Durban to Cape Town Road Trip

Nov 14th, 2019, 07:46 AM
  #21  
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Tripplanner - you are very welcome. Just repaying you for putting antartica on my agenda (although having looked at the cost I am not sure I should be thanking you )

JW you are probably correct re the helmet thing. The Rugby World has tightened up the rules for head contact. Now high tackles are punished rigourously, with a number of sendings off in this tournament, two of the worst examples being a guy from the USA and the really horrendous elbow to and English player’s head from a French guy. I played in a match many years ago where a player broke his neck!

There is an ongoing study in the U.K. re football ( Soccer ) players repeatedly heading the ball and the possible correlation with dementia in later life. Not sure what the exacts stats were but I think there was found to be a high incidence in comparison with the general population.
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Nov 14th, 2019, 07:55 AM
  #22  
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Central Drakensberg

Continuing our circumnavigation of Lesotho we arrive in the Champagne Valley in the Central Drakensberg. We take the longer main highway route rather than the dirt tracks closer to te mountains as we have been told that it would take way too long in our 2WD car (maybe we should have bitten the bullet and paid double for a 4WD? We are still incredibly moved by the stunning beauty of this region but only have one night here, mainly to break up the drive to the northern Drakensberg. I had booked a chalet at Emafweni a place run but a couple of retired doctors, one of botany, the other of geology. What an interesting couple! The view from their terrace of the mountains blew us away! Shame I neglected to take a photo as later the clouds would roll in and it would be gone for the rest of our stay?

We sat and chatted to them for ages about all sorts. One of those chance encounters with really interesting people that make our trips.

Our very large bungalow over looking a small lake is perfect and very inexpensive. So glad we chose this place rather than our other option, the famous Champagne Castle hotel, half a mile up the road. Emafweni idyllically situated right at the end of The Valley, surrounded by the mighty Drakensbergs. It doesn’t get any better than this except....

Late afternoon, the clouds roll in. Early evening, the thunder and lightning start. I have rarely encountered such a violent electrical storm or such torrential rain. We would soon learn that this is commonplace in the Drakensberg!

Only here for the one night which is a shame as the brief views of the mountains were incredible and sadly that is all we would get. The thunder and lightning continued throughout the night and the power was lost for much of the night. In the morning the rain had eased but mountains were still shrouded in cloud so our hope of an early morning hike up into the mountains were abandon in favour of an earlier departure to Thendele National Park in the northern Drakensberg
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Nov 14th, 2019, 10:50 AM
  #23  
 
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I know what you mean about costs for Antarctica. It's one of those special places. From what I understand, if you have time, there are volunteer scientific research opportunities that may bring down the cost, although this would involve a longer time commitment.

Back to the topic at hand, though, I continue to be piqued by the Drakensbergs.
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Nov 14th, 2019, 11:54 AM
  #24  
 
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I've too have heard about some study about head contact with soccer balls and brain injury.
In the old days of pro football here they would call a concussion getting your bell rung and the goal was to get the player back to the field asap.
Apparently they had no back up generator.
Our financial planner who is pretty well-off (was at one point #1 with Prudential in her division) went to Antarctica. She said it cost 17k pp. Too much for me.
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Nov 19th, 2019, 09:57 AM
  #25  
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Thendele National Park

Onwards and upwards along the eastern border of Lesotho we head until we reach Royal Natal National Park and Thendele Camp, our home for the next three nights. This park is not so much about animals, but more about the scenery, which is stunning!

Once again we check in and are met with not the greatest of welcomes - "no you can’t have your key", why? "Its the rule" OK, what time? "2 pm " .
I return to pick up our key at 2pm on the dot. She can’t find the key. A phone call to the cleaner and apparently she has it. 15 min later, a Dutch couple return , unable to get into their lodge as they have our key! It is coming back to me now why volunteering in Sierra Leone was such a pain..

It is worth the wait however, the lodge is spectacularly situated overlooking a natural amphitheatre of towering re cliffs on three sides. Amazing views spoilt only by the fact that we have clouds, rain and electric storms for much of our three night stay.

