Sandbags to Sand Dunes Expedition 2010

40,000km overland in an Land Rover

Archive for October, 2010

The final approach to Cape Town

Posted by jamesandpolls on October 26, 2010

From the town of Upington just over the border from Namibia, we drove for two long days across the Karoo of central SA through Middleberg (where we camped in a garage!), Umtata (where we sadly hit a sheep) and finally to Port St. Johns on the Wild Coast which would mark our most Easterly point on the coast and also our starting point for our final approach to Cape Town.

Port St Johns- Wild Coast

Coming down into Port St Johns was quite a drive as we went from the high grasslands of the Karoo to the hot and humid coastline. The grassland was replaced by palm trees, jungle and white sandy beaches, true paradise and a welcome relief from being in the desert for a month. The Wild Coast is the old Transkei, formally a semi autonomous region of the apartheid government and home to the Xhosa. The Transkei was also the homeland of Mandela, Mbeki and the ANC movement. It sits in the Eastern Cape, the poorest region in South Africa and indeed there was little difference between here and some areas of Zambia and Malawi. Small round Xhosa huts sit independently or in small groups on the grassy hillsides painted different colours (mainly blue and pink). It is interesting to note that of all the countries we have been to this is the only place where the idea of a village (ie houses close together with farmland around the village) has not been adopted.

Round Xhosa house dotting the transkei

This is a part of South Africa that the majority of foreign visitors do not see. People say it is the last part of South Africa which is ‘true Africa’, but we hadn’t yet ventured into ‘modern Africa’. The whole coastline has amazing beaches with warm Indian Ocean water, steep cliffs and ocean vista that is never without a pod of dolphins or a school of whales!

We stayed in Port St Johns in a backpacker lodge and enjoyed the slightly different crowd from our usual Afrikaaner camping fellows. The small beach by the lodge had 30% of last years global shark fatalities so we decided, along with everyone else, that swimming was a bad idea! After a very relaxing 4 days which included finding ourselves a private beach, meeting a Shaaman and a night of very serious poker (lost) we upped sticks and headed west along the coast.

Garden Route Coast line, Wilderness

Our next stop was Coffee Bay but we turned our noses up at the campsites (we are quite particular now) and instead headed further on to camp In a seafood restaurant’s garden. We had some of the most delicious scampi/calamari and had a great night with some guys who lived in Port Elizabeth and were there for the bank holiday weekend (called Heritage Day but everyone has renamed in Braii day – what a great country to have a day off for BBQing). From here we headed to Chintsa where 18km of white beach and the best campsite of the trip so far kept us well entertained.

Driving inland

This was the end of our Transkei stay as we headed inland to Hogsback. This is a forested and mountainous region that contrasts dramatically with the dry and flat surroundings. It was a great place for hiking and we spent a good few hours exploring the waterfalls and forests, it felt rather like a fairy land and was said to be the inspiration for JR Tolkein to write The Hobbit (he lived nearby and visited often), and we stayed in a place called ‘Away with the fairies’..

Oysters Galore at the Knysna Oyster Company

From Hogsback we drove to Port Elizabeth (renamed the catchy ‘Mandela Bay City Metro’ but to everyone simpy ‘PE’) to stay with the guys we met at Coffee bay. Dale, Roger and Claire looked after us tremendously well for three days. We were not only fed the most delicious sushi, calamari, oysters and Crayfish ever but were given a soft bed with real sheets and a duvet! The first time in months. We also spent a great night in Roger’s pub/club/sushi bar and came away well fed and watered. Thanks to you all!

We have mentioned before in our blog that the hospitality and kindness of South Africans has been amazing. The record so far came as we were driving out of  Port Elizabeth, we heard a beep and a guy in a car pulled up alongside us as we were driving and invited us to stay in his beach house! He said he had done the same trip a few years ago. We didn’t take him up on his offer as we were heading west rather than east, but this was a real example of the open door policy and friendship towards foreigners in this country. Our next stop was Jeffery’s Bay (or J-Bay), the surfer’s paradise. Unfortunately the famous Supertubes wasn’t supertubing so we didn’t get to practice our Hang 10s. We will have to come back. Just along the coast was Cape St Francis which was the location for the surfing film ‘The endless summer’, another beautiful white sand beach with no one on it.

Forecourt drama

Knysna was the next stop where we treated ourselves to a slap-up seafood lunch looking out over the lagoon. In the afternoon we had our first case on the whole trip of Petrol rather than diesel being put into PAX. The poor guy looked suicidal when he realised he had put 30 litres in already. Luckily land Rovers are so simple we could just drain it out of the bottom and start again!

Having had our fill of the beautiful Garden Route we thought we would head inland to the Wine Route. Outshoorn marks the start of Route 62 (the wine route) and we stayed for a few days to explore the local area. Outshoorn was (and still is) the ostrich capital of the world and prospered between 1880 and 1940 where no self-respecting woman in Europe was seen without an ostrich feather in her hair. Now the birds are more used for their meat and leather but some farms are open for tourists to explore. Unfortunately I was too heavy to ride one but Polls managed to hang on like an expert as the bird pranced along at quite a pace!

Cango Caves main chamber

We also visited the Cango Caves, the largest open cave system in the world. They were incredible, our guide even did some Opera singing for us in the main chamber. Some wine tasting beckoned so we left Oudshoorn and went via Calizdorp to Montegu, a beautiful town surrounded vineyards and fruit farms. From here it was a short hop to Robertson which has 15% of SA’s wine growing area. We managed (by chance) to time this perfectly as it was the ‘Wine on the River’ festival which meant three days of tasting delicious Chardonnays, Chablis, Sauvignons and Merlots, not to mention the Cap Classique, the South African version of champagne. We had also been put in touch with a vineyard (Buitehof) owner, Gideon, and his wife Madeleine whom we visited, not wanting to miss a behind the scenes insight into SA wines.

