Thorsten and I, a.k.a. the Blogitects (one blogger, one architect), recently took a much-anticipated road trip through South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. It was a very exciting trip but it did not go as planned. I’ve procrastinated several days on writing about it because I’m not sure how to explain everything that happened.
First, I’ll say that despite all the difficulties we had on this trip, we still had a lot of fun and I’m #grateful. I’m grateful I have the means to travel through this beautiful country, to constantly see new places and meet interesting people. I’m grateful for my traveling and life partner, Thorsten, who stayed calm during some very stressful situations (during which I myself was not so calm), and who said to me, when we finally made it home: “That trip might have sucked but I still had a great time because I was with you.”
I’m grateful my house wasn’t destroyed by a flood, which happened to lots of people in another part of KwaZulu-Natal during the same week we were traveling. I feel silly complaining about frivolous travel misadventures when so many people in the world are suffering from actual tragedies.
Nonetheless, I need to tell y’all about this trip because, wow, it was a journey. And I won’t be able to tell you about it without a little complaining. So be warned.
And now I shall begin.
A map of our journey, for those interested. We really managed to cover a lot of ground in KwaZulu-Natal.
Road Trip Destination #1: Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga
Our trip began on Wednesday with a 3.5-hour drive from Joburg to Wakkerstroom, which is right on the border of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
The drive to Wakkerstroom was pretty and uneventful. Almost none of the route was on major highways, which was lovely. We left Joburg around lunchtime and arrived in Wakkerstroom before nightfall.
Wakkerstroom is a tiny town best known for its birdwatching: There is a huge wetland adjacent to the town, where birders can spot 9 of South Africa’s 13 endemic bird species. We didn’t have time for birding but we enjoyed our short stay in Wakkerstroom. We had dinner at the Wakkerstroom Hotel, where I ate eland stroganoff and was fascinated (and slightly disturbed) by the many taxidermied heads — one of which was an actual eland — staring down at us as we ate.
We left Wakkerstroom first thing on Thursday morning, as we were eager to get on the road to our second destination: Kosi Bay. Kosi Bay is in the far northeastern corner of KZN, right on the Mozambique border, and known for its huge, wild beaches and biodiverse wetland system. (Kosi Bay is part of the expansive Isimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.) It’s a 5.5-hour drive from Wakkerstroom to Kosi Bay but we expected it to take longer, as drives always do. And we wanted to spend as much time as possible in Kosi Bay before Saturday, when big rains were predicted.
The drive was smooth and quiet for a couple of hours, with beautiful scenery that reminded me of Dullstroom.
But after the town of Piet Retief, where we joined the N2 highway, truck traffic increased significantly and so did the number of potholes. We managed okay, we thought, and traffic thinned out once we looped around the Jozini Dam and headed north up a steep, curvy mountain pass. We marveled at the stunning scenery above Jozini Dam but there wasn’t a good place to stop and document it.
Just before the town of Jozini, we were stopped at a routine police roadblock. The friendly policewoman happened to notice a tennis-ball-sized bubble — probably caused by a pothole, although we hadn’t noticed any big hits — on the right rear tire of the SUV we were driving. Apparently a tire bubble can cause a burst tire, so we were really lucky someone noticed it before that happened. We drove slowly into town, stopped at the first tire repair shop we found, and changed the tire.
We were now using our full-sized spare tire. But we called around and couldn’t find a tire shop anywhere within two hours of Jozini that carried the tire we needed to replace the broken one. It was mid afternoon and the sun sets early in KZN during winter. Short of turning back, we had no choice but to continue on to Kosi Bay without a spare tire.
If we had known then what we know now — that this would not be our last, nor even our second-to-last, broken tire in northern KZN — maybe we would have turned back. But we continued on, of course, with a plan to buy a new spare tire as soon as we reached somewhere that had one.
Two-and-a-half hours later, when we pulled into the beautiful Amangwane Camp in Kosi Bay, we were really glad we’d kept going.
Road Trip Destination #2: Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal
Amangwane is a relaxed tented camp in a lush, tropical forest just above Kosi Mouth, where the Kosi Bay lake system meets the ocean. Each Amangwane tent has electricity and its own bathroom/shower, and there is a common area with a kitchen, lounge, and fire pit. Amangwane is run by Tony and Lize, a couple who used to live in Joburg before they abandoned city life for the beach.
I really loved staying at Amangwane. It’s simple and affordable but it has everything we needed.
We arrived just in time for Tony and Lize to take us on an evening walk to a nearby overlook, where we could look down on Kosi Bay and its famous fish traps.
Then we walked back to camp, had an excellent dinner of braaied boerewors and wine, and went to bed early.
I think I’ll end part 1 here, snug in our tent on our first night in Kosi Bay. Coming up soon: A perfect day at the beach, a fateful visit to a famous elephant park, wooden dung beetles, flat-bed tow trucks, shabby motels, hot mutton curry, and more.
Stay tuned…I’m not sure yet if this series will be two parts or three.