SEP 20,2012 - OCT 05,2012 (16 DAYS)
Some say the Garden Route starts from Port Elizabeth, some claim otherwise. We started in Durban, where we parted with the the car that had escorted us for two weeks in South Africa.
After some arrangements like in any big city, we left Durban.
We ordered tickets to Umkomaas trough Baz Bus (http://www.bazbus.com). Couple of words on this service:
Baz Bus is a company that supplies transportation services to and from different destinations throughout the Garden Route. In the past, there were other routes but they were shut down due to lack of usage. To use this service, you can order a ticket through one of the registered hostels listed by the company. Then the bus (or more likely, mini-bus) comes to pick you up from that hostel. The Baz Bus has a weekly schedule - you won't be able to find a bus to your destination every day and every hour. It has a fixed schedule on specific days, and several types of tickets.
So the Baz Bus picked us up at 6:45 from The Hippo Hide Lodge and we drove along with several backpackers to Warner Beach, a small town near Umkomaas. The drive to Umkomaas was extremely short, we couldn't believe we paid 115 Rand!
Umkomaas is well known for it's excellent diving site. This is why we drove there in the first place (besides that it's a real dump). We left the lodge toward Umkomaas in search of the diving club.
There were few options for how to get there: the lodge's shuttle, a taxi or a train. We chose the train which cost 12 rand for a single direction. On the train we met a lady who asked us why we were on the train. She told us the train is very dangerous, and even she as a black woman (sadly South Africa is still divided this way) is afraid boarding the train.
She showed us several diving clubs and we chose the one that suited us. The front office lady's name was Pam. We scheduled a dive for the following day with the hope that the weather would improve by then. Pam also told us that after the dive, someone could take us to Port Shepston and from there to Port Elizabeth.
We took the train back to the lodge, and there we sat for hours planning our journey through the Garden Route.
It took us hours to understand how the heck we were going to get to Port Elizabeth using cheap transportation-we didn't have the money for bazbus and didn't want to get stuck there.
We remembered that Pam told us that from Port Shepston there's a bus to Port Elizabeth... So we found a ticket company called Compu Ticket (http://online.computicket.com) which sells tickets from almost anywhere to everywhere in South Africa, we decided to buy the ticket from Port Shepston to Port Elizabeth, and we were happy with our purchase.
The next morning the diving club shuttle came to pick us up (100 rand) with all our equipment. Weather wasn't ideal but we went for the dive anyways.
We went for the dive, weather underwater was also poor. Visibility wasn't good, and everyone threw up. To sum it up - not my best dive.
We tried buying tickets from P.S. to P.E. prior to the dive. However we had troubles with Compu Ticket site so we postponed it to after the dive. We thought to ourselves, how many people are driving from P.S. to P.E...
So when finished the dive and were ready to go with this guy, we went buying tickets from their office (which somehow always located inside SPAR supermarket chain). But of course, when we got there, they run out of tickets and the only options is buying ticket for the day after...
With no choice we paid this guy 300 rand so he can drop us and Durban where we spent another night at Hippo Hide. However, it was joy to notice we still kept our word and not take the Baz Bus, and with all the detour and the extra night it still got us cheaper than a Baz Bus ticket: from Durban to P.E. with City to City company it cost us 350 rand, while the Baz Bus ticket cost 1200 rand.
The bus leaves at 17:45 so we have time to waste on Durban, and we didn't set the alarm clock (always a pleasure). When we woke up we went to a very good and cheap internet cafe at Florida st. where closed some gaps...
After that we went to an Indian restaurant at the same street where we ate some local Indian dish called Bunny Chow - half loaf of bread filled with lip-searing spicy potato with curry.
We arrived back at the Hippo and got a taxi (70 rand) to the central bus station. The ETA to Port Elizabeth was 16:45 (the day after). Luckily, the bus also stopped in Storm River, our second planned stop on the Garden Route, so we left it there.
The bus was in much better condition than I expected, and the drive (17 hours) was also less horrible than we expected; we managed to sleep most of the way.
We got to Stormsrivier and the bus stopped at a gas station near the center of town. We got out of the bus and in front of us we saw a tourist information booth, where they ordered as the shuttle to our hostel. The shuttle arrived really quickly and was very cheap (20 rand) and took us to Tube n exe (http://tubenaxe.co.za/) where there's also a camping ground.
The next morning we decided to take a trek which was relatively close to where we slept. Apparently, Tsitsikamma has a part which is defined as a national park and a part which isn't. We asked at the reception about this trek, and they gave us an explanation. The trek was really nice - we walked in the forest for several hours. On the way back we wanted to see the famous Big Tree. When we got to main road we hitchhiked a ride, and luckily it was the park's car who gave us a ride to the tree.
The Big Tree - we paid 12 rand to see enormous beautiful tree, 36 meters in height, and more than 900 years old!
After we were impressed by the tree, we walked back by foot to the town.
In the hostel we met many people (mainly who traveled with a car), and we planned with one of them to go to the the national park together. We took the drive to the park entrance from the lodge (50 rand for a car), and the drive was really short.
We left our big bags at the entrance and walked down to the information booth where they explained to us about what the park had to offer. We chose a trail that included the first day of the Otter Trail (a hiking trail so popular you need to book a years in advance! It's 5 days long; we tried to see if there was any vacancy, but there was no success). The trek was beautiful and most of it along the shore line. It ended with a large waterfall where the trail ended.
We walked back to the park entrance and tried to hitchhike to Nacher Valli which was supposed to be a perfect place with a really good mood, yoga lessons, sunset sails, and many other good things.
