The Garden Route (Oct. 9-13)–From Lazy Leopards to Zip Line Fun

One of the most popular areas to explore in the Cape Town area is known as the “Garden Route”–which basically runs the coast of the Western Cape from Mossel Bay (where we ended in the last blog) and Storms River (where this blog will end).  A combination of forests and beaches; this area is known for being both beautiful and adventurous–sort of like me…er, I mean, sort of like Sarah.

Knysna, our first stop, was one of the places that we were most excited about seeing; we had heard people rave about this town, and it was known for having great hiking.  Originally settled as a logging, as well as mining to a lesser degree, town that boomed before almost stripping itself bare, conservation efforts have saved much of the beautiful forest, and the town lies between a pristine lagoon and the Indian Ocean, making for a pretty scenic area.  It was a wonderful spot for Sarah and I to celebrate 6 months of marriage (she figured out that we have actually been out of the country for over half our marriage now)!

We had read about being able to rent cottages here for the same price as a room, and so we thought it might be nice to be on our own for a couple of days.  The first place that we tried was full, but the guy recommended a place called the “Lazy Leopard,” and we were lucky enough to find a wonderful little cottage at this hidden gem!  Our single room cottage was fully furnished all in hard wood, tastefully decorated, surrounded by trees and spring flowers, full of windows, and also had a wood stove–which gave the place a great woodsy aroma.  The bathroom was even better; it had a shower that was open with glass windows to the forest.  In short, this cottage was the perfect spot for a romantic getaway.

After spending part of the afternoon checking out the waterfront in the actual town–which had a shopping area that was fun to browse and a few restaurants, we spent some time relaxing back at the cottage before getting as fancied up as people can get when they only have 3 outfits for the year.  We had made reservations at a nice restaurant to celebrate 6 months of marriage.

Pembrey’s Restaurant was part gourmet and part country cooking, and boy was it good!  A little fancy, but also small and peaceful, we sat down to a candle-lit table while the hostess brought us the menu, which was written on a giant chalkboard.  We dined on a mouth-watering gruyre and nut souffle starter, followed by blesbok (antelope venison) medallions in a chocolate/berry sauce for me and a super tender lamb shank (the best either of us have ever tasted) for Sarah.  Special occasions require special desserts, and my chocolate mousse cake and Sarah’s lemon tart both fit the bill.  Our anniversary dinner just went to the top of our dining experiences from this entire trip!

Monday morning, we awoke to a breath-taking, golden sunrise beaming through the windows of the cottage, and birds were singing and flitting between the flowers outside the cottage–really, it was like Snow White, but without the eerie little old men messing up the scene with their incessant whistling.

We had hoped to rent bikes because there are supposed to be some great mountain bike trails in the area, but we had no luck, so hiking was the backup plan for the day.  We actually went on two different hikes–the first through an area that had once been a mining town during a brief gold rush in late 1800’s and the second along a shaded creek known as the Jubilee.

Not much remains of the mining town, and it was very exposed to the hot sun, so we cut this portion of the day short.  The hike along the Jubilee Creek, however, was really nice.  Green and shaded, the trail follows the creek for about a mile and a half to a deep water pool and waterfall that is popular to swim in during summer.  Along the hike, we saw a lot of tadpoles and frogs, small fish, a goshawk, and huge centipedes.  On the way back, though, Sarah spotted the real treat, a bright green and bearded Dwarf Chameleon, perched up in a tree–these lizards are rare and only found in this area, according to the owners of the Lazy Leopard.  Although the hike was neither long nor hard, it was really pretty, and we enjoyed ourselves while escaping the heat.

After hiking, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the cottage–it was really nice to have a place that felt like a home for a few days–sipping on Pineapple Fanta, or more accurately, Nectar of the Gods.  That evening, we ventured out on a scenic drive that overlooked first the lagoon and then the ocean.  We had a lousy dinner–one of the worst of the trip–but did get to enjoy the Ferrari show outside the restaurant, which I’m guessing featured at least 50 different Ferrari cars!

Tuesday, the weather turned much cooler, and the cottage seemed so small and cozy that I walked up to the office and arranged to stay an extra day–we had planned to move on to the next town, but sometimes you have to roll with a good thing (actually, Torun, I do realize that we were technically staying instead of rolling).  Instead of moving on, we drove to the nearby Diepwalle Forest for another hike.

The Diepwalle Forest is best known for being the home of the last remaining elephants in this area of the Cape.  Years of logging have depleted their habitat–at last estimate only three elephants remained in the wild.  Of course, we didn’t actually see any of them today, but we did enjoy the 7 km hike through the dense forest of huge yellowood trees, although not as much as the other hikes we’ve done in South Africa.  Not many people had been back here lately, and so I spent a good deal of the hike picking spider webs off of my arms and face while hoping that no spider was about to take a taste test of my scalp!  Any other wildlife that may have been near us were probably scared off by my animated arm waving and grumbling everytime I walked into one of the creepy, clingy webs.  We heard monkeys several times but never saw them.  The highlights of the hike were seeing two giant Yellowood trees that were each around 600 years old, as well as catching sight of a shy bird called the Knysa Lorry–a large blue bird with a feathered crown and crimson breast and wings.

