Ports, Pineapples, Pies and Paradise – The story of my adventurous road trip to the Sunshine coast, during Autumn of 2017
The funny thing about going on holiday is that no matter how old I get, the feeling of anticipation leading up to the day of departure is exactly the same. Like an overzealous child, I had been counting down the weeks and days that led up to the trip with much enthusiasm. The excitement finally reached its pinnacle when the car was eventually packed and we were rolling out of the mother city, Cape Town. It was Easter Friday and we were on our way at last.
Although I had made many short trips and enjoyed a few weekends away with my wife, Tamlyn, this would be the first proper holiday as such that I would have since going blind. The months leading up to the trip had proved to be both busy and exhausting, so the holiday was really something that I looked forward to.
We would drive a distance of over two thousand kilometers over a period of just over two weeks. Our travels led us from Cape Town, along the famous Garden Route, where we would spend the first long weekend. Then on to the Eastern Cape for a one night stop in the Algoa Bay city of Port Elizabeth, where we would get to meet up with some old friends. The furthest point we would reach was the little seaside town of Port Alfred. There we would spend a little over a week before turning back towards the Western Cape. Our route home would be somewhat different though. We would skirt the northern part of the Garden route this time. Veering away from the coast and heading through the mountains. We would touch the famous Baviaanskloof area before meandering through the semi-arid area known as the Klein Karoo, then home.
As we drove away from home, leaving behind our confused looking furry kids in the care of my mother, I popped a cd into the car’s player and sat back to enjoy the trip. I grew up listening to music from the 80s through my childhood and teenage years, the collection of music I carried for this trip was therefore predominantly from that era. The first album I blindly pulled out and slid into the radio was the greatest hits from Alphaville. The first track on the album was ‘Forever Young’ and I could not resist turning up the volume as loud as the car’s sound system could go.
As I sat there singing out the lyrics I felt the car swing left. My good wife had taken the wrong turn and although I could not see this, I knew that there should be no left turns just yet on our route.
I turned down the music and enquired, “Tamlyn, where are you going?”
After realising her mistake and putting us on the wrong freeway, we both laughed. This road would have taken us in the opposite direction that we needed to travel. The blind man would have to be the navigator again. My lovely wife was obviously already feeling relaxed and just going to sit back and drive wherever the road led. I would have loved to be the one behind the wheel. I really miss driving, even though I did not really much care for long distance roads behind the wheel of a car during my sighted years. My choice of travel was always that of two wheels rather than four. Somehow, when you cannot have something, you want it more. But alas, they have not brought out a 50 meter long white mobility stick for automobiles yet. I would have to accept being the passenger. At least I was playing shotgun. And yes, I would be the navigator.
Now you may ask yourself how a blind man can navigate. I guess it’s partly because of my good memory. This is tested when roads change and new buildings and developments arise, but generally I get it right. A couple of years ago. I went away for a weekend with another blind friend and when one of my sighted mates heard where we were going, he decided to ride out on his motorcycle and join us for a BBQ one afternoon. On arrival, he commented that he had not felt very confident about finding us. He had been given directions by me, a blind man, who had originally gotten those directions from another blind man. The irony of it all is that we as blind people always need to make sure to get and give the best directions. Needless to say, our friend found his way no problem.
As we left the city in our rear view mirror and wound our way up Sir Lowry’s Pass on the N2, my good wife gave me a continued audio description of the scenes we were passing. Table Mountain towered far behind us, through some fog. Being a long weekend, there were many cars navigating the same road as us. The Steenbras Dam on top of the pass was frighteningly low. We had been having a terrible drought in the Western Cape. The farm lands were a dull faun colour rather than their usual lush and moist green that would have been expected for this time of year.
Our first stop was at the famous farmstall called Houw Hoek. This place is a regular favourite of ours. The crowds were there in full swing and the line to get to the bakery proved something of a gauntlet. Everyone was looking for a cup of coffee and a freshly baked pie. By the time we made it to the front of the queue, all the sausage rolls were sold out, to my dismay. We settled for a couple of pepper steak pies, a chocolate brownie for me and a slice of granadilla cheese cake for Tamlyn. As we stepped out of the busy little shop and started to make our way to the little concrete tables under the trees, the rain began to fall. Our brunch would have to be enjoyed road house style in the comfort of the car. We sat and ate our hot pies while the rain fell hard around us. The windows misted up. Alphaville blared out the speakers. It felt great to be on holiday at last.
