The N2 is the main highway along the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa. It runs from Cape Town all the way up to Durban and beyond. It winds its way through several provinces and, arguably, boasts some of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country.
It’s a road I know well, albeit it normally from the perspective of the back seat. Many holidays have been spent with friends and family schlepping back and forth between Cape Town and one of the idyllic sea side towns that make up the east coast.
Today for the first time I took to the road as the driver as Mari and I set out for a few stops along the Garden Route, a particularly spectacular section of the road. With some sweaty palmed trepidation I took hold of the steering wheel and started the six and a half hour journey to Plettenberg Bay.
As the landscapes rolled out in front of me, and Mari dozed serenely beside me, the rolling fields, towering mountain passes and striking coast lines brought back a swathe of memories. The opportunity now to show Mari a slice of my past, as well as more of what this incredible country has to offer, is another fond moment to add to the many before. – L
After reading the visitor’s guide for the Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg, South Africa I kept my eyes peeled for some of the local wonders during our two hour hike. These included tiny but rare blue duiker that might be creeping in the evergreen thickets, whales and seals that could be swimming off the coast, and the candelabra flowers which only bloom between February and April.
The pamphlet said to look out for the candelabra flowers’ rich crimson petals. Though we hiked several kilometers, I unfortunately never saw a single glimpse of red on the trail. I did notice, however, these peach flowers in a sea of otherwise pale white bramble. While I never found my candelabra, in these lovely flowers that dangled gently from their stem I found my chandelier. -M
Plettenberg Bay is a town that has grown rapidly over the past decade. As kids we’d roam the town barefoot, either kicking around the beaches or eating cheap burgers outside the local Steers. Now though, the center of town is almost unrecognisable from the sleepy sea side village it used to be.
Neverthless as Mari and I set off to Robberg Nature Reserve this morning under a grey sky, there were a few local landmarks that had survived the march of progress. Here a little shop from my memories remained, and there a statue still stood where I remembered it.
We arrived at the nature reserve after a late start and a series of necessary cappuccinos. The sky threatened overhead but the imminent storm only served to give the scenery a wilder, more exciting feel. We paid our R40 entrance fee and set off along the trail which circles around the little peninsula.
Seal pups barked far below us as we made our way over the cliffs of the reserve. Every turn brought us a different perspective of the Indian Ocean, with feinbos, sand dunes and cliff faces offering contrast to the raging blue oceans and menacing storm clouds.
In a town where so much was different from my past, the little nature reserve was a welcome reminder of how much of what made Plettenberg Bay so special still remains. – L
Exploring Plettenberg Bay has been a rewarding couple of days. In every direction we’ve stumbled across delicious breakfasts, tasty beer and some epic backgrounds to enjoy them to.
This afternoon I decided to take Mari down to the Lookout Deck, an old haunt, for a drink and a meal with another of those stunning views. The last time I’d come down this way flooding had washed Lookout Beach completely away and the restaurant had stood by itself against the rocks overlooking the ocean.
We arrived to a very different scene. It turns out that the beach works in a cycle, washing away and rebuilding itself over decades. A wide stretch of sand spread out from the restaurant, way bigger than it stood in my memory, but close enough to stir some nostalgia.
After a quick meal we headed out along the shore, taking time to appreciate the ebb and flow of the waves. We walked out past families enjoying the last of the afternoon and fisherman with their rods patiently dug into the sand. The familiarity of it all was a pleasant surprise, and fitting for a trip already so full of memories. – L
While Lex has been taking a trip down memory lane here in Plettenberg Bay, I have been experiencing a series of firsts. My first time road tripping, my first time on the Garden Route, and today– my first time swimming in South Africa.
When I asked Lex how cold the water was as we laid in the sun on our newly purchased child-sized star wars beach blankets, he told me with an air of confidence that he water was cool but definitely not cold. He explained how the Indian Ocean here was much warmer than where it mingled with the frigid Atlantic waters in Cape Town. “Cool” would come to be known as the biggest understatement someone could make when describing the ocean at Plett. While children and parents dove and frolicked in the waves, I shrieked as the icy water barely touched my toes. Submerging myself was a test in determination. I wanted this ‘first’ to go down in the books. So I charged into the water, dunked my head under, and ran quickly back to the safety of Darth Vader.
As Lex ended the day reminiscing over holidays spent splashing around in the waves of Plettenberg Bay, I kept my toes well away from another dip in the icy surf. South Africans are clearly nuts. – M
We started early this morning, our breakfast spot was picked out the night before along with our early morning hiking route. We set out for the day with our trust put in a half read tripadvisor hike review and a vague GPS coordinate. Well, some days are meant to teach you a lesson.
Our big hiking plans were aimed for Tsitsikamma National Park, but as the park covers 80km of coast line we hadn’t pinpointed exactly which part we were aiming at. Our GPS lead us down a sloping, winding road with road signs giving us helpful reminders like ‘baboons!’, ‘falling rocks’ and ‘!’. While keeping our eyes peeled for potential obstacles, the scenery around us opened up to Natures Valley, a completely unintended consequence of trusting Google’s navigation suggestions. As the name would suggest the area sits in a valley and is a mixture of sub tropical jungle, rocky beach and a wide river mouth.
After over-familiarising ourselves with the local neighbourhood, we eventually stumbled across the start to the Salt River Hike. The trail starts at the beach and quickly moves upwards through the scrub and brush to the top of one of the many hills of the valley.
