Lots of highlights along the southern coast of Africa

We got to Upington on a Friday and were going to pick my brother Fredrik up from the airport the following day but first we had to try and fix the car properly. The Toyota dealer didn’t have the spares we needed so we headed off trying mechanics and workshops all over Upington until we found the lock nuts. That evening we camped at a nice caravan park by the Oranje river and Brian worked on the wheel bearings while I gave the car a good cleaning and organizing, prepping space for my brother and his gear. I was so excited to go and pick him up the next day. This would be his first time in southern Africa and just like when we were staying with friends in Zim, I felt that it was such a privilege that we were going to get to spend two full weeks together. It’s hard enough getting the family members together even for a weekend at home normally!

My brother arrived and from Upington we headed back up north. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier park was calling since we wanted to take Fredrik for some game viewing and southwestern South Africa doesn’t have any big national parks. Spending the night before entering the park at nice little Kalahari Trails, we had a good braai under the stars. Fredrik, who’s not used to the creepy-crawlies of Africa and not a big fan of snakes and bugs to start with, looked a bit pale when he saw the two scorpions in a box on the reception counter. Since one of his bags was left behind at the airport in London – the one with the tent in it – he asked to have a room for the night and was happy to avoid scorpions and snakes. Luckily, it was only the next morning that André, the manager, told him that the scorpions tend to come into the house… However, we made friends with the tame meerkats Kiri and Casper who live a good life there. ”Are they fully grown? Don’t they get a bit taller?” I asked André. ”Oh, no it’s just that these two are very fat” he replied.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier park really delivered with beautiful lion sightings twice, cheetah sightings twice and lots of gorgeous gemsbok, wildebeest and springbok. We spent two very hot and sweaty days in the car. My brother and I share the passion for photography so he brought a lot of gear and I had someone to talk geeky photography stuff with, so that was lots of fun.

Not having a tent and not having pre-booked any accommodation in the park, Fredrik had to spend one night sleeping on the front of our roof rack under a tarp and a mosquito net. Needless to say, he reminded us in the morning that we needed to go and pick up his lost bag in Upington. We did so the next day before heading south for Springbok.

In the guidebook we read about the Augrabies waterfalls, apparently the 6th tallest falls in the world. Since it was on the way south, we decided to go check them out. Just by chance, we stumbled upon a super nice little backpacker’s near the falls national park, run by young owner Luke. With his laid back attitude and well run place he soon convinced us to spend two nights there. The following morning  we took off to see the waterfalls but the sun was excruciating. We walked along the mighty falls before seeking refuge in the car again and took a drive through the neighboring game park. Despite lacking much game it was still a beautiful area but getting caught in a sudden lightning storm we turned back towards the late afternoon. That night we had a good braai together with Luke and played some pool.

From there we drove out towards the coast, where we were planning on spending a couple of days driving along a 4×4 trail. The trail was on Tracks4Africa but also in a leaflet we had gotten with a Getaway magazine in Malawi and we were excited to try one of these trails. Arriving at the coast I was just blown away, almost literally by the strong winds, but mainly by the beauty. A rugged, rocky coastline with huge waves crashing in. It was so much more beautiful than the coast in Namibia for some weird reason – but the water was just as cold…

We spent three days and two nights along this trail, just enjoying the drive and often stopping to take photos or go explore or look at seals or a ship wreck.  The first night was at a very windy spot and as soon as the sun set over the sea it got really cold. So when we had eaten nobody felt like sitting around the table chatting. We all hid in the car, watching a movie with the winds roaring around the car outside. The second night we found an even nicer beach and it wasn’t as windy so we enjoyed a brilliant evening, going beach combing, having a braai at sunset and sitting talking before eventually going to bed. The last day we left camp and went around a bend and there was… people. Lots of them. It was a Sunday morning and lots of South Africans living in the region had clearly planned a day by the coast. We were surprised to see any people at all as it had only been us, the seals and the sea gulls up until then. We really appreciated having had the wilderness to ourselves. Those were really special days, definitely a highlight of the trip.

