Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Final Chapter

Countries Visited: 28
Distance Travelled: 36650km
Litres of fuel bought: 5136
Punctures repaired: 9
Food poisonings: Lots!

With an afternoon to kill we headed out to Cape St. Lucia for lunch, tarmac turned to gravel, and gravel to dirt track as we re-entered Africa. Waving children and smiling faces. We eventually reached the coast and went for a walk along the windswept beach. Deserted, apart from three children walking towards us carrying something. They obviously didn't own any bags, so they were carrying a hard hat and a big rubber tube full of mussels they'd collected. We bought a hard hat of mussels for that evening, realising afterwards that we probably could have donated them a plastic bag or two.

Dawn and David at Overwin Lodge had been raving about Hluhluwe National Park, so we took a slight detour north again staying at Isinkwe Backpackers, the most overpriced place we'd stayed for a while. Nothing particularly wrong with it, just it was nothing special at a ridiculous price. There was one nice touch however, they put out a plate of bananas for the bush babies as the sun sets. The bush babies were all sitting in the tree ready and waiting for their breakfast snack.

We slowly crawled through Hluhluwe the following day, a beautifully hilly park with a fair amount of wildlife around. We managed to tick off three of the big five but failed on the cats yet again. A little disappointed we headed further down the coast that evening towards Durban.

We turned inland the following day towards Nottingham Road, we'd been told about the 'Midlands Meander' by a guy we'd bumped into in Richards Bay. A winding dirt road through the foothills of the Drakensberg. A very picturesque road with golden light created by all the dry grass. We arrived at Sani Pass Backpackers late in the day and settled down for a cool evening.

With the backpackers looking exceptionally well organised and the weather being beautiful we went for another meander the next day, a self guided walk for four hours or so from the lodge. A really lovely walk up a mountain and down a river. There were various pools for swimming on route, but as these are currently being filled with snow melt we decided to give that a miss.

Another good nights sleep and then it was time to give Stanley's new springs their first proper test by driving up the infamous Sani Pass. This is South Africa's highest pass heading up into Lesotho, with the Lesotho border post at 2865 metres. We passed a couple we'd met where we were staying trying to drive up in their hired Toyota Yaris, they were stuck and trying to reverse back down. The sign at the bottom saying that only 4wd vehicles would be allowed past the South African border post, approximately half way up, should have been an indication it wasn't a very good road. The road was rough and rocky as we crawled on up, and surprisingly busy as there and many agencies that do "Sani Pass Tours", where they throw a load of people into a Land Rover and take them to Lesotho for lunch.

A beautiful road with amazing views, slow with some frightening hairpin bends but nothing too challenging. As we climbed the temperature dropped and the wind got up, eventually reaching the top in a howling gale with patches of snow dotted around. We did the immigration thing, very painless as they're so used to visitors. The road improved but we kept climbing up the Kotisephola Pass to a very snow covered 3240m. By now the freezing gale was really taking its toll on Hannah and I, we decided we'd had enough of Lesotho and it was time to go back to South Africa. We headed back to the Lesotho border post and the 'highest pub in Africa' for a spot of lunch before starting the descent. On seeing Hannah was still wearing flip flops when exiting Lesotho the official looked at me and declared "You've got to buy this girl some shoes!".

The descent wasn't as tricky as we'd though it might be, and we were back at the bottom in under an hour. The gale was still blowing, but now it was a warm gale, probably our warmest evening yet. Apparently called the 'berg wind', it happens when a cold front is moving up from the cape. This was the first night of the trip we'd had to actually strap the tent down as the swirling wind was lifting it. We crawled into the tent that night, the cold front passed us, the wind dropped and we woke up with a sheet of ice over the tent for the first time since Europe, it was a tad nippy!

Time to get out of the mountains we decided and hit the road towards Port St Johns. We'd been told there was a hippy vibe there, vibe was the wrong word, it was overrun! One campsite we entered we had a 'forensic pathology unit' vehicle follow us in, we didn't stay there! With run down accommodation and too much tie dye for our liking, we headed back out of town to a place we'd seen on the outskirts. A really nice location on the river, reasonably priced and it had its own Helipad and airstrip, a little overkill maybe?

Further down the wild coast the next day we reached Cintsa. Beautiful rugged and windswept coastline again, a well run backpackers and super powerful hot showers, this was the place we should rest for a day! Lazing around for me, and early morning runs for Hannah we killed some time before headed on.

We had to go to Port Elizabeth to pop into another 4x4 Megaworld for a 'safety check' on the springs we'd had fitted to validate the warranty. We camped just outside in an amazingly remote campsite given its proximity to the city. Cruising on south with a night just outside Plettenberg we turned inland through George towards Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn is an interesting place, the world's ostrich capital apparently, the place is surrounded by ostrich farms. We popped into Jemima's for lunch; I decided it's be rude not to order the "ostrich burger". It wasn't really a burger at all, rather fillet strips, but spectacularly good! The following day we invested in some ostrich steaks and an ostrich egg, yes, a whole egg. We were given a recipe sheet, the smallest meal was said to serve 12! We then drove along the famous route 62, the main wine region in South Africa.

