Willowmore – Garden Route

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4th – 11th of June 2024:

After a night of continuous rain, the friendly couple invited us into the house for breakfast. They told us about their family and the 84-year old man showed us his logbook, in which all rain events since 1923 were noted. When we saw that, we realized how special the heavy rain was for the locals. Even in his high age, he still hunts and proudly showed us some photos. Hunting is a national sport and kids are introduced in the most important skills early on.

The rain stopped and we used this opportunity. We packed the completely wet tent and continued our journey. Unfortunately, it started raining shortly afterwards again. We underestimated the amount of water pouring down and arrived in Willowmore with wet clothes. In a cute cafe, we could dry our wet clothes at an open fire and ordered warm drinks and meals.

Despite the intense non-stop rain, we decided to continue. The next town was still a bit more than 60 km away and we hoped to reach it before sunset. When we stopped for a few minutes at an accommodation, we met a group from Cape Town, which told us that some roads were impassable due to the rain. Apparently, this was the heaviest rain in the last 60 years.

Already in the dark, we reached the small town Uniondale and decided to search for a room, since our tent was still wet and many fields were under water. We found an appartement and were glad to finally be out of the rain.

At night, we dried the tent and other gear with the help of two fans, as it was so cold in the accommodation that you could see your breath. We even used the stove burners to dry the wet clothes.

After another night with strong winds and rain, the next morning looked much friendlier. Unfortunately, our planned route via a gravel pass road was closed due to heavy rain and we had to take the only alternative. We had been looking forward to this day for some time because Fabian’s parents have also been in South Africa for a few days. The plan was to meet Peter and Lilo on the coast and travel together to Cape Town for the last two weeks.

However, we were still over 100 km away from them. With sunshine and strong headwinds, we crossed a pass with beautiful views of the surrounding farms and mountains. The environment was much greener compared to the last few days and you could feel the change in climate. For weeks, we had been at over 1000 meters, and now we were just below.

After lunch, we tackled a section of about 30 km where you couldn’t see the next curve because there wasn’t one. However, the rocky mountains and the green valley compensated for the monotonous road. We passed by some ostrich farms. At one point, about 200 of these agile animals suddenly started running parallel to us. They followed us until the end of their fence, a special experience.

After the long stretch, we tackled the Outeniqua Pass, from which you could see the sea. The panorama with mountains, the pass road, the town of Georg and the seemingly endless ocean in the background was an unusual change. We hadn’t seen the sea since Mozambique.

We managed to reach the city just before dark and after several attempts found a place to store our bikes. Because of the closed road, Peter and Lilo came to pick us up from Knysna, almost 80 km away with their rental car. We were looking forward to the reunion and the days to come. On the way, we stopped at a steakhouse to fuel up and had time to exchange our experiences from the past few days. Then we fell into bed tired in the apartment in Knysna.

After a restful night in our own bed, we enjoyed a great breakfast near the accommodation. Then we drove to the Robberg Nature Reserve and hiked around the entire peninsula. “The Point” hiking trail was about 9 km long and led through various wild landscapes. First, we descended some rocky steps down to the sea before we saw the first South African fur seals. The agile animals playfully jumped out of the water and enjoyed the large waves. After a climb, an unpleasant smell reached our noses and shortly after, we heard the seals, who were relaxing about 100 meters below us on a rock.

After reaching the furthest point of the peninsula, the weather changed within half an hour from sunshine with occasional clouds to thick clouds and stormy wind. Rain set in at times, but luckily it wasn’t enough to get wet. After crossing a sandbank and the final climb back to the parking lot, our legs were definitely tired.

Next, we visited “Birds of Eden”. This bird park has the world’s largest free-flight aviary with an area of 23,000 m2. Approximately 3,500 birds of about 220 different species live under the giant wire net. A walkway leads through the diverse landscape, which includes a river landscape, tropical rainforest and native forest. The area is even artificially irrigated by water pipes built into the dome. We saw dozens of bird species during the visit. Some were so colorful that it was hard to believe. After the intense day, we were all hungry and somewhat tired. We found an excellent restaurant in Plettenberg Bay right by the sea, where we enjoyed various seafood dishes and a delicious dessert.

On the second day in Knysna, we visited the district “The Heads,” which is located on and around a steep hill. From the viewpoints, we had a wonderful view of the wild Indian Ocean and the steep cliffs on both sides of the strait. From Knysna Beach, we saw the foaming waves and the partly huge villas above the cliffs.

We visited a microbrewery and tried some glasses of different beers and were shown around the brewery, which is currently under renovation. On Thesen’s Island, we visited a bakery where we treated ourselves to delicious coffee and cake.

Thanks to the warm sun, we were able to wash some clothes and relax in the garden of the accommodation. For dinner, we visited a seafood restaurant where we enjoyed excellent fish caught that day and listened to the singing of the staff from the kitchen.

