After our wedding Milos and I treated ourselves to a mini honeymoon (we plan on taking a longer trip in August when Milos has more time off). We chose the Transkei, which has remained one of our favourite places to escape to in South Africa. As soon as you enter the area, you know you have arrived in a magical place.
Considering it’s history, the Transkei has stayed pretty much the same, free from rapid tourist development, and hordes of tourists. I suppose you could see this as negative, as it means there is a lack of jobs, and village life may not appeal to every youth born there (although this is perhaps another entire discussion).
The Transkei was a independent homeland during (and before) apartheid times, segregating the ethnic population and cutting them off from the South African Republic, although in many ways this seclusion has protected the area, and I vote it should be turned into a natural heritage site, again another topic that warrants further discussion.
Beautiful, rolling grassy hills give way to secluded valley forests, and finally to long stretches of coast land. It hides stunning vistas, rivers, nature reserves, curious villages, traditional subsistence farming, and a myriad of places to explore. I know I have mentioned before that I harbour a dream of building a little hobbit hole somewhere on one of the grassy hills overlooking the beaches.
The village lifestyle is quite obvious, with little rondavel huts cropping up every which way you look, and dogs lying in little dog dug holes in the dust. Black miniature pigs, multicoloured goats, chickens and sheep trot about, not to mention the free wandering cows. It can sometimes be quite tricky to navigate the roads, and sadly I must have counted about 5 dead dogs on the roads per day, but I supposed the car (or perhaps rather the local taxi) induced deaths are a balance for the rampant breeding? I found it particularly interesting that the Transkei seems to have bred a certain type of dog. You can easily see that they are all related, even though their colouring changes, they all own the same eyes. It would make an interesting collection of photographs – The different faces of the Transkei Dog
We drove down from the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, towards Port St Johns, before turning off to our destination, the protected nature reserve Hluleka. The last 50km took us 2 hours to navigate over bone jarring pot holes which shook loose our kidneys, and which have caused the local taxi drivers to strike over. We could see why. This may be a fun route to explore on a 4×4 but we only had our small mazda! But the car and us survived, albeit covered in dust. Finally after worrying about arriving too late to get into the Reserve we made it at about 8pm, only to find that the gates close at 10pm, phew! We handed in our booking and were directed to our chalet, which was a lovely redone A-frame house overlooking the Hluleka bay and river.
The next morning I couldn’t help but get up early, excited to explore. This was the third time Milos and I had visited Hluleka and my fourth time. I had visited with my family and family friends, way back when we were still living in Port Elizabeth. It obviously left an impression, and I convinced Milos to check it out, he was sold on his first time there, and we have been trying to go back ever since.
The reserve had been closed for renovations for the past while and we were eager to see what had been done. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was quite literally amazing. A little slice of subtropical heaven, and like one of the previous guests had written in the guest book “a lost paradise”.
The renovations meant that there were ( I think) 6 or 7 newly redone A-frame chalets, the older forest cabin had fallen into disrepair, and since I was so busy enjoying my time there I completely forgot to ask if they were going to be redone at a later stage too. For R800 (less than 80 euros) a night, we had an amazing double story self catering chalet that could sleep 4, with two huge bathrooms, amazing views, a wonderful deck. This also included a cleaning service each morning! Hello! And even if the reserve had been fully booked, you would probably still feel privileged to stay there.
We wandered down to the beach after a delicious breakfast. Walking down through the forest that opened up onto white sands.
Had a swim, explored rock pools, walked up the river a bit, climbed up the strangely shaped rocks, which seemed very volcanic, lay in the sun, swam some more, watched the birds, counted the monkey footprints, and revelled in having it all to ourselves.
We walked back up the hill to our chalet, listening to the birds, and looking out for the zebras and other antelope they have on the reserve, for lunch.
After lunch and a bit of a siesta, we took the car for a drive along the reserves roads, and climbed up another hill overlooking the bay.
You can see the river flowing out to sea, and we watched as the tide came in and swelled the river over it’s banks. We really wished that the reserve had canoes that we could have borrowed to explore the river further up into the forest, as there are no forest hikes that we could find. We will have to bring our own next time!
After watching the clouds turn pink, and admiring the view, we clambered down, and headed back to our chalet for dinner and wine.
Read Part II!