After spending a glorious week in Capetown, we rented a car and headed along the famous Garden Route of South Africa. It is a stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa which extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The distance is under 300km, yet the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activities is remarkable. This journey would also get us one step closer to safari-ing in and around Kruger National Park, home of the Big Five but more on that later!
Stephen quickly adjusted to driving on the left hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the right hand side of the car, and off we went. Toonces, look out!
First, we had to take a slight detour and stop at a winery along the way in the town of Robertson. Robertson is in the Western Cape Province of South Africa known as the valley of wine and roses. That alone sounded like it was worth a stop. Wineries abound in South Africa so it was hard to choose. But we settled on Van Loveren family winery because they had a tasting menu for kids too. While we wine tasted, the kids got to also sample ‘wine’ for kids – aka grape juice. Everyone was happy.
Our first night we nestled into a cozy little cottage in the town of Swellendam for nearly 40$ night. Had a lovely bite at a restaurant so perfectly named ‘De Vagabond’. Swellendam certainly felt more like Europe than how one would picture the countryside of Africa. Swellendam is the 3rd oldest town in the Republic of South Africa, a small town that has over 50 provincial heritage sites but most of the buildings are of Cape Dutch architecture.
The next morning we left the charming little town of Swellendam and headed towards Oudtshoorn which apparently we found out is ostrich farm country. It indeed was and we even had the pleasure of staying at a working ostrich farm…which as a half vegetarian family was indeed quite an experience. All. Ostrich. All. The. Time. Oudtshoorn has the reigning title of ‘Ostrich Capital of the World’. We stayed at the Mooiplaas Guesthouse and we were greeted with a very warm welcome.
Once we got our ostrich fix we headed down towards the coast. Plettenburg Bay was next and we found it to be very similar to Malibu. We were here in May which is the beginning of their winter so prices are right, weather on the cooler side. We scored a Malibu-esque lodge for the night, and lived it up a little. The locals call it ‘Pletts Bay’ and it’s home to some of the best whale watching in the world. We didn’t go whale watching this time because we could spot whales and dolphins right off this very porch.
From Pletts Bay, we headed north and stopped in Nature’s Valley. Nature’s Valley lies between the Salt River, the foothills of Tsitsikamma Mountains, the Indian Ocean and the Groot River lagoon. Nature’s Valley has a balmy climate and is surrounded by the de Vasselot Nature Reserve which is part of the Tsisikamma Park and in turn part of the Garden Route National Park. We could have spent weeks exploring this stunning area. But we chose to hit some of the highlights.
We drove onwards and crossed over the Bloukrans Bridge. It is the site of the world’s highest commercial bungee jumping. We were, umm, a little tired to bungee jump today so instead we thought we’d try a more mellow bridge to jump on.
As if it couldn’t get any better, we capped it off with a fine meal overlooking the Ocean. Tsitsikamma National Park took our breath away.
We knew we had to see the infamous Jeffery’s Bay, home to one of the best surf breaks (and notoriously sharky) in the world. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to surf this time around but at least, we could say we SAW it.
After we came to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t surf in South Africa, we sought solace in the beauty that surrounded us. (and that we didn’t get attacked by a Great White). After another night in a B & B, we were on the road again for one more night until SAFARI!! Ending our Garden Route tour in Port Elizabeth, we stayed at another magnificent Airbnb close to Port Elizabeth. This is where we discovered the South African braai. The word braai in Afrikaans is for barbecue or grill and is a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. In this case, we skipped the ostrich and used it souly as fireplace with a nice bottle of South African vino. A perfect cap to our Garden Route tour. From here on out, it was all about S-A-F-A-R-I!
This whirlwind of a tour taught us that traveling with 3 small kids and staying at new places every other night wasn’t exactly ideal. We certainly weren’t on a slow travel path here but we covered alot of ground in a short amount of time and we were glad we did!
After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. – Nelson Mandela
Somehow we made the decision to travel from David, Panama to Capetown, South Africa. It strangely was cheaper and more ‘cost effective’ according to our travel agency to not go through Brazil (which would make the most logical sense) but to fly from David, Panama to Panama City, Panama to Miami, Florida to Doha, Qatar to Capetown, South Africa…so that is what we did…If we could get through this travel day, we could get through ANY travel day.
Did I mention that on our travel day from h@!l, Mattie AND Stephen were sick pretty much the whole time with a stomach bug perhaps caught in Panama!!! Fever, vomiting, Montezuma’s Revenge, everyone’s worst nightmare…that happened. If it wasn’t for the giant Teddy Bear in the middle of the Doha airport AND the Airport Hotel where we could sleep for a 9 hour layover, not sure we would have gotten through it before flying to Capetown, Africa.
After our time in Costa Rica, we crossed the border by foot to Panama. The border crossing we had heard could go either way and for us, luckily, it was a cinch. Though getting to our next destination, Bocas del Toro, was not! After crossing the border, we hailed a cab and set out for a 4 hour journey to the northern tip of the country. Think long windy roads and going very slowly b/c our cab driver liked to take his tiempo!! But Panama is a beautiful country and some of us (those that weren’t car sick) enjoyed the scenery. Rolling hills, mountains, lush and green, Panama was truly inviting.
Bocas del Toro is known for its Caribe vibes, crystal clear waters and surf situated on the archipelegos of the Caribbean; it seemed like a place right up our alley and worth checking out. Plus we were going to meet my brother, Uncle Taylor and Aunt Alison for a couple weeks as we had rented a house right on the water with them.