South Africa

Hey!

It’s the average surfer just checking in for my first blog post.

After reading blogs galore for the past couple of weeks since I got back from a few travels, I thought hey why not- lets try one myself. I thought I’d write a blog for people like me who are kind of a bit lost when it comes to finding a career and unsure what direction to take in life. And those who are, as the name may entail, pretty average surfers at best but love the scene and surf travel.

If this is you, then read on…….

To give you a bit of background, I am mid to late twenties and working temp jobs and doing some travelling when and where I can.

I tried the career route as soon as I was out of uni, but after a year of working in a city I didn’t like in a desk job I thought- this isn’t it surely?! So with all self-realising moments which occur in the twenties, I had to move back home and work temp jobs to save up for travelling.

Now I know I am not the first to have one of these moments, and most definitely not the last, but it makes it nonetheless significant for me- as it really has changed the course of my life. I guess I am floating in between adventures at the moment, but I’m so glad I made the decision to leave that desk job, and I’m going to take my time in making sure I find a career that I really want.

So for my first post I thought I’d share with you a few of my experiences in South Africa. I’ve always wanted to go, as it always struck me as a place full of adventure and new experiences- which those of you who’ve done some of the regular travel routes will know is sometimes hard to find. In a world of Instagram and facebook, originality and true culture immersion is a difficult one, but I feel South Africa has the opportunity to show me a new and exciting part of the world which is away from the mainstream media.

When I first announced I had booked flights my friends and family, the common reaction I received was pretty much ‘you’re going to shot, robbed and carjacked (not necessarily in that order)’ but I’ll be honest from going over, if you use your common sense and instinct just like you would in any major city then you’ll see none of those things. I actually felt safer in Capetown than I did in Miami last year! And looking back on my time out there, I would move there at the drop of a hat.

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Hout Bay Harbour, Cape Town

Cape Town

 

So my first stop was as mentioned, Cape Town, also known as the ‘mother city’ of Africa. All I can say is = wow. Such an amazing city. The backpacking scene is really friendly and close knit, and there were way more people travelling than I expected seeing as it was off season. Uber literally made getting around easy as anything and way beyond cheap (15 minute taxi ride was £1). I stayed off Long Street (party central) in a cool place called ‘The Backpack’. I would recommend it to anyone, super clean and social and a bar and good cooking facilities. Even a cheeky swimming pool out back although it was way too cold when I was there.

So I won’t go too much into sightseeing details- as I will let you discover them for yourselves, but my favourite things were:

Climbing the Lion’s Head. although there are two routes- we accidentally took the advanced route up and were faced with metal rungs on a side of a very steep ledge….. so glad we found the regular way down!!

Camps Bay. Amazing. About 15 minute taxi from the centre, it’s a long sandy beach with bars and restaurants facing on to it. Whilst the water is icy cold as I believe it is Atlantic facing, its super nice and just at the end of the beach behind the dunes and big boulders there’s a cool surf spot with some cheeky set waves coming in. get in!

Seal snorkelling off Hout Bay. Hout Bay, as a side note, is an amazing little town tucked in the hills with seafood restaurants and diving/snorkelling opportunities. but literally, it smells SO BAD of rotting fish as there is a fish processing plant just up the bay. If you google it its quite interesting to read about. But yes, the seal snorkelling was ace- they take you out to seal island and you get about 45 minutes surrounded by seal pups and seals swimming under you, coming up to you trying to nick your fins. You are able to book this through your hostels.

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Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens – Cape Town

The Garden Route

After a week in Cape Town, I said my goodbyes and jumped on the Baz Bus for a trip up to Mossel Bay. The Baz Bus is a quality way of getting around the country safely and easily. You meet a great bunch of people, and end up bumping into the same people stop after stop which kind of highlights how close knit the scene is. It is a backpackers only minibus with cool drivers dishing out the banter left right and centre, and pick you up/drop you off to your hostel door so no midnight trecks through dodgy areas! I booked it all the way up to Durbs but you can get a return ticket or single legs etc. all the way from Capetown to Joburg.

