It’s not secret that I love traveling on trains.
It’s also no secret that I dislike spending stupid money.
But when I spent far too long packing and had to take an Uber from Pretoria to Johannesburg to catch an overnight train to Port Elizabeth, I managed to do both.
One hour and 48 dollars after tapping that app, I arrived at Park Station just minutes before the scheduled departure of my 28 dollar train. Yup, you read that right. Cheap train, expensive Uber. Backpack & cooler in hand, I ran to the platform and arrived to some good news: I’d have a coupe all to myself.
I was able to spread out, read, and enjoy a couple of delicious instant rice packs & canned tuna that day, plus oats the next morning. Being prepared with camping food worked out favorably, as we arrived 3 hours late, at 1 pm, and they’d run out of food after dinner the night before.
The Uber driver who got me from the train station to Thrifty Car Rental was a funny dude. He quipped that black people in South Africa, like himself, don’t camp because they grew up sleeping on the floor and it’s not something they’d voluntarily do as adults.
So off I went to beautiful Addo Elephant National Park, shortly after stopping by a Spar to replenish food suppplies. The landscape was completely different than Kruger, with dark, green hills undulating repeatedly, all the way to camp. The camp had a nice layout, although the gravely ground did not play well with my tent.
Other than the usual antelope, the namesake elephants, and a zebra here or there, there wasn’t much game action. But I did have a helluva an encounter with a small herd of elephants shortly before departing. I like to keep my distance, especially when little elephants and their mommas are involved, but when I could no longer put it in reverse due to the cars behind me, I had to hope I didn’t end up on YouTube.
Big sigh of relief.
The Alexandria Trail
I headed to a different section of the park for an overnight hike, the Alexandria Trail. I lucked out because if it weren’t for the Combleys – a father and son duo doing some bonding – I wouldn’t have been able to do this hike, since it requires a mimimum of 3 hikers.
We stayed the night at the cottage provided for hikers, which was very comfortable and well-stocked for the price. After a quick breakfast the next morning, and some final instructions from the rangers, we set off onto the trail. South Africans love slackpacking, so all I needed was my day bag since we were spending the night at a rustic cottage with bunk beds, a stove, and a killer view.
Day one was 18km, starting with a dense coastal forest on well-kept, wide trail. A long walk on the beach followed, and I enjoyed that barefoot. We finished off with some sand dunes and a welcome arrival at the cottage. James & Michael disapproved of the instant rice and canned tuna dinner I had lined up and generously shared their tasty mince, biltong, and even dessert, which we enjoyed in candlelight, as there was no power.
The 12 km we did the following day were certainly challenging. They involved a lot of up-and-down on sand dunes…and we only had the water we packed.
It was a great little hike, and they recommended another one in Plettenberg Bay, which I eventually did.
Garden Route National Park
I got going on the Garden Route after the Alexandria Trail, and it did NOT disappoint. I almost stopped at the World’s Highest Bungy Jump, but I figured that $70 was better spent elsewhere since I’d done it in 2010.
The Tsitsikamma section of the park is absolutely beautiful, and the place where the famed Otter Trail starts. Since that books up a year in advance, I opted for a long day hike at the park. This is when I learned that my foot soreness was getting worse. Tendonitis is not my friend.
Nonetheless, seaside camping and a hike that involved more coastal forest, a couple suspension bridges, and a nice waterfall was awesome. And I also learned what a dassie is.
I did not have luck with the Harkerville Trail. South Africa National Parks‘ minimum-hikers policy once again made me Bitter Bob and was forced to skip it, though an injured foot played into my decision not to do it anyway.
Instead, I went to Plettenberg Bay, a nice little coastal town where the Robberg Reserve was highly recommended by the Combleys. My hostel was great. Good location, decent breakfast, hot water with solid pressure, and a mixed dorm in which there was only one other person. The hike the next day was as good as promised, though we didn’t see any migrating whales.
After a couple nights there, and the best orange cake this side of my great grandma at All That Jazz Cafe in Knysna, I spent one night at the Diepwalle Huts. Google maps directions sent me there via a logging road, which was rough. It only got worse, though. 2 km from camp, I came upon a locked gate and had to backtrack 2 hours.
When I (eventually) got there, the ranger was already gone. Sooo I gave myself an upgrade into one of their forest huts – a canvas tent with two beds. I also met an awesome couple there who shared their food, beer, wine, and insight. The next day I hit the road to Cape Town and they left to continue the adventure that would take them through South Africa and into Botswana over the following 3 months.
On to Cape Town
On the road to Cape Town, I caught a glimpse of this sign, and figured, what the hell? So I detoured a bit and got to the southernmost Tip of Africa.
After that, it was off to Cape Town for a weekend of wine, whales, and Great White Sharks.