48 hours in Agulhas National Park

2013-05-17 10:45
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Elgin Top Five

Wine, apple orchards and a luxury trailer park. We explore the Elgin Valley.

Standing on the edge of the ocean, just a few kilometers north west of the southern tip of Africa, I watched the sun slip away like a giant Kruger Rand into the coin slot of the horizon. As the last of its glimmering crown disappeared, I imagined it dropping down into some mystical cauldron of molten gold and, on impact, splashing its contents all across the sky in a spectacular display of carelessness.

It was as vivid-a sunset as I had ever seen and clearly turned my brain to jelly. But hey, the tendency toward mind-trickery is part of this coastline's charm and wasn't that what I was there to experience in the first place?

Agulhas National Park


Located only about 220km south east of Cape Town, Agulhas National Park is close enough for city dwellers to take a quick weekend break, but just far enough to feel like you're in a place of perfect peace and tranquility, far from the madding crowd. 

The park was established in September 1998, starting out as a small (in national park terms) 4 ha portion of land hugging the southern tip of Africa. Since then the park has grown to include 36 portions, bringing the area of the park to a whopping 20 959ha.

While you certainly won't find any of the big five within its boundaries, the park's charm lies in its vast expanses of wild ocean (TWO in fact, as this is where the Atlantic and the Indian are said to meet!), dunes, rock pools and fynbos veld to explore.

There are five different accommodation offerings

Picturesque wooden chalets (either 2- or 4-bedroom) dotted among the dunes that overlook the ocean

- Lagoon House (a white-washed, four-bedroom self-catering unit located right on the beachfront)

Rhenosterkop Guest cottages (located about 31km inland, off the Struisbaai/Elim road)

Rietfontein Guest Cottages (a very remote homestead set-up, located about 63km inland, off the Struisbaai/Elim road)

Bergplaas Guesthous (located about 36km inland from Agulhas, off the Struisbaai/Elim road, nestled into the foothills of Soetanysberg). 

Lagoon House on the beachfront of Pietie se Punt. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

I recently got to experience the park over a weekend, spending two glorious nights in the cosy and classy wooden chalets. During my time there I got to enjoy some peace-and-quiet in the park, but also a bit of exploration of the surrounding areas. 

This is my suggested itinerary for making the most of a weekend stay in Agulhas National Park. 

Friday

14:00 - Set out from Cape Town, driving along the N2, through Elgin, Bot River, Caledon, Napier and Bredasdorp. Pop in at Vindigo Wine & Decor in Napier

This is an absolute must-stop to stock up on local wines from the area for dirt cheap. We highly recommend you get a couple of bottles Jean Daneel (JD) - the Initial White and Initial Red are inexpensive and delicious, however if you feel like something more special, try the Signature Chenin Blanc or Signature Red Blend. 

The fully kitted out log chalets are a delight to spend the weekend in. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

16:30 - Arrival If you didn't spend some time browsing farm stalls and taking photos along the way, your drive should take no longer than two-and-a-half hours. On arrival, pick up the keys for your accommodation from the SANParks reception office at 214 Main Road in Agulhas. If you're going to arrive after office hours, you can make an arrangement to pick the keys up from the main gate on arrival. Check in starts at 14:00.

Settle in and take a squiz around your little log haven for the weekend - you will notice each one has a flat screen television, but you probably won't be making much use of that, as the natural beauty is MUCH more awesome. All accommodation offerings provide bed linen, towels and soaps. 

17:00 - Explore. Take a short walk around the camp. Make your way down to the beach, where you will also be able to catch a glimpse of the other seaside accommodation offering, Lagoon House. 

18:00 - Sit back and relax. Enjoy sundowners on the large wooden deck of your chalet. This is a good time to pop one of those JD wines you picked up in Napier and let the spectacular sight of a southern tip sunset sink in.

19:00 - Dinner. Each chalet comes standard with a Weber. Haul it out and get some coals going for a perfect seaside braai. 

21:00 - Fireplace snuggling. Get a fire going in the inside fireplace and cuddle up on the couch with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate. If you're the storytelling type, check out these ghost stories from Agulhas and surrounds, and give your companions reason to snuggle closer together (mwhahahahaha).

