Sailing to Australia

The waves crash onto the coast. The evergreen flowers emit heavenly odours that permeate through my, uh, lavender dwelling. The sun lazily creeps up from the ocean. What a great way to wake up – pure relaxation. What a great day to sail to Australia. Wait, what?

Maybe it’s the power of the solstice that gets to me but I find it a great day to immigrate to Australia aboard the 12m long Romonza. I reckon it will probably take a month or to reach there – enough time to perfect my Aussie accent.

I like harbours. It probably started when I went on the cruise ship, Rhapsody. That ship has since been renamed and sold off to some other non MSC shipping consortium but that is not important. These behemoths are just amazing. These chunks of steel that weigh thousands of tonnes are kept afloat by pure engineering ingenuity (and physics but let’s forget about that for now.) Anyway, the Mossel Bay harbour is a pretty shallow harbour due to the coastline being very steep and, like offshore from Cuttings Beach in Merebank, there is an offshore pipeline that is utilised by ships to transfer oil and gas. As the water around Mossel Bay is pretty cold, there is an abundance of fishing trawlers here with several fish processing factories around the harbour.

The day was amazing to sail the big blue. The wind was pretty negligible and the sun did not gaze down and drain us of all our energy – it was just right. We blissfully sailed towards the horizon at a brisk pace. Sailing away from civilisation is very much like taking off in a plane where the houses below rapidly shrink. Here, though, this shrinkage does take some time but I think this does have a better effect. Mossel Bay has an abundance of enormous houses – as you sail into the bay, these houses slowly shrink until the houses look like mere specks. At this distance, it’s difficult to discern a large house from a smaller one. Weirdly, this does make you realise the unimportance of these large materialistic possessions of man. Anyway, this is a bit too much thinking for this marvellous day – I lay back and just enjoyed this. It would be a few more hours before we pass Mauritius and Reunion.

The Romonza is a whaling vessel equipped to catch Southern Right Whales. These whales are, on average, around 14m long. That is big – trust me. These whales are slow swimmers that keep to the surface. When harpooned, the excessive blubber, which is meant to keep them warm in the Antarctic Ocean which is where they spend most of the year, makes these whales float. The meat is pretty palatable and the oil is pretty useful. Hence, this was the “right” whale to catch. Seeing that it lived in the South and that there already was a Northern Right Whale, the early whalers christened this beast, the “Southern Right Whale.” It’s pretty amazing how man just shows his power over an animal several times his size through a name.

Southern Right Whales actually are amazing creatures. Even though I was told that these creatures are 14m long, you can’t fathom what that means until you see these in the flesh. About an hour into our journey, a mother and calf decide to put on a show for us. As the waters in the Antarctic get colder, the whales and calves make their way up to the coastal waters of South Africa. Hermanus is famous for its abundant land-based whale viewing. These animals aren’t shy and nonchalantly play and speak even though our boat comes within 10m of them. The whale’s call is majestic yet eerie. Hearing it for the first time will give you goose bumps. Despite their size, the whales come very close to shore – a few fishermen on the bank actually stopped fishing to view these whales as they put on a show which lasted almost an hour. Anyway, we harpooned the mother…

A feature of Mossel Bay is the Seal Island maybe a kilometre out to see. Home to 3000 Cape Fur Seals, it is a sure fire way to clear your sinuses. It is also Happy Hour for the Great White Sharks that frequent these waters. When I say frequent, I mean frequent – this week, SIX Great White Sharks were spotted in these waters. Although the waters around Mossel Bay have an abundance of fish, these Cape Fur Seals are rather choosy and prefer the hake that reside up to 60km from the coast. They go out in groups of around 15 and return with 12-13. The rest get eaten by Great White Sharks. If you have watched any of the nature channels, you might have come across the flying Great White Sharks. These sharks breach in their pursuit of seals. It is terrifying. These multi-ton animals force themselves out of the water then reaching dizzying heights of up to maybe 3m above the water surface. Go try and jump 3m into the air and then imagine these killers doing the same from underwater. These sharks inhabit the Mossel Bay coast. You are welcome to go deep water swimming in these waters – I’m pretty cool chilling at the shore hey.

