Johannesburg to Colesberg, Karoo National Park and Cape Town

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We spent two nights in Jo Burg at a very nice B&B. The Outlook Lodge is an early century home converted in to a very comfortable lodge offering excellent breakfasts and service to match. We’ll be spending four more days at Outlook at the end of the South African potion of our journey.

On the 12th and after some hassle we had our rental car delivered and we headed off on the morning of the 13th for our 1,500 km drive to Cape Town broken up by a stop in Colesberg on the 13th and a stop in Karoo National Park on the 14th.

Colesberg is a small farming town and the area is know for it’s lamb. We stayed one night, had a great lamb dinner at a nearby cozy restaurant, a great breakfast the next morning and continued on to the Karoo

Karoo NP is a wildlife reserve in the Great Karoo area of the Western Cape near Beaufort West and is a semi-desert area covering 750 square kilometres. The park is a sanctuary for springbok, gemsbok, Cape mountain zebra, buffalo, eland, kudu, ostriches, lions etc. It is an amazing landscape formed over 280 million years. We arrived early in the afternoon and headed out in our Toyota Corolla for a 2 1/2 drive on a 50 km loop of gravel road where we were lucky to see some of the animals mentioned above. Our accommodation was excellent and offered an amazing view of the flat-topped hills of the Great Escarpment and the evening silence that permeated the area is hard to describe. You can literally hear your blood flowing through your ears. Karoo was the perfect appetizer for things to come.

On the 15th we headed onward to Cape Town passing through spectacular countryside, snow-capped mountains and the Cape Wine lands in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The views were awesome.

 

 

Cape Town, Table Mountain, Boulders Beach and Cape of Good Hope

We arrived into Cape Town mid afternoon on June 15th after about a 365 km, 5 hour drive from Karoo National Park and discovered that entering EXACT information into our “Maps App” is essential as we arrived at our “supposed” address right in the middle of a very sketchy area of a Cape Town suburb. It turned out there are more than one “2 Milner Road” road addresses! After gathering our wits we programmed Siri to get us to The Cape Milner Hotel located near the base of the famous Table Mountain. We have a beautiful corner suite with a direct view of the mountain and Signal Hill ( Signal Hill not shown in the picture),

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We have really lucked out so far with the weather in South Africa and Cape Town was no exception. Friday morning, the 16th and Joyce’s birthday was sunny and warm. The area has been experiencing a severe drought and the typical weather for this time of year is rain and cold, very similar to a Vancouver winter. We drove up to the base of the mountain and gondola station and proceeded to the top which has an elevation of 1089 metres above sea level. Amazing views and flora greeted us.

After returning from the mountain it was lunch time and then a leisurely 2.7 km walk to the V & A Waterfront, a very large version of Granville Island on the Cape Town waterfront. The sun was shining, the air was warm the birds were chirping but alas, there was danger lurking…

Not more than 10 minutes into our walk we encountered a well dressed man of local African lineage and being the nice Canadians we said hello and asked how he was doing. The day, Friday, was a national holiday so the streets were bare of pedestrians although there was vehicle traffic near the intersection where we met him. He was doing well thank you very much and “are you heading to the waterfront”?  Well yes, we are. Oh well then, being a National holiday the bridge you need to cross requires a pass. You do have a pass don’t you? Well, no we don’t but that seems odd. No no, not odd, you must get a pass and you can get it over there. He points, we don’t see anything so we proceed to cross the street and he proceeds to pretend he is showing us the way to the place to buy the pass. He’s walking a little ahead of us now and he pulls out his cell phone and makes a call. We are very skeptical at this point and I walk past a couple of guards in front of a bank and I peer around the corner of the street where we apparently can buy a pass and I don’t see anything except an empty street. At this point a car pulls up on the side street and several men of disrepute jump out and start heading towards us. I turn around and go back to the bank guards and the bad guys turn around, jump in their car and then pick up Mr. nice guy as he continued to walk away. A robbery was thwarted. If the bank guards weren’t there we would have been robbed of our cameras and wallet, no doubt about it. I didn’t see everything that was going on so Joyce added in her perception of events. If it was just her or me in this situation things could have worked out much differently. Lesson learned. We hopped a taxi pissed off and a little shaken and proceeded to the waterfront for a warm afternoon of birthday cheers and several cool beverages.

The next day, Saturday the 17th we headed south to Cape of Good Hope with a stop in Boulders Beach, the only place in the world where you can get up close to the African Penguin, an endangered species which were put on the Endangerd Species list in 2010.  Of 17 species of penguins, they are the only ones that breed in Africa.

