“Do you want to meet my pet warthog – his name is Rick.” It’s the first time I’ve been asked that question, and it pretty much summed up the vibe on our Eastern Cape holiday.
I absolutely love a safari, and I also love beach riding, so as soon as I saw this week-long trail I knew I had to go. And it did not disappoint! I landed in Port Elizabeth at lunchtime along with 4 other riders, where Jono was patiently waiting for us in the Arrivals Hall. Another rider to collect on route in PE and we set off for the 2 hour journey to Port Alfred. Everyone was excited, and we swapped stories about previous trips, horses we ride at home, and general chatter. The scenery on route was beautiful, the sun was shining, and I knew from having seen photographs of the ride that we were heading somewhere special.
Upon our arrival in Port Alfred we were met by Caitlin, Jono’s daughter, and we settled ourselves into our accommodation; 2 3-bed beach houses, which meant we could each have our own room. Not a necessity for me but always nice when it happens!
Jono and Caitlin cooked our dinner at the top beach house, which consisted of fresh fish (I asked Jono what type of fish it was and his response was butter fish, fish cooked in butter!), chips and salad. It was great to have a proper meal after eating courtesy of Virgin Atlantic since the day before. By this point I had spent a few hours with Jono and I was starting to get the measure of him – he is one of those people that you have to take what he says with a pinch of salt, as he doesn’t seem to be able to give you a serious answer to anything. An example of this would be when Linda asked if we needed to keep our windows locked at night, being in South Africa, and his response was “It would be a good idea, to stop the monkeys getting in.” It became a bit of a running joke amongst our group, along with his saying of “We’ll make a plan” whenever he was unsure if things were going to go according to his proposed itinerary. Jono was under a lot of pressure to get his tented camp finished prior to our arrival, and he was cutting it very fine, but he had a backup plan in place and we did manage to stay there after Port Alfred as planned. So his plan worked!
The first two days consisted of beach riding for about 6 hours a day on the most spectacularly beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Miles upon miles of empty coastline, with the exception of the odd dog walker or fisherman, allowing us plenty of opportunities for fast canters. I rode a horse called Jackie; small but mighty, and incredibly fit. She also loved being at the front, racing with the lead horse, and it was hard work trying to keep her at the back!
During our second day’s beach riding was when we had our first river crossing, and my first experience of swimming with a horse. We got rid of our saddles, stripped down to our underwear and walked bareback a few metres to the river’s edge. Aidan, our guide that day, told me “Stay at the front with Jackie, she’s really fast.” I was in in the river for about 30 seconds before her speed got the better of me – I was so taken aback by her pace that I rolled backwards off her! I couldn’t keep up with her then, she was gone for the shore, with me pathetically paddling along in her wake. Despite my terrible lack of skill it was a great experience and thoroughly enjoyed by all. We then rode up to our static camp – I was absolutely dying to see it as Jono had been “joking’ (or maybe not?) about the rush to get the plumbing in and the bathroom doors on, so I was on tenterhooks! On arrival though it was clear that he was just managing our expectations – the camp is in the most beautiful setting, set into the hillside above the river. There are 4 2 person tents built on decks also facing the fabulous view, and a further deck where the kitchen is where we ate and enjoyed a campfire with our sundowners. It was just perfect.
The camp is also in the perfect location for our day at Sibuya Game Reserve, just a 10 minute ride away. We spent 6 hours in there and saw elephant, rhino, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, impala and warthog, plus a number of birds that I wasn’t familiar with. It was a really great day and made a nice contrast to the beach riding.
We enjoyed 2 more river crossings, my second attempt was more success (I was riding a different horse called Moon as Jackie had become a bit footsore on the Game Reserve day), Moon was a bit bigger and rather more round than Jackie which I think helped me out immensely! We then stayed at a fantastic beach house in Cannon Rocks that night, where the owner of the house made us a dinner of pumpkin fritters, mac and cheese, salad and other vegetarian delights.
Our last full day of riding saw us retrace our steps and head back along the beach towards our camp at Kenton-on-Sea, with a final river crossing. I was on one of the less experienced horses today called Lady, who had only done 2 crossings, but she followed the rest of the horses in like a pro, although she did like to submerge her whole head, which was somewhat alarming.
We enjoyed a fantastic picnic lunch on the beach, and with it being our last day we all seemed to be in a reflective mood. We then made our way back to camp along the river, where sundowners were waiting for us on the deck. A braai for dinner, plus a few drinks to celebrate a great week!
I have developed a bit of a love affair with Africa this past year, having previously visited the Okavango Delta and the Kalahari Desert, and it was a real treat to experience a different area, different terrain, different scenery. Jono’s outfit is small, run by himself and his daughter and a couple of local guys, which really adds to the family feel. Nothing is too much trouble for them, and the welcome is second to none. The accommodation was the perfect mix of ‘Safari Africa’ and a beach holiday. Everyone loved their horses by the end of the week, and he’s got some real characters. I will be sure to return in the future, to check on Rick, the warthog, and see how the camp is progressing!!