After spending a few days in Cape Town enjoying the V & A Waterfront Food Market and an extremely informative and interesting tour of Robben Island, we set out for our 10 day drive from Cape Town to Durban.
Cape Town City Center > Gansbaai, Western Cape: 162 kilometers
Alex and I and his uncle Dempsey woke up early for a quick hike up Lion’s Head Mountain. We weren’t the only ones with the idea of hiking the mountain early to enjoy the 360 degree views of the Cape Town sunrise. Even with the Indiana-ana Jones (Indiana’s female counterpart, as I am a female) ladders and chains bolted into the rocks to assist during the steep sections of the hike, we made it to the top in about 45 minutes.
After the hike, three of our group of six headed out to sort out rental cars and the other three of us went on a short jaunt to the Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town to stroll the streets between the cheery, bright houses and to search out the Rose Corner Cafe, for some coconut donuts that I had read about.
Then, it was time to begin our road trip from Cape Town to Durban. Once we reached Gansbaai, we stayed just a little outside of town at White Shark Backpackers, a beachfront house-turned-hostel in a quiet neighborhood. Gansbaai is a hotspot for cage diving with Great Whites, which was why it was a stop along our route. However, within about 5 minutes of arriving, Alex and Dempsey’s hopes of cage diving were quickly dashed: the boats weren’t running for the next 5 days because the seas were too rough.
The news stung, and they wrestled to come to terms with missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA activity.Day 2:
Gansbaai > Cape Agulhas > Mossel Bay: 364 kilometers
Today was to be a very happy day for me! I had been utterly disappointed and real peeved back in December when we arrived at Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and I found out that it wasn’t, in fact, the southernmost point in Africa, but the southwestern most point…Alex swears that I was actually more upset that this wasn’t the true meeting place of the two oceans, as all their signs claim.
“Guh! What?? Who cares about this place!!?” I balked, as Alex laughed at the fact that I didn’t know this.
It was only then that I found out the true southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, a sleepy (at least in winter) little place hundreds of kilometers away, and completely out of our reach on that December trip. I had come to terms with the fact that I would most likely never stand on the southernmost tip of Africa, but on Day 2 of our road trip, I got a second chance.
After an unbeatable fish ‘n chips lunch in the town of L’Agulhas, we headed to the point for some peace of mind and windy pics.
In the early afternoon, we went on to Mossel Bay, about 270 km, or 3 hours away, and arrived at Park House Lodge in the early evening. As is common in South Africa, we’ve found, Park House was another house-turned-hostel, an old stone house with a maze of rooms, a shaded lawn and garden, and a top-notch area to braai (the South African name for a good ‘ole BBQ).
Unexpectedly, Alex and Dempsey’s once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA opportunity was waiting for them in Mossel Bay. It was quickly decided that the two of them, and Alex’s mom Susan would spend the next day cage diving with Great Whites.
Mossel Bay: 0 kilometers
I made sure to get an early morning smooch from Alex, just in case his face looked as good to a Great White as it does to me. Then, the three cage divers set off for the boat launch, a gray sky threatening rain above them.
I rose slowly, found an empty dorm room to do yoga in, ate, and drank coffee, making for a lovely and relaxed morning for me. Once Alex’s aunt Alma, and her mom Lilia got up and ready, the three of us headed out in search of Kingfisher, a recommended restaurant for someone seeking seafood. We walked through some blowing, light rain, and arrived at the restaurant, right on the point, overlooking the ocean. After some yummy fish and calamari, we walked along the ocean, then made our way back to Park House, stopping in the indoor flea market/craft market on the way.
Meanwhile, the other three of our six were getting up close and personal with the Great Whites, an experience that did not disappoint.