The manager of the accommodation informed us about the Saturday market in Sedgefield. After breakfast, we drove straight there to check out the various stalls. The offer ranged from self-sewn clothes to smoothies to statues. We had interesting conversations with various artists and strolled through the crowded market. After a while, we realized that the actual farmers market was next door and we hadn’t visited it yet. Luckily, we had enough time before closing to try various specialties. To finish off, we treated ourselves to a delicious coffee and met a German-speaking lady.

She recommended a nearby beach, which she claimed to be the most beautiful in the world. This wasn’t the first time we heard this superlative description. The beach was beautiful, but we couldn’t agree that it was the most beautiful in the world. Afterward, we drove to Wilderness, where we navigated to a viewpoint. Supposedly (with a lot of imagination), you can recognize the shape of Africa in a river valley surrounded by a hill there. We liked the impressive view into the valley, the panoramic view of the ocean and the mountains behind the gorge.

Close by is Victoria Bay. The waves there attract many surfers, and we watched the advanced men skillfully ride the several meters high waves. After the warming sun disappeared behind the steep hills, we made our way to George. There, we bought a 5 kg bag of maize meal for the family, who had guarded our bicycles during the last few days.

After three days of not cycling and the luxury of calorie-rich and delicious meals, we resumed our journey to the Southern Cape or rather Cape Town. Thanks to rested legs and the company of local cyclists, we made efficient progress. During the ride, we had pleasant conversations with a couple and an older man from the area.

We repeatedly saw settlements with almost identical houses surrounded by high fences and walls. This isolated living is unusual for us and does not help to reduce the segregation of different population groups in South Africa. Most residents of these houses are white, and the black population almost exclusively lives in corrugated iron shacks outside the city centers. Unfortunately, especially in rural towns, we often saw schools with predominantly white or black children. Despite the end of apartheid over 30 years ago, the economic disadvantage of the non-white population is concerning. Unemployment is estimated to be around 40%. Many young people cannot find a job or even pay someone to get them a day job.

By noon, we had to decide whether to ride 100 km to Albertinia or almost 140 km to Riversdale. The reason was that we had to find accommodation for ourselves and Fabian’s parents in one of the two towns. This loss of flexibility is a disadvantage when not sleeping in a tent and is one of the reasons why we love camping in the wilderness so much. Of course, in this case, the positive side outweighs with a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and the company of Fabian’s parents.

Green meadows, occasional climbs, and only one wide main road as the route defined our day. For the most part of the day, we had no view of the sea, but we had a view of the mountain range that separates the highland from the coast. After two hearty climbs, we reached the deserted Riversdale in the late afternoon.

After a hearty breakfast, we cycled for about 1.5 hours to Heidelberg, where we took a short break. A few hours later, we reached Swellendam with its almost 20,000 inhabitants. There, we bought some food in a small supermarket and sat outside to eat. After a while, a friendly lady asked us if we would like some coffee. We gratefully accepted the offer. Shortly after, a tall man leaving the same building greeted us warmly. He was introduced to us as the mayor of Swellendam, and we were allowed to take a photo with him.

So far, we had been hearing stories of robbery from the white population regarding the black majority. However, the local government employee now told us a different perspective. Apparently, many workers from Zimbabwe come to South Africa illegally. White farmers hire them at minimum wage, thus breaking the law. The government is aware but cannot do anything about it as they lack the necessary resources to enforce the law.

13 km past the town, we turned towards the Southern Cape, called Cape Agulhas. The goal of our now 6-year endeavor was now less than 100 km away. After another half an hour and many more hills, we looked for a place to store our bicycles for a day. Peter and Lilo went ahead and asked a farmer. He agreed, and we were allowed to store the bicycles in his garage. Then, we drove in the dark over bumpy and partly flooded gravel roads into the de Hoop Nature Reserve.

On our way to breakfast, we already spotted many wild animals, which got us excited for the rest of the day. Driving through a landscape dotted with bushes, we passed white sand dunes, right by the Indian Ocean. From the approximately 50-meter-high dunes made of the finest sand, we could see wide stretches of the coast. Soon enough, we spotted the first whales in the water. With the help of binoculars, we even caught sight of the flukes of Southern Right Whales.

Thanks to the low tide, we were able to inspect the rocky ground dotted with many shells. We found many fascinating objects that wonderfully showcased the diversity of nature. After two of us dipped our feet or even waded fully into the water, we left the coast again. On the way back, we even saw mountain zebras, right next to our accommodation amidst baboons, bonteboks, and eland antelopes. Eland antelopes weigh between 500-1000 kg and can jump over a 2-meter-high fence from a standstill.

In the evening, we experienced a beautiful sunset and saw dozens of antelopes from the window of our accommodation. During the delicious dinner by the fire, we didn’t have to put on a down jacket for the first time in a while. In many indoor spaces in South African winter, temperatures are very low.

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