AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Ladysmith, Knysna, Tsitsikamma – 10th Oct 2018 – Day 27

Breakfast was a typical huge farm style meal. Not the best B&B though, breakfast is extra!

Heading east over this undulating plain with the mountain range to the north, the road soon led down to the relatively flat plain of olive green fynbos  to Oudshoorn. At a glance there is nothing to recommend the fynbos, but on closer inspection there are variations in shades of green interspersed with yellow and fuchsia coloured flowers against a backdrop of the tiered, ever higher blue Outeniqua mountains. This is sheep country; homesteads are lonely in this vast space, sometimes relieved by a small green patch of vegetable and watermelon garden. The ubiquitous windmill pumps the water from deep wells into irrigation ditches. At the age of about 11, my father and I visited a distant relative in the Karoo. In the cool late afternoon we would direct the water by dumping soil in the ditch, and enjoy a sweet red watermelon. Where more water is available, the valleys are irrigated for fruit or lucerne.

Oudshoorn was once renown for fashionable ostrich feathers, but over time a use has been found for every part of the bird. In 1975 we visited an ostrich farm, watched them race, and the girls sat on them. We also toured the Cango Caves, the largest in SA; a narrow passage, the ‘post box’ was claustrophobic; we all remember it. 

The Little Karoo drops down the steep Outeniqua pass near the coastal town of George, where we turned north east. The Wilderness is still a pretty small town on a large estuary. Wind swept houses crowd the ridge facing the sea, while others huddle amongst the thick leafed dune bushes facing inland. The gardens proliferate in this sheltered zone. 

Knysna is a large regional town popular with retirees, known for a long history of logging and fine yellow-wood & stinkwood furniture. We checked the best known shop, Fechter; most is now a blackwood as the other are rare finds. I was surprised to find the price for a thick top yellowwood table to be only Au$4000 and a pretty two-seat bench at $750 (not cheap in Rand though).. Enquiries revealed that shipping is prohibitive, as high as 3 times again.

A stop at the heads is warranted; the narrow gap causes strong currents between the sea and the large inland lake as the tide changes. It is also the location of expensive homes, mostly of retired people.

Plettenberg Bay is a popular beach town, catered by numerous hotels. 

Natures Valley marks the end of the long established Otter Trail, a tough 5 day walk from the Tsitsikamma park entrance to the east at Storms River mouth. We became aware of it on a holiday from Mooinooi to Cape Town and back along this Garden Route about 1976. A few years later, we returned via Durban through the Transkei (a difficult trip without a passport at the time). We were not prepared as well as we should; Maria was only about 8. All food had to be carried in and we didn’t have the light foods of today ie heavy tins. The exciting few days will need telling another day, briefly Maria was ‘lost’ for an hour at the Lotteringrivier; crossing the tidal Bloukrans River at 8pm required divine help, and the end at Natures Valley did not go as planned. 

Today we walked across the broad sand of the Groot Rivier at Natures Valley, to just opposite the trail end on the bluff. The late afternoon sun lit up the craggy walls, reflecting on the wash of the incoming tide. A couple had climbed to the top of a rocky pinnacle standing silhouetted against the blue sky.

We drove the old twisty road through the gorges, as I did so long ago, rather than the newer highway where cars speed along unaware of the deep forest beauty below. The dark brown tannin stained water flowing fast to the sea, past the tall old yellowwood trees hung with moss and vines. The forest perfume enveloped us as we drove the unmaintained road, past rock falls. I fear it will be closed one day, such a shame to lose an iconic road. 

David had booked our B&B in small Storms River town. I was surprised at the change to this once private logging and road camp. Almost every building is now devoted to tourism in some way. The 30 year old Andelomi B&B, operated by two families, is set in a pleasant garden of shrubs and trees.  A row of good ensuites face the track on one side, and a lawn on the other. At one end is the kitchen/dining and reception. WiFi is only available near the office. As they no longer offer dinner, we walked round to the Bistro, who offer a decent menu. We sat outside watching a red sunset initially as the place was full, but moved inside later as it became cold.

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