It took longer than expected. At least longer than it should have. For one thing, I had a flight already booked out of Cape Town – the final leg of my RTW adventure. The plan was in motion, so why was I making things difficult for myself by procrastinating about what to do next? Perhaps it was the fact that this next trip would mark the end of my cross continental, southern hemispherian backpacking odyssey. Or it might been the fact that I was totally and utterly in denial of going back to ‘the real world’ (whatever that means). Regardless of what it was, one thing was for sure, I wanted to end this awe inspiring and eventful trip of a lifetime on high note. Something that was worthy of a traveling finale.
And so after 3 weeks of indecision, and countless text messages to my faithful GLG to organize things (alas I had no internet access), I finally put aside all far flung ideas of traveling overland to Mozambique via who knows where and decided to do what I had planned to do in the first place: the Garden Route.
Roughly speaking, the Garden Route is the stunning stretch of coast between Port Elisabeth and Cape Town on the Western Cape of South Africa. Sandwiched between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains and the Indian Ocean, it’s a luscious green paradise of inland lagoons, rolling hills, unique marine reserves and indigenous forests. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for a fix, a nature lover wanting to discover your inner Zen or someone who’s just looking to chill out and watch the world go by, the Garden Route has it all. Feel like hiking through age-old national parks to pristine beaches? Take your pick. Want to attempt the world’s highest bungee jump? Be my guest. Keen to kayak out to watch the Southern Right and Humpback Whales swim by? Grab a paddle. Want to zip-line through a canopy of ancient forest? Tighten your harness. Yep, you guessed it, the GR has it covered.
My traveling buddy Hadar and I decided to do the ‘route’ in style. Backpacking style, that is. As South Africa’s only hop-on, hop-off backpacker bus that delivers travelers door-to-door, the Baz Bus offers a safe and reliable service down the Garden Route. They’re also very accommodating – something we found out after dropping a passenger off at the Wild Spirit Lodge in Nature’s Valley. While the driver was unloading a Dutch traveler’s bags from the mini-bus, the Lodge’s ‘receptionist’ (if you could call him that) strolled out to greet his new guest. Sporting a long beard, hot pink pajama pants and carrying a steaming cup of coffee, he was a sight to be reckoned with. Hadar and I looked on enviously. Who was this colourful character and why did we suddenly feel like we were missing out on something? We flipped through the guidebooks furiously, looking for clues as the bus drove off towards its next destination.
Finally I found a small description in The Alternative Route: ‘…Nothing is perfect and everything is fascinating – the artwork, the frogs and the bumble bees, the mysterious pathways in all directions….from the valley with the waterfall to the hillsides covered in wild flowers and the magical hike through Tsitsikamma’s indigenous forest along pristine beaches to the river mouth. Head back for a well deserved drink beside an open fire and the spectacular views on our tented deck.’ Done. We’d turned the bus around, checked ourselves in, downed a delicious home cooked breakfast, tightened our hiking boots and were on our way before you could say ’Wild Spirit’.
After our unplanned but spontaneous stay at the magical Wild Spirit Lodge with musician turned philosopher host Angus (aka silk pajamas), we headed to Knysna. Pronounced ‘Ny-znah’, the town sits perched on a stunning lagoon. Its spectacular setting and warm, temperate climate makes it a perfect all-year-round holiday destination. We were a day too early for their annual Oyster Festival (damn!), so we decided to take advantage of the hostel’s free Knysna Heads sunset tour instead. After being told about strict numbers, we arrived back at the hostel to find 14 people booked on what should have been a 7-person mini-van tour. Apart from our surfer-come-tour guide in the driver seat, it was stacks on for the rest of us. Indeed, with all the white picket fences and coffee shops, I’d forgotten ‘This Is Africa’.
By a sheer stroke of luck, our guide tacted on a ‘bonus’ Knysna Township Tour on the way back to the hostel. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we were taken up to the cliffs overlooking the lagoon where a sprawling maze of ramshackle houses seemed to have the best view in town. Unfortunately this view is bitter sweet for the Xhosa people living in this disadvantaged black community. A result of the apartheid era, life in the township is hard. Many live without running water, electricity or proper hygiene. Walking through the chaotic maze of laneways and makeshift wooden and tin houses, it’s difficult to imagine that only a few kilometers away, white families are driving Land Rovers home from well paid jobs.
However, it’s not all what it seems. Delve deeper and you realise that there’s a real sense of community here that is special and unique. Out of the hardship has come a strength and courage that unites these people in a quest for survival. They support one another and in its own way, it’s a thriving community. Children play in the streets and neighbours actually talk to one another. There are tailors, hairdressers, shoemakers and restaurants – none of which display any signage or advertising. The people just know where to go and who to see when they need something. It’s also comforting to know that philanthropic support is being given by the wider community (including our hostel) to help raise the standard of living for this poor and under privileged township. Freedom has not come easy to these people, but their spirit burns bright. I want to believe that the future for the New South Africa is one of hope.
hello it shehryar raza from pakistan, i just loved your pictures… i would love to share my work too.. i am also doing some photography but i cannot see any good platform to promote it. 😦 do u have any idea?
Your guess is as good as mine, I’m afraid! Try starting a blog…..at least I’m hoping it opens doors 🙂
Wow the time has flown by hasn’t it. Come and see me in London again before you fly off back to Aussie…
Sorry – too late SJ! It’ll have to be next time (or else you come here?? Now that’s a thought…….!)
