.
Not a bad effort, with about 10km all in all. And it clearly shifted breakfast since we were unanimous that our dinner plan – an outing to Winterton – was definitely going to have to move forward to Late Lunch territory. The idea was to do a short drive to absorb the countryside and eat at a place Vern and Kaya had enjoyed many times previously, a place called Bingelela just outside Bergville.
Heading out to dinner at 3 in the afternoon (!) allowed us spectacular views of the fields and snow-capped mountain backdrop… and softened the blow of the restaurant being shut when e got there! Being Mothers Day, it seemed as if they’d done a big event for lunchtime and were not  opening for dinner trade.
It wasn’t a problem though, having seen a few worthy contenders on our roadtrip, we returned the way we came and pulled into the Thokozisa Lifestyle Centre, a small collection of shops in a brightly decorated thatched complex – clearly the Drakensburg’s warm and rustic interpretation of a mall.
The restaurant was happy to seat us and we welcomed the cosy table close to the fire. Kaya and I went for a gander around the shops while our food was being prepared and returned with a(nother) scarf and a big bag of koeksusters, which would serve nicely as a dessert around our own fireplace later on.
Another upside to the (very) early dinner was that we could return while it was still light and have some visibility of the pocked roads. And still have time for a few rounds of card games before our early night in advance of our 5am departure.
It had been a very shrewd decision to leave on Monday morning instead of Sunday afternoon as we’d managed to squeeze in so much more in just the few extra hours!

Travelogue: Western Cape 2013

06 Feb – 12 Feb 2013

 

It’s amazing how – no matter how well (or poorly) you plan – all sorts of things crops up just before you’re due to take some “Out of Office” time.

In this case, it started with the delightful news that my school chum, Lixi (Alex Scott), was coming out to SA to see her folks, who were due to be extended holidaying in Wilderness (on the Garden Route). The idea was that she’d come out for some family time, I’d join her at the folks’ and then we’d do a bit of a roadtrip (in either direction, being so well positioned) and then head back up to Jo’burg in time for my birthday and the traditional hooray of celebrations that generally accompany.

Plans got hatched and sub-plans attached – come down on the Friday since Christian was keen to come with to Wilderness based on the lovely time we’d had last year, but could only make a weekend of it because of work commitments. This left Lix and I keen on roadtripping for the week and possibly hooking up with Leek in Hermanus (her dad lives there and is overdue a visit by her), extra relevant since it was Leek who introduced Lix and I all those decades ago, making for our own little coming of age roadtrip on the 21st anniversary of our friendship! Ending off with a weekend in Cape Town to hook up with more long-losties.

But these notions devolved as all sorts of other opportunities and commitments presented themselves on the home front, including Barry announcing that he was coming to SA for a few weeks (well, Emma announced on Barry’s behalf, but same difference). The trip happened to overlap with previously mentioned plan – but there proved to be no hope in getting any idea of the overlapping itinerary from the flurry on Barry’s side to see what that meant in terms of availabilities and implications on our trip plans.

Opting for ‘rather safe than sorry’ (and Kulula pricing sweetspots) the final itinerary developed, being coming down earlier and leaving earlier so as to fit everything in. So, I jumped in and booked my tickets for the afternoon of Wednesday 6 Feb down to George and back home again on the evening of Tuesday the 12th, confident that I’d only be missing one day of office time (a custom more than a commitment) and pleased that I’d managed to juggle all the balls to make the most of all the faces from far. (Especially seeing as the Kulula January sale hit and Alex got a plum flight up to Jo’burg on Friday the 15th, so would get in more QT with the parentals but, more importantly, have a whole week in Jo’burg with me!)

No sooner was the proverbial ink dry than I was presented with the opportunity to spend time at the office daily working on the sales pipeline while Marco was to be off on his next adventure (www.emptyquarter.co.za). I happily took on the commitment, always enjoying my time at Eurocom and pleased for the additional work… and was now thankful for my now-strategically minimised away time – marvelling at how things have a way of working themselves out!

The month between planning and travelling flew! And so did I! Flew to the office at sparrows, flew through a crazy To Do list, flew through a lovely Alfredo (thanks to Luciano, Eurocom’s amazing chef), flew to the airport, slooowed down on the shuttle between long-term parking and the terminal, flew through a proposal at the Slow Lounge, flew to the boarding gate… And then finally flew to George.

