Category Archives: South Africa

Along the Garden Route: One Road, Countless Experiences

Taronish (along with Zinnia, who took the stunning photos, and a group of 10 friends and family members) travelled to East Africa and South Africa with Namaste South Africa in May, 2010. She saw lions, elephants and leopards, rode an Ostrich and even witnessed the  largest animal migration on earth during her unforgettable trip! Here, she tells us about her experiences along the Garden Route in South Africa.

She wrote this while she was still in South Africa, not long after she actually visited the Garden Route…

The following represents my personal experiences and the feelings that swept through me during part of my South Africa trip, as vividly and solidly as possible. In a way, this is like my own version of a photo album. It is my interpretation of the imprints in my mind and the events that have touched my heart, impacted me or changed me or made any kind of difference at all… I have not only written about factual or information-based events, but also about my reflections and the emotional and spiritual elements of the trip. For me, these personal reflections are important because they captured the essence and fundamentality of the trip.

We have arrived and been in Cape Town for a full day and as usual it has been a busy one. We arrived yesterday night and therefore could not see or gauge too much, but nonetheless I was impressed with what I saw. From the plane, the city looked quite dense and populated, yet there was something pleasant about the lights; they were almost all bright orange with a few bigger white lights. It was the perfect combination of large orange dots complemented by tiny sparkling ones filling in the gaps to create a lovely seabed of shining city life. There were also no overbearing sky scrapers or extreme mid-city-like-billboards: the ‘busy-ness’ was just enough to make the city appear ideally and pleasantly occupied. I was quite tired and kept falling asleep on the way to our hotel, but one of the things I did wake up to, amazed me. Just there – immediately to the left of this apparently ‘normal’ city were humongous mountains, extending right up into the sky and reflecting the moon-beams with their peaks. It really was the last thing I expected to see so up-close, right inside the bustle of urban city life. The prominent presence of nature brought great relief and satisfaction at the same time. My ‘night impressions’ were already positive and I looked forward to exploring the town upon the morrow.

In the morning, at around 9 AM, we headed off on our bus towards the Table Mountain. On the way, I tried to take in everything I beheld… This made me happy because I liked what I saw. There is such a vast array of architecture, ranging from old-English and renaissance style buildings to modern, beachy-looking apartments with classic white balconies – stark and classy looking. The city seems to have a great ‘Melbourne feel’ to it. It was nothing less than what I expected or imagined it would have been like when I saw it in the dark: considerably dense, but with the perfect balance of city and nature; buildings on one side, mountains on the other. Furthermore, at some point, the city gave way to a beautifully clear bay that spread vastly into the horizon. We were able to view it for the first time at the perfect moment in the morning when the light and gentle sun were being reflected almost magically throughout the water.

Here are some interesting facts about Cape Town:

  • The population of Cape Town is approximately 4.5 million of which there are about 2 million coloured people, 1 million white and the remainder (1.2 million or so) belong to other ethnicities such as Indian, Asian etc.
  • Just like Johannesburg, there were originally no trees in the town: it is in fact reclaimed land, meaning that it used to be the sea once ; in 1945 the harbor was dredged.
  • There were originally two tribes in the area that is now Cape Town, the Bushman or SAN (Stone Aged Neanderthal) and the Khoi people. The Portuguese established the first white settlement here in around 1450.

We had left our hotel room to embrace the cool, crisp weather, with the temperature quite similar to what we experience during winters at home in Australia. Although I like heat and warmth, it was a pleasant change.

Our first brief stop was at a street aligned with several brightly coloured houses. They were incredibly attractive and unique. There was some significance to the colours – the council had requested that the houses be painted pastel, but the people contradictingly painted them with bright colours as an act of rebellion.

The first ‘big’ thing we did was riding a cable car up the Table Mountain, a famous attraction that is under vote for being listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world. The cable car was fantastic because it actually slowly spun around so that no matter where you were standing, you got a full view of everything, including the water leading to the cape. We also got a very close view of the rock face nearby which gave us the sensation of slowly rising amongst it all… When we got to the top, it was exceptionally cold and we were literally in the clouds. 🙂  They were intermittent and came and went but the majority of the time we were surrounded by misty white fog which was exhilarating yet soothing at the same time.