Our first overnight stop was for three nights over the Easter weekend in Knysna. The little apartment we rented through Air BnB proved to be excellent. Our hosts were very kind. They had supplied the apartment with fresh fruit, yogurt, bacon and eggs as well as some fresh orange juice. Tamlyn even got a bottle of red wine. The place was perfect for our city weary bodies and minds. The deck overlooked the Knysna Lagoon. Positioned high-up on the hill, the home was surrounded by indigenous forest filled with wildlife. The apartment was so tranquil, that for the first day of our holiday, we did not even leave the place. We lounged in front of the MacBook and played some old episodes of Boston Legal while the rain passed.
On the Sunday, we finally went to explore the town. The crowds were still thick and most of the tourist hot spots were very crowded. We did not mind and rather went and strolled around the town centre. It was pretty deserted with it been a Sunday and most of the shops closed. I could smell the lagoon in the distance and felt the shade and sun variation as we walked under the big trees that lined the streets.
We bought some groceries and headed back to the apartment, with its fantastic gas barbeque grill, to cook up a feast. We lounged on the deck watching the sun set and listening to birds. Best of all. There were no crowds.
Knysna is one of my favorite little towns in South Africa. It is built along the banks of a lagoon that leads out to the hidden ocean beyond the Knysna Heads that stand sentinel at the entrance to the lagoon. Trees grow thick, mountains tower on both sides of the valley and forests lap at the back of the village centre. The best part of being in Knysna, is the friendly people. The residents are made up of artists and hippies that love the outdoors and let their lives overflow into nature. Everyone is happy and while walking around the town, many people greet and stop for a chat. In Knysna, nobody is a stranger for long.
Our next stop, early on the Monday morning was the famous Knysna Elephant Park. This sanctuary primarily cares for orphaned and abused elephants situated between the town of Knysna and the next place, called Plettenburg Bay. I had been corresponding with the marketing manager of the sanctuary for some time. He had tasked me with writing an article about the park and its mighty Ndlovu and giving them something of a report on how accessible a blind man’s visit would be. You can read the article here if you like:
The visit was excellent. One of the coolest things that have happened to me in my blind years. I was in fact the first known blind visitor to the park. Standing and experiencing an elephant without sight was exhilarating. Read the article and you will see what I mean.
After spending a few hours at the park, we drove through to the next big city, a few hours further down the road. Port Elizabeth is a city built along the seaside of the Algoa Bay. I had lived there many years earlier, but had not been back without my eyes. I was quiet alarmed to realise how things had changed. New roads and many more businesses set up. The town was a hive of activity when we arrived. I was grateful for the assistance that the navigation App Waze offered us. I could certainly not have found my way to our accommodation.
The place we stayed at was tiny and had something of a strange smell, but we were only going to sleep there for the one night so we were not too worried. We were happy that there was a parking garage for the car. This meant that most of our stuff could just stay in the car through the night. We walked down to the beach front where we met some friends for sundowners.
Our rendezvous point was a beach side restaurant at Shark Rock Pier. Although it had excellent views of the beach and ocean, the place turned out to be a bit of a dive. The staff seemed exhausted after the crazy Easter weekend. I knew the feeling well. Owning and operating a restaurant over Easter weekend is really tough. The difference between the Easter peak and the other holiday times is that although both are equally busy, the other holidays come in steps. Over December for example, schools break up. This brings the first crowds. Then businesses close and the next wave descends. By Christmas day you have gradually gotten used to the masses and the juggling seems somewhat manageable. Then, over the following week or so, the masses depart in stages. Easter is different though. One day you are dead and then a tsunami of holiday makers flood in. From a couple of tables a night to a long line of patrons all fighting for a meal. It is chaos. I certainly don’t miss the years that I spent sweating in front of a kitchen grill.
The first friend to come and meet us is an old mate from my scuba diving days. David lives and works in PE now and sat telling us all about his work challenges and frustrations. He works for the city as the person who travels around and tests the drinking water. He was finding work tough and had begun counting down the years and months until he reached his retirement. He dreamed about settling down in Cape Town, where his home actually is. He would dive and enjoy what Cape Town could give him. PE had not proved to be his favourite place. It is a city that is very clicky and unless you get out and join a club or something, you could easily be excluded. I had however found the years that I had lived in PE to be great. I had found a place at the local yacht club. Sailing had filled every spare minute I had. I do imagine that if not for me been a part of that click, life would not have been as friendly in PE. Ironically called the friendly city.
The next guests to arrive were something of a treat. Thanks to a reconnection on Facebook, I got to spend some time with a friend from primary school that I had not seen in over thirty years.
