South Africa  

by Ted Klenk



Because I searched the web for extra information before I left on my trip, I wanted to add a bit more for anyone that is also looking for some extra information.  One discovery was that South Africans are using the web extensively to advertise their businesses and excellent deals can be one via email or even a quick phone call to the hotel or place of interest.


The Trip

We picked US summer (South African winter) to travel. Thinking that we could beat “High Season” fares that we always get over Christmas, we were unhappy to find out that “High Season” was kicked back to June 1st.

Our first stop was Cape Town, about which there is plenty of information on the web but not too many good maps to download if you decide to rent a car.  On that note, rent the car for a week at a time to ensure the best deal…just like in the USA.  I actually worked out the price on the web and then called Budget (I was familiar with their location in Cape Town Airport) in the US and organized a car from home. Keep in mind when booking a car that if you are traveling with a load of luggage, you will want a car large enough to keep everything in the trunk (boot) as not to have to worry about it sitting out on the seats while you are walking around the top of Table Mountain etc.  Just like most places, if you leave things visible, they will most likely be gone when you return.

There are many things to see and do in Cape Town.  Make sure you have enough time to do it all or you will have to return again (not a bad idea really!)

 Table Mountain—a must even if you’ve done it before..get there early to miss out on the crowds but if you are not in a hurry, anytime is good.  Be aware that the weather can close everything down.  I made this priority number 1, working out that we would try every morning until we got up.  We got up on the 2nd day.

Robben Island was a unique trip.  A boat ride out of Cape Town Harbor and a bus tour around the island complete with a walk through the prison.  The tour guides are former prisoners that were on the island and really tell the stories from their hearts.

We also spent some time in picturesque Hout Bay, taking the boat out to Seal Island to see the seals, and of course the big wave surfing site called Dungeons (not the advertised goal of the trip). Be sure to check the times because they only sail up until noon.

On the backside of Table Mountains is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. With their new hothouse, they have a great collection of Southern African plants…it’s a plant lovers paradise.

Of course what would a visit to the Cape be without a tour of the wine farms?  Check the link for your taste.

And what about the place where “the Two Oceans Meet”, Cape Point, part of the Cape Peninsula National Park.  It’s a great drive, great views and a nice place to eat at the Point.  On the drive to the point, there is a choice of which way to drive.  Either way is great, so go out there on one route and return on another.

Depending on your time in Cape Town, you probably can squeeze most of this in over 3 or 4 days.  Because of our hotel’s (Breakwater Lodge) central location near the V & A Waterfront, we were able to walk to this great complex to shop and eat every night!  

All of this sightseeing and touring, plenty of walking was done so this lead us to all of the fine places to eat without feeling guilty!  While South Africa is a meat lover’s paradise, Cape Town has great seafood and we tried to stick to this menu.  Cape Town Fish Market in the waterfront and On the Rocks in Bloubergstrand, were two of the places we tried.  And though many vacations may not include mall shopping, you must check out Canal Walk…390 stores with a theme park next to it and all a few minutes drive from downtown Cape Town.

The Cape is very set up for tourism, service is good, the curios are widely available wherever there are attractions so shop around for prices.

This covers my 3 ½ days in Cape Town.  It helps to know the area so for the first timer, you probably will need more time to see it all and of course, I need an excuse to go back again in a few years.

Leaving the Cape, we drove up the coast to Knsyna.  During the day the drive can be quite scenic, but we left very early and chugged through the worst mist I’ve ever driven in.  Once we checked into the quaint Yellowwood Lodge, we drove down to the Quay-the waterfront shops that Knysna boosts.  Once again, we were within an easy walk to the downtown section of Knysna.  This area is what bought us back here after only driving through a few years ago.  But that is not the main attraction.  The center of the Garden Route with the lagoon, lakes, Knsyna Heads, the town of George, the Wilderness and its beautiful beaches, and a drive through the forest, could hold you here much longer than our 2 days.  If you have the time (we did not), the Featherbed Nature reserve could be a nice trip (or eco-experience) as well. Ferry rides start from the quay and there are all kinds of trips available.

While there wasn’t as much foot traffic as in Cape Town, we continued our restaurant experiences and found a great spot right at the heads called Paquitas…check the photos on the web site, if location means anything, they have it!

