A dream #shotleft destination, this holiday province has loads to offer.
However, like any area there is an underside to it. A place of social and ecological challenges, unemployment, limited resources and lack of support from local government. The people of the Eastern Cape in their own quiet way are performing daily miracles.
This trip was a combination of the fun, action and wonders of the tourism face of the Eastern Cape, and the inspiring, everyday face of community projects, environmental initiatives and the people who get involved and are actively growing the province.
The Eastern Cape has bewitched me.
Not wanting to waste one second of my 5 days in Eastern Cape, I am up at 3am, sleepily shivering but singing in the shower in a cold and wintry Cape Town.
A 6am flight from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, a short drive to the Cape St Francis Resort and by 8.30 I am unpacked, have shed my Cape Town winter woollies and am enjoying a coffee in the sun.
The Eastern Cape magic kicks in.
Beach hikes and boats
Our first adventure is a 12km beach hike and clean-up. We are just east of Cape St Francis, walking the route of day 3 of the 4 day slackpacking Chokka Trail. This section of coastline in referred to as the Coastal Cradle of Humankind. Shell middens & ancient fish traps are evidence of the Khoisan who lived here thousands of years ago.
Armed with large plastic bags and big smiles we meander along sandy paths with eye candy views in all directions.
Dunes of colourful fynbos, rocky outcrops and stretches of beach free of footprints.
The sound and smell of the sea, a shipwreck, an unmarked grave on the beach.
Friendly holiday makers in the remote cottage who saw us in the distance and welcomed us with some shade, a chat and a platter of sliced oranges. Of course, I messed, am am now sticky and somehow have orange juice in my armpits!
Our group filled 8 large refuse bags with offensive, man made rubbish, from rope and bunched plastic used by the fishermen, to discarded plastic water bottles, tins and a single shoe. All this man made debris is very damaging to the marine life and regular beach clean ups are done in the area. The single shoe fitted me, but sadly I never found it mate, or saw any one legged women on the beach.
A quick look at the Seal Point lighthouse which was being repainted, and a peak through the cage at the penguins at SANCCOB ended our beach activities for the day. I almost fell into the sea while trying to get a shot of the waves breaking against the rocks. I did stumble in on the flat section of beach, getting drenched up to me knees, and squelching the last kilometer in sodden takkies.
At the Balobi Fish Market at Port St Francis, a Neptune’s feast of sea food refuelled us,my takkies sort of dried, while Jacques Le Roux told us about the waste management programs on the chokka boats, the zero overboard policy, and the international MARPOL Protocol that South Africa abides by.
From there we visited the Kromme Trust Heritage Centre set right on the rocks,at the mouth of the Kromme River. John Suckling showed us the clever fishing line bins and spoke about the problems in the area as there is no Environmental Officer . The Kromme Trust is run by volunteers and its mandate is to protect and preserve the environment for future generations. They will be announcing a very exciting discovery in the near future. More about that in another article.
As the sun was saying goodbye, we were treated to a cruise around the canals of St Francis Bay.
A bottle of bubbly, a gem of a sunset and then back to Cape St Francis Resort and their Joe Fish Restaurant for supper.
In spite of the bubbly, I managed to stay on the boat and even did a spritely leap from boatside to dock at the end of the cruise.
A early morning walking tour of the Cape St Francis Resort with Anita Lennox and Diesel the beach loving collie,before meeting Betty’s Tours.
Schools, artists and ninja knitters
We visited the Talhado Childrens Haven, a successful, vibrant Montessori school and were blown away by the Rotary Recycling Project where the children are educated about waste management, earn mula for everything they collect, and once a month they can redeem their mula for goods in the volunteer run shop. I would love to see this project rolled out throughout South Africa. This project will get a blog post all of its own.
We then met the creative ladies of Nomvula’s Knitters at their workshop before continuing to the retail outlet in the Village.
This is a great community initiative where it is a pleasure to support local crafters. I have huge respect for these ladies as I am totally unable to wield knitting needles. The fine motor skill and craft genes bypassed me completely.
A walking tour of the Art Route in the Village, visiting Inside Art where talented artists Gerda Hamm and Annelene Terblanche have a studio as well as gallery, Sea Cottage Antiques and Collectables and the Blue Earth Gift and Coffee Shop.The signage really appealed to me.
Waving a sad goodbye to our new friends in Cape St Francis we take a short drive to Jeffrey’s Bay, surfing mecca, where we are meet by Jacqui Bursey of the tourism office. First stop is The Bay Pasta Co for the biggest pizzas ever seen, while discussing our activities for the afternoon.
Aloes, penguin bins and etchings
We spent 2 fascinating hours with Alison Kuhl of the Supertubes Surfing Foundation. This initiative gets support from the surfing community to preserve the beaches and surrounding areas. Alison spoke with great passion about the aloes she “rescues” and showed us some of the 28 hectares of aloes that now beautify the dunes of these busy beaches. We marvelled at the community garden, an open well used space between the beach and the main road that she and her volunteer helpers have restored, and filled with indigenous plants. We delighted in the funky, giant penguins that serve as recycling bins in the park and on the beaches. Local “bergies” were sternly told to not throw litter or fall into the plants after their braai party.
Next stop was a visit to the Surf Art Gallery where owner Garth looked exactly as a veteran surfer should, while Martin Bakker showed us his incredible etchings depicting marine life.
A visit to the brand new Trauma Centre at the local police station was sobering. Marieka, the areas Traumatologist, is a saint. She is exposed daily to human tragedy, yet is unwavering in her belief that everyone is entitled to be heard, in a safe and private environment. The project is funded by Rotary, supported by the local police and staffed by trained volunteers.
