Leaving the vineyards and orchards of the Elgin Valley we continue our road trip up the coast towards pretty town of Gansbaai – home to shark cage diving, seasonal whale watching and sublime sunsets over the bay.
There was to be no shark cage diving or whale watching this time around, but I did have the pleasure of introducing my hubby to ‘Suzi’, the huge (and authentic) Southern Right whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling at the Great White House. Not only is the Great White House the meeting point for the adventure activities offered by Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises, it is where guests learn about marine conservation, the Marine Big 5 and why ‘your choice makes a difference’. It is this ‘choice’ that enables the Dyer Island Conservation Trust to continue its important research into discovering and understanding this globally important marine eco-system.
We also had the opportunity of visiting the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary – APSS for short, which was just bricks, mortar and a seemingly impossible dream when I last visited. APSS, a project of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT), is a world class rehabilitation centre established to assist the endangered African penguin as well as other marine birds. The centre, which provides rehabilitative care to rescued penguins and other seabirds, is open free-of-charge to the public – a donation is appreciated, and all proceeds from the coffee shop (they make great coffee and brownies) and well stocked gift shop help fund this very necessary but costly non-profit organisation.
Shark cage diving and whale watching are popular activities for guests at the luxurious Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, as is hearing about the DICT conservation and research initiatives. It was in fact through the financial support of a Grootbos guest that enabled entrepreneur and conservationist, Wilfred Chivell’s APSS dream to become a reality. Grootbos itself is no stranger to conservation and responsible tourism, and through its award winning Grootbos Foundation, guests are able to have a direct impact on the natural environment and the local communities of Walker Bay.
We were not only there to experience their five-star hospitality and fine dining, but to have a close encounter with the fabulous fynbos for which they are world renowned. Safari guide Jo kept us entertained as she wove tales of Dutch settlers, local San culture and the medicinal and botanical value of fynbos into our two hour drive. The Dutch settlers were dismayed at finding hills covered with ‘fijn bosch’ – a ‘fine forest’ of evergreen shrubs, woody plants and flowering annuals and bulbs, when they were in fact looking for sturdy trees for ship building and construction.
Our next stop was the lovely Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay. As the only Western Cape game reserve with free-roaming Big Five, and its easy accessibility from Cape Town, Gondwana is exceptionally popular with both local and international visitors. We stayed in one of the spacious villas – complete with raised decks, exceptional views and… WiFi! Other options include the luxury suites at Kwena Lodge which offer a modern and luxurious twist to the traditional domed abode of the Khoi-San.
For guests that have ‘done’ numerous safaris and are looking for something a little more ‘hands-on’, a stay at the Gondwana Tented Camp offers just that. Get your hands a little dirty as you eradicate alien vegetation, set camera traps, monitor game and even catch amphibians in the stream – in a sense become a kid again! All this while still enjoying the relative comforts of home in a very relaxed, ‘out-doorsy’ way.
Soon we were ‘on the road again’ – the Willie Nelson song comes to mind – detouring through Sedgefield for a cappuccino at The Village Deli… home to freshly baked pastries and Fairtrade coffee. Then into Knysna to admire the spectacular view of the Knysna Heads from the lookout point and the carpet of colours the retreating tide reveals in the upper reaches of the Knysna Lagoon – best appreciated when one has more time, and preferably on a boat cruise!
The colours and comfort of the five-star Kurland Hotel were just what we needed. Being welcomed with bubbly in a room lined with books, comfy chairs and bowls of beautiful roses set the scene for a weekend of luxury and relaxation. A weekend filled with the fragrance of fresh roses, decadent chocolate cake and dreamy cappuccinos…
Executive Chef Leon Coetzee gave us a tour of the extensive herb and organic vegetable, the fields of organically grown honeybush and rooibos tea – which are used to produce Mandela Tea (in collaboration with the Long Walk to Freedom brand), the floating bee hives as well as the organically fed beef herd. With Chef Leon’s passion, it’s little wonder that dining at Kurland is a treat.
After the lush greenery and rolling hills of Kurland we headed to 22,000 hectares of pristine private wilderness in the Eastern Cape. Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, a renowned conservation and community success story, promised a ‘sophisticated safari experience for the conscientious traveller’ – and we weren’t disappointed.
Next up was Prana Lodge and Spa, located just north of East London in an area known as Chintsa. This luxury boutique hotel, in its well secluded forest setting, exceeded all our expectations… right from the start.
The trees and coastal forest are alive with bird sounds, and a raised wooden path opens out onto a raised platform with spectacular views of the deserted beach and, aptly named, wild coast ocean… this long 21km stretch of pristine coastline popular for an early morning and late afternoon stroll.
Dining is an almost full time job here at Prana. The portions are light, Executive Chef JC tells us, “and we’re big on health”, he says. They are also big on growing their own produce, sourcing seasonally and locally. Our meals were served indoors, beside a roaring log fire; on the verandah, overlooking a rim-flow pool shimmering in the evening light, and on the raised wooden deck overlooking the beach – where Vuyo, our waiter, ceremoniously revealed a ‘designer’ breakfast, while the white frothed waves of the Indian Ocean crashed rhythmically to the shore.
There is another very special thing about Prana Lodge. Their commitment to employing locally where possible, of up-skilling and promoting from within – Nicholas, the new chef, started in the scullery three years ago; the head waiter, Botha, was a brick-layer when the lodge was built and Vuyo, our waiter who started out as a labourer. I loved the confidence and pride displayed by those working at Prana, for me it is a sure indication that all is well… nothing better than getting up in the morning, happy to go to work!
And as with every road trip, there comes a time that one must go home… and back to work. Fabulous memories, exceptional places and wonderful experiences – such diversity, its little wonder guests to our shores go home and say they #loveSouthAfrica!
Huge thanks to the following establishments for their generosity in hosting us on our epic road trip…