The Garden Route: Port Elizabeth – Capetown
We picked up our hire car from PE airport and as we drove along the coastal road it was immediately clear why this was called the Gaden Route. The sun was just setting over the ocean at one side and the other side was shadowed by dark imposing mountains, a beautiful sight. The hire car was quickly nicknamed “shaky” since she began to shake violently when doing anything over 120km per hour! Our first stop was Plettenburg, a cute sleepy little town perched on a hill leading down to several spectacular bays.
We bumped into Tam, an old friend of mine from work who was staying a hostel 500m from ours, and the next day hiked along a spectacular peninsula near the town. The seriously stunning scenery came as a bit of a shock, at the first lookout a perfect bay stretched out as far as the eye could see backed by luscious green hills. We scrambled along rocks and up huge sandunes to find deserted beaches with only dead jelly fish on them! After seeing the towns beaches – quite wild and gorgeous – I totally fell in love with the town and the area. After that it was hard for the other stops on the Garden Route to match up!
The last stop before Capetown, Mossel Bay, has a claim to fame: it was the first place where Europeans set foot in South Africa. Jason thus felt he had to go to the museum where a replica of the ship they sailed in on was housed. (interesting apparently..). Just before we arrived at the bay all the road signs suddenly changed language from English to Afrikaans which was a bit disconcerting, especially with my already well developed navigating skills! Afrikaans, a close relative of Dutch is the main language of the Western Cape, unsurprisingly since the Dutch were the first people to colonize South Africa. Nearing Capetown it looked like the Dutch weren’t the only people to have colonized SA: it seemed that there had also been an invasion of “The Robots” with frequent road sings saying “Robots 250m ahead”. We later realised that they were traffic lights! A few hundred robots later and we were winding our way around Capetown’s mountainous peninsula. It was then that the views started, and they just kept on coming and coming until we couldn’t handle any more!
We climbed to the top of Cape Point, supposedly the most southern point on the African continent (only to find out in the hostel bar that night that this point is actually 360km away!)and were (literally almost ) blown away by the views: dramatic green peaks at the end of a peninsula snaking around a perfect blue sea. More driving back to Capetown itself along the other side of the peninsular, the sun was setting and we suddenly found ourselves on a road carved out of a mountainside. As we rounded the bend our jaws hit the floor….wow. We must be the only people to have accidentally stumbled across what is apparently one of the world’s most thrilling and spectacular drives. We were in a national park but hadn’t even realised it! Across the bay the lights of a suburb clinging to the hills twinkled to light up yet another dramatic peak, ‘The Sentinel’ which dropped straight into the Atlantic below. By the time we made it to the hostel (after getting lost several million times) I really felt like enough was enough with the views!
Table Mountain which towers over Capetown doesn’t look much like a table really. We decided to hike the “easiest” route up through a gorge. Even at the bottom of the hike the views were stunning. We could see the whole city built into it’s horseshoe shaped bay and all the suburbs sprawling back towards table mountain. In the other direction “Lion’s Peak” (guess what, looks nothing like a Lion) was at the end of table mountain’s flat topped summit. After much huffing and puffing from me (with Jason off in front like a mountain goat as usual) we made it to the top just as a mysterious mist came out of nowhere, so we could see nothing except excited Japanese and Germans with huge cameras who had come up on the cable car.
That evening it became clear the Capetown was more than just a set of stunning views.It has some cools bars and nightlife. At a game restaurant Jason managed to eat Kudu, Ostrich, Crocodile, Elan and Springbok all in one meal.
It was there we overhead a Dutch tourist telling some South Africans how much she loved their country except for one thing: the divide between the rich and the poor.This had been most apparent to us in Durban, but also on the road into Capetown where there were miles and miles of black shanty towns/ghettos. The South Africans’ reply was “they enjoy what they have and we enjoy what we have and that’s the way it is”. For me, this was a summation of a country whose breath taking scenery I was bowled over by, but whose history has left a legacy of shocking racial segregation.
As we head off to Sydney I am sad to leave though. The history and culture are so fascinating and above all the people have been so unfalteringly friendly and helpful.Oyr hostels have been luxury compared to what I know is coming up in Sydney! And of course I will miss my find of the country: Rooibos Tea. Heidi introduced me to it and it was an instant love match: (although I can’t pronounce it to save my life) it’s caffeine free but is full of vitamins and antioxidants. (Get some in Sharon!) Incidentally I am now carrying with me 6 different types of tea (Sharon will be interested even if no none else is!).