South Africa Part 3 – Garden Route

We flew to Port Elizabeth, picked up our rental car at the airport and started out on the next part of our vacation.

We didn’t find Port Elizabeth itself special, so we didn’t stay there longer than was necessary. Our next destination was St. Francis Bay, which is a small village about 1-2 hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth, close to the beach. To reach it, we drove through a strange town called Humansdorp, which was full of shanty towns.

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St. Francis Bay itself was a town of just one or two streets with shops and restaurants, but the beachside was very pretty. The lighthouse was at the Southwesternmost point of South Africa.

Cape St. Francis, which was 10 minutes away, was much more interesting. Here’s an impression:

The next day, we packed our bags and drove to Knysna, a town at the heart of the garden route, situated on a lagoon, about 2-3 hours away from St. Francis Bay. Vincent got used to driving on the left quite quickly, even though I heard him mutter “left! left! left!” to himself regularly.

Knysna had been ravaged by a fire last year, so a lot of places that were interesting to see around it were no longer accessible or advisable to visit. Unfortunately, while we were driving through the mountains, we saw many forest fires..

We took a tour to Knysna Heads from Knysna harbour, here’s an impression.

Our next destination, Oudtshoorn, was a 2 hour drive from Knysna, through the beautiful Swartberg mountains. Oudtshoorn is located between the Swartberg mountains to the north and the Outeniqua mountains to the south, and is considered the ostrich capital of the world.

I absolutely loved the location and scenery from our hotel in Oudtshoorn, which was on an olive estate. It was extremely hot, though, around 44 degrees C.

We also decided to visit an Ostrich farm, as we had not seen any Ostriches so far in any of the parks we had been to. I had been told that the Marataba game reserve had released 20 Ostriches in the park the previous year, but had quickly discovered that they were considered a delicacy by the lions; the result being that all of them had disappeared within 6 months.

I love Ostriches, but I would not recommend visiting a farm. It was one of the saddest places I have ever visited and it broke my heart to see these majestic birds being treated only as meat. Though ostriches can live to between 50-75 years of age, the farms kill them off by 30 years maximum, as they don’t want them taking up space.

Fun Fact: Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand to avoid danger. This may have been a misunderstanding of their sticking their heads in the sand to swallow sand and pebbles to help digest their fibrous food or, as National Geographic suggests, of the defensive behavior of lying low, so that they may appear from a distance to have their head buried. Another possible origin for the myth lies with the fact that ostriches keep their eggs in holes in the sand instead of nests, and must rotate them using their beaks during incubation; digging the hole, placing the eggs, and rotating them might each be mistaken for an attempt to bury their heads in the sand

Almost 30 kms outside of Outshoorn in the Klein Karoo, lie the Cango Caves, some of the biggest stalagmite formations in the world set in limestone, about 4500 million years ago.

Not only were the caves just beautiful, they were a welcome escape from the 45 deg C. temperatures outside.

We had not yet seen meerkats and, having found a game reserve close by that had meerkats, we decided to go on a meerkat game drive early the next morning. The Buffelsdrift Game lodge was a perfect place to do this.

I could watch meerkats for hours….these little animals move as though they are Energizer bunnies.

Fun Fact: A group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members. In captivity, meerkats have an average life span of 12–14 years, and about half this in the wild.

Later that day, we left for Swellendam, which was the next place on our itinerary. Swellendam is the 3rd oldest town in the Republic of South Africa and has over 50 provincial heritage sites, most of them buildings of Cape Dutch architecture. The 3 hour drive through the Outeniqua mountains was very beautiful.

When I saw that we were passing by Ronnie’s sex shop on the way, we had to stop and investigate! No sex, just a bar/ pub.

And then some beautiful scenery…

I will share more about Swellendam in the next part of my blog.

Click here to read the next part of my blog South Africa Part 4

 

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