Mossel Bay

My first stop on the garden route was Mossel Bay. Mossel is a cool little town with a nice seafront, and a sort of main strip with a few bars and shops. I imagine this place would be quality during the on season, but when I got to Mossel Bay backpackers I was literally the only person there…. good facilities though and had a sick brai area and bar. Later in the evening I met some people floating around and we played some pool and got battered on Black Label (cheap strong beer- this will be your lifeline in SA!) and spent the night in a biker bar up the road rinsing the juke box and just causing general havoc. The next day I went down early to the main surf spots just off town which were called ‘inner pool’ and ‘outer pool’. Inners had a bit of a wave but I noticed a rock which appeared about half way down the wave as people were riding it! It looked precarious, and as I am a pretty average surfer I thought- this might be more technical than it looks. After a visit up to a local surf shop which oddly enough only sold English wetsuits and gear, I found out this rock was nicknamed the peanut- and had caught out many surfers over the years!

Whilst I had a good time in Mossel, it was a bit too quiet for me there and I decided to jump on the baz the next day. I was itching to surf, and heard there were a few waves up the coast so I headed off to Wilderness…..

Wilderness

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Wilderness at Dawn

Wilderness is pretty much as cool as it sounds. Just off the freeway, it’s basically a long stretch of houses from one end of the beach to the other at the base of a giant cliff/hill thing, with a small town centre consisting of two or three bars, some rough and ready stalls selling pancakes and a convenience store. But wow, the beach was unbelievable! I got off the Baz bus about 4pm, and checked into this big old wooden hostel called the beach house. It was a couple of stories high, and gave the most incredible views of the surrounding area (see the cover pic of this post!). I straight away met a couple of fellow English people (some of the first I’d met all trip, wasn’t sure how I felt about this- I kind of liked being the only one!!) but I had such bad surf itch that I wanted to get in the water as soon as poss! The only board they had left at the hostel was this crumbly old foamie with two odd wooden planks sticking out the end (?!) and didn’t have a leash. But I didn’t care, I grabbed this and got in. The waves were great but the longer I stayed in I found out it was actually pretty rippy. I met a couple of French people out in the surf and spent about an hour or so pretty much getting battered, but I caught a few nice rides! Now, with my eagerness to get in to the surf whatever the conditions, I neglected to notice that there was literally no one else in the water. This is generally a bit of a sign in South Africa, especially if there are good waves, and as I later found out from one of the locals, it’s because this particular spot is as sharky as it gets along the garden route! Great. Turns out there are two river mouths running out at each end of the beach, and the current runs straight into the bay which is all a big recipe for a shark soup.

So flash back to the surf session, after about an hour or so I had decided to call it a day and paddled back to the shore. And then I saw it, this absolutely huge fin flicking around just beyond the impact zone…. Well naturally I bricked it, and started waving and pointing to one of the French guys that was still in the water. I’ve never seen someone move so fast when he saw it too, and a few seconds later he was standing next to me too watching it. We saw it motor around for about 2 or three minutes, and then it breached. It was a whale!! And an absolute monster at that! I still kind of can’t believe it, and it was an awesome sight. We went back up to the top of the hostel to watch it for the next half an hour as it swam off into the distance.

I stayed in Wilderness for about 5 days in total, and it is one of my favourite places ever. Again I don’t want to give too much away, as I want you to go and see it! But one little adventure I will mention is the abandoned railway line leading around the cliffs. This is a must! But go in a group (the signs will tell you why). When you go through the long railway tunnel and come out the other side, the view is unbelievable. Oh, and say hi to the people that live in the cave! You’ll find out about that….

Jeffries Bay

So those of you that may have travelled South Africa before will be screaming at this point, ‘Wilderness to Jeffries?! What about Knysna and the Crags!’ well these places looked absolutely amazing, and I will most definitely go back! But I had such bad surf envy, and especially coming from England, I just wanted to get in and amongst it at the world famous J of bays. Not that I would have ever been able to surf supertubes, as that is way beyond my current skill (unfortunately!) but I heard there were so many different sections and spots which were great for beginners and intermediates too.

