6 things to do on your way to the National Arts Festival

Posted on 5 July 2019

Take a Sho’t Left to the National Arts Festival for the final jam-packed weekend of some of South Africa’s finest performances. You can head to the Tsitsikamma National Park, the Knysna Lagoon and forests, and the Garden Route National Park or make quick stops at Jeffreys Bay, St Francis and Port Elizabeth, all in one trip.

Beyond the 2,000-plus shows on offer, 50 stalls selling a variety of handmade and organic products at the Village Green, the kid’s play area, and the abundant Standard Bank Jazz performances, Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) doesn’t have a lot going on for it on the fun side, which is why it’s important to get the most out of your trip on your way there.

This is a trip you can do even without the final stop being the National Arts Festival, but if you are heading there this weekend, remember that you can still catch Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Freshlyground and Mafikizolo and each of them are worth the travels.

Explore the Knysna Lagoon on a sunset boat ride

The first stop after landing at the George Airport was the Knysna Lagoon for lunch and to catch the sunset on the John Benn, the well-known boat that cruises the lagoon. We ate lunch at Cruise Cafe (their fish of the day was rather average but their seafood potjie looked delicious). The John Benn cruise heads towards the Knysna Heads and the roundtrip takes 1.5 hours. It’s a wonderful way to take in the abundant beauty that Knysna has to offer, even after the fires. The cruise passes the Featherbed Nature Reserve, which was closed due to the fires and is now open again. There are two bars on the boat and the price (R240) includes some refreshments on the boat. After the cruise, head off on another adventure activity on your way towards Makhanda, or alternatively, check into Redbourne Country Lodge where we spent the night.

Visit the Robberg Nature Reserve

Robberg Nature Reserve, which is part of the Plett Hope Spot, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to explore, and picnic. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

After breakfast at the Redbourne Country Lodge, we explored Plettenberg Bay’s Robberg Nature Reserve, which offers sweeping views of the ocean and plenty of photo opportunities. The reserve is a remarkable landscape on the Garden Route and well worth the visit. You can explore the reserve on a hike or, as we did or drive to the viewpoint and enjoy the view without having to break a sweat. Entrance is R50 per person.

Bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge

Bloukraaans bungy jump

Welcome Lishiva leaps off the Bloukraans Bridge, near Plettenberg Bay. Image credit: Face Adrenalin

After a morning filled with ocean views at Robberg, we got on the N2 and headed off to the Bloukrans Bridge located at the Tsitsikamma Village for what’s also known as the highest commercial bungee jump bridge in the world, at 216 meters. Upon arrival at Tsitsikamma Village, I got harnessed and then ziplined to the jumping spot where the operators were playing music to pump us up. Lerato Lefafa, travel blogger and bungee-jump addict, said this was her 10th jump and suggested that I choose an aspect of my life that I wanted to let go as I jumped. I figured I could only jump if I let go of the fear. As soon as I started falling off the bridge, I lost my breath trying to take in the view of green trees and fynbos infused water flowing at the bottom, all of which I was getting much closer to on a free fall which felt like the best way to zoom into nature. It’s not as scary as it seems and the beauty of it all is unparalleled. I would do it again.

Segway at the Garden Route National Park

As a reward for the jump, we headed off to Marilyn’s 60’s Diner for lunch in Stormriver which is 15 minutes away from Bloukrans Bridge. Their lunch was average (the bun on their famous Southern Fried chicken was stale) but their milkshakes and cute 60’s aesthetic vibe were a worthwhile reward for the jump. After Marylin’s, we went around the corner for an hour with Tsitsikamma Segway Tours around the Garden Route National Park. Unlike the adrenaline-pumping adventure of bungee jumping, Segway tours are a lot more calming once you get over the fear of machines. The Segway responds intuitively to your body; by slightly tilting your body forward, it will move forward and slightly tilting backwards reverses the Segway. It really is as simple as that and it’s a fun way to explore an area, especially in nature.

Ride horses in Jeffreys Bay

Image credit: Lerato Lefafa

Located about one hour away from Storm River is Jeffreys Bay, where we made a stop for horse riding on the beach with Featherfoot Beach Rides and Horse Ranch. The beach tour was about two hours which turned out to be perfectly timed for a novice like me who wanted to fulfill my Game of Thrones dreams and pretend to be making my way to Kings Landing to claim the Seven Kingdoms. The tour was a simple amble along the coast with very well-behaved horses that had me feeling ready to start my horse riding career. The trail takes you along the beach and  through the forest and includes crossing the river on a horseback.

Lunch at Two Olives in Port Elizabeth

Image credit: Lerato Lefafa

The next stop after Jeffreys Bay is Port Elizabeth, also an hour away. We headed to PE for a delicious tapas lunch at the Two Olives before driving for another hour and a half to Makhanda to commence the National Arts Festival. The tapas at the Two Olives are scrumptious and their service is excellent. My favourite on their menu was the cheese spring rolls with camembert, the prawns and ribs. From Port Elizabeth, we drove to the Temba Game Reserve which is located 15 minutes outside Makhanda, our accommodation during the Festival.

Here are shows to look out for at the National Arts Festival on the final weekend.

Pink Money (Dance) Scout Hall 7pm on Friday 5 July

The very big comedy show 7 (Comedy) at the Guy Butler Theatre, at 10.30pm on Friday 5 July

Loula (Theatre) at B2 Arena at 4 pm on Saturday 6 July

Ladysmith Black Mambazo Guy Butler Theatre at 2 pm on Saturday 6 July

Freshly Ground Guy Butler Theatre at 2pm on Sunday 7 July


Text: Welcome Lishivha
Featured image: Face Adrenalin

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