Posted by: Tom Lancaster | December 9, 2010

Whales, whales and wails

Episode 33: Drakensburg/Queenstown/Hogsback/Addo/Plettenburg Bay/George/Oudtshoorn/Hermanus/Langebaan, South Africa

Skin colour (Tom): Rio Ferdinand

Skin colour (Jane): Ferdinand de Lesseps

Location: Langebaan, South Africa

Date: 09 December 2010.

Of the many, many countries we have visited during our trip, South Africa wins the prize for worst radio hands-down. Not only are most of the presenters unintelligible, incoherent and inane (most can barely string a sentence together), but the choice of music comes mainly from terrible films of the 1980s.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get some South African drum ‘n’ bass, which is like listening to drum ‘n’ bass produced by me. You may also have your spirits raised momentarily by what sounds like a decent track from recent(ish) memory, only to have them dashed by the heavy house track which has been laid over the top, making it sound like you’re listening to two bad songs at once.

Commendable, but not helpful, is the way the presenters switch (usually mid-sentence, always during some interesting news article or the single Ashes update of the day) between English and Afrikaans. It’s enough to make you turn it off and listen to the purr/screech/wail of your Chevrolet Spark’s engine noise instead.

Drakensburg when the sun shone

Against all the odds though, Sparky has made it – we’ve only got to get him to Cape Town, 115km down the road, and he’ll have carried us, like an obstinate mule, over 5000km around this huge country. I’ve even tamed him enough to make stalling a rarity.

We’re in Langebaan now, on the west coast, for our long-awaited sailing course, which we begin bright and early tomorrow.

We have done some serious driving to get here since my last post from Drakensburg: including a 760km slog taking us over the top of Lesotho; through some fabulous scenery; and down to Queenstown.

Our last couple of days in Drakensburg weren’t what we were expecting after the first glorious day. We were treated to a day of rain and mist when we visited Cathedral Peak, so put that down alongside Cotopaxi, Mount Cook and Mount Fuji on the list of mountains we’ve visited but been unable to actually see.

We had a nice coffee though and a slightly scary drive back through villages where the roads seemed to be full of angry, gesticulating young men who stared at us with what seemed like properly evil intent.

According to the hostel owner, this was youthful high spirits, on finishing school for the year – I think that if the car had broken down, we’d be lying in a ditch somewhere wondering if Max Clifford would represent us.

No mercy in South Africa

After our slightly disappointing day, we were then treated to another night of high-volume partying at our campsite, this time for the staff Christmas party. When Jane asked the owner if she could turn the music down after 11pm, she was asked what her problem was (which would have seemed pretty obvious).

When we checked out the next day, the owner (comfortable shoes, obese, aggressive, face like the back end of a bus) had a proper rant at Jane (I was psyching myself and Sparky up for another 10-hour drive and let’s face it, Jane’s somewhat better at dealing with confrontation than I am) – not really the way to run accommodation if you ask me.

Her size (the owner, not Jane) means she’ll have health problems soon though, and though you know I don’t like to wish ill on anyone, wheezing as you mount a single stair couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

The scenery's not bad in SA

On the subject of weight and appearance (and with my self-awareness monitor on red alert) the folk of South Africa are among the fattest and (for the whites) ugliest we’ve met. Almost all the black women we’ve seen or met are spherical. For white folk, there must be a law that from age 35 you have to tip the scales at over 15 stone, regardless of height or gender. Black men are almost universally slender, so who knows?

I won’t dwell on the ugliness, for fear of giving you sleepless nights. We can only speculate that the white gene pool in South Africa was limited in the apartheid years – most people seem to have had their faces put together by a committee armed with hammers.

They’re all lovely though.

We didn’t linger in Queenstown, instead heading for absurdly picturesque Hogsback, a quiet little place which seems to think it’s in Lord of the Rings – everything is based on the book (apparently Tolkein was inspired by this area, but doesn’t everywhere with a couple of hills say that these days?).