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I arrived to Jbay quite late at night, it was the second to last stop on the bus which ran to Port Elizabeth and I was pretty shattered after about 8 or 9 hours crashed out on the backseat of the bus. I was staying at a hostel called Island Vibes, which came highly recommended from many other travellers heading the other way towards Capetown, as it was good social and right on the beach. They were right! Once I’d dropped by bags off and sorted my bunk, I went into the huge bar area they had and immediately ran into people I’d met in Capetown, Mossel Bay and Wilderness. I would say what are the chances, but again the scene is so close knit I had kind of expected it by that point! So even though I was hoping to have a few evenings off the Windhoek Beers, I ended up playing beer pong until about three am, finally calling it a night after losing to the barman about three times in a row (apparently he plays every night, what was I thinking). So day one finally I was in the surf! There wasn’t a huge swell going and the big spots like tubes and boneyards weren’t working, but they were quite far down the beach (about a half an hour walk) so I didn’t mind. I surfed on main beach and tagged along with one of the hostel lessons which was alright, I quickly found my feet on these ways and I was amazed at the wave periods – 16 seconds plus! On the second day a couple of us and the surf instructor headed out early to Kitchen Windows, which was a reef break right in front of the hostel. I have to admit I was slightly nervous because this was the first time I’d surfed a reef break before, and it turned out to have its ups and downs! The waves were about 3-5ft 16 second wave periods with no wind whatsoever, and were peeling beautifully as I watched them from the beach. When I was in the lineup (it was dead, I think people were holding off for the massive swell later in the week) and even though I had a 9ft single fin long board, at first I was finding it hard catching the waves- I was paddling so hard that my shoulders would just burn out and I ended up floating over the back of them which was frustrating. After about half an hour though I got the hang of the wave, and I caught my first ride. I took it and cruised left. I moved up and down the wave, then had a great exit dive at the end! What a wave! After that I was catching some great waves, although I remember one I took a pounding, and I ended up right in the middle of the reef. As the water drained away and left me standing on basically a big slab of rock with a wave heading my way, it was one of those ‘oh shit!!’ moments. I can’t remember exactly how I got out of it, but lets just say the fin on the rental board was about an inch shorter when I handed it back….

I ended up surfing all week and had such a good time. I 100% recommend Jeffries Bay, the social was good although town was a bit dodgy- was probably the only place on the Garden Route I felt was a bit sketchy. It might have been me being over cautious, but I received numerous warnings from staff about which areas to stay away from, and we were told not to go to the right on the beach because there were a number of muggings recently. But yeah, a must visit- and Island Vibes is the one! And there is a quality restaurant about half way to tubes which serves the meanest portion of meat I have ever seen on a long skewer hanging over a massive amount of chips. I’ve never been that full before in my life!

The remainder of my trip was a bit hurried, I stopped in Port Elizabeth for a night- I was two roads up from the beach but it was so foggy I couldn’t see further than about 10 metres ahead of me! I then decided to fly up to Durban (skipped the Wild Coast as was running short of time- it looks amazing though!!!) where I spent my last couple of nights. I stayed first at Anstey’s Beach which was apparently an excellent surf spot and super chilled. Unfortunately, a storm hit and the surf was unrideable, and to make it worse I was the only person in the entire hostel and there was next to no mobile reception. I decided to move into the centre of town for my last day, and visited the waterpark and the ‘biggest mall in Africa’ (was pretty big!). I think I’d like to go back to Durbs at some point and really experience the surf scene, however I might plan it a bit better and check the forecasts first before flying up.

So there you have it! I flew out of Durban and back to England. I’ve missed quite a bit out but I will let you discover things if you head out!! I am absolutely going to go back there soon, Safari’s and shark diving are on my agenda. It’s such a diverse and picturesque place with super friendly people, and as I said further up I really would move there in a heartbeat!

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