Boat trip at the Wine on the River festival

As is SA hospitality it wasn’t long before we were sipping the 2008 Buitehof Sauvignon and tucking into some delicious local cheese and homemade soup with his parents, the previous owners of the vineyard. We also ended up going out to supper with Gideon and Madaleine and 20 of their local mates – 16 vineyard owners, 2 wine makers, 2 wine exporters and, oddly, the owner of the local Wimpy! A great night. We spent two days at the wine festival (kept extending our stay!) as the weather was amazing. The highlight was a boat trip down the river over lunch with delicious food and Wine courtesy of the Robertson Winery – thank you so much Barry!

Robertson vineyards

It was great weekend with lots of new friends made and some fuzzy heads after one too many tastings. Suitably pickled we left Robertson and headed to Cape Agulhas, South Africa’s most southern point. On the way we stumbled across a great beach at Arniston and spent the Sunday afternoon recovering from the weekends excesses. It was also on this journey that we crossed the 40,000 km mark!

Cape Agulhas beach

From Arniston it was a short afternoon drive to our destination for the night, Cape Agulhas. We went riding on Africa’s most southerly beach – it has white sand and turquoise water. First time on horses since our ride along the Nile, this time we managed to come away with only a bit of stiffness rather than raw bottoms! Although Table Mountain is the end of the trip, Cape Agulhas marks the most southerly tip of Africa. From top to bottom . . . we had done it!

Most Southerly point in Africa!

The point marks the meeting of the Indian Ocean with the Atlantic ocean. The next morning we continued westwards to Hermanus. This modern seaside resort is famous for its whales and it didn’t disappoint. We saw about 10 southern right whales, as close as 20 metres away, breaching and flapping their tales in the water. We also met the whale crier whose job it is to blow a horn made of kelp when whales come into the bay. He is somewhat famous in the area and we spent a very funny five minutes chatting to him (he can talk for Africa!)

Whale tail in Hermanus

From Hermanus it was a short drive to our next campsite near Gordon’s Bay. It was our last night camping in the roof tent, an emotional moment. The night somehow summed up what it was that has made our camping experiences very special, as well as a little bit of good ‘ol African bureaucracy. Firstly, we had to travel 15km from the campsite to the municipal office in the nearby town to book the campsite that involved three different offices and 15 minutes filling my details into a computer. With a 3 page computer printout in hand for our 1 night stay we drove back to the campsite where another receipt was issued. It was all worth it though as we were the only ones in the campsite and we had a 800m long beach all to ourselves just metres from where we were camping.

James on the beach, final night camping near Cape Town

Packing up the roof tent for the last time was a little emotional although I think we are a little bone weary from the 1 inch thick mattress and looking forward to a proper bed in Cape Town. Before that though we had two nights with my godmother in Simonstown, the naval capital of South Africa, which sits south of Cape Town near Cape Point. We had a great time there, catching up with some lovely wine and great food. There was a fair bit of reminiscing about the last time we were here and when we lived here (23 years ago). We also went on a day trip to Cape Point to ‘tick off’ another extreme – the most South Western tip of Africa. Pax attracted quite a lot of attention in the car park and we now appear in Russian, Brazilan and Australian photo albums!

Cape of Good Hope!

With no excuses for delaying the inevitable we had to face up to the fact that our trip was coming to an end as the next day we headed into Cape Town. It was quite an emotional moment as we caught sight of Table Mountain, our final destination, under a beating South African sun. The Cape Peninsula is just beautiful and we are so excited that we are going to be living here. We are now staying in Clifton, between Camps Bay and the City, with a friend of Kate (Jenkins). In what has become typical South African hospitality, Chris has invited us to stay for a month while we find our feet in the city in preparation for next year when we live here.

Today was The End! This morning we climbed Table Mountain. We took up the last bottle of our wedding champagne, which we had bought with us from the UK (nicely shaken). We toasted the 38 weeks on the road and 41,500 kilometres on the clock. We toasted PAX, our trusty steed who has not once let us down throughout and we toasted each other (yes we are still happily married!), for without the fearlessness, fun and sense of adventure there is no way we could have taken on a trip of this magnitude.

The End

On the top of Table mountain with a bottle of very fizzy champers from our wedding..We did it!

–       Well almost . . .we must finish with the obligatory stats list. . .

No. of kms driven:            41,525km (the circumference of the globe is 40,000km).
No. of breakdowns:         0
No. of punctures:              2
Litres of diesel:                 Over  10,000
Lowest Point:                   -415m, Dead Sea, Jordan
Highest Point:                  4315m, Simian Mountains, Ethiopia
Hottest:                               51°C – Sudan/Ethiopia border
Coldest:                               Frickin’ Freezing in Serbia
Longest Drive:                  17 hours (Bosnia to Bulgaria)
Worst border crossing:  Into and out of Eygpt
Favourite Countries:       So many of them for different reasons
Friendliest countries:     Syria and Malawi
Worst Country:               Err. . . the only one we would not return to in a hurry is Ethiopia, but it beautiful and great to have been                                                    there.
No. of times ill:               Polls – 0 James -1 (often reminded of this fact)
Births:                               James – 1 and proud (a maggot, see ‘A lush loop. .’)
Worst Food:                    Deep fried fish from Lake Nasser, Wadi Halfa, N. Sudan.
Best Food:                        All the delicious seafood in Port Elizabeth.
Football conversations: Lost count around 400

And for all those who have no faith in Africa…:

Crime count: 0
Corruption: 0

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