It was exciting to have spectacular views of the town peeping through the beds of clouds every now and then, a sensation you would scarcely get the opportunity to otherwise experience. The top of the mountain was big and flat (hence its title) and I took a good walk in a loop through the paths that cut through the hardy cold-resistant shrubs. What was really good was that there was something different to see and a fresh view from each side! You really can never get tired of views and beautiful scenery…

We finished with some hot chocolate at a delightful little café which was not only delicious, but also the perfect treat to warm our chilled bodies. This completed and perfected the experience!

The rest of the day, we explored the town some more, appreciating the different buildings and common sight-seeing places. We saw the town hall, a beautiful and huge Victorian, renaissance building of yellowy-mustard limestone that was shipped over from Bath and completed in 1905. I love seeing aged buildings like that because we don’t have many of that kind back at home. We then went inside a building called the Cape Town Castle of Good Hope; a really old building dating back to 1666 created from stone from the Table Mountain. It was pentagon shaped and was once a fortress. We gazed at it from the outside as we were explained its history…and so when we went inside it, I was excited. It had chipped pastel-yellow paint with green windows and a pool with a courtyard. There was old regal furniture inside and there were beautiful old paintings everywhere, most of which were portraits of people and scenic pictures of Cape Town. There was this one room that was simply stunning; it had one really long wooden polished table with a hundred and one seating places, fifty on each side and you could actually have functions there even to this day!

I am sure I have written this multiple times but I am completely in love with this continent in every way. The landscape, the buildings, nature, skies, animals, weather, people, food, music, clothing, culture…  just everything! At this point, I don’t know how I won’t be able to come back here, because I have just been so happy with everything and its awakening the best parts of me I never knew existed, AS WELL AS as well as satisfying every component of a perfect holiday. I feel so content recollecting the vivid memories of all the cross-cultural experiences we have had uptill now… Witnessing a new way of life has been fascinating. I feel as if the people here have brought a whole new dimension to my definition of a smile.  And then there are all the things I have seen (that I still cannot believe I have seen!) or done that have made me resonate with happiness! Every single moment has been like the best I could imagine it to be, from the really adventurous things to just casually hanging out with the wonderful company we have. It isn’t just a holiday but a complete life transformation, an opportunity to know life, to really live life and most importantly to love and appreciate every second and breath of life. I thought I knew happiness and fulfillment before this, but that was just a tease compared to the contentment I feel now. This trip has put so much into perspective: myself, the world, people, nature, living, loving, appreciating, giving, embracing, reflecting, laughing, relaxing, growing and being happy and a complete human being…

I will finish writing about what we did yesterday before I go on to today’s adventures. We spent some time at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, browsing through shops and then had some lunch at an Italian restaurant outdoors with a view of the dock and water. It was a really nice and relaxing place that felt like the combination of Sydney Harbour, the docklands in Melbourne and Hobart in Tasmania. The food was really good too. We had this delicious fruity and white bread, so fresh and tasty! I decided to try an ostrich steak: not only because I am always keen on trying new things, but also because I may as well try it while I am here in South Africa. It was served with a lovely mushroom sauce. It was nice and tender, so much more like red meat than I would have imagined, (they even ask you how you want it cooked, just like steak). What further enhanced our dining experience was a musician playing his guitar and singing classic songs right outside the restaurant on the waterfront, adding to the already perfect views, weather, breeze and delicious food. Music really does have the capability to enhance the ambience so much. It can liven any mood, take moods, create moods and can just make such a difference, for me anyway.

We had a bit of time to relax in the hotel before dinner again, when we went back to the waterfront to a fancy seafood restaurant. Again the food was delectable; it was all presented so professionally and tasted delicious. This was especially lucky for me because I love seafood! I had a calamari starter, grilled fish with prawns and salad and a white chocolate tart with ice-cream for dessert.