Cape Town to Boulder's Beach
Cape Town to Boulders Beach

Next stop was Cape of Good Hope which is the most South Western point of the African continent. Huge crashing waves and windswept landscapes highlight the area where Ostrich and Elands roam along the rugged coast.

Boulder's Beach to Cape of Good Hope
Boulders Beach to Cape of Good Hope

Robbens Island

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Ferry to Robbens Island

Robbens Island is best known for the location of the prison where Nelson Mandela was confined for 18 years of his 27 year sentence for sabotage against the Apartheid regime of South Africa. The island is a rugged outpost about 45 minutes by ferry from the mainland of Cape Town and housed political as well as criminal inmates. The political prisoners belonged to the ANC and PAC organizations and  were separated by their color; Blacks, Colored and Indian/Asian.  Food rations were distributed according to color and the blacks received the least favorable food and the smallest portions. Clothing was also distributed according to color where the colored and Indians/Asians were given long pants and shoes while the blacks were given only shorts and no shoes. All colors worked in the limestone quarry, most with shoes and the blacks without. The prisoners on the island in some respects considered themselves lucky. Upon their initial arrest for treason, sabotage etc. they would be held in jail detention where they were severely tortured for months on end. Many died and many suffered severe mental and physical consequences. Our guide in the prison was an ex-political prisoner and a survivor of  the island. In his words he felt the original police detention lasted a lifetime while life on the island was more bearable.  He was sentenced to 7 years for what the officials called” terrorism”.

All prisoners upon arrival lost all of their identity and were only known by a number. Three digits/two digits indicating prisoner number/year of incarceration. Nelson Mandela was prisoner 46664 making the 466th prisoner in the year of 1964. He remained there until 1982 when he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison and was given the number 220/82 although prisoner number 46664 continues to be used as a reverential title for him. The prison is only a small reflection of the history of the struggle against Apartheid and the lives lost in the struggle for equality. Nelson Mandela is one of the many heroes but one of the few who put forth the idea of truth reconciliation between the countries racial groups. He was finally released from prison in 1990 and became the first black president from 1994 to 1999. he died December 5th, 2013 at the age of 95.

 

 

Capetown to Stellenbosch

We’re posting this on June 25th, not the 19th as the blog indicates. I think the internet was sketchy on the 19th and we couldn’t continue and because this site remembers dates we were afraid to change the date because it warns you that all previous links will be lost. Not knowing if that will screw everything up we kept it at the 19th so….

On June 20th we departed Cape Town and headed North East to Stellenbosch in the heart of South African wine country and considered South Africa’s unofficial capital of wine tourism with well over 200 beautiful winery estates. Nestled among the rolling hills and mountains of the Western Cape region the area offers very dramatic landscapes, ancient Oak trees, art galleries and restaurants.

 

 

 

Stellenbosch to Hermanus

Cape Town to Stellenbosch to Hermanus
Cape Town to Stellenbosch to Hermanus

We departed Stellenbosch on June 22nd for a scenic 3 1/2 drive to Hermanus where we were hoping to do a Great White shark dive from nearby Gansbaai. We booked the dive when we were in Cape Town and due to rough seas we had four dates cancelled up to and including the day of our arrival in Hermaus. The day we arrived was windy, cold and miserable and with two nights booked we really weren’t sure what we would do with our time there but lo and behold we woke up the next morning to calmer seas and a beautiful sunny day and an email informing us our dive was a go for the next day.

Hermanus is a small tourist/surfer town with all the usual curio shops, galleries and funky restaurants but the highlight of our day was hiking the cliff trail which covers 11 km along wild coastline with giant crashing waves, kelp and mussel strewn beaches and awe-inspiring views all located in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Hermanus is best known as among the best whale watching towns in the world where Southern Right whales come to birth during the winter months. There was a mother and calf spotted in the bay but we didn’t have any luck seeing them. We hiked about 9 kms and it took us almost four hours because we had to stop and detour down every path and viewing area we came across to take in and absorb one spectacular sight after another. Hopefully our video will capture the magnitude of this area.

Hermanus to Gansbaai to Kynsna

Hermanus to Gansbaii to Kynsna
Hermanus to Gansbaai to Kynsna

After four attempts to cage dive with the great whites we headed out from Hermanus to Gansbaai at 5:00 am and 0 C temperature anticipating the great adventure. Joyce was nervous but determined to face the rough seas and the face of the “Jaws” of the sea. After our briefing and a small snack (importance to be explained shortly) we headed out on giant rolling seas on a 15 minute ride on a 12 metre dive boat towards Dyers Island which is very near to Shark Alley, well known for the 90% of Great White documentaries filmed in the world. We set anchor near three other boats, about 1km offshore from the island, chummed the waters and waited in high anticipation. And waited, and waited while several of the younger crowd, who happened to eat a big breakfast (told you we would get to this) proceeded to turn green and puke over the side of the boat. Once the scrambled eggs and toast was wiped away we lifted anchor. None of the boats nearby who arrived earlier had seen anything yet so the skipper figured we should try another spot. We motored a little further while watching a few more landlubbers retch over boatside and then re-anchored. And we waited and waited, puke smell permeating the fresh salty air.