Baby ostriches

A sunny day saw us blithely walking through the woods to nearby waterfalls, until we heard a loud buzzing noise, saw a swarm of bees 10 metres away, recalled with horror a programme on National Geographic we’d both watched recently on swarms of killer African bees, and upped our pace dramatically.

The rest of the walk was uneventful, save for a couple of scrambles up almost sheer cliffs alongside the waterfalls – take your crampons if you ever go. Refreshingly, there was an 800-year-old tree en route – most places would add a couple of hundred years arbitrarily and have a small concession stand and souvenir shop. God bless Hobiton… sorry, Hogsback, for its honesty.

The bare bones from there to here: we’ve been on several lovely walks; arrived in Plettenburg Bay during the end-of-exams party for 18-year-olds (though they didn’t disturb us a bit); did a quick drive through Addo Elephant National Park, and unsurprisingly saw more elephants; and spent a couple of nights in Hermanus, where we were told that the seasonal whales hadn’t been sighted for over 2 weeks. We’re occasionally lucky buggers though, so managed to see a mother and calf frolicking 20 metres offshore on the morning we had a cursory glance!

Our night in George was only noteworthy for the camping (the lawn was about the size of our tent and covered in doggie presents) and for the clientele. Most hostels/campsites are frequented by young-ish folk and middle-aged foreigners. This place was full of middle-aged Afrikaaners who belonged in an episode of Bullseye.

Cango Caves

In no particular order of unpleasantness there was:

  • the chap who was bigger than the Hermanus whales, lolled on the sofa and whose foot twitched involuntarily when he started snoring after turning the TV to his favourite channel, regardless of the fact that three of us were watching the football;
  • the young bloke who was obsessed with bungee jumping, sky-diving and the film “Jackass 3” which he introduced into any conversation, no matter what the topic, within 5 seconds;
  • the bloke (the nicest of the bunch) who for some reason couldn’t move his neck or bend at the waist;
  • the chap with a beer belly like a space-hopper, a curly grey mullet, a completely indecipherable accent and who was in dire need of a belt; and
  • the owner himself who had an eye lazier than me on a Sunday.

We were kept awake for extended periods of the night by the sound of someone almost dying (we suspect Hermanus-whale-man), who would work himself into a snoring frenzy for 20 seconds or so before his body would produce panicked, crying whimpers as he struggled desperately to breathe. I guess this is sleep apnoea, and if so, it does not sound pleasant.

You would assume that someone who nearly dies hundreds of times a night might think “I know, I’ll get my fat ass off the sofa and get myself a salad so I can breathe”, not so for this 2-tonne beast in elasticated jeans.

South Africans really are lovely though.

A whale which should have left Hermanus a fortnight ago

After George we headed into the semi-desert of Little Karoo, which has the best caves in the world. We’ve seen three lots of caves now, so we’re confident in awarding the prize to the Cango Caves, near ostrich-crazy Oudtshoorn.

We spent an hour touring the caves (spurning the “adventure” option for fear of getting wedged in) and they’re enormous and beautiful. This didn’t excuse the ridiculous, attention-seeking gasp of awe from the woman next to us when the lights came on in the second chamber.

You know the Euro Disney advert from a couple of years back, with those brats going “Mum says it’s just MAGICAL” – think of them multiplied by an annoyance factor of 8, a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp and with an additional 46 stone in weight hanging off their bones and you’ve got her. Good caves though.

So, wish us luck with the sailing – my next and final update will be from the freezing wilds of the UK, where we return (for good) next Friday. It’s thirty degrees here, so I expect we’ll expire from shock immediately on stepping off the flight. Bah humbug.

P.S. Apologies for the lack of quantity and quality of photos in this post, but our new camera really hates us and appears to only show us about the last 30 photos we’ve taken.

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!


  1. Another excellent episode and agree with award of Caves – they are amazing.

    Have you not thought about driving Sparky home through Africa and Europe – or is that next years adventure


    • I’d have deposited Sparky just outside Jo’burg airport 5 minutes after we’d picked him up if we had an alternative!

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