It has been a long time since I last wrote a blog post due to a number of things going on, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things by updating far more regularly, both on here and on Instagram. I would also like to bring in some more lifestyle content, so if there is anything in particular you would like me to blog about, just leave me a comment below.
Over the Easter holidays, I flew out to South Africa for the graduation ceremony of my brother who has been studying out there for the last three years. We decided to combine this with a road trip along the Eastern Cape of South Africa, a part we have never done before.
Although this post is dedicated to Graff-Reinet, I thought I would tell you about another favourite part of the trip.
We started off at a game reserve called Kwandwe, just outside my brothers university town of Grahamstown. Having visited this reserve a few years ago, I was eager to return as I had had such a wonderful experience. I had been diagnosed with a number of food intolerances a few weeks before this trip and so was apprehensive as to how they would be dealt with in South Africa. Upon arrival at our camp, Fish River Lodge in Kwandwe, the head chef greeted me to ensure me that he had dealt with everything and the menu would be adjusted so as to accommodate my dietaries. As I have often experienced, this usually results in me receiving a rather plain and boring meal. However, this was certainly not the case in Kwandwe! They pulled out all the stops and even made a gluten and dairy free coconut cake for my birthday. Considering we were in the middle of the African bush, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised, and will be singing their praises for a long time yet!
We had fantastic game sightings at Kwandwe, including many rhino sightings, which for me was the highlight, as their plight for survival is a cause very close to my heart. Another favourite sighting was that of two lion cubs. They had found an old piece of water pipe, left over from the farms that were previously on the reserve. They were fighting over the pipe like two kittens until they were distracted by a passing Blesbok…
Everything about Kwandwe is perfect, from its setting and wildlife, to the staff and accommodation. If you have the chance, I would urge you to make a visit.
We then travelled down the Eastern Cape, past Plettenberg Bay where we stopped for a night at the Kurland Hotel. This was previously Relais & Chateaux, but has now lost this accolade under its new ownership. This has the makings of a stunning hotel as it is set in a beautiful setting with gorgeous grounds. The rooms were also of a high quality and of a large size. Nonetheless, the food was just not up to scratch and the management quite frankly needed replacing. With just a bit of investment, it could very easily be transformed back into the destination it was. However at the moment, for the prices being paid, I would not return here.
From here we travelled through the Prince Alfred’s pass to Uniondale and onto Graff-Reinet. The Prince Alfred’s Pass is certainly not for the faint hearted, particularly with the fruit trucks haring past you on the edge of the mountains, however for the view you get to see, it is certainly worth it. The pass finished in the fairly odd town of Uniondale, a place that seems to have been forgotten in time. Even finding a place to stop and have lunch proved quite a challenge!
The reason this post is dedicated to Graff-Reinet, is because it is one of the places you just must go and visit. After driving for hours from Uniondale, through miles and miles of desolate Karoo landscape, you reach the haven of Graff-Reinet. It is the fourth oldest settler town in South Africa, after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. It is incredible to think that the hours of driving we did in a car to reach it, the fore trekkers would have done in horse and carts. The town itself sits almost in a basin, with the streets layed out in a very orderly, grid like fashion, a clear trait of the Dutch who founded the town. The main museum in Graff-Reinet is certainly worth visiting. Here you can find many of the old horse carts that were used to bring materials to the town, as well as coffin carts, priest carts, and even an ambulance cart.
Another weird and wonderful place worth visiting is the Obesa Cacti Nursery. Here they have over 7,000 species of cacti, and it is quite a surreal place to be, surrounded by cacti of all shapes and sizes. According to the owner, it is the second biggest cacti collection in the world, with the largest being in Arizona.
If however, you only do one attraction in Graff-Reinet, let it be Desolation Valley in the Camdeboo National Park. This is truly a sight that you will never forget. Desolation Valley is on the outskirts of Graff-Reinet, with the mountain you drive to reach it, overlooking the town. Here there is a lookout point where you can study the town from above, with the birds of prey swooping just above your head in the warm air thermals.
From the look out point you continue up the road until you reach the parking for the Desolation Valley. It is then just a short walk to the edge. Looking down into the depths of the valley, you realise just how small you are. All you can hear are the echoes of the birds that are flying down into its depths and that perch on the opposite cliff face. It really is a sight that cannot be translated in just a photo.
After admiring this, we decided to take the Crag Lizard trail around the point. Here you may spot some of the mountain wildlife, for us it was of course the Crag Lizard itself, as well as a lone Kudu, which, as we were on foot, managed to get close to and watch as he finished his lunch of some rather dry and crispy looking Karoo foliage!
After paying entry into Desolation Valley, you are able to use your ticket to visit the adjoining wildlife reserve. This is a lovely drive. The game viewing was pretty slim (or perhaps they were all just hiding!), however it was a great way to while away a couple of hours.
Throughout our time in Graff-Reinet, we stayed at the Drostdy Hotel. The hotel was reopened at the end of 2014 after undergoing a major refurbishment. What was so special about this hotel is that it has retained its original architecture and features and the revamp has simply enhanced these snippets of history rather than try to cover them up. One such architectural nod to the Drostdy’s history, is that many of the bedrooms sit in the former slave houses along pretty cobbled streets that retain a sense of charm. As well as the architecture, the food at the Drostdy was fantastic with many local ingredients used, which is always good to see. The head chef also came out to speak to me on arrival to discuss dietaries and had even made sure that the nibbles in my room were also adapted. All in all, the Drostdy was a winner of a hotel for me, and was the perfect base for exploring Graff-Reinet and the surrounding Karoo landscape
I have only touched on a few parts of my trip here, as I simply would not have the space to write about them all! I do hope though that it has inspired you to take ‘the road less travelled’, in South Africa, particularly if it is a returning trip, as there are so many wonderful places to visit that are not on the standard tourist trail, and are little unpolished diamonds, waiting to be stumbled upon.