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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hermanus Day 2 (Nov10th)

Today was a lovely relaxing day. After nearly two weeks of eating fat boy's breakfasts I managed to control myself and just ate some fruit and toast. We took a walk along the cliff path into the centre of Hermanus and spotted a few whales along the way. The weather had turned back to sunny and warm and we just spent the morning wandering along different bits of the cliff path and round Hermanus itself.


View of the area surrounding Hermanus
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We also saw the town's "whale crier" who walks around Hermanus blowing his horn in a specific way depending on where he has spotted whales. Hermanus is the only place in the world that employs a full time whale crier.


Whale Crier of Hermanus
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Hermanus is one of the world's top 12 land based whale spotting places in the world and it is easy to see why. We spotted a whale showing its tail, swimming or jumping out of the water hundreds of times during our stay.


Whale Breaching, Hermanus
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We went to a lovely restaurant called Lemon Butta for our lunch and managed to get a seat next to a huge window overlooking the sea. The lunch was very tasty and very good value, working out at less than £20 between us for around twenty pieces of sushi (tuna, prawn and crab), a large salad and two glasses of sparkling wine each. Typically the best whale spotting moment of the day happened when I went to visit the bathroom and Stuart saw a whale "cartwheeling across the bay"!

We spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around Hermanus, looking at a few shops, walking along the cliff path and just enjoying the sunshine and the whale spotting. We even spotted a few Dassies, which are like big guinea pigs:


Dassies on the cliff path in Hermanus
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In the evening we decided to just have some food on our patio as we were feeling a little sick of eating out all the time, believe it or not! We ate some smoked trout, salad, crackers and cheese washed down with a bottle of Cap Classique. Hopefully this will give us more room to enjoy all the restaurants that we booked in Franschhoek.



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Overall I have really enjoyed Hermanus - it is a great place to stop for a relaxing and interesting couple of days.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hermanus - Day 1 (Nov 9th)

Today was our longest drive - Mossel Bay to Hermanus. We drove the 300km to Hermanus via Swellendam where we stopped for lunch. Went to a nice restaurant owned by a gay couple - one who told me "I love your nails". I didn't bother telling him that they weren't real. We chatted for a while and I told him we were on our honeymoon. He went away and came back a few minutes later to tell us that he had also recently got married, but he couldn't tell me earlier as his parents were sitting nearby and they were very homophobic! I was quite surprised they hadn't already guessed. Anyway, we had a lovely lunch and then got back on our way to Hermanus.

Just as we were about to arrive in Hermanus the weather turned very horrible - cold and rainy with dark clouds. We checked into Pat's Place, our guesthouse for the next two nights and were pleased to find that it was pretty central - near to the cliff path and just a 10-15 minute walk from the centre of Hermanus.

Here's a picture of our room - the honeymoon suite:



and our little private patio with a jacuzzi bath. Very nice, but a shame the Shell station was just over that wall!


Our Patio at Pat's Place
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We were really happy with Pat's Place overall - good value for money, nice owner, comfortable rooms and a nice garden with a pool.

Since it was pissing it down we went to a place called the Wine Village just outside Hermanus and spent a long while browsing all the different wines, tasting a few and generally wasting time until it stopped raining. We bought a bottle of Cap Classique and a Sauvignon Blanc for the weekend and then drove back into the centre of Hermanus for a quick wander around.

We were very surprised that we didn't have to look at the sea for very long before seeing a whale. Hermanus is one of the top land based whale watching spots in the world, but we didn't expect to see the whales so quickly. We spent a while looking at them and hoped for some better weather tomorrow for a day of whale spotting.


Whale's Tail in Hermanus
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In the evening we had a nice Italian meal in the center of Hermanus and then it was back to the guesthouse for another early night.

You can read reviews of Pat's Place here.

You can also read more about Hermanus here.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mossel Bay & African Oceans Guesthouse (Nov 8th)

Today we are staying in a beautiful room in a guest house called Africa Oceans. Apart from the safari, this is the most expensive night of our stay in South Africa, but it is definitely worth it.

The guesthouse isn't really in Mossel Bay itself, but it has a lovely setting and our room, the honeymoon suite has a big balcony with a great view over the beach and the ocean, a big plush bedroom, a kitchenette and a good sized bathroom, not to mention the fluffy bathrobes.


Honeymoon suite at African Oceans
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Here's the view from the balcony:


View from balcony at African Oceans
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We drove into Mossel Bay itself for lunch. It doesn't appear to be the most picturesque or exciting place, but there are plenty restuarants.

We spent the remainder of our afternoon after lunch just lazing by the pool and drinking some chilled vino on the balcony - bliss.


Swimming Pool at African Oceans
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There was a free minibus pickup service in the evening which you could use to go to any one of five different restaurants. We had a lovely seafood dinner in a resturant called the Kingfisher which was very nice.

