Monthly Archives: May 2014

THE GARDEN ROUTE

Image “It’s too bad you’re working,” Heinie said in the morning. “We’re going on an all-expenses paid promotional tour of the Garden Route to Plettenberg, coming back tomorrow evening. We’ll be staying at Wild Spirit Backpackers.”

Damn, I thought. “Yeah, that is too bad.”

I was covering for Henry who had called in sick. One of those, ‘I’m not even supposed to be here’ days. Fortunately, Gerrie changed some things around and within two minutes I had packed an overnight bag and jumped into the van.

 

“Roadtrip!” was called out as Nina and Tim, Stefan, Ian (who had travelled from Cape Town to Dublin on a Vespa.

A Vespa!) and Malcom, a DJ who blew my musical mind at the Sedgefield Trance Party a few weekends ago settled into the van.

The drive to Plettenberg would take us east about two hours, crossing the Hartenbos River, Klien-brak River, Groot-brak River. Going through George, past Wilderness, Island Lake (which has a snake infestation problem), Swartvlei Lake, Sedgefield, Groenvlei Lake, crossing the Goukamma River, the Knysna River (pronounced: ‘Niz-na’) and through the picturesque town of the same name with its dark lagoon before making the final stretch to hit the seaside town of Plettenberg Bay. We turned off-road to head up into the mountains to Wild Spirit, a backpackers unlike any I’ve ever heard of yet alone seen.P1100461

This place was smack-bang in the middle of the forest, had a horse ranch with horses, a view point called God’s Window, tree houses and viewing platforms in the trees, waterfalls, forest hikes, rivers, streams and creeks, a classic British taxi, an amazing dinner, live music, an indoor and outdoor fireplace, a couple of guitars and djembes, 3 dogs, one child and quite the library to use as a book exchange.

P1100387The brothers, Heinie and Gerrie attended a meeting regarding all the activities offered on the Garden Route, a colourful journey on the N2 Highway that starts in Mossel Bay and goes all the way to St Johns. It’s a green route full of waterways, forests, surf beaches at the foot of majestic mountain ranges and some pretty laid-back people.

While they conferenced the rest of the road gang were free to hike and play so we headed off to the waterfall.

The day was grey and the ground wet so I knew my flip-flops would slip ‘n’ slide every which way taking me along for the ride so I opted for my favourite form of footwear – barefoot. I slowly trekked through the forest full of huge trees hundreds of years old, crossing brooks and streams before we reached the rock pool with what appeared to be a 12-foot waterfall trickling down over the rocks it had smoothed out over the course of millions of years.

Malcolm had brought a didgeridoo and sat at the banks of the rock pool and proceeded to play it. I’ve never heard the didge played in a forest setting. With the backing band composed of singing birds, chirping insects, rustling branches, falling leaves, the orchestra was set and we chilled by the waterfall, listening to the sounds.

It was mind-tingling.P1100463

We hiked back to the backpackers and headed off to see the view from God’s Window where a bench, made from fallen branches was waiting to be sat on. The bench was about as comfortable as sitting on a nail cushion. Luckily, the view was just as amazing from lying in the grass.

We clambered up a tree house, accidentally disturbing a couple in the hammock before we continued on to see the Big Tree. We passed a couple of horses on the way that weren’t shy of humans. They even enjoyed licking the sweat-salt off the palms of our hands.

I don’t think I’ve ever been licked by a horse before.

The Big Tree is a short hike into the forest to a 900-year-old Yellowood beast of a tree.

900. Years. Old.

The rock at the bottom instructed that the tree needed a hug. I could barely bring my arms half-way around the ancient trunk.

P1100505“Think about the amount of animals that this tree has seen evolving, devolving, becoming extinct and the weather it’s had to endure,” I said aloud, feeling the energy one gets from hugging a tree.

The tree was so old and high that some of its branches had met the ground, sprouted roots and had formed themselves into their own trees.

The power of nature never ceases to amaze me.

 

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We headed over to the Magic Forest hike, a 45-minute circular route through crooks and crannies, over brooks and streams, under sky-high trees, some riddled with termite tunnels that resembled ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. We came across another rock pool where we chilled for a bit. Stefan noticed that the water trickling from the rock to the pool over the green algae-like moss seemed to illuminate a florescent colour fit for a bush-rave dance floor.

Heading towards 15:00, we returned to the backpackers to meet up with Gerrie and Heinie and check in to our dorm room. We then drove down to the town of Plettenberg Bay to eat a P1100623 burger at the Peppermill Restaurant (which neither grows peppers or has a mill) but is situated opposite an Angora Goat farm.