You may be asking-as my own mama did- why I didn’t get up close and personal with Great Whites. The answer: I didn’t want to. One avid diver I met said she skipped out on this activity because she doesn’t agree with the baiting of the sharks and the subsequent relationships that the sharks form between humans and that free fish the humans tempt them with. But my reason isn’t so well-thought out. I can’t tell you why really, but I can tell you that I didn’t have much interest in cage diving from the start, and the unrelenting cold and wind on our trip up to this point just pushed me further from wanting to get in the water.
I can also tell you that the three that went were bursting with excitement about the experience. Since I wasn’t there, let’s hear from them about what they thought of it:
Alex: “It’s neat….I don’t know.”
Dempsey: “‘It’s neat…I don’t know?’.!!??…Let me think about it for a minute. Can I say something as corny as: glad I’m not a seal?”
Susan: “The one and only time I liked being in a cage.”
So, there you have it folks: the riveting and descriptive words of the cage divers.
Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were talking a lot more about how spectacular, crazy, really cool, and just incredible it was day-of.
Oh, and to get the other side of the story on baiting, they mentioned that their guide said they don’t bait new sharks into the bay-the sharks they see are the same sharks they always see- and that the very small number of shark attacks in the area proves that the baiting does not cause sharks to show any extra interest in humans.
So, it’s up to you to decide: how do you feel about baiting Great Whites for cage diving?
Our day in Mossel Bay wrapped up over an amazing braai that we cooked up for ourselves, enjoying the steak, potatoes, and veggies almost as much as the conversation with a few locals that were hanging out at the hostel, gathering around the braai coals to stay warm and cook up their dinner.
Mossel Bay > Plettenberg Bay/Crags: 144 kilometers
With the whole group happy and satisfied with our time in Mossel Bay, we headed off with the intention of staying the night in a town called Kynsna. Earlier on in their two-month trip around Southern Africa, Alex’s fam had met a South African girl that is currently living in Knysna. So, they had made arrangements to meet up with her for a meal. After eating lunch among the sailboats at the cozy Knysna waterfront, Alex’s mom, Susan, found out that their friend had had to travel to Johannesburg and would not be able to meet up with us. As it was still early afternoon, we decided to keep on keepin’ on, and ended up at an off-the-beaten-path hostel in Crags, outside of Plettenberg Bay.
This woodsy little hostel was full to the brim with people of its namesake: Wild Spirit. It was wild spirits indeed that filled all the space here around the fire rings and drum circles, between the wooden painted hearts and quotes about an inspired life, and up in the Sunset Tree of Love tree house.
Here we found that eclectic mix of travelers that can be at once interesting and overwhelming, inspiring and a just a bit obnoxious: the nomadic Florida-native with dreads down her back who talked nonstop about all the places she’s been, the two Americans trying for Cape to Cairo on motorbikes, the host of South African youth volunteers that more or less run the place, and the man that smilingly balked at me for eating “government” (bought from a supermarket) bread.
Soon enough, we parted with that evil government bread, making multiple trips to the nearby Nature Valley Farm Stall. The farm stalls dotting this part of SA were reminiscent of Vermont: small country farms and vendors selling wholesome, homemade goods that have nothing to do with “big brother.”
Jokes aside though, I do like a homemade bread and used to make my own back in America to avoid all those nasty chemicals that we find in that gov bread. So it was that the farm stall was probably my favorite part of our couple days in this area. Over our two days here, we enjoyed fresh breads, granola bars, baked goods, quiches, meat pies, veggie pies, raw veggies, wine, and one contested apricot fruit roll, the only farm stall item that was not unanimously agreed upon as ‘good’ by our group of six.
