Wednesday, December 30, 2009

4 Southern Cape, South Africa

When we decided to drive across South Africa, we didn't know that 90% of the highways are two-lane roads. We didn't realize that car theft is common enough to warrant its own cautionary traffic sign of "Hijacking Hotspot." And most of all we weren't prepared for the havoc on the roadways--traffic accidents, often fatal, routinely led off the hourly news and we even witnessed a pedestrian bounce off a driver's windshield just hours after leaving Johannesburg.

Yes, there were many moments we questioned our decision to roadtrip South Africa. But then we wouldn't have gotten to see the slow transition from the arid terrain in South Africa's own "red center" to the lush, green of the south. When we started in Kruger, our scenery was limited to a flat, if not rolling, expanse of bush for miles, with an occasional crop of little houses marking a town. We reached civilization in Johannesburg and took a break at the Apartheid Museum before continuing our drive south until dark. Things became more and more vibrant as we neared the coast and once we reached Port Elizabeth, both human and plant life spotting were now regular.

To get from the beach town of Port Elizabeth to the city of Cape Town there are the two popular options of the Garden Route and the Wine Route. We did a little of column A and column B and branded it with our own nickname, the Superlative Route, due to all of its claims to fame: world's highest commercial bungee jump; world's largest collection of seashells; world's longest wine route, etc, etc.

The sand dunes in Alexandria may not have been the world's tallest, but they were very cool nonetheless. It took us a while to find the trailhead in the middle of a small residential neighborhood with enough grass space for about three cars to park, but once we did we had no trouble following the cute little signs with pictures of cannons on them to mark the Cannon Trail through the woods. After a few miles the trees cleared and we were in the middle of a valley of sand dunes towering three stories high. We were all alone and had free reign to run up and down and all around. The cannons led us back along the beach, where we took an icy dip in the Indian Ocean along the way. As opposed to the Southeast Asian beaches we'd been frequenting filled with other tourists and hawkers, it was incredible to be somewhere so vacant.

Knysna is home to the "world's most dangerous harbor" which we opted to view safely from above at The Heads instead of by boat. We also hiked through the Valley of Ferns and ate up some of their famous oysters at The Knysna Oyster Company. They don't advertise the world's nicest people but perhaps they should--our hostess at Beauchamp Place was wonderfully warm, friendly, and informative.

We loved our stay at Best Little Guesthouse in Oudtshoorn as well. This is the "ostrich capital of the world", so we stopped off at Highgate Ostrich Farm to get the scoop. The tour started out with some bird facts and feather craft demonstrations, but then escalated quickly. We got to feed the hungry animals, who viciously zeroed in on the seeds in our palms causing minor injury, before hopping on to go for a ride. Patrick got a feisty one and ended up in a pile of hay.

And then the experts showed us how it's done in an ostrich race! We bet on #2 and won--wishing we'd had that same luck back at Happy Valley in Hong Kong.

The world's longest wine route did not disappoint. We stopped for a delectable cheese platter at La Montanara outside of Ashton, a five variety sampler of whites and reds at Morgenhof Estate and a few glasses at Ernie Els's winery in Stellenbosch. As advertised, their flagship Big Easy bordeaux was "like Ernie, big in stature but gentle in character." Along the route we also stopped in for a private Christmas Eve tour of the "world's largest brandy cellar" at KWV House of Brandy. With our winery expertise honed in Mendoza, it was neat to learn what some more distillation can do. We saw "the potstills glow with the luminous promise of eternity" per their brochure--and the liquor was pretty darn tasty, too.

View more pictures from the Southern Cape here.


  1. Looks very nice, how long are you travelling?

  2. We have less than a week to go before we head home. The trip is going to end up being six months to the day!

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