Angora goats look like a cross between a sheep and a goat (like when an Aussie breeds with a Kiwi). They have the body and wool (called ‘mohair’) of a sheep and head and face of a goat. They still carry the same ‘Deh…’ look on their face though (like when George W. Bush is asked something simple like, “How old are you?”).

 

 

A stall offered samples of Mampoer liquor which had to be one of the most harshest things I’ve ever introduced to my liver, even worse than Stroh Rum but not as strong. The chilli one was by far something that not even a well-seasoned vodka-drinking Russian would be able to stand.

“It should be served in ice-cold glasses,” informed the rep.

It shouldn’t be served at all, I thought as I washed away the bad taste with a beer (I burped half an hour later and the flavour was like Jesus – resurrected).

With lunch done (I had a veggie falafel burger which was pretty good) we headed back to Wild Spirit. Dinner was an all-you-can-eat-buffet – my favourite kind. I have a reputation that, although I’m athletically built, I can eat like a liberated POW. Not that I was out to prove anything to anyone but on my second plate questions asking, “Where do you put it all?” started to rise.

“My hair,” I said. “I think.”

We sat around the outdoor fireplace, drinking beer and wine and shooting the chilly breeze as the freezing mountain cold frosted anything that wasn’t properly layered, including myself. For the evening’s entertainment, a live performance was provided by an electric guitar player named Ben. He was the loop-pedal master, hooking up different effects pedals and playing on an 8-string guitar.

I’ve never seen an 8-string guitar before.

“It has two bass strings and then the normal six strings of a guitar,” Ben explained after an amazing looped set playing originals and some covers. On the last few songs I was so drawn by the music that I found myself beating a rhythm on the empty wooden chair beside me.

Still sitting around the fire, the didgeridoo came out and Stefan blew a rhythm while I drummed on the djembe. I meet an American who I jammed with on guitar at the indoor fireplace. Just past midnight I tapped out and headed to bed.

Our dorm was on the top floor of the last building and the space was shared by a small family of bats. The sign read, ‘They might fly around the room at night but are harmless.’ A true Wild Spirit experience.

The next day we had breakfast, complimentary bread with a selection of jams, fresh fruit and coffee or tea. We headed down to Plett and then to a beach called The Waves.P1100635

The name pretty much explains itself as I stared, jaw-dropped at the water. Crossing the Mozambique Channel I had encountered (and felt the wrath) of 12-14 foot waves. But what I was staring at was some of the biggest waves I have ever seen breaking onto a beach. They looked to be tsunami-sized although probably no more than 10-foot.

And boy, did they thunder when they rolled. And then Heinie came up with a brilliant idea.

“Let’s bush dive,” he said, peering into a bush by the beach. Confirming that it was clear and, like George, was nothing but bush, he took a running start to somersault his way into the plant, flattening it.

After Stefan jumped in, Heinie urged me to follow suit. “Get in on this, bro!”

P1100651I opted to jump off the braai and land, back first onto a bush yet demolished by the boys. That was the easy part. The hard part was to get myself out. And noticing the bricks, pieces of concrete and metal, I could only thank karma for not killing me.

Always check before bush-diving.

On the way to a restaurant called Lookout Deck, we stopped to admire a futuristic, self-sustaining home that looked like something from The Jetsons.

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The Lookout Deck in Plett was right on the beach, atop where the Piesang River used to follow before the changing tides shifted the river mouth.

We had fun saying the name in a Kiwi accent so it sounded like we were saying, “The Lookout Dick.” The jokes got dirtier from that point, and throw in an early lunch of a beer keg, it was cut-loose from then on.

From the lunch we drove back west, stopping in Knysna at the point where the river meets the Indian Ocean known as Knysna Heads, notorious for boats to enter yet few still brave it.

P1100739Lunch was on the banks of the river, still black water barely moving, reflecting the rail bridge, horse ranch and scenic, undisturbed lands while Cormorants flew about as we paddled on a bike-paddle boat and a conventional paddle boat.

We headed up to Sedgefield, where I had attended my first South African bush doof a few weeks back, to watch the sunset. We ended up at the launch-pad for para-gliders. Sedgefield spread out a few hundred feet below us, a dark river snaking through it.

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We drove back down and stopped to check out a classics car dealer. It was odd to find such a dealership in the middle of the Garden Route in a small seaside town. They had some classics from the 30s up to the 50s.

The sunset escorted us back to Mossel Bay as I dozed in and out of the hazy dream that my life had become.

