Friday, 18 August 2017

Day 107: Natal Midlands to Home

It seemed fitting to end our trip in the Natal Midlands as this is where it all began some 4 months ago.

What a journey, what a beautiful country we live in !!

Gray’s philosophy is that we must travel to explore and experience, rather than ‘holiday’, we however accomplished both.

We travelled to all 9 provinces in South Africa and Lesotho. We travelled to our northern borders and the southernmost tip of Africa. We dipped our toes in the cold Atlantic and swam in the warmer Indian Ocean. We went from sea level to the highest point in Southern Africa. A week after snorkeling in the ocean, we were playing in the snow. Days after living in the desert, we were in the bustling city of Cape Town. We stayed in a Basotho hut, an old farm house, a 5 star hotel and everything in between. We picnicked in the middle of nowhere and ate in some of our top restaurants, we drank water from streams and wine from amazing vineyards. We were chased by elephants, saw lions and leopards, saw the Pels fishing owl and another 150 odd birds. We visited heritage sights and art galleries. We witnessed amazing sun rises and awesome sunsets, full moons and star filled skies.

We travelled around 15 000 km. Not forgetting some rather exciting and treacherous mountain passes.
We met interesting and colorful people from all different cultures and parts of the world.

Thanks to all our friends and family who followed the blog and for your messages.

A big thanks to our friends, family and children who joined us along the way. Thanks Wayne and Jean for coming all the way from Miami to spend special time in the bush together. Thanks Ga, Kirst and Robs for very special family time in Stellies and Cape Town.

As always my biggest thanks goes to Gray. Thank you for the amazing adventure and taking us to place in our beautiful country that were so off the beaten track, for sharing our love to explore and being such a fun, loving and considerate traveling companion. Love you madly.

Day 106: Umngazi River Bungalows to Rawdons Hotel in the Natal Midlands

All good things come to an end and this morning after breakfast it was time to leave.  

We drove out along the Umzimvubu River, with the beautiful Natal bush and cliffs as scenery.  We took a drive into Port St John’s, where Gray holidayed as a child. Apparently things in this once lazy holiday spot have changed drastically over the years. It was bustling and busy with lots of street stalls and markets. 

We took the R61 through Lusikisiki and onto the bustling and busy town of Flagstaff. The going was slow with windy roads and livestock of every description crossing the road at will.

To avoid the roadworks around Kokstad, we took the road from Magusheni to Mbizana. We still encountered roadworks and gravel roads as well as a very unhappy GPS, who spent a couple of hours trying to reroute us. 

 From Mbizaza we headed to Harding, the last stretch was tarred and forested, reminiscent of the areas in Mpumalanga.  Harding is a forest town with a big creosote plant.

Then Gray took another back ‘short cut’ to Umzimkulu, more roadworks, to Ixopo and eventually into Pietermaritzburg and onto the N3 for a brief spell before we were back onto the gravel roads of the Midlands. 

We arrived at the beautiful old Rawdons Hotel, in Nottingham Road around 5 pm. It was overcast and chilly.

After settling into the Lake Cottage we got a fire going in the fire place. It was a beautiful, cosy cottage set next to the lake, which was all misty in the cold evening. 

We ate at the main hotel, enjoying beer and gin from Nottingham Road Brewing Company, situated at the hotel.

Spot the Saints Badge in the pub

We were joined in our comfy bed next to the fire by the hotel cat, who out the rain and cold, not surprisingly purred contentedly all night.

Day 99 to 105: Umngazi River Bungalows

Like our last trip to Umngazi, a few weeks ago, it proved to be a perfect beach holiday spot. The food was awesome, the drinks flowed and beach beautiful and unspoiled.

It was great to spend time with Juls, Adie and Luke. The energy and joy of a six year old on the beach adds to the fun. I think Luke had an amazing time with us as well as with friends he made and the entertainment laid on for the kids. 

The weather was overcast for a couple of days but that didn’t stop us from taking long walks on the beach and braving the chilly water.

In pre-celebration for Jul’s 50th we went to the spa and had a special dinner in the ‘Green Door’ wine cellar.  Great wine and spectacular sea food platters, lots of fun as always – made for a memorable evening.