While attending primary school in the Gauteng city of Johannesburg, I had lived in the suburb of Randburg for some time. My school was called Bordeaux Primary. Given that my folks did a lot of moving around during my school going years, I had to move schools too. Although I only attended Bordeaux Primary school for two years, my fourth (standard 2) and seventh (standard 5), it is undoubtedly the school that I most fondly remember. The people were great and the scholars all had such school pride. There is nothing French about the school other than its name, given by the suburb that it is located in. It’s a pity really, I am sure that the pupils would have loved fancy French patisserie at the tuck shop rather than cheap hotdogs.
My primary school friend, Claudia, had lived about half way between the school and where our home was. I had often walked her home and probably would have pulled on her pigtails if she had had any. Claudia was, in those years, sporting a trendy mohawk-style-brush-cut-mullet ‘do, or at least I remember something like that. Of course she is no longer the little girl and the 80s hair do is long gone. Her cheerful and bubbly personality is still in full swing though. We immediately hit it off and got into a couple hours of remembering names and taking a walk down memory lane. Claudia and her husband Ty are warm, friendly, energetic and positive couple and we had a great evening out. Many laughs were shared and I am sure that after ten minutes in my company she forgot that I could not see.
On arrival back at our little room. I got a text from my friend Sven, also of Bordeaux primary. He had unfortunately forgotten the rendezvous, thinking it was scheduled for the following night. Sven is a good friend who has connected with me a few times in the recent years in both PE during my 2013 trip there and at our home more recently. I even have had the pleasure of cooking lunch for him and his father when they were down visiting in Cape Town. Yes, the blind scooter guy is sometimes also the blind chef guy.
We left Port Elizabeth very early the following morning, choosing the fresh air rather than the strange smelling little room. Our breakfast stop was the famous Nanaga farmstall.
I had been regaling Tamlyn with stories of their legendary pies, but I don’t think she really got it until we stopped outside. It was just a few minutes before 8am, their opening time, and already there was a parking lot full of cars all carrying hungry people with meat pies on their minds.
Nanaga is really something special. Originally a small roadside stall, it became famous for making the best meat pies and Roosterkoek. That is a roasted bread prepared on an open flame. It is delicious. Traditionally it is served with butter and apricot jam, but today you can get pretty much anything on it. We chose to sit in the restaurant while most of the line rushed the opening doors and headed straight for the little deli, and the pie counter to be precise.
Our breakfast was one of the best I have ever eaten. Served with a fresh roosterkoek and a jug of local pineapple juice. The area is most famous for pineapple farming and man oh man do they make a great juice. It is so thick and chunky. Imagine the best, juiciest and freshest large pineapple crushed and served ice cold in a beer-style mug. You need to eat the juice with a spoon it is so thick. It is like a dessert rather than a drink. I was fine with that.
After our impressive breakfast, we popped into the deli and stocked up on some pies and take away roosterbrood for later that day. My favourite meat pie they do is most probably the lamb and mint one, but they carry such a wide range that it is actually hard to choose a favourite, not for lack of trying them all. The list is endless: Cheese and bacon, chicken, steak, pepper steak, spinach and feta, sausage roll, lamb and mint, venison, wild boar, Cornish, lamb curry. My mouth waters just thinking about the smorgasbord of flavours encased in a buttery flaky golden pastry crust. We left Nanaga reluctantly, armed with koeksisters, pecan nuts, pies and roosterkoek. We almost made enquiries about nearby accommodation so we could rather eat there every day of our holiday. But sanity prevailed (as well as our waste lines) and we hopped back onto the N2.
We stopped off in the villages of Bushman’s river mouth and Kenton-On-Sea next. Both are neighboring holiday towns, each located at the mouth of a river right along the beach. Everything smelled so fresh and green. Trees grew thick and the beaches thick misty scent smacked of the ocean. This area had very obviously not been suffering the same lack of rain as Cape Town.
Tamlyn excitedly described the scenes to me as we drove down to the beach and strolled along the river banks. She was really impressed by the fact that there was little or no litter and that the air smelled so fresh. I commented to her describing what I could smell, the ocean, the green grass that led from the car park up the dunes, the sweet smell from one of the houses bougainvillea bramble bush and yes, the clean fresh ocean breeze. I remember also telling her what sounds I could distinguish. Bird life everywhere, kids playing in the sand on the beach, excited teenagers somewhere on the opposite side of the parking lot getting ready to go surfing, in the distance a dog barking as its owner threw a ball or stick along the beach for it to play fetch, fishermen working on their small boats anchored in the river estuary and then I even picked up the sound of an old couple strolling down the road and coming to rest on a bench not far beyond the one we had claimed. It is really amazing how much a blind man can see when the other senses are used.
