Discovering South African nature

Hi there,

welcome back to my blog for my second post about South Africa. After having visited Johannesburg and seen beautiful animals in Pilansberg and Kruger national park, it is now time to jump in my shiny white rental Polo to cross the country to Capetown.

As I am at the moment in an electronic music mood, I chose this time as music background a song from The Chemical Brothers whose title corresponds pretty well to the place I am visiting at the moment 😉

The chemical brothers – It began in Afrika.

My first stop after Joburg is Santa Lucia, in the South East of the country, a bit below the border with Mozambique. I arrive there after a long 10 hours drive. Driving in South Africa is a bit challenging :), not because of the driving on the left side, but because of the many pedestrians walking along the road and the animals staring at you instead of crossing the street to the other side. The lines are also a bit confusing for me, especially the yellow one on the left. I thought at first that it was an emergency lane like in Europe but after having asked my friend AD, I learn that it actually separates the car lane from the pedestrian lane, but that cars can use it to let faster vehicles pass, provided that they have enough visibility.
Santa Lucia is a nice small village next to the iSimangaliso national park. It is also not far from the city of Sodwana, which is a good place to go scuba diving. Unfortunately for me, I am a bit too short on time to go explore the underwater world there on this trip.
As I need a bit of physical activity after the long drive of the previous day, I chose to explore the surroundings by bike. I wanted to go hiking at first, but the hiking trails around St Lucia are only for guided walks with an armed guard as they are going through hippos territory and they are quite dangerous animals.
The bike tour takes me first through a small forest where I see a lot of curious monkeys. After that I stop at several beaches where there are signs warning about… crocodiles and hippos 🙂 I finish the afternoon in the swimming pool of the campsite.

On the next day, I wake up very early to enter the national park just after the opening. I then drive to the furthest point allowed to the public, which is called Cape Vidal. The road offers many interesting viewpoints and I kind of do a mini game drive on the tarmac as I cross many animals like Zebra and Kudus.

After a little bit more than 3 hours in the park, I then hit the road for another 7 hours long drive to the city of Himeville in the Drakensberg region. The drive is very interesting as it goes through the Zulu land. The landscape completely changes. It becomes very dry and I pass several small villages lost in the middle of nowhere. I lose a few minutes near the city of Durban as my GPS surprisingly has difficulties to navigate in this city and asks me to cut through houses and gardens 🙂 The last km are also very tiring because of the hard rain and the dense fog. It worries me a bit as I planned to hike up to Lesotho via the famous Sani pass.
However, as I wake up the next morning, I am very surprised to see the sun shining and a clear sky. Weather forecast predicts some light rain at the end of the afternoon. I decide to take advantage of the weather and drive after breakfast to the South African Border to get my exit stamp and leave my car there and hike the rest of the Sani pass up to Lesotho. Lesotho is a curious country. It is completely surrounded by South Africa and is one of the last kingdom on Earth. The trail is about 8km long. Most of the people are going up with tours in 4×4 but I meet some other fellow hikers on the way. The first few km are pretty easy as they are quite flat and the scenery is very nice as the trail is following a river. After km 5-6, the trail is gently going up and the view slowly becomes incredible with some viewpoints on the valley. The last 2 km are quite hard as it becomes very steep and the wind is quite strong. After 2,5 hours I finally reach the top. Before I get my entry stamp, I discuss 15 min with the girls at the immigration control points. They tell me that they are a bit bored at such a small border and they like to hear stories from the travelers coming to visit their country. After that I don’t really spend so much time in Lesotho. I only have a short lunch and a beer at the pub/restaurant near the border, which claims to be the highest pub in Africa. As the restaurant is really packed with all the daily tours, I seat at a table with a small group of 3, a guide with 2 girls working in a travel agency from the Netherlands. We exchange a lot of travel tip and one girl tells me that South Africa is such a cool country that I will get the African virus and will have to come back. I wanted to answer “which African virus do you mean? Zika or HIV?” but then I remembered the advice of my German friends to be careful about my jokes because not everybody can understand them and I realize that I would have gone too far 🙂
At the end of the lunch, the sky becomes very dark and cloudy and my lunch mates propose to give me a ride down to my car to avoid the rain on the way down. However, I decline the offer as I absolutely want to finish the hike on foot.
The first km down is still ok but after the 2nd km I start thinking that it wasn’t a good idea after all as the wind becomes very strong and it starts raining. When I pull out my rain jacket from my bag, a very strong wind blow takes it away with my sun glasses. No worries for the sunglasses, however I don’t want to lose my rain jacket and so I climb some rocks to get it back. In the middle of the hike, the sky becomes very dark and I can see lightning a few km away. I start being a bit worried and increase my walking pace. After a little bit more than 1,5 hours I am finally back at the South African border where I get a new entry stamp in my passport.

