Around the Cape in a motorbike sidecar

One of my South African travel bucket list items I got to tick off during 2017 was going on a motorcycle sidecar tour in the Cape.  A visit to a conference in Stellenbosch had the opportunity arise to join a tour from Spier via Strand and Gordon’s Bay as far as the Stoney Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay and back and I just could not say no come rain or shine.  Which turned out to be the case. Literally.

The guide from Cape Sidecar Adventures picked two of us up from the hotel on a wet and dreary day.  We both received calls from the owner early morning already to check if we were still interested to go even though it was wet out, and we were both still game.  So the trip was on.  Kitted out in rain pants and leather jackets my companion for the day slipped into the sidecar while I hopped onto the back of the bike.  The first sheet of rain hit as we went through Stellenbosch but neither of us wanted to miss out on the experience and with the guide willing we kept going.

Chapman’s Peak may be rated as one of the ten most scenic roads in the world, but I’ve got to be honest, the R44 from Gordon’s Bay to Rooi-Els doesn’t have to stand back one step.  It really is a stunning drive along the coastline even with rain in your face.  Ordinarily, this specific tour would go on to Kleinmond but once we got to the penguins at Stoney Point it started coming down a bit so we settled for hot chocolates in the coffee shop before backtracking to Pringle Bay for a fish and chips lunch by a fireplace. Did we mind being slightly wet (because the layers kept most of the water out)? Hell no. We were having too good a time.

The weather started clearing on our return journey so we got to stop at a couple of the viewpoints along the way.  The views really are stunning but the highlight is definitely being able to go on a trip on one of these beautiful historic bikes.  Being able to tick this off my bucket list is one thing, but now I am hooked and next up would love to do their full day Peninsula Tour with visits to Hout Bay, Chappies, Cape Point and Boulders in Simon’s Town.

PS, I would have loved to take some stunning pictures of our ride, the scenery and the bike itself, but the weather just didn’t play along and I kept the camera hidden away cosy and dry for most of the trip.

Lions Head Sunset

Last week I spent some time in Cape Town attending the annual World Travel Market Africa tourism trade show.  The one afternoon after the show I headed up to Table Mountain Road for a walk just before sunset and could kick myself for leaving my camera at the guesthouse the morning.  My phone had to do and I caught the sun setting between Table Mountain and Lions Head through the wild grasses.
Moments later as the sun disappeared past the mountain towards the horizon

Sunset from Signal Hill

They say that you can’t really say you’ve visited Cape Town if you haven’t been up Table Mountain. We’ve done Table Mountain before and with a family of four it’s a bit of an expensive exercise so on our whistle stop visit to the Mother City for the Cape Town Mega event we decided on the next best option.  Signal Hill.  Even better, Signal Hill at sunset.

The one thing we didn’t quite think of was that it was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was great so just about half of Cape Town had the same thing in mind.  Traffic up was hectic and parking is limited.  Add to that a coach parked in the middle of the turning point at the top and cars squeezing into every available spot so the clever option was to park on the far side and cut across the top of Signal Hill on foot.  Something which turned out to be a wise move as leaving later on was much quicker from that side. 

The material covered take off area used by the paragliding outfit based up on Signal Hill makes for the ideal viewing site and as the sun started heading towards the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean, people took their places. 

There you have it, a beautiful Cape Town sunset over the sea.  Not many clouds, or more accurately just about nothing at all, meant no beautiful colours and painted skies, but still stunning never the less.  
The options to watch the sun setting over the Atlantic in Cape Town is many but I prefer Signal Hill because of all the added views of Table Mountain and the surrounding city.  But lesson learned.  Don’t go on the weekend in peak season.

All the views from Signal Hill

Signal Hill in Cape Town isn’t just a great spot to view the sunset from, but it’s also has some awesome views which is ideal if you don’t have the time or budget to go up Table Mountain.
Green Point with the Cape Town Stadium and Table Bay with Robben Island in the distance on the left

Cape Town Harbour with the V&A Waterfront as well as the City Bowl

Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles

Cape Town’s Noon Gun. An almighty BOOM!

