Driving the Transkei

  • Miles travelled: 6693
  • Highlight: The incredible diversity of the scenery
  • Lowlight: Driving through some dodgy towns and past some equally dodgy drivers
  • Emergency stops for baby goats: 2

The first person we met on our road trip was the owner of the guesthouse in Knysna. When we told her we were making our way to the Drakensberg, she was very sceptical and said she didn’t know how we were possibly going to get there. “You’re surely not thinking of driving through the Transkei, are you?”

We were a little surprised at the strength of her reaction given that we’d done a lot of research on our route and it’s quite a standard tourist-loop of South Africa. We’ve had her words in the back of our minds ever since and have been asking people on the same route for their thoughts. The advice has been consistent – it’s definitely not a no-go area and you’d miss out on one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa if you avoid it. Just don’t drive at night (more because of wandering livestock rather than security), don’t stop in the towns for too long and use your common sense.

Still, after our dodgy stopover in King William’s Town, we set out with some trepidation for our drive to the Wild Coast.

The most striking thing about our road trip has been the incredible diversity of the places we’ve driven through. Someone at Wild Spirit told us that South Africa is more biodiverse than the whole of Western Europe and this becomes particularly obvious when you drive such long distances.  From Cape Town’s wine fields, up through dry mountains where we shared the roads with baboons and down through the luscious forests and pine trees of the garden route.

Since we left Addo, the changing landscapes have increased further. One minute we’ll be driving along through hilly green meadows which look almost like English countryside, then suddenly we’ll be on a road lined with palm trees or backed by dramatic rocky mountains. Every long drive seems to take us from Somerset to Costa Rica to the Alps to Cornwall.

In the 658 miles we’ve driven so far, we’ve noticed this diversity not just in the landscapes we’ve travelled through but in the people along the way. South Africa has eleven official languages and is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. I’ve never really appreciated what that looks like before leaving the Western Cape, but we haven’t even covered a quarter of the country yet and it’s already been noticeable.

Driving from King William’s Town, the road initially takes you through some extremely hectic towns and some incredibly long and disruptive roadworks. There are more and more animals beginning to appear on the side of the road and we’ve already had to make a couple of emergency stops for baby goats and cows making a run for it.

The poverty of some of the areas we’ve driven through has also been hard to witness, especially when you drive through a beautiful leafy suburb just a mile or so away from a sprawling township.

But the roads are also becoming more scenic. We’re constantly winding our way up and down through the stunning mountain scenery and more and more brightly coloured Xhosa rondavels are beginning to appear.

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For some reason there are also a crazy number of anthills on the side of the road – thousands and thousands of them! Still no bloody aardwolves though..

A few miles after the turning off the N2 onto the road down to Coffee Bay and the vibe noticeably changes again. The R63 is slower going and there are even more baby goats to avoid, but, instead of feeling like we should be locking our doors and keeping our heads down, we’re suddenly being met by smiling and waving children dancing on the side of the road. We only pass around ten other cars on nearly 50km of road and attract a lot of curious looks from the locals.

The closer in to our destination, Mdumbi Backpackers, the more we start to see this. By the time we come to the gravel turn off (no idea how Jamie managed to get the Nissan through 23km of this!), everyone is chatting and saying hello. And probably also having a giggle at the site of us trying to get the Granny-mobile up the hill.

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The road is absolutely stunning, rolling hills with the picturesque rondavels, lots of animals everywhere (less threatening now that we’re crawling along at 20mph) and glimpses of stunning blue coastline.

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Arriving into Mdumbi now – more to come soon!

(We’re very behind with the blog because of slow WiFi issues. They’re all written out in my notebook so will be typing them up soon!)


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