Worried that somehow over the 2,5 years since our last reunion (Venice, August 2010) Alex would have become unrecognisable to me and there’d be an awkward moment at the airport where I’d be feverishly oscillating like a lawn sprinkler looking for her when she was right in front of me, I was relieved when I spotted her from the moment I walked through into Arrivals – and there was much Woo Girling (without the literal “woo”ing) as we giggled noisily and hugged our hello’s.

Alex’s stepmum, Clare, had been kind enough to drive to fetch me and she bustled off – ostensibly an act of efficiency to find the parking pay machines, but likely a good dose of wanting to distance herself from us, already engrossed in monkey-chatter of catch-ups!

Stories flew thick and fast on the drive and we were soon pulling into the driveway of the charming beach-house that they’d rented for the duration of their 6 week holiday. Literally right on the beach, with a wide covered balcony all along the length of the front (overlooking the sand and sea) and I had been allocated a lovely cottage suite, separate from the house.

By 17h30 I was settled in (ie had dumped my bag in the cottage) and we were all comfortably seated around the patio suite on the balcony, sundowners in hand (perhaps premature since the sun only sets around 19h30, but can one ever really be too prepared when it comes to such vital matters?). Clare had pre-prepped a roast dinner and while this was in the oven, we took a wander down the beach to have a looksee at a house of interest that had been dubbed The Hacienda for its Spanishy Mexicany architecture – quite distinctive among the patchwork of largely unremarkable houses around it (most are old boxy houses with bric-a-brac extensions, bar the monster modern Big Box house neighbour overshadowing the Hacienda, apparently owned by the famed Sassoon family).

En return from our mini-inquisition, we had a lovely dinner of roast chicken and sweet potatoes, creamed spinach and green peas (for some). Really delicious – and amazingly we ate in relatively broad daylight even though it must’ve been 20h30 by then. We chatted and laughed and a great time was had by all.

The parentals went to bed early, leaving Lix and I to our own more detailed catch-up, talking about then and now and everything in between… Until it was time to call it a night and I curled up in my cottage, under the fluffy down duvet to read a single digit number of pages by the sidelight until it was officially end of play for the day.

 

Waking on Thursday morning, all thoughts of the previously discussed morning run were thwarted by (over-)sleep… But replaced by a well-timed breakfast instead (fruit for Lix, toasted cheese for me).

I had some work crises to attend to, so we based ourselves on the patio, me on the phone-then-laptop-then-phone trying to get what needed doing done as quickly as possible. As always, it requires setting a series of balls in motion, then patiently waiting for the balls to return to be juggled into orderly place. We used this wait time to walk into the village and suss out free wi-fi options.

Luckily, Pomodoro’s (our first choice based on Christian and my great experience last year) had free wi-fi and a marvellous terrace table became my new office. Double-bonus was that the work stuff didn’t start again until we’d ordered, and I was able to do the majority of what I had to do while we waited for our pizza, while Lix graciously busied herself with stuff on her phone and let me work.

It was all worthwhile! Clearly the karma from my difficult but responsible day must be the reason for such an awesome pizza! Honey-glazed chicken with mushrooms and onions, smothered in melted cheese on a wafer-thin base (and a layer of garlic and fresh chilli that I smeared on the moment it arrived). Delicious!

In between things at lunch, I’d booked us a car because we’d decided to drive to Hermanus to stay with friends. I’d bumped into the Kennedys last week and Lizzie had told me that she was off with her cousin Josie to Hermanus to clear out Nic’s late father’s home. I’d suggested we might roadtrip and she’d been quite excited about it. I had mentioned it to Alex on the evening I arrived and she was keen so I set those balls in motion over Whatsapp and presto! We had a plan!

Well, sort of…

We’d thought we’d get a car on Friday morning and drive to Hermanus (360km), spend the night and the meander back all day Saturday. Clare was the voice of reason, saying (on Thursday morning when we were bedding down our plans) that if we’re paying for the car for 2 days, we might as well use it the full duration – so why not collect the car on Thursday afternoon instead? Genius!

So, I booked the car (using Pomodoro’s free wi-fi) through Avis using my eBucks and we were set to collect at 15h30 – leaving just enough time to walk home, pack bags and get Clare to drive us to the airport depot to collect our car.

When I was signing for the car, we realised that while the car hire was paid for, there was only a 400km mileage allowance, which wasn’t going to get us very far with a minimum of 360km each way! And at R2,10 a km it was going to prove extortionate!

