Fantastic food....

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Friday, March 10, 2006


Hello again!

Well, we are now in South Africa, currently having a lovely time in Cape Town. After Tanzania we spent a couple of weeks travelling from Johannesburg via the Garden Route, the wine region and the west coast. We have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves, so I hope I don't bore you too much telling you all about it...

We left Tanzania on 28th February and flew down to Johannesburg. After a week of camping (never again will I take a bucket shower in water that smells of poo) and the noise, heat and bustle of Dar es Salaam I was ready for some comfort. Our South African Airways flight felt like three hours of sheer heaven. The airline food tasted like gourmet cuisine and the magazines and film kept me enthralled for the entire flight. It seems that I have become easily pleased!

We stayed overnight in the "airport hotel" at Jo'burg. Strange that an airport hotel can be half an hour away by bus from the airport, but not to worry. The next day we flew on to Port Elizabeth which is at the beginning (or end, depending where you start, I suppose) of the Garden Route. The plan for the next couple of weeks was to hire a car, start driving and see where we fancied stopping, hopefully ending up in Cape Town before our car hire expired.

Once Richard was comfortably behind the wheel of our trusty Chevrolet Aveo (feel the power of that 1.5 engine) we set off to explore Port Elizabeth. After a drive along the beachfront we both came to the same conclusion - it was exactly like Brighton. A classic seaside town, right down to the fish and chip shops on the front. We found a lovely little B&B in the middle of town and settled in for a couple of nights. Our hosts, Chris and Bronwyn, treated us to a traditional South African braai (BBQ) where we ate ostrich (yes, even me - it tastes like venison), boerewors (South African sausage) and a South African potato dish which was delicious (but being a tattie-lover I am bound to say that). It would have been wrong of us not to sample South African beer and wine so we worked our way through a fair amount of that too. It was fantastic to finally have decent wine again after a month without it in East Africa!

It's fair to say that there is not a great deal to do in Port Elizabeth so after a couple of nights we were ready to move on. We decided to head to Plettenburg Bay which was about 70kms further along the coast. On the way there we stopped off at Jeffreys Bay - apparently one of the best surf beaches in the world. On Chris and Bronwyn's recommendation we stopped for lunch at Die Walskipper - an open-air restaurant right on the beach where they serve the most delicious seafood (yes, I had prawns again) on tin plates with drinks in tin mugs. It was a gorgeous place that I would highly recommend to anyone.

We had a bit of trouble finding somewhere to stay once we got to Plettenburg but we eventually happened upon a stunning little hotel (Milkwood Manor) right by the beach (although of course we had the cheapest room with the view of the car park). Again, we decided to stay for a couple of nights and to use this as a base to see a little of the area around there. Plettenburg is a beautiful little town, built up on cliffs looking down over the ocean. It is surrounded by lovely forests and nature reserves and the beaches are stunning (possibly nicer than the beaches on Zanzibar). After a potter around the town centre we drove along to Brenton on Sea (another Chris and Bronwyn suggestion) for a picnic on the beach. It's a tiny little town built on the cliffs stretching down to a beautiful beach. Unfortunately, the wind on the beach put the sand into sandwich so we didn't manage to stay there for long but we headed back to the hotel for a laze by the pool which was lovely.

Next stop was Knysna, another seaside town, this one being famous for oysters. It is set on a lagoon which is beautiful, but the town itself was not a patch on Plettenburg. We had a look around, went for an amazing meal on the waterfront in the little marine area (Richard had the famous oysters, but seemed to pay the price the next day...), went up to George (a nearby town) to the cinema but otherwise just caught up on blogging, uploaded photos etc.

Having just about reached the end of the Garden Route, we decided to head inland to Swellendam, a historic Dutch village about halfway to Cape Town. It was a pretty long journey so we stopped for another beach picnic, this time at Wilderness, and then spent the night in a fantastic little B&B (Bella Rosa) that had just opened a few days before. It was really beautiful and the owners were very helpful, pointing us towards yet another amazing (and cheap) restaurant for dinner that night. From Swellendam we decided to head to Hermanus which is back down on the coast. Hermanus is where, in the right season, you can see whales as they come right in to the coast to breed. We knew we weren't going to see any whales as we would be there out of season but thought it would be a nice place to spend the night. However, the weather was appalling (wind and rain), we couldn't find anywhere to stay that wasn't going to break the bank and the whole town just seemed to be a tourist trap designed to extract as much money as possible from you. (nb: we were in really bad moods by the time we had finished trying to find somewhere to stay in Hermanus and this may have coloured our view of the town...) So, we decided to move on without staying overnight and decided that the wine region was our best bet.

We decided on Franschhoek, mainly because our guide book said it had lots of good restaurants, which was good enough for us. After the lack of cheap accomodation in Hermanus, we decided to phone ahead and, after being told by a number of places that they were full, we managed to book into the Huguenot Apartments for a reasonable price. The drive to Franschhoek was fantastic. The weather started clearing pretty much as soon as we got out of Hermanus (definitely a sign) and we started driving up through the mountains towards Franschhoek. After an hour or so of uphill driving we started to doubt we were ever going to get there, but just at that moment we went round a bend and suddenly we were looking down into the most beautiful valley full of vineyards with a lovely town right in the middle of it. This cheered us up no end and in no time we were in the middle of Franschhoek and it was every bit as pretty as the view from the mountain had promised. The only detractor was that the Huguenot Apartments turned out to be really quite horrible (even Richard agreed that it was creepy), but it was in the middle of town and was about all we could afford so we had to stay put. Despite the creepy apartment, we had a fantastic two days there and would recommend the town to anyone. We had two of the most amazing meals ever at the French Connection (a little French bistro) and Reubens (rated as the top restaurant in Franschhoek and probably in South Africa) and we tasted a lot of fabulous South African wine. Again, we couldn't believe how cheap the restaurants were. We decided to push the boat out a bit and so were having 3 courses and plenty of wine and we had difficulty spending more than 40 pounds!!

After Franschhoek, we had one more day before we had to hand back the car in Cape Town. I had found an interesting looking place to eat (the trip does seem to be ruled by my stomach) in Langebaan which is north of Cape Town. We managed to get ourselves booked in for dinner for the next evening so we set off for Langebaan in the morning, stopping in Stellenbosch (much bigger than, and not as pretty as, Franschhoek) for lunch and a spot of light shopping on the way. The restaurant we were going to that evening was called Die Strandloper and it is one of the most fantastic eating experiences I have ever had. The restaurant is open-air on the beach and you sit at wooden tables set up around an enormous open fire. For 140 rand each (14 pounds approx) you get an 8 course meal, all cooked on the fire, along with amazing bread that is freshly baked in the wood-burning ovens they have set up on the beach. It was fantastic. We had more fish than you could imagine - mussels cooked two ways, snoek (kind of like a barracuda), crayfish, smoked angel fish, seafood gumbo and other fish that I had never heard of - along with an interesting lamb stew with seaweed in it. I would recommend that anyone coming to Cape Town heads up to Strandloper for dinner - it's not to be missed!

And that was the end of our driving tour of South Africa. We headed down to Cape Town the next morning and have been having a lovely time here ever since. Richard will tell you all about it soon!
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