Seeing that we’ve harpooned a whale, it wasn’t advisable to sail all the way to Australia. I was pretty hungry after all and whale braai is undoubtedly the BEST braai you could ever have! ANYWAY, in all seriousness, the trip was absolutely stunning. I didn’t actually plan to go on the boat but in hindsight, this four hour cruise relaxed me oh so much. These creatures are best left alone to roam and rule the oceans that they grace. It is great that we live in a country that allows these whales to live in peace and the only hunting that occurs is in my over-active imagination. The crew of the Romonza were pretty clued up and could answer all the questions we asked them. The boat is pretty large and the swaying and rocking was pretty agreeable – no seasickness detected anywhere here. Mossel Bay, also, is the cheapest place to go whale watching from a boat. As you go further west towards Cape Town, the price slowly creeps up until you get to Hermanus where you have to sell a kidney and your bottom left molars to afford the ticket.

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…

Who knew the Free State was this pretty

Leaving Kimberley actually was nowhere as easy as leaving Jozi. The time I spent there was great. Filled with great times with old and new friends, I learnt a lot about our country and how it is run as well as learning a lot about me. Even though this is the case, it was time to leave – my yearning for the ocean tugged at my calf muscles telling them to get a move on. It would be a few days before I eventually get to the ocean – a lot of South Africa still lay ahead of me.

My initial plans would take me westwards towards the diamond-strewn West Coast along with the cold Benguela Current that ravishes this desolate coast. Instead, I head east on the N8 between Kimberley and Bloemfontein. It seriously is a supremely boring road with nothing going for it whatsoever. One feature stood out – what appeared to be a huge, dried body of water now resembling a salt pan. I still don’t know what this was as it was pretty huge to be, um, insignificant.

Travelling along the N8 takes you into the non-scenic part of Bloemfontein. I was here back in 2001 and honestly, remember nothing about the actual city. This scene of industria and construction that I am greeted with doesn’t do much to help the image of the city. I do see four cooling towers that are now the property of FNB with a disused power station across the road. Early 60s architecture and low rising chimney stacks give away the age of this relic. Cooling towers command such awe. The simple design is purely functional but the aesthetics command such respect. It is a testament to human ingenuity. I drive further and get even more lost in Bloemfontein. I see a local construct of the Eiffel Tower. I use this as a sign that I really need to leave this city!

The N6 is nicknamed the Friendly Route – after Aliwal North, the route is fashioned upon what the R62 in the Cape has become. Then again, Aliwal North is in the Eastern Cape (or is it?) and the Free State is renowned for its lack of scenery. Au contraire – this part of the country borders Lesotho. Driving south, the right hand side of the road is Platte Land and whilst the left is has gentle, undulating, straw coloured hills with patches of happy green dotting the landscape. The gentle hills give one but a hint of the marvels of the Maluti.

Just outside Bloemfontein, I stop at the Cheeta Padstal for a bite to eat. The place is a quaint little winkel manned by a tannie. After shocking her with my Indianness, I look at the menu and see something called a “pannekoek” which I order. The tannie explodes like I just mentioned the words that set of the apocalypse. Okay, that didn’t happen but apparently these take way too long to make so she wouldn’t be able to make it for me. I get a Cheese and Tomato sandwich and a Coke and settle into the eating area. It was just right. Knitted ornaments adorned the room with the simplest tables and chairs neatly set. It was just so homely. She served my food – it tasted so great even though it is the easiest thing to make. You could taste the love and care put into it. I get a knitted ornament, pay and leave. The bill came to a grand total of R30 with the gift included. Makes one wonder about the establishments in metropolitanland where you pay that three times the price for only a piece of cardboard slapped together mechanically that’s coloured to look like Cheese and Tomato.

At the little town of Smithfield, I take the R701. Quaint little town but I just had that vibe that I shouldn’t get off the car. The R701 is like a whole new world altogether. It’s Gariep country – or, as the authorities has christened it, The Gariep Lake Route. The Gariep Dam is South Africa’s largest dam where around four rivers converge. Named after the Gariep River, which is also known as the Orange River, this dam is the closest thing we have to a lake (I lie – we have ONE natural lake in Limpopo known as Lake Fundudzi. It’s a magical lake set deep in Venda mythology and Venda country. You need a special permit to grace its shores.) My destination: A little Free State town called Bethulie.