by Dalene Ingham-Brown
There I was, standing on the outskirts of Cape Town’s Greenmarket Square ready to start a solo, month-long backpacking trip along South Africa’s coast. With my 15 kg backpack and BazBus ticket number memorised, I was ready to explore my home country. What I didn’t realise was that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
I spent a mellow, two days exploring the Fernkloof Nature Reserve Cliff Path with its dassies, its locals and its view of the angry ocean. I also found time to wine-taste my way through the country cultivars. Creation Wine Farm won me over with their delectable food and wine pairing platter, although the Chardonnay I tasted at Ataraxia was simply too scrumptious to walk away from without a bottle to take with me.
In Oudtshoorn I crawled, hoisted and slid my way along an adventure tour of the spectacular Cango Caves, before heading to an ostrich farm where I met, fed and rode an ostrich. Later that day, I explored the town on foot and made friends with a couple of Israeli travellers who braai’d my dinner-steaks (along with theirs) like legends.
Heading for Wilderness I shared a shuttle with an Aussie traveller. Somewhere in between the hop fields before the Outeniqua pass, and the McDonalds in George, we’d decided to swap our evening’s accommodation booking with each other. Why not? He was now set to stay at the beach accommodation I’d booked for the evening, and I was now heading for the place that he’d booked – a complete nature-lover’s hide, set under a canopy of trees, surrounded by tall, thriving vegetation.
Each morning I woke up at sunrise and went to sit beneath an old, towering Yellowwood waiting for the Loeries to break the tranquillity and start the day with their call. After that, my days were a blur of adrenaline-fuelled fun. I canoed up the Touw River, did a trail run through Wilderness National Park, swam beneath waterfalls, went paragliding, and hurled myself through a forest playing paintball.
As a solo traveller I was getting a chance to do all the things I love to do, making choices on a whim and falling in love with the intense freedom that comes with the backpacking culture.
Addo served me a satisfying safari experience. I took a game drive through Schotia Game Reserve and lapped up every stretch of its wilderness. I spotted rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, plenty of plains game and topped the day off with venison potjie enjoyed in a boma that overlooked a waterhole of wallowing hippos.
The rest of my stay in Addo was filled with observing the playful ellies in Addo Elephant National Park and interacting with resident creatures of the Addo Wildlife Sanctuary. I can now proudly say I’ve stroked the biggest-looking lizard I’ve ever seen, held a Burmese python around my shoulders and tickled the tummy of a tame meerkat.
Hogsback stole my heart, and it can keep it, because I need a solid excuse to revisit. Even though Hogsback is technically a town, it’s more like a village with the town centre comprising of a petrol station, small convenience store, curio shop (or two) and a select few sit-down places to grab a meal.
Hogsback is perched in the Amathole mountains, surrounded by the most magical, ancient forests. I set out on a day’s hike with a few newly acquired travel buddies and we weaved our way into the thick of the forest eating wild plums and berries off the trees as we went. We made our way past a series of waterfalls that led up to the big-daddy waterfall – Madonna and Child. Wow. Just wow.
The Transkei is a section of my trip where my eyes were glued to the passing landscape the whole way – from Umtata to Coffee Bay. The hills cone their way through this rural area, covered in vibrant green grass and dotted with blue-green rondavels.
Coffee Bay really blew my hair back. It’s here that I took my very first surfing lesson in the warm Wild Coast water. I also hiked to Mpuzi Caves and ate fresh mussels out of a pot on the top of a mountain at sunset. I sipped cocktails, watched a pods of dolphins, took a dip in a natural Jacuzzi and had a djembe jam with locals.
When in Umzumbe the heavens decided to open with rain, granting me some down-time. I stayed in treehouse accommodation surrounded by tropical palms and humidity I could practically chew on, so I pulled up a chair on the balcony and spent hours reading, while the rain chimed its way through the trees. At the first sign of the rain clearing, I headed down to the beach and walked its length with the moody clouds threatening to bawl down again. They didn’t though, rather they left me to explore the near-deserted beach; its driftwood, sandy crab hides and unique rock formations.
The journey opened my eyes to how incredible South Africa is. The locals, the culture, the nature, wildlife and rich atmosphere. Just by sharing these few memories of my travels with you, I’m already itching to get back on the road to discover anything else South Africa is willing to share with me. I only hope you’re inspired to do the same.