We stopped for the night at Warmwaterberg, you don't need to be an expert in Afrikaans to realise that there might be a hot spring in the area. We stayed at the hot springs for what would be our last nights camping, we also realised we had rather a lot of fresh food to eat and we were unlikely to be cooking for ourselves again for a while. So after a dip in the hot springs we started on a mammoth cooking and eating session, with an interval to have a roman bath. These were huge private baths that were over a metre deep, fortunately the tap filled it at a good rate. All the water at the hot springs came from the spring itself. Everything from toilets to outdoor sprinklers was throwing out hot water. Our food that night was really good, topped off by spectacular ostrich steaks, some of the most tender meat we'd ever eaten.

The following morning the cooking marathon continued, a ostrich egg omelette was the plan, "serves 18" the recipe said. We eventually managed to break into the egg and Hannah started the ten minute job of beating it while I chopped the veg. We threw everything into our largest pan, filling it almost to the brim and slowly cooked it through. Then came the eating part, a little disappointing, quite bland, but plenty of it. We managed to polish off about half before we started feeling far too ill to eat any more.

That evening we'd arranged to stay with Jasper and Aileen who we'd met in Malawi. We headed towards Worcester, stopping at a vineyard on route to pick up a bottle. We shared a lovely evening with the family, Jasper knocking up some great food on the braii. We tried to sort a few things with the car that morning, having a chat with the owner of one place I said South Africa was a beautiful country, his shocking response was "The problem with this country is the blacks, we've got forty million of then you know, they'd rather steal than work". We decided to take our business elsewhere! We moved further south towards the cosmopolitan city that is Cape Town. My aunt, Sue, and family live in the suburbs giving us a convenient base for that part of the world.

After some battling with the GPS we eventually found their house. My Grandpa was also staying with my aunt for a while, he escaped the horror show that is the current Zimbabwe a few months before and was now living in Cape Town. This was the first time I'd seen him in many years which was fantastic. I think he was also pleased to meet Hannah for the first time. We settled in to having a room, bed and supermarket just down the road frighteningly quickly!

We were blessed with good weather so decided we should climb Table Mountain, Mike, Sue's husband drove with us to the cable car where we left our vehicle and were then driven back to Kirstenbosch Gardens to start our walk up Skeleton Gorge. A walk followed by lunch at the top and a cable car down was the plan. We eventually reached the top after a hard climb and were greeted with amazing views over the city. We then realised the memory card for the camera was in the computer, so photos weren't going to happen. We walked across the windy mountain top to the restaurant to find it closed, by now we were hungry, exhausted and a little frustrated by the lack of food. Not a problem, we'd have lunch at the bottom, unfortunately the cable car was also closed, and they'd closed everything because of high winds! Now very hungry, we had to start our descent; we had some tennis biscuits in the car to help spur us on! Eventually, five hours after we'd started walking Stanley came back into sight, we devoured the biscuits and headed back to base.

We had a few more days pottering round Cape Town doing the sights, we also spent a fair bit of time doing car stuff, getting Stanley ready for the boat home and preparing him to be sold, a sad day that'll be. Sue and Mike were heading down to their holiday house in Arabella, near Kleinmond. We went down with them as this was a good base to explore the area.

We invited Ian to join us for a few days, doing some more wandering, vineyards, breweries, saw some more whales in Hermanus and headed down to a very important waypoint, Cape Agulhas. Cape Agulhas is the most southerly point of Africa, and having got this far we decided we should do the last bit. We'd made the car all beautifully clean in Cape Town, and then proceeded to hit some unexpected dirt roads and get it all filthy again!

We'd arranged to share a shipping container with Ian, and back in Cape Town we did the final bits of sorting. Then the big day came, we were loading Stanley into a crate on the Thursday and loading ourselves into a plane on the Friday. We'd been told that although you can't carry much petrol in a shipping container diesel isn't an issue, so we filled to the brim.

We sorted out payment and then drove in convoy to customs. On arrival they spotted our tanks were full, Ian had done the same, and informed us that we couldn't carry that much diesel without registering the crate as hazardous and paying an extra $500! We were only allowed just above reserve fuel. After a bit of a debate is soon became clear that our only option was to drain the fuel. Fortunately Nick, who's arranged the shipping, agreed to buy it off us at a discounted price. I neglected to mention the auxiliary tank, so with 80 litres drained from our main tank they then got to work on Ian's vehicle.

Once everything was sorted we squeezed the vehicles into the shipping crate and watched the doors close behind them, a sad sight, this really was the end. We then headed back to Sue and Mike's with Ian for our last evening in Africa. A amazing Rojan Josh, and lots of wine and photos later we crawled into bed.

Our flight back was with Emirates via Dubai. While there is only a one hour time difference between the UK and South Africa at this time of year, Dubai is a little more out of the way. We were rudely woken up at about 1am, given breakfast and then kicked off the plane; this was now 5am Dubai time. We then had to board another plane a couple of hours later, to be given another breakfast. We both slept better on the second flight, eventually landing on time, tired, but very well fed having had four meals in 17 hours.

The seven person welcome party at Gatwick was a fantastic sight, and we all headed back to my parents for a good celebration and catch up before settling back into the real world.

That's all folks!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It's pretty to cool to see the Landcruiser back at the most southerly tip of Africa for a second time in 2 years. I'm sure Stanley has another few trip left in him yet. Great to see you arrived home safely. God Bless - The Loudens

10 October 2009 at 10:52  

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