It’s a beautiful late morning in the Cape Town City Bowl.  Not much of a breeze blowing and Table Mountain, without a table cloth draped over it, rises up behind the city in all her glory.  Peaceful.  Visitors and locals alike are going about their daily routine, heading between meetings, window shopping, grabbing a quick coffee, sightseeing… Suddenly, BOOM! Pigeons fly up from the pavement, a couple of American tourists duck for cover, a Joburg businessman jerks his head up, a travel blogger from PE nearly drops her camera and a small group of Germans recompose themselves when they realised that nobody else reacted to the sound.  A local sipping his cappuccino at a table on the pavement outside one of the many coffee shops just shake his head and smile.  The Noon Gun gets them every time.

Although I get to visit Cape Town two or three times a year and enjoys going up to Signal Hill for sunset, I haven’t been to see the Noon Gun in probably close to a decade and a half.  A visit to the Noon Gun during a quick trip to the Geocaching MEGA in the Mother City meant I didn’t just get to go and see the gun fire again, but also show it to my family who made the trip down with me.  
The Noon Gun (which are actually two cannons, the second just in case the first one fails) are situated on the side of Signal Hill overlooking the City Bowl and Sea Point.  About 15 minutes before it is time to fire, a red flag is raised and a member of the SA Navy steps up to prepare the guns for the daily shot.  Everybody stood a bit closer and a quick history lesson followed.
The Noon Gun has been fired since February 1806 and the two original guns are still in use today.  The guns were cast in England in 1794 and brought to the Cape a year later while under British occupation, apparently making the two guns the oldest guns in daily use in the world.  The reasoning behind firing a shot at noon every day (except for Sundays and Public Holidays) was, according to local tradition, to allow ships in port to check the accuracy of their marine chronometers.  Even though a Time Ball was taken into use in 1818, the gun continued to fire daily till this day and many Cape Townian still set their watches to it.  In 1864 they started to trigger the gun remotely from the master clock of the oldest timekeeper in the country, the South African Astronomical Observatory, thanks to the advent of the galvanic telegraph.

Both 18-pounder smoothbore muzzleloaders are loaded daily (six days a week as mentioned previously) with 1,5 kg of gunpowder each.  If the remote trigger on the first gun fails for some reason, then the Cannoneer on duty will quickly change over and fire the second gun manually.  You don’t get to see somebody load a cannon with a rammer every day, but you do at the Noon Gun when a rammer gets used to tamp the charge into the muzzle.

With noon approaching and everything in place for the gun to be fired, we were all asked to stand away a short distance.  If you are afraid you’ll get too much of a fright because of the sound, then standing behind the guns are best, but for the best view then a side position is the place to be.  Cameras and phones got lined up and suddenly it was time.  The countdown started at 10… 9… 8… 7… a quick check if the camera was focused properly… 6… 5… the lady next to me giggled nervously… 4… 3… it was time… 2… 1… BOOOOOM! Smoke everywhere. Exclamations all over.  Wow, that was slightly louder than most expected.  Quick check to see what my photo looks like and disappointment.  A total blur.  The shock of the BOOM messed with my focus.

A couple of my Geocaching friends did get video clips of the gun going off though and I’m nicking Penny’s one to share with you.

Getting to the Noon Gun is quite easy actually.  Just follow the “Noon Gun” signs from the corner of Buitengracht and Bloem Streets up through the Bo-Kaap along Military Road.  Just take it easy going up though as the road is steep and winding and there’s always just that one guy who will come flying down from the other direction.

The best part of visiting the Noon Gun?  It is totally FREE!!!

