Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Garden Route, South Africa

During our month-long visit to South Africa, we spent most of our time in Cape Town.  But last week we set out on a 5 day road trip to explore the Garden Route.  It's called the Garden Route because of the ecological diversity along this coastal route.  It was stunningly beautiful and we barely scratched the surface.  We could have easily spent another week lazily exploring the towns, wineries, animals and trails.  But alas, we had narrowed down our interests to make 3 stops that appealed to all of us and to satisfy a top wish for the kids.

Our first destination after a long 5+ hour drive brought us to Oudtshoorn.  Here we stayed in a cute cottage on an ostrich farm...which had no ostriches. :\  We learned after the fact, that they are kept on a different property.  No worries, it was still fantastic.  We made it to Cango Caves and toured the amazing tunnels and chambers.  Seriously awesome.

The next day we headed to the Cango Wildlife Ranch for more animal viewing.  Maybe our expectations have changed since going on safari, but the ranch was smaller then we expected and sadly the exhibits were fairly small as well.  The kids were excited to see a leopard though, as this was the only one of the Big 5 we did not see on safari.  We treated the kids to a personal lemur experience, which they loved.

But I think our favorite stop was the bird forest.  The lorikeets were bright beautiful colors and crazy.  From the moment we walked in, they did high speed, low diving fly-bys, nearly hitting us several times.  We bought nectar to feed them and before Jason could even hand over the money he had one on his head, one nibbling and squawking in his ear and two helping themselves to the nectar.  All of us had fun dodging and feeding these silly birds.  That is until they started pooping...too much nectar I guess.  The kids both got a squirt and were ready to leave at that point.

The next day we visited Highgate Ostrich Farm.  About two years ago, a friend was giving us tips about South Africa and mentioned the kids could ride ostriches.  They have talked about it ever since.  This is the only farm that still does ostrich rides.

The tour was great, we got to learn about the feathers, see eggs, feed ostriches and learn all about them.  But obviously the highlight was going for a ride.  Long ago people tried to use ostriches to pull carts like horses and donkeys.  But it never worked out because, while they are strong and fast, their little bird brains could never organize and go in the same direction.  The kids' ride was the most chaotic, willy nilly few minutes ever.  They loved it!

I should also mention these birds are farmed like cattle and other animals, so ostrich meat and eggs are widely available.  The whole family tried both and liked them.  I wanted to say it tastes like chicken, but really it is more like a tender steak.

After two nights in Oudtshroon, we headed to Knysna Elephant Park.  This sanctuary has taken in dozens of orphaned, rescued and sick elephants over the last 20 years and rehabilitates them before finding them a permanent home.  There is a resident herd of 10 elephants that are used for community outreach and education.  During our visit we were able to walk around with them, feed them and observe in their natural environment.

One of the best parts was our hotel room, about 6 rooms shared a living area that overlooked the elephant's boma.  This is a safe and warm place for them during the night.  So we spent the entire evening with the elephants!  We had dinner together and storytime together!

Our final stop was in Hermanus which is well known for its Southern Right whale population.  We opted not to do a whale watching tour due to our likely sea-sickness.  Plus we read that the whales often can be seen from shore and quite close.  There is a 12km trail with many gorgeous views and spots for viewing.  We were fortunate that our airbnb host had a view of the harbor and sent us there first.  We found two whales about 30 feet from the harbor!  And not too far away three more were playing and spinning in the water.

We drove to a few other spots along the trail to find whales.  And while we saw a few more in the distance, our first sighting was by far the closest.

This road trip was so much fun for us, we only wish we'd had more time.  Definitely worth a visit to the Garden Route, we hope to come back again someday...sans kids.