#Shotleft. 5 days in the Eastern Cape

Nothing is more fun than a #shotleft.

Having just spent a whirlwind 5 days in parts of the Eastern Cape, I am itching to go back for more.

To make the most of the 5 days, a flight from Cape Town to George takes just 50 minutes, and early morning flights provide spectacular views of the sunrise from above the clouds.

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A quick stop at AVIS to collect the Toyota rental, and the road trip adventure begins. A detour off the N2 into the SANPARKS Wilderness camp, part of the Garden Route National Park is the first stop.

Getting out the car the the still peacefulness is the first thing I noticed. City stresses fall away and you can just breathe. This camp is a very tempting spot for a few days to absorb nature, canoe, hike, wander along the boardwalk, or simply sit and gaze at your surroundings. Although not part of the Eastern Cape, this area is an ideal #shotleft destination from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth distance wise.

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Next  stop is in Sedgefield for the best #shotleft snack around. Currywurst from the lederhosen clad “sausage boys” of Wurst Express. This traditional German street food is a tastebuds dream. You will find Jan and the funky Wurst Express trailer on the side of the road in Sedgefield, or at most of the markets and events in the vicinity. Umbrellas, tables and chairs are provided, or eat it on the move. But do eat it, and buy some currywurst sauce to take home. I am hooked on it. Jan is also the guy to talk to for the inside info on what is what in Sedgefield. A sausage selling tourism fundi!   Only in South Africa, ne!

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A quick photo stop down the road to capture the incredible mosaic horses,and to drive the Mosaic Route. The mosaic initiative is a community based project that provides skills training, employment and adds to the visual appeal of Sedgefield.  Look out for signs and art installations beautifully created in mosaics by the locals in this dreamy town. Sedfield’s logo is the tortoise and the towns takes pride in it’s ethos of “slow living”.

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Storms River Village is a forest of adventure that embraces community and welcomes visitors.

After booking in to the Tsitikamma Village Inn it was time to face my fear of heights and experience the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour.

Ziplining along 10 routes, 30m high, some as long as 90 meters, stopping in between on platforms built around 700 year old yellow wood tress. WOW !

Heart stopping at times if you are a wimp like I am. That said, our guide Chanelle was funny, efficient and professional, and with the other 2 guides made me feel quite safe. Definitely worth every knee trembling minute. A delightful finishing touch after the short hike and drive back to the village was hot coffee and toasted sarmies while watching video footage of ourselves flying through the forest. A bit of retail therapy to calm my nerves at the craft shop, then homemade soup, and bed. A busy first day.

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An early start, a huge breakfast and off to see the Tsitsikamma Big Tree………….on a SEGWAY.

 

This is the most fun I have had in years. After a brief training session, we were off, into the forest with our guide. The Segways can reach about 25km/ ph and tempting as it was to speed through the forest, we stuck close to the guide as he pointed out the various trees and told stories of the history of the area. I want a Segway, I need a Segway, I wish I could afford a Segway!

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Then we crossed the N2, on a Segway!

Finally reaching the approach to the Big Tree, we parked our fun modes of transport and  were immediately absorbed into the forest.

A sense of timelessness and awe of nature engulfs you at the first sight of the 800 year old mighty Yellowwood. In spite of temperatures in the 30’s, it is cool in the forest. It  felt like I was cocooned from the busy world, and when I did need to speak, it seemed right to whisper. The forest was a calming balm on my city bruised soul.

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So sad to say goodbye to Storms River Village, it’s back in the car and on to Port Elizabeth to meet Eastern Cape fundi, Jonker Fourie. A warm welcome from Jonker who is keen to show off his beloved city in the little time he has available.  Our first stop is at the pier at Hobie Beach, busy with locals enjoying the late summer, strolling, swimming and soaking up some sun. The mood is carefree and infectious.