From there we went back inland a bit and the next stop was Stellenbosch to get to see some of the winelands. My brother treated us to a wine tasting and I’ll admit we felt a bit out of place, Brian and I, since the place looked quite posh and we usually don’t spend much time around fancy places. This was the Spier Estate and our guide poured us the wine very professionally. We sat there sipping it, quite unprofessionally, trying to look like we knew what we were doing and couldn’t help but giggle at it all. “Don’t worry about the etiquette, let’s just enjoy the wine!” my brother said. And so we did. As we were about to leave we overheard a guide talking to the people at the next table. They were getting all sorts of instructions and information on what to do. We realized that they had simply told their guide this was their first time at a wine tasting. I don’t know why we didn’t, I guess we thought they’d notice it! So that’s our advice to you all – if you go for a wine tasting for the first time, don’t be shy to say so!

We picked the best sounding campground in Cape Town out of our little guidebook – apparently having a huge space for both vehicles and tents and situated pretty central – and went straight there. We quickly realized it wasn’t quite what it said in the book. At all. We found a former mental hospital somewhat turned into a backpacker’s with a tiny back yard where we just managed to squeeze the cruiser in between a few tents after being let in through the gate. It was quite a contrast coming from the snobby atmosphere of the winelands to the splif smoking slow motion life at the backpacker’s…

The following day we had a full day in Cape Town and wanted to make the best out of it. Going through the activities we’d like to do it was soon narrowed down to two, Robben Island and Table Mountain. But the ferry to Robben Island didn’t have any available tickets until two days later. So the three of us went into Waterfront and spent the morning walking around looking at the boats. In the early afternoon we headed for Table Mountain and quickly got tickets for the cable car that takes you to the top more than 1 000 metres up in five minutes. It was only as we entered the cable car that I realized what I was in for. Was this going to work out with my newly discovered vertigo? I did what I tend to do when I get nervous, I put the camera in front of my face – through the lens I guess the world seems a little less real and scary. Taking photos of the view from the – turning! – cable car I was fine but as soon as we reached the top I realized this wouldn’t work. Brian and Fredrik walked around enjoying the view, accompanied by this funny looking chick, crouching and desperately staring into the ground with a firm grip on one of their arms. When I eventually broke out into tears my brother tried to comfort me. “How do you feel? Well, maybe I shouldn’t ask you that” he said. “Like I’m going to die” I replied without hesitation. “Perfectly rational” he smiled. Brian took me to the gift shop, where I could relax and pretend I wasn’t on top of a mountain, while my brother took another walk around before we finally went back down again, thank goodness. It was extraordinarily beautiful, both going up and the view from the top (what little I saw through my camera lens  and I am happy we did go, despite the vertigo issue. (My dad always used to be the only one in the family with vertigo and would always stay on the ground as the rest of us took off doing stuff. I have just recently started having this problem and I guess the only good thing about is that I can say to my dear dad; I know how you feel now!)

Coming down on shaky knees the evening could only get better for me and we did have a good one, enjoying some Mexican food at a great street side restaurant. We spent another night at the tacky backpacker’s and my brother started planning for his trip back home, but there were still some things to do before the end of his visit. Continuing east along the coast the next day we soon reached what is one of the most famous sites for overlanders in Africa – the southernmost point of the continent. Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic meets the Indian ocean. This is where a lot of people, doing the Cape to Cape or Cairo to Cape thing, end their trip. It was a weird feeling knowing that. What would we have felt like if that was the case for us? I couldn’t quite build up the excitement as I knew we still had quite a drive to do before the finishing line, but it was still quite a rush experiencing this place. These two huge oceans meet at this line, it’s a beautiful area and so many people come here just to have their photo taken. So did we. Thanks Fredrik for taking some awesome photos of us and letting me share them here on the blog!

Mossel bay is one of these little cozy coastal towns of southern South Africa and it was our next stop. We decided to camp at the caravan park right by the sea all three of us. As far as we could see we were the only overlanders amongst caravans and motorhomes, flower pots and satellite dishes. But then another cruiser pulled in just opposite to us and turned out to be driven by a really sweet Dutch couple doing a trip around southern Africa and we ended up putting our tables together and having dinner together.