All is not lost as the clouds do clear occasionally to allow us, all too brief views of the incredible scenery. Such is the nature of mountains - a trade off between scenery and weather.

There are many walks directly from the camp around the park. No lions, buffalo or rhino, so quite safe. The park HQ hand out line drawn maps of the trails. Totally inadequate, but we use them anyway for a hike to Tiger Eye falls - an 8 km (5 mile) hike over three hours across the mountains behind our lodge. A nagging injury is preventing me from doing much longer walks, so this one seems about perfect. Cut a long story short, the hike turned into a much longer tramp of 16 km and 6 hours up and down some steep paths on the one sunny day we had. Arriving back at our lodge in the afternoon, hot and totally exhausted, we brought forward our gin and tonic time on the balcony by a couple of hours! Revived by some excellent South African craft gin, it is time to fire up the Braii for some much needed sustenance as the sun goes down, very quickly, over the ridge of the amphitheatre towering above us across the valley.

A wonderful place, a great lodge if only the weather had played ball...
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Nov 19th, 2019, 01:15 PM
  #26  
 
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Sorry you are not up to par. That trek sounds arduous!
Local craft gin sounds quite enticing.
I once had a version of Ouzo in Bethlehem made locally. Best I ever had.
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Nov 19th, 2019, 03:44 PM
  #27  
 
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Glad you were able to do the hike even though it wound up taking longer. The scenery sounds magnificent.
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Nov 19th, 2019, 09:34 PM
  #28  
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Clarens

Continuing up the eastern border of Lesotho we drive through the spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park. This park is, like Thendele, all about scenery rather than wildlife and the scenery is pretty incredible. Completely unfettered space for mile after mile with immense eroded sandstone cliffs, wide grassy plateaus with valleys cut into the landscape. I would love to ride this route on a motorbike and indeed many seem to be doing exactly that with a band of Harley Davidson riders snaking along the road.


Eventually we arrive in Clarens in the Rooiberge ( Red Mountains) a quaint, if a little touristy place, sort of a cross between a quintessential English village (complete with village green ) and an Austrian ski village in summertime.

This place has lots of small hotels and guesthouse to choose from and one big, chain hotel, a Protea. We have chosen to stay at Clarens Retreat, a 6 bed guesthouses run by a couple of South African guys. Newly built, expertly designed rooms with a balcony with amazing views. Like many South African places it has basic cooking facilities but we leave these untouched as we have had heard great things about the food in this place.

On the recommendation of the guys in the guesthouses we head to Gusto, a Portuguese place on the main square. The food is superb, the service great and the prices amazingly good value. The quality of the food and the presentation is on a par with restaurants in many capital cities around the world charging 5 times as much! We had an excellent meal of steak, king prawns, dessert and a decent bottle of Pinotage for under ZAR 500 £25.

Next day it is time for some exercise to work off the fantastic meal from the night before. The info centre have given us some maps detailing the walks into the hills around town - based on difficulty, blue, pink and green. We wander along the well marked, mid level pink trail through woods, hills and residential areas ( some fantastic places to live here!) all overlooked by the towering mountains surrounding the town

We had two nights one full day here. Another would have been nice!

Tomorrow we drive the "Maloti-Drakensberg Route" across the top of Lesotho and into The Great Karoo.
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Nov 20th, 2019, 07:41 AM
  #29  
 
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What a great adventure.
Looking f/w to the next installment
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Nov 20th, 2019, 10:55 PM
  #30  
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The Maloti-Drakensberg Route

We were a little reluctant to leave Clarens but the time had come for us to set off and continue along the Maloti-Drakensberg route. Yet more huge horizons and wide open grasslands leading to stunningly beautiful 3000m plus mountains along the northern border of Lesotho.

We miss the cherry festival in Ficksberg, a small town along the route, by a week. We stop off at the biggest cherry farm in the region (easily spotted by the giant red cherries near the gate!) for breakfast and a browse in the store selling a massive range of cherry related products.

