When you think about your honeymoon, you picture yourself with your future husband in a place such as a romantic resort in the sea or a romantic city such as Paris or Venice. We come from the eager generation where what we lack in romanticism we have in adventure and adrenaline! Peter told me that if I wanted to breath sea breeze I would have to do it from a oxygen tank too. Yes! in other words scuba diving was a must in our “honeymoon”. I said to him well if we are going to do that we may as well have a close encounter with the Great White Shark! So, we did a search and agreed it had to be either Australia or South Africa. South Africa has safaris so you get a good chance to see the “big five” in private and public game reserves. South Africa was the chosen one. However Peter was kind of worried due to the high crime, but in the end, we decided to take the risk!
You may be wondering why I say that this could not be a honeymoon destination! A honeymoon is meant to be romantic, relaxing and unforgettable! But given the fact that Peter wanted to do Scuba Diving most of the time, I had no choice than to learn and get my PADI certificate in London! My English was weak so I probably only retained 20% of the educational videos plus I had to practice in fresh open water. We went to a Lake on the outskirts of London and while I was practicing submerging into the water I failed to equalize which made my ears extremely painful. I couldn’t do it! I got lots of help from the instructor so in the end I had to succeed. I made it! But by the time we were flying to our first destination, Cape Town, I developed an intense fear of getting down into the water and not being able to equalize. So I barely slept in South Africa thinking that the next day would be my last one or I would be seriously hurt and on top of that SHARKS! I wanted my honeymoon to end in less than a week (we stayed a month!). However I was really looking forward to the safaris and the other adventurous activities that we had planned! It was truly rewarding but at the same time tiring and freaky!
We started in Cape Town. A spectacular city set at the foot Table Mountain and separated from crystal seas by the white sands of the Cape Peninsula. The variety of seafood was extensive! Delicious crayfish, mussels and crabs! Our first scary adventure was a two hour course on Shark Diving in the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. The diving was easy, I wasn’t concerned about the equalization because we weren’t going down very deep, but swimming with eight female sand tiger sharks was another matter. It was just me, Peter, another guy and of course the instructor. You need to book well in advanced although March is not a busy time there. We could see spectators looking at us like we were the caged animals. There were turtles, stingrays, tunas, other fishes and the ragged-tooth sharks. For extra money, we got the instructor to take photos. Truly an amazing experience looking at how fiery the face of the shark look. It looks like it wanted to get you and eat you with no mercy at all!!!
The Garden Route
The Garden Route is the ultimate self-drive adventure! And it is a must-do thing when you are visiting South Africa. It is a popular and scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa. It extends from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The name comes from the abundant and ecologically diverse vegetation encountered here and the numerous lagoons and lakes dotted along the coast. We planned everything by ourselves well in advanced with the help of our travel book and maps. We tried to keep the drive as simple as possible to avoid big mistakes that might dent our itinerary. It is possible to drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in about 9 hours, but I highly recommend you take at least 3 days to explore the amazing countryside, sea views, lakes, towns and lovely vineyards.
Our first stop on the Garden Route was Mossel Bay. We stopped in the lush Cango Valley and Schoemanshoek to visit the Cango Ostrich Farm near Oudtshoorn. It was a lovely experience to visit this privately owned farm. During the tour we had the chance to sit and ride on the ostriches. They run very fast, so just as well that they are penned in! We also fed them. Be careful, as they might peck your hands. They are surprisingly strong birds. There was also a small craft shop selling items manufactured from the these birds, such as feather bowers and shell based ornaments. Finally, we witnessed kids standing on ostrich eggs to illustrate their strength..
After the ostrich farm, we headed for the Cango Caves. These caves are really impressive, so if you must cut something from your itinerary then I would cut the Ostrich Farm. The Cango Caves are one of the world’s great natural wonders sculptured by nature through the ages – fascinating limestone formations in a wide variety of colors. The limestone beds of the Cango Group are, through movement in the Earth’s crust, no longer in a horizontal plane. The layers of strata are also displaced laterally, forming dykes. Rainwater, combined with acidic carbon dioxide from decomposing plant material on the surface, flows through a fracture zone. Limestone, i.e., calcium carbonate plus water and carbon dioxide = Calcium Bicarbonate – which dissolves in water, flows out. This process of “cave making” has taken millions of years. At the time we visited, there was no need to book but I have read that advanced bookings are now essential due to a recent increase in visitors. There are two types of tour: The Heritage tour and the Adventure tour. The First one, you just walk with a tour guide through different chambers of spectacular limestone formations. Feel free to take tons of picture!! The adventure tour lasts 30 minutes and it is not for people who suffer from claustrophobia like me. Just to get an idea of the challenge, you have to crawl through a tunnel, a low passageway some 74 centimeters high, narrowing at one point to about 30 centimeters. So, you better take in a deep breath before you pass through!!! And this is not even the most difficult part!!! So plan ahead, bring comfortable not so nice clothes! You will be sweating like mad!!
