Sharks are obviously not an irrational fear. It is very rational fear. They are huge toothy creatures that could potentially rip you to pieces, but, they have not been one of my fears. I think I’d describe my feelings towards them as more of a fascination. Being an apex predator, its large size and the fact it’s been on this Earth for what may be millions of years, there’s no wonder! So, although it was not on our original itinerary to do so, our tour group chose to make a pit stop along the Garden Route to a place called Mossel Bay (situated pretty much half way between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town). Our tour guide booked us on a tour with a company called White Shark Africa, and there was nothing to fault with the whole trip! We arrived an hour before the start of the tour, to get settled, grab some breakfast (included) and to watch a quick briefing video on boat safety etc. Once on the boat, the journey is a short trip (around 10 minutes) from the dock to the shark site! In one sense, this is brilliant, especially for those not too keen on long boat journeys. But, in another it’s quite nerve wracking to see how CLOSE these sharks get to the coast! You could still see people sunbathing on the shore! After a briefing about the cage, a little while was spent chucking bait and chum into the waters to tempt the sharks to the boat. It did take about an hour for something to happen, but the island of seals provides some entertainment whilst you wait! One by one, sharks approached, and one by one, people got into the cage. You are submerged under the water with little but a few bars separating you from this huge predator! Unfortunately, the conditions were a little too dark for my underwater camera to get some shots – but from the top deck of the boat I managed to get some amazing shots of the shark getting up close and personal to the guys in the cage! It’s no Jaws movie. And it was actually a rather calm experience.
I must admit, I hadn’t actually realised how well known Jeffrey’s Bay (or more commonly, J-Bay) was renowned for surfing, which was bad on my part. But as soon as we drove through the town, and saw those long stretches of A-MAZING beaches – you can definitely believe why! And according to Wikipedia (ahem) it’s said to be one of the five most famous surfing destinations (and even number 2 on the ‘best in the world’ list) hosting numerous surfing events throughout the year. So, it was time to get to it. Surfing that is. After a short briefing we (rather undignified I might add) got changed into some rather fetching wetsuits and the customary Billabong t-shirts. Being beginners, we had to use light boards (although, they weren’t anywhere near light!) and drag/carry them to the area of beach were the surf only breaks into relatively ‘small’ waves. Quick demo on the sand as to how to catch a wave. Easy. Get in the water, sea starts to turn to wave…Drown. Yeah. It’s not so easy. In fact, the majority of the time I spent in the sea, was neither on, nor next to my board, but rather under or in front of it (which resulted in some rather large bumps on the head!) Surfing is not for the faint hearted. Or unfit. It’s A LOT of work, going back and forth and basically just throwing yourself at it and hoping for the best. You will definitely come away with some lovely bruises. Mine lasted for at least 2 weeks, so I guess they were just some free souvenirs! After a rather taxing morning, and some retail therapy at the vast surfing brand outlets, the group decided to do something else I would have never even thought of doing back home – horseback riding along the beach! Horses have never intrigued me. I’ve never been interested in them or riding them, but I thought what the hell! And I certainly don’t regret it! After getting over the initial fear of the horse spazing out, chucking you off and breaking your back – I loosened up, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it!
After a stint in Jeffrey’s Bay as surfers, our tour group moved on to our next adventure. The first activity was a brilliant zip lining escapade through canopies and over waterfalls, and second was throwing ourselves off a bridge! I’m glad I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, because otherwise this day would have been a total waste. But, when in South Africa, the best thing to do is throw yourself at things (or off things, as the case may be!) because you never know when you’re likely to get the chance to do them again!
The bridge in question is the Bloukrans Bridge, and it is located above the Bloukran’s River, on the N2 Highway at the border of the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape in the Tsitsikamma area of South Africa’s Garden Route. It is officially known as the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee at 216 metres (709ft)! So what does it feel like, I hear you ask? Well to be honest, it wasn’t scary! You know those dreams you have were you feel like you’re falling? That’s what I thought it would feel like. A horrible ‘ohmygodi’mgoingtodie’ kind of feeling. But actually, in the 5 seconds of falling the feeling is more like being weightless. That’s until the bungee snaps you back to reality. I think the worst part of the jump was the bit between the falling and the hanging upside down above a valley. Especially when I had a panic where I thought that my legs were slipping out of the harness (they weren’t). After the guy ‘collects’ you from the drop, and helps you back to solid, um, bridge the adrenaline hits you. It’s like nothing else. I could have done it again! I didn’t…but I could have done!
So, do I recommend it? YES! I actually have a little fear of heights, and doing this has actually helped in many respects! And the team at the bridge were all fantastically friendly which made the experience a lot more relaxing. It’s obviously a bit of a laugh watching people cack themselves over and over!
After a full week on safari it was time to start off on the Garden Route, with our first stop being Port Elizabeth (PE). For those of you that don’t know, the Garden Route is a beautifully scenic stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa. The route is known as it is for its ecologically diverse plant life and Port Elizabeth, which is more commonly known also as the Friendly City, is situated at the eastern end of the Garden Route. After an hour’s drive from Kwantu Game Reserve, we arrived at the hostel in PE to settle into our new room. We then set out to get a taste of the real South Africa by visiting the Red Location museum set in the heart of PE’s New Brighton Township. Driving through a mixture of wooden and corrugated iron buildings and shacks through dusty roads, it was amazing to see how many people could be living in the conditions to which we would usually class back home as poverty. But this is normal life.
The museum itself is a magnificent building slap bang in the middle of the Townshop, and unlike most conventional museums, it was set out as a series of ‘memory boxes’ that exhibits the different lives of people who fought against the Apartheid regime. Each box was covered in the corrugated iron cladding that gave the Red Location its name.
It’s amazing to see how many influential figures of African history were born and raised in Townships such as New Brighton, and the struggle they went through to achieve their statuses.
After a rather emotionally charged afternoon we headed out to The Boardwalk, the waterfront complex complete with various shopping opportunities, restaurants and bars. The beach is beautifully sandy (although the sea was a little too cold to take a dip in). But the views of the crystal clear Indian Ocean are definitely a photo opportunity!