Our great adventure was not to be. Five swashbucklers were picked up by the “sea-sick rescue boat” and about an hour later we headed back to shore heartened by the knowledge we would receive a coupon good for two years to use when we made our return to South Africa. Wow, what a deal!  We’ll be back!

Knysna is a small town on the coast of the Eastern Cape and was well known for a huge variety of hiking trails in the region. Unfortunately two weeks before our arrival the area was hit with one of the largest forest fires in over 100 years, the result of an over year-long drought. 8 people died and over 800 homes, lodges and businesses were destroyed. Our lodge amazingly was spared but all around it were burnt out remnants of homes and other lodges. Needless to say, the hiking in the area has been devastated.

The town has two main touristy areas, the Waterfront and Thesan Island, both dotted with nice restaurants, curio shops and bars.

 

Knysna to Cango Caves

Yesterday the 26th we drove 150 km to Cango Caves, the most surreal, awe-inspiring example of natural art at it’s finest. Located in Precambrian limestone at the foothills of the Swartberg range, the principal cave is one of the countries finest, best known, and most popular tourist caves and although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for more than 4 km, only about a quarter of this is open to visitors and you can only explore the caves in groups and supervised by a guide. We had 12 people in our group which was perfect. The caves were used by the San/Bushmen and cave paintings and artifacts indicate that the caves were in use throughout prehistory over a long period over the Middle and Later Stone Ages. Words can’t describe the interior of the caves. Hopefully our photos will do it justice.

knysna to Plettenberg to visit The Birds of Eden and Monkey Sanctuaries

Today we drove a short distance out of Knysna to Plettenberg to visit the largest free flight aviary and sanctuary in the world containing over 3,500 birds comprising 200 species and covering over 2.3 hectares of indigenous forest and streams covered by a huge canopy of netting of up to 180 feet above ground level. This is a true sanctuary where all of the inhabitants have been rescued from some form of confinement and now live freely in this huge sanctuary. The sanctuary was honored with the Skal International Sustainable Tourism Award as well as the Gold Award in World Responsible Tourism Award in the category of “Best Animal Welfare Initiative”. We could have spent the whole day in this incredible setting and almost did but we had to move on to our next stop. Jan, we thought about you and you would have loved this.

Next stop and next door was Monkeyland, the worlds first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary. The area encompasses over 12 hectares of indigenous forest and is home to 11 types of species that have been previously been kept in cages, zoos, as pets or in laboratories and have now been re acclimated to a larger and free moving environment. As with the Bird Sanctuary Monkeyland has been awarded with several prestigious animal welfare awards. We walked about 1.2 km of forest paths with a professional guide who helped to spot and identify the different species of Monkeys.

 

Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant National Park

Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant National Park

We departed Port Elizabeth on the 29th for a short 1 hour drive to Addo. There was nothing special in Port Elizabeth and the weather was cold and windy and it was a stop to break up the long drive to Addo from Knysna.

The weather was beautiful on our arrival so we figured we would take advantage and do an afternoon safari in Addo Elephant National Park. The park is the third largest in South Africa after Kruger NP and Kgalagadi NP which we will be visiting as well. There are more than 600 elephants, 400 Cape buffaloes, over 48 endangered black rhinos, as well as a variety of antelope species in the park. Transvaal lion and spotted hyena have also been reintroduced into the area although we didn’t see any lion or rhino during our safari. The park is also home to the largest remaining population of the flightless dung beetle. We got lucky and encountered warthogs, zebra, kudu, jackel and hyenas but the highlite was a very close encounter with a herd of elephants containing several youngsters and bulls.

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Addo to Chintsa

Addo to Chintsa

July 1st (Happy Canada Day!) and another 4 hour drive brought us to Crawfords Beach in Chintsa in the Eastern Cape and on what is called the “Wild Coast”.  The beach is long and pristine and is backed by large vegetated sand dunes. Fisherman cast their bait from the shoreline, wales breached in the distance and dolphins splashed in the nearby waves and the monkey thieves roamed from room to room looking for unprotected loot. We spent our second day walking the beach and today working on the blog since a front moved in and unloaded some very much needed rain onto the area.