Travel has made me realise that no matter how much I think I know, there’s always more to learn. I made the mistake of thinking that being born in South Africa I need to go abroad to learn about the world and see more beautiful places. My partner and I are keen travellers and love to travel abroad as often as we can. We have been fortunate to travel internationally on average twice a year. Our motto has always been “let’s aim to run out of pages in our passports”.
Every destination you visit leaves its unique memory. When this dreaded pandemic emerged a year ago, we were wondering how we were going to add it to our travel memory bank. Initially, South Africa as a destination was not on our list. South Africa was always one of those destinations we would get to later in life.
The real truth is we are so fortunate to be blessed with a country that is so diverse in its landscape, its people and its fauna and flora. Our recent travels around South Africa have taught us that our problems are small and our blessings abundant.
Petro from African Tapestry helped us put together an exciting trip. Without her knowledge and expertise, our trip would not have been as memorable. And memorable it was. We travelled just over 3500kms and witnessed and experienced South Africa at its best.
Gariep Dam – De Stijl Gariep Hotel
Did you know, the Gariep Dam is the largest storage reservoir in South Africa? It has a total storage capacity of approximately 5,340,000 mega-litres (5,340 hm3) and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres when full. The hotel is comfortable and sports the most spectacular views, especially at sunset. The hotel also has lovely distant views of the dam from the swimming pool.
The next morning after breakfast we headed off to the beautiful town of Prince Albert. En route, we stopped off at one of the most delightful “padstal” gems for some much-needed coffee and homemade treats. Travelling through the Karoo is a magical experience. Its landscape is vast and unique. The Karoo is such a special place – did you know it’s home to the largest variety of succulents on earth? Here you can find the richest desert floras in the world, and 40 per cent of these species are not found anywhere else on earth.
Prince Albert – Mont D’Or Swartberg Hotel
What a gem of a place, so nostalgic and truly beautiful. This town positioned snugly at the foot of the beautiful Swartberg Mountain Pass. We took a leisurely drive into the pass and were amazed by the spectacular rock formations and absolute pristine beauty of the surroundings. The Swartberg is regarded as one of the finest exposed folded mountain chains in the world and the northern end of the pass especially shows this off best. Plant life along the pass is particularly interesting as many hundreds of species are found on the Swartberg.
Prince Albert has many authentic Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings, thirteen of which are National Monuments. There are several olive farms and other very large export fruit farms in the area, as well as wine producers, sheep farms and an export mohair trade.
Mont DÓr Swartberg Hotel is a national monument with over 150 years of history and is situated in the heart of Prince Albert. The rooms are beautiful and spacious. The restaurant serves delicious dinner every night. The facilities at the Swartberg Hotel are top-class. The staff are all helpful and friendly.
Grootbrak / Great Brak River: Ilita Lodge
We left early the next morning and along the way to Groot Brakrivier we visited the Meiringspoort Waterfall in Meiringspoort Gorge. One of the great sites in Meiringspoort is that of the waterfall. About 12 km from De Rust, the waterfall is well hidden in a deep ravine. This spectacular fall with water that streams down a 60 meters’ smooth rock face ends in a 9 meters’ deep rock pool. In 1925, when the then Prince of Wales visited South Africa, a pathway with shallow steps was hewn from the rock face for the Royal visitor.
Petro advised that we should make a coffee stop in De Rust village – there are a few beautiful quaint coffee shops and galleries. A popular lunch venue in the countryside near Oudtshoorn is the Karusa Winery and Craft Brewery (Situated in the Cango Valley en route to the renowned Cango Caves) – it’s popular so be sure to book a table well in advance. Conveniently situated and close to Karusa is another popular stop called Cango Ostrich Show Farm. Ilita Lodge is a boutique hotel situated on the hills above Grootbrak/Great Brak River, with magnificent ocean views.
Knysna – Kanonkop House
From Groot Brakrivier we travelled to Knysna – we took the slow scenic road and spent the day meandering along the Seven Passes Road between George and Knysna, including a stop at the Woodville Big Tree – an 800-year-old enormous Yellowwood Tree and an easy 45-minute circular walk through lush indigenous forest. Our accommodation at the luxurious and world-class Kanonkop House was simply incredible. It’s an award-winning boutique hotel with beautiful distant views of the Knysna Lagoon. Only 7 suites. A swimming pool, sundeck, outdoor lounge, terrace and bar. Massages and beauty treatments are available.
There is so much to do in this area, for example, you could explore the Wilderness Section of the Garden Route National Park (Conservation Fees apply); scenic back roads (dirt roads but in good condition) through the park along the vlei’s – between Wilderness and Sedgefield; Hike in the forests around Ebb & Flow rest camp – do not miss the hike to the waterfall via the Half-collared and Giant Kingfisher trails including the fun crossing of the river on a hand-pulled pontoon, and wear your costume underneath so that you can take a dip in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Hire a canoe from Eden Adventures and paddle the waterways around Ebb & Flow rest camp. Guided kloofing and abseiling with Eden Adventures. Walk on the beautiful beaches at Wilderness, Myoli beach in Sedgefield and at Brenton-On-Sea. Swimming beaches at Buffels Bay & Swartvlei. Explore the villages at Wilderness & Sedgefield, and the boutique shops at the Knysna Waterfront and in Knysna town.
