I hate the Garden Route

How can one justify taking four hours to cover a paltry 210km? When you are on a roadtrip, that sort of time actually is pretty good – it means that you have driven at a good pace whereby you noticed the scenery that dazzles and have stopped, enjoyed the sights, smells, cuisine and wares of the locality. In my case, the four hour journey was a nerve racking waste of time that totally spoilt the relaxation I had achieved in Mossel Bay.

I left the Whale-Phin B&B at 10h00 with around 450km to cover in order to get to my proposed destination of Kenton-on-Sea. The lady at the B&B told me I looked so much more relaxed than I did on the first day. Hearing that felt great. The golden rule of travel when one does not have set accommodation – get to the town before the Info Centre closes. In most places, this is at 17h00. To be safe, one should get there before 16h00 in case something happens and the Info Centre is unmanned when you do reach there. If that happens, then you will have to find your own accommodation. This, in itself, is not too bad but you aren’t guaranteed the cheapest rates or most hospitable accommodation. I reached my destination at around 16h50. That’s a grand total of SEVEN hours for, what turned out to be 500km. That’s an average speed of just over 70kph. Good? Hell no!

The Garden Route is, honestly, one of the blandest, irritating drives in this country. Earlier, I mentioned that the N4 drive from Pretoria to Waterval Boven was the most boring – I lied! Just as you leave George going east, you firstly are presented with speed limits that boggle the mind. The mountain pass just before Wilderness has a speed limit of 60kph. It felt like I’d get up and down that mountain faster if I walked. Actually, a cyclist passed me as I did less than 60kph perched behind a truck. Luckily, the truck moved and I waved goodbye to said cyclist in a puff of carbon monoxide. Not that I went anywhere quickly – several bright yellow fixed cameras signal that if you don’t stick to this speed limit, even if you have no torque to climb at that speed, you will be presented with an extra bill on your holiday. The pass was so tame. The bends were exquisitely formed, which would make for breathtaking driving. Alas, the bends were widened so much that the entire pass resembled a salt flat. I’ve had more fun picking the dirt from under my toenails.

Just before and after Knysna, you are bombarded with a myriad of roadside stalls selling rather sub-standard curios at prices that even international tourists would be shocked at. Being quite keen on pumping money into these local economies, I stopped at several – seems to be the dumbest thing I could do. I also had my mandatory Cheese and Tomato sandwich at a local shop en route. I never knew you could make a bad Cheese and Tomato sandwich. I did find one rather cool attraction in Sedgefield – paper made out of elephant poo. The last remaining, fabled, wild elephants still roam the Knysna forest. Less than 150 years ago, the Knysna lagoon and forest teemed with hundreds of these majestic beasts. This has dwindled to an estimated one to five individuals that are seldom seen. There continued existence is confirmed by tracks and their poo. Knowing that this poo actually is quite precious, I still couldn’t bring myself to buy it. There was also a pretty looking sign store. I couldn’t afford a thing in it though.

After Sedgefield, your patience is tested to the extreme. Urgh! Knysna is one of the country’s most beautiful spots. The view at the heads is amazing. Driving in the centuries old forest is spiritual. Entering the town via Prince Alfred’s Pass is magical. However, driving along the N2 through the town is agony in the purest form. Think of listening to a cat screech whilst it rubs its claws down a chalkboard. Think of that cyclically going on for 18 hours. This is worse. Thankfully, the road is being widened. This has effectively ruined business for the street-side traders meaning the big business owned curio shops in the business district are ripping of people even more.

When you thankfully leave Knysna, you reach Plettenberg Bay where it drops to 60kph on roads that have, at places, three lanes. There is some hilarity in watching cars crawl past the fixed cameras. I did the same – I received a ticket here in 2007 when I was doing a blistering 80kph in this three-lane 60kph zone.

When all this idiocy is over, you enter the “scenic” Tsitsikamma Route or whatever crappy name they’ve given it. On your left is the magnificent Tsitsikamma Mountains which, I must admit, are spectacular and do fit the scenic profile. After a short drive through some indigenous forest which makes you think that this route is going to be beautiful, you enter pine plantations. Both sides of the road are strewn with pine which will soon end up as matchsticks or built-in cupboards. To make matters worse, the road is sickeningly straight. You pass over several bridges – including the magnificent Storms River and Bloukrans River Bridge – but all you do is go straight. If one looks over the bridge, which you aren’t allowed to do due to the No Stopping signs, you can admire the sheer beauty of these lush valleys. Instead of respecting these by utilising pass roads, one just merely cuts off half the top of the rock formations and lays a road on top of it. Urgh!!

Luckily, I had driven this piece of crap, I mean road before. At the R102 Nature’s Valley turn-off, I took a right and entered fynbos country. Exquisite specimens lay on both sides of the road. It was spectacular. Then, the Grootrivier Pass greeted me with some of the sharpest bends I have ever driven. At points, I had to crawl at around 30kph just to get around these hairpins. Then at the bottom, the stunning river mouth set amongst the cliffs of the Tsitsikamma. Magnificent… 🙂

Leaving Nature’s Valley, one encounters the uphill section of the pass. Starting of tame, a bridge marks the beginning of this pass. Beyond is your gateway to exhilarating driving.