Our friends Jeff and Sally Paul and their daughter Britt were also on there on their annual holiday. They have been coming here for the past 21 years.  Thanks for all the laughs. We met another amazing couple, Graham and Jill, who have been holidaying here for 50 years. Wow, they had stories to tell about the history of the area from a few basic fishing huts to the beautiful family getaway it is today.

I think the rest is best described in pictures.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Day 98: Cintsa to Umngazi

We were up early, eager to complete the last leg of this section to Umngazi River Bungalows. We left at 7:30 am for the 300 km trip. We took the N2 to Mthatha, passing through the busy towns of Butterworth and Mbhashe.

We encountered lots of road works which slowed the trip down considerably. It will be an awesome road, when it is finished. We have been so impressed by all the road works taking place around the country and the condition of the roads in general.

We came across another wind farm. I have a fascination for these massive white wind turbines. I am so pleased to see that we are investing in eco energy. Despite Zuma and the political situation, there are a lot of good things taking place in our amazing country and I am really positive about the future.

We arrived at Umngazi River Bungalows at 12 and Julie, Adie and a very excited Luke arrived a few minutes later.  After the delicious lunch buffet, we checked into our rooms. We have a bungalow with a glorious sea view.  

Then it was off to the beach, no way were we keeping a 6 year old away.  We caught the ferry across the lagoon and braved the cold sea water.  

We had lots of laughs over pre dinner drinks and the 4 course dinner. Six glorious days in paradise, what a win.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Day 97: Graaff-Reinet to Cintsa

We left Graaff-Reinet around 10:30, it was a beautiful sunny day. 

We were now on the R63 Blue Crane Route, it took us through Pearston to Somerset East. We stayed over in Somerset East a few years ago on our way home from one of Robs Waterpolo tournaments. Nothing in this small town has changed. I remarked that on this trip we had visited Somerset West and East as well as Barkly West and East – all in different parts of the country.

We went through Cookhouse, where there was a wind farm along the mountain range. Then it was through Bedford, Adelaide, Fort Beaufort, Alice – a big town housing one of the University of Fort Hare campuses. 

By now we had left the springbok, monkeys and ostriches of the Karoo and the rolling hills of the eastern Cape were littered with the pastel painted houses of civilization. We went through King Williams Town, took the N2 past Bisho and eventually we took the coastal road to Crawford’s Beach Lodge in Cintsa East.

This lodge is a hodgepodge of cottages built against the steep mountain side. It is typical coastal and has beautiful views of the sea. 

It was nice, I remember my English teacher telling us not to use nice as an adjective – but this place was not stunning and it was not terrible, so it was nice. My reservation is that it was advertised as a 4 star getaway, great for honeymooners. I love a 5 star establishment but I am just as happy sleeping in a tent on the desert floor but I know what I am getting. This place is a 2 to 3 star family holiday spot. Unfortunately we did get the room overlooking the car park and reception area, which was noisy. The room had that miffy smell, the bunk beds alone with our double, again screamed family cottage. The clincher was trying to find the bathroom, Gray even went outside to see if we had a communal set up. I eventually found the 1 x 1 sq m shower cubicle accessed through the cupboard door – we had to turn sideways to get in – this did have us in hysterics.

Bathroom was behind left door

The bar and dining room were vibey and noisy, filled with families and tourists – again not exactly for the honeymoon vibe they were advertising.

They do have a stunning beach and we went for a lovely walk before sundowners and a buffet dinner.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Day 96: Prins Albert to Graaff-Reinet

According to my rough calculations, we had 4 days to cross the country from Stellenbosch, on the west coast to Umngazi River Bungalows on the east coast, a 14 ½ hour trip. We are two nights in, have travelled for 12 hours and still have 11 hours to go. So I guess we have not taken the most direct routes but we have been to and seen new and beautifully places along the way.

This morning Sally gave us a tour of her wonderful art studio and showed us some of her pieces of work. We explored the town and visited an olive farm, where we bought lots of their delicious olive oil.

Then we retraced our steps along the stunning Meiringspoort drive to De Rust. We would loved to have taken the Swartberg Pass, which apparently has mind blowing views but it was closed due to flooding earlier in the year. We will just have to come back… The clouds rolled over the hills at Kredouw and we went through a section of heavy mist. I love the feeling of being shrouded in clouds and mist. The mist lifted as we entered the valley and the rest of the day was warm and sunny.

We were on the N9 when we crossed from Western to Eastern Cape in the Sarah Baartman district and drove along the Camdeboo Route through the dry Karoo.

