Tag Archives: Garden Route

Surf, sand and slums: Jeffreys Bay isn’t as ‘swell’ as I’d hoped

If you asked a surfer where he’d like to go in South Africa, he’d probably answer, “Jeffreys Bay”, followed by some incomprehensible babble along the lines of, “Totally tubular hang ten, duuuude!” That’s because Jeffrey’s Bay is widely regarded as the greatest surf spot on the planet, and is a place of pilgrimage for people who enjoy splashing around on lengths of wood.

I’m not a surfer, though, so J-Bay doesn’t hold the same appeal for me. The truth is that despite being a popular backpacker stop, there’s not much to do here if you don’t surf. The beaches are pleasant but certainly not spectacular, there aren’t any great hikes or strange animals, and the town itself is rundown and risky. I was warned not to walk outside my hostel, or to head down to the beach, even in the day. There’s a township right next to the main town, and cows and poor people lurk around every corner. In fact, a bloke who was staying in the same hostel as me was bashed to death just outside the front gate a few years ago.

In typical South African fashion, there’s a perfectly safe area just a few kilometres away. Paradise Beach doesn’t quite live up to its name – there are a dozen prettier beaches on the NSW Central Coast alone – but it is a nice place to relax. The water’s cold as shit, though, and my wiener was as small as Kevin Rudd’s after going for a dip. Alright, that’s an exageration, but there was severe shrinkage.

To end the day, I explored an abandoned penguin sanctuary in a poorly-maintained national park. I couldn’t find any penguins, and the hiking trails nearby were overrun and littered with used condoms and freaky empty shacks, so I left. After the natural joys of Stellenbosch, Mossel Bay, Plettenberg and Tsitsikamma, Jeffreys Bay has been a bit of a letdown, so I might head inland and chase some elephants in my dorky little Hyundai. What could possibly go wrong?

A baboon with a view

Of all the monkeys in the world, the baboon is definitely the sexiest. Sure, some people prefer orangutans, and gibbons certainly have their charms, but baboons really know how to turn on the charm and flaunt their simian sexiness. I’ve seen plenty of beautiful ‘boons loitering by the side of the ride as I’ve ruised through South Africa, so I headed to a place that’s crawling with the cute critters.

The Tsitsikamma National Park clings to the rugged coastline between Plettenberg and Port Elizabeth, and is a stunning part of the world. There are windswept beaches and dense forests and hiking trails galore. It’s a truly remote area, but there are plenty of comfortable cottages and lodges to sleep in, restaurants and shops, so it would be a top place to stay for a night or a week. Hell, I could see myself moving there if I met the right baboon.

The most popular walk in the park is the Suspension Bridge Trail which, not surprisingly leads to a series of suspension bridges. It’s an easy one-kilometre stroll, but takes in some stunning coastline. But that all pales into insignificance compared to what’s at the end of the trail – a whole beach full of baboons! The place was absolutely crawling with the sensual beasts, and I raced over to check them out.

It was a unique feeling to be walking amongst the proud primates in their own environment, instead of in a zoo. I guess it’s how foreigners feel when they see kangaroos in the wild. They were climbing through trees, eating food and rooting each other only metres from where I stood. Walking with animals, rather than staring at them in cages, is such a special thing to do. I found it to be a truly unique and awe-inspiring experience, and just another example of why Africa is such a magical place.

Unfortunately, the serenity was spoilt when an obese Russian man named Igor (his identity given away by his unappealing wife, who kept on squealing, “Igor! Igor! Igor!”) trundled across the suspension bridge whilst shouting, “Boonba! Boonba!” I’m not sure whether that’s the Russian word for baboon, or if he just fucked up the name because he’s a dunce, but I suspect the latter. He blundered onto the beach, waving his arms around and trying to chase the poor monkeys, who started screeching at him.

Bloody Igor was ruining the day and I was worried he’d scare off the ‘boons, but they weren’t having any of his shit. The biggest monkey let out a high-pitched shriek and baboons poured out of the trees, surrounding Igor and causing a massive commotion. Igor’s first reaction was to wet his pants; his second was to race back over the suspension bridge while screaming “Boonba! Boonba!”, and almost causing the rickety structure to collapse into the clear blue waters below. What a dickhead.

Oh, and the baboons have the ugliest blurters I’ve ever seen – and having worked at The Picture for the best part of a decade, I’ve seen some crook arses. Seriously, someone needs to get those monkeys a few tubes of Rectinol.

I ended my extraordinary trip to Tsitsikamma with a hike along the mountainous Blue Duiker Trail, which took me through dense forest that was full of birds and looked almost identical to the National Parks back home. Seriously, when I looked around I could’ve been in Girrakool (actually, that would’ve been a good thing, because I could’ve headed home to get some fresh undies. I’ve been rotating the same three pairs for a fortnight and I’m getting funny looks). It was a very pretty walk, and no one else was along it, so it really felt like I was out in the wilderness.

The park also offers the 44km Otter Trail, but it apparently takes five days to traverse and I’m politically opposed to otters, so I gave it a miss. There are comfortable cabins at regular intervals along it, so I’d definitely like to come back and conquer that trail one day. With so many breathtaking places, South Africa is a country that would take a lifetime to explore, and every single moment of it would be a joy.

Check out my Mossels

With no idea where to head next on my tour of South Africa, i decided to ask the campy owner of my hotel in Stellenbosch if he had any recommendations.
“Muscled gay,” he replied saucily, while licking his lips.
“I appreciate the compliment of my chiseled physique,” I replied, “but I was hoping you could point me towards a nice place to stay tonight.”
“Yes, Mossel Bay. Mossel Bay! And don’t flatter yourself, I’ve seen bigger biceps on penguins.”
So that’s how I ended up in the beautiful fishing village of Mossel Bay.

The 300km drive from Stella took me through monstrous canyons, across barren wastelands that are almost identical to the Aussie outback, and past some of the poorest towns I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to tell whether a town has a white population or not – they’re the ones with big shopping centres, nice schools, and neat houses. Towns that are entirely black or coloured look like something out of an apocalyptic nightmare. The disparity between rich and poor is astonishing.

It was pissing down and freezing cold by the time I arrived in Mossel Bay, so I did the only thing worth doing in weather like that – I got pissed. After glugging a bottle of cheap wine in my room, I headed into town with only $11 on me. I found a dive bar and immediately discovered that $11 goes a long way in this town, because longnecks of a local beer called Black Label (alcohol content 5.5%) only cost $3. As I got hammered, I had a look around at the locals, who are an unfortunate-looking lot. There are some incredibly rough heads in Mossel Bay, and I reckon a bit of inbreeding goes on here. Just don’t tell them I said that, because the locals seem as if punching on is their second favourite hobby after rooting their sisters.

I was feeling a bit rough in the morning, so I took a walk around  town to shake off the hangover. There are some fantastic old buildings, but overall Mossel Bay isn’t a particularly pretty town, and reminds me of any number of crappy regional towns I’ve driven through back in Australia. There are dodgy-looking tattoo shops and heaps of pawn shops, and every second person looks like they sleep in a bin.

The town’s beach is really nice, though, and so is the awesomely-named St Blaize Hiking Trail, which starts at the eastern end of the shops and winds around thhe coast for the next 10km. It’s a spectacular hike, past rugged cliffs and wide bays, with all sorts of curious vegetation. I had an absolutely wonderful time strolling along and gazing in awe at the beauty of Africa. I even encountered a small, quokka-like animal called a dassie, and he danced around like a Lebanses eccy-head for my amusement. He was an ugly bastard, but I guess he’d have to be if he wants to fit in with the other unfortunates of Mossel Bay.