The Garden Route and Cango Caves

We’ve put some serious distance behind us in the last few days: 944km to be precise.

Overview: 3.5 days, 944km

First things first, I know that Yvonne has been waiting patiently for photos of the inside of the NAVI-SOK. I did think about tidying up before taking the photos but then decided not to bother – you may as well see it how it really is!

So, it’s a tiny motorhome mounted onto the back of a pick-up truck. You can rent “normal” motorhomes in South Africa but we thought that would have limited us too much in terms of where we want to go (we want to self-drive in the game parks, for example, and also do things like the Sani Pass into Lesotho, which is only open to 4 wheel drive vehicles).

This is from the front, looking towards the rear of the vehicle:

We’ve got a two burner gas hob (made by Dometic, so proper motorhome gear), a cutlery drawer and cupboards below and a storage cupboard above for cups, glasses etc with a foam insert to stop things boinging around. In traditional motorhome hire fashion, the list of kitchen stuff that came with the van is somewhat eccentric, including:

  • two knives, two forks etc (highly generous – not!);
  • a large frying pan (not non-stick) and two saucepans – the smaller one is in the pic, the larger one is absolutely huge…. we have a set of three extra-large tupperwares to match!
  • a milk jug and sugar bowl (?!?)
  • salt and pepper pots, supplied empty sitting upside down in the foam insert. Needless to say they’re too fat to fit in the foam insert the right way up!
  • a bucket, but no washing up bowl (we bought one)

The tall cupboards on the far left of the photo are good – we’ve got all our stuff stowed away no problem.

The metal box on the right with a jar of chilli sauce sat on top of it is the fridge – electric only (12V / 220V) and chest-style.

The door you can see between the kitchen units and the tall storage cupboards is to the loo:

The storage in here is good but we’ve an outside table and two chairs that slot between the cupboards and the loo, so it’s hard to get anything out of the bathroom cupboards during the daytime. The tiny sink in here is the only one inside the van – hence the need for a washing up bowl to take to the camp site facilities.

Right, Yvonne, the bit you’ve been trying to figure out! The bed folds away into the luton part during the daytime by mean of the mattress folding in two places (and a slide-out base for the mattress to sit on). It’s quite ingenious as you don’t notice the joins when it’s open, also it folds in such a way that you can just leave all the bedding on the bed:

We brought the duvet cover with us, though the bedding we were given with the van does look brand new…. We haven’t got any cushions, but the very fat pillows work fine. The Ikea “Odds & Sods box” also came with us from the UK, as did the sporks (also the mugs we bought in Namibia when that hire van only came with two tiny plastic cups, the silicone rings we bought in Walmart to protect the table in the American hire van etc. There’s always something!). The table’s attached to a post and will swivel around to where we want it.

As you’ll see, we also had four stowaways in our hand luggage. The little blighters go everywhere in SOK and weren’t for being left out of the NAVI-SOK adventure…..

Here’s the bed made up:

As you can see above, the roof does pop up. The roof’s high enough as it is that I could use the van no problem with the roof down, although Mark needs the extra height and the four zip-open vents are really handy.

Right’o, now that we’ve got that sorted, we can get on to the last few days’ adventures…..

From Swellendam, the main road down to the coast passes through more farmland; OK for a while but then you do find yourself looking forward to a change. The Garden Route officially starts at Riversdale, about halfway between Swellendam and the coast (I know not why…..).

We reached the coast at a place called Mossel Bay, where we stopped to visit the maritime museum. Modern-day Mossel Bay is near the site where Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese explorer, came ashore for fresh water in early 1488. He’d been the first to round the Cape of Good Hope, though as he’d been blown a way offshore by a storm, he hadn’t actually seen it and only “discovered” the Cape on his return journey westwards.

The museum sounded like quite a big visitor attraction from the description on our guide book, but actually it was pretty small. The main attraction is a replica Portuguese caravel, similar to the one Bartholomeu Dias would have sailed in, that was constructed in Portugal in the 1980s to mark 500 years since his famous voyage and sailed from there to Mossel Bay:

We got to have a good poke around on the caravel:

The next part of the story is that in 1497, Vasco de Gama stopped at Mossel Bay on his way to find a sea route to India. Then, in 1500, a fleet of 12 ships lead by a chap called Cabral was hit by a storm whilst following de Gama’s route. Bartolomeu Dias, who was captain of one of the ships, drowned. A letter describing the storm and reporting Dias’ death was left in an old boot under a milkwood tree at Mossel Bay, and was found a few months later.

Here’s Mark sat under a milkwood tree near an appropriately boot-shaped post box – apparently if you post something there it gets a special stamp…..

