The First of Many Excellent BeachesOctober 20-22
From the rugged landscape of the Drakensberg mountains, we moved back toward the coast. We wanted to stay near the coastal resort city or Durban, but not in the city itself. So, we drove north from Durban, through a strip of non-stop congested high-rise resort towns until we arrived at Ballito. Ballito is a small town without any of the ugly-high rise hotels that clog the coastline further south. It sits on a spectacular stretch of beach lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, we got fairly bad weather in Ballito, so we didn't get much beach time here. Still, it was a great place to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
After three days in Ballito, we did what we thought was impossible: we drove over 1,100km (700 miles) straight down the coast to Jeffrey's Bay in a single day! We were on a mission to cover our longest stretch of driving as quickly as possible. We had planned on overnighting at the halfway point between Durban and J-Bay, but couldn't find any place we liked, so we motored on, arriving at Jeffrey's Bay late at night. Don't ask us how we did it, we just drove. And drove. And drove...
Surf's Up!October 22-26
Jeffrey's Bay is a very relaxed beach town about 45 minutes southwest of the city of Port Elizabeth. It's one of those places where many travelers come to stay for a couple of days and end up staying for one or two weeks. We fell in love with the town's low-key charm, its beautiful, long sandy beach, and its friendly surfie attitude. It's just developed enough to provide the visitor with plenty of good eating and shopping opportunities, but still small enough to feel like a real "local" beach town.
Jeffrey's Bay (or "J-Bay" as it is affectionately known) is internationally famous for having some of the best surfing waves in the world. Some would even say the best in the world. Those of you that remember the 1960s surf flick The Endless Summer may recall the waves surfed at St. Francis Bay in the movie. St. Francis Bay is just a few kilometers down the road from J-Bay. One of the many famous breaks here is Supertubes, a long, curling right-hander which pumps out some big, perfectly-formed tubes when the swell is right. It was a bit big for me (Mike) to go out in, and it was definitely a "locals" kind of place -- I stuck with playing around in the smaller beach break called "Kitchen Windows" closer to our apartment.
World-famous Supertubes surf break
Hanging out at our apartment, J-Bay
We found one of those unbelievably good South African deals in Jeffrey's Bay -- the perfectly-located Diaz 15 Apartments, located in downtown, right on the beach. A two-bedroom seafront apartment cost just over $70 per night. We had a huge balcony overlooking the white sand and blue water, a big outdoor barbecue, a huge living room and an equally large master bedroom, both with giant windows giving us a panoramic view of the ocean. We arrived with the intention of staying two nights. We ended up staying for five. Our only wish was that we had some friends there to share the apartment with us. We had fun anyway!
The view from our porch, J-Bay
J-Bay...what can we say? It was our favorite beach town in South Africa. So many people come to South Africa and never manage to visit this gem of a surf town. It's too bad, because it has all the promise of the more crowded places like Plettenberg Bay and the Durban coast, but with a much lower-key, friendly small town atmosphere. Maybe it's better that more people don't come to J-Bay...perhaps it will remain unspoiled for a long time to come.
A very moody beach shot - storm on the horizon!
An Unbelievably Pretty Coastal Resort TownOctober 26-29
Plettenberg Bay is one of those places with such incredible views that its images stay seared in your memory for a long time after you leave. Built on a tall bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean, Plett is an upscale resort town which reminds us a lot of La Jolla, California. (Plett is much smaller than La Jolla, though). Beautiful, huge and expensive homes dot the hillsides above town. A road leading out of downtown leads to Robberg Beach, a scenic stretch of perfect beach with powder-white sand and deep blue water. We stayed in a small guest house just across the street from the beach. Unfortunately, we got very windy conditions for two of our three days here. But that third day was unbelievable, with no wind and a bright, cloudless blue sky. Perfect weather for a day on the beach in Plett!
Robberg Beach, Plett Bay
Not far from Plett lie some of South Africa's great wilderness attractions. The Tsitsikamma National Forest contains huge tracts of coastal forest, with outstanding hiking opportunities and deserted stretch of rugged coastline. Also nearby is the Bloukrans Bridge, where the brave can attempt the highest bungey jump in the world -- a freefall of 216 meters (almost 700 ft)!! We're brave, but not that brave...we skipped the bungey jump.
Just west of Plettenberg Bay lies the town of Kynsna. Located on a pretty lagoon surrounded by dense forest, Knysna is a bit touristy, full of overpriced shops and fast food joints. But, it's a nice place to wander around for an afternoon in search of that "just right" souvenir -- there are tons of shopping opportunities here. The waterfront has been built out into a tourist attraction itself -- rental condos line narrow waterways where sailboats cruise on their way out to the lagoon. We were glad we chose Plettenberg Bay over Knysna as our base for exploring the area. One afternoon walking through town was enough for us. There are some really spectacular forest areas around the lagoon, though, including some of South Africa's nicest smaller boutique luxury hotels.
At Knysna's Waterfront (a windy day!)
From Plettenberg Bay, we headed inland to the semi-desert Little Karoo region...
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