We had a huge day ahead of us. We were driving from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth in one day, then slowly working our way back along the coast throughout the next week. For normal people, this isn’t that crazy of a trek, for Kelsi and I, a normal 8 hour drive turned into a 13 hour adventure through back highways and wine country. We had no exact plans, no city maps, and no directions. We just bought a big road map of South Africa and hoped for the best. (For anyone else thinking of doing this, maybe plan a little bit better than us).
Our alarm went off at 6am and we were out the door by 6:45 with all our things. Because we had left our car rental until so late, the only available cars were located at the airport. Which meant, we had to lug our backpacks the 20 minute walk to the bus station, then the half hour bus ride to the airport just to rent a car. We had found a pretty incredible deal through Europcar that worked itself out to $25/day with unlimited kilometers on it and full insurance. Both of which were very important; we had a lot of driving ahead of us!
Kelsi drove. Our car was A. Manual and B. It drove on the wrong side of the road. I was not about to mess around with my limited knowledge of manual cars, trying to figure out which side of the road to turn in to and with the stick shift on the wrong side. I was much safer with the map. It didn’t matter how many turns or corners we took, I could NOT get used to driving on the left side of the road. But the driving was teamwork for sure: I read the map, and found the right highways for us to follow. I shifted gears while Kelsi needed a break to eat, and I helped with the four way stops. Yup, apparently New Zealand and Australia don’t HAVE four way stops. So when we came up to one, and Kelsi blew in front of another car out of turn, with me yelling from the passenger seat, it was quite a shock. From that point forward, it was my additional responsibility to help with four ways. Yes, we are disasters. How we made it through the week is beyond me.
Our goal was to avoid hitting any roads twice (or as much as was possible). So the usual, efficient, N2 route to Port Elizabeth was out of the question. Instead, we decided to head the more local R62 route from Montagu to Oudtshoorn and then follow it South East to Kruisfontein. This route also just happens to be the longest wine route on Earth. It is surprisingly very un-touristy (with more popular wine routes in the Stellenbosch area) and a quiet, scenic route to drive along.
So off we went, up to Bellville and Durbanville, then off route to Stellenbosch for breakfast. We opted for a healthy breakfast choice of burgers and fries. (It was the only cheap thing open early Monday morning in the sleepy university town). Then we headed back up through the mountain passes on our way to Worcester and the N9.
Wineries lined the highways. You couldn’t look one way or another without spotting an idyllic little vineyard. We were so excited to stop in at something along route 62. However, as soon as we hit route 62 and passed Montagu, the wineries stopped. What kind of a wine route was this?! We had over 200 kilometer of driving to find a winery and we couldn’t see ANY!
At first it didn’t matter. It was too early to try a tasting for us anyways, and we wanted to get moving after our off route stop in Stellenbosch for brekkie. But, by the time we saw signs for Oudtshoorn nearing, we were getting a little upset. “How is this a wine route?! Have you seen ANY wineries at all?”
Then all of a sudden we spotted a sign: Gruienheim.
“A winery!!! Look, look! Let’s go!! Turn in! A winery!” We were ecstatic.
We pulled off the main road into a gravel path. A couple turns and a few kilometers later, we pulled up outside a deserted vineyard.
“What do we do? Do we just go in?” All of a sudden we felt ridiculous. We parked the car and wandered around the front farm house. No one was in sight. “Maybe we should just go”
Nope! We’d driven the entire length of route 62 we were sure as hell going to stop at ONE winery.
“Hello?” We called out as we stuck our heads inside one of the buildings. Inside was a small room with a bar along one side. The bar was full of wine bottles and liqueurs. I think we found the tasting room.
We heard a lady talking on the phone in the next room over so we stuck our heads in. She looked up and stuck her finger up as if to say “silent!” I gave her a quick smile and went back to the tasting room to peek around. There we found a map of the riute 62 region with all the wineries on it. there were LOADS of them! at least 20 right on the route that we had just driven… apparently we are just visually impaired.
Soon after the lady on the phone came in “Yes? Can I help you?”
“We were hoping you’d have some wines here!”
“Yes, we do, here is the price list” she hands us a piece of paper and then walked behind the bar.
