Road trip

Is this SA’s sun­ni­est route?

Getaway (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE -

There’s a stretch of coast­line be­tween the Tsit­sikamma and Port Al­fred that’s said to get more hours of sunlight than the rest of SA. ME­LANIE VAN ZYL veered off the N2 (un­less there was a pie to be had) to find its smaller, more iso­lated and un­spoilt hol­i­day spots

Ionce took the N2’s Tsit­sikamma turnoff to sneak a quick peek at Storms River Mouth. I had a Wild Card so en­try was free, and I drove around the coastal camp­site on a brief recce. That was all it took to ig­nite a han­ker­ing for more, and I’ve been se­cretly plot­ting to re­turn ever since. Roughly five years later, I make it back to the camp. A bush­buck skips over the road in front of me as I drive down the wind­ing pass to the sea. My first mis­sion is to visit the fa­mous sus­pen­sion bridge that crosses the dark and moody river – a good tick off my per­sonal South African bucket list. The loops on the bridge’s fence are cov­ered with love locks and the views are spec­tac­u­lar. I sit down on a drift­wood log on the rocky shore be­low the bridge. There’s a slight wind and the twi­light is a dreamy golden hue that I find dif­fi­cult to leave, but I must. The na­tional park is clos­ing and my lodg­ings are a short drive away. I head back to the N2, watch­ing the sun­set dis­ap­pear in the rear-view mir­ror. It is also cu­rios­ity that pulls me into Storms River Vil­lage, which I en­vi­sioned as a sky of green for­est in­stead of blue and the gruff calls of the Knysna tu­raco to wel­come me. The re­al­ity’s not far off. Tsit­sikamma Vil­lage Inn is a quaint ar­range­ment of his­tor­i­cal build­ings mak­ing up a di­verse set of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions – the nau­ti­calthemed Ar­niston Fish­ing Cot­tages are my favourite. I opt to have sup­per at the restau­rant on site: a deca­dent help­ing of creamy sal­mon pasta with lo­cally brewed Wood­cut­ters Ale. More for­eign­ers than South Africans visit this lit­tle ad­ven­ture vil­lage, ac­cord­ing to the op­er­a­tors, and this is where I’ll start ex­plor­ing the Sun­shine Coast, driv­ing to­wards Port Al­fred. This stretch of ocean sup­pos­edly sees the most sun­shine in South Africa and has warm wa­ters, and I want to find its shel­tered coves. The fol­low­ing morn­ing I check the map over break­fast at the very pink restau­rant next door to the Inn – I couldn’t leave with­out vis­it­ing the themed diner. Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe mem­o­ra­bilia adorns the walls and be­side her is Elvis. A sign reads: ‘ The ’60s was noisy, deal with it’. With a plan in mind, I hop onto the N2 and stop at the nearby To­tal to grab a cof­fee to go with the de­lec­ta­ble R6 brownie I got at the Vil­lage Inn. As far as garages go, this one def­i­nitely has the best view, perched be­side the Storms River Bridge. Then, just as I hit the 120km/h zone, I take the of­framp onto

the R102. I saw lit­tle rea­son to stick to the high­way and it was only 100 kilo­me­tres to my first night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion at Oys­ter Bay. A lo­cal at the vil­lage had rec­om­mended I stick to the N2 be­cause some of the back roads are badly pot­holed, but he didn’t strike me as an off-the-beaten-track type, so I did it any­way. Af­ter seven kays I re­gret it. There are pot­holes all right, and big ones – cam­ou­flaged against the dap­pled shade. How­ever, it wasn’t all bad, as I stum­bled across Oude­bosch Farm Stall, a sanc­tu­ary of warm roost­erkoek. From here I take a gravel pass through the Tsit­sikamma com­mu­nity wind farm, pass­ing the white gi­ants in the sky, and stay on gravel all the way. Oys­ter Bay is a coastal ham­let neigh­bour­ing the more pop­u­lar St Fran­cis Bay. You can only get there by dirt road and al­though it’s a lit­tle rut­ted in places, I eas­ily nav­i­gated it in the small Re­nault. My main rea­son to visit is in the name – I wanted to see my first African black oys­ter­catch­ers, one of South Africa’s most threat­ened bird species. They can live up to 35 years, and also pair for life, which ap­peals to the ro­man­tic in me. It’s a bit of a walk to the beach from Oys­ter Bay Lodge, but it’s a gor­geous bay with a pic­turesque yet wild la­goon snaking its way into the sea and im­pres­sive sand dunes that slope down too. I spy sev­eral sets of oys­ter­catch­ers in the orange af­ter­noon, sand­wiched be­tween big­ger seag­ulls, and spot only two other