Not a very eventful day, but relaxing and enjoyable and I would highly recommend the African Oceans guesthouse if you are looking for somewhere luxurious to relax. You can read more reviews of African Oceans here.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and the Elephants (Nov 7th)

Today we woke up early again with the light streaming through the light curtains in our room. We are staying at a place called Cunningham's Island Guest House which is on Leisure Island, a small island of about 4km in circumference reachable by a causeway from the mainland. The guest house is nice enough, but we were a little disappointed because we had booked a specific room after viewing it on the website and when we arrived we ended up in a different room, which we were told was still a deluxe room. The room was very pleasant but nothing like the room we had thought we were getting and if we had known this when we booked we probably wouldn't have come here. Here is a photo of our room, which was up some stairs and had a little balcony:



Our room at Cunningham Island Guesthouse
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And here is a photo of the rather horrible bathroom:


Nasty bathroom at Cunningham Island Guesthouse, Knysna


The woman who owned the place seemed a bit sour faced and nowhere near as friendly as the other places we have stayed at so far. I wouldn't go back there if I was staying in Knysna again.

After our breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs we decided to take a quick look around the island, but took a wrong turning and ended up walking almost the whole circumference. It turned out to be a very pleasant walk - the sun was shining and it was a very sleepy, relaxed place with a pretty little beach.



Our room at Cunningham Island Guesthouse
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After our walk we took a trip to the Knysna Elephant park which is a park for orphaned elephants. After a quick film about the elephants we saw a gorgeous baby elephant who had been born in the park:



Baby Elephant
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We then met a few other elephants, took some photos and fed them. It was a bizarre experience feeding them - you just hold out the food and they pick it up with their trunks, or you can put it directly in their mouths, which was a bit too scary for my liking. Here is a photo of me feeding the elephants:


Feeding the Elephants
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And a couple of other photos of the gorgeous elephants - I must have taken at least 100 photos of them!



Knysna Elephants
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Knysna Elephants
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After the elephant park we took a quick visit to Plettenberg Bay for lunch - some grilled fish and salad in a bar beside the beach and took a walk along the beach.



Beach at Plettenberg Bay
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After lunch we drove to the centre of Knysna, which is about 30km from Plettenberg Bay and has a nice waterfront area. This area is almost like a mini version of the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, with shops, restaurants and a marina.

We had a wander around, looked in a few shops and booked a restuarant for dinner. After so manybusy days it was nice to get the chance to sit next to the pool at the guesthouse and read for a while then relax in the room before going out for dinner.


Knysa
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Overall we had a good day and I would recommend Knysna as a base for touring the nearby areas of the garden route.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Drive to Knysna (Nov 6th)

Today was a beautiful day, sunny with blue skies and not much wind - quite a contrast from yesterday. We had breakfast in the guesthouse then took a walk along the beach and took about a hundred photos of the huge waves, not quite managing to catch the dramaticness of them (is that a word?) on camera.


Cape St Francis
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Cape St Francis
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After our walk we started the drive to Knysna. The drive along this part of the Garden Route was very scenic, with lots of mountains, forests and coastline. We took a detour to the Tsitsikamma national park and down to Storm's River Mouth for a walk. There are quite a few walking trails in the park, both short and long and great views of the sea and the river mouth. There is also a restaurant and a shop here so it's a good place for a lunch break and it costs R40 per person to get into the park.



Beach at Storm's River Mouth
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We walked along one of the shorter trails and again took many photos of the waves, then it was back to the car to continue our journey.


Crashing Waves at Storm's River Mouth
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Our next stop was in Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. Monkeyland was full of monkeys that had previously been in captivity and/or living in poor conditions and were being rehabilitated into a better environment. It's a little forest with walkways that allow the visitors to have a look at the monkeys. You can see a few photos of them below:


Monkey Chilling Out in the Trees
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Monkey
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We had a short tour around Monkeyland and also visited Birds of Eden which is a great place to see lots of unusual birds flying around. This was pretty enjoyable apart from the bird that landed on Stuart's shoulder and started nibbling his ear - ouch!


Parrot
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Monkey
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Our Last Game Drive and Cape St Francis (Nov 5th)

It was another early rise today at 6am for our final game drive. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue sky - a nice way to round off our stay at Amakhala.

We had a different ranger today a South African guy called Andre, as our previous ranger Matt was on holiday for a week. Our final drive was very enjoyable, but I think 2 days and 4 game drives is just about right as it allowed us to see most of the animals.

Here's a photo of a mother and baby rhino. We were lucky enough to see them on nearly all of our drives.



Mother and Baby Rhino
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On our last game drive we saw lots of giraffes and zebras again - there are over 200 zebras on the reserve.



