This is Africa: The Garden Route

As the Easter weekend and the ensuing Spring (o.k., technically Autumn) Break approached I faced the grim reality of needing to submit a thesis proposal. I weighed up my options. Spending the week in the increasingly freezing library or jumping in the car and driving a 2000km round trip soaking in the sunshine of the Garden Route—one of South Africa’s top attractions. Obviously being the responsible student that I am, I chose the latter: just think how refreshed I would feel returning to the library after a week away. One week on and I am in the library, attempting to stay in the holiday mood, whilst fear quickens my respiratory rate. 

A similar thing happened to me only 30 minutes after we had left home. I had just pulled over on the cliff-top road just outside Gordon’s Bay. Admiring the ocean view and a troop of very sweet-looking baboons, all of a sudden I had a baboon sprawled across the windscreen, staring menacingly through the glass, before climbing onto the roof to do a ceremonial dance. I knew I could either let the monkey do his damage and accept a 500 Rand bill from the insurance company or drive at speed and hope he extricated himself alive. I chose the latter, and am pleased to report that no animals were harmed in the making of our getaway.

This was to be only the first of many experiences with animals during our road trip. The most spectacular was to be the march of a herd of elephants up the road whilst we were in Addo National Park. We had stopped on a windy road to admire one of these wondrous beasts, only to witness the magical event of an entire herd coming over the brow of the hill to join him—an event that photos and documentaries just cannot do justice to. Having been charged by an elephant in the Serengeti, I was cautious of what reaction the elephants may have to their human visitors, but they just trundled off. We also had a highly entertaining encounter with a flock of ostriches whilst clinging to the back of their farmer’s bakkie. Much to the amusement of the Afrikaner farmer, there were many a yelp as the ostriches beaks came perilously close to us. Apparently their bite is little more than a small pinch, but none of us were willing to test this. The fear shown to these birds was exponentially greater than that shown when we had played with a cheetah the day before!

The Garden Route really is a complete misnomer. If you’re hoping for the horticultural highlights of South Africa, you are likely to be disappointed. Their Biblical names of Wilderness, the Garden of Eden and Paradise Beach do, however, give an indication of the epic beauty that you will encounter on your trip. Miles of uninterrupted, natural coastline and white, sandy beaches with the translucent green of the Indian Ocean greet you around many a turn and along with the mountains on the other side of the road, this creates a truly incredible vista. At Wilderness spend your time canoeing through the National Park up into the mountain gorge, before hiking up to the waterfall. For those looking for a party head to the surf capital of South Africa: Jeffreys Bay (J-Bay), sadly the beauty of the beach is eclipsed at night: don’t even attempt to walk; it’s not worth it for the crime you are likely to fall victim to. Then head to Addo National Park home to 500 elephants, impressive when you hear that there were only 11 when the park was created in the mid-1930s. Even for the seasoned safari traveller this is not an opportunity to be missed, as you are unlikely to have seen elephants elsewhere in such numbers. For your drive back to Cape Town take the R62—or Route 62 in tribute to its American counterpart—breaking your journey at Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world.

But remember this is Africa, and no road trip here is without its trials. You will find, as we did, that when you're happily cruising along at 120km the road will suddenly become a gravel track — something we endured for nearly 2 hours as we drove to the southernmost point on the African continent, Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean’s meet — a visit to which, no trip along the Garden Route is complete without. 

See more on my blog ‘Footsteps through the Cape’

Title image by Helen Miller. Other photos courtesy of the author.