The Avis people were prepared to cancel the eBucks deal and create a new one with 800km mileage for R1,300. A quick survey of the competitors (all based in the same depot) endeared Thrifty Dollar hire to us since – although they could only (self-admittedly, repeatedly) deliver “a really big car” – they operate on unlimited mileage. Ergo, our “really big car” (which turned out to be a really comfy, not as big as you think Nissan Lumina) was all the mileage we could drive for a bargain R623 for the 2 days! We were quite smug to return to the Avis desk and say “no thanks”… And get all the paperwork needed for me to get refunds on the payments and deposits already taken off my card. Groan.

 

 

Paperwork notwithstanding, we were still quite giddy when we were (finally) on our way to Hermanus, in our really big Lumina. Lix had shopped for supplies at the airport Sweets From Heaven, so we could just bullet straight through on the N2, virtually door-to-door, with chewies and boiled sweets keeping us perky in between long stories and witty one-liners.

The road was really easy, the view consistently spectacular (sea, then fields, then mountains. Wash, rinse, repeat). Before long, we were at Lizzie’s complex doorstop – quite surprised that the seemingly vague directions were spot-on and crystal clear in context.

From the gate we could see that Hemel en Aarde (a cluster complex) is gorgeous and new with palatial houses and manicured lawns and common areas – and it seemed fitting when Lizzie came bounding up to the car in a bright purple party dress!

She was quick to explain that the garage sale she’d planned for her father-in-law’s extraneous belongings had been vetoed by the body corporate and so she’d had to amend her plans into an upmarket “Lounge Sale”. All became clearer when we got to the house and saw all the neat nuggets of items laid out around the lounge…

We’d taken some wine with us (a couple of bottles of red), so we cracked the seal on the first and had a good yarb with our very hospitable hosts about the what, when and how had brought each group to this point and what, when and how we planned to spend the next 2 days. Lizzie had already booked us a tuktuk to take us to Gecko (a bar and restaurant at the New Harbour) at 20h30, so that was to be our first excursion. Luckily, we’d made good time and arrived just after 19h30, so there was time for (the tail end of) sundowners before a shower, change and out the door.

We walked to the gate of the complex to meet the tuktuk as planned, only to find that it had been and gone, deciding to arrive at 20h15 and leaving when we weren’t there in 10 minutes (seeing as this was clearly still 5 minutes before our agreed meet time!). Lizzie did some backing and forthing and at last the tuktuk arrived for its return journey to pick us up.

The commute was quite an adventure in itself – a double cab tuktuk, with 2 rows parallel forward-facing in the back, with full canvas enclosure and plastic zip windows to protect from the elements. Quite a laugh, although it meant (good or bad) that we didn’t have a great view of the township we passed through to get from home to destination!

Gecko is a comfortable enough establishment. In the door to a bar / smoking area, then downstairs for the non-smoking round tables and built-in cushioned banquettes around the perimeter, then outside wooden bench tables for a view of the waters. We arrived geared though for the live music they’re supposedly known for, but were greeted with the barman/laptop DJ combo.

With no entertainment to place for, we opted to sit at the outside bench tables. Service wasn’t easy with no waiters and a single barman, so we split up bar runs periodically to order food and drinks. We solved the service problem soon enough by getting an ice bucket of beers, but didn’t hold high hope for the food… until it arrived. Lizzie and Josie had ordered pizza, which looked good enough, but Alex and I’d (adventurously) ordered Thai… and I got the most tasty beef and oyster sauce (with noodles) and her the most amazing red curry (with rice). What a delightful surprise!!

We finished our food and retired to the bar since the downstairs area was quite quiet and anti-social sans the live music we’d expected (apparently only Friday to Sunday off-season and we were there Thursday), while the bar was buzzing. What a pity Gecko hadn’t commissioned our very talented host, Josie, who is a well-known songstrel and would have been quite a coup for this little nightspot in a sleepy town! Nonetheless, we intermingled with the manager and locals, had a great time of the rest of our evening and all too soon it was time to go home.

Deposited on our doorstep, we had a (great-night-fuelled) giggle about some of the Lounge Sale items and I found a few very targeted gifts for key people, as well as a recipe book entitled “Fun with Mince” for myself! Josie and I had a good laugh at a 2002 Fairlady magazine while we sipped on our nightcaps… and then it was off to bed.

