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Tsitsikamma to Bulungula

Being a few weeks behind on the blog did not seem like so big a deal while we were still on the road, but now that we are back in the states it does feel a little bit weird writing the last few blog posts… oh well, here we go.

Ah the rain. The closer we got back to the coast the worse the weather became. We had to cross one more pass and it was in a complete white-out. This, mixed with the windy road and drop offs disappearing into the mist, made for a slow and sketchy drive. We made it alive back down to the coastal road and to the small seaside hamlet of Natures Valley.

Natures Valley

South Africans are as passionate about their Braai as we Americans are about our BBQ, and they are one and the same. Over a wood fire I Braai’ed up some chicken kebabs and felt good about partaking in a real South African tradition! The rain started late that night. It rained. And, it rained. It rained hard. In the morning our tent was in two inches of standing water, and miraculously the inside was only damp. Later we heard on the radio that there had been massive flooding up the coast in Port Elizabeth and we felt lucky to not have been worse off as many people had lost their homes.

Flooded Campsite

We skipped on down the coast to the main camp in the Tsitsikamma National Park. This is SA’s second most popular national park behind Kruger, and was amazing. Like Big Sur in California the waves thundered on a rocky coast with a nice state park campsite right on the water. We finally got some decent weather and set out for a day hike on the Otter Trail. This is a five day walk between huts on the coastline that gets booked out almost a year in advance. We walked the first section to a waterfall that fell almost directly into the sea. We found a rock to sit on with the fresh river water crashing down into a large pool in front of us while the big surf pummeled the rocks behind us. It was a magical spot and I could only imagine how much fun the entire hike must be.

Campsite at Tsitsikamma
Waterfall on the Otter Trail

View from the Trail
View from Camp
View of Camp from a lookout

Here we go again. The lure of the wide open desert country just over the mountains is irresistible. The coast is amazing but there is something about the Karoo that is drawing us back again for the third time. Over the hills and not that far away the vegetation disappeared and we were in red rock country again.

On the road to Graaff Reinet

Graff Reinet is one of the oldest settlements in South Africa and has the historic buildings to prove it. However, we did not come for the old architecture but for the natural beauty of the landscape. A small game reserve provided a fun little drive that evening. We got to see our first gemsbok (cool antelope… Google it) and had a front row seat to see a Goshawk (big beautiful hawk) devouring a field mouse. This was a real incredible look into the life of a bird of prey. We pressed on to visit a rocky mountaintop looking over the Valley of Desolation. Rising early at a really weird little caravan park, we were up on the mountaintop just after sunrise when the sun paints the desert landscape with it soft morning glow.

Dutch Church in Graaff Reinet
Valley of Desolation

After letting Roxy (our trusty GPS) lead us down a road to nowhere we decided to lock her up in the glove box and navigate our own way to the Addo Elephant National Park. We had some successful game drives here, and got a better feel for what it is like to be on a self-drive safari. A male lion slept peacefully a few feet from the passenger side door. We got up close and a little nervous with a big male Kudu (complete with spiral antlers), and had to drive the elephant gauntlet past a large watering hole. This was just scary. Over 100 "ellies" were in the area, and the road snaked through the bushes they were feeding on. So, for what felt like forever, we were surrounded by animals that could crush our little Kia like a spent beer can.

Sculls at the entrance to Addo Elephant Park
Meghan checks out the rare flightless dung beetle
Party at the watering hole!
Running the gauntlet… to close for comfort.

We drove through the park all the way back to the coast and found the little fishing village of Kenton on Sea. We camped here for two nights at a pretty caravan park and had a nice walk on the beach. The owner gave me a large package of frozen Kudu sausages, they were absolutely delicious and kept me fed for a few days. After seeing the lion sleeping next to his Kudu carcass the day before in Addo, I felt like the king of the jungle with my sausages.

The beach at Kenton on Sea
Tent time

The next day would be an all day drive-athon with Meghan at the wheal negotiating tricky back roads and kia swallowing potholes. The garden route ended and the wild coast had begun. Technically I think there is a sunshine coast in there somewhere but it is all so hard to keep track of in this final stage of our travels. Anyway, the wild coast marks a change from the upscale and first-world feeling towns we had been passing through on the tourist friendly coastline from the cape to the garden route. We have entered the “Transkei”. I am not sure if this term is exactly PC because it is an apartheid era term for the area. Regardless, it is home to the native Zhosa people who still cling to the traditions. It felt like we were beamed back to some of the rural areas we had been through earlier in our trip. This was really nice. The towns felt distinctively more African and the landscape was dotted with brightly colored traditional rondavels (homes). We sought out one of the beaches on the rough and rugged wild coast to spend a few days. This area does not have a coastal road and you need to drive somewhat questionable roads to get down to the coast. To get to Bulungula backpackers you must make an epic 3 hour tour from the main road. . The Bulungula Backpackers Lodge was truly in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed a stunning location just above a large estuary where it met the sea. We were able to set up camp right on the dunes looking right over the sea.

Country Soccer Pitch, yes… they call it soccer here

The Backpackers lodge is 40% owned by local Xhosa people and you felt at times like you were more at a community lodge than just a backpackers lodge. They had many activities that were all run by locals and when they were not working they were hanging around the lodge socializing by day and playing drums around the fire by night. All the accommodations as well as bathroom and shower blocks were in Rondavels. Surrounding the lodge were local homes and villages spread out on the green hillsides. This mixed with the estuary and ocean view was incredible. We stayed for three days and completely loved it. Looking back we should have stayed longer. We tried to do a day of canoeing up the river but got blown out by the wind. I got in a morning of fishing but I did not catch anything. The local guy I went with cooked up his catch and I had the freshest fish available for an early lunch. I got in an afternoon walk to a “sacred” hill where in the old times tribesmen would go to pray for rain. I went with John and another girl we had met and on the way back we stopped by John's home and walked through his village. This was a nice look into the life of the Xhosa people. We had to walk on foot trails in the dark for about 45 minutes before we got back to camp. That last morning we unzipped our tent to look out on the ocean, and while still in our sleeping bags watched dolphins play in the surf. Incredible!

Bulungula Backpakers
Bulungula Backpakers
Campsite by the sea
View from my hike
Johns House

Posted by pmunson 14:57 Archived in South Africa

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Glad to see you are still working hard! I'm looking forward to reading about CT

by Ellen

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