I knew this drive from Clarens to Smithfield in the Great Karoo would be one of the longer drives on this road trip. Google maps showed it at 310km and just over 3 hours. Nonsense of course! The mileage may have been spot on but the timing was closer to 6 hours. The speed limit may have been 100-120kph but the potholes prevented us achieving anything like that for much of the route. The final 70 km into Smithfield was on a gravel road which was rough to say the least! We spent the whole time praying that we didn’t get a puncture, especially as we saw no other cars along the whole of the 70kms.

Eventually we arrived in Smithfield, a dusty, one horse town if ever there was one and searched for our accommodation. I had chosen this town purely as a place to break up the 700km drive to Somerset East where we were spending a few days at a farm. It quickly became apparent that Smithfield itself had little to commend it. I had struggled to find a decent place to stay here.

Eventually we found the place at which we were spending the night ( I won’t name it), opened the gate and were greeted by an old Labrador and a bunch of puppies but no people! We rang bells and knocked on doors and eventually an unshaven old man, smelling of whisky and dressed in track pants and a badly stained tee shirt answered. My immediate though was "oh no, why did I choose here!"

He seemed very well spoken and pleasant enough and showed us to a very nice room and left us to it. As we head out to find somewhere to eat, I step out into the hallway into a pile of dog crap right outside our door!

After cleaning up and having a word with the owner, we drive around to the one open place in the town, what looks like a biker bar. A warm welcome and cold beer greet us and we are very pleasantly surprised by both the food and the service. Some things you just can’t take at face value.

The next morning, we leave Smithfield early. I can’t say I am sorry to go, not one of my better travel decisions and, so far, this has been the only accomodation choice that I have been less than delighted with (and even this wasn’t THAT bad.
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Nov 21st, 2019, 08:02 AM
  #31  
 
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Wow!
Great descriptions.
We all make clunker choices sometimes. We picked a resort in Rosarito Mex. Thought it would be good but two days after arrival the place was swamped by biker gangs.
This was 1998 and nearby along a beach you could see one of the prop smokestacks used in filming “Titanic”. It was made here actually.
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Nov 21st, 2019, 09:08 PM
  #32  
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The road to Cape Vidal

Lake St Lucia, iSimangaliso Wetlands

Amorous elephants outside the gates of Hilltop Camp

The Twelve Apostles, Sani Pass
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Nov 22nd, 2019, 08:19 AM
  #33  
 
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Amazing pics.
And those elephants, well that's something you don't see very often.
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Nov 23rd, 2019, 12:05 PM
  #34  
 
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I don’t know why I drifted from the Europe forum to the Africa forum...but I’m glad I did.
Love your report!
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Nov 24th, 2019, 09:53 PM
  #35  
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Glad you enjoyed Adelaidean. Just wish we had visited South Africa sooner, it is an amazing place!

The Great Karoo

Our drive from Smithfield to Somerset East takes us through the wide open, semi desert of the Great Karoo. Mile upon mile of spectacular views. Our original plan was to stop at the Mountain Zebra National Park but we have done a lot of driving over te last couple of days so we decide to press on to https://www.gardiolcountryhouse.comnear Somerset East, our home for the next three days for some rest and relaxation.

I am not sure how I found this place but am really glad I did. It is an amazing place to spend a few days. A beautiful country house set in incredibly beautiful gardens. We are welcomed by our hosts Debbie and Errol who give new meaning to the word hospitality. We immediately feel right at home as we settle into our very comfortable, very large room and then just sit on the spacious balcony drinking in the views of the garden and the sheep grazing in the fields beyond. The best place we have stayed in in a long time.

Breakfast and dinner are optional but really should be compulsory! Debbie is an excellent cook but don’t be fooled by her description of a "light farmhouse supper" - it is enough to feed four! We are treated to a few South African staples like Bobbotie and Roesterkoek. The breakfasts are equally good ( and no need for lunch!)


One of our four legged friends

Gardiol Country House

Sitting on our balcony with a glass of South African Merlot and a view like this, life is pretty good!


