By Shelley Barnard, eat.art MD
Earlier in the month I managed to escape the office for our first official holiday of the year. A week in which my husband and I can pop overseas or go on a local road trip. We decided to make this year a local one and I was voting for places like the Drakensburg and Wild coast but was overruled by a trip along the garden route and surrounds. I wasn’t that excited because I have driven up and down the garden route a million times. What could there possibly be that I didn’t know already?
I should have known not to underestimate a man in tourism.
So these three love surround the three places we visited:
We stayed at Buffelsdrift game lodge which has a luxurious tented camp set around a big hippo-occupied dam with the Swartberg mountains as a backdrop. During the game drive I was impressed by the variety of animals they had – Buffalo, a huge herd of giraffe, rhino, Gemsbok, Kudu, a large variety of other buck and my personal favourite – the meerkat!
Dinner was in front of the fire at their restaurant and of course we had to opt for the Ostrich steak. It was incredibly tender and delicious. It gave us a fresh perspective on this relatively new meat.
The next day we got the chance to feed their 3 tame elephants. Being instructed to stick up your hand and rub this huge animals tongue with an apple before tossing it in is pretty daunting, but an amazing experience. It ended with the elephants showing off by kicking and throwing a soccer ball to us. Really impressive!
The rest of the time was filled with a visit to Cango Ostrich Farm for an informative and amusing interaction with these strange birds and then onto the Cango Wildlife ranch which exposes you to many animals that are close to extinction. I’m not such a big fan of big cats in small enclosures but they are still beautiful to see. Interactions are on offer with some of the animals for a fee. You can pet a tiger, have your photo taken and hope you live to tell the tale.
Outshoorn is an amazing place to visit with lots to do including a visit to the cango caves and their only local wine farm, Karusa, which also makes craft beer and serves really popular meze platters. If the last time you were there was when you were 7 years old with your parents (as I was), I suggest it might be time to give it another visit.
Staying at the Phantom Forest eco reserve was the extravagant “spoil” of our trip. Wooden cabins set high up in the Knysna forest and connected by wooden walkways. The whole setting feels like something out of a fairy tale. Every luxury has been thought of including under floor heating, a shower with a view of the valley and a spa bath on the deck.
The lodge has two swimming pool areas with breathtaking views of the lagoon all the way to the heads. One of the pools is decorated in a Moroccan style with rich, flowing fabrics, hanging benches and colourful tiles. It is quite a spectacle in the setting and a perfect place to while away the afternoon with a good book followed by a massage at their ‘body boma’.
For the more adventurous there is a forest trail that takes you through the surrounding forest and down to the bottom of the hill. Many historic indigenous trees are marked and the walk is filled with the sounds and sightings of various birds.
On one of the nights we treated ourselves to the 6 course meal offered at their restaurant. My favourite course being the handmade ravioli in a vodka sauce. The strangest being a peppered grapefruit sorbet. We ended up with something way beyond an elegant sufficiency and found that the staff take great care in preparing the food and serving it.
Another night we took a sunset cruise through the lagoon on the vintage John Benn. It took us right to the aqua marine water near the heads where we were lucky enough to spot a seal and watch the sun go down with a cocktail.
I can highly recommend Phantom forest for a complete renewal of the soul without going too far off the beaten track. After two days we felt like we’d been there for a week.
We were lucky enough to stay at Harbour House on the edge of the Hermanus seafront. It made popping into town for dinner or taking walks along the walkway really accessible. The breakfast spot overlooks the old harbour and is really heavenly on a sunny day.
The highlight of our time in Hermanus had to be a trip on the whale watching boat. After a short information session we hopped on the boat and they immediately headed for the far side of the bay. We struggled to see anything until the boat stopped. Two minutes later a whale breached and crashed down about 75 metres from us. Everyone was in awe. The boat guides seemed to get just as excited as everyone else on board. Just after that we noticed that not vary far away were two more Southern right whales chillingin the water, rolling around, playing with kelp. They slowly moved towards us, to see what we were all about, until eventually I could have have stuck out my hand and touched one. We stayed there while various pods seemed to come and go. Eventually we unwillingly headed back to shore.
It was an amazing experience to be in the presence of these great animals. I think it is a must for locals and tourists alike.