A South African Road Trip – Kruger to Cape Town – Part three.
After leaving Sodwana we decided it best to get out of KZN ASAP as the school holidays were still on and we’d been informed the area around Durban would be chaos. So leaving Durban and it’s delights for another visit, we drove as far down the coast as we could before night fall – to Leisure Bay and Kuboboyi River Lodge.
We got spectacularly lost trying to find the lodge in the dark but eventually we were welcomed to this small, homely establishment by Eric (the owner). We pitched our tent in the grounds near the main house and spent the evening putting the world to rights with Eric and a few beers. On Eric’s advice we woke up early to visit TO Strand, a near by beach, for sunrise. The best thing about South Africa’s beaches is that you very rarely have to share one with people if you don’t want to and TO Strand was no exception.
We returned to Kuboboyi for breakfast – a fantastic spread of muesli, yoghurt, fruit, french toast and pancakes with cheese, jam, cinnamon and sugar as toppings. Eric runs a catering company and shared some of his menu’s with us – we would certainly have loved to stay for dinner but unfortunately had to leave. Camping is R75 pppn and breakfast cost us an extra R40 each. The lodge was charming with fantastic staff, dogs and chickens running around and an amazing view – a really nice “at home” experience.
We began the long drive to the wild coast by entering the Eastern Cape. The poorest province in South Africa, this is obvious from the state of the roads compared with elsewhere in the country. Despite the driving conditions, the rolling landscape dotted with brightly coloured rondavels is really quite charming. Leaving the N2 just after Mthatha we headed on the Coffee Bay road to the coast. Coffee bay is reportedly very nice but quite commercial as it is easily accessible. Instead, we’d opted to try and visit the village of Bulungula, on recommendation from both friends and the coast to coast guide which was so invaluable on this trip. We’d been warned by Eric not to attempt the road to Bulungula in the dark but even we were surprised by how long and terrible the dirt road section to the village is. We would definitely have turned around if we’d had somewhere we knew we could have gotten back to by nightfall, but we had no option but to press onwards. The directions were difficult to follow and the fact that the car arrived in one piece is testament to Bens driving skill and Po’s unfailing awesomeness as the single best car ever. All the drama of the trip was forgotten when we rounded the corner in to Bulungula village and were immediately absorbed by the tranquil beauty of the area.
It’s worth ringing and booking at Bulungula with plenty of time to spare. Despite offering camping, the space is very limited (somewhat ironically as there is tonnes of space around) and we ended up having to stay in a luxury safari tent (R140 pppn). This was very comfortable and quite novel being up on a raised platform in the trees. Other options include dorms and double/twin rondavels. Washing facilities are shared and take the form of compost toilets (all stunningly decorated with large murals) and rocket showered – powered by paraffin and always really warm!).
Eating at Bulungula is very reasonable, with a large dinner costing R50. We ate all 3 nights we were there and really enjoyed the potjies, bobotie and xhosa dishes. Cooked breakast at R30 was also nice – including fresh xhosa bread – be careful to order in plenty of time if you have a schedule to keep to for the day, Bulungula runs on a time of its own!
A vast array of activities is offered and all are run by local village people as their own businesses. I finally managed to go horse riding on the beach – something I’ve wanted to do since moving to Cape Town but which is normally very expensive. It was a lovely 1 1/2 hr ride along the beach, through a mangrove forest and in to the village – definitely worth the R120.
Bulungula is a little reminiscent of many of the hostels you find in South East Asia where it’s never hard to find someone to chat to. We made friends with 2 germans travelling together (Tim and Teresa) and so Ben went canoeing with Tim one morning whilst Teresa and I spent a day with some of the women from the village. We painted our faces with mud to protect them from the sun and helped collect water and fire wood – conclusively I’m rubbish at carrying things on my head – I have no idea how the women do it so easily with huge, heavy buckets. It’s hard to work out who lives where and who owns what in the village, such is the extent of the community. We were a source of great interest for the children, in particular one little lad (the one with no back to his shorts) who spent the entire day with us, holding out hands and totally in awe of the camera and my dive watch.
We went and found a squash in a nearby veggie patch and prepared some maize meal for lunch. Crushing maize meal is bloody hard work, it really made me think how much I take for granted, even as someone who cooks as much from scratch as possible, my life is made so much easier by things like buying flour and having a car to carry it in. And after peeling the squash with a spoon, I’ll never complain about having a blunt knife, let alone a veggie peeler! We cooked the squash and maize meal in a potjie over the fire outside and shared some chicken. I presume the chicken was one of the ones I’d seen running around the village. It certainly tasted like it had lived a more rich and varied life than a battery chicken! Either way, I wasn’t about to refuse this offering from the family who were hosting us.
Our last job of the day was to have a go at making bricks! Muddy patches cover the hillsides around Bulungula, where the women mash up the soil and mix it with cow dung to form bricks which dry in the sun and are then used to build the rondavels. Teresa did a spectacular job of this whilst I watched on, not keen to stick my hands in cow poop.
We heard great things about the ilanga fire restaurant in the village which specialises in making pancakes, so we went in search of it for lunch one day. Following the peach stones and sticks through the village we came across the restaurant perched on the top of a hill overlooking the village and the coastline beyond. Unfortunately as it was a quiet day there were no savoury fillings (I had so been looking forward to the three nut curry!), so we had pancakes filled with a date, nut and caramel mix – very tasty washed down with a coffee.
The wild coast is stunning, but you really need far longer than we had to explore it properly. Half the trouble is that there just aren’t well connected roads, and when there are roads, they are terrible. I think the best way to see it would be on foot, maybe something we must consider next time.
Leaving Bulungula we were hopeful that other communities may embrace the practices we had seen. The Bulungula Incubator has been set up on the back of the tourism example and has been extended to help build schools, gain government grants, set up water quality monitoring and protection, plant food gardens, grow commercial products like lemongrass and share this knowledge with other villages near by. The village prides itself on having no crime and not wanting hand outs, they will “work themselves out of poverty though hard work” – a real example to everyone in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Now keen to get home, we drove for 12 hours until we couldn’t face anymore time in the car. Consulting the trusty coast to coast guide one more time we looked for a place to stay in the Tsitsikamma/Plettenburg bay area of the garden route. Wild Spirit – a sustainable backpackers lodge near Natures Valley caught our eye and we used this opportunity to check out somewhere we might stay when we return to hike the Otter trail in November.
Besides a beautiful location, Wild Spirit is everything an environmentally conscious traveller on a budget could want! We camped but had access to a great kitchen for self catering. After dinner, we joined in a drumming circle and had a few drinks with some fellow Brits. Waking up early the next morning we indulged in the freshly made bread with jams and preserves and local eggs, scrambled with herbs. I was so glad to finally have eggs again after not being able to buy any free range eggs in any shop we stopped at! After a fantastic chat with lovely owner Jenny about environmental education and activism, we vowed to return ASAP and began the drive back to Cape Town.
There’s a lot to say about the garden route. George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and Wilderness are some of the most beautiful places in the country, filled with great activities…unfortunately for us these activities had to wait as THE most beautiful place in the country was waiting for us at the end of the N2.
There is no where like Cape Town. When I flew back after christmas away last year I was totally overcome by the view and accompanying feeling flying in over False Bay and beside Table Mountain. We were both very glad to get home, even though our holiday was great. Being away from Cape Town has just made me even more sure that when my visa is out, they will have to drag me away kicking and screaming 🙂
Watch this space for my roadtrip recipes series – food based on what we ate during our road trip around South Africa!