 

 

Having enjoyed a languished sleep-in (while Lizzie and Josie dealt with the various charity benefactors who they’d arranged to come and collect the last of the Sale items), I was further treated to a 5* star breakfast, ready when I surfaced from my upstairs lair. They’d prepared fried eggs, tomato, toast and smoked haddock with mushrooms and herbs – perfect with a smattering of the homemade garlic and chilli relish they served it with.

While Lizzie and Josie had opted to stay at the house for the day (exhausted from their week of clearing out), they were very helpful with a list of places to go and things to see, that set Lixi and I off on a very merry day of sight-seeing.

We started with Old Harbour (which took a trip to the end of town and a U-turn to find) and wandered up and down the shopping district, popping our heads in at shops of interest – and my derriere in at the hammock shop!

We stopped at the looking point, but didn’t see any whales (hardly surprising since we’re either 5 months late or 4 months early for season, depending how you look at it!), but we did buy Lix the lesser-spotted Red Velvet Cake (which she’d never had, but heard so much about) after stopping in at Coco’s for a gander through the ‘open window’ (which wasn’t actually open, but rather an enormous bay window).

We then moved from Old Harbour to New Harbour to hunt down the fish shop that Lizzie had recommended for lunch as the freshest fish in town. We found it! Quayside Cabin. No airs and graces, literally in a shipping container, with just a bench table outside. Our interest was piqued. We ordered a hake, calamari and chips combo to share. Good thing too – it was ENORMOUS! But delicious. Crispy batter, white flaky fish, golden chips, lemon wedges. Perfect!

Fed and happy, we returned to the house to see what the gals had been up to. They’d been napping, swimming at the clubhouse and were in the process of showering and preparing for the evening. A slap-up dinner. Soon. Very soon after our fish ‘n chips!

We booked at Lemon Butta, on the advice of our neighbours (who have a standing weekly reservation there, so we know their recommendation is sincere) and had a sundowner while catching up on our respective days.

We headed out and had pre-drinks at Coco’s (on Lix and my recommendation since we’d found out earlier that they have live music in the evenings… and anything to prolong eating again too soon!). Lizzie and Josie ordered nachos though – and who can resist?! Good company, drinks and snacks later, we were headed to Lemon Butta, which turned out to be just next door, for yet more food!

It was a lovely long and leisurely dinner and Lix and I shared a 24 piece sushi platter of tuna handrolls, salmon sashimi, salmon roses, a salmon and avo maki roll and a prawn California roll cut into slices topped with tempura prawns. Lix had oysters to start, taking her total to 7 different types of seafood in one day! I’ve finally made friends with sushi, outgrowing my aversion to the sludginess of the rice and the seaweed and learning to press the avo out with the back of a chopstick. I’m still not the world’s biggest fan, but I see a future for us at least.

We rolled home and into bed. A long but tasty day indeed!

On Saturday, our leaving day, Lix and I cooked breakfast to return the favour (while Lizzie and Josie packed up their stuff). Toast with bacon and scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes, shredded broccoli and cheese. Good solid meal to get us on our way – and we were all ready for our departure, as planned, just before 11 to drop Lizzie and Josie off at their car hire place (the dastardly Avis) in time to collect their rental they intended to drive to Cape Town to catch their flight home.

We waved our goodbyes and soon we were on our way to our trusty N2 for the drive home.

We’d intended a bit of a meander on the way back, stopping in here and there for shopping, seafront adventure and lunch, but the weather was foul so we just headed in the direction of home. We did take a slight detour through Mossel Bay though, to buy biltong and take some snaps from the look-out point.

We managed to get the car back to the airport by more or less the required time, but found our dutifulness to be completely unnecessary seeing as the airport was entirely deserted and there was only a solitary rep at the car depot, who told us to just throw our car key into the car hire office – through the mesh and onto the floor.

The parentals had started partying early so weren’t fit for driving to fetch us as pre-planned, so they instructed us to catch a taxi home. Easier said than done in a deserted airport in the rain, but we managed… and were soon on our way home in the world’s oldest taxi (643,812km on the clock when we got in!) with a very sweet old local chap with awful music taste.

We arrived home to much joviality. The folks had friends (Vivienne and Ulrich) over to visit and they were all in fine fettle! We shared stories of our roadtripping and adventures and were filled in on everything we’d missed (quite a bit bearing in mind we’d only essentially been gone one full day!).

