After we were sufficiently ostriched out, we continued our drive: heading back to the coast and up to Plettenberg Bay. When we booked Hog Hollow Country Lodge based on the recommendation of a local tourism official, I didn’t expect much due to the name alone. Names are deceiving, it turns out. We checked in our cottage to find one of the most comfortable rooms I’ve stayed in to date.
photo courtesy of Hog Hollow’s website
It even had a wrap-around porch with a hammock—and a huge, comfy beanbag!
(next time I’ll take a tripod!)
As usual, my major regret is that we didn’t get to stay longer. We had allotted just one night in Plett with so many daytime activities, we’d hardly be staying in the room but to sleep. Included in guests’ stay is a communal-style dinner, in which you get to meet the fellow guests, who hail from all over the world. It’s here that we met Vanessa and Simon, two lovely Brits who I now keep in touch with via Facebook and Twitter, and I think it’s safe to say my mom was charmed pantsless by the darling duo. (Vanessa, she still talks about you anytime the topic of South Africa arises!)
there I am working (always working) studiously in the background
The next morning, after a breakfast out on the sunny patio with, you guessed it, Vanessa and Simon, we headed down the road in search of elephants.
There are several elephant parks scattered throughout South Africa in which they rescue and rehab injured elephants and keep the gentle giants well cared for and protected.
Initially, we had planned on visiting the Knysna Elephant Park about an hour away, but upon checking into Hog Hollow, we found there was actually another, Elephant Sanctuary at Plettenberg Bay, just five minutes up the road from where we were staying. So we saved ourselves the extra driving and went there instead.
After we got a brief tutorial on the life cycle of elephants, a few from the group were selected to “walk” the elephants to a shaded grove.
Here, we got up close and personal with them, observing their trunks, mouths, everything. If I were the elephants, I would have felt mighty violated!
Then, it was time to “walk” the elephants back to their resting places. Mom went first, while I took photographer duties. Isn’t she precious (and short)?
Next, it was my turn. Now if you’ve never held an elephant’s trunk, let me be frank. It’s pretty darn disgusting. Elephants’ trunks emit an alarming amount of mucus, which feels like a paste bonding your hand to their snout. After 20 feet or so walking hand-in-hand with the elephant, I’d had more than enough. I was ready to head to the ladies’ room and wash off the elephant juice!
We left the elephants in their field, but not before giving them treats for such fine behavior. Some guests also opted to ride them, but it was an additional $85 so I decided to hold off until I inevitably make it to Thailand, where I imagine it’s much cheaper (and pretty much necessary to that “authentic” Thai experience, heh).
We said good-bye to the elephants, then headed back down the road for a monkey encounter of a different kind…
Have you ever “held hands” with an elephant? If so, what was your impression?
Getting There: My mom flew Delta direct from Atlanta to Johannesburg. I flew Emirates (not advised) from San Francisco to Jo’burg via Dubai. South African Airways seems to have the most frequent and affordable flights from most U.S. hubs like Washington D.C. and New York City. The majority of those flights have very brief layovers in Senegal to refuel, but are otherwise direct.
Once you arrive in South Africa, it’s best to start your Garden Route drive in Cape Town and end in George, where you can catch a cheap South African Airlink flight back to either Cape Town or Jo’burg. You’ll see nearly all of the route that way and then not have to drive it all the way back to where you started.
Where to Stay: There are several little B&B-like places (called guesthouses) and bigger lodges scattered along the Garden Route. We settled on a mid-sized lodge in Plettenberg Bay called Hog Hollow that has 16 well-appointed, comfortable suites with modern amenities (free Wi-Fi, but no TV), and a larger villa for big families or groups traveling together. The lodge also has a number of dining rooms and shared areas, a sprawling outdoor deck, and a gorgeous pool with cushioned lounge chairs.
Communal dining in the lodge’s Main House is the ritual—it’s so much fun, and the food is divine—but private dining is also available. (Though you’re truly missing out if you don’t join in on the group dining experience.)
What it Costs: Our plane tickets were around $1400 each round-trip from Atlanta (Mom) and San Francisco (me). South African Air flights ran around $200 cheaper than that on average. Accommodation at small guesthouses runs anywhere from $60 to $100 a night for two people. Lodging at Hog Hollow is $200 a night per person, including a full, sumptuous breakfast, and worth every penny. Most attractions we visited cost $15 a person. The most expensive part of our trip, airfare aside, was the rental car, which ran around $150 a day. Then again, Hertz screwed us over and charged us twice, refusing to refund any of the money, so let this be a lesson: Don’t pre-pay, and don’t book your car through Hertz.