The evening was spent on the balcony of our Seashells luxury apartment, gazing at the waves, watching the rain clouds roll in as we contemplated our early morning surfing lesson!
Surfing, horse riding and muscle aches
Andy Moon of Wavecrest Surf School is the most patient teacher ever. I managed to trip over my board before we even got to the water.
With Andy waist deep in the waves shouting encouragement, I almost stood about 10 times before a wobble and almighty splash back into the breakers. A 2 hour surf lesson is a full body work out, as well as a natural exfoliation!
I had sand everywhere, like really, E V E R Y W H E R E and the next day I felt pain in muscles I never knew I had.
But, oh my hat, it was lots of fun.
I have serious plans to return to JBay next year to take advantage of Wavecrests’ 7 day special. A lesson a day for 7 days, plus all day access to a board and wetsuit.
I can imagine myself actually standing up, fit and toned, with shiny smooth skin sandpapered by the sand. Thats my dream.
Off a surfboard and straight onto the back of a horse. Another first for me.
Hilmary of Featherfoot Horse Trails, helped short old me climb onto tallish boy Friesian horse who only wanted to stop and eat weeds, unlike the well behaved girl horses who trotted prettily along the road and onto the beach.
Once I got over the vertigo, and dear old Whisky was reprimanded by Hilmary, we had a scenic sedate walk along the beach.
For me, a first timer, wading through a river that comes up to the horses thigh (do horses have thighs?) was rather thrilling, as was staying on the horse for the full hour and a half.
Next time, I would like to try the next speed up from walking. I love to live dangerously.
Horse riding activates very different muscles to surfing. By the next morning every single muscle I own was letting me know I should go easy.
Spekbooms and proteas
Spekboom are known as “eco engineers”, sort of plant ninjas. Armed with picks and spades we climbed into bakkies and headed for the hills. The scenery and tranquility of the Baviaanskloof are unrivalled. The only sounds that were not from nature were my squeals when some N’guni cattle did not share my passion for wandering in their pasture taking pics of their kids. We eventually stopped, climbed a little and then planted our own spekboom. Pick wielding is not as easy as it looks, but we got the result. The best 15 minutes were spent standing sliently. Observing, listening and relishing the solitude.
The Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project (STRP) is a collaboration of Working for Ecosystems , Restoration Research Group (R3G) and Gamtoos Irrigation Board .It is a rehabilitation programme within the Baviaanskloof, Addo and Fish River area. More about this project in a separate post for all the conservationists and keen gardeners.
As it was Womens Day, we made stopped outside of Hankey to visit the final resting place of Sarah Bartman. Our chatter stopped as we walked around, reflecting on her life. Her grave is situated on the top of a hill with sweeping views of the Gamtoos Valley. Apparently an Educational Centre is planned for the site. I hope it happens as a visit to her grave leaves you eager for more information.
For some reason, I am permanently hungry when I am out and about. Thankfully, just 3 hours after breakfast we were heading to Oudebosch for lunch. The landscape changes again and becomes more tree ish as we get closer to the Tsitsikamma area. Jonker Fourie aka #FireflyAfrica was there to meet us. After stuffing my face yet again, we follow Jonker to the Regyne Protea Farm.
Wow! Hanli Viljoen gave us a tour of the coldroom, the greenhouse and finally into the fields, 80 hectares of proteas. These flowers never cease to amaze me. Their beauty is so intricate, complex, yet they grow wild on the mountains.
At Regyne, the largest protea farm in the world, they are cultivated primarily for the export market. Anyone who likes flowers or has the slightest interest in gardening, a visit here is a joy.
“There is nothing in Eersterivier, but you must go there. Just do it! ” says Esti Stewart of St Francis Tourism.
Being obedient, we did and oh my what a place, what a view, what a beach! I will let the photos do the talking. It was drizzling when we were there, but I must go back. It was outstanding in the rain, I cant imagine how amazing it could be in the summer sunshine.
No #shotleft is complete without a braai. Jonker did the honours until the rain dominated the fire and the oven was used to finish the job. A great nights sleep lulled by the ocean sounds and a wet windy walk on the beach in the morning that was divine, in spite of the weather.
Suspension bridges and grumpy dassies
Our last stop was to SANPARKS Storms River Mouth camp. I say this about every SANPARKS camp I go to, but this must be one of the most dramatically beautiful parks in the country. Vertical drops from green cliffs to wild sea, hidden beaches, steep gorges and tannin coloured rivers. Raw nature and an adventure playground. The cool weather was ideal for the curly climb, steps and viewpoints to the legendary suspension bridge. The path, viewing points and educational boards and signage seem to blend in with the surrounds. A dassie glares at us a few feet from the path. Buck toothed and grumpy looking, probably the nerd of the herd, he did pose for photos. I am not sure why, but it is thrilling standing on that bridge, swaying in the wind with mountains and the river behind you, and the sea shouting and splashing below. Judging by the height of the waves, and not being terribly brave or fond of being cold, I was secretly pleased that we had forgotten to book for kayaking and SUP lessons with Untouched Adventures. The water looked like it would turn my blue and miserable in seconds, wetsuit and all.
Next time, in warmer weather.
A big thank you to Debbie Damant and the #shotleft team, Dawn Jorgensen and Linda Markovina, intrepid travel buddies and friends,Esti Stewart and all the Cacadu District team for showing us their area, generosity and friendship.