With champagne and wine flowing, we enjoyed a spirited dinner – roasted chicken and sweet potatoes, which had been intended for a braai, but had to be oven-cooked thanks to the threat of inclement weather (the harder rains hadn’t seemed to find their way all the way to Wilderness yet though).

The visitors left early and we settled in for the evening – me on the balcony engaged in a long and winding conversation with John, and Lix in the lounge watching Black Swan with Clare. It was only Saturday, 3 nights into the vacation, but the ‘holiday within holiday’ made it seem like I’d been away for much longer!

 

 

Sunday was a moochy day, thanks to the festivities of the night before. We slept in, so that we were vaguely perky on surfacing – a slow process helped infinitely by reheated pizza leftovers and low impact movies. The weather was still grey and bleary so we resigned ourselves to a day on the couch with comfort food and headed off to the village to shop for spag bol ingredients.

Of course, the sun came out while we were walking to the village (a short trot on Sands Road past a dear little café in the building that previously housed the railway station, across the railway tracks, through the tunnel under the highway), so we changed all our plans and opted rather to scout for a dinner spot for that evening and to get hotdog supplies from Spar for lunch.

Despite the numerous options in town, we decided that we’d like to take the folks to Pomodoro’s, which we’d enjoyed so much. We slothed an afternoon of leisure – on the sun loungers, walk along the beach, more patio time – and drove into town (Lix’s dad’s not one for walking) for an early dinner. Pomodoro’s did not disappoint and we had quite varied, but all delectable, meals. Re-energised from our great meal, we confirmed that we three girls would head to Knysna for a window shopping expedition on Monday, so we retired to the 8pm Mnet premiere and got in an early night in anticipation of the next day’s mini-roadtrip.

 

 

With a plan in mind and good night’s sleep behind us, we rose with a spring in our step on Monday morning and headed out to the beach for a morning jog. Probably a kilometre and a half or so, just to the end of the cove and back again. Just enough to kickstart the appetite, serendipitously combined with Clare’s request that there was bacon that needed eating. Lix had her usual fruit and yoghurt and I made the world best’s sourdough toast with 4 rashers of bacon and white cheese (microwaved for 10 seconds to melt it to gooey). YUM!

Well-fuelled, we headed out for our trip to Kynsna, Such a pretty drive along the coast and through the hilly treed sections!

We started off with a trawl around Thessen Island, but it was very quiet and dreary, so didn’t hold our interest and we thought we’d try our luck at the Kynsna Waterfront. While a little better, it still didn’t captivate for long, being a very small mall of mostly restaurants and cafés, so we were soon off to Kynsna central to have a gawk around the Mall. We wandered around for an hour, achieving little bar some grocery shopping… and an appetite for lunch.

We drove around to the Knysna Heads and had a ridiculously good meal at East Head Café, overlooking the waters’ entrance to the bay in a really pretty terrace setting. Alex and I prequelled with milkshakes, which turned out to be enormous and likely not the best strategic bet seeing as we had a mound of fish, calamari and home-style chips on its way! Still… we found space for most of it, but sadly not for a wedge of any of the mouth-watering options we’d seen the waitress serving around us – multi-layered moist chocolate with sticky rich icing; cloud mountains of meringue atop sunny yellow lemon curd and crumbly biscuit. Way too ambitious on top of our battered bellyful!

Our big lunch was definitely a good preamble to our beach amble though, and we enjoyed yet another long sunset walk on the beach. Have become quite a cliché actually with this whole “loves sunsets and long walks on the beach” thing!

Lix’s folks were expecting visitors coming to stay, so I’d moved in to bunk with Lix on our last night. Since the guests were expected later in the evening, we did back-up with Clare on the wait (John having retired just after dinner). Time very easily passes, sitting on the patio, sipping red wine and having a good chat with excellent conversationalists… and soon Jill and Nigel had arrived – and there was the renewed excitement that comes with new faces and places.

Jill and Nigel are the Scott’s friends from Turkey and it’s their first visit to South Africa. Bravely, they’d opted to land in Cape Town and roadtrip the last section. Alex and I were of course well versed in the ease of the N2, but it’s a bold option to take blind.

 

 

Tuesday, being my leaving day, was far from the usual ‘pack up and go’ day. We started off with a hike along the railway track (and up koppies, through tunnels and over bridges) to get to Victoria Bay. John drove around, while we were dipping in the sea and scoping out the single row of holiday homes and darling café. We lunched at the only eatery, which provided yet another winner calamari and chips. The others seemed to enjoy their meals as well, so luckily the only choice of restaurant also made for a good one.

