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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Nostalgia centred around Donald Duck cartoons

There was a cartoon that I had taped back when I was a kid. It had a variety of Disney cartoon shorts featuring Mickey, Donald and the gang. There was one where Donald Duck was in this car and he drove past all these motels each showing a NO VACANCY sign. He finally gets to one but alas, the NO light illuminates as he reaches. I actually have forgotten the ending to that cartoon. Anyway, driving through the outskirt suburbs of Mossel Bay made me feel very much like Donald Duck. We’ll get to that in a bit…

I had just traversed the Outeniquas and entered George. I have been here twice before and, like most South African towns, it has changed drastically over the last few years. It is one of the bigger towns in South Africa – I mean; it has an airport that is serviced by some of the low-cost carriers! I also have great love for this town because it is here where I saw a really attractive Indian girl speaking to her sari-clad grandmother in AFRIKAANS! Indians don’t speak Afrikaans. Even though most people do it for at least 10 years at school and end up with a distinction for it, Indians just don’t speak Afrikaans! Afrikaans is not a sexy language – it does rank right up there with German as one of the least sexy languages you can come across. But this combination – Indian girl + fluent Afrikaans – I was like Donald with those hearts in his eyes when he sees Daisy. I didn’t speak to said girl though – it did happen eight years ago after all. But still, it is a cherished memory…

Back to reality, my little road trip buds that I met suggested I stay in George for the night and go clubbing that evening. It was enticing but, alas, the sea, she was calling. The issue I have with George is that it is painstakingly close to the vast blue of the Atlantic (or is that the Indian – I think it is the Indian) but instead, it’s built maybe 15km away from the surf. This did not and still does not make much sense to me. I avoid the turn down to Herold’s Bay – I have been there before but I actually didn’t like the town at all. That was probably because I had visited Nature’s Valley the day before – these two are incomparable…

I join the dreaded N2. My sincere hope was to avoid the main National roads. This avoidance philosophy was heightened due to my short stretch on the N1 earlier on in the trip. A few kilometres west of George, the brown tourist boards point to the seaside village of Glentana and the R102. Having never heard of the place, I hurry along as saltiness thickens the air. Just like the roads around Amanzimtoti, the roads are an intricate maze that eventually opens up to a large parking lot terminating in a dune. It’s pretty deserted with only a learner driver attempting to park. I park right up against the misty dunes. The weather holds much passion and excitement with the threat of a downpour and maybe a few lightning bolts. It, however, has waited for me and holds back. I get off the car, have the sand caress my feet and I experience the icy blue of the magnificent Indian Ocean…

The water is indeed freezing. The ocean, however, has this mystical property being able to draw out all your worries through your feet. I linger for a few minutes listening to the symphony of crashing waves. The beach is deserted and perfect. I want to linger but the mist that has made its way from the Outeniquas tells me I need to make my way to some shelter soon.

Now this is where the fun starts. In Glentana, there is a B&B perched maybe 300m away from this beach. Called The Shamrock, Lassie proudly guarded the establishment. She guarded it so well that I didn’t dare go up to the door. A lady comes out with her frown et al and asks me what I want. And I thought all these small town folk were friendly…I tell her I require lodging for the night and she blurts out a ludicrous figure that probably caused some thunder. I smile and make up some excuse before I depart again – this time in search of somewhere to stay. From here on in, it gets worse. I happen across a rather exquisite B&B right on the beach – NO VACANCY. I try another two with the same result – NO VACANCY. I head further west leaving the riches of Glentana for the riches of another small town Groot Brakrivier. Again – NO VACANCY! This might be a good thing because the town’s founder laid down a law that no alcohol may be sold in Groot Brakrivier. This law stuck till fairly recently – I don’t actually know if it was reprieved…

As the sun sets over the Outeniquas to the north, I start to panic. I frantically look for numbers of B&B’s in the vicinity. Many just ring. Others are already fully booked. This is when I enter the Reebok and Fraai Uitsig suburbs of another town – Klein Brakrivier.

The suburb’s name is indeed Reebok. There was no hopeful branding around though – just the now common huge houses that litter this coast. Finally, I find an overdose of lavender that shall be my lodging for the night.

Yes, the lavender was severely overwhelming. However, the folks at the B&B were incredibly friendly and the room was pretty cosy. Coupled with a spectacular view, this did make for a great place to stay.

It really is pretty weird that every time I do visit the coast, it rains. As darkness fell, the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. I wonder if this is some sort of blessing in some way. The lights of Mossel Bay glitter in the distance promising so much…

Why I hate National roads

Leaving Gariep Dam, I had the choice of taking either the N1 or the R58. Seeing that the detour to the power station was scheduled later than I expected, I took the National route from Gariep Dam to Colesberg.

This stretch was a meagre 44km in total. And, I mean, even though it is the country’s premium National Road, how bad can it REALLY be? Here’s my list. It is that bad!

• It sucks.
• Traffic!
• No real scenery.
• You are speed restricted. Not that I condone travelling over the legal limit but on a National Road, you can have three lanes and the speed limit will be 80kph. Furthermore, traffic cops are everywhere and even if you aren’t travelling fast, you always end up braking when you see one of them meaning a less efficient drive.
• It sucks.
• There is no risk travelling on a National route. Everything is shown to you like a pre-schooler. There is no chance of you hitting a cow as the freeway is fenced off with electric wire that can make a medium-well steak out of said cow in seventeen seconds. Every hazard has a sign warning you about the hazard and a sign warning you that you are going to see a warning sign. You don’t need to calculate how much petrol you need seeing that there is a garage every five kilometres.
• Caltex Star Stops, Engen 1-Stops, Shell Ultra Cities, Total Petroport and whatever they call those Sasol jobbies. Excuse me whilst I go puke.
• You can’t just stop in the middle of the road and look around in awe at nature’s beauty.
• Construction never ever ends.
• It sucks.
• Rest stops are designated. It doesn’t matter that there is an exquisite view of a dam and mountain at one point – the freeway dictates that you must stop 2km down the road with a marvellous view of a koppie with half its side levelled out.
• BMW X5’s – these don’t take R-roads. It will damage their 4×4 suspension and there is nobody on those roads to cut off.
• You can’t travel at 80kph when you want to enjoy the view because said BMW X5 will have its bright lights, fogs and stadium-strength roof-mounted spotlights glaring at you if you do.
• It makes you sleep.
• It sucks.
• If you are on a single-lane freeway and encounter a truck, you’re screwed. The traffic means that you are following that truck all the way to Beitbridge (even though you just got out of the Huguenot Tunnel!)
• Too many sign posts telling you everything you don’t need to know and more.
• Mountain passes are WAY too tame. Van Reenen’s Pass is easier than driving up my driveway and the Tsitsikamma Toll Route, um, it bypassed SEVEN mountain passes.
• Did I mention it sucks?
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