South Africa Part 7: The Garden Route, Continued

I managed to cover Franschhoek and Oudtshoorn in the last post. Shall pick up from where I left off.

Day 3: Knysna

For the record, Knysna is pronounced Nize-na. Not Cintsa, Kinsa or Kaiz-na — all massacred variations that have rolled off my tongue at some point of time. But while you may have difficulty pronouncing the name of this once-sleepy retirement village, you won’t have any problem extending your stay.

Knysna is apparently a Khoi word for “hard to reach” — quite apt as legend has it that the colonial administrator George Rex came to the isolated lagoon and its dense forests after his British peers shunned him for taking a coloured mistress. It’s anything but when we arrived, though.

For starters, many hotels and guesthouses have since sprung up. Ours was a Bed and Breakfast that turned out to be unexpectedly luxurious. Knysna Stays is a beautifully done-up house operated by Lloyd and his wife, and managed by super-sweet housekeeper Rose and her colleagues. Actually, I blame the guesthouse for our inertia. We ended up lazing around in bed, napping and reading and, yes, surfing the Internet.

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I have to backtrack a little bit here, since I didn’t include this part in my previous post. We reached Knysna on our second night, and had dinner at The Olive Tree, a Mediterranean-inspired joint. The air-con had broken down and the restaurant was tightly packed, so we were off to a bad start. For some strange reason, the wait staff also took to carting around a giant, body-length blackboard with the day’s dishes written on them, going to each table and explaining every dish.

Finally somebody realized this was not the most efficient means of getting your customers’ orders, and passed us a printed copy of the menu (WHY WOULD THEY NOT GIVE THIS OUT FIRST?). Alan was enticed by both the beef and the lamb, but could not decide on one. So he asked the waitress: “What’s the difference between these two dishes?”

I know it’s not the most eloquently phrased question in the world, but we must have been the first Asians this lady has seen because she proceeded to give us the most perplex, bamboozled expression and said in a concerned drawl:

“Well… I mean, the beef is from a cow and the lamb is from a sheep.”

To which Alan and I were like, WTF duh hahahaha. Anyhow for all its bad points, the food at The Olive Tree turned out to be pretty decent! The fish soup in particular was amazing.

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Okay now we’re back in the right timeframe. We woke up in time for breakfast (individually plated because the guesthouse caters to no more than 8 rooms, so very exclusive) and decided we would take it easy. Some options included exploring the neighbouring forests but the skies seemed overcast and honestly, I just wanted to lie in bed and not do anything strenuous.

Alan and I compromised and we headed over to The Heads, a pair of steep rocky promontories that guard the Knysna lagoon’s narrow mouth. The western side is a private nature reserve, and the eastern an exclusive residential area. We entered from the eastern side and found ourselves looking at the vast Indian Ocean.

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We also drove around Leisure Island, which is pretty much an islet of houses and empty fields. Skies were grey but on sunny days I can imagine this being paradise, especially since temperatures in the coastal areas do not reach as high as they do in Cape Town.

After that we headed down to Knysna Quays, a smaller-scale version of the V&A Waterfront in Capetown.

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Knysna is famous for its oysters, with its annual “Pick and Pay” oyster festival a main draw in July. There was an hour’s wait for 34 Degrees South, so we put our names on the waiting list while we walked around. I ended up buying a very pretty purple scarf that was on sale!

20140105-DSC01984Not to be outdone, Alan tried looking for something to buy too. This pair of partially lace-y slip-ons were quite the contender.

20140105-DSC01983Finally a table opened up at restaurant. We got the oysters, of course, but the wild ones weren’t in season then. Not that it really mattered since they were still delicious. It would be nice to have a lot of money, if only so I could order three dozen oysters straight-up. HAHA.

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But what really surprised us was the linefish of the day — no idea what type of fish it was, but it was served skewered and dripping with oil and juices. Delicious as well.

20140105-IMG_8361Entering a fugue-y state of food coma, we settled our bill after the meal and decided to embark on our Third Photography Competition. Side story: when we were in Vienna in 2012, Alan criticized my composition skills and insisted he could do better. So we pick a subject — architecture, person, whatever — and get a set time to frame the shot, and make only one click. We do the judging ourselves. So far Alan is the two-time, no, make that three-time champion 🙁

The brief was to photograph this boat, and this is my photo, only in the sense that I clicked the shutter, but with his composition — cos I realised my original one sucked.

20140105-IMG_8367We crawled back to our room and caught up on our sitcoms (in person! instead of trying to sync them over Skype!). When we finally ventured out for dinner, however, we realised most of the restaurants were closed. Apparently many South African restaurants do on Sunday evenings.

So what do you do when it’s 8pm and you’re starving? You head down to an Indian restaurant.

We lucked out: Raasoie churned out spicy curries and fragrant garlic naans that were way more impressive than its unassuming storefront and rundown interior.