I end up at the peak – again, amongst the fynbos. The N2 approaches but I insist on taking the high road. Alas, the idiots that built the toll road had other plans for my crossing of the Bloukrans River. Urgh!!!

Dejected, I reluctantly pay my thirteen bucks at the toll and drive the straight monotony through this most picturesque of sceneries. The N2 has disappointed me – and then it disappoints me even more. This time, making me want to cry and wish I was back stuck in peak-hour traffic at the William Nicol offramp.

Just before you fall asleep on the dead-straight scenic route, there are road works. It seems that the road at that point was not straight enough and the toll people think more pine needs to be cut down and replaced with road. On the plus side, these ghastly pine plantations are better to remove than them removing pristine forest. Still, the delay took me on a roundabout, single-lane route wrought with speed bumps and speed cameras. I don’t think I did more than 40kph on this entire route so why they had speed cameras is beyond me. At this point I wanted to maim myself. Then, at a STOP and GO, I get stuck behind a truck. I brave another 10km of the abovementioned single-lane before I am released onto a non-construction part of the road. Being the N2, it is pretty busy. This means that overtaking is pretty difficult. The aforementioned truck then transforms into two trucks – I was about five cars behind and didn’t notice this. Neither of the idiots moved onto the shoulder to allow us to pass. I think at that point I exploded. The person that is writing this is not actually me anymore – but a well reconstructed mimic of what was before.

If you are driving up the coast from Cape Town towards Durban, I suggest, no, I plead that you rather take the R62 route. Do this by joining the R60 from the N1 North at Worcester and then joining the R62 around Montagu. Or if you are at Mossel Bay, like I was – take the N9 North at George and join the R62 just before Uniondale. I PROMISE you that it will be worth your time!

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3 thoughts on “I hate the Garden Route

  1. So much of hating! I’ve driven that route innumerable times. It’s a fantastic, beautiful stretch of road with varied scenery, good surfaces and interesting places to see. I never get tired of the trip.

    The vast majority of the road is 120km/h freeway – if you can’t deal with some short sections where the speed limit has been reduced for safety given that you’re driving in populated areas, then you clearly just weren’t in the mood for a road-trip.

    You are allowed to “look over the bridge” just you’re not allowed to stop your vehicle on the bridge because that would be a road hazard.

    Straight roads? Well I know they aren’t ideal from an aesthetic perspective, but the road is intended to get you safely on your way. Having driven large stretches of roads in other parts of South Africa, I can’t agree with your view that the road is straight. Straight bits for sure, but not overwhelmingly so. And hang on a second, it’s not clear – are you then complaining about the tight bends as well?

    Torque? Change down a gear my friend. I’ve driven that pass in my Chico 1.3 more times than I can count as a student and being in the right gear is all you need to do.

    You also complain about single lane roads AND roadworks? How do you think roads get upgraded? Can I suggest switching to decaff? Camomile tea a flask with you when you drive?

    Now the stretch through Knysna has its trade-offs. You can either drive through town and check out what’s happening, or you can take the quick route via the Knysna waterfront and save easily 30 minutes in busy times. I use both since both have their appeal. Maybe consider that you are also part of the problem, since you have a vehicle on the main road with all the others?

    A tip? If you are going to be such a grumpy roadtripper, leave earlier and plan shorter stops. That way you won’t be stressing about the time the whole way, ruining your trip entirely. Really, life is too short.

    Now naturally everyone will have their own opinion, but is it maybe worthwhile asking yourself why you thought is so horrid when many find it so attractive? I think the beastliness is in the eye of the beholder.

    If you look for things to hate, you’ll find them no matter where you look.

    • Ah thanks for that 🙂 I do agree with you on most of your points as to the practicality of most of the route. Read my earlier blogs though especially the one about why I hate National roads 😉

      I did point out in an earlier blog that the National roads are business artilleries that keep the country working from a business point of view and from a communication point of view. These aren’t explorer roads even though it’s being touted as one. It cannot compare to the drive I did around the Gariep Dam or even to the rawness and emptiness of the roads in the Free State. These roads brought joy to me and made my mind open up. This road did the exact opposite and I guess as an explorer, I needed to document this and explain this to the world.

      However, I’m not going to suggest people don’t visit this stunning piece of South Africa. I definitely will be back. Underneath all the negativity brought onto me, there was the sense of something special. And this is a feature of our beautiful country – negativity exists everywhere but there is so much more sitting just under the surface 🙂

  2. Such a beautiful place and you took great pictures. Although you don’t like alot of things, i particulary love everything about THE GARDEN ROUTE. All the bird tweets, the freshness, the clean water and all the different kind of plants 🙂

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