4.30am rise today in order to catch a flight from Durban to Port Elizabeth at 8am. We are about to embark on what is essentially the second half of our Africa tour - travelling the Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, with a number of stops in between. I have no doubt it will provide quite a contrast to the first half of the tour.
We say goodbye to Nigel our guide at the check-in desk of Durban airport and, after a flight lasting one hour 20 mins, say hello to Rudy, our new guide, waiting to meet us at Port Elizabeth. It would also appear that we have said goodbye to the sunshine in Durban and hello to the rain in Port Elizabeth. Rudy seems an upbeat and helpful chap and Charles, our new driver, equally a gentleman - holding out his hand to help the ladies on and off the bus.
Prior to arriving at Port Elizabeth I had commented to some of the guests that I thought it disappointing we weren't getting to spend some time in the city, rather we were simply driving through. On arrival it becomes fairly apparent why, and Rudy confirms that there is nothing in Port Elizabeth, other than the docks. One in every two people in the city is unemployed, and there is simply nothing within its run down confines to attract tourists. Rudy does allow one stop next to the Donkin Reserve where we take a couple of photos......
.......then we move on, rain in tow.
We are on our way to Knysna today, where we will stay in a log inn for two nights. It will be a full day of travelling, with the route taking in the Tsitsikamma Mountains and indigenous forest. As we travel along the scenery is stunning - very green and lush. Quite a contrast to the landscape we have seen thus far on the trip.
Our first stop is at Storms Bridge - a road / walking bridge over a very large gorge in the Tsktsikamma Mountains. The cloud is lying very low and grey over the mountains, giving very dramatic and atmospheric views. The name of the place seems so appropriate!
Half an hour later and we are back on the bus and moving on a little further down the road to a part of the forest that contains a tree, aged over 1000 years. It is absolutely spectacular, the trunk being approx. 6 feet in diameter, but the layout and sheer size makes it impossible to capture successfully with the camera; it is deep in the middle of a thick forest, so I can't get enough distance on the thing to capture full frame. So I reluctantly admit defeat and move on.
Next stop is five minutes further down the road, still in the Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve. Destination here is the Storms River Mouth / Suspension Bridge which, once reached, offers stunning views of the Garden Route coast line. Rudy advises us it is reached by a walk of 1.5km and 300 steps there, and the same back. My misaligned knee caps start screaming in horror at the prospect, but I decide to push on forward with the camera to see what is for seeing.
And before I even get started I come across this cutie little Rock Dassie enjoying the sunshine (which has now appeared).
I just love the fact that, regardless of where you are in South Africa, there always seems to be some kind of wildlife waiting to be photographed!
To be honest, regardless of whether you made it to the suspension bridge, the scenery at this point in the trip is absolutely stunning.
Incredible waves crashing over a stunning coast line - it is truly spectacular.
I decide to push on with the board walk through the forest and upwards to the Suspension Bridge.
It is really quite a strenuous walk and, just to add to the plight of the misaligned knee caps, I lose half the sole of one of my trainers enroute. But eventually me, the misaligned knee caps, and my one and a half pair of trainers make it, and the views are quite something to behold. Only problem: the bridge is wobbly; a critical eye over its construction leads me to believe that it isn't the safest, and a very cheeky chappie in the group by the name of Colin decides to give the bridge a good shake whilst I am on it! With a good hundred feet drop into the wild sea below, I beat a hasty retreat back to the comfort of solid ground! Not before the elements try to further strip me of my attire though and take my hat into the wind. Thank you John for risking life and limb to rescue it, and save me from a bad hair fortnight!
This two hour stop has been extremely welcome.
The trip was an optional extra to the scheduled itinerary, but worth every one of the 40 Rands paid.
I guess that is where the expertise of a local guide proves invaluable.
We move on and make a quick stop at yet another bridge - this one home to the highest bungee jump in the world (reportedly). We watch from the viewing deck as two people take the plunge. I will never get my head around where the thrill is in taking your life in your hands, and jumping thousands of feet, attached only to an elastic band - makes me feel queasy just watching!
A couple of more photo stops but it is apparent that the group is beginning to tire quickly.
So we bid goodbye to the coast for just now and make our way to the hotel.
It is at this point that Rudy tells us of an optional trip, available to us the following morning at the price of 400 Rands. The trip is to the Knysna Township. Now if you had asked me before I came to Africa if I would do a township tour, I would have laughed and proclaimed it more likely that I'd do a triple bungee jump! But this one sounds a little different......
It is run by a man called Mwandi, who used to work as a porter / night manager at the hotel we are now about to stay in. Whilst working at the hotel, Mwandi identified a gap in the tourist market - to take people into the township and experience 'real Africa'. The tour he built up so successfully that he was able to leave his hotel job, and focus on being a tour guide full time.
Mwandi lives in the township, and a proportion of the monies paid to him from the tour are re-injected back into the township and school, helping to keep local people onside. Some people, including myself, may feel that staring and photographing poverty is inappropriate and uncomfortable. But Rudy reassures us that the people of the township are extremely welcoming, proud of their roots, and indeed grateful for tourists visiting, as it helps integrate townships more into mainstream tourism, which can only benefit the township itself. I ask Rudy about safety e.g. carrying an expensive camera, and I am assured it is simply not an issue, because of the reputation of Mwandi. I am sold and so book the excursion, and pay my 400 Rand.
Then on to the next hotel - the Knysna Log-Inn - reportedly the largest timber built construction in the Southern hemisphere. And it is a little bit special inside - apart from anything else, each room comes with a whole jar of biscuits - enough said!
Thank you for reading.