Port Alfred has long been one of my favourite small towns. It reminds me a little of Knysna, but remains unspoilt by crowds of tourists and overpriced eateries. The area is lovingly known as the sunshine coast. This is a fitting name given that it is the place in South Africa that gets the most sunshine days each year. The beaches are clean and never swamped by masses of visitors. The restaurants are good, the air is super clean and the people are the friendliest that I have ever met in South Africa. Life is good for the locals and they enjoy living every moment. Having not been to my favourite little seaside village in a few years, I was thrilled to find out that not much had changed. I had been raving about the place to Tamlyn for many years and she too was looking forward to checking it out.
Our accommodation for the 8 nights we stayed was at a place called Bretton Beach Crest. Our little cottage was situated right in the middle of a forest that is nestled between sand dunes just meters away from the beach. The prefabricated beach shack has spectacular sea views and comes well appointed. There is a patio with a barbeque area, some chairs and a table, all under the shade of the stoop. Two benches sit along the wall from where you can enjoy the views over the ocean. Inside the place is a lounge with two single beds that double as sofas, a large wooden dining room table and even a small television with some basic channels – which did not even get turned on during our stay. The kitchen is well equipped with everything you need to make great meals during your stay. A fridge freezer, all cutlery and crockery. A gas stove and plenty of packing and working space. There is a bathroom with a shower over the bath and a separate toilet. The main room has a very comfortable queen sized bed with a pretty good mattress and the second room has a set of bunk beds. There are plenty of warm blankets and a large bucket of drinking water was provided. The tap water is a bit salty to drink. The cost of hiring this place was just R275 a night. That equates to around $20US per night for the place. A bargain if you ask me.
Our stay was so comfortable that a couple of our days were wasted at the cottage just sitting around doing nothing more than chatting, sleeping, eating and staring at the sea. Yes, I know I cannot see it with my eyes, but rest assured, I knew it was there and enjoyed experiencing it with my other senses.
Port Alfred has a population of around 26000 people and has a rich history. Established in the early 1820’s by British settlers, it was primarilt a colony that acted as a buffer between the Cape and the Xhosa people. Originally two towns, in 1860, when Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred visited, the name was changed in his honour. Port Alfred is famous for its man-made canals. By 1841 South Africa’s first man-made harbour was opened after completion of the stone lined channel between the ocean and the Kowie River. This allowed high-masted sailing ships with their heavy cargo to dock at the wharf. In my scuba diving days, I had done a number of dives in the Kowie River and many times I found treasures on the river bed from the many ships that once docked in the river.
In the village not much has changed over the years since my younger days. There are a few new shops and restaurants, a new shopping mall and some roads have been widened. The river still flows through the heart of the town and this seems to remain the hub of activity. Boats ploughed through the water carrying fishermen and families just out enjoying the fresh air and view. The river is actually navigable for 22 kilometers from the mouth. It leads right through the valley and is at times edged by towering cliffs, farm lands and natural forest. Needless to say, it is a fisherman’s paradise.
One day we went to visit the small town centre museum. I had a particular interest in this museum because many of the relics from the Briseis shipwreck are displayed there. I had the privilege of diving on the wreck many years earlier with the salvage permit holder an interesting man of the sea called Dennis Croukamp. Dennis was a tall strong man who resembled an old drawing of Hercules. He sported a long grey beard and when not in a wetsuit, he showed off his old salty sea dog skin, scorched from way to many days in the sun. His boat was a buttcat called Lady GoDiver. I took groups of scuba diving students down to dive there on a few occasions. The water off Port Alfred is often much cleaner than that of East London to the north and where I lived.
Our dives would depart from his home on the river bank. We would idle down the river past the Halyards, a fancy marina, before heading out the river mouth. Our journey would then take the best part of an hour until we reached a reef outcrop called the Fountain Rocks. Dennis had discovered the wreck there by chance one day just at the end of a dive. He always used to recount the tale by stating that he knew it was there and he would one day find it.
Info on the wreck is sketchy at best, but the museum houses a replica of the bell from the wreck as well as a few trinkets such as a dead eye and some small items belonging to the crew. The fountain rocks are a favourite haunting ground of the ragged tooth shark who can normally be spotted there in large numbers.
At the museum we were met at the door by a very enthusiastic museum curator. When she heard that I had dived the wreck with Dennis, who had long retired and moved away, she was intent on chatting. The lady eventually ended up giving us a personal tour of the museum. She was proud of the town she called home and relished in the opportunity to share its history with us.