Giraffe poking its head above the trees
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We also saw the elephants (in the distance amongst the trees again!), Rhino, a huge Tortoise, Springbok, Impala, Blesbok, Kudo and the rare Africa Fish Eagle.




River in Amalkhala Game Reserve
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We left Amakhala for our next destination - a brief stop in a place called Cape St Francis before continuing along the garden route. I have really enjoyed our stay at Amakhala - nice accommodation, fantastic game drives and rangers, excellent food and really welcoming staff who were friendly and made an effort to remember everyone's first name.

The drive to Cape St Francis was pleasant apart from a brief detour where we ended up on an unpaved road for miles and had visions of breaking down in the middle of nowhere.

We arrived in Cape St Francis in the early afternoon at our guesthouse Lyngenfjord. Since the weather was pretty horrible - very windy and a bit chilly, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and catching up on our sleep after those 6am starts. Our room was nice with great views over the beach, but a little bit old fashioned for our liking and the bed had the dreaded blankets on it, which do nothing for me apart from make me sneeze. We weren't really tempted to go for a walk on the beach as it was so wild and windy, so I didn't feel too bad about sleeping in the afternoon.



Stuart in a rocking chair in our room at Lyngenfjord


If I had to choose again I probably wouldn't have bothered coming here - I would have tried a little harder to get accommodation further along the garden route instead.

Going out for dinner was a difficult experience. The owner of the guesthouse was nowhere to be found so we couldn't get any advice on where to go for dinner. We drove around Cape St Francis and St Francis bay and found that almost every single restaurant was closed. The whole place was a bit eery, like a ghost town. St Francis Bay itself was a pleasant enough place with nice houses and a nice little waterfront area but there was just no atmosphere and no people around. Eventually we found a steakhouse and had a big meaty dinner before collapsing in our bed very early, still tired after all those early starts!

We found out the next day that Monday is the most common day in this area for restuarants to close. Never mind!

You can read more about St Francis Bay here.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Our Second Day on Safari at Amakhala (Nov 4th)

I am glad we are only here for two days - this place is a recipe for getting fat! Muffins and coffee/tea at 6.30am, biscuits and coffee on our game drive, breakfast at 10am with fruit, cereal, yoghurt. toast, eggs, bacon, beans and mushrooms, a cooked lunch at 2pm, wine/beer/soft drinks and snacks on the afternoon game drive, followed by a three course dinner with wine, then coffee, tea and cheese and biscuits. Phew! It's almost like being on a cruise. I did want to overindulge a little after that pre-wedding diet, but this is taking things to another extreme :-)

We were woken up again today at 6am for pour first game drive of the day and luckily it stayed dry this time.

Here's a photo of Matt our ranger beside a huge termite mound! There were loads of these things around the game reserve:





Termite Mound
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On this drive we concentrated on finding elephants since we were unsuccessful the last time (who would have thought that finding a herd of 15 elephants would be so difficult!

After driving around for a while our eagle eyed ranger Matt spotted them up on a hill, in amongst the trees, but we didn't get a great view of them as they were hard to see clearly without binoculars. It sounds a bit strange to think that it would be hard to spot 15 elephants, but Amakhala is pretty big and the elephants take on the colour of the ground that they roll in.

It would have been great to see all of these elephants close up, but unfortunately it was not to be! Towards the end of the game drive we were lucky enough to see the male bull elephant wandering around on his own:




Male Elephant at Amakhala
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We didn't spend the whole time looking for big animals - there were also a few smaller ones too. Here is a leopard tortoise, one of the "little five". The big five are Lion, Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and the little five are the ant lion, buffalo weaver, lepard tortoise, rhinoceros beetle and elephant shrew!




Tortoise, Amakhala
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After the game drive it was back to Amakhala for breakfast and we spent the rest of the morning relaxing and having a bit of a snooze!

After lunch we went on our afternoon game drive and this time concentrated on finding the Lions. The lions are in a separate part of the reserve at the moment and to get there you go through a tunnel (under the road) and over some electric wires. The lions were being too opportunistic and killing young animals rather than spending energy trying to kill the adult animals, so the decision was made to keep them in a separate part of the reserve until the numbers had been built up sufficiently. The plan was to introduce them back to the main reserve this year, but they had cubs, so they are being kept separately for a while longer.

With the help of some of the other rangers (who all speak to each other on the walkie talkies in a strange code language) we found the lions, sleeping under a group of trees.



Lioness, Amakhala
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It was amazing seeing the lions and the female seemed to just stare at us. Aparantly all the animals, including the lions just see the safari vehicle as one big smelly animal, unless people start jumping about or standing up, so we made sure that we stayed perfectly still.




Lioness, Amakhala
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We finished off our game drive with another successful sighting - this time some buffalo. We also saw a few wildebeest:



Wildebeest
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