It was a bit sad to drive home, knowing that there was little time left and soon I’d be making tracks back to the big smoke, but we made the best of it with a dip in the sea and a laze on the sands, before having to shower and change and pack the car.

Clare was kind enough to make yet another airport run to get me timeously to George to catch my plane home and that was it, my beWilderness break was done and dusted.

Travelogue: The Garden Route

If you’re ever at a loss for somewhere to go on a weekend away in beautiful South Africa, then take a stab at The Garden Route. It’s something I’ve always known about; have heard about. Something that other people did. It just sounded so, well, gardeny.

Well, the good news is that it sort of is, but a lot it’s not.

Christian had been work-weeking in George and told me that it had ‘weekend getaway’ written all over it. That this part of the world was something that would have fitted perfectly into our 2011 plan, when we took every long weekend to adventure to a nearby places that everyone else seems to have been to but that have, until now, evaded us. You may not have noticed, but the SA public holidays are perfectly suited to this sort of thinking as they’re more or less 6 weeks apart – Human Rights Day (March), Freedom Day / Workers Day  (27 Apr, 1 May), Youth Day (16 June), Women’s Day (9 August), Heritage Day (26 September). Last year was perfect for it as the bulk were bumpered onto weekends, thus allowing us to sneak away to Dullstroom, Clarens, Maputo and Swaziland (in among our other adventures to Vic Falls and Leo Lapa at Kruger) without taking any leave.

Granted, those were all self-drive options, but with Kulula now flying into George, it doesn’t have to cost the world to fly either. Lucky for me, I caught a Kulula sale and am a Discovery Vitality Silver member (or was, am gold now J ), so the return flight cost me R700 and some change (as opposed to the R2000 and some change regular fares).

So, with that… it was off to George.

It all started with a nail-biting journey to the airport. As always, last minute client requests had left me tight for time and gunning it to the airport. Lady Luck is clearly a fan of the Garden Route though as, despite all odds, I made it to the airport in under half an hour… even with enough time to find the long-term parking… with a parking right at the entrance, with a bus ready and waiting to ferry me to the airport… to get there with 10 minutes before check-in closed… with no queue… and getting through the gates with still enough time even to hit the slow lounge (for the tiniest little roast beef roll I have ever seen and a tomato juice – for ‘5 a day’ value to keep me fighting fit for the weekend ahead).

Landing in George is surreal. It’s such a pretty surrounding that it doesn’t seem right to have big fat aeroplanes messing up the place. It’s gorgeous green fields disappearing into mountains on the left and blue seas disappearing into blue skies on the right. Golden sun smiling down on the whole picture. Awesome.

We did a bit of a drive through George, initially delighted to see that they have their own Schwabinger, but disappointed to see that it was no more than a deserted beer garden (although did have a dingy little restaurant annexed, which likely had some wholesome food to offer) so we carried on with Plan A and dropped my stuff off at the hotel, The Oakhurst. Lovely boutique hotel with a comfortable luxury room with it’s own little loft lounge (which we were tickled that we had wooden stairs up to where it seemed the other rooms only had ladders).

Christian had done lots of research about what to do and not to do, so it was hardly surprising that our sundowners and dinner were amazing. He’d planned dinner in Wilderness, with a short sundowner pub-crawl preamble.

Wilderness has a distinct main corner of activity, with 2 perpendicular roads lined with pubs and restaurants. We settled on Blue Olive as our first stop, drawn in by the allure of the decks being built around pre-existing trees, giving an almost treehouse effect. Really stunning in the warm sunshine, sipping on the local micro-brewery (Mitchell’s) beers.

Moving on, we tried a place called Bongo’s, which had the unfortunate positioning that all the tables either faced the highway or a large sports screen (neither particularly appealing to me), so this was a 1 Beer Wonder visit. (Although their pizzas did look good, albeit a bit on the pricey side).

With the sun rapidly setting we headed for our dinner spot, Salinas. Being quite newly opened, the restaurant is still in high demand (even with the locals) so it was Christian’s solid admin that had not only gotten us in, but managed to get us the best table in the house. Positioned on the corner of the deck that surrounded the 2 beach-facing sides of the building and without railings of any kind, it felt like we were actually on the beach. Idyllic spot to watch the sun creep behind the mountain on the other side of the bay… and eat super-fresh seafood… and sip back lush red wine.