Then all of a sudden a little old lady walked in the room and her face lit up when she saw Kelsi and I
“Oooooooh!!! My darlings! How are you?! Are you here for some wine tastings? Where are you from? Are you sisters?!” She was not much taller than five feet and barely stood above the bar on the other side. She was the most pleasant lady I’ve ever met, with a cute little South African accent and a passion for her vineyard. Her and her husband owned the vineyard and all their stuff was sold locally. She was adorable!
“If your looking for dry wines I’m sorry, we only do sweet things here, like ports and liqueurs.” Oh no, I am NOT a sweet wine person. How did we end up at the one winery that doesn’t make dry wine?
“Come to think of it” she said “no one in the area does dry wine here, just not the right place for it I’m afraid. But we do have some excellent ports! Do you like port?”
“Of course!” We lied. It’s not that I don’t enjoy port. It’s just not what I normally go for. But, when in Rome!
To admit, we did try some delicious ports! They were smooth and sweet and as long as you think of them as solely desert wines, then they are delicious. Afterwards we tried the liqueurs: milky ones, honey flavored, rose petal flavored, they were all excellent and unique! And when all was said and done, we couldn’t leave without buying a small pack of something. It would have broken my heart to say no to this little old lady who was telling us the whole history of each thing we tried.
“Where are you staying in Oudtshoorn?” She asked as we were leaving.
“Oh we’re not, we are driving to Port Elizabeth.”
“Port Elizabeth!!!” She exclaimed. The way she said it you would have thought we’d told her we were driving to the moon. “But it’s so FAR! You still have 5 hours at least of driving ahead of you, and it will be dark when you get there. Don’t do that my dears, just stay here in Oudtshoorn. It’ll be much nicer. Wait. Ill get the name of a lovely little place to stay. It’s a youth hostel, you will love it. I’ve heard so many great things about it! Hold on right here a moment. Marylin! Marylin! How do you get to that youth hostel again?”
We stood there dumbfounded, not quite sure what was happening. Then she rushed back in to the room.
“Okay. Here we go. From my front gate you take a right, then a left then a right again at the main road. When you hit Oudtshoorn you will hit one light, then another then another. Then you will turn left and you will be in the vicinity. Okay? So right, left, right, one, two, three, left again and you are in the vicinity!” All this was explained to us with rapid hand movements from the right to the left.
“Okay, say it with me now. Right, left, right, one, two, three, left and you are in the vicinity!” For the rest of my life I will remember these directions. She was so precise with her movements, practically bouncing up and down with excitement as she explained the directions to the VICINITY of our supposed hostel. She was so cute I wanted to put her in my pocket and bring her to Port Elizabeth. But she thought we were going to Oudtshoorn, so that was out of the question.
We said goodbye and thanked her for the directions as we left “remember now, left, right…” We could hear her shouting to us as we walked out.
“So, Port Elizabeth?” Kelsi said
It was so lovely for her to give us directions, but we had already lost a day and had way too much to see. So we continued down the highway on our mission to PE.
It was just as she had said, about 5 hours later we reached the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, and it was dark. Maybe we didn’t entirely think this through. Driving up into a city we don’t know, in South Africa, without a place to stay and without a city map. Only retrospectively was this a bad idea. At the time, everything seemed totally normal.
Luckily for us, while we were in Victoria Falls, I found a travel book for backpackers in my room. It was all about South Africa and the places to stay along the way. It didn’t have maps, but it had one or two suggestions of places to stay with the vaguest directions I’ve ever heard. But it was something. I dragged that book around for a month, and it was finally going to come in handy!
Unfortunately, with zero city maps, finding anything was difficult. We stopped at a gas station just out of town to ask for directions.
“How do we get to the city center of Port Elizabeth?” We asked the attendant
“What?! You can’t go into the city at night!” He said
“Well we have to stay there tonight, we need to go”
“Okay” he said reluctantly, and he gave us some basic directions.
I was reading the guide book as Kelsi rounded the last bend before hitting downtown.
“Wait a second, these directions look much easier” I said “we could stay in the neighboring town of Summerstrand, avoid driving around the city, and wake up on the beachfront! And there’s the turn! Go right!”
So we pulled a quick right, found Summerstrand and a lovely cheap hostel for the night. Even in the night you could see how gorgeous the coastline was going to be in the morning. It was worlds better than aimlessly wandering the city streets for a place to stay, and a great way to end our first long drive of the trip.