SOUTH AFRICA Road trippin’ with Erin Ce­bula

DRIFT Travel magazine - - Inside This Issue - BY: ERIN CE­BULA

When I be­gan re­search­ing South Africa, I came across dozens of must-dos. Blog­gers and tour com­pa­nies raved on about the majesty of Kruger Na­tional Park, the cool grit­ti­ness of Jo­han­nes­burg and the bounty of the wine lands. But it was the Garden Route - a stretch of forested, coastal area be­tween Mos­sel Bay and Port El­iz­a­beth - that ap­peared near the top of ev­ery sin­gle list I dug up, and I’m a sucker for top tens. As I con­tin­ued search­ing, I was thrilled to learn that this 300km stretch en­com­passes dra­matic peaks, in­dige­nous tem­per­ate forests, pine plan­ta­tions, rocky coves and glo­ri­ous sandy beaches. The wildlife and out­door ac­tiv­i­ties were con­tin­u­ally de­scribed as “re­mark­able” and al­most ev­ery beach town boasted fresh oys­ters ga­lore. This was all I needed to hear!

My ad­ven­ture kicked off in what lo­cals re­fer to as The Mother City. Cape Town is bright, bustling and home to 4 mil­lion people. It’s built on a penin­sula be­neath im­pos­ing Table Moun­tain and is the crown jewel of South Africa’s south­west coast. Some say it re­sem­bles the fair city of Van­cou­ver, but Cape Town has some­thing Vancity just doesn’t, and that’s drama. The moun­tains are jagged and rough, the neigh­bor­hoods are tech­ni­color wild and the ocean is the aqua­ma­rine of your dreams. I loved it in­stantly, and my af­fec­tion only grew when I checked into Kens­ing­ton Place.

I chose this award-win­ning bou­tique ho­tel for many rea­sons. It’s lo­cated in the charm­ing sub­urb of Hig­govale, which has a West Hol­ly­wood feel and is steps away from Cape Town’s coolest bars and restau­rants. There are only 8 rooms and ev­ery sin­gle luxe one of them has a pri­vate ter­race with views of the har­bor and sur­round­ing moun­tains. The de­sign is cozy, but con­tem­po­rary, and there are lush gar­dens at ev­ery turn. The staff turned out to be as help­ful in per­son as they were on-line, and we re­lied heav­ily on their ex­pert food and fun rec­om­men­da­tions. I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by the fact that we were warmly greeted with a cock­tail, and just the right amount of chit chat at (the very late check-in hour of) 11pm.

At the top of Kens­ing­ton Place’s food reco list was The Short­mar­ket Club, a new hot spot I had man­aged to se­cure a reser­va­tion for some 2 months ear­lier. This buzzed about of­fer­ing from Luke Dale-roberts of The Test Kitchen fame, is tucked away in a her­itage build­ing just off vibey Bree street. As the name sug­gests, it has a clubby feel, but not the icky kind. The space is sexy and op­u­lent - in an old world way - and as soon as you en­ter you feel as if you’ve been let in on a juicy se­cret. The menu is beau­ti­fully bal­anced; with op­tions for veg­gie and seafood lovers and for those who live for braai. BBQ is huge in South Africa, and The Short­mar­ket Club hon­ors that tra­di­tion beau­ti­fully with grass fed cuts from lo­cal farm­ers. I had to in­dulge in one of th­ese tasty filets, along with burnt leeks with

strac­ciatella and the in­sanely de­li­cious sam­bal matah tuna. I’ve had tuna a hun­dred ways, but never swim­ming in sam­bal oelek, gin­ger, hot co­conut oil and lime. To. Die. For.

The next morn­ing - with a belly still full - I em­barked on the first (driv­ing) leg of my Garden Route ad­ven­ture. The goal was to make it to Knysna, a charm­ing town built on the north­ern shore of a large warm-wa­ter es­tu­ary some 6 hrs away. This was to be our base camp for two days of wilder­ness ex­plor­ing and oys­ter eat­ing. So, with a strong Amer­i­cano in hand, I bid a fond farewell to Cape Town and be­gan the wind­ing ac­cent through the moun­tains and past the posh sub­urbs of Clifton and Camps Bay. Driv­ing on the left took a lit­tle get­ting used to, but I man­aged to ar­rive in Knysna un­harmed and ahead of sched­ule. Af­ter set­tling into my tur­bi­ne­turned-bou­tique ho­tel on Th­e­sen’s Is­land (yes, you heard right), the hubby and I hit the town fixed on slurp­ing back as many mol­luscs as pos­si­ble. Seafood in­sti­tu­tion, 34 De­grees South was by far our fa­vorite, serv­ing up de­li­cious wild oys­ters di­rect from lo­cal wa­ters.