After a long day and lovely evening, we retired back to the hotel for a nightcap. Christian had discovered that the bar staff are consistently very heavy handed with the wine, so the nightcap was more of a talking point than about the drink itself. True’s nuts, the barista poured a veritable fishbowl of wine each – to the point that had we not been drinking a glass of white (Christian) and a glass of red (me), it might have taken more than a bottle for our 2 drinks!

We started off Saturday the way every good Saturday should – with a hearty breakfast. The hotel has a continental buffet and hot food to order. We went with the omelettes (supplemented by yoghurts, cold meats, toast and juice) and were very pleased with our choice.

Heading off for our day of beach bouncing, we were hindered by a really big deal in George’s annual calendar The Wheelchair Race. Through and across town, it meant that roads were closed off and we got to see some of the more far flung suburban parts of George (who knew they had so many schools?!)

We stopped off at the Outeniqua Farmers’ Market, which would have been much better had we not eaten as it’s largely food stalls and fresh edible farm produce. Lots of delicious things I would have loved to gluttonise, but alas, there was no room in the inn (or in me).

Good time for a walk along the esplanade at Victoria Bay though. Beautiful cove with all the ingredients for the perfect beach… and so conveniently located as the signpost will tell you. Just 8315km from Perth, 9670 from Berlin, 6276km from South Pole and 9762km from Bali. It would seem that Victoria Bay is practically en route to anywhere!

Continuing the beach-hop, we moved on to Wilderness Beach, where we frolicked a bit in the sand and sea, getting toes wet and doing the seaside thing, but it was a bit windy so we didn’t stay very long.

Back on the main drag, we stopped in at Timberlake Market. Again all meats, cheese, wines and confectionery… and no room to enjoy it. This spot did seem to be a bit more family oriented though, with more activities for kids to do… while parents eat. I really should have brought a bigger appetite with me for this weekend!

The end result was arriving at Plett (our furthest point for the day) to park at Beacon Island and take a long walk along Beacon Beach. There were lots of jelly fish and blue bottles so I didn’t do more than the odd ankle-deep dunk in the water (not like I ever do much more than that, but still) but Christian was braver and said the water was ‘fresh’, which we all know means bloody freezing in my world!

Fiiiinally, I was ready for lunch and we hit the beach classic, Moby Dick’s on Central Beach, for some super-fresh fish and chips and the first beers of the day. Always such a treat to eat at a seaside spot, right on the beach, with excellent seafood (and company). If you’re in Plett, this place is definitely worth a visit.

First half of the day down, we were back in the car and headed for Knysna. We took a drive to Thesen Island and settled at the quay at a lovely place called Scirocco, where we worked our way through the as-yet undiscovered Mitchell’s offerings (with names like Forrester, 90 Shilling, Millwood Mild and Milk & Honey) whiling away the time until our sunset cruise. There were lots of other inviting-looking cafes, restaurants and pubs, but we were too engrossed in the hilarity of making up stories about the stick figures on the warning signs to bother to move.

… until we had to in order to make our 5 o’clock cruise from the Knysna quay.

The cruise was (surprisingly) a barless affair, so we organised some roadies from the restaurant at the quay… which might not have been the smartest move seeing as the boat also turned out to be a bathroomless affair!

The Knysna Bay makes for a lovely sunset, with calm waters and green hillside taking you to the mouth where the river meets the sea at the famous Knysna Heads. The cruise director was well versed in history and anecdotes from Knysna’s long and mottled past, which made for entertaining listening against the backdrop of all the lush scenery. Fortunately, the cruise only takes you to the official point where the river is marked as joining the sea (by buoys) so there’s no danger of spilling drinks (and it’s easier on the already-full bladder) than having to tussle the ocean and waves.

Returning to the quay leaves a large selection of entertainment options (of the similar eating/drinking variety as the rest of the region), but we bee-lined without hesitation to the Oyster Bar. A stalwart and a must. Jutting right into the bay, the quaint wooden building is the best place to grab an oyster (or several, they’re sold by size and individually by any portion number that suits) and watch the sun orange the sky.

With nothing left on the day’s busy agenda but dinner (yes, eating again), we were unanimous that we wanted to try Pomodoro’s in Wilderness. We’d walked past it the night before and both commented on how nice it looked and, more importantly, smelled.