During our week long stay, we did eat at our beach shack a good few times, but were pleasantly surprised to find such a good assortment of restaurants in and around the village.
Guidos has been there for as long as I can recall and remains a popular eatery. Located right at the river mouth with views from both its wooden decks over the Kowie River and the ocean beyond the river mouth, Guidos is most famous for pizza. The menu is varied though and even if just popping in there to have a drink and a garlic pita bread, it is well worth a visit. We sat and had a sundowner drink on the river side deck and devoured a pita bread while entertained by eavesdropping on the many conversations that the locals were having. It was nice to see a place frequented by both the residents and locals.
‘Graze by the River’ saw us enjoying a breakfast in their garden one morning. Under the heavy fruited granadilla vines at the back of a small curio shop is this trendy little bistro. There menu is all about the freshest local ingredients with daily specials being dictated by what is available. I enjoyed a hot buttermilk scone that had just been taken out the oven. It was served with a helping of local clotted cream and a homemade raspberry jam. It was delicious and I almost ordered another.
The Wharfside Grill turned out to be our favourite restaurant though. It was recommended by the owners of the cottages and we decided to give it a go. Located right on the wharfside where ships would moor in days gone by. There is a local brewery right next door that makes a trendy craft style beer, the good type that only micro-breweries get right. Our first meal there was a shared assortment. The starter was a double crumbed and deep fried camembert cheese served with melba toast and a dollop of homemade sweet pepper relish. Our main was a massive helping of sweet BBQ basted and grilled pork belly ribs, served with chunky potato wedges and a garden salad. For dessert, we devoured a slice of their house speciality, or one of the specialities, a slice of squire’s porter cake. It is a heavy cake made with dark chocolate and some of the local ale. The cake is topped with a delicious icing made with Amarula liqueur laced cream. To finish the cake off is a scoop of berry coulis. It was freaking amazing.
Our second visit was done with much enthusiasm a couple of days later. No starter this time as we each had our own meals. Tamlyn went for the grilled fresh fish of the day. A fillet of local Carpenter with salad while I chose the steak. It was a mature rump, sliced to order, flame grilled with brandy and served with a Madagascan green pepper corn and cream sauce. On the side was a portion of the crispiest and perhaps best potato chips I have ever eaten. Dessert could not be missed despite us both being stuffed, but hey, we were on holiday. My good wife got stuck into a crème brûlée which was laced with rosemary. This sounded interesting and proved to be something very special indeed. I went again for the chef’s recommendation. Chocolate crepes, flambéed at the table with caramel vodka, served with homemade butterscotch sauce and some thick cream on the side. I am not easily impressed by restaurants who go over the top to show off, but this place is really something special. I just wished it was in the mother city.
All in all, our meals out each came in at about half of the cost they would be back home. How they make money, is a mystery to me.
On the sunshine coast is a scattering of farms that are bisected by little seaside villages. These settlements are not only used by holiday makers though. Many people choose to retire to the area. With the affordable cost of living and the great weather, this actually makes a lot of sense. It may not be an area where one can earn a lot of money but it can be considered easy living, if you have already provided for your golden years, I cannot think of a better place to spend them. There is an excellent new hospital offering state of the art health care, good shops and restaurants and super white beaches to walk on. The larger towns of Port Elizabeth and East London are each just 150km away to the east and west respectfully. In these larger cities, there are airports and bigger shopping centres. Most of the residents of Port Alfred end up making a trip to PE every few months, but in general everything you need is available locally. From a couple branches of the supermarket Spar, one of which is one of the best I have ever frequented, to a Pick n Pay and even a Woolworths food store.
The new mall built just on the outskirts of the town is modern and extremely accessible. It is all built on one level with plenty of parking and a nice assortment of shops. From Clicks where there is an in-house pharmacy to a small cinema. If shops and malls are your thing, then your retail therapy requirements can be met without travelling more than five minutes.
I must take a moment to mention some of my favourite things found in the area. As I said, it is largely a farming area. Many dairy farms provide great local fresh milk and the assortment of butcheries will make stocking up your freezer a breeze. Some of these farms are game farms. This means that an assortment of good venison is also always on offer. Kudu biltong with heaps of black pepper powder is addictive. Most of the farms in the area are however fruit and vegetable farms. A selection of fresh and ridiculously cheap fruit and veg is found everywhere. From pineapples, which we purchased straight from the fields for R6 each, to avocado pears, macadamia nuts and butternut squash, just to mention a few.
