Day 4: Animals, Adventures & Beautiful Sunsets
You know a town is full of thrilling adventures when it’s literally named ‘Storms River’, it is honestly the coolest named town I have ever visited. Unfortunately though, Storms River was as far as we would get to on the Garden Route. Since we were running out of days and booked our flights back from George, it was time to head back west. Our next destination was Knysna, an insanely scenic coastal city which offers a variety of fine dining restaurants, outdoor adventure trips and animal sanctuaries… talk about a place that has it all!
There is no better way to start your day than with a nice little stroll through an animal sanctuary. Especially when two cheetahs decide to join you on your walk! It’s truly a humbling and breathtaking experience to walk side by side with such elegantly majestic creatures. I booked the Morning Cheetah Walk with Tenikwa Wildlife Center and was happy with their services. Once again, I did a little bit of research to make sure that the animals there are not mistreated in any way, and that they are there for their own protection; however, you should do your own research too before booking any of these tours. The walk is around 1-2 hours long, the cheetahs set the pace and you follow. Unlike the lion walk, the cheetahs are a lot more chilled out, you can sit next to them when they decide to rest and even pet them gently. However, do not get too comfortable and make sure you follow the guides’ directions. They stressed so much on ‘not making loud noises when you are behind the cheetah’. Maddie of course decided to completely ignore their advice (because she is the wildlife queen obviously) and almost got her face bit off… I must admit I was torn up between concern and breaking into hysterics.
A wildlife experience is never complete without an up-close and personal experience with some elephants. For this, we booked the Walk Trunk in Hand with Elephant Tour with the elephant sanctuary at Plettenberg Bay. All the elephants in the sanctuary were rescued from poachers and it was heartbreaking to see the conditions some of them were in. You really begin to question the human race when your eyes fall upon an elephant missing half of its trunk, or another that will never be able to walk without a limp again and for what? So someone in the world can brag about owning ivory. Despite their former ‘injuries’, the elephants were not any less majestic and the guides were extremely friendly and knowledgable. Everyone gets a chance to walk trunk in hand with the elephant for around 30 meters or so which is pretty cool, you’ll be surprised at how rigid and powerful an elephant’s trunk actually is. After that, the guides sit us down and teach us a few things about elephants before allowing each group to feed the elephants and take pictures. Feel free to ask the guides for more information during this time too, they were glad to teach us more about the elephant’s skin, ears, legs and much more.
Although the plan was to have lunch at this point, there just wasn’t enough time. This is the thing about South Africa, there is just too much to do that if you try and squeeze it all in one week, you will go hungry throughout the day… totally worth it though 😛
Canyoning is one of my favorite activities, and it is surprisingly not very well known so allow me. Canyoning is an activity which involves traveling through canyons (ideally, filled with water) using a variety of techniques that may include walking, hiking, abseiling, scrambling, climbing, zip-lining, swimming, cliff-diving and sliding. It is more or less nature’s version of a waterpark. So obviously, I was thrilled to find canyoning tours in Knysna and booked the Short Canyoning Trip with Africanyon. Honestly, I went into this trip with already high expectations and yet they easily exceeded them. The three guides that joined us were hilarious and just a lot of fun. Right off the bat, we were taking the piss out of each other and making jokes as we made our way through the jungle. I am writing this 6 months later so I do not remember the names of all the guides, I know one was named Puna, the second made fun of my Nomvula nickname so I gave him a name that went with Puna 😉 The trip starts off with a 20 meter abseil down into the canyon, it’s great because the cold water just surprises at the bottom as you plunge into it. You then walk and swim through the canyon whilst jumping off a few cliffs (6-8 meters high) and slide down some waterfalls. There is also a cool zip-line by the end of the tour that takes you right through the canyon as it starts to get really narrow; it was awesome because you can literally reach over and grab the rocks on either side of you if you just stretch your arms out (wouldn’t do it though unless you wanna break your fingers). As you get to the end of the zip-line, it’ll seem as though you’re about to go crashing into a rock and your heart skips beat before the guide loosens up the line leaving you plunging yet again, into the freezing cold water. Unfortunately, our cameras don’t really like water so I have no pictures of the canyoning trip; however, we did get some good footage on our GoPro so keep a lookout for our Youtube channel @grasptheadventure coming soon!