One interesting thing that we did spot near the tourist trap milkwood tree was what we think is a Green Milkweed Locust:

Next we did a bit of a detour inland to visit Cango Caves and drive the Swartberg Pass. The drive up to Cango Caves took us through the town of Oudtshoorn. This is ostrich central! Apparently, until the 1860s, the region was home to a farming community that was barely making ends meet. Then ostrich feathers came into fashion in 1865-70 and suddenly the ostrich farmers of Oudtshoorn were raking in the cash. A second “Feather boom” between 1900 and 1914 really established the town, with opulent sandstone mansions bearing witness to the ostrich magnates’ good fortune.

The international ostrich feather business unsurprisingly came crashing down with World War 1, but Oudtshoorn is apparently still home to the World’s largest ostrich population. Most of them seem to live on “show farms”, where visitors can view, and even try to ride, ostriches. We gave these a very wide berth…..

Our overnight stop on Sunday night was at Cango Mountain Resort, which sounds quite posh but was actually the most run-down camp site we’ve come across so far this trip. It was cheap, though, there was only one family staying there apart from us, and it was only 10km from Cango Caves, so it suited our purposes well.

It even had some camp site birds to entertain us – a drongo, a weaver bird, and a hoopoe:

Cango Caves IS a big South African visitor attraction. We arrived just after 9am on Monday morning. The caves offer a choice of two tours, a 60 minute Heritage Tour and a 90 minute Adventure Tour that, from the flyer we’d picked up earlier in the trip, seemed to just go deeper into the cave system. We headed to the ticket booth and were told that the next tour was the 9.30am Adventure Tour. Perfect – we bought two tickets.

It was a few minutes later, as we prepared to head up to the tour departure point, that I noticed a stand in the middle of the entrance hall that looked a bit like one of those gizmos you can use to check the size of your hand luggage at the airport. It had some very small holes cut out of it that were apparently the size you would need to slither through on the Adventure Tour. Oh b***er. If I’d seen those first (particularly the one marked “the letter box”) I might have thought twice…..

Things started well – we trotted through the main show caves. Awesome stuff – I must look back at our photos and notes from Carlsbad Caverns to compare (yes, Cango Caves was that good).

Then we reached the ladder into the “Adventure” part of the caves. At this point, we both decided to leave everything we were carrying behind and to collect cameras etc on the way out. In retrospect, this was a good move….

We squeezed and slithered through the narrowest of gaps, up and down and round tight corners, eventually arriving back at the ladder and the more accessible parts of the caves. It was actually really enjoyable. On the way out, though, I did make Mark demonstrate the actual size of that “letterbox”!

Looking at that, I’m really surprised I didn’t get stuck in the cave!

From Cango Caves, we’d decided to drive the Swartberg Pass, which our guide book described as “spectacular”:

From the far side of the pass, we followed an alternative route to take us in a loop back round to Oudtshoorn and from there back down to the coast and a night on a lovely little camp site at a place called Victoria Bay.

Then it was time for the Garden Route proper. The Garden Route National Park is split into three sections. The main draw of the area seems to be trees, which had us slightly confused for a while until we sussed out that this is no doubt a very special landscape if you live in South Africa! Also,these are National Parks along the lines of what we’re used to back at home, rather than the National Parks packed with wildlife that we’d come to Africa to see…

The first section of National Park, Wilderness, offered walking trails through the forest. We decided to continue to the second section to see what that had to offer; a week into our NAVI-SOK trip, we were very aware of the limited number of days available and the need to prioritise how we spend our time.

The second section at Knysna has various activities in the forest inland from the coast. Unfortunately, it turned out that the camp site there was for tents only….. We decided on that basis, together with the information leaflet describing what there is to see there, to continue eastwards rather than find a camp site nearby so as to be able to visit the forest the next day. We did visit the Knysna Heads, which are indeed very scenic:

A number of people we’ve met have waxed lyrical about Storms River Mouth in the third section of the Garden Route National Park (called “Tsitsikamma”), so we decided to head for there on Tuesday night. It turned out to be a very large camp site, albeit in a beautiful location. Not exactly what we’d been expecting!

The weather was drizzly and cool on Tuesday evening, and raining more heavily on Wednesday morning. We were woken first thing by a seagull crash-landing on the roof…. We could almost have been by the British seaside in the summertime!

A couple of exterior pics for Yvonne whilst I remembered:

We spent this morning (Wednesday) driving the main road along the coast to Port Elizabeth in the rain:

Thankfully, the weather cleared up somewhat later in the morning, just in time for our arrival at Addo Elephant Park. This is our first big wildlife viewing destination for the trip – and after the distance we’ve covered in the last few days we’ve booked onto the camp site here for two nights so at to be able to spend 2+ days in the park. You can expect lots of animal photos in the next post!

3 comments

  1. Thank you for the in depth description of Navi Sok! Seems like an ingenious use of space, and a driveable size. Curious rear end though! And there is no way I could have done the Adventure Route!

    Liked by 1 person

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