Next on the menu: hik­ing the world fa­mous Rob­berg Bay Trail. This 11km loop cir­cles a rugged penin­sula that looks out on the Tsit­sikamma moun­tains, and is both a na­tional mon­u­ment and a World Her­itage Site. The views are spec­tac­u­lar at ev­ery turn, and some of the rocks you’re bound to climb date back over 120 mil­lion years. The area is also a pro­tected ma­rine park and home

to dol­phins, Black Oys­ter­catch­ers, Cape Gulls and sur­pris­ingly stinky Cape Fur Seals. My hus­band and I fin­ished the chal­leng­ing hike in just over 3hrs, but didn’t quite es­cape un­scathed. I still feel bad for ask­ing poor Shawn to climb up a slip­pery, lichen cov­ered rock for a photo op.

To ease Shawn’s suf­fer­ing (and get my­self out of the dog house) I took him for lunch at the fa­mous East Head Cafe. This gem of a restau­rant over­looks the Knysna Heads and serves up glob­ally in­spired seafood, sal­ads and damn good cock­tails. To me, this is what ev­ery wa­ter­front cafe should as­pire to be; buzzing, ca­sual and all about fresh, no-fuss food. We scored one of the cov­eted out­door ta­bles with la­goon views and stuffed our­selves silly with spicy Cape Malay curry and the best fresh fish and chips of our lives.

Next stop was Plet­ten­berg Bay, or ‘Plett’ as it’s more com­monly known. Thou­sands of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tourists flock to this re­sort town over the Christ­mas break - so if your look­ing for laid back beach vibes, keep on driv­ing. Per­son­ally, I was look­ing for­ward to a lit­tle ac­tion af­ter 2 nights in sleepy Knysna, so my in­jured wing­man and I bee-lined it to Cen­tral beach for a solid af­ter­noon of bar hop­ping fol­lowed by sushi at the very pop­u­lar Fat Fish. The rest of our evening in Plett is a lit­tle fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure it was fun!

Sur­pris­ingly, I hit the road early

the next day with sights set on Tsit­sikamma Na­tional Park and its mo­saic of ecosys­tems. This was our fi­nal day on the Garden Route, and I wanted to spend it in a park with 80 kilo­me­ters of pris­tine coast­line and an ocean­front pub. And yes, Tsit­sikamma has both of th­ese things! It also of­fer short scenic strolls, stren­u­ous five-day hikes like the Ot­ter Trail and even the worlds high­est bridge bungee at 216 me­ters. And no, I didn’t do it. I threw my­self off a bridge for my 24th birth­day and I don’t need to do that again. In­stead I chose to ex­plore Storms River; hik­ing over sus­pen­sion bridges, through deep gorges and along rugged cliff edges. And as I had hoped, we wrapped this fi­nal, in­cred­i­ble leg of the journey with a cold pint of Cas­tle over­look­ing a rag­ing In­dian Ocean. And if that’s not a must-do, I’m not sure what is.

Side note: Cape Town is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­ence the worst drought in its his­tory. Af­ter three years of min­i­mal rain­fall, the city is now in a state of emer­gency, with lo­cals and vis­i­tors lim­ited to 50 liters (a 90s shower and one flush) per day. Tourists are less af­fected by the drought than res­i­dents, as ho­tels and B&B’S have a dis­pen­sa­tion to use more wa­ter - but if you do chose to visit, please do your best to con­serve this pre­cious re­source.

Erin Ce­bula has been a fix­ture on Cana­dian Tele­vi­sion since land­ing the cov­eted role of Com­mu­nity/arts Re­porter for BC’S #1 Sta­tion in 2000. Her com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach to life­style re­port­ing has graced the likes of Van­cou­ver talk show Ur­ban Rush, 6...

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