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Day 3 Essential Info

For sightseeing, head to The Heads (see what I did there). On warmer days, it seems probable you could spend half a day reading a book while the Indian Ocean crashes onto the crags.

There are also interesting shops at the Knysna Quays, though don’t expect anything on the scale of the V&A Waterfront.

For dining options, there’s 34 Degrees South (make reservations or be prepared to wait) and their must-try oysters. The Olive Tree serves great Mediterranean food. And finally, you can always satiate your Indian cravings at Raasoie. All of these are pretty affordable (~US$20 per pax), with Raasoie being the cheapest of the lot and 34 Deg South having a premium because of its location and seafood.

Finally, I highly recommend staying at Knysna Stays (US$125/night). It is more than what we would pay for accommodation normally but there are no regrets. Our room was ginormous, done up in my favourite earthy-Balinese style, and the service staff was amazing.

Day 4: Knysna to Jeffreys Bay

We bid farewell to the lovely people of Knysna Stays, who also gave us an hour’s extension to our already late check-out.

20140106-DSC01995And then it was off to Birds of Eden — the best bird park I have ever been to. Jurong Bird Park has nothing on this. En route to Jeffreys Bay, Birds of Eden is the world’s largest free-flight aviary. A sizable chunk of indigenous forest has been preserved and nets have been mounted over it to give birds space and a sanctuary, while letting humans appreciate them up-close. One potential problem is that a number of non-native birds have been introduced to the area (though am not sure what the impact of this on the bird population in the long-term will be), but it was quite something to see a variety of birds in such close proximity.

There are more than 220 species here, all of them rehabilitated after a stint in confined enclosures. From top-left, clockwise: an unidentified bird with a cute mohawk, channel-billed toucan, red-billed hornbill and the handsome Knysna loerie / Livingstone’s turaco (I love its white eyeliner!).

channel-billed toucan, red-billed hornbill and Livingstone’s turaco

Top-left, clockwise: black-bellied glossy starling (I think — I’m mostly relying on Google images), scarlet ibis (does anyone remember that depressing short story we all had to read in school) and a colourful bird with feathers that look like rainbow brushstrokes.

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Some of the birds, like the cranes and flamingoes, were subjected to pinioning —  where a section of their wings are removed — in their previous homes , preventing them from ever flying again 🙁

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Less depressing was the sight of these blue and gold macaws. They apparently remain mates for life! This pair really looked like a couple deep in conversation, with the smaller of the two occasionally burying its head in the other’s plumage while noisy, petty birds around them fought for cubes of food. I love looking at couple-animals. If I had a patronus or a spirit animal it would probably be an otter. As would Alan’s.

blue and gold macawI also thought these cockatiels were adorable, like they stole their mom’s blush and painted their cheeks, then spiked up their hair with their dad’s gel. Alan’s hair looks like the one on the right’s in the morning.

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Very tickled by this curious, friendly red-fronted conure: 20140106-20140106-IMG_8470I spent an hour or so trying to Google the names of these birds (which included search terms like “bird with red head and green body”) and cross-checking them against the aviary’s species list. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful bird photographs as a result — maybe I should pick up the hobby! I don’t think there’s a better place for bird photography enthusiasts to start than at Birds of Eden.

Anyway, shall sparrow everyone from the onslaught of bird photographs. Onwards with the journey. About 20km away is the Bloukrans Bridge, which stands 216m above the Bloukrans River.

20140106-IMG_8478It is the home to the highest commercial bridge bungee jump in the world. This is a very specific category, but everyone wants to be the best at something. Not that it doesn’t deserve its adrenalin-pumping reputation — even though I refused to jump, just walking up on the steel mesh bridge had me quivering. You look down below you and all you see is a thin, curving strip of water, bordered by rocky slopes on the side. An indiscernible blanket of trees guarantees you a battered and broken (and dead) body should the bridge suddenly collapse.

Needless to say I did not feel very sturdy about the whole matter. So I can only what Alan must have been thinking as he waited his turn to be thrown off a bridge.

At the waiting area in the “belly” of the bridge — no photos allowed — a hired DJ played all sorts of fast tracks to keep people in the mood for excitement. A bunch of people engaged in very rigorous butt-dancing and practiced their jumps (apparently hands out, head first is the best way to go) but Alan sat rather still and by my side.

Finally, it was his turn!

output_9m2sstYup, it was raining and when Alan made his jump, a huge cloud was passing through.

“I couldn’t see anything, everything was white, and after a while I didn’t know where the sky or the ground began. Plus the grip around my legs felt like it was coming out, I thought I was going to fall out and die.” — a very much alive and slightly melodramatic boyfriend.

