South African Road Trip March – 3400 km

Day 1. Stellenbosch – Mossel Bay – Knysna – Port Elizabeth

Distance: 750 km

Hostel: PE Backpackers, 90 Rands a night (approx. 9 euros). The hostel itself is quite run down, but it has a nice view in the morning and for this price what do you expect? 🙂 Don’t be surprised if you book one room and get another

Driving conditions: the N2 highway or expressway with minor road works here and there. Average speed 120 km/h.

Events: It was the first and longest day of the journey. We picked up our “great 4×4” truck which was actually a small Chevy the size of a matchbox, 🙂 but our entire luggage somehow fit in. With a bit of push and kick everything fit like a charm. The day itself was quite un-eventful as we really had to cover this leg of the journey quite fast. It meant not being able to see some wonderful places on the Garden Route, but we still managed to take a look at Swellendam, Mossel Bay, Knysna Bay and drive through the Tsitsikama forest. Port Elizabeth itself is quite a big city, with some historic buildings. Already we could see that blacks and whites mix better than in Stellenbosch and in the evening we had a nice, well portioned meal with a German girl we met in the hostel. Poor thing hadn’t seen her boyfriend in 3 months. I know the feeling.

Day 2. Port Elizabeth – Addo Elephant Park – Grahamstown

Distance: 350 km

Driving conditions: Once you get off the high-way in the Eastern Cape you have to be lucky as there are no proper road signs and you might end up being lost as we were in Uitenhagen. The secondary road after Addo miraculously ended up turning into a gravel road, with the Sun falling in the middle of nowhere and there was only one other car we could stop and ask for directions 😛

Hostel: The Old Gaol. It should have been a former prison turned into a hostel but their license wasn’t renewed so they moved to another place. The hostel itself is run down and the receptionist was either high or drunk as we had to yell and knock on the door, call him and kick the gate for 20 minutes until he opened with a typical “Yeah?! Aww…dude sorry…yeah…amm…yeah we got the room”. We booked a 7 person room but ended up with a 4 bed room, with the bathroom being separated from the rest of the room by a curtain. 🙂 110 Rands a night.

Events: In the morning we visited Port Elizabeth, went to the beach a bit and we were praying for the Elephant Park to be opened, as it was closed the day before because of a flash flood. Luckily it was opened and we took a guided tour with a really funny guide. We managed to see kudus, warthogs, elephants (herds, baby with mother, big male passing our truck) and dung beetles. Grahamstown itself is a former English settler town, now a small university town. You can get some good beers at “The Rat” and walk around town, maybe find a cheap restaurant for an evening bite. Besides the Church there is some student life but it is still a small town 🙂

Day 3 & 4. Grahamstown – East London – Chintsa Bay

Distance: 220 km

Driving conditions: The N2 Highway till East London then when your turn to Chinsta West be prepared for some good old steep gravel road.

Hostel: The Buccaneers, 130 Rands a night if you take the multiple bed dorm. Best hostel ever, it is spread out on a hill, with multiple bungalows, food place, volleyball court, swimming pool and a five minute walk from the lagoon and beach.

Events: We decided to stay two nights in Chintsa Bay. East London is worth a quick visit but don’t be amazed if a lunatic runs after your car with a crowbar. The country is getting lesser developed as you move more and more eastwards. Chintsa itself is an amazing piece of paradise, with a wonderful lagoon, and the raging Indian Ocean with high waves. We had a good party on Sunday night and got a lot of free shots at the bar. To my delight I finally saw black and white people dancing and partying together. Something I do not see in good old traditional, whitey Stellenbosch. We ate at the Bearfoot restaurant, where Eryan is THE MAN. A laid back South African English guy, who greats you like “Don’t let my good looks deceive you, I am smart as well. So what would you like to order?” or “TIA ma’ broes and sistas. This Is Africa. Time is irrelevant here”. Chintsa Bay already offered the sense of being an African place. It is still a resort, but you have to walk 3O minutes over the Lagoon to reach the restaurant and the roads already tell a different story. The place is amazing and I do recommend it to all.

