It turns out South Africa is big, really big. It doesn’t take up all that much of Africa on a map, so the scale of it isn’t that apparent to us Americans. My dreams of seeing many far-flung parts of the country without flying a million times in 2 weeks were dashed. Luckily, we discovered a major vacation destination locals refer to as “the Garden Route” that was a reasonable distance from Cape Town.
While not exactly a clear path, the Garden Route refers to the area between Mossel Bay and Storms River along the southeastern coast of the country (and the continent!). It’s sort of like saying you are going to Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore. We found the Garden Route to be a fairly large geographic area with many towns, each with their own vibes and a great place to spend a few days.
Thanks to Steve’s intrepid nature we were able to rent a car. He now can boast he’s driven on 4 continents and in 3 countries with opposite-side driving, admittedly not all on this trip. The route isn’t really practical without a car it turns out. General consensus was also that driving was fine for foreigners but you need to learn how they use breakdown lanes to let people pass (sounds crazier than it was).
We started and ended our adventure with nights in Mossel Bay, a beach town which is also home to one of the largest gas-to-oil refineries on earth (?). Once past that you get to some very nice beaches and a small museum whose highlight was its explanation of the explorers of old. It has a centuries-old tree called the Post Office Tree where explorers would leave messages for each other on their way between Europe and India and SE Asia. It still has a mailbox and the gift shop does a brisk business in postcards with special postmarks:) The museum also had a replica of the Caravel that Bartolomeu Dias sailed from Portugal in 1488! The replica made the same journey on the 500th anniversary of its original journey. It’s remarkably small! Really incredible they made such voyages in them!
We then took a multi-stop road trip to get to our next sleeping location. One stop was the anti-climatic “map of Africa”. (I thought it was kind of cool, Steve and kids were decidedly unimpressed).
On the other hand the Outeniqua Transport Museum was far nicer and extensive than we’d imagined. Full of rare locomotives, cars, and memorabilia it was a rivet-counter’s paradise. It was also home to the self-proclaimed largest model railroad in the Southern Hemisphere. I’ll leave it to our resident expert on such things to verify, but it was big! Sadly not open for close viewing when were there, though.
Steve likely could have stayed all day, but we had a check-in to make.
Our next day and a half was in Plettenberg Bay, where we were welcomed by a lovely host of our guest house who had a charm that caught my eye. It looked like the outline of New Jersey. Weird. Couldn’t be. Well it was. She was an au pair in MA and then NJ before her visa expired! She was very excited to have guests from the US! Plett, as it’s known, had a gorgeous beach, that unfortunately was too windy for comfort during part of our stay. We ended up doing a lot of reading and relaxing by the small pool and our tiny deck here, but will report it is lovely beach spot with some insanely huge and posh housing.
We then made our trip in reverse, stopping at a short scenic walk and for lunch in another tourist/beach town Knysna on our way back to Cape Town.