Apart from generally lazing and playing with the dogs in the wonderful gardens, we head into the town to visit the Walter Battiss Gallery and Museum. Walter is arguably the most famous of South Africa’s artists and this small museum is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in art. The Aussie lady, running the place is full of information.

About an hour away from Somerset East is its more famous neighbour Graaff Reinet. Lots of interesting museums and galleries but being Saturday afternoon, they are closed. We have a wander around the shops in the centre to admire the stunning Dutch Reform Church and take a peek at the many mohair shops (apparently this is the world capital of mohair - who knew?)


Perhaps because this town is on a main tourist route from Johannesburg we have our first real encounter with the "parking attendants". Driving along the streets if we slow down for a second they start gesticulating for me to park in their particular section. Little more than beggars they can become a bit of a pain especially when getting in an out of cars and getting hassled for cash. I suppose the easy thing would be to give them a few rand and be done with it but for all sorts of reasons, this is anathema to me. Nevertheless it seems to be the norm in most of South Africa.

Pretty though the town is, much is closed to we take a short drive out of town, past the completely dry dam and reservoir to Cambedoo National Park ( our Wild Card is really paying its way!) and into The Valley of Desolation, a hauntingly beautiful valley. Very rugged with high red cliffs and pillars set against the Karoo plains which seem to go on forever. We picnic at the rest area in total isolation until a biker group of some 20 Harley Davidsons roar up. All very nice guys - more a retirement club on a day out than rampaging gangs of Hells Ángels!

There is a very nice circular walk of about an hour which affords some spectacular views of the rock formations and the Karoo below. We search in vain for "the worlds largest flag" at 6000sq m. It will apparently be visible from space but not, apparently from the ground! We later find out that it was to be made up of different coloured desert plants to make up the SA flag. Until that is, that ecologists discovered that the organisers had decided that in order to get te correct colours, they would import non-indigenous plants from Mexico. Oops, not the done thing these days. Apparently, the project has been put on hold.
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Nov 25th, 2019, 08:07 AM
  #36  
 
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Very nice.
Too bad about that flag project.
SA is known for producing very good wines. I'll bet the merlot was quite nice.
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Nov 25th, 2019, 06:03 PM
  #37  
 
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The landscape of the Karoo sounds interesting. Would love to see a pic or two if you have those.
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Nov 26th, 2019, 09:41 AM
  #38  
 
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Following along belatedly. Just received my physical Wild Card a year after I applied for it, and it expired 3 days ago. LOL.

Sounds like an interesting trip so far.
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Nov 27th, 2019, 08:55 AM
  #39  
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Originally Posted by tripplanner001 View Post
The landscape of the Karoo sounds interesting. Would love to see a pic or two if you have those.
Happy to oblige but Fodors IT refuse to play ball at present - will try again in the morning.

mlgb - v.interesting trip so far. Wish I had venture this way years ago! The wild card thing is a complete farce! Had some very amusing email exchanges with the Wild Card people. Par for the course for officialdom here apparently.
BTW just booked that place SALT you recommended in Simonstown. Apart from Cape Point anything I should consider doing that way before I return the car to Cape Town? Maybe some of the sights to th south of the city? Still thinking about the Harley Davidson trip around the Cape. Only one accident so far. A cracked shin bone falling through a disintegrating bridge in iSimagaliso!!!
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Nov 27th, 2019, 09:45 AM
  #40  
 
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<<Apart from Cape Point anything I should consider doing that way before I return the car to Cape Town?>>

The road from Simons Town to Noordhoek, Chapmans Peak, Hout Bay and northwards towards Cape Town, passing Llandudno is a very scenic drive. Hout Bay has World of Birds/Monkey World where there are some enormous owls. And Camps Bay, Clifton and Bantry Bay are all really nice areas esp Camps Bay, lots of restaurants.You can take an excursion to Seal Island from Hout Bay, I have been scuba diving in Simonstown which was interesting. You can also take a submarine tour there.
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