There is a factory that makes and sells juice appropriately called Sunshine Juice. Right next to the large factory is a shop that retails this juice to the public. I was so excited to take Tamlyn there and stock our fridge up. She too was blown away by the choice and ridiculously low prices. My favourite is a tie between the pineapple juice, which is so thick and delicious, almost as if an entire giant pineapple has been crushed and shoved into a bottle and their house special mix named Sunshine juice after both the area and the factory. This blend is made from a variety of fruits including pineapple, lychee, mango, citrus and apple. During our short break on the sunshine coast, I put away a couple of litres of fresh fruit juice every day.
Now as I mentioned before, the area has something of a meat pie fetish. From my years living in East London, I recalled the famous brand manufactured there, the Shamrock Pie. I was thrilled to find that they are also available in Port Alfred now and when Tamlyn spied them in the warmer at a small gas station store, I could not resist grabbing a couple. They had shrunken a bit in my memory, but were still ridiculously good.
In South Africa, we have taken the traditionally British meat pie to new heights. Where the United States sticks to sweet pies that are really round tarts with fruity and sweet fillings, we make ours savoury. The pies are small miniature versions that can easily be hand held in a little paper bag and eaten. They resemble a small calzone pizza and are available from good and crap bakeries. The bad being terrible and bad enough to put you off eating pies for the rest of your life, while the good are really excellent. The puff pastry should be buttery and have a little crisp to the outside. The fillings are ladled with gravy and meats that have been stewed and packed full of flavour. I normally choose a steak and onion or pepper steak pie, but have also been known to attack a couple of sausage rolls from time to time. A sausage roll is a piece of that same butter pastry rolled around a sausage shaped tube of meat. Basically sausage filling rather than meat stew. Other favourites are cornish pasties, with their meat and vegetable filling, chicken pies that sometimes get spiced up with peri-peri or married with mushrooms. All that I can say is, If you are a foreigner visiting South Africa, try a couple of pies and remember, you get good and bad ones (ask a local if you are not sure). This area is in my opinion, where the best selection is found. I guess the meat pie is to convenience food in South Africa what the hotdog is to American junk food addicts.
Another day of our holiday, we went for a day trip to visit the small even more rural village of Bathurst. Situated just a fifteen minute drive inland on the road towards the larger town of Grahamstown is this picturesque little hamlet.
The place reeks of history and has become a place where hippies and artists love to visit. Although, somewhat ironically to its current artist residents, its chief claim to fame is that it was the early administrative centre established by the British Government for the 1820 British Settlers. Once a year they have a massive festival called the Bathurst Ox Braai. This unfortunately fell a week outside of our visit and would be missed.
We rode through the town along a deserted road where acacia trees lap at the sides of the dirt track and staggering views over the valleys towards the ocean can be found. Farm animals stood under the little shade offered by thorn trees and tended to their young. Cows, antelope, sheep, goats, pigs and even a couple emu are always to be found.
In the village we strolled between the eclectic mix of shops. Art galleries, pottery studios and antique shops shared the pavement with quaint little bed and breakfasts and sidewalk cafes.
After buying some avos from an old Xhosa lady who carried her wares on her head, we sat down for a snack and drink on the stoop of the famous Pig and Whistle restaurant at the town’s main hotel and in the heart of the village. The patio was bustling with visitors who all were tucking into their meals. Motorcycle clubs lined up there steel steeds along the pavement while the members feasted in view of their bikes. Tamlyn took some time to describe the bikes to me and see if I could recognise what they were from her description. I got most, but was stumped by the Ural and sidecar. I really did not expect this to have found its way there.
The Pig and Whistle is reputedly the oldest surviving pub in the country. It was built in 1821 by Thomas Hartley, a blacksmith who came from Nottinghamshire with the Settlers. Later accommodation was added and it became known as the Bathurst Inn. Legend has it that it was nicknamed “The Pig & Whistle” by the men at the nearby 43 Air School in World War II.
After a lunch of a drunken camembert cheese and crispy Melba toasted ciabatta bread, we sat and indulged in a couple of double thick lime milkshakes. One of the tables nearby was occupied by a family of tourists from Greece. I listened and picked up on a few words from their conversation. They were fascinated by the way we ate chips with vinegar. Chips to us is what American’s would call fries. A favourite way to eat them is thick cut and loaded with salt and vinegar. This too is a tradition we have stolen from the British. The smells of salt and vinegar chips from the other table proved too hard to resist and we called over our waitress and ordered a plate for ourselves. The plate of crispy thick cut potato chips that came was so massive that we were forced to sit for another thirty minutes while we picked at it. We did not really mind. The sun was shining and the air was fresh. Watching people stroll around the place was fun. Tamlyn described everything so well that I forgot that my eyes did not work. Her comment that she saw more tie dyed clothing than she had ever seen in her life brought me to tears. Having seen Bathurst during my sighted years, I knew she was not exaggerating.
