Monday, September 08, 2014

SA TRIP - Durban, the Drakensberg and Lesotho

So once arriving in Durban we ditched the huge roadtrip van and went our separate ways for a few days. Liz, Paul and Becca did some couchsurfing with an Indian family and I met up with my old digsmates for one of their birthdays and spent a few days reminiscing before joining them in the Drakensberg.
So in Uni I lived with the most awesome 7 people that I had met in Res/Hostel (Nemesia). One of their birthdays happened to fall over the time I was home and was going to be in Durban so we decided to have a little reunion and celebrate little Glovers birthday. Out of the 8 of us, 3 of us now live in Johannesburg, 2 in Cape Town, 2 in Durban and then me in Vietnam.
We managed to get 6 of us together in the same place for the birthday weekend which was a huge success!
I stayed with Emma and Glover for a few days since I arrived in Durban earlier and then we met up with Lool, Jess and Mia on the weekend who had flown in from JHB. We spent the first night catching up and talking a LOT of crap about not too much.. as we do.
The next day we went off to a local market which had some great food and craft beers, it was a really stunning day and just being back with the crew felt so great! That night we spent celebrating and talking about everything we'd all missed out on the past year or so, catching up with old friends like you have never left may be my favorite part of coming home. I know that no matter what, they will always be there and no matter how much time goes by our friendship will always be as hilarious, ridiculous and special as it was back in University.
Here are some pics of these crazy kids.

Back together again :)

The following day I took the BAZ BUS out to the Drakensberg. For those of you that don't know what the baz bus is, its a shuttle bus that picks up and drops off on a route from Cape Town to Durban to Johannesburg. It makes multiple stops along the way and all of the stops are at hostels so its a completely backpacker friendly bus and if you don't have a car its a great alternative, However it doesn't pick up everyday, sometimes every 2nd or 3rd day, so you have to have quite a flexible schedule,

In the Drakensberg we stayed at a hostel called Amphitheatre Backpackers. It was really beautiful and in a great location IF(and this is a very big if) you have your own car. If you don't have your own car you are left to take the tours they offer at the backpackers to see and explore the surrounding mountains, which at about R500($50) a trip is in my opinion ridiculously overpriced. Also, there are facilities you can use to make food and cook for yourself but there is no grocery store nearby and you have to pay for a shuttle to take you to one. This leaves you with the option of eating at the backpackers which would normally be fine except for that the dinner menu was a 3 course meal of which you only had a meat or vegetarian option and the chef was 5* which I am completely not complaining about, the food was delicious!! BUT as a backpackers it turned out to be a VERY expensive trip and as far as I am concerned should not really be advertised as a hostel but more of a self catering B&B.
The room prices were reasonable though and I stayed in a tent on an amazing open grass field which was fantastic and had panoramic views of the mountains.
Besides for the price, this place was really great and I would recommend it to anyone, they should just advertise it for what it is. For example we were told we could get everything we needed there but not told that we had to pay a R100 shuttle to and from the store because if we had known this we could have come prepared with the things we needed.
For more information on this backpackers click here.

Beautiful sunrise from my tent

The hostel had a great pool

The view from my tent :)

My little baby tent, he served me well.

I did end up paying for one tour, the tour into Lesotho because I thought the price for that was ok since we were technically entering another country and had to go through border control and they told us that part of the price goes to the school they built in Lesotho. Also, I have always wanted to see it so I thought I should suck it up and pay for it.
The landscape in Lesotho was beautiful, it was so untouched and unspoiled. It is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1000m elevation. Its lowest point (1400m) is the highest in the world. It was a lot colder in Lesotho as its so high up and you could really feel the difference in altitude when walking up the mountains. Our guide took us on a hike up one of the mountains to an old rock painting and gave us a short speech on the history of Lesotho which I found very interesting! Seeing as though South Africa completely surrounds this country you would think we would know a little more about it but the information he was giving us was completely new to me!
Before going there I had never known that it had the highest, lowest point in the world, nor that it was the poorest country in the world. Its very hard for the Sotho to obtain a passport to get out of the country and find work and that's why people are trying to get more schools and education into the country to give its people a fighting chance. Its a sad history and one I hope becomes brighter in the future. We were taken to the house of a local sangoma(healer) and he taught us a little about the work that he does with plants and herbs he can grow in Lesotho since its so hard to get Western medicine and a doctor visits the capital maybe once a month so he can't possibly see everyone that needs him. There is a lot of superstition in his work and many people see it a little like witchcraft but he does have results and can cure a lot of common ailments.
We also had the chance to sample some home brewed rice beer and it tastes a lot like something we had in Korea called Makkoli. I liked it but many of the other people on the trip did not. They also have a beer brewed and bottled in Lesotho which is fantastic but made on a small scale so its not exported. But I think that if they could brew it on a larger scale and export it they could make some serious money out of it.
The locals wear blankets around themselves as their traditional clothes and it seems to have come from when the British still had control over Lesotho and their tribe leader asked the queen for supplies to keep his people warm so she sent many blankets and since then its kind of stuck as their traditional clothes even though there are now jackets and other such things available. I envied them of their blankets because we all didn't realize how cold it would be up there and mostly all under-dressed!
We also visited a local school that the backpackers we stayed at helped to build and fund and had the chance to interact with the kids. They were so adorable and it opens your eyes to see how they make do with what they have and how they can still get an education without textbooks and hardly any desks or chairs. These children are SO eager to learn as they realize without an education they cannot get out of the situation they are in and here we are complaining about how our parents are forcing us to go to school everyday and how our bags are so heavy from all the textbooks and stationary we have been given. It really makes you realize how much you have and how great full you should be for it!