When we finally got the ride, we found out the way to Nacher Valli was blocked. Since our ride (a really cute old couple) continued to Knesya - our next destination - we chose to go along with them.
In Knysna we couldn't find any places for camping, so lodging was our best option. We arrived to Island Viba, http://www.islandvibe.co.za/ (120 rand for dormitory). This place is really nice.
The next day we wandered around Knysna and talked with many other travelers in the hostel, and they gave us plenty of information. We planned with one of the travelers to go visit the elephant and wolf park. We discovered there weren't many things to do in Knysna.
The day after we took a minibus to the Elephant Park which was very close to Knysna. The park fee cost us 220 rand. We saw many elephants and we even had a chance to feed them, touch them and be right beside them!
The we visited Noah's Park Wolf Sanctuary (N2, Harkerville, Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route) , entrance fee was 150 rand. The tour was really interesting and informative. We got really close to the wolves and were even able to caress some of them. This was an extraordinary experience and it intensified when we saw and heard the entire pack howl! Besides wolves there are plenty of other farm animals like pony horses, ostriches, and wild dogs!
The following morning the owner gave us a ride to the gas station from where we took the Baz Bus to Wilderness. We stayed at Fairy Know Backpacker (http://www.wildernessbackpackers.com/backpacker_facilities.html) which also turned out be a really nice and spacious place. They also had a big map with all the attractions in the area, and a place to rent bikes for tours in the area or as a way for getting to the town center.
The next day we rented a canoe boat from the hostel and we went to the Kingfisher trail. The owner dropped us right at the beginning of the trail. Through most of the trail you sail through the water until you reach a certain point from where you need to walk to the waterfall (which was nice, but nothing too extraordinary). The trail is really charming and the weather was pleasant.
The way back was harder cause we sailed upwind.
When we arrived to the hostel, the owner took us to the 'Map of Africa' viewpoint (he does this every day at 16:00 for the people staying in the lodge). In the viewpoint you can see the new forest in the shape of Africa, and on the other side you can see the beach from Knysna to Wilderness, and the beautiful blue ocean water.
The next morning we tried buying ticket to Mossal Bay using Compu Ticket, but no success. Desperately, we chose the Baz Bus option again. The Baz Bus was scheduled for 14:00.
Meanwhile the owner took us for a trip near Wilderness and this is where we saw our first whale. We did some walking on the old railways, which was really nice. We also met a young man named Clifford, who built an impressive house within a cave, and we had a really interesting conversation with him.
We caught the Baz Bus and drove to Mossal Bay. It stopped us at Santon Express Train Lodge (http://www.santosexpress.co.za/). Again we couldn't find a camping ground, but it was really cool sleeping inside a train.
We went wandering around the city cause we heard there's plenty to see and we found out there was not... We found a nice flee market which was nice.
The day after we went looking for a place to camp. We found out that often or most of the time we should look for caravan parks and not hostels with a camping ground....
We went back to the Train lodge, packed our things and in five minutes we were were at the Shell Musem which is part of the Dias Museum complex. The museum was really nice and included not only shells but also exhibitions about history, live animals, etc.
From the museum, we continued to a tourist information center, we took a map of the city and found a caravan park (70 rand per night). We got up and settled. The park was right on the beach, which was really nice, but when we came to enter the water we found out it was a bit gross, so we just sat on the beach.
We tried finding a way to get to the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Mossal Bay but we couldn't find any transportation arriving there, so we decided to hitchhike in the morning.
The next day when we finished folding the tent, a nice old elder approached us and asked us when we're going and weather we needed a ride. We were very happy!
So he dropped us right at Jukani. We paid 95 rand entrance fee and directly from the gate we saw a white lion. The park tour was really interesting. We sat plenty of wildlife: lions, white lions, cheetas, tigers, tigrises, white tigreses, jaguars, wild dogs, hyenas, black panthers and foxes. There was also a room filled with South Africa's snakes.
From the park we went to the nearest intersection and tried to hitchhike to Hermanus. We found a guy driving to Albertina and from there another guy driving to Hermanus, where we hoped to see whales and the white shark. The driver promised us that Gansbaai is very similar to Hermanus but with less tourists around the whales, and other promises which eventually turned to be false.
We did a tour in the town and found the tourist information, and the super market and we gathered all the information. Everything was super expensive and we couldn't afford the whale and white sharks trips. So we decided to go hiking along the beach and watch the whales from afar. The hike was really nice and pretty, and we saw many whales on the way, and even small ones.
We got back to the trailer park, packed the tent and went to the city entrance to hitchhike to Hermanus, and from there to Cape Town. Not after long time, a guy who was driving to Cape Town stopped us and told us he needed to do a one hour stop at Hermanus. Perfect!
Eventually our driver dropped us at Ashanti Lodge & Travel Center (70 rands per night) which is in the Garden area, and turned out to be very close to a lot of stuff we wanted to see.
Cape Town was our last stop before the real Africa so we had many arrangements to do and things to see. We wandered around in the city, and saw the Table Mountain which looked amazing from below!
We went to the post office which was really close, to the traveling equipment store in a mall that was close by, and the Mozambique embassy which is located in the town center right beside the old castle and the the local market. We also went to the clinic which was also really close to the hostel.
The day after we went to the table mountain which was really close, so we went by foot to the park entrance. There we hitchhiked with a cute family to the cable railway. Turns out it was a national holiday and the place was crowded.
The observation was amazing. We saw all of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope and the merging of the two oceans. Our only disappointment from this place was that it was a lot more touristy than we thought, but anyway, it was amazing!