A window on Table Mountain

Two weeks ago we had a whistle stop visit to Cape Town to attend the Geocaching MEGA that takes place somewhere in South Africa only every two years.  We literally drove the 800 km down to Cape Town on the Friday afternoon, attended the MEGA on the Saturday and returned on the Sunday.  One of the events during the day took place on Signal Hill and I just could not pass the opportunity to snap a pic of Drama Princess in the picture frame up there with Table Mountain in the background.

A Sunday morning drive up the Montagu Pass

The Garden Route has many iconic passes.  Some crossing over mountains and others through gorges.  Some are part of main routes and are accessible to all, some are off the beaten track and only 4×4’s are recommended while others are only accessible on foot or bicycle.  The Montagu Pass outside of George is one that would fit in between the first two of the options above.  A dirt road over the Outeniqua Mountains, not a main road but accessible to all.  The last time I drove over the Montagu Pass was probably before the KidZ were born so a long weekend in George was the perfect excuse to grab an hour or two and go exploring.  And just to prove that you can do it in a normal sedan we took it on in the Aveo.  Not that I have a 4×4 to do it in otherwise anyways.

Construction on the Montagu Pass started in 1844 under the charge of Henry Fancourt White – yes, the same one of Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate fame – using 250 convict labors. The pass, named after Sir John Montagu who was the Colonial Secretary of the Cape in the 1840s, opened in 1848 and replaced the old Cradock Pass (a hiking trail these days) which used to take travelers three days to get across the mountains into the interior.  
The first stop our our journey wasn’t too far up the road at The Old Toll House.  I actually got a “Are we getting out already?” from the KidZ.  The historic building, built of local stone, have just been restored and work was still being done on it when we passed by.  This is where early travelers had to pay their toll to use the pass.  The toll used to be 2 pence per wheel and one penny for each pulling animal, 2 pence for a horse, cow, ox or mule and 1 half a penny for a sheep, goat or pig.  Wonder what the toll keeper would have said about the traffic using the road these days? 
Dropping down into the valley we stopped at the old stone bridge over the Keur River.  The bridge was designed and built by Charles Mitchell, another prolific South African road builder of the time.  I climbed down the side of the bridge for two reasons.  First to see it from the side and secondly to find the Geocache hidden there.  What’s any road trip without a spot of Geocaching anyways?   
Looking down from the bridge the Keur River could be seen below with the brown coloured water that is to typical of the rivers in the Garden Route region.  The brown colour is from tannin the river picks up as it flows through the forests and fynbos of the region.  All the leaves and plant material that drops on the ground acts as a teabag of sort as the water flows through it, giving it this colour.  The water is still perfectly clean though and used by many straight from the rivers.
We passed through Die Noute, the narrowest part of the pass, and traveled along the valley before starting to climb out and up the mountain.  It’s great to see how the original stone work is still visible on the side of the pass.  No wonder as the pass is said to be the oldest unaltered pass in South Africa.

As we climbed out of the valley and up the mountain vegetation quickly change to the fynbos that covers the surrounding mountains and one can’t but help to marvel at the variety of plants and flowers visible right next to the road.

Drama Princess even had me stop at one of the spots where a stream flowed down the mountain because she wanted to feel how cold the water was and taste it.
There are four passes that cross the Outenique Mountains in this area.  The original Cradock Pass, the Montagu Pass that we were on, the modern Outeniqua Pass and then the railway pass.  As we approached the top of the mountain we got to the first of two railway bridges you get to see while on the pass.  Until about a decade or two ago there were still steam trains using this line, but these days the best way to see it is by going up the pass on the Outeniqua Power Van.  Or stopping under it like we did. 

The bridge is located at Stinkhoutdraai (Stinkwood Corner) which was named after the Stinkwood Trees that used to grow here very prolifically.  There are still some left these days, but many were cut down during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Pulling over here wasn’t just about the bridge but also for us to have a closer look at the wooded cove just behind with another stream flowing down it. 

Near the top of the pass we passed below the second of the two railway bridges.

