Monday, November 24, 2014

Weeding the Garden Route ...

It was a bit of a shock to this Kaartman to realise the other day that his very first map of the Garden Route hit the streets in 1973 ... that’s more than 40 years ago, omg. He remembers personally flogging the map up and down the N2 from Mossel Bay to Storms River, to a variety of caravan parks and resorts, most of which don’t exist any more. The map retailed for 85 cents I kid you not, from which we scooped a grand 50c per copy. Ah, those were the days, I hear you sigh, when bread was 9c a loaf and petrol 8c a litre. Don’t get too excited. Qualified teachers earned R125 per month and top prize in the lottery was a huge R50 000. A US$ was 70c and a UK£ was R1.40 and I could go on and on but that would get boring.
Forty years on we have decided to enlarge and expand the seventh edition [due next year] and with that in mind Mrs K and I loaded up the Kaartcart and set off for Albertinia. We aimed to research the nearer Garden Route first (the GR technically starts at Heidelberg); next trip will be to the Far East of Cape St Francis et al.

Apart from the stunning natural beauty the first thing that struck us as we meandered around the Heidelberg hills was the startling number of cows. They came in waves; Jerseys, Frieslands, Herefords, Nguni, often blocking the roads and rolling their large limpid eyes at us. The second thing that struck us was the astonishing variety of wildlife. The instant you get off that awful N2 all kinds of birdies and beasties appear between the hedgerows, running across the fields, or sitting on telephone poles.
Clockwise from top left:
Camel, baby ostrich, Cape terrapin, giraffe, finch, pugnacious ant
The faces tell their own story. Apart from the ‘game park’ creatures [their bonnox-fenced homes should really be called ‘zoos’ because so many of them are quite inappropriate for the area, like impala, springbok and giraffes] we saw more than a dozen kinds of antelope, four kinds of tortoise or terrapin, masses of birds including two wonderful secretary birds (now so rarely seen), and even a Cape fox. And if you like the big stuff like rhino and elephants and  giraffe and buffalo, we found two places where public roads plunge straight through the parks via huge cattle grids, and entrance is effectively free ... see forthcoming map!
Statement gates ...
Down to the coast we went, through the cutesy collapsing cottages of Vermaaklikheid where every living thing, even the shop keeper and her dog, was asleep at 4 in the afternoon. Along the coast towards Gouritzmond the roads are mostly pretty awful, but that’s not what got our goat. There’s an endless procession of private ‘estates’ that make sure there is no public access to the sea. Many of these don’t seem to have a dwelling on them, but they’ve all got huge gi-normous gateways with steel gates, spikes and barbs. What this says about their temporal owners is rather sad: each successively-larger gate says “This is MINE MINE MINE – so KEEP OUT – YOU can’t play in MY sandpit.”
Almost worse are the landowners who have somehow contrived to erect giant gates across public roads – we found several of these. The signs say ‘private’ but the gates are not locked, and we wish more people would assert their right to use these roads. Those routes, too, will all be on the map.
Later these ‘landowners’ were iconically summed up for us by a single donkey ...
But there is whimsy too. We giggled at the smallholding called ‘Dumbie Dykes’ [or maybe we boggled]; we loved the farm that has been renamed from ‘Vergenoeg’ to ‘The Far Side’. Lots of signs made us chuckle, and many small bright gardens made us smile.
Clockwise from top left:
Vermaaklikheid shop sign; Office Inqueries [Glory be!]; camouflaged dikdiks;
a pretty garden all in rows; Pinnochio in the hardeduine; seagulls behaving badly
Ruins, there are, too. Many. We call them ‘hopes and dreams’, for that’s what they once were. Poignant, a reminder for those paranoid landowners of our short tenure on this Earth.

We stayed at four different places on our trip, all of them very pleasant surprises, and all of them highly recommendable. 
We started at Honeywood, just outside the Grootvadersbosch reserve [CapeNature don’t take bookings for Sunday nights]. It’s a bit of paradise, with the forest on your doorstep and views of the Langeberg marching away in both directions that cannot be beat. John Moodie will also sell you a bottle of his gorgeous home grown, ratel-friendly honey.
Honeywood: – phone +27 83 270 4035
Our wanderings took us next to the Wild Olive Guest Farm on the Goukou River, upstream from Stilbaai, and another top-notch stay where Karen will sell you a delicious loaf of home-baked bread, a salad and the tastiest free-range eggs you can imagine.
Wild Olive: – phone +27 28 754 2719
Then it was on to Vleesbaai. We had wanted Gouritzmond but everywhere there seems to demand a minimum of three nights. The approach to Vleesbaai is daunting. The whole joint is gated and ringed with an electric fence. They must have serious security concerns ... or just hectic paranoia, as we remembered that donkey again. We drove up the hill and there was the sign for our cottage – ‘Helsewinde’ [Hell’s winds!]. Utterly charming, not ringed by steel armour, with an absolutely fabulous view far away from the hideous hot-wired hamlet. And as it turned out, very little wind. Caroline opened up for us, it’s her personal special plekkie and she’s justifiably a little anxious about strangers, but it was an excellent stay.
– phone +27 83 225 4473
Homeward bound we stopped at Zoutpan, off the N2 near Albertinia. It’s a way-stop for sure, but a very comfortable one that provided a great supper and a fantastic breakfast for weary travellers who by then had accumulated near 1700 km of mostly dirt roads ... thanks, Amanda!
Zoutpan Struishuis: – phone +27 28 735 1119

Next time it’s beyond the Tzitzikamma ...

Kaartman, Nov 2014

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