On Thursday, July 24th, Rebecca and I said goodbye to the Winelands and set out eastwards. We drove over the Hottentots-Holland Mountains through the scenic Franschhoek Pass and down towards the Theewaterskloof Dam. At Villiersdorp, we turned north and entered the Breede River Valley which is known for its wine production as well as producing a large amount of South Africa’s fruit exports. We stopped for a wine tasting at the Graham Beck Estate before reaching the city of Robertson. We tried a few different wines but settled on leaving with a bottle of Syrah-Viognier blend. We passed through the city of Montagu which is the start of the “Scenic Route 62” across the Klein (or Little) Karoo, a vast semi-desert area. The Klein Karoo is a 290 km long valley that stretches from Montagu to Oudtshoorn.
After a spectacular drive, we reached the Cango Caves in the Swartberg Mountains around 3:00 pm. Rebecca did a historic tour and I opted for the adventure tour that goes deeper into the caves and consists of narrow passages and steep rocks. Both tours include amazing limestone formations. Back on surface, we drove through the town of Oudtshoorn, the world capital of ostrich farming. We arrived at the De Denne guesthouse located on a working ostrich farm and were offered some port style wine from the nearby city of Calitzdorp. Rebecca and I both had an ostrich steak for dinner. After dinner, our host Rudi, who is an avid astronomy buff, showed us the Southern Cross constellation under an amazing star-filled sky.
We had breakfast at the farm on Friday, which was also our 5th wedding anniversary. We walked around the farm a little to check out all the ostriches. We soon loaded up the car and were on our way to the Cango Wildlife Ranch which houses a number of endangered African animals and it also supports a cheetah breeding program. We then headed south and crossed the Outeniqua Mountains and found ourselves back on the coast. We traveled east from George along what is known as the Garden Route which stretches 200 km from Mossel Bay in the west to Storms River in the east. It is so named for the lush and ample vegetation that extends from the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains down to the ocean. We arrived in the town of Knysna and found a tapas restaurant that serves, that’s right…our new favorite, oysters that are farmed in the Lagoon. After lunch, we drove to the Phantom Forest Eco Reserve where we would be staying for 2 nights. This accommodation is located in a 147 hectare indigenous forest reserve and is on a hill overlooking the Knysna estuary and lagoon. The rooms are single villas built on stilts nestled right into the forest. The food, views, and villas were amazing and it is one of the neatest places we have ever stayed.
The next morning, we ventured through town to the Knysna Headlands or “Heads” as they’re known. The eastern head offered stunning views of the town and lagoon as well as the ocean. We even spotted a couple of whales out in the water, Humpbacks I think. The water between the Heads was very violent and there were no boats headed out to sea that day. We had a small bite of lunch before heading back to Phantom Forest.
On Sunday, we continued east along the Garden Route and passed through Plettenburg Bay. We then made one last vineyard stop at Bramon Wines, known for their sparkling wines. Bramon was the eastern most vineyard in our wine guide, I guess the climate is unsuitable for wine cultivation any further east. We entered the Tsitsikamma National Park, left the main N2 highway onto the R102, and drove down to Nature’s Valley where we took a walk along a deserted beach. We continued along the R102 and crossed Bloukrans Pass, a well known bungee spot but I didn’t take the leap. This also signaled leaving the Western Cape Province and entering the Eastern Cape Province. We stopped at Big Tree and, after a short walk into the forest, arrived at a huge yellowwood that is 36 m tall and between 600 to 800 years old.
We continued east along the N2, but were unsure where we’d stay that night. We decided to exit the N2 and head south, first to St. Francis, then to Jeffrey’s Bay. While both towns seemed quite nice, they struck us as a bit deserted, maybe more of a place to be in the summer. So after a quick tour of both towns and a bite of lunch, we set course for Port Elizabeth. We found a hotel near the Boardwalk entertainment area and got checked in. We wandered over to the Boardwalk, happened to catch the water fountain show, and had dinner before heading back to the hotel. We needed our rest as we would be starting our 3 day safari the next day.