Our encounters with the animals were not over just yet! We still had a little more time, so we made our way to Monkeyland. I cannot say this sanctuary was as thrilling and interesting as the previous ones but it is still worth visiting, especially since it costs less than $15. You get to roam freely around the sanctuary whilst getting up close and personal with more than 10 different species of monkeys. The guides were very well informed and dropped some cool knowledge on us. Who we kidding anyway, you know you can’t pass up the chance of watching some grumpy looking monkeys enjoy their evening meal!
Like I said earlier, we missed lunch… we were pretty much starving by this point. So, we decided to stop for dinner at a beautiful spot known as the Knysna Heads. If you are driving the Garden Route, then catching sunset here is a must-do. You can sit on one of the many benches and enjoy the view or enjoy a tasty, romantic dinner right by the waterfront. When I close my eyes and imagine some of the most relaxing moments of my trip to South Africa, two images spring to mind: Wilderness beach and the Knysna Heads.
Day 5: Scenic Drives & Tight Caves
Despite all the crazy fun, I must admit that the past few days have been hectic. That is why we decided to have a little lie in this morning (I mean getting up at 9 instead of 7 before you get too excited :P). The plan was to drive to Oudtshoorn (will never be able to pronounce the name of this city properly) via the 7 Passes Scenic Route and Wilderness beach since we couldn’t get enough of it the first time. Now, I am still sure that we somehow did not take the correct route even though all the signs did clearly say “7 Passes Scenic Route”. The reason I say this is because the route was anything but scenic! It was a gravel road with a mountain to your left and trees to your right, so you basically couldn’t see a thing. Every time the road curved, we expected a jaw-dropping view to just take us by surprise, but that view just never showed up. Now, I still think we might have somehow taken the wrong turn, so if you have been on this route please either confirm what I am saying or correct me in the comments section below. Advice: take the coastal road or any other road for that matter, they’re all stunning; just do not take the 7 Passes Scenic Route! On the bright side, we did stop by Wilderness beach one more time to get a look at it during the day. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and windy so we did not get to enjoy it as much as we hoped but if you are into paragliding, this is where it’s happening! You can also try tandem paragliding here to enjoy aerial views of this scenic beach.
We got to Oudtshoorn just in time for our 3:30 PM Cango Caves Adventure Tour. If you are claustrophobic, then this 1.5 hour escapade will definitely test your limits. You will be scrambling through holes, climbing into confined gaps and crouching through tunnels but the rock formation in there is definitely worth seeing. So if you are okay with tight spaces, go for it and if you are not, then challenge yourself, grasp the adventure and… go for it!!!
Finally, end your day with some Ostrich steak at The Black Swan restaurant. Oudtshoorn is known for it’s abundance in ostrich farms so be sure that the steak will be fresh! If, for some reason, you are weirded out by the idea of eating ostrich, then don’t worry, they have plenty other options on the menu (I am disappointed though :p).
Day 6: First kisses, Neck Massages & Fair-wells
Don’t get too excited just yet, this is not the kind of neck massage you are expecting… read on!
Last day of the trip is always the most depressing. Everyone is coming to terms with the fact that they have to leave this dream world and enter back into reality. We start thinking about all the work e-mails waiting impatiently in our inboxes and our credit card bills sneaking up on us with garrotes. Therefore, I had to end the itinerary with a little entertainment and a good laugh; hence our visit to an ostrich farm. To be honest though, there were mixed feelings about this visit: Mohammed loved it, I found it hilarious but Maddie and Steff were extremely weirded out by the ostriches!
Now onto the neck massage, as promised, it is not what you expected. Your guide at the farm will hand you a bucket of ostrich food then place you right by the fence with your back towards the ‘vicious’ (they are actually quite dangerous) animals. You’ll hold the bucket up in front of your face until the ostriches begin to feed. As a result, their necks will brush up against yours giving you a true ‘South African’ neck massage.
Ostriches are extremely powerful despite their fragile and clumsy looking bodies. Therefore, if you are light enough (below 80 kgs) do not feel bad trying to ride one around. It is challenging and extremely funny.
In order not to waste time driving all the way back to Cape Town, I booked our return flights to Johannesburg from George, the airport is around 60 kms away from Oudtshoorn which is pretty convenient.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
Here we are, right back where we started: Johannesburg International Airport. Steff dropped us off at our gate and walked off with a heavy heart… and my phone charger! Mohammed, Maddie and I literally dragged our feet as we entered the plane and took our seats. I scrolled through all my pictures trying hard to remind myself of a quote I once read: ‘There’s never an end to a trip, just another destination’.