She was telling us she was 7 years old 


They were so excited to get their photo taken and then be able to see it right away on the screen of my camera.

After the Lesotho trip we had a day or two of relaxing and lounging around when we met an American guy who had been living in Botswana for the past few years. he was taking a day trip to Clarens and asked us if we wanted to join, so we all piled into his landrover type car for a day trip. Clarens is a really quaint little town with great views of the surrounding mountains and a fine selection of restaurants. We did some walking around followed by a beer tasting and dinner before heading back to the hostel.

Amazing views while driving
Again South Africa ceased to amaze me.
Next up is the final installment of our trip, watch this space. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

SA TRIP - From Cape Town to Durban

Our roadtrip took us from Cape Town to Durban. We hired a huge van through Thrifty car rental which divided by 5 of us turned out to be really well priced. They were a good company and we ended up using them again later in JHB so I would definitely recommend them.
This roadtrip exceeded all expectations I had for it, the accommodation, the scenery, the people and the food were all phenomenal. I hope this post will do it justice and give some of you the information you need to visit some of these awesome places.
I'll divide this post up into the places we stopped at along the way.

My cousins have a holiday house here so we stayed here for two nights to cut the drive so we weren't driving all day. I don't know of backpackers here but there are many in Mossel Bay which isn't very far away. Its a great place to make your first stop if you don't want to drive too much and the beaches are great. It's less touristy than other places and has some great restaurants in the area.

We didn't stay here but we drove through to do the cango caves and the cango wildlife ranch. I did the caves when I was much younger but don't remember much of it. It was a pretty awesome experience. Definitely not something you should do if you are at all claustrophobic as you squuze through the tinyest places imaginable and have to stoop low, crouch and crawl on your hands and knees at some points. If this sounds like fun to you then definitely do the adventure tour. You can call them and book it as it gets very busy and you don't want to go all the way there just to not be allowed in. If this sounds horrible to you, you can do the normal tour which just takes you into the main chamber of the caves and a few others so you can see what its all about while a guide explains to you how they found it and how it was made etc. The adventure tour is about R100($10).
Check out the tours here.

The devils chimney is one of the smallest parts you will go through

Next we went over to the cango wildlife ranch where we had lunch and then explored the ranch itself. I am not much of a zoo or animal sanctuary person and mostly went because the others wanted to go. Its a great ranch though in that you see many species of African animals and they seem pretty well looked after and happy, so if you are into this kind of thing I would recommend it. There are also close encounters you can do, like going into the cage and touching the white tiger cub or the cheetah etc. Its about R145($14.50) entrance and then depending on if you want to do a close encounter and which one you want to do it costs about R200-R300($20-30).
More information on the ranch here.