Just outside the village we stopped to purchase pineapples from a farm. This is a hard to miss place because their little store is housed in a massive structure built in the shape of a pineapple. Yes, they really take pineapples seriously there.
The Big Pineapple is, literally, the biggest man-made pineapple in the world. The fiberglass, steel and concrete structure stands 16.5m high – it is hard to miss from the road. At the shop we chatted to a friendly lady who sold everything from dried pineapple slices to pineapple sauce and jelly. As we left the store with a back seat loaded up with boxes of pineapples, I commented to Tamlyn that I was surprised that someone had not built a giant meat pie. She just laughed and chirped that she was all pied out for the holiday. I knew that she would not mind if I still enjoyed a couple more on the way home though.
On the day we left Port Alfred, the rain fell lightly. It almost felt like the place was as sad to see us go as we were to depart. The village and ocean were cloaked in a heavy morning mist. We left quietly and very early in the morning. We could just make out the sunrise far across the horizon. Shimmers of light cracked the mist. The sky turned from charcoal grey to silver, then at last shimmers of light blue started to show.
Driving along the same road but in reverse this time, we sat mostly in silence. Through the town of Alexandria where the shop staff were just arriving at work. Past fields of lush green thick grass, no cows in sight this time. When Tamlyn mentioned that they seemed to be missing, I commented that they were most likely still standing in the milking sheds been milked.
We stopped again at the Nanaga farm stall, this time arriving a few minutes after it had already opened. The carpark was already filling up fast. In the restaurant, the waitress greeted us as she would long lost friends. I was surprised that she remembered us. I am sure it was because of the good tip Tamlyn had left at our last settling of the bill. That said, I don’t think many blind people frequent the place or area for that matter. I guess the sightless man with his beautiful ginger haired wife were hard to forget.
The food was again excellent. After satisfying our appetites, we popped into the deli. This time, the fresh sausage rolls had just come out the oven and proved too hard to resist for Tamlyn, even though she had forbidden any more pies. We purchased a couple for later that day and bid the place farewell. As we left, I commented that we should not say good bye as it is so final, but a greeting of see you soon would be better and make me feel more comfortable.
Our drive this time had us swing right past the city of Port Elizabeth, cruise through the Tsitsikamma and then veer off to the mountains. As we skirted the Baviaanskloof, where we intended to stop for a walk, the rain started to belt down. Our sausage rolls were enjoyed from the comfort of the car, parked in a small road siding as the skies opened up. The gravel around us turned from dust to mud and small streams of water flowed down in the streetside drainage trenches. There was not much walking possible and given that we were really in the middle of nowhere, we decided to push on to our next overnight stop.
As we came into the small town of De Rust, the rain lightened-up a bit. We rode around searching for our Air BnB with no luck. It turned out that we had copied the wrong house number from the booking confirmation email.
We stopped and called our host Karen, explaining that we were earlier than we had informed her due to the weather and could not find the place anyway. She said that she was out and would be back at the house in thirty minutes or so. We told her not to rush as we were going to go and get a slice of cake at a coffee shop we had spotted at the entrance to town.
The place was an interesting little haunt. Loud 1950s music blared out of the speakers as we arrived. The owner was super friendly and showed us to a table where we sat and shared a slice of carrot cake. Tamlyn got her coffee fix and we chatted. I heard a conversation from a table to our side. My hearing is fine-tuned. I thought the lady had said that she needed to get home as her guests had arrived earlier than expected. I mentioned this to Tamlyn and she agreed that this may be the Karen who was hosting us. We left her to go and enjoyed a few more tracks, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and just as some Chuck Berry started to play, we settled our bill and went in search of our accommodation again. Karen was the lady from the coffee shop as I had suspected and we all laughed at this.
Karen told me that she does aromatherapy and runs a small but very active yoga class. She was something of an artist and Tamlyn mentioned that her home was beautiful and full of colour. Her dog took an immediate liking to me. She said that it was unusual because she was not really ever interested in strangers. My new canine friend was a cross breed of a Border collie and a Saint Bernard. Yes, I know this is an unusual cocktail, but Siria was a very beautiful girl.