‘I spy sev­eral oys­ter­catch­ers in the orange af­ter­noon, and spot only two other walk­ers on the wide beach’

walk­ers on the wide beach. In the dis­tance I can see the small ham­let roughly three kilo­me­tres away. Din­ner at Sea­grass Restau­rant and Bar is de­li­cious and I trust the chef enough to ask for travel ad­vice. ‘To me, Cape St Fran­cis is far pret­tier and less com­mer­cial than St Fran­cis Bay. Seal Point is my favourite.’ I ask about the roads. ‘Gravel is the short­est way, but it’s pretty pot­holed…’ I did it any­way, and missed the turn-off to Cape St Fran­cis, end­ing up in Hu­mans­dorp. I have a bit of a drive ahead of me to Addo Ele­phant Park and don’t have time to about-face. I skip past J-Bay and about 45 kilo­me­tres away from Oys­ter Bay there’s a per­fect view of the wide, per­fect-look­ing beaches from the R102. I fol­low this road to­wards the Gam­toos River and find my­self in a beau­ti­ful val­ley on a road that twists and cor­ners with no lay-by to speak of, only wild flow­ers. Later on, when look­ing at the map, I see it’s called Van Stadens Pass. An­other 20 kilo­me­tres and I hit a cross­roads. Uiten­hage or PE? I opt for Port El­iz­a­beth and the N2 be­cause it means I can grab a pie at Nanaga Farm Stall, like I used to do when I stud­ied in Gra­ham­stown. Home tonight is the lesser-known stretch of Addo, where the park meets the sea in a gath­er­ing of high and wide dunes known as the Alexan­dria Dune Field. This dune sea, as it’s also known, is the largest and least de­graded in the whole south­ern hemi­sphere, stretch­ing over 15 800 hectares, with its widest point be­ing five kilo­me­tres from the sea. To ex­plore them a lit­tle, I’m stay­ing at Lange­bos Huts in the Woody Cape area. The gates don’t close so you can come and go as you please, which means glo­ri­ous golden-hour shots along the ocean. Sadly, the weather isn’t play­ing along, but the im­pres­sive dunes do not dis­ap­point and I’ve made a men­tal prom­ise to re­turn some day for the two-night hike that crosses them. Leav­ing Woody Cape on the gravel road to­wards Ken­ton the next morn­ing, there’s the best view in the rear-view mir­ror: less than a kilo­me­tre from the turn-off to Woody Cape Back­pack­ers, I get a true sense of the scale of these in­cred­i­ble dunes. My last tick off the list of Sun­shine Coast trea­sures is to spend a night in a light­house. Well, next door to one. The Great Fish Point light­house was built back in 1898 and sits about 800 me­tres from the shore­line. Since the light has been au­to­mated, the keeper’s house is now avail­able to rent. There are some beau­ti­ful beaches to see on the way (see page 46), but I soon veer off the coastal course to try out the ‘poor man’s game drive’ just be­fore Ken­ton. The route passes the fences of big pri­vate game re­serves, but there’s also a pub­lic tran­sit road that cuts right through the mid­dle of Sibuya Game Re­serve, where I see gi­raffe, herds of wilde­beest, im­pala and what look like bles­bok in the dis­tance. All free. From here it’s an easy drive past the pop­u­lar seaside towns of Ken­ton-on-Sea and Port Al­fred be­fore hit­ting the last bit of road-trip gravel and the four-kilo­me­tre stretch to the light­house. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but I have my own pri­vate beach with epic sea views. The Sun­shine Coast turned out to be not so sunny for me, but as I think back along the route I re­alise this run of coast­line is pretty ex­tra­or­di­nary any­way. Per­haps that is its real at­trac­tion.

pri­vate yourown a Youget yous­pend beach­when lightho use this be­side night

TOP Wide and empty Bok­nesstrand, where Bar­tolomeu Dias planted a cross in 1488.

LEFT The cal­cite rocks around Shelly Bay are best nav­i­gated in shoes (les­son learnt).

ABOVE Dairy farms line the road be­tween Woody Cape and Bok­nes.

BE­LOW The rooms at Oys­ter Bay Lodge are pri­vate and com­fort­able.

LEFT A cheese­burger and gin­ger beer for break­fast at Mar­i­lyn’s ‘60s Diner; day vis­i­tors can tour the cute lit­tle Great Fish Point light­house.

ABOVE For­est en­gulfs the Lange­bos Huts in the Woody Cape (coastal) sec­tion of the Addo Ele­phant Na­tional Park.

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