A short drive to the CBD to the Donkin Reserve, an inner city park and testament to democracy and the history of Port Elizabeth. Home to Nelson Mandela Bay tourism office, a lighthouse, open space ,10 art installations,  and the starting point of the R67 walking route. The lighthouse and pyramid built by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his beloved wife Elizabeth, tell a tale a great love, devotion and sadness. The plaque on the pyramid reads:

To the memory of one of the most perfect human beings who has given her name to the town below”

The Donkin Reserve for me was a place of history, peace, hope and celebration. It conserves the stories of our past, the creativity of our present, and the dreams for our future. A truly inspiring place.

 

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With my head full of history and South African pride, it’s goodbye to P.E and a 16km drive to the Kragga Kamma Game Park for the night. Sitting outside as the sun says goodbye, with no sound but the pulling up of grass as a herd of buffalo and a few frisky warthogs and their little ones have supper a few metres away from the cabin. Pure Mzansi magic.

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A boardwalk stroll in the fresh morning air, a sighting of leopard, rhino and buffalo concludes the all too brief stay at Kragga Kamma.

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The rest of the morning was spent at SAMREC, The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Rescue Centre. Staffed mainly by volunteers, this centre was established in 2000. The centre draws attention to the plight of the oceans, and how overfishing, global warming and pollution are threatening our seas. We all need to be aware of the issues and become part of the solution.

The African Penguin numbers have dropped by 80% since 2000. Overfishing has resulted in these beautiful birds having to swim 60 -70km a day just to feed themselves and their young.

The centre offers interactive programs for adults and children, has a volunteer program and an option to “adopt” a penguin.  It is a lovely family day out, and educational too. These people really deserve our support and assitance in trying to preserve the marine life for the next generation. Do pay them a visit.

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A brief tea stop in Cradock to visit friends of Dawn Jorgensen, had me promising to return soon to explore this historic town.

Embraced as family by the delightful proprietors of Die Tuishuise  & Victorian Manor, I could have spent all day exploring the superbly restored  houses and listening to the stories of the fascinating Antrobus family.

The small towns of the Eastern Cape are steeped in history. Populated by proud locals who go back generations, and have endless stories to tell, weaving families, buildings and businesses together in seamless Karoo wanderings,  and equally proud newcomers who add to the rich tapestry of small town life.

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Back on the road after exchanging details and promises to return, it’s goodbye to Cradock and a ten minute drive to the most under-rated park in the SANPARKS stable.

One kilometer in to Mountain Zebra National Park and what a treat. Standing looking at the car before breaking into a run was a magnificent Black Rhino. A few minutes down the road and it was time to turn off the engine again as a troupe of vervet monkeys and their babies  played in the road before vanishing into the trees. This small national park is an absolute treasure. Immaculate, close to town, and open for day trips, it’s a must to visit.

A thrilling game drive with expert tracker, Charl takes us to shimmering Karoo silence, where we park the vehicle and start silently walking through the veld. Spider webs shimmer in the sun and a lone buffalo glares at the intrusion of two legged creatures in his space.

Meet Angela, the gorgeous cheetah we tracked to her chosen spot for a midday nap. Being so close to this powerful animal was as good as it gets in Africa.

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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Mountain Zebra National Park and head off to Graaff Reinet to meet Chantelle Marais aka Karoo Girl, tour guide extraordinaire and owner of Camdeboo Cottages. Chantelle is like a positive force field. Her passion and roots to the area define her, and her energy pulls you into her world.

She tells us that a visit to Graaff Reinet is not complete without a visit to The Obesa Cactus nursery. It is the largest in the southern hemisphere and has to be seen to believed, with over 2 million plants. These waterwise cactus and succulents are well suited to the dry Karoo, and almost all of them produce unexpectedly intricate, beautiful flowers at some time . From the towering cactus to the minute detail on the tiny succulents, this place has you spinning. The miracle of desert plants and the hidden beauty that is there as a reward for those who make the effort to look. Mother nature at her awe inspiring best.

