December 2018 Erika and family visited South Africa for the first time after their move to Jamaica. Christmas is the magic time and having missed out on the festive season with the family in 2017, there was no holding back.
When the kids arrived, they spent a few days with us in Johannesburg and we took the family to some of the grand girls’ favourite places like the zoo and the bird park. And yes … the zoo had an Australian section, to remind us of our kids in the land down under!
When Erika and Co flew to Port Elizabeth a few days later to join Pat’s family, we started packing. As they would only be here for a few days and we share grandparent duties with Pat’s parents in Port Elizabeth, we planned a little road trip to join them there.
Although our road trips are usually within a fairly strict time schedule, we still try to see as much as possible while travelling. These are some of the places where we took some extra discovery – time:
Golden Gate Highlands National Park and Clarens
Kamberg and hike to see the Rock Paintings
Mountain Zebra National Park
Port Elizabeth Coast
A few days in Cape Town
Shortly after leaving Johannesburg we hit a serious dust storm. Visibility became almost nil and the landscape was shrouded in a greyish-orangey mist. Wind pumps in the fields stood as mysterious sentinels and traffic transformed in alien forms with blinking red eyes. And after the dust came the rain!
Clarens and Golden Gate Highlands National Park
As we had a very pleasant experience in Clarens on a previous visit, we booked our first night there at Fairview Cottages. We arrived late afternoon and still had the time to hike up the small koppie that overlooked the town. We worked up a little appetite and had a wonderful dinner at Clementines, a cozy restaurant just around the corner.
Next morning we had a leisurely walk around town with its abundance of arts and crafts on offer. We couldn’t pass up on lunch with locally crafted beer at the Clarens Brewery! Shortly after lunch we got back in to the car and took a leisurely drive through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, en route to our next destination in Kamberg.
Kamberg and the Rock Art
Although the morning in Clarens had been blue and sunny, the weather deteriorated as time went by and by the time we reached Kamberg a few hours later, the mountains were shrouded in a dense blanket of mist and the clouds hung low over the valley. The bartender-cum-owner warned us of serious rain on its way. It didn’t take long before his prediction came through and the rain came down in buckets!
When it stopped raining and the skies cleared we took a walk up the hillside to a dam the owner had told us about. The forest we wandered through was magical with trees and flowers decked with water drops shimmering in the sunshine and water dripping from the trees into the dam forming a never ending play of ripples. Millions of tiny frogs (I guess smaller than 10mm) were hopping across the road towards the big dam. Higher up we left the forest behind and came out into the open again, with a smaller dam and bramble bushes all around. It was a beautiful walk.
After a tasty pub dinner, we went to bed: a combination of an early start the next morning and no electricity!
The next morning we dressed for a hike to one of the better known Rock Art sites in the Drakensberg. Although we have heard and read about Rock Art and have seen pictures of it, we’ve never seen it in real life in our almost 40 years in South Africa. When planning our road trip, this was one of the “must-see” items on our list.
We arrived at the Kamberg Rock Art Centre and after the necessary formalities and a last toilet run, we started on our approximately two hour hike up the mountain to the caves. It was misty and rainy which made for careful walking so as not to slip and slide.
The walk alone was worth the while. Although the mist prevented us from seeing the far out vistas, it created a whole different and mysterious atmosphere in its own right: burned trees and scraggy bushes etched against the frosty background of the misty mountains, flowers and greenery sprinkled with water droplets from mist, dew and/or rain shimmering in the weak daylight and reflecting their environment millionfold.
While I stopped every five steps to take photographs, Stefaan and the guide forged ahead and the distance between us grew. At one point I got a bit nervous. Walking up we had passed several little piles of baboon droppings, but with Stefaan and guide right in front of me it hadn’t bothered me. All of a sudden I realised that both men were a bit higher up and with boulders strewn across the mountain slopes there were instances where I couldn’t see them. I got the fright of my life when all of a sudden I consciously heard baboons barking higher up in the mountains (they must have barked before, but then I most probably didn’t pay attention). Even though my brain kept on saying that the baboons are most probably more scared of us than we of them, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable. Lucky enough the two men had stopped for a breather and I hastily climbed a bit quicker to join them. I vouched to not let the distance grow that much again.