We decided not to drive out the back of the pass towards the Langkloof and back to George over the Outeniqua Pass, but to rather backtrack for a second taste of the Montagu Pass.  You get to see different sights and things at different angles that way anyway.  Our turning point was at Amanda’s Grave near the top from where we could look back down the pass we just came up on and was about to return back to.
It really is a pity that most people are always in such a hurry to get to their destinations that they just rush along the fastest route possible.  In this case the Outeniqua Pass.  But next time you are in the area, do pinch off an hour or so extra and take a leisurely drive up or down the old pass.  I promise you won’t be sorry.

Gliding around the Wilderness lakes on a segway

Mountain biking has become a very popular pastime of late and something I’d like to find the time for to try out.  Time and the money for a proper mountain bike.  I really wouldn’t mind a proper off road bike to travel with.  You know, one of those big BMW ones.  But I can barely afford a scale model one so at the moment my favorite two wheel type of transportation is definitely a segway.  Not that I have one, for that it’s way too an expensive a toy as well, but I’ve had the privilege to go on the segway tour in the Tsitsikamma a couple of times before.  Heading back to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town recently I decided to stretch my legs a bit at Wilderness and see what the Wilderness segway tour was all about.  
While the Tsitsikamma Segway Tour follows a route into the forest, the Wilderness tour follows the Pied Kingfisher Trail through the Ebb and Flow (Wilderness) section of the Garden Route National Park.  I was going to be taken on a private tour but just then a newly wed couple from the Middle East on their first visit to South Africa arrived and joined the tour.  So here I want to vent just a little.  They were told that I was media (I love it when I get called media) and that the regular tour was only going 30 minutes later, but they still wanted to join.  Then the man came to me afterwards to tell me he doesn’t want me to publish any pictures of his wife.  Really? I understand and respect their culture but if you didn’t want to be in the pictures then why agree to go along and even pose for pictures? Whyyyyyy????  But I will respect their wishes and not post pictures of their faces.  Luckily I rode at the back so all you get to see of them are their backsides. Ok, rant over and back to this great experience.

We did the obligatory training session in the training yard to make sure we knew how to steer, stop and maneuver before we headed out and hit the trails with our guide in the lead and, as mentioned, me as rear guard seeing that I was a experienced segway rider.  Yeh, love that one as well.  Experienced segway rider.  The trip basically takes you out parallel to the Touw River through varied vegetation types ranging from fynbos to coastal shrubs and wetland vegetation.  All along the way you catch glimpses of the river and lakes and, in the case of the picture above, a couple of locals fishing next to the path.
The path was very easy to follow and at the only technical bit there was an alternative if you didn’t want to try it out.  The guide was never in a hurry and had all the patience in the world when I asked if he could just backtrack a bit so I could get a photo of them coming out of the trail. It was really a pleasure going out on the trip with him.  But I’m digressing.  At the turning point we took a break to enjoy the view of the lake and a part of Wilderness next to the N2 in the distance before we turned around.  The only reason this is the turning point is that the bridge is too narrow for the segways to cross over.  Pity though, and pity that SAN Parks don’t allow them to go on more trails, because it would have been nice to do a circular route and not an out and back.

On the way back we did get to see the Ebb and Flow campsite next to the river. Wow, what a beautiful spot.  I definitely need to bring the family to camp here some time and take some canoes upstream.  
Having done both the Tsitsikamma segway tours (the one hour and two hour tours) before I’m going to be very honest here.  I much rather prefer the Tsitsikamma ones over this, but it is because I am a forest person and will do anything to get into the forest.  All in all I had a very enjoyable experience on the Wilderness segway tour.  I have to say that it’s a different way to experience the Wilderness lakes area from on foot or in a canoe as most do and if you are in the area with some time on your hands then it’s really worth the experience.  
Disclosure: I was invited to join in a segway tour by Segway Tours as I work in the tourism industry and not as a blogger, while I was travelling back to PE from Cape Town.  They didn’t ask for a blog post to be written and I keep full editorial control over the post.