It was soon time for my brother to head back to Sweden but he tried extending the trip as much as possible. We continued east to George, where he hired a rental car and drove back to Cape Town, where he was gonna fly from. After dropping my brother off we drove to Jeffrey’s bay. To our surprise we managed to find a really cool backpacker’s, very different to the others so far – this was a hard rocker’s one! Good music playing, red walls and huge photos of hard rock bands and musicians on the walls.

Driving along the Garden Route I really felt it should have been done with more time and money, the latter quickly running out towards the end of the trip. There was so much to see and do, from beautiful Tsitsikamma national park to visiting rescued wolves (!) and lots more. There are a lot of nice little towns along the coastline as well. But we had to move on and ended up in Hamburg outside East London after another day’s driving. There was apparently a caravan park and we figured that would be cheaper than camping in the city. Arriving at the caravan park we were a bit disappointed, it wasn’t quite worth the price they were charging and seemed quite boring. But we were soon approached by a few people living in the area who were curious about our trip and we ended up having a really good time. We were invited for breakfast the next day by a guy called Wayne so Brian and I decided to take a day to rest. After a lazy breakfast we all went for a swim on the beach and it was so much fun in the big waves. The water was also clearly getting slightly warmer bit by bit as we were moving up the coast. We then followed Alan and Mandy to their house in East London where we had been invited to spend the night. Relieved not having to put the tent up or pay for camping we gratefully accepted. From here on we were planning on continuing north and very conveniently Alan was a former travel guide and had travelled a lot in the region before. He could give us a lot of good advice on where to go and what to do.

Sani pass was another one of those things we knew long beforehand we wanted to do on this trip. It is a very mountainous stretch of road in southeastern South Africa, leading into Lesotho. It’s something a lot of 4×4 lovers want to do, but it’s actually also used by transport traffic. We went through the South African border post and looked up. Somewhere up there in the clouds was our destination, the top of Sani pass and Lesotho. The drive up was nice but it soon started raining so we focused on the road and didn’t see much of the view. The road wasn’t as much of a challenge as we had expected but I have to say I was glad we weren’t there while it was snowy or muddy! Arriving at the top we went through the Lesotho border post, only costing 60 rand for the vehicle, and went to the Sani Mountain Lodge that would also have camping. Watching the clouds climbing over the mountain sides and feeling the temperature drop we soon decided to treat ourselves to a room instead. I’m so happy we did. After chilling at the highest pub in Africa with some other travelers we were going to drive down to the backpacker’s side of the lodge. It was now dark out – and extremely foggy. We couldn’t see much more than a meter outside the car! Now, where was the backpacker’s house? We knew more or less where and we knew it was only about 500 meters away but it still took us more than 30 minutes and a few wrong turns to the neighboring little cottages before we finally found it… Shivering with cold, even with layers of warm clothes on, we cooked dinner in the kitchen that had a temperature so low that we our breaths turned to smoke. I don’t know if I have ever felt so cold in my life. We sat by the fire in the lounge for a bit but it hardly helped. We grabbed our sleeping bags and added them to the duvets and blankets of the beds and finally started feeling a little warmed up after a while, curled up under several layers.

Waking up to a clear morning was quite a relief after the extremely cold, foggy night. We took a walk around the lodge and admired the spectacular view. Standing right by the edge I did get a bit shaky but as soon as I moved away I was fine so this time I could actually enjoy the view. Even Brian admitted to feel a bit nervous when he was sitting on a rock right on the edge. Driving down was much better than going up, it was a beautiful clear day and the landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. The drive could have been a bit more of a fun challenge so on the 4×4 side of things it wasn’t the highlight we were hoping for (but I guess it can be during tougher conditions!) but when it comes to the nature experience and the views it was… absolutely remarkable.

Descending the almost three kilometers back down to sea level I felt like I had gotten sunburnt, which I probably had too, but it felt more like I was thawing. It was nice getting to step out of shoes and pants and sweaters and back into slops and shorts as we came closer to Durban on the coast.

Shane Drummond - April 6, 2013 - 3:21 pm

Hi! Saw your cruiser at Archipelago, Vilankulos, Mozambique and had a good look and took a couple pics, very cool, where r u guys ending up in Moz?

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