On the next day, the weather is not very good and my legs are still a bit sore from the hike in Sani pass. I decide to stay the morning at home and around noon, as the sun becomes a bit clearer, I decide to move and go hiking nearby in the Cobahm natural reserve. This reserve offers a lot of hiking trails following small rivers and when the weather is good, it is possible to bath in natural pools. The first hour is good, the walk is very scenic and at one point I cross the path of a group of monkeys. Out of curiosity I try to become closer, but the monkeys start grunting at me and so I understand that I am not welcome in their group 🙂 After 1,5 hours, the weather becomes suddenly bad and due to the very dense fog, I can barely see my feet and so I choose to come back home to have a nice cup of hot chocolate.

After a last night in the Drakensberg area, I wake up early the next day to hit the road down to the city of Graaf-Reinet.
Graaf-Reinet is a rather small city of about 26000 people. It is as the 4th oldest city in south Africa a city full of history, especially of the dutch occupation era.
I arrive there in the early evening after a 7 hours ride and stay only one night as a break on my way down to the Tsitsikamma national park. Before hitting the road again on the next morning, I spend a couple of hours visiting the city center, and among others the nice big white church. After that, I drive shortly to the Valley of Desolation where I hike about 1 hour in a nice desert landscape. The trail is named the lizard trail because of the many different races of lizards that can be seen along the way. Some of them are very colorful.

After a light lunch, I drive down about 4,5 hours to arrive in Stormsriver, which serves as entry point to the Tsitsikamma national park. The drive is quite funny, I have to stop a couple of times because of sheep that are not afraid of the cars and just stay in the middle of the road 🙂 Moreover, my GPS got kind of lost and sent me on a shortcut that was actually a 60km gravel road sometimes so narrow that there was barely place for 2 cars to cross each other.
Tsitsikamma is known as an adrenaline destination and there are a lot of activities proposed like bungee jumping, kayaking, rafting, etc… However, as I feel a bit tired, I just plan to hike and enjoy the beauty and quietness of the nature. There are many trails of different length and difficulty inside the national park. On the first day, I choose one of the popular one, the waterfall trail. It is graded as difficult, not because of the elevation but because the path is sometimes only made of cutting rocks and you have to jump from one edge to the other and if you fall, you finish directly in the sea 🙂 The waterfall itself is not very impressive but the hike is very scenic with some beautiful coastal landscape. It takes me a total of 3h to finish the trail and as I still have some energy, I decide to walk a bit more on a trail called lookout trail. This trail is also beautiful but the first part is very crowded as it is part of a lot of daily tours. It is famous because of the long suspended bridges that give an impressive view on the sea. From the parking lot to the bridges it takes about 30min and from there to the top of the cliff where the lookout is, about 1,5 hours, and very steep. Most of the people stop at the bridge and so the ascension is very nice for me as I am completely alone with the nature. The view from the top is amazing. However I don’t stay more than half an hour as it starts raining pretty hard and I am afraid that the path down becomes dangerous because of the mud. I finish the day drinking beer at the backpackers where I stay with my dorm mate, a Swiss guy on holiday traveling along the South African coast from Capetown to Joburg.

The second day is quite light. I go hiking again but on a short botanic trail called Retal trail. It is for me a bit boring as it has no difficulties in terms of elevation and most of the things presented are trees, that look like all the same to me.

In the evening, I have dinner in a restaurant specialized in lamb meat, the local specialty. I also discover the “banting” diet. This diet is quite famous in South Africa and is very similar to the Paleo diet: Low carb, high fat. The aim is to teach the body not to use sugar as fuel but to burn only fat instead. The idea of only eating fat and nothing else sounds very stupid to me and I am still convinced that a balanced nutrition is far better, especially on the long term.
After 2 days in the Tsitsikamma area, it is time for me to hit the road one last time with my Polo to reach the final destination of my itinerary in South Africa: Cape Town.
A full report on my days there in my next post. Stay tuned!

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