We’d soon find out the trail ends half way because of an ‘impassable extremely dangerous’ rock slide, but not before we popped out on the side of the hill to this view. Looking back over this spectacular sight of Nature’s Valley, after almost giving up altogether, reminded us that it’s always really more about the journey anyway. – L
The heads are two jutting rock faces that form the only entrance into the Knysna lagoon. These heads and the town itself have a rich history dating back to the Stone Age when the Khoisan people fished and hunted on the rocky banks.
The Heads later gained infamy as one of the most dangerous ports in the world. Dutch colonists wished to utilize the abundant timber in the area to supply their growing Cape colony. After transporting timber across the mountains proved to be an impossible task, colonist turned their eyes towards the sea.
As simple as it seemed to enter the lagoon through these large sandstone heads, the first boat to attempt a port ran aground on rocks and had to be rescued. Several other boats have run aground on these seemingly placid waters and the lagoon is now a home to a shipwreck dating back to 1903.
After the construction of a railroad line, the Knysna Harbor gradually lost business till it was completely decommissioned. What’s left is a small boat harbor where vacationers can take in the some of the most stunning views in South Africa. – M
After a breakfast of cold hard boiled eggs and apricots, we loaded up the car and set off for the Knysna forests. The Garden Route National Park, of which the forests are a part, is around 30 minutes away from the main town. The road splits from the N2 and bends and curves its way through a countryside full of farmlands and fynbos.
Eventually the tarred road gave way to dirt and gravel and we rumbled off into a forest full of dense ferns and tall shady trees. In the park there are plenty of hikes of varying lengths to choose from and each is clearly marked and easy to access.
We decided on a shorter hike named Jubilee Creek, parked up outside the idyllic little picnic spot at the beginning of the hike and set off into the forest. The hike is gentle and only about 4km to the end and back. The trail ends in a swimming spot if you’re feeling particularly brave or the sun is a lot hotter than it was today.
In the 1800’s there was a short lived gold rush in the area and three or four abandoned mine shafts still remain on the path with stern signs advising against entering. The walk crisscrosses the creek at several points and when the sun breaks through it offers some picturesque photo moments.
As we put the forests, and Knysna, in our rear view mirror we both felt that the area had a lot more to be discovered in the future. – L
Lex is not the biggest fan of driving and I unfortunately have been of no help this trip. Neither driving on the left side of the road nor driving stick shift are things I have any familiarity with. Today more than any other day was a test in Lex’s patience.
On our way to our final hostel of the trip we first encountered the most confusing road block ever. A lady stood silently with a large red flag. Without reason why or directions for an alternate route, we had to turn back.
Luckily through the help of our dear friend Google, we found another way. This, however, was a single lane road with an exposed cliff face on one side. One hundred meters up this narrow, dangerous road we encountered a giant steam roller headed in the opposite direction. As hard as the giant beast tried to get to one side, we were sure we wouldn’t make it by him without tumbling down the mountain. Only after reversing up the road to the only large gap available, we were able to get past and continue our way up the mountain.
When we finally saw the sign for our hostel, our icing on the cake was a 500 meter rocky and steep dirt road that led to the reception. We trudged up the road slowly, careful to avoid any potholes and reached our destination at last.
The hillside farms were bathed in that golden hour of sun as we took in views of the lagoon, the ocean and the town of Wilderness below. Though it’s easy for me to say it as the passenger, I think Lex would reluctantly agree, that the views were worth the struggle. – M
We spent the previous night at Wild Farm Backpackers which sits on the high hills above Wilderness. The views are incredible, and a lackluster breakfast didn’t spoil a visually fantastic way to start a morning. We finished up quickly and set out to take advantage of our last day.
The sun shone fiercely and ample beach time was broken up with cold craft beers at The Flava Cafe. Trying to stretch out the day for as long as we could we decided to make our way up to The Map of Africa viewpoint before making our pre dinner pit stop.
Unfortunately the perfect weather was broken as a thick cloud descended on the valley. In the time it took to make our way there, the landscape became dense with fog. We approached the view point with lowered expectations but, as it turns out, unnecessarily so. An impressive river valley stretched out in front of us in the shape of the African continent, and the grey clouds gave contrast to the greens of the jungle.
As we thought back to our few days on the Garden Route we realised there wasn’t a single one that we hadn’t been impressed or surprised. This last day was no different, and we look forward to more adventure and exploration of this diverse coast line in the future. – L
Our last day exploring the Garden Route held as many driving woes as our arrival in Wilderness. When we woke up at 6am to set off for Cape Town, we saw that a blanket of fog had set in overnight and left us wrapped in a thick grey cloud. We reluctantly jumped in the car and drove slowly down the road with our hazard lights blinking. The fog was so strong that we didn’t even notice the sun had risen until finally the day’s heat had built enough steam to beat the humid air.
After several hours we felt like we were finally getting close. The day grew bright and Cape Town lay over one final mountain pass. But suddenly traffic slowed and we found ourselves in a long line of cars being told to turn around and find another way to the Mother City. We were forced to take a detour through coastal towns that grew congested with a sudden influx of traffic and too many traffic stops.
What should have been five hours soon became seven before we finally made it home. I have little to show for the those grueling hours besides this last photo I was able to snap during those slow traffic turns. – M