A couple of years ago we moved to Africa and I haven’t posted much about it since then. We have taken quite a few trips and done a lot of amazing things in the meantime, but I never found the time to write about them.
I will have some reflections on living in Tanzania when we leave this summer, and will post more about that then. For now, I had to write about South Africa. This holiday season marked the second year in a row that we decided to go there, and for so many good reasons. So this post is about why we had to go back to South Africa for two years in a row.
During our recent trip to drive the garden route from Port Elizabeth to Stellenbosch, we enjoyed Christmas and New Year at the beginning of their summer. Tanzania gets quite hot and incredibly humid for the months of November – May, but South Africa is much further from the equator. It was mostly hot during the entire trip, but there was more variation in the coastal weather there. Plenty of midday breeze in the shade made drinking Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, Pinotages and Rosés less burdensome. Hard winds kept us up for a few nights as it punched in from the ocean and howled between the buildings lining the coast.
Here is a bit from our recent trip to drive the Garden Route in South Africa.
We landed here and checked into an Airbnb overlooking the beach.
The sand was soft and powdery like the sands of Zanzibar, but in a tan brown colour. It stretched far down the coastline and was filled with people for as far as the eye could see. Few played in the rugged ocean. We found out later that the temperature was not inviting.
We drove through town and admired the historical buildings. Dutch Colonialism is a dark and checkered story, but they did make some nice buildings. We passed through the outskirts of town and through an industrial area that looked like something out of the prologue to a science fiction novel. I was reminded once again that we love our plastic, and that it all goes somewhere.
From Port Elizabeth we went onto Addo Elephant National Park. You can easily make a day trip from PE to spend the day checking out zebras, African buffalos, elephants, warthogs and a bunch of different deer with big horns. We saw ostrich, tortoises and jackals too. It was a pretty busy day for sitings, although we didn’t catch a glimpse of the park’s lions. It wasn’t quite the Serengeti, but it was a great day trip for a family with kids. Just don’t get out of your car. This isn’t Disney World.
During our stay in the park we had some pretty dramatic moments with the pachyderms. Several of them were drinking at a muddy hole and we watched as they drank, cooled off with mud baths, played and then moved on. The mothers protected their young as they passed by the onlookers in the parked cars. It was pretty intimidating when you see their size, and know that they could flip the car if they didn’t like you. But they were the most peaceful animals you might ever see. They passed us by and munched their way into the thick brush on the other side of the road. None of them were in a hurry, and possibly accustomed to the gaping maws of onlookers.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen elephants at a watering hole, but it’s something that never gets boring and we watched them for about an hour.
I don’t have any photos of Knysna but it is definitely a charming town at the outset of the Garden Route. My wife had some friends on Thesen island, a waterbird habitat that also hosts several exclusive property developments. It is a very peaceful community, but every home here was built at sea level. I wondered what might happen to them in the coming decades. I would guess everyone has insurance!
Here we experienced our first Braai; what North Americans call a barbecue. We walked around outside the property at the marshy edges where the birds congregated. Our host was incredibly knowledgeable about the name of every bird, and could tell us a bit about each one. Of course I don’t remember any of it now, but here is a photo of one of these cool-looking birds. He did tell me that they appear a lot in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The next day we were on the road again and stopped in George for lunch. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to choose a highly rated place online and found a charming cottage lunch at the Bay Leaf Café. In the back of the cottage, tables were set out around a fountain and garden. I don’t often take photos of food, but when my flapjacks with bananas, bacon and maple syrup arrived, I was in heaven. You can really tell when the person in the kitchen enjoys their work. And when we saw the fully-aproned chef speaking to some of the patrons, we knew that we had found the real deal. I would highly recommend this cafe if you’re in George!
Back on the road, we set out for Gansbaai. It was the longest stretch of our trip at about 4 hours, but I had decided to do something for a rush. I don’t normally seek adventure, but going into a cage which goes into the water with sharks milling about seemed like it was something I had to do. Especially if people keep killing them. I wanted to see the Great White Shark up close and personally, but unfortunately it was not to be. It was likely too early in the season and their migration pattern, but I did see plenty of beautiful copper sharks. When they bit at the bait, their eyes rolled back “like a doll’s eyes” and we got to see it up close from the cage.
Because the sharks were so wonderful I was not disappointed with the excursion. Of course it would have been ideal to see some Great Whites, but I also knew that it justified trying again in the future.
All right, this is the real reason we went to South Africa for a second Christmas in a row. We like wine. We like nature and great food. We also like wine.
We got priced out of Franschhoek (another amazing town in the region that should be booked early) and so we went to Stellenbosh, slightly bigger and with easy access to the property we rented. It was a cottage on a wine estate, because that’s how you spend Christmas in the southern hemisphere, isn’t it?
We visited a bunch of wineries, had some great lunches and met up with a friend we work with in Tanzania. We also drank wine. Turns out that South Africa has some of my favourite wines ever. Australia will also be our destination one day, for a similar reason.
The ducks go on a daily murderous rampage (or as they call it, a “parade”) at Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate.
Maria At Le Petite Ferme, probably our favourite place in the entire Western Cape.
There were a lot of very relaxed days sitting around the cottage and watching the landscape. It made me so happy that we could have these experiences.
We had a hard time leaving the cottage, but the next stop was New Years in Cape Town.
This year we stayed in Sea Point, which turned out to be just another reason I absolutely love Cape Town. It had been our only destination last year, and it was so great that we had to come back. The more time I explore this city, the more I love it. The integration of cultures, the landscape, the people, the food, and the wine.
Maria and Marion reunite for New Years in Cape Town
Last year when we visited, we visited the District Six museum, (and stayed on the fringe of the old District Six, which had been razed to build less-inspired buildings.) We visited Bo-Kapp, Company Gardens and the surrounding area, and walked throughout much of the city just to see it, though we were constantly reminded that we should be careful of certain areas. We generally keep a low profile and don’t go out late, so we had no incidents at any point on our trips.
There are endless things to do in Cape Town, but we mostly explored the Sea Point neighbourhood on this trip. It was local and had everything we needed. The more time I spent there, the more I knew I was not seeing the rest of the city. But Sea Point had so much of what I wanted (a re-imagined, winding food court with over a hundred beers on tap amongst endless choices of other food and drink at the Mojo Market). I was happy wandering around Sea Point for days between the beach, shops and places where I could do some writing on my eternally-incomplete novel. I didn’t take any photos here because I was too busy looking and doing.
It was a great holiday and I hope that at some point down the road we can return to the Western Cape, because along with places like Crete and my home Fogo Island, it is one of my favourite places on earth. It has everything I want and certainly something for you, too.