As our incredible journey continued on, we found ourselves heading west out of the eco-paradise of Storms River Village and pressing onward down the beautiful Garden Route of South Africas southern coastline. After a short stop at Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary to get up close and personal with some big cats, our next stop would be a small beach community with possibly the best town name of our trip so far…Wilderness. A small town with little to do but hang out amid its natural beauty, we spent our few days there walking the old abandoned train tracks on a cliff over the ocean and visiting beautiful viewpoints like the incredible Map of Africa. A hilltop from which several rivers in the valley below actually seem to outline the shape of the African continent. It was a relaxing place to be to say the least.
Still thrilled about our having a car for the first time in months, we decided to leave Wilderness and make our way to South Africas most famous stretch of road…beautiful Route 62. A scenic highway through desert, grasslands, mountains and more, gorgeous Route 62 is lined with everything from vineyards to ostrich farms and exotic animals from meerkats to baboons. Almost as soon as we started driving down the epic stretch of highway we noticed several old wooden signs saying Ostrich Riding Ahead upon which we turned to each other simultaneously and smiled big toothy smiles in unison. Being the kind of people we are of course we immediately b-lined it off the highway in search of this magical ostrich farm where ostrich riding is more than condoned, it is encouraged. Arriving at the charming farm we were led out to a large penned in field with several full-grown ostriches trotting around near a pond. A small wooden staircase sat on the edge which we learned would soon be used by us to mount them. This was really happening! I was first man up and the wranglers helped me up on to the ostriches back, showed me how to hold on to the giant goofy birds wings, took its hood off and off we went! For about half a second that is before I fell backwards off the tall bird and into the dirt! Not exactly like riding a horse. With a bruised butt bone and a more deeply bruised ego, I decided a second attempt was in order and it was thankfully much more successful. I must have looked like a wide-eyed little kid bouncing up and down laughing wildly as the bird ran around the yard in circles, me hanging on to its massive wings desperately for dear life. It was absolutely hysterical, an exercise in the absurd and a definite memory maker. Laura was next and was far better at it than I (of course) as she rode the ostrich back and forth across the field until the wranglers told her that her time was up. She too however couldn’t stop smiling and laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole thing, zipping back and forth on the back of a galloping ostrich!. Oh what a day and oh the things we get in to.
Pushing on down Route 62 through incredible vistas and mountain ranges, we rode into the beautiful South African Winelands region where we would spend several days in the lovely town of Robertson, exploring and visiting several vineyards. It really has been fascinating and so much fun on this trip visiting so many of the worlds great wine regions. Chiles Colchagua Valley, Argentinas Mendoza and now this. South Africas Winelands certainly did not disappoint.
Leaving lazy days in gorgeous wine country for a short spell, we decided to go on a special mission down to Hermanus on the coast for what would be our most exciting expedition yet… Great White Shark Cage Diving! Yes THOSE Great Whites. The massive apex predators made famous in so many Discovery Channel Shark Week shows filmed in the exact place we were headed! We left mid-morning for the famous Seal Island where sharks have been seen and filmed breaching completely out of the water to attack their prey furiously from below. Finding a good spot in a moderate swell, the boat dropped anchor and the crew began dangling a few fish heads on ropes in the water. It wasn’t long before massive dorsal fins could be seen circling the boat around us. Oh lord it was creepy good. The water was so clear you could see the sharks full bodies gliding speedily beneath the surface. Every once in a while a shark would go for the bait, swimming up full speed from the depths, bursting from the water with tooth filled jaws wide, flying out of the water into the air in front of us. It was crazy! Even crazier was that it was time for us to get into the water with them! Like Tracy Jordan says, “Live every week like it’s Shark Week”. Gut check time. The cage was dropped in the water off the side of the boat. We donned our wetsuits and goggles. We slipped into the cage from the boats edge. We bobbed there for a bit until a fin was seen approaching above the surface. The crew yelled “Down!” We ducked under the water and there, directly in front of our faces was a massive 20′ Great White shark, mouth opened charging right at us! I moved my hand that was holding onto the cage bars just as the giant beast bit onto the cage ferociously right where my hand had been. I fell up against the back of the cage as other sharks circled around us and I looked frantically over my shoulders. We surfaced yelling “Whoa!” in unison with our last ounce of breath. Our hearts racing and our adrenaline pumping. Better than a roller coaster and way less predictable. For the rest of the day we had many such encounters, massive sharks all around us, sneaking up from every direction and attacking the fish heads beside our cage. Staring at us with those cold black shark eyes which pierce you to the core. As we headed back to shore exhausted, we talked about how small and weak we felt in the water next to such impressive, top of the food chain creatures. You couldn’t help but be in utter awe of their raw speed, strength and size.
After our thrilling time in Hermanus, we headed back up to the Winelands to the enchanting town of Stellenbosch. We would spend a few more days tasting delicious South African wines there before making our way towards Cape Town. Our last major region to visit in our South African explorations. Our first stop in the Cape Town area would be to gorgeous Boulder Beach, home to beautiful boulder strewn white sands and hundreds of adorable African Penguins. We spent hours watching the cute little birds waddle around and do all sorts of cute things. No surfing or tap dancing though (You lied to me Hollywood!). They really are quite endearing though and it was so exciting to see penguins in the wild for the first time in our lives.
Moving on from Boulder Beach, our next destination would be the famous Table Mountain, the massive flat topped plateau that looms over all of Cape Town. Taking a rotating gondola to the top we spent the entire afternoon wandering around the craggy cliffs and looking out in every direction at the astounding views. It was breathtaking.
We would spend several days in Cape Town, hanging out with our new friends Jarryd and Jenitte, taking in the VA Waterfront and exploring the beautiful city. One thing we found a bit shocking however and that needs mentioning was how openly racist many people in Cape Town seemed to be. Honestly, the things we heard on the street and in restaurants were hugely offensive but no one seemed to question it. Nowhere else in South Africa had we heard or seen any racism whatsoever but in those few days in Cape Town we were confronted head on with it multiple times. It was a bit disheartening. This was the only negative experience in an otherwise amazing visit to the continent so it left a slightly bad taste in our mouth for an otherwise incredible city.
An overnight bus to Joburg, a quick visit to the fantastic and educational Apartheid Museum and we would leave Africa a mere five weeks after we arrived. Our expensive time in Brazil meant we would have to eliminate a few other countries we planned on visiting in Africa but it was fine. We had such a great experience in Africa that we knew already in the first few weeks that we would need to come back and do the continent again as a multi month affair to do it any justice. We WILL come back to Africa. The people, the wildlife, the natural beauty, the food, the culture…everything exceeded already high expectations. Seriously, we can’t wait to go back.