The Garden Route is a stretch of the South African coast running from the Western Cape Province into the Eastern Cape. We're not sure why it's called the Garden Route; there are no more gardens here than anywhere else in the Cape, probably less, because much of the route is through protected lands. The name may simply be marketing. Or it may have come from the fact that the landscape here is more green than elsewhere, with even lush rainforest in places. In any event, it is beautiful.
On Wednesday we cycled something over 50 miles from Oudtshoorn to the home of our next Warm Showers hosts, Jake and Claire Crowley, in Wilderness. What a ride it was!
In the morning, it was cloudy and rather cool, which we considered a blessing -- especially so because there was one long hill after another. Finally, as a glimmer of sun broke through, we descended into an area that is sometimes called the Hops Valley. At least there was a great deal of hops being grown. It was beautiful. (right)
From the Hops Valley, we had to climb Outeniqua Pass through the last chain of mountains before the coast. Clouds were thickening again, and sure enough, by the time we began the long, long descent, views were largely obscured by mist and rain. Still, we stopped at every pullover along the 10-kilometer descent, and occasionally there was just enough visibility for a photo. We can only imaging what the views must be like in clear weather. Cycling this pass was one of the most memorable experiences so far, so here's a small photo gallery:
We rode through the large town of George, passing lots of car dealers and shopping centers, on our way to Wilderness. We stopped at a bike shop to buy gloves and had quite a discussion with the helpful owner about the best way to reach the Crowley's farm in Wilderness Heights. It seems there is no easy way.
When we reached Jake and Claire's Oakhurst Farm, we recovered more quickly than we could have imagined. Their farm is stunning. They and a neighbor milk something over 1,000 cows, most of them Jerseys, and the guest cottage in which they installed us is attractive and immaculate. (Our cottage was the one on the right.)
The first night, Claire and Jake were going out, but they sent a "care package" to us that included fresh Jersey milk, tea, coffee, sugar, a bottle of wine, a couple of beers (which Wally proudly did not drink), steak, boerewors, roasted vegetables, shortbread cookies, yoghurt -- maybe we left something out!
We were so comfortable that we couldn't resist staying two nights. On our layover day, Jake and Claire were off training for a big mountain bike race, and we caught up with this blog and with reading. We also took a little ride to see "The Big Tree. I remembered to bring the camera, but the memory card was still in the computer.
In the evening, Claire served us a good dinner and we talked about cycling, among other things: our slogging tours, and their mountain bike racing. They are both hard core. The race they were training for was 90 kilometers of single track per day for three days. Jake has even raced in the Cape Epic, which is 900 kilometers of single track over nine days! Mad.
Their farm was so lovely, and Jake and Claire were so kind, that we hated to leave, but of course we did.
Friday, when we left Jake and Claire's, we were heading for the Plettenberg area."Plett," as they call it here, is one of the most popular and also expensive stops on the Garden Route. Actually, we were aiming a few kilometers farther, to a place called Keurboomstrand -- love the name! -- because of the enticing description we read in Lonely Planet of a place there to stay. It was Abalone Beach House (right).
The ride started with a long descent to Wilderness proper, on the coast, but then the day got hotter and hotter. We stopped fairly often for cool drinks, and it grew later and later. We never stopped long enough to eat, so when we arrived at Abalone Beach House, we were sweaty and tired. There were restaurants nearby, but we just bought some fancy meat pies to eat at the beach house.
Which was beautiful! Immaculate, tastefully decorated, elegant in its simplicity. Our room was bright and sunny, and there was a kitchen-dining-lounge area on third floor, all glass and sunshine, and an outside deck with a view over the ocean. The photos below do not begin to do it justice.
Before eating our goodies, we took our first swim in Indian Ocean. It was cool but not frigid. There were tricky waves and currents. We were told to take boogie boards for safety, even if we were not using them, so we would have something to hold onto if swept out by a rip. Nothing that dramatic happened, however. The beach was beautiful (Keurboomstrand, below).
When we saw how nice Abalone Beach House was, we asked to stay two nights, but no, everything was booked. Then in the morning after breakfast, there was a cancellation -- but we were already packed up to go.
From Keurboomstrand we cycled about 35 miles to Stormsriver in Tsitsikamma National Park. What a wonderful ride!
We had dreaded the N2 highway, but it was a Saturday, and there was very little traffic. The road had a smooth surface, wide shoulders, and often there were gorgeous views of mountains, deep gorges (including a famous bungee jumping place), and distant views of the sea.
Cycling the N2 Highway into Tsitsikamma National Park
For the first time we used our tent to camp at a funky, friendly backpackers in Stormsriver -- Dijembe Backpackers. It's right next to a small African township, where we went to shop for snacks. The people at Dijembe, young and hip, have an interesting approach to security in this country where everyone is obsessed with crime: At Dijembe, they close the doors at night, but don't lock them. The bar was the only place that was locked, and that was to keep guests from looting the booze!
We were concerned about the ride to Jeffreys Bay on Sunday, because it is over 100 kilometers, and we'd been told that there are some long hills. Nevertheless we decided to push ahead on Sunday because we were also told the traffic would continue to be light, but would get heavier during the week.
We were up at 5, off by 6:30, and we were pleasantly surprised. The weather stayed cloudy and cool all morning, with brisk tailwinds. As a result we were pulling into Jeffreys Bay soon after noon. A blistering 11.5 miles-per-hour average despite the long but moderate hills! There were more beautiful views along the way.
Unfortunately it started to rain as we approached the town. The Backpackers where we stayed, Crystal Cove, is a one-mintue walk from the beach, and we had a virtual suite -- a large kitching and dining area, a living room with big TV, shared with just one other couple, who seemed never to be here. Our bedroom and bath were spacious and nice. It was an incredible bargain at R300 (about $33) per night. (right)
The rain continued for the rest of the afternoon. We were so comfortable at Crystal Cove and so close to the beach that we decided to wait for good weather.
We ended up staying three nights. On Monday, our first layover day, it was still cloudy, but the rain had stopped. We went for a long walk on the beach to the west and returned through town. After lunch, we walked to the east along the beach. On the way back, we noticed a man in the surf on what appeared at a distance to be a tiny kayak. He was surfing, cutting back over the curl, catching air, it was amazing! We approached a woman on the beach, and it turned out that the man was her husband. They were French. He was riding a wave-ski, and the sport is wave-ski surfing. He was so good because he is five-times world champion!
Our second day J-Bay dawned bright and clear, and at last we went swimming! The water was cool, but not cold, just about perfect. The weather stayed sunny until early afternoon, when clouds moved back it. That was ok; we'd probably have fried if we stayed on the beach too much longer. After lunch, it was back to the beach again, but this time to read rather than swim.
On Wednesday morning, the 6th, we left J-Bay for Port Elizabeth. That was the end of the Garden Route for us. There was much more to do along this famous stretch of coastline, but many of the places we might have enjoyed were at the bottom of long descents from the main road, necessitating equally long climbs to get back on the route. It was always a matter of choices, lots of choices. Who knows, perhaps we should have taken longer on the Garden Route, but there is much more to see.