It was good to be back where Sunday has a prediction of 18-foot swell.

P1100840Some things are meant to be seen from the beach.

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YEAR ONE

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A year ago I left everything I ever knew of my life and drove out in the dark morning of an autumn Melbourne sunrise, heading towards a clichéd unknown destiny.

A year on the road (and 5 months at sea) living out of my backpack, escorted by my guitar (the surfboard I had started out with I donated to Soul Surf Project in Bali) and a daypack – my world had expanded beyond the complexities of western society.

In this past year I met the most amazing people I have ever crossed paths with (besides the amazing people already in my life). I did things I have never ever dreamed of doing like hitch-hiking in Asia, catching sailing boats to cross the seas in the off-season (also known as cyclone season). I explored deserted islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, rode motorbikes in suicidal Asian traffic and partied hard on beaches, in bars, clubs and private homes.

I slept in hammocks in the Malaysian jungle, woke up in a car park in Bangkok, did some contortioning yoga in Thailand, swam with sharks in Chagos, swam in 4,000 meters of water, saw dolphins at sunrise and sunset. Saw mind-tripping bio luminous plankton, more stars than in an astronomers wet dream and witnessed some of the most breath-taking sunsets known to man.

12 months, 10 countries, countless of adventures and that cemented feeling of never returning to a ‘normal’ life-style.

This is me for the rest of my days. Thanks to everyone that hosted me and helped me along the way. Before I start my two-year (thereabouts) hitch-hiking expedition across Africa to the Middle East, here’s a quick summary of the year gone by:

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Number of Countries Visited – 10

Number of Islands Visited – 22

Number of Mountains conquered – 6

Number of Boats Sailed – 12

Number of Bodies of Water Crossed – 2 – The Timor Sea and the Indian Ocean

Furthest Distance Covered by Land – 5,400 KM (driving from Melbourne to Darwin through the Outback, Australia)

Furthest Distance Covered by Sea – 4,000 nautical miles (7,408 KM, crossing the Indian Ocean from Thailand to South Africa)

Number of Storms Encountered at Sea – 9

Number of Shitting Bricks Moments at Sea 3

Number of Fish Caught – 5

Number of Fish Hooked but then Escaped – 8

Number of Times Hit by Flying Fish – 1

Number of Motorbikes Ridden – 8

Number of Motorbike Accidents – 3

Number of Motorbike Accidents where I was at Fault – 2

Number of Surf Spots Surfed – 6

Favourite Conservation Project – MYCAT – Tiger Conservation, Malaysia

Number of Leeches – 17

Number of Leeches that Sucked Me Dry – 3

Favourite Surf Spot – Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa

Number of Near-death Experiences – 3
– Any bus ride\road crossing in Asia
– Surfing Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia
– Stung by Portuguese Man O’War in the middle of the Indian Ocean

Number of Food Poisonings – 1 (Madagascar)

Number of Jellyfish Stings – 3 (Portuguese Man O’War)

Number of Dinghies Stolen – 1 (Madagascar)

Number of Sandals Stolen – 1 (Madagascar – they were in the dinghy)

Number of Sunglasses Lost – 3 (Timor Sea and Indian Ocean)

Number of iPhones Lost 1 (Timor Sea)

Number of Parties Attended – 31… I think

Number of Parties Remembered – 20… I think

Number of Acid Trips – 2 (Sri Lanka – trippy, South Africa – mellow)

Favourite Word for ‘thank you’ – Stoo-tie (Singahlese, Sri Lanka)

Favourite Word for ‘you’re welcome’ – Suma-suma (Indonesian)

Favourite Word for ‘sweet as’ – Lekker (Afrikaans, South Africa)

Number of Sponsors – 3 – Ticket to the Moon (Bali, Indonesia) supplying a travel hammock
North Ridge (South Africa) supplying a 65L backpack
Source (Israel) supplying hiking sandals and a 3L water bag

Favourite Alcoholic Beverage – Coconut liquor (known as Arak), Sri Lanka

Best Weed – Sri Lanka

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Australia, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Northern Territory, Sailing, Singapore, South Africa, South Australia, Sri Lanka, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

FIRST INTERVIEW WITH SUBSITE HR

FIRST INTERVIEW WITH SUBSITE HR

My first interview for an online travel magazine – in Croatia. The English version is at the bottom of the page.

Enjoy

Categories: Adventure Travel, Sailing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

EPICALLY AWESOME

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© Steve Hooper, 2014

I paddled back out after the third wave I took as Marri called out from the white wash and pointed to the dolphin that dropped in on Anrigch’s wave. We were the only three at the secret spot that no one really surfs just outside Mossel Bay’s harbour.