Apparently this is appropriate for a gift shop?! I did laugh out loud though!
Our next overnight stay was in the wilderness at a backpackers called fairy knowe. Check out some reviews here. It was a fantastic backpackers with very helpful staff, clean rooms and a pretty great restaurant that served three meals a day. They also had a really nice rustic wooden bar area where you could sit and chill. They offer many tours aswell and we did a kayaking tour with them the first day, out to a pretty waterfall before we came back and drove out to Victoria bay for a swim and a great view. The restaurants on the main road in the wilderness are also amazing so definitely take a drive down from the backpackers and sample some of the great food. Apparently they have the best cheesecake in the country, although that is debateable ;) 

Victoria bay
The bar area

They had some really cute staffies at the backpackers
Next we drove out to Knysna to see the Knysna heads and the Knysna Elephant sanctuary. Now I know I said earlier that I am not one for sanctuaries but this Elephant place was amazing! It cost R250($25) to get in and then you can buy a bucket of food for the Elephants for about R30 I think and then they show you around the place before taking you in a little safari van down to the Elephants. Here you get to feed the elephants by hand which feels a lot weirder than I ever expected! And their trunks are so strong its pretty impressive. Next you get to touch and walk next to the elephants while the guides explain about them and what their names are and where they came from. The guides all seemed very sweet and knowledgeable and they all seemed to have a good relationship with the elephants.

It was great to see these beautiful creatures up close!
For some more information on this great experience click here.

The bucket of elephant food

Next we stayed at a backpackers called African Array. It is one of the nicest backpackers I have ever stayed at. The view from the balcony that they had was incredible and it was only R120($12) a night. We met the owners while we were there who were a really friendly couple that had adopted two kids from the local township that were the cutest, smrtest, most witty kids I had met in a long time. There was alos a tour group of Aerican guys there when we were there so we had a great night making friends and chatting about our travels in SA. We also were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunset while we were braaing that evening.
You definitely want to stay here!!

Liz and her dog friend
This was one of the kids they had adopted, he was pulling faces. so cute!

Becca making friends with one of the dogs on the property.
Our huge roadtrip van
The view from the balcony
The lounge
We didn't do all that much in Plett besides see the beach and go to the bird and monkey sanctuaries. You can get a ticket for both for about R250($25). They are both pretty impressive as they are both completely open air with no individual cages so the animals are free to roam and jump wherever they please. You can walk freely throughout the bird one but you need a guide for the monkey one as monkeys are pretty naughty so you need to have someone around that knows what they are doing in case one decides to attack or steal something from you. Its also nice because the guides are all volunteers so you can see they really love the animals and have some great information to share. 

This is the bird sanctuary, It had a lot of open space and plenty of greenery

Becca trying not to run while the monkeys stare her down ;)
Here we stayed in a backpackers called wild spirit. We camped as they were fully booked bed wise but it was still a great backpackers. They were very eco friendly so all the toilets and showers were eco friendly too which was great to see out in the forest. The staff seemed very helpful and there are some trails you can walk along near the backpackers and a waterfall you can hike down to which is really pretty. Overall though I would say this place was just a tad too hippy for me. The night we arrived was full moon and they had a drum circle and chanting going on. I would normally find this pretty entertaining except that they didn't once try and include us and tell us about what they were doing which didn't make the atmosphere very friendly or welcoming. But it had some great views and activities around so I would still recommend it. 

There was a big old tree you could walk to and hug. Hippies.
In the crags we decided to go canyoning with a company called AFRICANYON. It was an awesome experience, you got to jump off cliffs, abseil down waterfalls and zipline through the canyons. Our guides were very helpful and hilarious. The whole thing about 4hours costs about R450($45).

The next morning we decided to take a hike down to the waterfall near the backpackers. 


We had initially decided to stop off at the bungee point just to take photos but as soon as we arrived Liz, Becca and Kendyl decided they HAD to jump off the highest bungee bridge in the world. If I wasn't such an unbelievable scardy cat and ridiculously afraid of heights I would have done it too. But just watching people jump off the bridge made me nervous and sweaty! it looks like an amazing experience, just one I'm ok with missing out on. 

Here is what Kendyl had to say about it:
The Bloukrans bridge bungee with Face Adrenaline is a must-do! It's the worlds highest bungee bridge and at R800($80) its about a third of the price of a jump back in new Zealand. The incredible staff made it a fantastic atmosphere, its like a dance party up there! There are also good viewpoints for watching jumpers as well as video screens in the cafe or for R100 you can do the bridge walk and accompany the jumpers up onto the bridge (you can pay the R700 difference after if you turn from spectator to jumper whilst up there). And if, like my friend you decide once isn't enough you can jump again for half price. The photos and DVD are almost the same price as the jump but worth it. The company is part-owned by a kiwi, and they employ and support the local community. It was something I never thought I would do but if I was back in South Africa I would be verrry tempted to do it again. Only backwards this time! :)
You can visit Face adrenalin bungee for more information.