I walked with Tamlyn for a couple of blocks as evening fell. My legs were aching after a long beach walk the day before. Walking on the soft sand had worked muscles that were not used to the strain, and my shins ached. Tamlyn chose to go for a jog around the village while I sat and petted the beautiful new furry pal I had made. Karen commented that she thought that Siria knew that I could not see as she really took to me in an unexpected way. I love dogs and really did not mind at all.
Mosquitoes started to buzz around, so we chose to sit inside and dosed ourselves with repellent lotion. It was so quiet that night. Without the constant roar of the waves, everything seemed to be extra calm. I slept incredibly well.
The following morning, we bid Karen and Siria farewell and headed out to cross the Klein Karoo. Our first stop was in the town of Oudtshoorn. Famous for the Cango Caves and the massive mountain range that towered behind the town. We stopped at a grocery store for some supplies, unsure if the stores would remain open all day or not. It was a public holiday after all.
At a small farm stall along the route 62 road, somewhere between Oudtshoorn and the next town Calitzdorp, we stopped at another favorite little gem. We had found the Bella de Karoo on a previous visit to the area and knew that the lady made exceptionally good baked cheese cake. We were on holiday after all, so decided to stop and if the delight was still on offer, we would indulge. It was and we sat and made pigs of ourselves. The Bella de Karoo farmstall makes the best baked Cheese cake anywhere in South Africa. I challenge you to go and try prove me wrong.
The road then crept on passing the Warmwaterberg hot water springs and resort where holiday makers could spend some time in the hot mineral baths. We did not stop this time.
Another famous tourist trap came into sight. It is a little roadside eatery and pub called Ronnies Sex shop. The owner had at first bought the old remote building and intended on opening a fruit stall for passing traffic. He had gone and painted a big red sign on the white washed walls that read Ronnie’s Shop, one word on top of the other. His naughty friends had gone out that night and added the word Sex beside his name. The famous Ronnie’s Sex Shop stuck. Everyone wanted to stop for a photo opportunity and Ronnie had chosen to leave the sign as it was and rather change his businesses name.
Today, Ronnie’s Sex shop is more of a bar run by the original owner’s son. Popular with motorcycle clubs as a stop off during their out rides, today there is a small charming restaurant and curio store. The old bar is a shambles of business cards and writings from everyone adorning the walls. When the barman hands you your beer, he also puts a marker pen in your hand and invites you to play Picasso.
We rushed through the town of Barrydale and pushed on to Montague, where our friends were waiting to meet us.
Gerrie and Rietta are old mates from Port Nolloth who relocated there so that their son, Eduard, could get better schooling than was available on the Northern extreme of the West coast. Rietta worked as a sister at the local clinic while Gerrie is the local snake catcher. He is so passionate about the reptiles and was keen to tell us all about his new career.
We had offered to cook for our friends who had put us up at their place for the night. Dinner was a braai consisting of delicious lamb chops, pork rashers, steak, spicy sausage, some Roosterbrood that we had brought from Nanaga and the piece de resistance was a dauphinoise potato bake, one of my specialties.
An evening of chatting and reminiscing about the good old days on the west coast was great fun. It was so nice to see how happy they were with their decision to move to the town of Montague and how they had managed to find a place amongst the tight knit community there.
Montague is such a quaint little town. It is not uncommon to see vintage cars in the streets and their Saturday market is a real treat. In the morning, we popped into the dried fruit factory and stocked up on all sorts of goodies that they sell for a fraction of the price back in the city.
Before leaving Montague, we ate breakfast at a little eatery called the Padstal, which means road stall translated. Our breakfast was delicious and filling. We were ready to leave and drive on home now, although with a sad heart.
Stopping in the town of Bonnievale we visited the town centre butchery and stocked up our cooler boxes. The area is famous for having great lamb and the opportunity to grab some meat could not be missed. The Parmalat dairy factory shop was also worth visiting. Great deals on cheese and dairy products were purchased and yes, even some more camembert cheese for the fridge back home.
With the car loaded up, we rode towards Cape Town and home. Ok, we did stop at Houw Hoek on the way for one last pie, the last one for the year I promise.
Back home our dogs went wild when they saw us. The spaniel Scooter ran around in search of his ball and put on such a show of barking at the birds to welcome us home. His girlfriend aka enemy Isabella, the other spaniel sang loudly and would not leave our side for hours. The little old lady dog, Quigley, some sort of a mix breed, fifty percent dachshund, twenty five percent Jack Russell and twenty five percent Gremlin, sang her welcome in her signature loud opera style.
I have already started counting down the days until our next adventure. Now, hmmm, I feel like eating another pie.
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