Things have been so busy and tiredness is starting to catch up so I missed a day of writing and therefore now have two days to catch up on. It is a good, satisfying kind of tiredness though. Any complaints made here aren’t real complaints because everything in reality is exactly the way it should be and I wouldn’t want anything any different. So here I go…

More facts:

  • Cecil John Rhodes discovered diamonds in South Africa.
  • In 1838, slaves were freed in South Africa.
  • The development of the Afrikaans language: how did it happen? It was created after the Dutch had occupied the land for five generations and realized that they had created their own culture and country here, so they might as well come up with their own language. They created a language for which Dutch is the basis, and they mixed it up with all the local languages of the time. This included Malay from the Indonesian slaves, and French because they were involved with the trading of wine. Then, the British influence anglicized many words. And this was in addition to influences from Hungary, Germany, Sweden and Ireland… Intensely eclectic! A common feature of of all these influences was that the ‘k’ replaceding the ‘c’. Afrikaans developed properly over a 12 year period starting in 1910 and was officialized upon the printing of the first Afrikaans newspaper in 1922.

So well, back to today!

We did quite some driving today and which I’ve always really loved and enjoyed driving. And since this was a drive along the Atlantic coastline, we had some new and fresh invigorating scenic views! It was dominated by seaside images, with the breath-taking views of water and beaches. This, combined with the refreshing smell of the sea made it difficult for me not to have my arm and head out of the bus window most of the time, just so that I could take it all in as much as possible.

We stopped at Camps Bay for a bit of shopping; another waterfront-like area. Colin (our tour guide) said this place was very popular for its sunsets on the horizon over the water, creating a spectacularly romantic view. The houses near the beachside reminded me of places in our northern beaches back home; it really would be an amazing place to live. I have always adored the beach and the seaside and as this trip has further affirmed my love for mountains, this place certainly reflects the best of both words and seems to be an ideal location for inhabitance. The mountains are basically in the lap of the sea face: it is such an unusual contrast, but creates a perfect view of the sun rising up from behind the mountains generating a misty glare spilling over and into the sea. It really does seem to reflect the best of everything all in one single view. The strangeness and complexity of this dense civilization just at the foothills of these massive mountains, occasionally broken up by water is a unique situation that I’m sure is not quite like this anywhere else in the world. I know all places are completely different and have their own qualities, but I can tell that the nature of this town and its unique characteristics really stand alone. You can’t imagine it until you have seen it. It makes civilization and human developments look so insignificant and puny at the hands of nature literally in front of your eyes, due to the enormity of these mountains in contrast to the tiny houses. But on that note, it is nice to see everything fitting together and working in what seems to be apparent harmony -for now anyway. Hopefully the earth will remain happy to share a part of its mountain base with us, as long as we can continue to take only what is needed and live within our means and try not to abuse the land’s generosity. Life is all give and take. I have been lucky enough to experience a wide array of ways of living and environments on this journey from pure untouched nature, semi-occupied rural villages, busy conventional cities like Johannesburg and now Cape Town, the ideal combination of both. I found Zambia fitting the mould of the middle path as well. For me this and Kenya felt like the real Africa I had in my mind, but then the real Africa depends on what kind of experiences one seeks. South Africa is wonderful, but at the same time it has a completely different feel. It might be due to the high proportion of Anglo-saxon occupants that it carries somewhat more of a western atmosphere. These are just differences however, and there is nothing wrong with anything a little different. It’s amazing such different places exist side by side on the same continent. For one thing, it certainly doesn’t take anything away from Africa’s holistic and magnificent beauty.

I have not yet caught up and I am still writing as my time seems to be rapidly slipping away! I will try to stay more focused and get to the point because I seem to get carried away and going off on many tangents with my writing lately.

One of the highlights of our drive was seeing a castle resting high up on a mountain. It wasn’t a queenly estate or anything, but it still was something big and spectacular; a nice deep maroon colour with typical castle-like rooftops. It is worth 40 million rand and has 14 bedrooms. Due to its location you can only access it by helicopter. Sounds inconvenient but I’m sure many wouldn’t complain, it would be a fairytale dream house for the majority of people.