Our last night was really nice–since it had cooled off, I built a fire in the wood stove, and we had rented a video.  It was warm and homey in the cottage, and we sort of felt like we were having a little taste of home.  Neither one of us wanted to leave the Lazy Leopard the next morning, but it was time to move on down the road.

Our next stop, Plettenberg Bay, was actually only a half-hour down the road; there is not a whole lot to the town itself, although it gets super crowded during summer because the beaches are so nice.  The water is still really cold right now, though, so no swimming for us.  We had come here only to hike the Robberg Peninsula, and it turned out to be worth the stop!

When we pulled into town, we found the backpacker’s lodge, which was actually pretty nice but still a letdown after the Lazy Leopard.  They did have great water pressure in their shower, though, and a couple of really cool dogs–I didn’t discover these two facts at the same time, though.

After getting the room, we made our way over to the Peninsula and started our 9 km hike, high above the sea along some really scenic cliffs.  It was really windy, but the sun was warm, and we also got to see a ton of wildflowers.  Even better, a huge colony of seals were hanging out and swimming around in the water below–the baby seals were adorable, and we also saw some that appeared to be closing in on 350 kg that is supposedly the max weight for a seal (I weighed 85 kg before leaving Tanzania).  There were also grasshoppers the size of a smart car, oyster catchers–black birds with bright orange eyes, and lots of turquoise lizards.  At one point, we were attacked by a dagger-like sandstorm fueled by the high wind, and we had to hurry along through some portions of the hike as we dipped down closer to the ocean because the winds were bringing large waves.  We clearly needed to get back to higher ground well before high tide.  The trail on the last half of the hike got unexpectedly steep and scrambly before ending up back on the beach.  The whole thing had been really fun, second only to Table Mountain for our South African hiking experience.

Thursday, we moved on to Storm’s River, our final stop along the Garden Route.  This area is a dramatic mix of forests, mountains, a rapid river, and the ocean all meeting to play together.  While the world’s highest bungee jump (210 m) is in Storm’s River, Sarah and I were here because we wanted to do a Canopy Tour, which is also also known as zip-lining.

The Storm’s River Adventure Company is actually pretty remarkable; they were the first Fair Trade company in South Africa, which means that a good deal of their profits (57%) goes back to their local community–most of it for education and feeding programs for children.  In addition, the company must be run democratically, and it must be environmentally sound.  In fact, in the entire system of 10 zip lines, not a single nail was put into a tree.

After a brief introduction of the company and the ziplines themselves, we were fitted with our harnesses, helmets, and gloves before being shuttled to the canopy.  Along with the two of us, our group contained another young couple and an older couple (all from South Africa), as well as our female guide Pandy and male assistant Nigel.  We really enjoyed learning about the forest from them, and they made sure that everything was both safe and fun.

The first two zip-lines were short and somewhat slow, so that we could get used to them.  Sarah volunteered to go first (just like rock climbing, she loves to lead!), and giggled the whole way in true Sparky form.  I followed, probably jerking on the brake more than I need to–in fact, I decided that from then on, I would only brake when Nigel signalled that I was approaching the next platform to quickly.  This decision served me well, and I had a lot of fun blazing down the next few zip-lines!  The highest rose 30 m above the forest, and the longest ran 90 m between platforms; we encouraged to scream along the longer routes, so old Tarzan and Jane Raff made sure the locals knew we were in town.  What a thrill the canopy tour turned out to be!

After the tour, we had just enough time to drive down to the actual Storm’s River, outside the village, and hiked to the famous suspension bridge that allows pedestrians to cross the mouth of the river.  It was a nice little hike with lilies growing wild along the trail, and the suspension bridge was fun to cross above the black waters of the Storm’s River.

We had a strange dining experience that night; it seems that one of the three most popular restaurants (actually, there are only 3 restaurants total) in town was the Elvis Diner.  So, believe it or not, Sarah and I ate hamburgers and fries in a 50’s style American diner while listening to oldies and checking out the 50’s eras Chevy’s in the next room.

That night, we met one of the most interesting people that we have encountered along our travels.  Phil was about our age, maybe a bit younger, and worked on films back in his hometown of London.  This summer, though, he had spent overlanding (driving) with his buddy in a 20-something year old Land Cruiser from London to South Africa…they had worked in 24 charities in 24 countries in 24 weeks!  It was crazy to hear about his adventures throughout the continent of Africa, and I can only imagine how rewarding his trip must have been!

The Garden Route was like no other place we had ever been–a great combination of lovely scenery, outdoor adventures, and interesting people along the way.  It was…um…not your garden variety vacation…sorry, it just had to happen!

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1 Response to The Garden Route (Oct. 9-13)–From Lazy Leopards to Zip Line Fun

  1. Jola says:

    Happy 6 month anniversary to you!!! Congrats 🙂

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