Out-of-the-Ordinary Adventures in the Eastern Cape
Wednesday, 4th September 2013
I had the privilege of touring a small part of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa this last week, courtesy of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. The journey, in aid of Tourism Month, took me and my 2 companions on an amazing trip crammed with interesting places, faces and spaces.
JP Theron (ECPTA) and Mamela Gowa (Daily Despatch) collected me in a snazzy grey Polo sponsored by VW SA. Running behind schedule we quickly made our way along the back roads towards Addo Elephant National Park. We got lost. Doubled back. And saw a small portion of Shamwari Private Game Reserve as we hurtled along dusty roads towards our destination – The Elephant Lodge.
We crunched into the parking lot, parked the car and rushed to dump our luggage in our rooms before jumping into a game viewing vehicle for a drive to see ellies at Addo. Under a dark cloudy sky spitting rain we drove around the Park huddled under thick green ponchos. We saw buck including eland and kudu, as well as zebra, warthog, lion, meerkats, and an array of birds. We had a quick picnic – beautifully presented by our driver, Aubrey.
It was only when we were leaving the Park that we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a small herd of elephants carefully and very quietly escorting their young from one side of the road to the other. We watched in awe as they disappeared into the thick bush without a sound. Magic.
Back at The Elephant Lodge, Clive and his team treated us to a delicious dinner of potato soup, chicken curry and pudding. Back in our rooms we all found Lindt d’or choccies on our pillows and a bedtime story printed out on yellow paper for our enjoyment. We all slept very soundly.
Next morning after breakfast we got back into our trusty Polo and made our way to Casa Mia Spa where we were each treated to a back and neck massage. This popular Spa is usually fully booked over the weekends and on “high days and holidays” so if you want to have an expert facial, mani and pedi or just have your worries massaged away, you need to book well in advance!
After our morning of pampering, we drove to Stormsriver Village and our pit stop for the night – the Tsitsikamma Village Inn where the rooms reflect various colonial building styles found in South Africa. Mine was Victorian – complete with stoep, “broekies lace”, and red gingham curtains.
We spent the afternoon learning how to ride Segways – machines with apparently a top speed of 20kms/hr and which look rather like skateboards but with fat tyres, and handlebars which you push to the left or right depending which way you want to turn. Lean forward to go fast, stand straight up to stop, lean back to slow down – tricky. Once we mastered the basics we spent an hour riding into the forest and back again under the expert guidance of Marshall, our tour guide.
The next morning was a brisk, cool and windy start. We were scheduled to do a canopy tour. I chickened out but JP and Mamela are made of sterner stuff and did the tour in the cold and rain. They came back raving about their experience so far off the ground. I was jealous.
Our next stop took us to St Francis – an amazing seaside jewel off the beaten track. Who knew you had to get there via Humansdorp. St Francis Bay, Port St Francis, Cape St Francis – gleaming white homes, mostly thatched, nestled in indigenous bush. And no litter anywhere. Did you know that this is the Calamari Capital of South Africa?
We were to go out to sea and do some skiet shooting, but the weather was against us. The good folk from Little Venice Tours – Karen and James Jooste – spent the day with us proudly showing us the sights of their world. The penguins and gannets being cleaned at Sanccob, the lighthouse, the fishing boats at the harbour, and the canals; the evening was spent at an authentic Greek tavern where we noshed lamb Kleftiko with gusto.
Our accommodation was a double storey straight out of Garden and Home magazine with its own pool and separate access to the beach – everything in shades of beige and cream with natural textures – sisal carpets and stressed wood – to die for!
The next day we met up with St Francis Tourism and the CEO of St Francis Links, Jeff Clause (or Santa for short). We were treated to a tour of this spectacular golf course – it is one of the top 10 courses in the country and the top course in the Eastern Cape. JP, Mamela and I each received our own golf cap with our name embroidered on it – so special! I resolved to learn to play golf when I got back to Grahamstown.
We had such a great time at St Francis Links that we were late in getting to our final destination and my favourite settler village in the heart of Frontier Country – Bathurst. We were met by Tanya Schenk and her sister, and taken on a cart ride pulled by a large grey horse called “Sir Winston of Bathurst”. They showed us around and entertained us with stories of the village.
We visited the Agricultural Museum. Did you know that this little museum, lovingly tended by local fellows and “Mr Fixits”, has one of the largest collections of working old-fashioned tractors and farm equipment in the country?
After two excellent pizzas from the local Italian eatery we rather sadly made our way back to Grahamstown where I was dropped off at home. My colleagues turned for East London and waved me good bye; promising to keep in touch; leaving me with a wealth of happy memories.
What wonderful travel opportunities await those who are looking for out-of-the-ordinary adventures in the Eastern Cape.