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A short drive out of town took us to the impressive Valley Of Desolation in the Cambedoo National Park.  Cambedoo  is the isiXhosa word for Green Valley. The green coming from the Spekboom tree which grows  in the area. A climb to the Toposcope reveals Google Earth type views of the Nqweba Dam and the town of Graaff Reinet. The town is unique in that it is surrounded by the national park. The clean air turns the rock amber in the fading light, giving a surreal glow and adding to the mystery of Cambedoo.

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Another short drive and hike took us to the pinnacle of the Valley of Desolation, where Chantelle produced wine, glasses, and told us to sit back and bask in the miraculous sunset. Talk about nature showing off!

The raw dominance of this landscape over mere mortals was both humbling and breathtaking. The hike down in the encroaching darkness was silent as I contemplated the fine balance between man and this earth.

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Not being much of a history buff, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the walking tour of Graaff Reinet the following morning. Karoo girl has a way of telling stories about real people, pointing out little details, and weaving a tale of families, wars, love, tragedy, drama and mystery. The architecture of Graaff Reinet is magnificent and well preserved. The Reinet House Museum was like taking a step back into the history books, and living that life. Graaff Reinet boasts 220 national monuments. The 2 hour walk covering a mere 1,5km around The Horse shoe, which is the historical centre of town, barely scratches the surface of the tangled history of this fascinating town. Chantelle is most certainly the perfect guide to educate and entertain you on all things related to Graaff Reinet and the surrounding area.

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Minds filled with life in days gone by, we made one last stop at the grave of Robert Sobukwe. Recently completed, this memorial is a fitting testament to a truly great man. Born in the town in 1924  he was educated in the area and became a teacher. He went on to become a lecturer in African studies at the University of Witwatersrand. In 1959 he formed the PAC as was it’s first President. A believer in Africanism and inspiration for the Black Conciousness Movement, Sobukwe was arrested in 1960 and released in 1969, but restricted to house arrest in his home in Kimberley. He died in 1978 at the age of 53 and was buried in Graaff Reinet. The monument to him has only just been completed in 2014, and therein lies another story.

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A rather hectic paced drive from Graaff Reinet to George airport, a 45 minute flight to Cape Town, and back at home, enriched, educated, inspired and planning return trips already.

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The small part of the Eastern Cape that I explored has so much to offer. Each town requires a few days to enjoy and discover . Every place I visited I want to return to for further exploration and adventure.

 This is what taking a #shotleft is all about. Having a good time and exploring your country, as a fast paced road trip, or one tiny dorp at a time.

The Eastern Cape is home to very diverse cultures, landscapes, history and adventure. It also has a secret ingredient, that intangible something that makes it such a special place to visit.

In the words of Chantelle Marais, our favourite Karoo Girl,

We don’t have a Table Mountain, but we believe we must make all our guests feel like they  are visiting family

 That truly is the ethos of the Eastern Cape. Hospitality is at the core of every interaction . It is a most appealing quality, and proves my belief that travel is actually all about the people.

Footnote:

Many thanks to Debbie Damant, Bonolo Modisa, Lwazi Moletsane and the SA Tourism #ShotLeft team . Also to Jonker Fourie of EcTour and Chantelle Marais of Graaff Reinet for making this fabulous #shotleft trip possible.

Last but not least, thanks to Dawn Jorgensen, aka The Incidental Tourist for being such a hardcore travelling companion.

Watch this space for in depth posts on each area. Coming soon ish.

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10 thoughts on “#Shotleft. 5 days in the Eastern Cape

  1. Ah, you make me want to be there, Di. Wilderness, Tsitsikamma and Mountain Zebra NP are among my favourite places. You did so much and yet didn’t even scratch the surface of what the Eastern Cape has to offer. You’ll need another Sho’t Let soon!

  2. I know. Once you start taking #shotlefts, you will never stop. Each place presents so many reasons to return. SA takes a lifetime to discover properly

    • Thanks Jonker. It was great to be there. Hoping there will be many happy returns to the Eastern Cape. I am still basking in the warmth and friendliness of the welcome I got. Pure #shotleft magic

  3. Pingback: #Shotleft. 5 days in the Eastern Cape | The Roaming Giraffe

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