We stopped for lunch at another quirky padstal in Aberdeen, the Kamdebo Stall. 

The scenery into Graaff-Reinet was brown-grey Karoo scrub with lots of newly established game reserves. One of the interesting sights along the way was an abnormal load convoy carrying wind turbine blades.

We arrived in Graaff-Reinet around  3pm and booked into the Drostdy Hotel. What a treat, I highly recommend this luxury boutique hotel to anyone travelled through this area. The Cape Dutch façade was built in 1806 and designed by the French Architect, Louis Thibault, as the ‘Drostdy’ or magistrates court of the area. It was restored in 1977 by the Rupert’s De Oudemeester group and is host to many of the groups priceless antiques and paintings, including the original Robert’s bird collection, which are displayed in the dining room.

I took a stroll around the town, the spectacular centre-piece is the Dutch Reformed Church, constructed in 1887, it is loosely modeled on Salisbury Cathedral in England.

The town is clean and neat, certainly bigger and more commercial than Prins Albert but hosts magnificent examples of Cape Dutch, Victorian and Karoo architecture – 220 of which are heritage sites, more than any other town in S.A. The town was established in 1786 by the Dutch East India Company and is South Africa’s forth oldest town. It is named after Cornelis van de Graaff, governor of the Cape Colony and his wife, whose maiden name was Reinet.

We had a room fit for a king and a delicious dinner at the De Camdeboo restaurant to match.  My favourite was the biltong sushi starter.

What a treat !!!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Day 95: Arniston to Prins Albert

We loved our short stay in Arniston, we would loved to have stayed longer and will come back to explore this beautiful area.

We did however retrace our steps in order to visit Cape Agulhas and stand at the southern most tip of Africa. A place where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. The lighthouse at the point was appropriately shrouded in mist. We passed through the coastal towns of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas to reach our destination. 

On our way back to Bredasdorp we passed through fields of rapeseed with their beautiful yellow flowers. We were also fortunate to see blue cranes and spur winged geese in the fields.

From there we took the R310 to Swellendam and crossed over the Breede River. We went through such a cool road block, policed only by women in honor of National Women’s Day on Wednesday.  The ladies were so professional and friendly.

We then proceeded through Suurbrak, an old mission town and headed over the Tradouw Pass, 14 km of absolute beauty. On the other side of the mountain range is the Klein Karoo and a dry, more arid environment. 

At Barrydale we hooked up with Route 62, a scenic alternative to the N2 highway that runs from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn. Barrydale was abuzz with pubs, restaurants and craft shops.

In the middle of nowhere, we stopped for toasted saamies and milkshakes (the best peanut butter milkshake ever) at the Road Kill Café at Ronnie’s Sex Shop.  Years ago Ronnie painted the name Ronnie’s Shop on his cottage on the R62, planning to open a farm stall for fresh produce. His friends played a prank on him and added the ‘sex’. Initially angry, he continued fixing the building but the name stuck. His friends would pop in for a beer and braai and suggested that he rather open a pub. Visitors from all the world now visit the pub and it has become something of an institution.

We passed through Ladismith, Zoar and over the Huis Rivier Pass to Calitzdorp and through ostrich country into Oudtshoorn. Gray spent 8 months at the Infantry School in Oudtshoorn during his army days.  We went looking for the camp and it is still there, along with the statue of the Junior Leader soldier

The next town was de Rust, then we went through the valley of the most amazing mountains, the Meiringspoort route to Kredouw. These Cape fold mountains must be a geologist dream.

We reached our destination for the evening, Prins Albert, just after 5. We stayed at Sally Arnold’s, Artist Cottage. Sally is an artist and a school friend of my good friend Al. I am so glad she recommended this cute, arty 106 year old cottage to us.

Prins Albert is a town situated at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, ringed by vineyards, fruit and olive farms. It is an artists haven and boasts many galleries. All the houses are old and beautifully maintained. The town is immaculately clean and visited by art lovers from all over the world. 

We had a divine dinner at the Gallery Café, a restaurant above the Prince Albert Gallery. The food was all local, down to the wines and olive oil. The owner Brent Phillips-White has mingled his passions for art and food. I think the food side has grown bigger than the art.

A perfect end  to a perfect evening was a lunar eclipse of the full moon.