Tuesday, February 7, 2012

South Africa Day 11 - Prince Alfred and the Garden of Eden

Had a bit of a lay in for a change before descending to the breakfast hall for a leisurely repast. I decided to go for a cooked breakfast as I hadn’t had one for a couple of days, unfortunately it was rubbish. Insipid, shiny skinned sausages, vapid, mushy tomatoes and bacon that looked like it had been part of a well loved shoe before being poached in oil and making the journey onto my plate. As it lolled there unctuously dripping grease into the yellow, watery fluid leaking from the scrambled eggs, I watched the ensuing slick unfold and realised I did not have much of an appetite.

I’m being a bit harsh of course, but I think all this high living had got the better of me, I was actually missing a basic, honest to goodness bowl of cereal. How these fabulously wealthy people manage to get through their quails eggs, smoked salmon and caviar muffins, all washed down with bucks fizz and martini chasers every morning, for that is what rich people do of course, I have absolutely no idea.

So after snacking on a couple of pastries we high tailed it out of Knysna and shepherded our metal steed towards Prince Alfred Pass. This road, built by the pass marvel himself, Thomas Bain, was finished in 1867 and covers about 70km of winding, mountain conquering terrain and is considered one of his finest achievements. Taking about 4 years to build, with it’s precision dry walling and expertly contoured carriageway, snaking their way through a seemingly impassable range, it stands pretty much as it was when completed nearly 150 years ago.

The very pass itself

We had planned to do the pass, grab some lunch and then go for a decent walk in the afternoon as we fancied some fresh air and a bit of exercise. The day didn’t turn out exactly as we had planned of course. We hadn’t bargained on how long it would take to traverse this bit of rural highway.

It was a lovely road and offered amazing views, not that we always got to see them as the clouds were hanging pretty low, but goodness me did it take a long time to cross. Two hours in and we were thinking we must be near the end soon, how much longer would this road go on? Time was ticking by and we had things we wanted to do after this, plus our stomachs were gently informing us that a good lunch should be on the cards very shortly, or there would be a certain amount of direct protest in store.

View from the pass
It was then, out the corner of my eye I saw a sign post, I read it as we went past, then had to back up and get out the car to read it again a bit closer, just to be sure. It cheerfully told us we had reached the peak of Prince Alfred’s finest. The peak being of course the top, which was nice of course, to be at the top of the pass, the views were good, or they would have been if there wasn’t so much cloud. But rather more pressingly, due to the nature of mountain passes, as in they pass over mountains, and mountains by their very nature tend to peak in the middle, ergo the pass would also peak in the middle, meant we had only got half way along.

I returned to the car in some consternation, it wasn’t a bad road to be spending time on of course, far from it, the lush, rolling, pine covered hills were a delight, if there was a contest between roads, based on their exquisite comeliness, then this one would be the prize fighter and could easily knock its opponents out the ring and be back in the hotel for hookers and steroids before the rest of them knew what day of the week it was. But, all the same, this wasn’t the best news I’d had.

At the top of the pass, pretty much in the clouds
By the time we reached the other end the day was well into its stride, unfortunately this end of the road was not in any place we wanted to be, To get where we had planned to go, which was where we had also come from, would either mean going back along the pass, which wasn’t an option or take the main road, which so was. So with our stomachs making their feelings on our alarming negligence towards them abundantly clear, we pulled out onto the highway with a view to shortly getting some provisions at our destination.

A few hundred yards down the road was a sign pointing us towards our journey’s ambition. It also informed us it was 150km away. Heavy silence descended upon us and continued throughout the journey, punctuated only by the startled warblings from within, signifying frightful displeasure at our atrocious behaviour no doubt.

From the pass again, the clouds were still with us
Back at Knysna and after a late, hasty lunch of mince in a pancake, which strangely enough, wasn’t as good as it sounds, we drove to a nearby national park, which for the life of me I can’t remember the name of, to get some late afternoon walking done. After driving down the steep winding track towards the coast we ended up at the parking area, which we had to ourselves due to the lateness of the day, and noticed a sign for a lookout, so we dutifully sent the car viewpoint bound. Well it was certainly a sight to be reckoned with, looking out from the cliffs over a rocky and dramatic coastline.

We would have stopped to admire the view longer except that the dark, ominous clouds made good their threat and decided to heave the their contents earth bound as though they were embarrassed to be seen with so much water. After getting slightly soaked I guided the car through the undergrowth back to the main trail and expedited our course back up the mud road before it became a mud slide.

Our plans well and truly scuppered, we headed back to Knysna by way of a quick detour around The Garden of Eden. which was a lot better than I thought actually. The thick canopy kept most of the rain at bay and along the two short boarded trails a lot of the plants were well labelled which, along with the various information posts, made the walk quite interesting. It was certainly good to see a few blackstinkwoods up close, they are quite bizarre trees to look at, shame there are hardly any left, a whole forest would be quite an experience.

So it was not quite the wilderness hike we were after, we hadn’t reckoned our only exercise of the day would be along a trail that boasted of being wheelchair friendly, but we were out of options, the rain was getting harder and the day was getting later so we made our way back to the hotel. But all that rain did produce a lovely rainbow, which was nice.

The beauty of a double rainbow over a generic hotel compound, timeless.
That evening we went to the Anchorage restaurant which was, as I’m sure is obvious, a haven for the bounty of the sea, which I duly had my fill of, and it was a triumph. So a first-class end to the day and no mistake. Hurrah!

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