Crags/Plettenberg Bay: 0 kilometers
Mid-morning on our full day in the Crags area, five of our six loaded into the hostel’s free ‘hiking shuttle.’ The shuttle was a small commuter car- three of us in the back and Alma on Dempsey’s lap up front- driven by one of the volunteers, who took us to the general area of the Kalanderkloof trailhead in TsiTsikamma National Park. The beginning of the hike awarded us with views of the lagoon and ocean below, which would make up another section of the hike. After about 30 minutes of walking, we began to descend into a damp rain forest, leaving behind our first kisses of sun in about a week. At the bottom of our descent, we discovered some massive trees- one or two to rival the Redwoods, winter-dried ferns, funky fungi, and, perhaps one of my favorite things of nature: crispy, crunchy leaves on the forest floor. After scuffling through what seemed to be a dry creek bed, the trail popped out on the R102 road. As were the instructions, we turned right and followed the road for about 10 minutes, and then turned into a lagoon-side recreation area and walked along the lagoon until we reached the beach. Finding ourselves once again in the warm sun, Susan and I quickly stowed our long sleeved shirts in our packs, excited to see the sun again. Within 2 minutes, the long sleeves went back on, after turning the corner into a fierce sea “breeze.” Even through the wind, the almost-deserted beach was a pleasant place to walk for about 30 minutes. From the beach, we cut up to the Nature’s Valley Restaurant and Pub, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and non-government bread at a table beside a tree whose branches dangled with the dirty and duct-taped footwear of those who had ended their 45 kilometer hike of the Otter Trail. After lunch, we opted to skip the steep uphill hike back to the trailhead and instead called the shuttle for a pickup, and headed promptly to the magical farm stall upon our return.
Crags/Plettenberg Bay > Chintsa: 551 kilometers
After our final visit to the beloved farm stall for snacks and lunch goodies, we set off for a long day of driving. Through rolling hills, and on good roads, it was smooth sailing, despite the long-kilometerage (is that an equivalent to mileage??)
Aware that we were getting a bit short on time at this point, and wanting to linger a bit on the Wild Coast, we bypassed a number of seemingly worthwhile stops on this section of our drive. If you have a bit more time to linger, this stretch of coast line certainly seems to have a lot to offer, from the surf spots of Jeffrey’s Bay, to the adventure sports and history of Port Elizabeth, and the 600+ ‘ellies’ of Addo Elephant National Park.
Quite honestly, what I remember most about this day is the delicious pumpkin and chickpea pie that I ate for lunch in the car.
The rest is history, right?
Chintsa: 0 kilometers
On our only full day in Chintsa, Alex and I left the campsites- shaded in the morning by big hills- and went seeking the sun. We skirted the edge of a lagoon, and were on the beach within minutes. We spent a bit of time poking around some nearby tide pools, surprised at how warm the water was. After following a path up one of the bluffs, heading slowly away from the campsites we thought it would head towards, we backtracked and bushwhacked until we popped out among the trees of our campsites, satisfied with our mini-adventure.
Our accommodation at Chintsa was my favorite of all the places we stayed on this drive. We stayed at Bucaneer’s, a clean and quiet hostel that hardly felt like a hostel at all. The heart of the hostel is at the top of a hill, with amazing views of the sea from the reception area, bar, and backpacker’s kitchen. All is tidy, warmly but minimally decorated, and flooded with natural light. This hilltop backpacker’s kitchen was as clean as any air bnb we could have found. The deck was the perfect place to soak up morning sun, and the indoor comfy seating was a welcome reprieve from the chilling evening winds that we had been out in since the trip started. From this central part of Bucaneer’s, dorms, private rooms, and lush plant life line the sides of a road leading downhill. At the bottom of the hill there is access to the lagoon-where you can use the canoes for free- and beach, as well as a pool and pool bar, sand volleyball court, and large camping area with it’s own kitchen facilities.
Alex and I enjoyed a bit of time paddling around the lagoon, and later fought the wind on an afternoon walk down the beach. Even with just one day here Chintsa felt like a place of rejuvination, and it’s an area that I wish we could have spent a couple more days in, exploring the little town of East Chintsa and going for yoga and/or breakfast at a nearby spot, whose name-Tea in the Trees- piqued my interest.
But, with a couple days and a considerable amount of kilometerage left to cover, we said our goodbyes to charming Chintsa.
