Our fourth day, we were to fly down from aha Makalali to the Garden Route. We had to forego our game drive that morning as our transfer to Hoedspruit Airport was at 8 am. Phimi and her staff ensured that a hot breakfast was made especially for us, so we didn’t go hungry. The drive back to the airport was a little sad for us, we had thoroughly enjoyed our three days at the aha Makalali and knew we would miss the animals, the place and its people.
The drive back to the airport took just about an hour. We then quickly checked-in at the counter and handed over our check-in luggage. At the last minute, we decided to check-in one of our hand luggage as well, so we could be more free. That turned out to be a mistake.
The Hoedspruit Airport was small but with sufficient seating both inside and outside. Close to departure, we passed security into the adjoining room, from where we walked out to the tarmac where an AirLink plane was parked.
The flight to Johannesburg took about 50 minutes. We were offered a sandwich and juice box, en route. At Johannesburg, we had enough time to get lunch and made our way to the Mango airlines counter.
Our destination was George, the biggest city along the Garden Route. This route is about 300 Kilometers (190 miles) long and runs from Tsitsikamma/ Stormsrivier area on the Eastern Cape to Heidelberg on the Western side. George and its surrounding areas are about halfway along the route. Along many parts of the route, the road hugs the coastline and creates beautiful vistas, similar to Hawai’i. This stretch of land is ecologically diverse, being home to fynbos, wetlands, forests, and many bays and lakes. Naturally, it offers a ton of outdoor activities and is very popular with locals and tourists alike. The weather here is mild all year long, and given its proximity to the Indian Ocean, is oft-visited by rainfall.
We flew Mango airlines from Johannesburg (its hub) to George. Mango is a low-cost airline and a subsidiary of South African Airways. Akin to Spirit Airlines in the US, it’s all about the volume with very little to no- frills. Food and drink on board is available for a price. Our seats were in the second half of the plane, so our entry and exit was through the rear entrance. The plane was completely packed with people from Johannesburg flying to George for the weekend. Flight time was about an hour and forty minutes. Overall, it was a smooth trip for us.
Once we landed in George, we found out that two of our checked-in suitcases did not reach on time. We had to track down the baggage claims service personnel and fill out the mandatory forms. The crew was very apologetic and able to determine that the suitcases were not loaded onto our flight in Johannesburg. That was both concerning and disappointing. One of the suitcases held all the beachwear we needed to enjoy George! The team promised to have the baggage delivered by the next morning.
Once outside the little airport, we realized the weather had changed. It was cloudy, and rainstorms appeared to be on the horizon. Not surprising for this area, but a real damper to our spirits. We went to the Europcar rental, where Amie had booked an auto transmission Toyota Rav 4 for us with navigation included. We were to drop it off at the Capetown airport on our first day in that city. Having a car is vital to travel the Garden Route as there’s a lot to see and explore. All of what we read said the driving here was safe. But we had to keep the cars locked at all times, know the routes we had to take, and be comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road (for US drivers). Mr. JJ didn’t entirely volunteer for the job, but he landed it, all the same.
Our original plan was to reach the resort by 5 pm, freshen up and spend the evening exploring the beaches nearby. Unfortunately, it was raining hard, growing dark, and with the missing luggage, our spirits were flagging.
For the next couple of days, our residence was Brenton Haven, a beachside resort in Brenton-on-Sea, about an hour’s drive from the airport. Since most of our planned activities were in Knysna, which is about 20 minutes from the resort, this location was most ideal. Plus, the resort is located on a dune overlooking the beach and the ocean. Which we thought was fascinating!
When we reached the resort, the rain was pouring in sheets, the wind was blowing hard, and there was a damp cold seeping in that we weren’t quite ready for. We parked quickly and ran to check-in. Our accommodations were beach homes, two of them (only two people per beach home), and they were situated around to the back of the reception. We were assigned a parking garage for the car.
The staff guided Mr. JJ to a sheltered parking space where we could all stay dry and pile in, and we drove around through the secured gates to our designated garage. The homes were situated across from the garage. I liked the security precautions that were in place.
Each home had sliding doors that led to the living area with a sofa, coffee table, and a wall-mounted TV. There was a small dining nook with a table and chairs. Sliding glass doors led to an outdoor deck with a partial view of the ocean. A table with seating was provided along with a braai (barbecue) area. Across from the dining nook was a fully equipped kitchen with a cooking range, microwave, dishwasher, and a fridge. There was a half bathroom off the hallway that led to the bedroom. Plenty of closet space provided storage. An en-suite bathroom was equipped with a shower stall, a small wash area, and the toilet. Free WiFi access was included.
It took us an hour to settle down and get used to the sudden weather change. We lacked the energy to cook anything. Instead, we chose to dine that evening at the resort’s in-house restaurant, Butterfly Blu. The restaurant is situated at one end of the resort, enclosed by glass walls with great views of the white sandy beach below and the water. We called ahead to book a spot.
A walkway leading from the beach homes ends at the backdoor entrance to the reception center and allows guests to reach this area quickly and safely. The pool is situated along this walking path. The reception center houses the gym, the restaurant, and the delightful Indigo Deli, which serves artisanal coffee, pastries, light breakfast, paninis, etc.
The blue and white palette at the restaurant suited the location. The waiting area was slightly rustic, warm, very laid back and inviting. After checking in with the hostess, we waited for a bit to be seated. The outer glass-enclosed patio was where we wanted to be. On a warmer day, this would have been a fantastic restaurant to be in, but that evening the cold wind gusts took some of the charm away. Perhaps, being out in the scorching safari weather had spoiled us!!
We were hungry as we hadn’t eaten much since lunch, We tried the jalapeno poppers, but they were a bit greasy and not to our taste. Mr. JJ and Missy JJ enjoyed the tofu katsu curry with rice, Sonny JJ enjoyed his black bean burger, and I tried the vegetarian Croatian pizza, a house specialty. The food was enjoyable but not as spectacular as we expected. Still, we celebrated it as it was our first real meal at a restaurant in South Africa!!
As we walked back, we realized we had used up one day of three allocated for the Garden Route, and we hadn’t even gotten a good view of the beach yet! But we knew that it was the one constant in traveling. Things go awry at times; luggage goes missing, rain spoils plans, and driving on the ” wrong side of the road” takes time and a bit of getting used to. Despite that, we had spent a good day together, catching up on our lives, debating topics, watching people, and hanging out with each other! That mattered a great deal more than messed up itineraries and missed opportunities!!
Join us tomorrow for a lively day in Knysna!