Fire damage a sad sight on trip to Cape

Which route do you take when you drive to Cape Town? All the way along the coast – you know, the usual way, Port Elizabeth, Plett, Knysna, George and through the Cape wheatlands via Swellendam and so on? Or do you take a road inland?

We chose the N2 on our recent trip, coming back that way too. Although it’s an excellent and scenic road, it has minus points. When you’ve gone that way for years, as we have, maybe it’s time to rethink and take one of the quieter routes inland.

To me the biggest minus along the N2 is traffic and urban congestion – especially from the Crags before Plettenberg Bay, through Knysna. Beyond Mossel Bay the road frees up a bit, but scenery is not as good.

Part of the reason for doing what we did was to get some idea of the fire devastation that swept through the area six weeks before. We were appalled by what we saw and decided to take a short drive around Knysna on the way home.

That was like the aftermath of those horrific forest fires we see on television news from time to time, especially those in volatile eucalyptus plantations in Australia and through pine forests in North America.

We headed into the Brenthurst area of Knysna first and the extent of the damage to property and forests suddenly hit us – one thing in particular being a still upright pine tree, among the dead ashes of scores of others, spewing a column of blue smoke from the top of its black, chimney-like trunk.

We continued over the hill to Belvidere where a newly established garden of remembrance, with over 40 white wooden crosses stuck in the ground, gave street and family names of some who had lost homes in the blaze – a poignant reminder indeed of an awful time in a town where fun, laughter, beauty, striking views and happy holidays had been overtaken by destruction and death.

It was time to move on to reach PE, and we crossed the bridge towards the eastern side of Knysna, taking the road towards the Simola golf course. More horror met our eyes – more holiday and family homes, restaurants, businesses too, lying in tatters of burnt roofs and scorched bricks in what would previously have been colourful gardens and shady trees.

It was time to leave, to digest quietly what carnage and scorched earth we had seen while contemplating that it could all have been even worse. High wind, towering flames and acrid smoke are a devilish mix.

And what else did we do on our holiday? We visited the V&A Aquarium at the Cape Town Waterfront while there. Like the Chris Barnard Heart Museum in the old Groote Schuur Hospital (last week’s column), it is a must-see – this last visit perhaps the third or fourth time I’ve been.

It’s been rejuvenated in recent years and is certainly among the best aquarium/oceanarium examples I’ve seen in my travels. Interaction offered between visitor and exhibits makes it fun for both adult and child and we did lots of that, taking photos and being enlightened by guides who had all the knowledge we needed to enjoy a very happy morning.

Finally, we were back home after a lovely break. Cape Town, even in mid-winter, is worth the journey, but don’t expect to use beaches or to fish in the sea. That came two days after we got home, changed smart clothes for casual, and headed for the Wild Coast to spend three days and three nights with Ed and Fiona Schwulst, and Jenny Farr, in their cottage; and Hilton and Maureen Dalbock, who were also guests.

We’d hardly unpacked our cars when a subsistence fisherman approached and offered crayfish, oysters and a h-u-g-e pignose grunter. Wowee! Why did we even bother to take our own food? This was like being in heaven.

After a few minutes of hard bargaining, the fisherman, who initially asked for R1000 for the fish which weighed around 15kg, agreed on a lesser figure, and threw in the oysters as well. He’d been fishing in front of the cottages and, on his third cast with a bit of crayfish as bait, hooked and landed the big ’un.

My attempts in the same place and the same time next day with sand prawns as bait drew no such luck. But as they say, anticipation is half the fun. I caught zilch!

We also hoped to spot the meteor shower we thought would be visible. That, apparently, was way over the horizon. No matter, a good time was had by all. –

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