Saturday

View of Struisbaai Harbour from Pelican's Harbour Cafe. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

09:00 - Breakfast. Have a bit of a lie in then head to the neighbouring coastal town of Struisbaai for a delicious breakfast. There are a number of quaint restaurants and coffee shops to try out, but we strongly recommend Pelican's Harbour Cafe. It's nestled into a cozy little corner of the Struisbaai harbour, making it the perfect position from which to watch colourful boats being launch and - in season - do a bit of whale watching. 

10:00 - Walk. Make your way back to the rest camp, drop your vehicle off at the chalet and set out on one of the delightful walking trails that meander through the camp. 

You're bound to end up on a beautiful pebble beach at one point. Take some time out to sit very still and listen. The waves washing over the smooth little stones is probably one of the most soothing sounds in the world! Also look out for the large petrified log that washed up on the beach a couple of years ago - it's a great seat and a nice photo opportunity. 

Hanging out on the Pebble Beach with this gargantuan log. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

12:00 - Lunch. One of the great things about the park is the fact that it's a perfect base from which to explore the surrounding areas. This part of the Overberg is renowned for its wineries and boutique cellars, so make your pick! However, if you really want to TREAT your taste buds, The Black Oystercatcher just outside Elim, is your go-to spot.

Start off with a tasting of their five spectacular wines - two white, one rose and two red - and then pick your favourite(s) to accompany a delicious meal in the restaurant (the White Pearl will blow you away, and so will the Cabernet Merlot).

As their slogan, "Live by the Season" suggests, the Black Oystercatcher Restaurant's food is delightfully fresh, with most of the veggies cultivated on the property, all fish caught in nearby waters and bread baked in the kitchen. If you want to experience their variety in all its glory, we suggest ordering a platter! During your meal, make sure your table is in a prime position to enjoy the magnificent views of farmlands and vineyards. 

The view from Black Oystercatcher restaurant just outside Elim. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

14:00 - Walking tour of Elim. Driving into the perfectly preserved Moravian Mission village of Elim will make you feel like you stepped straight into the late 1800s. White-washed, thatch-roof houses line the streets and at the centre of everything the magnificent large church looms. Elim is both charming and also unsettling.

Charming, because it's old-fashioned and pretty and even has a working watermill. Unsettling, because in essence, it's very exclusive, as only members of the Moravian church are allowed to live there, and also, dare I say it, a little segregated - for instance, men and women are expected to sit separately in church services. Despite this, taking a peek around the museum is fascinating and soaking up the peaceful atmosphere is good for the soul. 

15:00 - Head back to camp. After a full day of sightseeing, take the afternoon easy. Enjoy the comforts of the chalet, or do some beachcombing. 

18:00 - onwards: Repeat the previous evening's activities. It may sound boring, but let's just be honest here, if you're at the Southern Tip of Africa, you're there to relax, not party. 

Sunday

09:00 - Have a delicious home-made breakfast (your chalet has everything you need and more in the way of crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils), while enjoying the magical, fresh morning views from the balcony.

10:00 - Check out

10:30 - Walk. Follow SANParks' beautiful, newly constructed boardwalks from the Agulhas lighthouse, past the Southern Tip beacon and all the way to the Meishu Maru shipwreck. This little route is super easy, suitable for all fitness levels and is mostly also wheelchair friendly.

The Meishu Maru shipwreck just off the coast of Agulhas National Park. (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

If you'd like to know more about the sites along the way, pick up a self-guide booklet from the tourist office at the lighthouse. In fact, make an effort to do so, as this stretch of coastline is saturated with fascinating stories that you may miss out on if you just go it alone.  

Keep your eyes peeled for Black Oyster catchers, whales and remember to appreciate the Fynbos under your feet!

12:00 - Leave the park and head toward Napier. 

12:30 - Lunch. Stop off at the Napier Farm Stall for lunch. They specialise in conjuring up the most delectable, wholesome, home-style dishes. Their chicken pie is great, but if you feel like a real treat, opt for lamb curry, served with Basmati rice and poppadoms (you will NOT be sorry). 

Napier Farm Stall - the freshly baked pies are delicious, but so is the curry! (Nadia Krige, News24 Travel)

13:30 - Shop. If you've depleted your wine stock over the weekend, best pop over to Vindigo Wine & Décor next door to replenish, they're open on Sundays! If you're more of a beer-lover, you'll be happy to know that the farm stall stocks locally brewed Napier beers (which are apparently quite enjoyable and light).

 
Read more on:    weekend escapes  |  travel south africa  |  lifestyle

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