Elephants, Penguins, & Whales: The Garden Route Part 2
This post covers the final bit of our Earthstompers tour as well as our last few days in the beautiful country of South Africa. We were ready to see some serious wildlife in the last part of our trip, and I have about three million pictures to prove it (thankfully, I limited the ones I will subject you to to about fifty).
What We Did
Day 146 (12/15/16): We awoke super early to do a morning game drive in Addo Elephant National Park. We spent two hours roaming round the almost 70,000-acre park in an open-air vehicle, hunting for big cats who are most active in the morning. Afterwards, we had a late breakfast at the reserve’s entrance before reboarding the sausage mobile. Super Guide Cindy felt bad that our morning game drive was not too fruitful, so we spent some extra time driving through the park, where thankfully, we found the elephants the park was named after. After several hours making our way across the park, we said goodbye to our animal friends and headed on to Jeffrey Bay where we stopped for lunch. We continued our drive along the garden route, stopping briefly for a swim in the ocean. We made our way to Mossel Bay, Cindy’s hometown, where we settled into our hostel and then headed out to get some grub on the water with Cindy’s brother and father.
Day 147 (12/16/16): In the morning, we were picked up by an awesome South African man who took us to his property for a little sandboarding. We started out doing some sand sledding down some massive dunes right on the coast before heading inland for some actual boarding. Thoroughly exhausted from our athletic activities, we rejoined the other sausages and continued on the road. We stopped again for a swim, enjoying the cool water. Afterwards, we headed to the southernmost tip of South Africa, where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet, in order to watch the sun set and start the night off with some wine. We then ventured back to the hostel, had another delicious braii, and spent the evening drinking the place out of wine and playing the most epic game of Picolo and Holiday Sausage ever!
Day 148 (12/17/16): Today, we began the day at a local farmer’s market where they sold fruits and veggies, grilled food, and handmade crafts by local artists. Being so close to the end of our trip, Adam and I decided to purchase some souvenirs/Christmas gifts and figure out how to get them home later. We ate some lunch and carried on along the final leg of the garden route. We made a final stop on our tour to see the awesomely adorable, and yet smelly, South African penguins (formerly the Jackass penguins) of Betties Bay. We spent some time watching them fight and swim and hop around before reboarding the van for the trip back to Cape Town. We decided that we wanted to have one last adventure together, so we packed a small picnic and so e wine, and headed for Table Mountain. After a brief run-in with the park rangers, we found a nice spot to hang out, eat, and watch the sun set over the ocean one last time. Afterwards, we left the park and started the sad process of saying goodbyes to new friends Debbie, Natalie, Andrea, Lindsey, and Cindy, and promising a reunion would happen in the future.
What We Learned
- Game drives are not a guarantee. We paid a bit extra to do an extra morning drive in Addo. And, we did see some wildlife (primarily warthogs, and kudu, and warthogs, and more warthogs), but it was limited and far in between. We also did not see a single elephant despite the fact that this park has the largest concentration of elephants in South Africa. Once the guide stopped to explain some fascinating facts about Guinea Fowl, I knew we were in trouble. Well, then and when I looked over and saw Katie and Andrea were both asleep. We returned to the lodge after two hours, pretty disappointed. And, that could have been the end of it. Luckily for us, when traveling across the park with our guide Cindy, we ran into the largest grouping of elephants I have ever seen, as well as monkeys, ostriches, zebras, and buffalo. However, the whole thing, and thus the entire “safari” part of our trip to South Africa, could have been a bust. So, my advice is that if you are going there to see the big five, go on as many game drives as you possibly can. They are awesome.
- Sandboarding is awesome, but hiking up the dunes is an absolute bitch. When I volunteered to do the first ride down the big dune, I was stoked. However, once at the bottom I quickly realized that unlike skiing, where you have lifts and gondolas, in sand-boarding, your trip back to the top of the hill is all manual. By the time I reached the top, my lungs and calves were on fire, and my heart was beating somewhere up in my throat. This is also the reason why I only did the big dune twice. The boarding part was better (because the hills weren’t as big), but sandboarding is hard work. And, apparently, easier if you are a surfer or have not snowboarded before.
- Be careful when setting up a picnic in a National Park. Some of the rangers do not take kindly to you sitting on some of the local bushes or grasses, no matter how spiky or spiny and durable they may seem.
- Earthstompers was a truly amazing company. Our tour guide Cindy was incredibly fun, personable, and helpful. The itinerary was jam-packed with awesome activities, and optional excursions. The lodging was amazing and varied. I cannot tell you how great it was for us. We made great friends, saw unimaginable sights, and made memories to last a lifetime. I would HIGHLY recommend them to anyone. Seriously, you will not be disappointed!!!!!!
- Our trip to Addo was a super memorable experience. Granted, the morning game drive was a bust, but our trek through the center yielded the experience of a lifetime, one where we got to see hundreds of elephants so close that I could almost touch them. There were babies, teenagers, giant bulls, and older matriarchs. We saw groups coming from all directions to the watering hole to play and drink and cool off before heading on their way, on a path that took them both in front of and behind our vehicle. We even all got an unwanted glance at an elephants’ male parts, that were, in fact, so large, I at first mistook it for a fifth leg. Oh…..nature.
- When driving along the cost of South Africa on the way back to Cape Town, we happened to spot several whales off the coast. We saw them again when we were having our farewell picnic in the park. Seeing them there, just brought it full circle as far as the depth and variety of wildlife offered by this fascinating country.