The best words I can think of to describe Hogsback would be quaint and magical. The hostel we stayed at, Terra Kaya was completely eco friendly running on solar without any plumbing just a donkey system for warm water and bio degradable type toilets. It's perched on the edge of a hill with an amazing view and the owner, Shane is very friendly and a great host. Him and his staff make the meals at the hostel and they are hearty, truly South African meals that any foreigner would love! Be warned, the drive up to the hostel is rough and better taken as slow as possible. In the afternoons that we were there this thick mist rolled into the mountains giving it even more of a magical feel. We went down into the town to check out a labyrinth and crystal store. Apparently you are supposed to clear your mind and walk through the labyrinth to the end and back without cutting corners to clear yourself of negative energy. Whether you believe in it or not it's still a beautiful place and a fantastic little afternoon outing. 
Shane also offers horseback rides through the mountain when the weather is good and you can go on some lovely hikes as well. 

Check out this Terra Khaya link for more information on this amazing hostel. 
To see the labyrinth, the crystal shop and a great little restaurant visit the Edge in Hogsback, here is some more information.

This seems funny but seriously, watch out for the cows! they appear out of nowhere!

Our awesome little rondawel

What a great way to be eco friendly!
Take a bath right outside in the open air with panoramic views of the surrounding mounatins
The labyrinth

Some of the best berry french toast I have ever had!
This is a great little beach getaway town. The beach is phenomenal and if you stay at Buccaneers hostel like we did you don't even need to leave the site. You can camp there, stay in luxury safari tents, dorms or private rooms. They have a swimming pool, volleyball net, bar, restaurant (with an incredible view), and access to the beach. 
The prices here were a little more than others but you could get an amazing breakfast with a fantastic view out of the breakfast room and the accommodation is clean and some parts of it also have really good views of the beach. 
Chintsa also has a great volunteer program just across the river that I think Buccaneers helps out with and we met many volunteers from the program who taught local kids in the townships and they all loved it. If you are looking into volunteering this would be an incredible place to do it. The locals are extremely friendly and eager to learn!
Click here for prices and more information.

Fun bar activities
Awesome view from the breakfast room

You can join in on the nightly volleyball games

There was a pretty great pizza place not far from Buccaneers that had the most adorable staffy ever! It was called the barefoot cafe, it has quite a large menu but I can definitely recommend the pizzas! You can also get half a pizza one flavour and half another so you can get the best of both worlds! 

This was by far one of my favorite places and I really hope to be going back soon! The landscape is so different from all the other places we'd visited along the way and the hostel we stayed at, the coffee shack was located right on the beach which was very convenient for us! They had a great bar and restaurant and the hostel organized some great tours. We did a dinner tour to a local village and had a traditional meal made by the locals of that village and they played local music for us and gave us some samples of their home made transkei beer, the kids of the community came to join and dance along with us, they were adorable! We also did a hiking trip to the hole in the wall which was fantastic. It was a really windy day so walking along the edge of the hills with a sheer drop to the ocean was a tad scary but once we got to the hole in the wall it was all worth it. The drive back was also very picturesque. There are a few things you can do in the area like drum circles and yoga. We did a yoga class on top of a hill nearby where two rainbows formed above us when it started to drizzle, it was a pretty incredible moment.
Click here for more information on the coffee shack.

The cute local kids

The hill atop where we did our yoga class
The hole in the wall
Along our hike to the hole in the wall
Here we stayed at a Backpackers called Amapondo. By far the most interesting aspect of this hostel was their pet donkey, who, after eating so many ciggarette butts had a nicotine addiction! This donkey would literally eat ANYTHING it could get its teeth near, it was hilarious! It was very quiet when we were there but I can imagine it would have a great vibe when more people are around. The tours they offered were more expensive than others we had done and a little shorter so I think they could have charged less but they were interesting tours. We did a hike to a waterfall nearby where you could jump off a cliff into the VERY cold water and a tour to a mud cave where you covered yourself from head to toe in mud and then washed it off in the sulphur pools nearby. Your skin feels great after :) 
The beaches here are pretty and great for an afternoon stroll but due to a ridiculous amount of sharks, swimming is not advised!
Becca and I decided to get a hair wrap which was done by an Israeli girl who was living just behind the hostel with her South African boyfriend. They were a fantastic couple and did a really great job! You could choose the colors you wanted and the precious stones they put in it. They also went out of their way to explain what each stone meant and where it was from. They also made some beautiful jewelry.
Click here for more information about Amapondo.

The donkey and Ceaser the guard dog

Fun in the mud!

Jumping into the freezing water
Getting our hair wraps :)
Our final stop on the roadtrip where we turned in our great big van was Durban, watch this space for the blogpost on that visit at a later stage.