‘Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.’ So said Scott Cameron, and I agree with him. The more I travel, the more places I discover that still have to be explored. Apart from a trip to the Norwegian fjords, which is outside Africa so doesn't count on this exclusively African travel blog, here are my 6 travel highlights of 2014, in random order.
2. Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo
3. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
This year we revelled in mating lions so focused they didn’t give a fig who was watching, a visit to the tiny Auchterlonie museum to get an inkling of what life was like for the people who used to live there in the early 1900s (and why they were there in the middle of nowhere in the first place). We also got drawn in by the connection between a tightrope-walker over the Niagara Falls and the Lost City of the Kalahari. Read the story here and it’ll make you want to go off on a swashbuckling adventure to find treasures of your own.
4. Goukamma Nature Reserve, Garden Route
5. The Overberg
Another Overberg gem we explored was Swellendam, just a few hundred metres off the N2 between Cape Town and the Garden Route. We got our fix of nature, shopping and eating, tasted the local honey, visited the museums and went on a memorable township tour with Meisie Bokwana. From Swellendam we drove through the historic little village of Suurbraak, with its bright buildings in a thin ribbon along the roadside, and up through a fynbos-covered ravine on the Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (which is so popular that both the Overberg district and the Klein Karoo claim it as their own – see below).
Just a few hours’ drive from Cape Town is the wonderful world of the Overberg (which means ‘over the mountain’). We discovered lots of things to do in Stanford, from beer or cheese tasting to whale watching. And we learnt through much dedicated eating that the little village is a mecca of delicious restaurants and wineries.
But the greatest highlight of the Overberg for us was a visit to the beautiful De Hoop Nature Reserve near Bredasdorp, where we could hike, swim, mountain bike, quadbike and go bird watching or game viewing. Tthe knowledgeable Pinkey Ngewu took top honours for all the magic she showed us on a beach walk to explore the rocky pools.
We enjoyed a caper at the wacky Barrydale Karoo Hotel, explored other things to do in this offbeat village on the R62, and had a Jack Kerouac look into the past at a vintage diner with milkshakes that knocked our socks off. If you enjoy eccentricity and quirkiness and you’ve never been to Barrydale, put it on your to-do list for 2015.
Take a road trip through the wide open spaces and big skies of the Karoo heartland, as we love to do, and you’ll find that some strange things happen here, where people have the confidence to be quirky in ways no one would dare to in the Big City. On this year’s Karoo wanderings we met the ghosts of Prince Albert, discovered a dustbin art gallery along the village’s main street, and drove the Swartberg Pass, Thomas Bain’s masterpiece of engineering, with its nooks and crannies called Blikstasie, Skelmdraai or Stalletjie (which has its own ghost story).
But our most rewarding Karoo experience was a visit to Cape Nature’s Anysberg Nature Reserve, somewhere between Laingsburg, Ladismith and Montagu. The cottages are simple and basic, the environment huge and beautiful, a place where there were no distractions and we could adjust to nature’s rhythm. If you love the outdoors, mountain biking, horse riding and hiking, star gazing or simply watching a sunset as it crayons the sky, then this is the place for you. We’ll definitely be back.
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