We crossed over the mountain at Constantia Nek and made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, situated within a nature reserve. This particular reserve had a different terrain, colours and textures compared to many of the others we had seen. It was quite dry with small shrubs and trees and many small whitish rocks. Didn’t have any high mountains either. There wasn’t an abundance of wildlife, but we did see some ostriches and baboons. We initially stopped at a place which had the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ wooden sign, indicating the degree of where we were in comparison to the world and also the point where three of the oceans meet. I stood and walked over the rocks, whilst enjoying a view of the waves splashing upwards as they crashed into the rocks on the shore, their white spray creating picture-perfect moments.

The best part of my day which really took my breath away was when we were at the main viewing site at Cape Point. We took a little bus up the hill to a viewing station that had a lighthouse, and… I wish I could encompass the perfect words to describe this place. It was another one of those ‘Where am I?’ I would never have imagined seeing something so beautiful’ moments. I have seen many views of the sea from lookout points with lighthouses before, but this was just so different. I can pinpoint the differences being our extremely high altitude, so we could see a whole lot more of everything, and the concept of the sheer vastness. There’s barely any other way to put it: it was just so marvelously flat and open. The endless seas extended in all directions as far as you could possibly imagine. Into the distance the water was flat and smooth like paper, and closer to where we were you could see slow, calming movements of the subtle waves. With the addition of the magical African skies and clouds, it was more beautiful than any ocean view I had ever seen.

We continued along the False Bay coastline and stopped at another dockside-kind of area for lunch at a seafood restaurant. After filling ourselves, we came out and lay on the grass, enjoying the beautiful weather and browsing through some local stalls selling things.

After that we visited the penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach which was just down the road. A section of the beach is closed off and the penguins are confined there , because at one stage they became overpopulated and were considered invasive to the neighborhood. They have a nice little environment set up there and we saw many African penguins sitting on the sand, on rocks on the water and in bushes and burrows.

Our final stop for the day after that was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, another world heritage site. It was so peaceful and serene in there: there was an assortment of different flowers, plants and trees everywhere and of course true to the characteristics of the country, mountains setting the scene in the background. A perfect place to wander through, relax and take some beautiful pictures. I especially liked that every last plant was labeled so you knew exactly what you were looking at. In the courtyard shop area, there were many lovely statues of different African ornaments and I took some photographs.

We had a ‘free night’ that night and went to a local place called the Gold Museum for dinner. There was a set menu and live dancing and entertainment which was really great, I quite enjoyed it. They put face paint on the ladies as well and all their dances had a consecutive storyline. The voice of the main singer was especially capturing. Some of the food was similar to Indian food and it was all really tasty. We had spicy tomato soup, rice with salty fish, ostrich kebab skewers and Mozambique prawns. Also different vegetables were cooked in different ways: sweet potato, carrot, spinach, a nice salad, and a chicken dish – and all the food was quite sweet. Finally for dessert there was a delicious sweet Semolina ‘liquidy’ pudding-like dish with vermicelli in it, followed by a fruit platter. Another great night out and what was actually the stimulus for me beginning to write the other night that I was totally in love with this continent. I don’t think I’ve had such lively and enjoyable dining experiences before – the people here just seem to have mastered the art of making everything fun and full of life.

On Thursday, the 27th of May, we partook on the Garden Route tour around Knysna. The drive along the highway and coast was beautiful as always. This time the scenery reminded me of Australian bush lands, of course it was much bigger and extended further away and was maybe not quite as dry, but the layout looked closer to home than all the other settings I have seen. Our destination, Mossel Bay, offered another beautiful body of sun-reflecting water and also had little white houses on display on the grass area, creating wonderful photo opportunities.

We went into the Dias maritime museum, the highlight of that being a big, really old sail ship in the middle of the museum that we could go inside and explore. It was so interesting to see the different parts of the ship and how the crew must have managed on there, from their little kitchen to their small Bunk beds in their cabins. It was in such good shape too – almost in the same state it would have been used. I also liked looking at the framed, olden-day nautical maps. Outside there were some whale bones and that gave us an idea of how massive these creatures are. I could probably just get my arms around their one vertebrae, how incredible. For lunch we went to a popular burger place here called Wimpy’s.