Day 5 & 6. Chintsa Bay – Buttersworth – Coffee Bay

Distance: 250 km

Driving conditions: the N2 highway narrows down, then when you turn to Coffee Bay embrace yourself for potholes, cows, sheep, kids, and gravel roads. This is the old Transkei and this is Africa.

Hostel: Coffee Shack. I must admit. It rivals the Buccaneers, so I would say both of them amazing places. 130 Rands or 150 Rands a night.

Events: The first afternoon we took a nice dip in the Ocean and prepared for the party. Every guy who dressed up as a chick got free drinks. So ofc it was natural that I got a pink top and a skirt. The rules are simple, the Buffalo rules. If you drink with your right hand you have to finish the whole bottle, so drink with your left one (hard to get used to). We met Joseph, the Xhosa wonder man, cliff diver, bar tender, tour guide. The other day we got up early and headed to Mapuzi. We finally saw true Africans, Xhosa people in their huts, women making mud bricks or carrying everything on their heads. The terrain is amazing. Green hills with small huts that end in cliffs next to the ocean. The brave ones cliff jumped from 8, 10, 14 m high into the Ocean waves. We had some good toasties, saw amazing unspoiled scenery, met up with two groups from Stellenbosch and generally met people like us, travelling and seeing the world. During the night the African beats came to life from the drums and I shook my ass and got some free shots 🙂

Day 7. Coffee Bay – Mthatha (Umtata) – MacLear – Tsitsa Falls

Distance: 200 km + another 80 getting lost and finding the Hole in the Wall.

Hostel: The Tsitsa Falls, an amazing little place. The only hostel in a 50 km radius, off the bitten track. It is run buy a charming and outdoor oriented young couple, Adrian and Angela, who gave up luxury, electricity and live next to candle light, wash their clothes by hand, go 20 km to the nearest city. 125 Rands per night, in a nice Xhosa type hut, with candle light and impeccable view.

Driving conditions: In the morning we wasted 4 hours trying to find the Hole in the Wall. It is the Transkei, so no paved roads, kids on the streets bagging for sweets (please do not give them as there are no dentists in the region), we ended up pushing little Pumba (the car) up the hills. J Definitely a good adventure. Average speed 20 km/h on the gravel roads.

Events: By noon we found the Hole in the Wall, but my advice. It is not worth it. Go and spend a wonderful time in Coffee Bay and visit Mapuzi. We passed through Umtata, where I would recommend to be careful as it was the first time I got the feeling that people weren’t to keen on seeing white people (I think we were the only ones). Leaving Umtata you had closer to the Drakensbergs. The scenery is astonishing. From subtropical Coffee Bay, it changes to temperate green pastures and forests and Tzitza Falls is the icing on the cake. It is 10 km from any asphalt but the scenery, the sunset is unbelievable.

Day 8. Tsitsa Falls – Queenstown – Hogsback

Distance: 330 km

Driving Conditions: Quite good till Queenstown and on the expressway. You can average 100 km/h… And then came the famous secondary road to Hogsback. 60 kms of holes, unpaved gravel roads, cows, one or two trucks, darkness and trying to find the hostel in Hogsback as the small town does not have any street lighting.

Hostel: Away with the Fairies. A decent hostel for 110 R per night, but which offers the most amazing view in the morning. It is breathtaking as the mist clears in the valley, surrounded by mountains.

Events: In the morning, at Tsitsa Falls we woke up at 5.45 am and Adrian took us on a hike, descending through crevasses, showing us the local vegetation, Bushmen rock paintings and zip gliding 150 m, 28 m high over the Tsitsa Falls and taking a morning shower behind the falls. Amaaaaazing!!!! The cities already change, they get more mixed as you leave the Transkei and Queenstown is quite a nice regional center. The road to Hogsback though is horrible but picturesque and Hogsback itself, though a small town has some nice waterfalls, views and hikes to offer. By the way. This is where Tolkien got the setting of his book, The Hobbit.

