A river runs through it

I like Port Elizabeth for specifically one reason – the freeways have a speed limit of 120kph. As much as this may seem quite a weird reason to like the town, this speed limit is not a given in other major cities. Just as Melrose Arch comes into view on the M1 South in Jozi, you have to drop 20kph. The drive into Cape Town as you approach the mountain on both the N1 and N2 are excruciating as the speed limit drops to 80kph. It’s the same with Durban – the Ridge signals slow driving across a glorious, five-lane freeway. This is coupled with men and women in blue out to prove that you are just a common criminal that deserves to part with a handsome sum of money. But no – Port Elizabeth completely rocks. The N2 through the city stays at the glorious speed of 120kph. It probably is like that because you really should be leaving the city limits as soon as you can…  

I don’t actually hate Port Elizabeth. But today, there were greater treasures awaiting me as I would be traversing the R72. The earlier road works on the N2 derailed my plans and instead of a leisurely cruise on this route, it would be a mad dash to make it to my destination before sunset. Luckily for the first 50km, which takes you to the town called Alexandria, I had a “marker.” He had obviously traversed these roads before as he set a pretty blistering pace through the spectacular curves that the road possesses. This marker pulled off in Alexandria and I thanked him with my hazards and sped past. I love the fleeting beauty of meetings like that where for around 30 minutes of your life, this unknown individual is the most important person that exists but once they’ve served their purpose, they leave your life never to cross paths with you ever again.

The R72 is called the Sunshine Coast. It’s a brilliant precursor to what the beauty that the Transkei section of the Eastern Cape holds. The beautiful browns and greens come alive as the sun paints over this magnificent landscape. You can’t help but just feel happy when you drive through this.

Nestled in-between the Kariega and Boesmans Rivers is the town of Kenton-on-Sea. South Africa does not have a Kenton elsewhere but I think the “on-Sea” part of the name does work. It’s serene. The main road is the epitome of laid back. Most private shops close at 13h00 probably because the owners want to chill on the beach for the afternoon. The town did not even have an ATM – to withdraw cash, you go to this swipe card machine thing, enter your details and the guy at the till gives you the money. I’m assuming they use this simply because maintaining an ATM affects the chilled out vibe. When you get to the beach, it all makes sense. Your mind drifts to a most beautiful place.

My accommodation is the Bethshan B&B. The couple’s grandkids are visiting in a few days so strewn around the lodging are little trinkets that would make a grandkid giddy with excitement. It is slightly weird yet homely and refreshing. The mementos of love add something special to the place. That and the DSTV.

This is my first taste of the wonderful Magnesium and Calcium rich hard water. Yummy! I do miss the lather effect though. I feel like such a spoilt city boy – I can’t live without my precious foaming liquid soap! My bath companions just laugh at me…

The fresh winter breeze slaps my face as I wake up, yet again, to witness the sunrise. But, yet again, the town’s orientation does me in. The beauty compensates for this. The morning peace is violently broken by the crashing waves and transforming sky. From a deep and dark blue, the horizon melts into this magma glow which gently softens as the day breaks.

Television can teach you many good things. Joanne told me that the Big Five is now the Big Seven and includes the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark. I always prided myself on seeing the entire list in their natural habitat (thank you Kruger National Park) but now, I’m missing the Great White Shark. I think I need to ready a chum bucket and go out for a swim. I also learnt, from the local paper, that a girl named Jerusha Govender won Miss Port Alfred. I didn’t even know Indians lived there! I know all this as Kenton-on-Sea had these spectacular, gale-like winds that made walking difficult. There goes my hike on the beach.

The two rivers that enclose Kenton-on-Sea are behemoths of rivers with seriously wide river mouths. The Boesmans is the second longest navigable river in South Africa. It is navigable for 32km inland and the Kariega for 16km. During the summer months, this is exploited with lazy boat rides up the river. When you view these rivers, it doesn’t make sense to see signage around town telling you to save water as this area is water scarce. But water is scarce here and around the entire country. Once again, the importance of saving water in our magnificent country is brought to the fore. Anyway, perched on the banks of the Kariega is a floating restaurant called Sandbar. The geographical location means it is sheltered from the gust on the coast. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a beer and the glorious afternoon sun.

Towns like Kenton-on-Sea bring into perspective this rush of life. The quick-turnaround, busy life of the big cities is necessary to keep the world ticking. It drives modern life and innovation. Other towns in the country such as Vereeniging, Gariep Dam and Mossel Bay exist to feed this every hungry economy of the country. Existing parallel to this is a life based on quality and bliss. That’s what you get here…

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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!