CAPE TOWN TO THE ‘BERG - THE LONG WAY AROUND
Words and pics by Erik Brits.
This winter, my family planned a week-and-a-half ‘day hiking adventure’ to the Drakensberg… but I was feeling greedy, so I tried to turn it into the mother of all trips!
‘Sweetheart, my family wants to go to the Drakensberg for 2 weeks - will you come with me?’
I realised that I would pay for the deception later, but for the time being my girlfriend was in, so I powered up the Nightjar Journey Planner.
Ceres to Oudtshoorn
I knew that a big trip like this would sap energy as the kilometres rolled by, so I planned to start with a bang. We left Cape Town bright and early and clocked in at Ceres Zipslide Tours. I’m not the biggest fan of early-morning starts, but it was well worth it. We were driven from an unassuming little building (reception, gear room and baboon-covered lawn) up a beautiful little valley, passing over a small stream several times. Suddenly we found ourselves staring at the most gorgeous view of sleepy little Ceres down in the valley.
The only thing marring the view was a series of wires criss-crossing the valley. Wires that very quickly went from a little annoying to pretty terrifying as we hooked up our harnesses to the pulleys.
Fortunately, our guides were a regular pair of stand-up comedians and had us doubled up with laughter so that we didn’t realise what was really happening until there was nothing but clear air under our feet. And thus we screamed and laughed our way back down the valley. The views were utterly breathtaking, especially when suspended several meters in the air – part of the slide is a scenic stop halfway down.
As we got back into our car after this experience we thought the rest of the day would be dull by comparison. We took the long route to Matjiesfontein, which turned out to be beautifully scenic and wonderfully free of traffic.
We clocked in at the Laird Arms just in time for lunch, which is from 12:30 till 14:30. I haven’t had home-cooked food like that from anyone except my grandmother in a long time. Stuffed to the gills but thoroughly content, we rolled along through Seweweekspoort and into Oudtshoorn. We nearly didn’t make it all the way, because Seweweekspoort has such fascinating rock formations that if the light hadn’t faded, we’d still be there taking photos.
We had planned to do crocodile cage diving in Oudtshoorn and we checked into the colonial splendour of the Queen’s Hotel research. Unfortunately we discovered that the dive is closed during winter so we opted to stay indoors for the morning.
Once we eventually left the hotel we hit the road hard to get to Mokala National Park before the gate closed at 18:00. The going was slow with all the road works (which were to become our constant companions over the next two weeks), but we made it with 5 minutes to spare. After a hard-earned rest, we awoke for a wonderful self-drive through the park.
The stormy weather meant that we didn’t get all the photos we’d hoped to take, and the game was camera shy, but the scenery still made it a worthwhile excursion. We were sad to leave, but Joburg was still far away and we need to get a move on. It was Saturday evening - phase one of the trip was complete.
Onward to the Drakensberg
Phase two was the Drakensberg, with the whole gang. There are so many things to do in the ‘Berg that sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are on holiday, and that it is okay to relax for a day or two as well.
Our particular preference was for day hiking, interspersed with a bit of fly-fishing, and a lot of reading around the fireplace while watching the snowstorm outside the massive glass doors at Rock Lodge in Giant’s Castle.
As all good things do, our 9 days in the ‘Berg came to an end. Now it was up to me to make the drive back to Cape Town as interesting as possible. I decided to take my lady to Knysna, with an ace up my sleeve. You see, for phase three, I had organised an overnight stay at Bamboo Guest House.
The pleasures of Knysna
Looking forward to some top class accommodation in Knysna, we decided to push straight through and enjoy a full day there from the following morning. However, the road works en route had other plans. Thwarted, we overnighted at Hunter’s Lodge outside Port Elizabeth, and made Knysna at midday the next day.
As you can imagine, with our drive taking 4 hours longer than expected and adding an extra night, we were in fairly low spirits by the time we reached Bamboo Guest House. It looked as if my girlfriend’s patience would finally run out - but the guest house delivered such magical luxury that we were immediately back in holiday spirit.
After an enthusiastic welcome from Jaynie and Preston, and a pep talk about how there was simply so much to do in the area, we dumped our bags and rushed off with our renewed energy.
We started at the Knysna Elephant Park, which was a real treat. I have been on countless game drives in my life and have seen many elephants, but standing on my own two feet with the sun blocked out by a skyscraper of hard grey skin, and hearing her breathe as she sauntered past me without so much as one audible footfall… this was simply the most incredible thing I’d done all year.
It was hard to imagine that anything would be exciting after the elephants, but my girlfriend decided to go and see the Plett Puzzle Park. Despite my initial scepticism about the ‘kids stuff’ we immediately got carried away with some friendly competition. The puzzles turned out to be a bit more difficult than expected and we were stumped a few times. It was challenging and a lot of fun.
That evening, road-weary and smelling a little bit like elephant, we took full advantage of Bamboo Guest House’s luxurious accommodation. We had the most private room at the bottom of the garden. Well, ‘garden’ is a bit of an understatement. The owners have somehow managed to fit an entire bamboo forest onto their property. We felt as secluded as we did in the Drakensberg. The piping hot shower was wonderful, and the little pot fireplace within arm’s reach of the bed was the ultimate cherry on top.
I could go on and on, but I think you get that we had a great last night. The next day the miles rolled on quickly and easy, and we were back in Cape Town. This had been the most interesting, varied and spectacular trip I’ve done in a long time.
So, would I do it again? Not immediately… but only because I have just completed the trip. Some holidays leave you ready to depart on the next one, but this trip was a lot of work. Having said that, every second of effort was worth it. Despite being tired and feeling like I need a holiday from my holiday, I will definitely plan one of these again. We saw so much of this beautiful country; every day the scenery just became more beautiful. And it snowed on us!
Part of the focus on this trip was to explore the use of cell phone cameras as serious photographic tools. There is a lot of extra content on our Facebook page in the Instagram Photo album.