The Garden Route South Africa Walks


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The Garden Route

Julia Bradbury walks along the sun-drenched Garden Route on Africa's southern coastline, discovering that this spot may have given rise to the modern human race.


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South Africa is a country that always creates an impression.

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We know of its diverse population,

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the troubled history of apartheid

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and its rebirth as a global travel destination.

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I've been a fan of this country for many years, but this is my chance to go beyond the obvious South Africa,

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to explore on foot and take time to see how life and stunning landscape work today in the new South Africa,

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a country that's now keen to invite the world.

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Hello and welcome to the bottom of Africa.

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These rocks here are the last land before Antarctica,

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and to the north, thousands and thousands of miles that are the rest of the African continent.

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But for me today, it's all about being on foot here in South Africa

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to explore a landscape and a history that most visitors don't get to see.

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I've been coming to South Africa for 15 years,

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and from the moment I set foot on the land, I've wanted to make a programme here.

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It's full of warm, friendly people,

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it's incredibly naturally beautiful and has a fascinating history.

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They call it "the world in one country".

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Over the next four programmes, I'll be taking on four different walks

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that might just prove that audacious statement.

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South Africa has certainly got size on its side.

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It's five times larger than the United Kingdom.

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It has eleven national languages.

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Today, the country is full of diversity and contrast,

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a confusion of vibrant cities and simple rural existence.

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Mankind has repeatedly torn up this land

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in pursuit of its natural resources,

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and no-one doubts the complex and painful social history

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that's gone into creating it.

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But nothing can detract from the incredible landscapes

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that only now are being celebrated as they should be.

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My four walks will take me to the mountains,

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the desert

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and a game reserve.

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But my journey starts here, on the fabulous coast known as the Garden Route.

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This is the thriving Garden Route town of Mossel Bay,

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and it's where the Europeans first made their acquaintance with southern Africa.

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But this stretch of coastline plays a significant role in African history, as well.

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In fact, it's significant to each and every human being on the planet,

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because experts now believe that this is where modern man first appeared.

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What a place to commence my South African adventure.

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Over two days and 35 kilometres, my first walk sticks to a coast

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that can shed light on many areas of South African history.

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Today, the vast majority of visitors reach this coastline via Cape Town

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before moving east to the warmer Indian Ocean weather

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of the Garden Route.

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From Mossel Bay, my trail heads west along great cliffs and beaches,

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past modern developments and deserted sand dunes,

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and ends at the notorious rocky headland of Fransmanshoek.

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So, before I set off on my own adventure,

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let's take a bird's-eye view of the route I'll be following.

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From the headland at Mossel Bay, my walk kicks off in dramatic style.

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For 15 kilometres, there's a cliff-top path, full of the views and the famous fynbos vegetation

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that's unique to this corner of South Africa.

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One view, however, is entirely man-made.

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The Pinnacle Point Golf Resort

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is my walk's newest landmark, but it sits on top of its oldest,

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as the caves beneath are home to the archaeological site

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set to reveal secrets of the origin of mankind.

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The cliffs give way to gentler ground

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as I pass the town of Dana Bay

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and onto a massive stretch of unbroken golden sand.

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At this time of year, people come to this coast in the hope of seeing whales, dolphins and rare birdlife.

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At the end of the bay is the little village of Vlees Bay,

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a place I've visited many times in the past

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and the last development before my walk finishes

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at the rocky headland of Fransmanshoek,

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the perfect endpoint for looking back and admiring what you've just achieved.

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But back in Mossel Bay,

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the hospitality can make it difficult to even get started.

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WOMEN SING

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See? I told you, warm and friendly.

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-Goodbye, ladies. Thank you.

-Bye!

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This chap is Bartholomew Diaz.

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He's a Portuguese sailor who landed here in 1488,

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proving that Africa did indeed have a southern tip

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and that you could sail from Europe all the way round to the rich spice lands of India.

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Diaz and his crew were the first northern hemisphere sailors to round the Cape of Good Hope,

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making Mossel Bay the start point for 500 years of European involvement in South Africa.

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Diaz merely stopped here to replenish supplies

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and met peacefully with the tiny local populace.

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And today, I'm being joined by a modern local, Willie Komani,

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who agreed to accompany the crew and I as we step off the beaten track.

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Oh!

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So, how much longer have we got this view for, Willie?

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About eight through to ten kilometres.

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Excellent! That's good!

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Having wandered this coast his entire life,

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Willie is fiercely aware of the delicate balance between the Garden Route ecosystem

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and man's modern development.

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This is the clay what you use.

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You use it when you are walking in the sun, and you put it on your face.

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Oh, that's the protection.

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Protection, sometimes for insects that are biting you. It is very soft.