Local brochures list many places to stay, and most have web sites.

We left Knysna very early in the morning so never saw the Plettenberg Bay area..another area to explore (another time).  We watched the sunrise at Storms River Bridge over coffee and then continued east until Cape St Francis, an area I hadn’t visited since they built a tar road to it.  Though the old 29km corrugated dirt road had its own flavor (dirt mainly), I didn’t seem to miss it at all and quite relaxed on the drive only to be shocked at all the development since I last visited. The web shows a number of cottages to stay in if you wanted to relax, surf, fish but we were on the move and after a quick breakfast in Jeffreys Bay, and a visit to its surfing outlet stores, we headed up the coast to East London for a few days. 

East London is often bypassed by tourists traveling to Durban because it might not have the tourist attractions the other cities might boast.  I first visited there in 1974 and stayed over a few extra days, well actually 12 years, so I guess there must be something about this place.

There are some great places to eat, shop, surf, fish, and whatever you want to do to relax.

From East London, we drove north through the Transkei to Port Edward, and on past Durban only stopping to check out another big mall, Gateway which is said to be the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere (see “how husbands earn points”).     When we finally escaped the mall, it was back to the N2 (highway) through Zululand for another few hours until we reached the turnoff for Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Park. (Hluhluwe "Shoushlooee" is close enough).  The park covers 96 000 hectares, and comprises three reserves: Hluhluwe, Umfolozi - two of Africa's oldest game reserves, both founded in 1895 - and the linking Corridor Reserve, proclaimed in 1989.  To quote another site..” Hluhluwe Umfolozi is home to 1,600 white rhino and 370 black rhino - an impressive number which means you are very likely to see one or both species. It also contains the rest of the Big Five; buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard, as well as many other species including blue wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, nyala, kudu, bushbuck, warthog, cheetah, hyena and jackal plus about 24,000 impala.   I couldn’t have written it any better.  We spent 2 days driving around the park and still did not complete the southern half. The underlined animals above were what we saw and while the “Cats” were spotted on these days, we missed them (another reason to go back).  We even saw the 1 pack of wild dogs twice!  The accommodations were great (in the park—Hilltop) and the town of Hluhluwe is about 15 km from the northern entrance to the park if you require supplies.

After Hluhluwe, we headed northeast towards the Jozini Dam and the private Pongola Game Reserve (South Africa’s Best Kept Secret).  We stayed at the exquisite Inyati Lodge, “set on a hillside overlooking the Pongola River”.  We looked down into the river on a ?herd? of hippos, and the riverbank covered with crocodiles.  Animals came right up to the lodge at night and we took photos of some during the day about 20 yards below the lodge. This area caters to all types of requests, game watch, fishing, boat tours and we even went Elephanting across the river at another reserve,  White Elephant.  What a great experience!  And if you like to fish, the dam, a massive body of water 30km long and up to 8km wide, has tiger fish. (check these pictures).  There is also a houseboat that caters for fishing called the Shayamanzi.

After dragging me from this reserve, we traveled inland through Vryheid and Dundee, stopping at the Blood River Monument.  The “other side of the story” or the Zulu side across the river opened in 1998 and gave an eye opening perspective to Zulu life and their ideas on the battle that took place here.  If you visit there, you have to visit both sides…the Zulu side was free.

We ended our tour with a few days of ‘recovery’ at Mazeppa Bay on the Wild Coast.  This was a great experience both from the beautiful views of the land & seascapes and the great culinary experiences provided by our hosts.

So, what is next?  Well, we missed the Drakensburg Mountains.  I guess I better go back to see them, and I wanted to see some of the inland areas from Cape Town north, but the mist was so bad on the drive up (early morning in the winter), I stuck to the roads I knew rather than go another way.  There are so many new things to do there now and I am sure that by the time I return, there will be even more.  Whale watching, diving with great whites, some of the best surfing in the world can all add to a vacation experience.  As I edit my 12 hours of video, 1200 digital photos (now 2300 after video capturing and scanning the 35mm’s) and scan in the 12 rolls of 35mm film, I actually watch the photos zoom by on the computer screen over and over and can’t wait to go back. 

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