After an hour or two (or maybe a bit longer) we arrived at the cave with the Rock Art. It was fascinating and remarkably well preserved. The guide explained that the art was about 500 years old and still as colourful as the day it was made. He also explained how visitors seemed to find pleasure in vandalising the art work by scratching or writing on the rock face as some sort of misguided personal memorabilia.
Going downhill was less tiring, but definitely more precarious because of the wet and slippery track conditions. The weather hadn’t changed and the mountain slopes were still smothered by a blanket of mist and moisture. Because there was no sun water droplets on plants had not evaporated and all the way down we got the same magical mini worlds reflected in a gazillion waterdrops scattered over plants and flowers. We saw the odd crab making its way up the mountain, and a colourful bug crawling over the path.
Leaving the Centre, we spent the rest of the afternoon driving around and seeing some more of the environment which was misty but beautiful.
Cradock and Mountain Zebra National Park
The next morning we got in the car because we had a full day driving ahead to get to Cradock. After a good night sleep at the Oude Pastorie, we set out the next morning to the Mountain Zebra National Park. It was a glorious day with sunshine and brilliant blue skies and the animals were out to play: zebra, blue wildebeest, various buck, blue crane and secretary bird and for once fairly close up … lions!
At one (filled) waterhole we saw a secretary bird and a blue crane, South Africa’s national bird. At another (dry) waterhole there was a congregation of various animals and we even saw an oryx (which eluded us on our Namibia visit) shying away under the yellow acacia tree. We saw various families with little ones and the some animals working on that.
And what South African landscape is complete without the iconic wind pump, bright yellow acacia flowers and weaver nests decorating the trees.
It was an amazingly rewarding day which we closed off with an exceptional meal at True Living just up the road.
Christmas in Port Elizabeth
Next morning we slept in and after a slow breakfast we got on the road for our last stretch to Port Elizabeth. We stopped for a cup of coffee at Middleton Manor, a quaint little community on the Fish River, south of Cookhouse, that acts as rehabilitation center for substance abusers. Later we made the mandatory stop at Nanaga Farmstall, a tradition for most Eastern Capeners traveling east from Port Elizabeth, for an even more traditional roosterkoek. We eventually arrived in Port Elizabeth where we would be staying for a while to enjoy Christmas and the last few days with kids and grandkids before they had to go back home. We met up with them and the other grandparents for a fun afternoon at the beach. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Eve and enjoyed a nice but casual Christmas braai al fresco.
As part of our partial babysitting duties during those few days, we took the two girls, Lara and Chloe, for a walk on the Sacramento trail, a shipwreck walk. Although it was a bit of a windy day, the girls enjoyed looking for shells and watching crabs and other creatures crawl around in the rock pools. One of the afternoons that the other grandparents were on duty, we took a walk at the rocky shores of Marine Drive.
To Cape Town
Eventually we had to say our goodbyes to Erika and the family at the airport, after which we packed the car and set off, direction Gordons Bay, to visit our best friends Gavin and Lee.
A non stop drive through Tsitsikamma and the Garden Route got us to Riviersonderend for our night pit stop. We had visited Riviersonderend about 35 years ago when my parents visited from Belgium and we had certain memories. The town had changed in all these years and unfortunately didn’t do our memories justice. Without much ado, we left the next morning in search for a cup of coffee that would take the bitter taste out of this experience.
Although Gordons Bay would be only a few more hours driving, we decided to take a loopy detour via Montagu, Worcester and Grabouw. Shortly after leaving Riviersonderend we passed through the Stormsvleipoort, which was spectacular in all its burned beauty.
We passed winelands and orchards and traversed the mountain via the Cogmanskloof Pass. We had a quick lunch in Montagu and continued through an ever changing landscape of craggy mountain passes, lush green winelands and desolate semi desert landscapes. Further on we passed through the winelands of the Hex River Valley, before we turned off at Worcester towards the Teewaters Dam and Villers Dorp. We hit the homestretch via Grabouw and Sir Lowry’s Pass.
But all good things come to an end and too soon it was time to go back home… a 13 hour road trip without sight seeing this time! We did have some spectacular thunder and lightning along the way however. The photos are not too great quality as they are stills from video clips, but I was pretty stoked that I was indeed able to “catch” them.