Unfortunately, I don’t have much information about the place that we stayed as I didn’t keep it in my records! I did not expect to write a blog 11 years after the fact. But one of our stops to eat and sleep was in this lovely Belvidere manor Bungalow in Knysna. This is a beautiful location.
Our next stop was the Tsitsikama Forest and Coastal National Park for a half-day trek as part of the Garden Route. The Tsitsikamma National Park is home to an indigenous rain forest that harbors 116 types of giant tree including the giant Outenique yellow-wood trees. There is a special walk to the biggest of the these − The Big Tree − which is a yellow-wood giant estimated to be approximately 800 years old. It stands 36.6m high and has a circumference of almost nine meters. Peter was fascinated with giant trees and I was fascinated by the wide variety of colorful mushrooms at ground level. On that night, we stayed in the comfortable retirement village called Stromboli’s Inn Log cabin which is situated midway between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.
We were coming to the our end of the Garden Route. After one full day of just driving and stopping in small intimidating towns we decided to do out first safari adventure in the luxury game reserve Shamwari Game Reserve. At that time, they only offered luxury tents each with a private pool. It seemed to be the ultimate luxury big five African safari adventure that you can ever experienced in South Africa. It is located 75 km from Port Elizabeth, which is the point where the Garden Route more or less finishes. Before I travel further in my blog I want to talk a bit about Game Reserves, in general.
Game reserves are areas of land set aside ostensibly for conservation purposes. There are public and private game reserves. The difference is that in a private one you are not usually allowed to drive around in your own vehicle which means that game drives take place twice daily in an open safari vehicle with an experienced ranger and guide. They control and track the animals closely in order to give an almost certain chance of successful viewings. The guides pretty much already know where the animal will be and so the experience is somewhat unnatural. However, that is better than seeing almost nothing in a once in a lifetime visit. They make an extreme effort to ensure that you see most, if not all, of the “Big Five” – rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion. The public game reserves on the other hand are largely self-service and you need to drive your own vehicle over large distances with a significantly smaller chance of encountering the big five, especially given that fleets of cars have passed before you on the same day. On the upside, the setting is way more natural. In total we did two private game reserves and one public – the Kruger National Park which I will refer to later on. We actually managed to see all of them except the leopard. I wouldn’t recommend to stay longer than three days unless you just want to do nothing other than relax. The safaris start at 5:00 am as this is the best time to catch the animals, especially lions and leopards, as they hunt at dawn. Another great time is after midnight when the hyenas can be seen hunting. As I said before, you are not allowed to drive your own vehicle, so you rely on the scheduled programme in private game reserves. Also the food choices in the private reserves are limited but exotic. I am not very fond of steaks and rare cooked meats, But if you are then you will enjoy a menu with crocodile tails, roasted ostriches, buffalo and deer. It was more like a traditional English style cuisine. Meat with boiled potatoes and cooked vegetables. The breakfast was typical English style except for seafood. I was not fond of the traditional South African cuisine overall.
In this game reserve, we saw many interesting animals but we didn’t see the big five except for the rhinoceros and lions. We couldn’t see buffaloes, elephants or lions. We definitely saw more prey than predators. The advantage of staying in a private game reserve is that the tour guides are quite flexible. They work hard to please the customers so feel free to ask them to stop if you spot something or take a detour. They have all the time in the world and they are quite helpful and friendly but not as charming as they could be! You can even persuade them to get off the vehicle to stretch legs and see the animals closer!
After our first fascinating adventure doing safari we had a long drive (7 -8 hours) towards False Bay. False Bay has one of the Cape Peninsula’s most tranquil and picturesque stretches of coastline. Whales abound on the False Bay coastline every year between June and November. Unfortunately, we were there in March so we didn’t see any whales. However this was the place where we would have our first encounter with the Great White Shark; so guess what?? The fear and adrenaline were overtaking my mind again! It is not that I didn’t want to do it in fact we both were excited but it was the fear of something going wrong. We spent one day and one night in a quiet town called Simon’s town sometimes spelled Simonstown which is home to the South African Navy. It is located on the shores of False Bay, on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. It is home to the African penguins too.
This brings us to the end of Part I for our honeymoon in South Africa. To sum up, we started our trip visiting Cape Town where we did Shark Diving in the Aquarium; then we did the famous Garden Route (a must-do thing on your list), we stopped to relax three days in one of the Private Game Reserves close to Port Elizabeth (75 km) and finally we drove all the way to Simon’s town in False Bay near Cape Town to continue our Scuba diving experience and another shark encounter!