Oh no. Ohhh deary, deary me. This is not good, not good at ALL: I have discovered your incredible blog, read two pages and am HOOKED. Full blown obsession/addiction commencing right this minute. How will I ever get any work done now?? You have completely reaffirmed my dream of travelling to Africa and seeing these breath-taking sights. Your writing is informative and enthusiastic – a combination I love – and I am gripped by the magic of your photos. Your blog is going to get a lot of reading time from me, that’s for sure! Keep it up (please!!!!!) 🙂
Haha! So glad you like it! It all came about as an outlet to write and showcase my photos…I had been needing to rediscover my inner ‘creative spirit’ for some time and this has done just the trick! I studied journalism, creative writing and photography at uni, so that’s why I like to put a humorous, but informative spin on my stories. And don’t worry, while I only have a couple more posts about my trip to go, I’m going to continue it back in Sydney along the same vibe 🙂
My GOD, I can’t get over your photography! Why in God’s name are you NOT working for National Geographic? I found your blog because it was Freshly Pressed today (a.k.a. promoted on WordPress’s homepage). May I ask:
What camera do you use, and what lenses? I use a D80 Nikon, but the color and grain of your images are spectacular. I’m dying to know which eqipment you use?
Ha! Thank you so much! Alas, I am probably one of millions who would absolutely LOVE to work for National Geographic. I can dream 🙂 To be honest, I studied photography at university (way back when) and used a trusty Pentax K1000 manual camera with a 50mm lens and real film! I only got my first digital SLR camera 18 months ago and I’m learning all over again (I lost touch with it for a few years there). As it’s my first digital SLR, I opted for the entry level Canon EOS 500D with the kit lenses (18-55mm & 55-250mm). I’m now itching to go up a class or two and see how I go (Canon vs Nikon, still not sure). That – and buy some good lenses (I love the 50mm for portraiture). In the meantime, the gear I have is fine….I need to start saving if I want to get anything else! How do you like the Nikon D80?
LOVE the Nikon D80. I’m a Nikon girl all the way. My understanding is that Nikon’s colors are a bit richer, and Cannon’s colors are a bit more realistic. I, too, studied photography in college (it was my minor … my major was journalism), and I first learned photography on an old Nikon SLR (it was my dad’s) when I was 16. So, I’ve ALWAYS stuck with Nikon, anyway. I need to update my “photography” tab on my blog. Ha!
I was actually thinking, as I was looking at your photos, “These have film quality!” So, it makes perfect sense that they WERE film. But if you can find a digital camera that produces the same quality of photographs, I want to know about it! LOL!
Here’s the best tip I can offer, as I had to transfer from film to digital as well (I even had my own B&W darkroom in college): In terms of exposure, digital works the same as slide (positive) film. It’s better to underexpose than overexpose (as overexposing will wash out color, but underexposing will bring out color–opposite of negaive film). And the “white balance” aspect is very much like using your warming and cooling filters, for color balance.
I’d love to keep up on your photographs! I think I may subscribe. 🙂
Thanks! Sorry – my reply mustn’t have made much sense – I am using a digital SLR at the moment, a Canon EOS 500D (all these photos were taken with this). The manual Pentax K1000 with ‘real’ film is long gone unfortunately 🙂 Wish I still had it for fun! Hmm…you got me thinking about my next digi SLR – Nikon vs Canon?!!!! An age-old debate!
Hi! I absolutely love your pictures. Look at them and feel like I’m there. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you 🙂
I enjoyed your posts and photos! Made me feel very homesick though…
You really managed to capture the beauty of South Africa and its people. Thanks!
Thanks! You’re lucky – it’s a beautiful country 🙂
The man in the 3rd photo [wearing the colourful hat] has the most intriguing face – kind yet determined. Who is he?
He is a very special person indeed. Very interesting character and we had many a fire-side conversation late into the night. He’d say he was a ‘global citizen’….and he is 🙂
Hello! I too saw your blog on the “Freshly Pressed” section of WordPress and my boyfriend and I have both been ogling at your pictures! I bought my SLR (Canon EOS 1000D) about 7 months ago … but just can’t seem to get to grips with it in the same way that you have! – Bit more practice needed I think! We are also on our travels (going to try to get to Aus all the way over-landing!) but just thought I’d say how much I’ve enjoyed reading your stories … your writing makes me feel I was there! Will look forward to more! 🙂
Glad you like it! Stick with it, practice definitely helps. If you haven’t done a digi SLR or photo course, then maybe download some online tutorials or buy a book for technical advice (I know National Geographic has some…). In the end though, I don’t think it comes down to technical skill (this isn’t my strength), I think it comes down to your creative eye, what you see and how you see it. Good luck with the photography and the travels!
Always glad to see someone relating their adventures in our area. There are huge disparities which need to be fought but, as a simplicity, we are extremely lucky to live in the prettiest area of South Africa. Next time, catch sunset at Bollard Bay in Summer and take a walk from Brenton-on-Lake to Featherbed Nature Reserve. Enjoy your travels!
Thanks for the advice! You’re very lucky – it’s a beautiful part of the world. Will definitely try and visit again 🙂
Thanks to Freshly Pressed, I met your blog. I have enjoyed seeing your wonderful photographs and accounts of your adventures.
Thanks! I’m going to keep it up, so tune in.
I came across your blog, completely by chance and was staggered at the quality of your pictures and writing. I have enjoyed reading and looking at all of your posts. Enjoy your travels:D