Shan’t dismiss how scary it must have been. You can see the proof here:

Anyway his jump was relatively graceful, which you want to have if you’re an insecure person because your reaction and jump are screened live to friends and strangers waiting at a nearby cafe. You don’t want to be this guy (skip to 2:45 if you don’t have time):

We actually met someone in Alan’s group who chickened out despite his bravado-filled practice jumps. Later when we were in the visitors’ center, we overheard some Germans who requested to look at his video (in which he plunges feet-first because he sorta backed out as the staff pushed him off loooool). We — and by this I also mean the video assistant helping us out — all had a good laugh cos we are terrible people that way.

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This is Alan post-jump, after waiting out an antsy two-minutes in which he wondered if his feet was going to loosen themselves from their bonds and send him plummeting to his death. There’s a discount if you decide to jump a second time. “So wanna take them up on their second-jump offer?” I asked. “Um, it’s alright,” came the reply.

20140106-DSCF7658Alan and his somewhat supportive girlfriend, who didn’t see the need to overcome the fear of jumping off bridges since she doesn’t foresee doing that anytime in the near future:

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After this we drove to Jeffreys Bay. Our original guesthouse messed up our booking, and told us we didn’t have a room one hour before we reached. Thankfully they arranged for us to spend a night at Stone Olive, which turn out to be too bad. An air-con in the room would have been nice though, as it got a little warm in the evening.

But before we turned in (we did have already eventful day after all), we had dinner at Kitchen Windows. It has a popular surf spot for a view, but the food is probably the reason why this place was packed. Seafood should not be missed!

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Day 4 Essential Info | Knysna to Jeffreys Bay — 195km, 2.5 hours

Birds of Eden (~US$14) is a must-go if you’re a bird lover, or enjoy cool walks in parks. There’s a special combo rate if you go to nearby Monkeyland and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary.

Adrenalin junkies will also want to jump off the 216m-high Bloukrans Bridge operated by the safe and fun-loving staff at Face Adrenalin. Book your jumps online (US$80) to secure a jump-spot during peak season. If jumping off things aren’t your cup of tea, but you have a crazy loved one who wants to do so, you can accompany him for US$10 on a ‘bridge walk’. No cameras allowed, but we managed to sneak our handphone in 😉 The company also gives you videos and photos of your jump for US$20.

Dine at Kitchen Windows in Jeffreys Bay (order the oysters!) and have a nap at Stone Olive (~US$73, depending on season).

Day 5: Jeffreys Bay to Port Elizabeth

Woke up to this view the next day. I want to say they are lavender plants, but they’re probably not since they didn’t smell anything like them.

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To be honest, we didn’t do very much at Jeffreys Bay besides lazing on the beach. Our day consisted of us going down to the several stores (Ripcurl, Billabong, the usual beach brand culprits) in the small town centre, beaching and having a lazy, late lunch. There is a strip of ‘factory outlet stores’ along Da Gama Street offering discounted beachwear — we went to the wrong place where Alan bought Quiksilver t-shirts but thankfully they were different season’s stuff.

After buying a rainbow towel — which was tiny and could not fit the both of us properly, resulting in sandy inner thighs (me) and sandy lower backs (Alan) — we went down to the Dolphin Beach to bake in the hot sun and read. Well, I read. Alan took a nap.

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20140107-DSC02059I even took a dip in the South Atlantic Ocean, but didn’t dare wade too far in. I’ve watched just enough tsunami movies to be paranoid, but not enough to be entirely knowledgeable.

20140107-IMG_8492Then we zoomed off to Port Elizabeth, but not the city centre. We stayed just 5 minutes away from the airport, from which we would fly out of and into Hoedspruit — where our safari adventures would await 🙂

Day 5 Essential Info | Jeffreys Bay to Port Elizabeth — 75km, 1 hour

You can get your beach shopping down at the stretch of one- to two-storey factory outlet stores along Da Gama Road.

There are several beaches to put your merchandise to good use, but the one we went to was Dolphin Beach. Many people came prepared, with umbrellas and huge towels. The sun rays this part of the world are crazy, so don’t forget your sunblock.

Finally, the guesthouse we stayed at in Port Elizabeth is Treetops Guesthouse (US$53). The room is big but cast in a slightly unsettling red glow. If you’re here just for the night, then it doesn’t really matter, and there are restaurants serving edible food round the corner.

Thus concludes our road trip! Over the 10 days or so that we had our white Ford Fiesta (we had her since Cape Town), we bonded with her as we traversed the open roads. Now that I can drive I am looking forward to many more road trips to come — the Great Ocean Road in Melbourne seems a likely choice. I fell asleep for most of it when I was a kid. Now it’s time to appreciate the sights and sounds that come only with the freedom of choosing your own road.

Catch up on the rest of our South African adventures!

Part 1: Cape Town
Part 2: Stellenbosch
Part 3: Robben Island & Kirstenbosch Gardens
Part 4: Cape Peninsula
Part 5: Table Mountain
Part 6: Garden Route (Part 1)
Part 7: Garden Route (Part 2)
Part 8: Safari in the Kruger
Part 9: Johannesburg

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