Be sure to drive up to the look-out point on the Heads above Knysna, the views are spectacular! Various operators offer short boat trips on the Knysna lagoon – boats depart from the Knysna Waterfront. Kayaks to explore the Knysna Lagoon yourself can be hired from the SANParks Thesen Island office.
Goukamma Nature Reserve near Buffels Bay (entrance fee applies) offers a pristine endless beach and more nature trails. If you decide to make a day trip to Plettenberg Bay: hiking/walking in Robberg Nature Reserve is highly recommended; it has the most pristine and beautiful coastline and a small beach – recommended to visit there at low tide so that you can walk over to the tiny island.
Montagu – Montagu Country Hotel
We drove onto our next destination Montagu via Heidelberg, the Tradouw Pass and scenic Barrydale. Montagu is known as the ‘mountain mecca’ of the Cape, and is surrounded by the Langeberg mountain range nestled between the Keisie and Kingna Rivers in the western corner of Kannaland, and is famous for her orchards, vineyards, local herbs, rock formations and healing hot mineral springs. Our stay at the Montagu Country Hotel took us down memory lane – it’s a restored original Art Deco hotel, located in the heart of the quaint village of Montagu.
Paternoster – Abalone House
We drove via Ashton, Robertson, Worcester, the Huguenot Tunnel, Paarl, Malmesbury, Hopefield, Vredenburg, on to our next destination which was Paternoster. Our accommodation at Abalone House was simply spectacular. It’s a small boutique hotel with lavish bohemian decor situated in a quaint seaside village, within walking distance to the sea. Paternoster is a sought-after tourist destination and is known for lobster and white-washed fishermen’s cottages. The remarkable coastline of jagged cliffs and white boulders makes this one of the most beautiful beaches on the West Coast of South Africa. The area is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. The town itself has a lobster factory and a newly erected Kabeljou farm, whilst the local people catch and sell herring, or draw mussels from the rocks. In the greater area are several more commercial activities, including deep-sea fishing, snoek catching, Kabeljou farming, oyster farming, canning of pilchards and mussel farming. The oyster farm in the lagoon of the neighbouring town of Langebaan is currently the largest in South Africa.
Cederberg – Kagga Kamma
There is a quote that goes something like this “Travel makes you realize that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn”. The route we travelled to Kagga Kamma is a testament to that. Our route took us via Velddrif where we got to see the flamingos on the salt pans and once in Velddrif, we made a small detour to drive down the historic Bokkom Laan next to the Berg River – an experience not to be missed. From there we continued on the R399 to Piketberg, then Porterville and Gouda. You do need to make another small detour to visit the historic Church Street in the village of Tulbagh. Then we continued via Ceres, Prins Alfred Hamlet and then on to the Ceres Karoo.
For a truly unique and utterly different experience, you do need to visit Kagga Kamma – it’s a place that cannot be described in words. Kagga Kamma Nature Reserve is located in an untouched wilderness area near Ceres, in the Western Cape, renowned for its scenic beauty and dramatic rock formations typical of the Cederberg. The room we stayed in is integrated with the natural rock formations that frame the horizon. It’s rugged yet beautiful, in short, an experience not to be missed.
Beaufort-West – Lemoenfontein Country House
After two wonderful weeks away from home, we started our trek back. The last leg of our journey was by no means an anti-climax. We went on to Beaufort West via Touwriver and the N1 and got to stop at the majestic little town of Matjiesfontein. The entire village of Matjiesfontein was preserved as a National Heritage Site in 1975 under the direction of revered hotelier David Rawdon. Now here is an interesting insight: David Rawdon established Rawdon’s Hotel in Nottingham Road in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the well-known Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch, the Marine Hotel in Hermanus, and the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet in the Camdeboo.
Matjiesfontein was once the centre of the British Empire in South Africa and headquarters for the Cape Command during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), which was originally built as a railway connection to the diamond mines, and the small village truly boomed when Scotsman James Douglas Logan opened a refreshment station for passing trains. The clean, healthy air made the spot perfect for a Victorian spa and health resort, and the town is also said to be one of the birthplaces of South African cricket.
Our stay at Lemoenfontein Country house was truly relaxing and luxurious – this beautiful homestead dates back to 1850. Lemoenfontein is an escape from the world at large, with the beauty that defies description and a peace that invites visitors to return time and again. Built slowly and soundly to the exacting standards and architectural style of the time, the building remains unchanged with characteristic high ceilings, original wooden floors and wide verandas which offer guests a sweeping panoramic view of the Karoo landscape.
Bloemfontein Rural – De Oudekraal Country Estate
Set on a working sheep farm surrounded by savannahs, this genteel hotel is 7 km from the N1 freeway and 35 km from museums in Bloemfontein. It’s a 6th generation sheep farm.
This trip has given us renewed energy and love for this beautiful country. There is still so much opportunity and beauty to explore. It’s time to stop all our negative views and ideas about South Africa and perhaps if we rather looked at this beautiful part of the world with new fresh eyes our language will be filled with more admiration and love.
“Travel opens your heart, broadens your mind and fills your life with stories to tell.”
Article by Anisa Fielding