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-Yeah!

-You can feel it.

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You put a little bit water and then you put it on your face.

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-Natural sun protection.

-Yes.

-We should take some with us!

-Yes.

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Look at here.

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-This is a baboon grape.

-Baboon grape?

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Only the baboons eat it.

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If you eat it, you die.

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Poisonous? Completely poisonous?

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-But not for baboons?

-Not for baboons.

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If you eat it, in three days you will be sick and then you die.

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-You die after three days?

-Ja, after three days, you die.

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-Dear me!

-Yes.

-OK, so to be avoided.

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-But for baboons, it's good.

-For baboons, it's good.

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-Tiny little grapes.

-Ja.

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These rocky, wind-battered cliffs are where botanists flock to see fine bush, or "fynbos",

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as it's better known in Afrikaans, a vast collection of 9,000 plant species,

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two thirds of which are unique to South Africa.

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Table Mountain alone harbours more plant species

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than the whole of the UK.

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Grasses, ericas, proteas and aloes make for one of the world's richest botanical areas,

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which over centuries has offered man food sources and medicines

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and given rise to the name Garden Route.

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Jools, this is bitou. You can see that it's got a green fruit.

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The birds eat it, and also human beings eat it.

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-So it doesn't kill you? It's not like the baboon grape.

-No, it's not like a baboon grape.

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And if you have a hangon...

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A hangon?

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You mean a hangover?

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"Hang on" is "Hang on!"

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-Ja, that is hangover.

-Hangover.

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Alcoholic-driven hangover, yes.

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Yes, and then you can take five or three leaves,

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and then you can put it in boiling water.

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-And that cures the hangover?

-Yes.

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In five minutes, you are all right!

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Really? OK, hang on a minute.

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-You said three or five.

-Ja, three or five.

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How much do you think you need for a week?

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Willie's knowledge has been handed down to him through generations.

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In the complex ethnic mix of the new South Africa,

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Willie is part of the dominant African group in this part of the country,

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the eight-million-strong Xhosa people.

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-So, Willie there are 11 languages spoken within South Africa, and you're Xhosa.

-Yes.

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-You speak Xhosa, the wonderful...

-Ja.

-..clicking...

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How many clicks are there in your language?

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-There is five clicks in my language.

-Do them for me.

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I like the...

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SHE DOUBLE-CLICKS

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Now, I've heard one expression is very difficult to say in your language, something about a skunk.

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"The skunk rolls in the grass and breaks his windpipe."

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That is a very difficult thing to say in Xhosa, about the skunk.

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But in Xhosa it goes this way...

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SENTENCE OF CLICKS

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That is it.

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WILLIE SINGS

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Xhosa society reads like a Who's Who of South African politics -

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Thabo Mbeki, Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo,

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Nelson Mandela - all famous Xhosas.

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-I feel better already!

-Ja, now you're feeling very warm!

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'A talkative and relaxed people, with a habit of producing leading politicians.'

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I will speak like Mandela.

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AS NELSON MANDELA: 1996, Mandela was standing up and say,

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"All South Africa, you must come together to make a better life."

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"If you are anger, take your anger and throw it in the deep sea

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"and come back, and when you come back

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"you are peaceful and make this land successful,

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"because we love our land, South Africa.

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"All - black, white, Indians, coloureds - all of you, you do the same. And don't be in anger.

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"And laugh every time."

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And you remember every word.

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I remember every word. It was 1996.

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For 500 years, this land has been shared,

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not simply by blacks and whites but by a whole host of races and colours.

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Through good times and bad,

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there have been visitors and settlers, invaders and fugitives.

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The Xhosa people themselves are almost as new to the area

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as white Europeans, arriving here over centuries in a slow movement of people out of central Africa.

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But the truly modern face of the Garden Route is far more recent again.

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Food, drink, scenery and weather

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have all attracted the wealthy, the prosperous

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and the tourist.

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Bloody hell!

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So the fynbos has become finely manicured grass.

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Mother Nature, I'd like to introduce you to the leisure industry.

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Pinnacle Point is perhaps the most ambitious development on this stretch of the Garden Route.

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Up to 850 properties are planned here,

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with an elaborately designed golf course at its heart.

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I assume that that mega-building is the clubhouse, and you can see

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how precariously positioned the golf course is,

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right on the edge of the cliffs.

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The 19th hole must be the sea!

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But this symbol of modern Garden Route development

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may prove to be an unlikely cover to one of the greatest treasures of southern Africa.

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And so it's by the clubhouse that I'm meeting an international expert

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who's exploring the extraordinary story of what lies below.

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Professor Curtis Marean and his team from Arizona have been here for 18 years,

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much longer, in fact, than the golf course.

