Friday, July 17, 2009

South African Diaries Part 2

This was long due......

The trip started on the 10th of October and ended on the 6th of November, not nearly enough time to take in all the stunning sights of the country, but enough to let you know that this will not be your last trip.

We drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town passing through some of the most stunning beaches, mountains, farms, floral kingdoms, vineyards, forests, natural spendours and cultural cities of South Africa. This is truly a scenic extravaganza to behold personally!

Day 1:

As we drove from Johannesburg or Egoli, the city of gold and the economic capital of the country towards Port Elizabeth, the “friendly city”, the length and breadth of South Africa’s vast beauty started making itself known.

Our first stop was Port Elizabeth (shortened to PE), otherwise known as the Nelson Mandela Bay . We reached PE just after sunset and headed straight to the beach. Although PE receives little rainfall, it was our lucky day, I guess. It looked heavily overcast and we were a bit disappointed. But then I was told that you can witness all seasons in a day in SA and I reconciled myself to it all being part of the experience! And as a gift for my troubles, the following day was a sunny day.

A little trivia about PE: PE is South Africa’s third biggest port and lies on the shores of Algoa Bay. It is called the Friendly City, may be because it has a certain lackadaisical feel about it and unlike the fast moving cities, you are taken aback by the smiling folks’ who will readily greet you on the street . It also happens to be the home of South Africa’s first cricket club.

After check in, we went to PE’s biggest entertainment option, The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment Centre, which has many dining options for those on the look out for some grub.

The next morning we woke up before the crack of dawn for a walk on the beach and witnessed yet another spectacular sunrise. After the sunrise, we freshened up and checked out of the hotel and headed straight to the famous King Edward Hotel for a sumptuous breakfast and boy, was the breakfast well spread!! The hotel, the oldest in the city, was magnificent with a Victorian feel to it. We walked across the road and headed straight to the Donkin lighthouse which had a sad, interesting, romantic and historic feel to it.

For history lovers: On a hill stands a stone pyramid with an adjacent lighthouse. This was proclaimed in perpetuity by Sir Rufane Donkin, acting British Governor of the Cape, when the 1820 Settlers arrived in Algoa Bay. Donkin named the new settlement after his wife, Elizabeth, who had died in India two years' previously, and erected the pyramid in her memory. The lighthouse was built in 1861, and today houses the city's Tourist Information Centre.

Must do’s at PE:

- Breakfast at King Edwards Hotel – I promise it will make you feel like a king !
- Addo Elephant Park
- Oceanarium
- The Donkin Heritage Trail
- Museum trail

When my friend first spoke about the Garden Route, I had visualized manicured gardens along the way but that was not quite what I saw. It was a garden of sorts but a garden with dense forests, pine trees – water bodies that were the size of oceans, rivers and lakes, flowers that grew wild wherever they felt like. In a nutshell, it was much more than what I had ever imagined!

According to Wikipedia, the Garden Route is a stunning and scenic stretch between Mossel Bay and Storms River in the southern coast of South Africa.
I promise, the drive will leave you completely spell bound and speechless. It runs parallel to the westerncoastline of the country with many lakes, mountains, beaches, cliffs and dense forests. The infrastructure is brilliant, making the region popular all year round.

Our first stop on the Garden route was Jeffrey’s Bay:

Jeffrey’s bay is a surfer’s paradise known for the perfect wave. As you enter J-Bay, the vibe of the entire town is very surfy with surf boards, shops with surfy names, shell museums and anything that’s even remotely connected with the surfs and waves! The warehouses for Billabong, Roxy and Quicksilver are all here on the streets, which are supposedly giant houses for beach gears!

We decided not to stay at J-Bay as there was so much more to do so we headed straight to Tsitsikamma National Park. We checked into the Bloukrans backpackers lodge. Perfect!
But none of the places around were open for us to fetch food – so we went to bed, hungry!!

We stayed in log cabins... the entire feel was fantastic was drizzling outside and the was kinda chilly too .. i quickly got myself into the rug and was trying to contain my excitement and catch some sleep. had a big day coming up...
I couldn’t sleep a wink thinking about the bungy jump next day off the Bloukrans (which happens to be the highest commercial bridge jump in the world – 216 m)

The walk… the fear, the jump and the adrenalin rush…..

As I was walking on the suspended wire bridge, my heart was racing. I had questions in my mind… wasn’t sure if I would survive it. Was thinking of freak accidents but then wanted to so badly do it.. So here I am. Standing on the highest commercial bungy jump bridge looking at the crew who were enthusiastically harnessing us, trying to make us laugh with funny stories... to jump or not to jump.. Anyways, I guess it was too late to turn back. I was petrified as I stood on the edge and the countdown began and off I went. What happened before was really history as what I witnessed after the jump was so completely phenomenal.. My heart pounding and the gorge below looked spectacular.. This is by far the most exciting thing that I have done in my life!

  • Next stop....
    On the banks of a lagoon and nestled between the Indian ocean and the Outeniqua mountain range, Knysna is a must-see for every visitor to South Africa and certainly one place that shouldn’t be missed on a Garden Route tour.
    One of my favorite spots is Noetzie beach, a long stretch of sand hidden away and accessed only through forests. As you climb down, you come across castles and experience one of the most idyllic scenery on the Garden Route. Truly a hidden secret.

    Top 10 things to do when you are bitten by the Knysna bug:
    - Go check out the heads for the panoramic view of the lagoon.
    - Beach: visit the Noetzie beach and stay in one of the castles
    - walk along the forests
    - Township tour: the town is very colorful and known for its crafts and has the biggest Rastafarian community of South Africa – go shopping for crafts. Visit the farmers market , if you land on a Sunday
    -Train ride: a return trip on the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe between Knysna and George is a must do.
    -Go for a sundowner cruise in the lagoon: A number of ferry trips around the Waterfront are available daily, weather permitting. Some companies offers trips on the Lagoon and beyond the head and others for sundowner trips on the Lagoon visiting the Nature Reserve

More coming up in the next issue of south african diaries.....


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