Day 9. Hogsback – Graaf Reinet – Valley of Desolation – Aberdeen

Distance: 400 km

Driving Conditions: Finally back on good roads. The closer you get to the Western Cape, the more you can drive with 120 km/h.

Hostel: First time we didn’t know where we will spend the night. We came across the Pagel House in the middle of nowhere in the Great Karoo, in Aberdeen, a wonderful old mansion ran buy a wonderful lady. It is stylish, exquisite and the dining rooms, the bathrooms, the bedrooms are amazing. I took a single room for 220 R a night, with breakfast included.

Events: The landscape changed dramatically as we entered the Great Karoo. It is an unforgiving, desolate land, with occasional sheep flocks, bare mountains and endless planes. It looks like Arizona or New Mexico. Graaf Reinet is called the “jewel of the Karoo” with a really nice protestant church and a concentric layout. We visited the Cambedoo National Park, which offers the most spectacular view over the Valley of Desolation and the Great Karoo. And we saw some monkeys and springbok J Oh, and in Aberdeen go to the only restaurant, Lemons and Lyme, where you can get a double schnitzel with salad and mash for 3.5 Euros and maybe the waitress will forget to bill you for the wine 😉

Day 10. Aberdeen – Great Karoo – Outshoorn – Little Karoo- Cape Winelands – Stellenbosch

Distance: 700 km

Driving Conditions: Awesome. Fast expressways, awesome scenery, hot as hell 🙂

Hostel: Back home 🙂

Events: We took breakfast early and found out that stupid Shell is trying to dig for oil in the Karoo! The landscape can be monotonous but still amazingly desolate and peaceful. In Outshoorn we saw a lot of ostriches (they used to have over a million during the ostrich boom), we passed the cheese producing Ladismith and of course we stopped at Ronnie’s Sex Shop a bar on the side of the road between Ladismith and Barrydale. It is the coolest bar ever, with people leaving their cards, underwear, bras, or signatures on the walls or ceilings 😀 People like executive managers of Rabobank, Porsche or Audi 😉 Definitely worth a stop for a beer. We passed some amazing mountain passes when entering the Winelands after the Small Karoo. Worcester is situated in the midst of amazing scenery and from here it was a last 80 km drive to Stellenbosch.

Conclusion: I fell in love with this country. I still criticize its past and present. I saw so many landscapes, people, cultures that I must say it is the Rainbow Nation. The differences are huge between the Western Cape and the old Transkei. We left white Afrikaner country (with their sometimes old habits), saw people mixing in Settler country, came across friendly Xhosa villagers, but angry Xhosa city dwellers. Found mixed towns once again in the Winterbergs and met really good hospitality in the Karoo. I think it has been a journey that changed and broadened my view of the country. I realized how much I miss my woman and how much her daily sms-s meant to me and I want to share these experiences with her as well. About the country, let me put it in Adrian Badernhorst’s words, the owner of the Tsitsa Falls, a guy who kayaks for a living, who is a Pretorian Afrikaner, married to an English woman and living in the area where the Basothos, Zulus and Xhosas meet. “You Europeans think that you know all about us and our ways. We acknowledge our past, and it might seem to you that nothing is being done but we have come a long way in these short years and there is a lot more work to be done.”

Total distance: approx. 3300 km

Total money spent: approx 400 € (4000 Rands) – Car rental p.p. 60 €, Gas 50 € (it is way cheaper than in Europe), Hostels 110 €, Food 80 € (including a lot of eating out), Other 100 € (phone, batteries, parties, permits, adventure stuff)

Recommended travel guide: Lonely Planet, definitely 🙂

Team Steffi, Karin, Kathrin, Gashi and our beloved car Pumba a job well done!!! As we say TIA, This is Africa and Hakoona Matata 😛

Stellenbosch, 29 March 2011

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