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Getting in a car with virtually no plan in sight is a luxury in which few of us seem to indulge these days.  With limited vacation time, today’s traveler seems to plan every minute of their trip, making sure they make the best out of every moment.  During our 30 days on the road in South Africa, we’ve felt like we’ve been on a different trip from the prior 9 months.  Having our own wheels has allowed us to avoid the stresses of booking flights, boarding buses and trains and following the schedules of the transportation industry.   It’s been a refreshing change.
Sunset from our balcony in Knysner
The last week has been one of the highlights of our road trip.  After finishing our hike along the Wild Coast, our only future obligation was to catch a flight out of Cape Town 9 days later.  So we hit the road and started heading down the coast.  The South Africa tourism industry has named the 300 or so miles of coastline east of Cape Town the “Garden Route.”  While there is a notable absence of gardens along the route, the scenery is stunning – steep, majestic mountains just a few miles from an endless stretch of empty, white-sand beaches.
Surfers at "Supertubes" in Jeffrey's Bay
Our first stop on our drive was Jeffrey’s Bay, world-famous for its surfing.  Surfers from around the world come to J-Bay to test their skills on the massive waves that consistently pound its shores.  Although neither of us surfs (a fact that pains us both), we wanted to see talented surfers in action.  The next morning, we walked down to “Supertubes,” a particularly famous surfing beach – it’s said to play home to the “perfect wave” – near our hostel.  We’d picked a good time to be there – dozens of surfers were busy putting the guys in Point Break to shame.

Full of envy, we loaded up the car and drove west until arrived at a coastal town called Knysna.  With the help of our guidebook and our cell phone, we were able to find an amazing hotel right on the Knysna lagoon for a fantastic low-season price. 1  With an incredible view of the lagoon right from our hotel balcony, we felt very little incentive to stray far from our room.
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After a couple of days doing virtually nothing in Knysna, we continued to head east toward Cape Town.  While we had planned on going to Hermanus for a cage-dive with great white sharks, it was cancelled due to windy weather.  We called an audible (something you can’t really do without your own car) and headed to Franshhoek.  Set in a valley surrounded by mountains, Franshhoek is famous for the superb wine made in the area and shipped around the world.  Again, we consulted or guidebook, negotiated low-season discounts and found ourselves in a top-notch hotel for a very reasonable price.  We spent the next day touring some of the local vineyards and having a couple of meals at world-class restaurants that cost a fraction of what they would back home.  I’m not sure either of us has ever been this relaxed…

  1. For anyone considering a trip to South Africa, we would highly recommend visiting in May or June – the low season here.  The prices are much lower than the rest of the year and you’ll have pretty much everything to yourself; in many cases, we’ve been the only people in hotels and national parks that are completely full during the rest of the year.  The inexplicable part is that we’re not sure why this is the low season – the weather is fantastic (not too hot or cold), there’s no rain, it’s the best time to see wildlife and the most ideal time to scuba dive. []