New Years in South Africa
January 2007. With Zoe's school bag full of homework to be completed (for those missed school days) we set off to visit Jean's family in South Africa for a month and enjoy the summer weather. In past trips we had spent time in Pretoria and the northern Transval / Gauteng (new name), Kruger (now Limpopo) and Namibia. However, being as it is summer in South Africa everyone heads for the coast and the beaches. From up the West Coast of South Africa on the Atlantic, through Capetown and the many bays and beaches along the coast to East London and Durban on the Indian Ocean everyone is on holiday and the tourists from Europe are beginning to descend.
Our journey was to begin in East London where Jean’s mom lives to visit with her, Jean’s sister, brother-in-law and nephew Heinrich (Heiny) who is six months older than Zoe-Pascale. The second two weeks we were to drive the garden route visit another brother's family and head up to Capetown and back with many stops on the way.
The Wild Coast
East London is situated on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape, just east of the well known garden route. The Wild Coast is one of South Africa’s undiscovered Jewels where the natural rugged beauty of the landscape has been left to nature.
The N2 (main) road along the coast lays 5-10 km inland with off roads directing you to each bay, beach, and hamlet of summer cottages and campgrounds. As a result there is no long stretch of beach apartments and resorts but endless natural coastline. The wide open countryside reminds us of the northern California coast with rolling hills topped with rugged brush interspersed with low lying grasses constantly blowing in the wind. The ocean however being the Indian ocean is warm and delightful to swim in. The winter rains come summer have kept the area a vibrant green. Along the Indian ocean are endless white beaches with rocky outcroppings for fishing, bays for swimming, rivers for frolicking, and wild surf with dolphins and whales. Into each bay flows a river from the inland area; the Gonubie River, the Dwa Dwa River, the Kwelerha , the Cholorha, the Chintsa river, the Cheane , Kwenxura and Nyarha, Haga Haga rivers a few km apart from each other have become an waterfront property for new summer cottages and canoe and fishing enthusiasts. Every day the rivers ebb and flow ocean tides creating lagoons to swim in, depth to canoe in and mud flats to walk in when the tide is low.
The Strandloper Trail
One day we took a 15Km walk along the beach between Chintsa and Glengariff. This is a small part of the 60 Km self-guided Strandloper trail, a five day, four night backpacking trip in which you follow in the footsteps of the Strandlopers , the ancient Khoisan people or better known as the little white bird with a black beak who walks on the sand combing for food. The long white beaches, beautiful bays and vast assortment of seashells were just the thing we needed when two seven year olds are tagging along.
To our disappointment, Global warming has hit South Africa as well and the wind and rain continued into the beginning of their summer (not normal they say), but we managed to find some good days to swim, explore the beaches and check out some of the animals in the nearby game parks. I
Jean, Zoe, her cousin Heinrich, and I ventured out on quad bikes to see the animals at the Areena Riverside Resort where Zoe’s one time nanny, Sheila worked. Once we learned how to drive the big horses we roamed the hills looking like grand bikers ready to conquer the land. The zebras, antelopes, wart hogs, ostrich and giraffe were not afraid of us. They knew they were protected and seemed to enjoy our funny display wondering if we were some square animal with two big heads. Taking a leisurely ride on the river boat down to the beach was soothing to the soul and a time to just sit and watch nature
On our return from Capetown we ventured to Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve not far from his mom’s house. A 4000 hectare game farm with a separate enclosure for the lions. Sitting high in the jeep with the kids we loved bouncing along and searching for the animals hidden in the bush. A surprise wart hog and her babies scramble across the road, three giraffes just sit and watch us from afar and the rhinoceros grazes leisurely as we keep our distance but want to go closer. Stopping at the lion enclosure the guide who had made friends with the lions whistled for them to come closer. Snuggling up against the electric fence they stared at the children with interest. The guide told us no matter what it was important to be bigger than they are and their interest in the children was just that, they were smaller. If ever confronting a lion, stare them in the eye, grow as tall as you can and never run. Something to remember when confronting your next lion.
I think for Zoé the highlight of visiting her grandma, aunt, uncle and cousin was unequivocably playing with Heinrich. He is 6 months older than Zoé, and of similar temperament. For hours they would play in the garden, in the house, on the beach, make up stories, dress up in costumes, find Ouma’s magic fairies in the garden and watch some cartoons. When they got tired of each other, she would just say, “I need some time alone,” and head off for a quiet space to read or watch a cartoon by herself. Thirty minutes later they were playing like two peas in a pod once again.
Heinrich a lover of nature and animals like his father, taught Zoé about crabs and sea animals, how to catch a little fish, how to avoid a snake, training a hamster, and finding fairies in Ouma’s garden.
The hamlet of houses where Jean’s mom lives is called GlenGariff where she used to own the hotel before it was sold and torn down for condominiums. It is now a combination retirement/ summer cottages for many South Africans. Jean’s sister and family recently moved down to Glengariff from Pretoria and now live in the bottom half of Ouma’s two story bungalow facing the ocean. The deck is perfect for just hanging out on and enjoying the sound of the waves, the chatter of conversation and of course the great meals they constantly were preparing for us. Situated in Glengariff was a new bed and breakfast which we reserved (as I’m allergic to the cats at Ouma’s house). A newly decorated room with open showers and stone floors and walls. Perfect for sleeping and a 2 minute walk to his mom’s and the beach. Patronizing different bed and breakfast’s around the world it is always interesting to see the cultures present. Forgetting South Africa was so very British in many ways, Jean and I would wait and wait for our coffee in the morning until finally we asked. “Could we please have our coffee first thing.” “Oh but that is what your tea kettle and Nescafe is for in your room. Don’t you make yourself a cup to sip in bed before you arise?” The wonderful caretaker asked us? Of course, Jean said the English always have a cup of tea in the morning in their bed, I forgot. I’ve become so used to the American way of expecting full cups of coffee served upon entering the restaurant or breakfast room.” And so we shifted.. Each morning my dear Jean would make us a cup of coffee in the room and Zoé a cup of tea which we would leisurely sip in bed watching the morning news.
Admiring the unspoilt coastline, long white sands, rugged coast, pristine forests, wild birds, and rolling waves the Wild Coast is one last natural coastline not succumbed to large hotel chains with big boardwalks, tourist shops and crowds. But instead you have long sprawling beaches and lazy rivers dotted with hamlets of old summer cottages (and some new) campgrounds, bed and breakfasts and relaxed accommodations. The beaches are about enjoying the beach and nature not about stores, shopping and crowds. Beyond the beaches are the rolling hills dotted with wild animals, small animal farms, and larger game farms, vegetable farms and natural reserves. The place is perfect for family and adventurers who love the outdoors and want to swim, canoe, fish (big ocean or river), walk, hike, safari, and more without the big crowds of so many sea resorts. It is not what I would call a fancy or tropical place where you luxuriate on a chaise lounge and someone brings you a pina colada (at least we didn’t stay at those places) but natural and beautiful and uncrowded.
There are tons of places to stay from caravan and camping to cottages, B&Bs, Self-Catering Guest Houses, Luxury tented camps and back packing. Prices have moved up to match the overseas tourist market and what once was a real bargain is now in par with the US and Europe.