Chintsa > Port Shepstone: 515 kilometers
Everything about this day, this overly-ambitious, mostly unenjoyable day, is a bit of a blur. At the end of this 500+-kilometer, two-lane, under-construction, goats-in-the-road stress marathon, there was only one logical thing to be said, to our driver: Alex, how many beers do you need?
While he enjoyed his, I savored mine in what may be the best shower I have set foot in since 2015, fully equipped with a perfectly placed shower-beer shelf.
So, at least there was that.
Port Shepstone > Durban: 122 kilometers
In comparison to the day before, the road to Durban felt ‘paved with gold.’ We sailed into the city without a hitch, and proceeded to hunker down in our modern, comfortable air bnb, perhaps still feeling a bit shell-shocked from the day before, and just generally in need of some rest after our long journey.
Durban: 0 kilometers
After a large and satisfying breakfast, we happily said goodbye to our rental car, which was preceded by an intense hour searching out the downtown return location in what felt like an endless maze of one-way streets and ‘robots’-South African stoplights-and then spent the rest of the day taking in the sunny city, wandering around, enjoying some beer and a smoked salmon salad (say what?!?), and wrapping up our 10 day journey with a perfect sampling of Durban’s famous curries.
Well-fed, well-drank, well-traveled, and in good company, we prepared ourselves for the long road back to Moz.
Further logistics of driving Cape Town to Durban:
- Picking up a FREE copy of the Coast to Coast backpackers guide book. You can find it at most hostels, and it is a good little guide to lodging and overview of activities in, mostly, SA, as well as some in Moz, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia.
- Taking more than 9 days to drive Cape Town to Durban. While the distance is definitely do-able in this amount of time, and it provided some time for exploring, there were definitely places that I wish we could have lingered longer, especially after the 500 km days of driving. This area of SA has A TON to offer, so don’t rush if you don’t have to!
- Traveling in low season (May-October) if you like to keep it chill. This has a double meaning. First, it was quite cold. Second, the hostels were very relaxed and quiet. The former was a slight struggle for us.The latter was lovely.
As you know, we rented cars for this drive. Having our own car made this journey considerably easier than it would have been if we had been relying on public transportation, as we usually do when traveling. On this trip and past trips to South Africa, we have noticed that the country is NOT very well set-up for a backpacker or traveler who is getting around on public buses. Many hostels are in neighborhoods, off of the main roads, where mini-buses and the like just don’t go. Long(ish) distance taxis are not well within a backpacker’s budget, and while sometimes hostels seem to take pity on stranded public transpo backpackers and go retrieve them from the nearest main road, it is more likely that these car-less travelers will be walking….a lot. This being said, there exists another lovely option for travelers without private transpo: The Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a hop-on-hop-off bus that will, indeed, take you to the out-of-the-way hostels that SA seems to favor.
Where we stayed:
- Cape Town: Air Bnb
- Gansbaai: White Shark Backpackers, 200 Rand per person/per night, private double rooms; kitchen;washing machine;TV; wifi; out of town in a neighborhood; groceries aprox. 10 km in town
- Mossel Bay: Park House Lodge, 100 Rand pp/pn for dorms **low season/generous reception dude special; kitchen; braai area with free wood; free coffee and tea; wifi; centrally located in town; Spar grocery store aprox. 5km away
- Crags/Plettenberg Bay: Wild Spirit Lodge, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; kitchen; free coffee and tea; breakfast menu; dinner upon request; fire pits; instruments; trails and treehouses; wifi; FARM STALL aprox. 2km away, but if you want that gov’t bread you better get it in Plettenberg Bay
- Chintsa: Bucaneer’s, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; restaurant; bar; beach access; free canoe use; free wine and 4 o’clock activities in summer; pool; wifi near reception; curios shop; off of main road; Spar grocery store 16 km away
- Port Shepstone: The Spot, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; bar; wifi; beach access; off of main road; Kwik Spar grocery store aprox. 5 km away
- Durban: Air BnB
Photo credits go to Alex and Dempsey.