 

 

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© Steve Hooper, 2014

 

Seal Island (also known as ‘Shark’s Kitchen) was further out than when we surf at Dias Beach. From Dias, you can actually see the seals, all 4,000 of them. It’s also the highest concentration of Great White Sharks in the world and where shark cage-diving tours occur.

“Have you done it yet?” guests would ask me.

“No,” I answer. “I have no need to see teeth that close and have that image in my head every time I go out for a surf.”

That and they bait the sharks, depriving them of the much needed energy the animal uses to actually hunt its prey.

I had reached the sleepy town of Mossel Bay, a former whaling town, almost a month ago, responding to an email from the Mossel Bay Backpackers and Garden Route Adventure Centre. I was accepted into their internship program and got a job in exchange for a bed and some food allowance (which really goes to beer).

My job description? Socialise and be merry with the guests. Tend the bar, sell activities like the world’s highest commercial bungee jump from a bridge (216 meters) at Bloukrans, sky dive from 10,000 feet with the Mossel Bay Sky Diving Centre, walk with lions at Botlierskop Game Lodge or ride the longest sand dune in South Africa (320 meters) known as the Dragon Dune.

P1090831I also play guitar around the fire I build in the evenings or play pool with the guests or show them around town, down to the point where the Khoi San Cave is located underneath the lighthouse. It was here that archaeologists reckon man first started fishing from the sea about 200,000 years ago.

If they really feel up to it, I can also escort guests on the 13km St Blaize trail along the cliffhugging coast, through the Pinnacle Golf Resort (where the sign reads, ‘watch out for flying golf balls’. I had to duck on my hike), passing the Pinnacle Caves on the way to Dana Bay (where I hitched a ride back to Mossel Bay with a lovely elderly woman).P1090926

Mossel Bay is the beginning of the famous Garden Route which ends (or begins, depending which side you start from) at Jeffery’s Bay (home to the longest right wave).

It reminds me of Lorne in Victoria, Australia, one of the few places I’ve really felt I can call home (almost sold my soul to the devil for a mortgage there).

P1090990The two major surf spots that provide consistent swell are called the Inner Pool (where I pulled a groin muscle my first week) and the Outer Pool (where you really gotta know what you’re doing to not land on the rocks). Both spots are rock and reef but pump out some barrels heading right. Both spots are a short walk from the Mossel Bay Backpackers (a family establishment that’s been around for 21 years).

For beginners, there’s Dias Beach, named after Bartholomew Dias, the Portuguese explorer who landed here some five hundred years ago in 1488 (he drowned in a huge storm shortly after the discovery).

Mossel Bay became a thriving whaling town where whales would be hunted right in the bay. South Africa was the first country to pass a law that protected whales somewhere back in 1935 as the killing spree of the marine mammals was in the tens of thousands over a decade. By the 60s whale hunting was banned and the town’s whaling factories were shut down. Now it’s a thriving resort town in summer and a quiet ghost town in winter.

The three main places to go out are Café Havanna [that do an awesome Mexican lunch for R45 ($4.50 AUD)], Patricks and The Windmill (in that order). My first weekend in Mossel Bay is a blur thanks to a local product called Stroh Rum which is 80% proof (I believe it is used to kill the Anthrax virus and initiate new-comers). It only takes one shot to wipe out your memory (which is why this is all I have on that night).IMG_3980

The Dias Museum complex will give you the full history of the town. It also contains the aquatic and shell exhibitions and a life-size replica of Bartholomew’s boat (and a smaller model made entirely of icing sugar. Don’t ask).

Without sounding bias, Mossel Bay Backpackers is the place to stay while in Mossel Bay. The family vibe, chilled atmosphere, the pool, the huge kitchen, Miloo the Border Collie pup, Roxy the 15-year-old Golden Retriever, the drunk Jenga games, the drunk pool games (as in billiards).

P1090871The coast line is breath taking, full of Dassies (a rock beaver-type mammal that lives in colonies) on the rocky coast line, the huge waves that break on the huge rocks and the people, well they’re just fucking awesome.

 

 

 

 

Mossel Bay claims to have the most moderate climate in the world, second only to Hawaii. Sure the days are warm but with winter comingP1090985 along, the temperature drops as soon as the pink sunset disappears behind the Outeniqua mountain range.

 

But with consistent surf and awesome vibe, what’s a little ball-freezing temperature?

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Reviews, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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