Driving between Wilderness and George along the back roads

Last Thursday morning I did a presentation at a tourism stakeholder workshop in the Tsitsikamma and after lunch moved on to George for a weekend exhibit.  Having had some time on my hands I decided to veer off the main road and pick up a few Geocaches along Bo-Langvlei Road, the dirt road running behind the lakes between Sedgefield and Wilderness.  The plan wasn’t to do the whole road but only the last section of it starting between Bo-Langvlei and Island Lake.  My plan was just to Geocache and explore a bit so my camera was securely packed away in the boot of the Polo and I was just snapping pics with my phone along the way.  
Turning off the N2 I hit the first stretch of dirt road which was nice and smooth with only a few bumps to negotiate.  The second cache on my list was located at the old Duiwerivier Railway Station.  It’s really sad to see how the railway infrastructure along the line has deteriorated over the ten years since it was closed due to flooding.  It’s going to take a bit more than just cutting back a few bushes and pulling out some weeds to get the train running along this track again.
Leaving the station I started heading west and the next cache located at the back of Island Lake.  Standing on top of a beacon next to the road the view across the lake was stunning and although I could probably have spent a lot more time there it was time to get moving again.
I passed the Hoekwil Road turnoff and proceeded along Waterside Road at the back of the Serpentine section of the river.  The next stop was at the bridge over the Touw River, one of the only bridges in the country that is shared by both the road and the railway line.  The bridge is located inside the Wilderness National Park with both the Ebb and Flow campsites located to the left and right of it.  While I was searching for the cache under the bridge a number of holiday makers passed by in canoes on the river.  I’ve still gotta do that.  The beautiful surroundings just reminded me again that Ebb and Flow is still on our list of campsites we want to stay at in future.
At this stage my plans changed slightly and I decided to backtrack a kilometer or two and take the Hoekwil Road.  This tar road took me way up the hill from where I could see the lakes district below, past the community of Hoekwil and onto the Seven Passes Road.  I’m kinda embarrassed to say that I’ve never driven the Seven Passes Road although I’ve heard how scenic it was.  The Seven Passes Road is the old road between Knysna and George and traverses, yes you guessed it, seven passes along the way.  The majority of the road was tar with bits of very good dirt road in between.  Along the top between river valleys were mostly open areas with farms while the valleys are covered in pockets of indigenous forest. 
The first pass I drove through led down to the Touw River with an old steel bridge spanning the whiskey brown water that is so typical of the rivers and streams of the Garden Route.
The whiskey coloured Touw River with it’s surrounding forest
The second pass took me down to the Silwer River…
… and by now I was well and truly convinced that I had discovered one of the lesser known but truly worth discovering gems of the Garden Route.
The last pass took me down to the Kaaimans River, well known for the pass on the N2 between Wilderness and George as well as the railway bridge spanning the river mouth.  But here I was away from the hustle and bustle rush of the N2.  The sun was about to go under although it was getting dark very quickly at the bottom of the valley.   
I parked just past the old bridge built in 1904 and followed a path down the river for about 50 meters or so towards the last of the caches for the day.  After a bit of a tough search I found what I was looking for with the help of my phone torch and on my way back to the car I just realised again how often Geocaching can take one off the beaten track and to places like this.  Places that you would often not have seen if it wasn’t for a cache being located in the area. 
At the top of the pass the road spit me out close to the Saasveld Campus just outside of George with the silhouette of the Outenique Mountains beyond the town as my horizon.  It had been a very interesting and, frankly, relaxing afternoon and in my opinion a much better option that if I had just barreled along the N2 and sat around the guesthouse for the rest of the afternoon waiting to go and get dinner.  All thanks to a few containers forming part of a global treasure hunt game hidden along the way.