Port Elizabeth, or PE as it is affectionately referred to, was originally set up as a frontier town between the Cape Colony and the native Xhosa people; the city, today, has developed into a multicultural hub.
This evening, around 4pm, we have the option of setting off to visit a local Shebeen. Originally meaning an illegal drinking den, Shebeens in South Africa now refer to legal 'taverns' normally in townships. Our visit here gives us an insight into the life of many South Africans whose hospitality has given the city its nick-name of the Friendly City. (*Please note that if you would like to take part in the Shabeen option you will have to pre-book the activity as we need to advise the Shabeen on numbers and they, in turn, have to buy the necessary ingredients for dinner. The price, paid locally is R500 (about GBP35). As this supports a small local business and they, pre-buy food, you will still have to pay for this activity even if you change your mind on the day).
This morning we get up early and head to Addo Elephant National Park (about 1hr drive). The third largest national park in South Africa, Addo is home to some 550 elephants (up from a mere 16 when the park was initially set up) as well as Black rhino, leopards, lions, buffalos, hyenas, zebras, various antelopes and dung-beetles.
We will enjoy game drives in the park and have the option of a sunset game drive as well.
Today we start heading west to the official start of the Garden Route at Storms River and Tsitsikamma National Park. Stretching along the coast, the park gets its name from a local word meaning 'place of abundant water'. The park is made up of rocky coastlines, fairy-tale forests, waterfalls and rivers. We have the opportunity to hike in the forest and along suspension bridges. The area is also a great place for bird-enthusiasts with a variety of sea, forest and fynbos (scrubland) species present.
We spend the day at Tsitsikamma where a number of hikes are available as well as other activities (though some may be dependent on the weather conditions such as canoeing).
We start our day with a visit to the Knysna Heads, two tall sandstone cliffs which form a channel through which the turbulent Indian Ocean enters the calmer Knysna Lagoon. We have a bit more time to relax in town before leaving for Oudtshoorn after lunch. As we head inland and over a pass the landscape changes drastically and we enter the Little Karoo, a much dryer and hotter region. Oudtshoorn itself became famous thanks to the trade in Ostrich feathers and is still, today, the ostrich capital of the world.
Today we spend all day in and around Oudtshoorn. We start by visiting the Cango Caves, an extensive complex of caverns with stalactites and stalagmites. After lunch we visit a local ostrich farm where we learn more about these wondrous birds and may even see some ostrich racing. (the order in which we do these activities may be reversed).
Returning towards the coast we make a stop at Mossel Bay and the Dias museum complex celebrating the influence of early Portuguese sailors on S. Africa and the location of the Post Office Tree (an old milkwood tree which was used to leave messages for passing ships since 1500). We then continue to Hermanus, famed as the whale capital of the world.
Today is a free day to relax and enjoy Hermanus. From late August to November Southern Right whales are easily spotted from shore as they frolic in Walker Bay. A whale crier sounds his kelp horn when he spots whales off the coast. Those who want can also do a boat-based whale watching trip. There are also a number of other activities available from hikes to river cruises and lagoon-kayaking which are available year-round.
Our next destination is South Africa's famed wine region. The wine industry, which dates back to the 17th Century and was heavily influenced by French Huguenots, produces some of the best wines in the world. We will have the opportunity to taste some of these wines and will spend the night in a guest-farm which produces its own wine.
Day 11 - 12
We drive the short distance to Cape Town, Africa's most exciting city, where we spend the next two days. Our activities in Cape Town will, to some extent, be dictated by the weather as visits to the top of Table Mountain, which has its own micro-climate, are determined by cloud cover and wind. Because of this, often, temperamental weather, it is best not to pre-book the cable car but to just buy tickets on the spot (not included) Those who are staying longer in Cape Town post-tour may opt to visit Table Mountain later if the weather looks as though it may be better then.
On one of the days we head down the Cape Peninsula. We stop at the former Royal Navy base at Simonstown and take time to visit the resident penguin colony at Boulders Beach. The highlight of the day is our visit to the famous Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which covers an area of 7680 hectares. The reserve is home to eland, bontebok, grysbok, springbok, wildebeest, baboon and ostrich. Rugged cliffs, unspoilt beaches, shipwrecks and beautiful flora are the main features of the reserve. We will go on a walk through the reserve for approximately two hours. We first take a walk to the old lighthouse for the panoramic views, before following the pathway to the new lighthouse which offer spectacular cliff views. We then follow the downhill path to the Cape of Good Hope and the iconic board showing the most Southern Western point of the African continent where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Once we leave the park we follow the Atlantic Seaboard back to Cape Town via Chapman's Peak drive, if it is open! We drive past the areas of Hout Bay, Llandudno and Camps Bay before returning to Cape Town.
Our final day of the trip we have the option of visiting Robben Island, doing a township tour, strolling along the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront or exploring various other parts of Cape Town. Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport this afternoon for their flight home, those on a land-only basis the tour officially ends today.