Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wilderness - Garden Route - Southern Cape - South Africa

So we were finally departing the Western Cape we had loved so much to discover our next stop on our tour booked via Kruz Africa, a small town called Wilderness in the Southern Cape which is famous for beautiful beaches and nice restaurants.  We broke up the drive from Jan Harmsgat with a visit to The Blue Shed Coffee Roastery in Mossel Bay.  It was a fine cup of coffee in a rather ramshackle setting, just about ramshackle enough to fulfill the hipster vibe but any more ramshackley and it would have been just that little bit too rustic.  Mossel Bay isn't the most pleasant of views with the refinery that was built to deal with offshore gas that was discovered in the area in the 1960's, but this made for a pleasant stop and we bought some of their coffee to take away.

Blue Shed Coffee Roastery, Mossel Bay, South Africa
We arrived at our accommodation, Whale's Way Ocean Retreat and were greeted with the view of people paragliding, using the thermals to navigate the wonderful coastline.  Whale's Way has a great sea view from the balcony, from where we also had our breakfast. I'm sure that there are many whales to be spotted from here in the right season!   Leonie, the proprietor, is friendly and welcoming and always more than ready to help with advice for the many activities in the local area.  Instead we enjoyed watching the paragliders drifting by and even saw somebody setting off right in front of us, once the wind was in his 'sail' he just hopped off the cliff! When they're up there it looks very relaxing and almost effortless.  Not sure if we'll be trying it out this time though...

Whales Way Ocean Retreat, Wilderness, South Africa
After the luxury of Jan Harmsgat, we fancied a more casual dining experience that evening so booked into a cafe/restaurant called Flava.  The standout thing for me about the restaurant is the funny and friendly staff with whom you can have some good banter with throughout the evening.  They even provide a shuttle service to take you to and from your hotel which is great if you want a drink so you can leave the car.

Steak at Flava, Wilderness, South Africa
On the 1st of Feb we had a leisurely morning and spent the afternoon inspecting the local beach which, true to its 'number 1 activity to do in Wilderness' status on Trip Advisor, was absolutely brilliant.  Just down from Whale's way there are some flat rocks onto which the waves crash and there are alive with mussels and oysters.  Locals can be seen fishing off these attempting to catch the fish that feed from the attached mollusks.

Wilderness Beach, South Africa
There were a family on one of these rocks where the father had donned his wet-suit and was chipping the harder to reach oysters from the rocks, large ones at that and filled three large hessian bags with his catch.   The mussels were definitely large enough to be harvested, however this wouldn't be allowed without a permit (and we don't have any cooking facilities where we are staying anyway).

Mussels on Wilderness Beach, Wilderness, South Africa
The dramatic coastline stretches on and on and we really enjoyed soaking up the sights and poking around in the rockpools which dent the landscape.  It is really beautiful here at every time of day.

Landscape at Wilderness Beach, South Africa
That evening we had a reservation at The Girls Restaurant.  We treated ourselves to two bottles of excellent wine and really enjoyed our dinner of yet another seafood platter, though this time cooked, which included two portions of locally line-caught fish of the day (hake and my not so favourite kingklip, though I did give it another try), along with prawns in three different styles (The Girls sauce is especially delicious) and squid.  We didn't leave hungry and yet again were on the receiving end of some unbelievable service, if not the best to date.  The waiters were very clued up on their wines and dishes and described them to the customers in such good detail that you wonder why more restaurants don't provide this.

Seafood at The Girls restaurant, Wilderness, South Africa
After dinner, Manchester United were playing Hull city, so we found a sports bar/restaurant near by called Bongos which whilst, it didn't have the best reviews, has since undergone new management.  The staff there couldn't have been more accommodating, they persuaded us to stay for a few drinks before the game started and we met a group of Norwegians on a golf trip after a game of pool.  The match didn't go to plan, a 0-0 draw, but it was great having that down to earth old fashioned pub vibe which hasn't been present in many of our upmarket destinations.  After the two bottles of wine in the restaurant and a few more Namibian beers, which are great by the way, (or G&Ts in Kate's case), we were delightfully sloshed and not too sure on how to get home.   We were pretty sure the restaurant shuttle we took into town was no longer operating.  No problem, the bar staff were more than happy to drop us to our door, unbelievable hospitality!

On the 2nd Feb we had another nice breakfast and relaxing morning and then took the car out to visit Oysters R Us, where we would indulge in an oyster eating frenzy.  In a humble but also edgy and cool setting, the friendly staff again go above and beyond to make sure you enjoy the experience.  They have their oyster tanks which sustain the locally caught shellfish, but not only this, there is also a well stocked fridge willed with tapenades, pates, condiments and more.  You grab what you want and they'll add it up on the till.  Once you're sat with your nibbles you can order your bubbles, wine or beer and they'll also take your oyster order.  We naively went with four each, and later got another four.  The oysters were large and plump and even had a delightful creamy taste which is apparently the case during the summer season.  During winter they are more briny and salty but they are available all year round.  The oysters come with a fine selection of condiments including lemon wedges, black pepper, Tabasco, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce (and picked ginger), French onion vinaigrette, horse radish and tartar sauce so you just need to decide which style you would prefer.   It's an absolute must for any oyster lover if you visit here.

Shucking Oysters at Oysters R Us, Wilderness, South Africa
That evening we ate at a great little steakhouse called Joplins where the menu offers a very simple selection of different steak cuts, all coming as standard with egg and chips.  Again, the meat here is very good value in a homely and comfortable atmosphere with the steaks being cooked on the charcoal grill outside.  I couldn't resist filling my boots with the T-Bone and Kate had the rib-eye, the bill came to less than 700 Rand or around 30GBP and that included a bottle of wine!

On Friday 3rd Feb we packed up and headed to the Eden Adventures office to rent a canoe.   We paddled for 40 mins or so along the Kaaimans River with just the sounds of birdsong and the lapping of the ripples against the boat (plus whatever noise we made when we were paddling of course).  We saw various birdlife, especially Kingfishers that could be quite loud when they wanted to be!

Canoeing along the Kaaimans River, Wilderness, South Africa
After this we beached the canoe at a small stony landing point and took a hiking trail to a waterfall, which also took about 40 minutes to get to.  The trail was easy and the majority of it with a boardwalk and the shade from the trees provided a welcome relief from the hot African sun which was doing its best to cook us in the canoe.  Once we reached the waterfall, there was a higher 'platform' up a relatively steep rockface that we climbed in order to get to the second tier of the waterfall with a more easily accessible swimming area.  There were a few other tourists there picnicking and swimming and we jumped in, cooling down in these lush surroundings having exerted ourselves, probably for the first time on this trip!

Waterfall in Wilderness, South Africa
We hiked back to the canoe and on the paddle back to drop the canoe off at the Eden Adventures office we saw a Boomslang snake swimming across the river just in front of us! These snakes have quite potent venom, but we weren't too worried as he seemed to be trying his best to get out of our way.  Again, we saw many birds such as the common guineafowl, kingfishers and ducks.  It is definitely one of the highlights of the trip to date, and seeing this beautiful area, alive with wildlife from the peace and tranquility of a canoe was awe inspiring.

Guinea Fowl along the waterfall hiking trail, South Africa
We then drove to Knysna, or more specifically Thesen Island where we would be staying in self-catering accommodation.  Good times, but going far too quickly for my liking!

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