That evening we went on another boat cruise. It had just missed the sunset so was mainly in the dark, but it was still really nice. It wasn’t as much in the wilderness as much as the previous cruise we had in Zambia. The view was mainly of houses on one side and tree-filled hills with a few scarce houses in it on the other. I had a glass of wine whilst enjoying the sea breeze, but the best part was the view of the full moon. It lit up the whole sky and was one of the biggest I have ever seen. I tried to take some photos of it, but obviously they do not reflect anywhere near as big, bright and beautiful as it looked in real life.

We decided to walk from the dock to the hotel and then went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner across the road from where we were staying, the food was actually really good and reminded me of being at home because I hadn’t eaten Asian food like that since we have been here. After that we went back to the dockside and I did some yoga/stretches and then we found this place where they were playing these incredibly smooth Brazilian tunes and we danced away, swinging around the tables and poles of the closed outdoor area of the restaurant, it was so much fun. I love foreign music, especially to dance to.

Yesterday (Friday, 28/05) was a really eventful and exciting day. We engaged in many tourist-like experiences which were quite action-packed, as well as our usual sight-seeing. I did two things in particular that were really amazing that I never thought I would do, but I will get to that as it took place. One of the unknown surprises for me was our visit to the Cango wildlife ranch. I’m not really a big fan of the concept of zoos of late, but this one was quite good and specialized in conserving endangered animals, especially cheetahs. We went on a tour of the place and saw/were explained about meerkats, lemurs, red river hogs (red pigs), crocodiles and vultures. We then saw some big cats; cheetahs, including the young, lions, white tigers and a Bengal tiger.

I love wildlife and nature and hearing about the different and amazing things that each species can do. I did something spontaneous that they were offering as well: I patted the white tigers! What an opportunity it was, and strange it was presented because they have been my absolute favourite animals for a while now, so actually being able to touch them was fabulous, especially because they are big cats and could be considered dangerous. I was just playfully patting them as if they were big, friendly pets. They even just sucked the fingers of the trainers like big babies, they really were incredibly cute. Another real ‘living life’ moment, I’m so glad I did it and got a really great photos to capture the moment reminisce on as well.

When we were driving, I saw endless rows of pine trees and above them there was a tiny patch of illuminated sky amidst the grey where the sun was shining, creating a little mini-patch of rainbow. Once again, so immensely paradisical. There really has been something new to see everyday, even if it is at a quick glance.

We drove past small, beach towns (a lot of the Cape Town areas are beachy because its along the coastline) with houses hoisted up on mountain faces overlooking the water. There were so many beach houses and hotels confined in one area and it seemed like such a nice, relaxed place to live. At one point, I got a side profile of the entire beach as we followed the curvaceous bend of the road. The waves were crashing and the water was moving in complete synchronicity. Shortly following that I saw two people walking over a bank across a river in a forest area holding hands and also viewed a little isolated house situated right in the forest near the water. To the locals or people who live there it may just be their ordinary house, but for me it was an experience in itself because like everything else I hadn’t seen anything like that before. I’m so glad I happened to be looking at these special moments because when they add up together, they are what contribute to the perfection of everyday. The suburbs near the beaches are quite small, just occupying a minute area around the beach. I would love to live somewhere like that; just as much human developments as necessary, blended with just the right ratio of natural components, especially wonders such as the sea or vast mountains. As usual I have said all this before, and am now just rephrasing it in different words.

Speaking of natural wonders, we then set out to the Cango caves, another national heritage site. I haven’t been to proper caves for as long as I can remember, so I didn’t know what to expect and that took me even more by surprise. To think that such caves even exist and that we have actually discovered them is mind-boggling. Our tour guide was telling us about the man that wondered through (well actually I’m sure he was a serious explorer and didn’t just casually ‘stroll’ into them). All he had was a tiny candlelight to discover the whole cave area which was massive. We even had all the lights turned off to demonstrate how dark and desolate it would have been, and it seemed quite scary. The explanations of how certain structures were formed such as growing up from the bottom (I can’t imagine how, seems quite strange) and slowly dripping and solidifying from the top were tremendously intriguing.

We went through a few different chambers and were pointed out shapes of the limestone that looked like different objects. There were some creepy coincidences of the formations. Some specific parts dated back millions of years, it was just unbelieveable. I am amazed that such mysterious, wonderfully detailed and intricate spaces ever had and still exist so far beneath the ground, and that these are also places where people actually inhabited at one stage. Purely fascinating!

