Much like Nature’s Valley, which proved to be our favorite spot in South Africa after we nearly passed it by, the Robberg Nature Reserve – which we nearly skipped – provided some of the trip’s most memorable moments. The key difference is that it was not lack of research – but rather too much of it – that nearly caused us to miss out on one of the Garden Route’s best hikes.
Of the many places we visited during our two weeks in South Africa the one that stands out above all others for its unparalleled tranquility, natural beauty, and down-to-earth charm is Nature’s Valley. Incredibly, despite the considerable amount of research that went into planning our Garden Route road trip, we were completely unaware of its existence until pure happenstance led us there.
It starts with the departure of friends and colleagues. Although the bulk of the turnover won’t take place until the summer, a few positions rotate earlier, and this season’s farewell parties have already started cropping up. We tried to put off thinking about our own forthcoming departure from Kigali until after our return from South Africa. Now with only about four months left in our Rwanda tour, moving anxiety is beginning to grip our household.
In addition to a scenic coastline, great food and wine, and amazing hiking, the opportunity to see wild animals up close is one of South Africa’s main draws. We did not visit the world-famous Kruger National Park on this trip, a day in Addo being our only real safari of the vacation. However, upon entering the Garden Route, we discovered that we were staying in an “animal valley” of sorts, which offered a different kind of wildlife experience from the game drives we’ve come to love over the course of almost four years on the African continent.
Shortly after our surreal parent-teacher conference — while we were making our way around South Africa’s Garden Route — we received an end-of-semester progress report from Munchkin’s school. Unlike the over-the-top adulation in the previous midyear evaluation, this report struck a more balanced approach, praising Munchkin’s kindness, creativity, and academic progress while highlighting a number of behavioral attributes where “strengthening is needed.”
After spending a day with the elephants of Addo, we repacked the car and headed south toward the Garden Route – South Africa’s answer to Big Sur. Spanning some 300 kilometers (almost 200 miles) from Storms River to Mossel Bay, the Garden Route traverses several parks, with the main N2 highway sometimes running along the Cape shoreline and at other times winding inland into the mountains.
In addition to using our Nikon SLR and iPhones to document our travels, we also brought a small shock-proof, water-resistant Olympus camera. We had originally purchased it for adventure travel, but given that adventuring has taken a backseat to parenting, we’ve found a new use for the camera: we gave it to our son, curious to see how our travels would look from his vantage point.
Our first stop, after alighting in Port Elizabeth and picking up our rental car, was Avoca – an hour’s drive north into South Africa’s citrus-growing Sundays River Valley. S found a family-run farm that offered accommodation in modernized mud huts, cottages, and chalets scattered along the riverbank, which seemed like an excellent starting point for our journey.
Our brief Cape Town “babymoon” last year was our first visit to South Africa. Even as many of our friends raved about the joys of South African travel, we had put off visiting the country much like one would put off traveling to London, Paris, or New York. Big, international, destinations with airline hubs are easy to reach, so it always seemed like we would have plenty of opportunities to go. In fact, when S had suggested South Africa as a possible travel destination early into our Nairobi tour, D shrugged off the suggestion and told her that climbing Kilimanjaro and rafting the Nile were much higher priorities on his list.