My Very Long Weekend should have been in Indonesia this December but the pandemic had other plans so we grabbed the opportunity for a road trip to some of the places on our South Africa bucket list, doing our best to avoid the crowds. The idea was to average about 3 nights in each place, with 3-5 hour drives in between, and aiming for remote destinations and self catering accommodation where we could stay in our tiny bubble.
First stop was Zastron, a little town in the eastern Free State, near Maseru. The town itself isn’t very exciting, but it’s picturesque and is in an ideal location as a for stopover en route to the Eastern Cape. Aasvoelkop just behind the town is a Cape vulture nursery and it’s worth watching out for the these endangered birds soaring around town. We recommend 36 on Boom (http://www.36onboom.co.za ) for accommodation and Nel’s (Nel’s Restaurant) for a fantastic burger and super spicy livers. This was one of very few restaurants we visited on this trip, which was a real treat.
From Zastron, we were off for two nights at Mountain Zebra National Park, probably SANPark’s best kept secret (https://www.sanparks.org/parks/mountain_zebra/). We had never really thought of Mountain Zebra as a destination, more of a pleasant stop over, but we loved every minute of it and could easily have stayed an extra night. The park has spectacular scenery, excellent game and fantastic birding. The main rest camp seemed lovely but we opted for one of the two mountain cottages – a simple stone cottage up in the mountains, only accessible by 4×4 and totally off grid. The one disadvantage of staying in the mountain cottages is that you can’t do night drives, which we have heard are really good – one for our next visit. Luckily, you can get down to the main camp in time for a cheetah tracking expedition which was a major highlight. We tracked down one of the collared cheetahs and his two cubs, first on a vehicle and then on foot, getting within 20 meters of them! Bookings for Mountain Zebra can be made on the excellent Sanparks website and the very reasonably priced cheetah tracking is booked directly at main camp reception.
Our next stop was a visit to our friends Erol and Elke, who had rented a house in Nature’s Valley. Nature’s is a sweet little hamlet in the middle of the Tsitsikamma national park. Most of the houses are wooden cabins surrounded by forest and there is only one small shop and bar/restaurant. The beaches were closed but there is a lovely lagoon for SUPing and plenty of interesting hiking around town. We also spent an excellent morning birding with Ian Pletzer, a bird guide based in nearby Plettenberg Bay, and were treated to a magnificent cheese lunch at Fynboshoek cheese farm.
From Nature’s, we drove up the historic Prince Alfred’s pass, which is the longest publicly accessible pass in South Africa and also the second oldest unaltered pass still in use. The pass is untarred and very narrow which makes travelling against the flow of holiday-makers speeding down to Knysna pretty terrifying, but it’s also very picturesque and there is the option to stop for milktart halfway up!
The pass ends just outside of Uniondale, from where it is an easy drive into the Baviaanskloof wilderness area. We opted to stay at Go Baviaans (https://gobaviaans.co.za) on the western end of the Kloof, which is the home of the lovely Cedar Falls day hike (about 9km, and be prepared for some swimming) and the multi-day Leopard Trail. Our ‘Just for Two’ cottage was fabulous – totally isolated, no electricity but well equipped, and with an awesome outdoor bathroom.
Driving the full length of the Baviaanskloof requires a 4×4 and takes about 6 hours, but it’s well worth the effort, and so we did it en route to our next stop, Kenton-on-Sea. The road conditions weren’t bad, but it does get quite narrow and steep in sections. The road takes you through an astonishing variety of scenery, starting in the Karoo, travelling through the mountains and ending up in lush riverine forest.
Our stop just outside Kenton was mostly about spending quality time with friends, and so we camped with our friends Chris and Tor on the banks of the Kariega river, at a spot where Chris’s family have been camping for more than a hundred years. Kenton is another small seaside town which had a lot going for it, including two beautiful rivers which are great for water sports, birding and even a bit of game viewing.
Our last stop, before level 3 restrictions sent us scurrying home, was Addo Elephant National park. But more about that in a later post…