What a great choice! A lovely cosy Italian restaurant, where we somehow managed to get a very private nook table that was the perfect candlelit setting for our animated recounting of the day’s experiences. Nice friendly staff, quick service, correct orders (despite my inevitable chops and changes) and we had a delicious tomato/mussels pasta and a pizza brimming with all our favourite toppings and cheese and a bottle of red, all for R200. Highly recommended!

On that winning note, we headed back to the hotel to call a very long day a very long night’s slumber!

Sunday’s adventure took us inland though the Outeniqua Pass to Oudtshoorn. After nearly nearly neeeearly running out of petrol, we free-wheeled into Oudtshoorn and looked, as one does, for the nearest ostrich farm. Safari Ostrich Farm it was. Having had a family holiday through Oudtshoorn, I didn’t feel it necessary to take a tour or ride a bird, so it was a case of some bird-watching (through a camera) and some shopping (the souvenir shop for the respective niece and nephews) and then we were on the road again.

Ordinarily, this would seem like an extravagance. To road-trip to all the way to a spot and stay only 20 minutes, but it’s super doable in these parts. All the towns are very close together, with most 20 or 30 km apart (George to Wilderness to Knysna to Plett along the coastline) and then slightly further 50km inland to Oudtshoorn and all the way with pretty scenery and things to look at along the Pass, so really no obligation to labour it to make the journey worthwhile. Of course, there’s always the failsafe option if you feel the need to linger – the town is heaving with lunch and tea places.

But, that wasn’t for us, and we headed off through the Robinson Pass, through Hartenbos to Mossel Bay.

What a truly undiscovered pleasure. Diaz Beach is really breath-taking, with the bluest sea and the beigest beach (beach sand really isn’t white), which we enjoyed from the lunch place du jour, Sea Gypsy.

Apparently a local legendary spot, it’s a simple set up with bench-style tables and plastic table clothes. But what it lacks in textbook elegance, it makes up for in charm and character… and the most melt-in-your mouth fresh seafood and gob-smacking portion sizes at bargain prices. I had a basket of crumbed calamari and crumbed mushrooms with chips, so much that I couldn’t finish and for only R40! If you’re choosing between here and Moby Dick’s, choose here.

Taking in the local sights – and working off some of lunch – we wandered around at Mossel Bay Point. The town is bizarrely peppered with caravan parks along the prime beach frontage. Never ever would you see such premier real estate go to the bottom of the holiday food chain like this! Mossel Bay Point follows this trend with people on deck chairs, under tents attached to mobile homes watching us (through the mesh fence of the caravan park) walk along the esplanade.

Right at the end there are stairs up to Blaize Cave and the lighthouse, if you’re into that sort of thing. We suspected that the path would continue further around the cove, but sometimes these mysteries are best kept as mysteries. And on a bellyful of lunch, it’s definitely one of those times.

I finally got my hands on some ostrich biltong, which had been a bucketlist for the trip. It’s much saltier than beef, but still worth the effort.

Last stop on the roadtrip was Herald’s Bay. A stunning secluded cove at the bottom of a hill with full mountain cliffs on 3 sides, sheltering a cul-de-sac of what can’t be more than 40 houses. And it’s just houses. No waterfront with restaurants and shops. Nothing. Not sure that I could live there or would even want to holiday there (it really feels quite remote, even though it’s only a few kilometres to the next town), but I’m very glad I can say that I’ve been there and seen how the other half live (although 40 can never really be considered half now, can it).

En route home, a stone’s throw from Herald’s Bay, we stopped in to see how their neighbours (contributors to the proverbial other half) were doing at Oubaai Hyatt Resort. Very fancy and lovely, but having had a weekend of seaviews, a 5* experience that overlooked a *gasp* golf course simply wasn’t anywhere near as good, so we decided to head back to George for sundowners at Kingfisher’s (a spot which Christian’s colleague had pointed out must be good since it always had a full parking lot… not realising that it shared the parking lot with a car dealership hehehe). We didn’t eat there, but it looked like it served a great pizza.

Finishing off the evening with a dip in the hotel pool and a ‘tankard’ of wine from the heavy-handed hotel server, we retired to the suite to rest our weary bones and have a giggle to ‘Sh!t My Dad Says’.

The sting was taken out of departure the next morning with a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel, a 5 (literally) 5 minute drive to the airport, with beautiful scenery and surroundings along the way and a super-quick check-in, as only secondary airports can do. Still, it was hard to be excited to return home after such an awesome weekend.