Similar to the mines at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, we had only explored a small portion of the caves and they were actually far more complex than what we had witnessed. They had these ‘cave adventure’ tours up for offer and as adventurous as I am, I am not even sure I would be convinced by that because it involves crawling through tiny tunnels that are only just as wide as your body. There are so many different things people are able to do to be adventurous, we just have to discover what’s out there.

The last tourist stop of our day was our visit to the ostrich farm. We learnt some interesting facts about the ostriches and then went outside to see them where we also got the chance to feed them. Then crazily enough I sat on one and rode it for a short while. I didn’t even know ostriches could be sat on, let alone ridden! It’s only done for leisure, not sport or anything and you can only stay on for less than a minute before losing balance. They put a blindfold over the bird because they will be less stressed if they cannot see what’s happening. I had to step up onto the step and sit on its back with its wings covering my legs. They have the same body temperature as humans so it was really warm. I then had to hold on underneath the wings and lean back. The jockeys were holding onto the back and then we took off – I had no idea they would run so fast! It happened so quickly and I was off the bird in about ten seconds. When they are riding properly, the riders hold onto their necks to turn in different directions. We then got the chance to test the theory about the strength of their eggs which can hold 200kg width wise and up to 300kg upright. The largest member of our group stood on them and they didn’t budge. They commonly use the eggs for decoration here, all painted and lacquered and they look very pretty.

Ostrich facts:

  • Ostrich meat is quite healthy and lean, their feathers can be used for garments and to make feather dusters.
  • One egg can feed about 10 people (and is equivalent to about two dozen chicken eggs).
  • Their leather is very expensive and the second toughest in the world after kangaroo, as the process in order to create the finished product is lengthy and detailed.
  • In the relevant season, the mother ostrich can just keep on laying eggs and can even detect when an egg is fertile or not. When it isn’t, they peck on it and feed on the egg.

We then had a cup of coffee and bought some things from the shop there. Another fun-filled and adventurous day indeed.

On our way home, I admired the views from the bus again and for the millionth time, every single day I am amazed by simply the beauty of the skies and that will be something I will really miss here. I haven’t seen anything like them before; so many different colours, forms and textures – gray, pink, white, orange, blue, purple, rose, red, plum. I wish I could describe it all…I just wish I could describe everything perfectly! All I know is that it is endlessly exciting and there has been an alternate beauty to experience in some form each and every day, and throughout different moments of the day for each time of day has its individual advantage. The grassy mountains were again something new to the eyes. We have viewed many a mountain but this time the green grass looked like a smooth untextured silk from our distance. Our altitude of the mountains varied at different points where we were on the road, from being at the base of them to sometimes being aligned almost at the top – it was great to see the different perspectives through looking up towards the peak and then down towards the base.

I am not a huge advocate for taking lots of photos at a scene because sometimes it takes away from living and taking in the experience, but the amazing thing about them is that sometimes you can see and pick up things that you would never have seen. Or not seen from that perspective or angle anyway, especially when you then revisit the photos. Of course sometimes you can miss things looking through the limitations of a lens, but it can also create a different focus on detail you may not capture in your mind. Saying that, when I have looked over photos of the views I saw, many of them didn’t even compare to the greatness of being there. Apart from the live presence invigorating all your senses, there are certain colours and parts you cannot capture because of your distance from, or the magnitude of the scene (what to focus on capturing?). But it seems to work well with pictures of structures and buildings. I have taken many photos where I can appreciate the structure of a building due to viewing it from a certain standpoint.

Our last night topped the day off perfectly. We went to dinner at the cutest little Italian restaurant called Chatters right near our hotel, it was amazing! The wait-staff there were incredibly lovely, the ambience was perfect and that along with the delicious food made it a great experience. We had pizza, but the highlights for me were the oven-baked lasagna and home-made lemon ice-cream served on a brandy snap. You can tell how much I am loving and appreciating food and eating more each day as the details about the meals that we have eaten increase. I guess I really have lived every facet of the holidaying experience!