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Beneath the glamour of the resort,

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Curtis' work takes place in these simple caves,

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work that suggests that every single person on the planet

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can trace their origins to this very spot.

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Now, as I understand it, the work you're doing is so significant,

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you could spend the rest of your working career here. Is that right?

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I could easily spend the rest of my career here.

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I mean, to dig one of these sites, 13B, it took us eight years.

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It's widely believed and understood now that we all come from Africa,

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so I guess the two remaining questions are where in Africa, and exactly when.

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We know that that lineage that leads to everyone

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appeared sometime between 200,000 and 140,000 years ago.

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We think that progenitor population was here on the coast of South Africa.

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So cave 13B holds some big answers.

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-We think that those people lived in that cave.

-Let's go see it.

-OK.

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This way.

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It's believed that our species, Homo sapiens,

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has wandered African lands for at least a quarter of a million years,

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but maybe this was the place where an evolutionary leap took place.

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That is what Curtis and a team of 50 scientists are investigating,

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and it appears that the rich pickings of this coastline

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may have been the key to modern man.

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So this is 13B.

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This is Pinnacle Point, cave 13B.

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What was it about this cave, this location, 13B?

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This is a very special place on the south coast, because here you have a vegetational regime that's unique.

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And of course, the marine shellfish, as we all now know, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

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And together, they form a package of protein and carbohydrate.

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It's a key part of the modern human nutrition, and they had it here.

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So we began as a coastal species.

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Paint the picture. How many people would have lived in this cave?

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Anywhere between ten to twenty people could have been living in this cave at a time.

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Usually when people expand their diet to marine foods, the group size goes up, as does the population.

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-Because the fertility's going up?

-Exactly.

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And also, they can reduce their mobility,

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so they stop moving about the landscape a lot because the food is right here.

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And if you think about that, you have a larger group,

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which means that your interpersonal relationships are more challenging,

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and that puts added selection on things like cognition, language

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and your ability to get along with other people,

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which is the hallmark of the human adaptation.

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To be allowed to step into the Pinnacle Point caves

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and see Professor Marean's work has been an honour.

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In years to come, this site might just become a visitor attraction to rival the Pyramids and Stonehenge.

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If you look carefully, you can see that there's stone artefacts.

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This black material here is burnt material,

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-so that's an ancient fireplace.

-So that would have been for cooking...

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For cooking the shellfish and so on.

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We find animal bones etc in here.

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And at the very base of this deposit, we have dated this to 164,000 years ago,

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so that's actually that early evidence for marine adaptation.

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So we are sitting where modern-day man first sat.

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This, surely, is just the discovery of a lifetime.

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Everyone alive on this planet is descended from approximately 600 people.

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The question then becomes, where was that progenitor population?

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If we've contributed to answering that question,

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then we've contributed to answering one of the biggest questions of all time,

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and that's extremely exciting.

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Pinnacle Point is a shining example

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of the balancing act currently going on along the Garden Route.

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As you walk across the golf course, there's a bizarre mix

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of modern man, natural beauty and ancient history

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all competing for space and attention.

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As day 1 of my walk draws to a close, the cliffs begin to shrink.

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And the sun sets as I approach the rooftops of Dana Bay.

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But down at water level, there's time for one extra, and certainly unplanned, meeting.

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You can't not smile at that!

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The southern right whale, a regular and very welcome visitor to this shore.

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Between July and October, they come to shallow waters

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along this southern coastline, attracting friends and fans wherever they appear.

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Playful and communicative, they arrive each year, not normally alone, but in pairs.

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They come to mate and calve, yet another wondrous life form attracted to this rich coastline.

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They are just gorgeous creatures!

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Hello!

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The next morning is a new chapter.

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Day 2 starts with Willie ushering me straight onto the beach.

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Such a contrast to yesterday, walking along the sand,

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and this time the ocean's this close, whispering at your toes.

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What a magnificent way to start day 2 of the walk.

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The temptation on a beach like this is just too strong to resist.

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This long and broad expanse of sand

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lies 200 kilometres east of Cape Agulhas,

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the southernmost tip of Africa and the point at which two oceans meet.

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Whoa!

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This is the slightly warmer Indian Ocean.

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Near Cape Town, of course, it's the Atlantic, which is freezing.

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This is QUITE nippy!

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Despite the popularity of the Garden Route

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and an embarrassment of riches,

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it's really very easy to find yourself utterly alone.

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-Jools, I want to show you something here on the dunes..

-On the dunes?

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-Yes..

-Cool.

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These are some of the highest dunes on the Cape,

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a picture-book scene of golden sand

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that stands out against the fynbos and scrub around it.

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The dunes are so big - up to 100 metres, in fact - that they're permanent structures.

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The wind can do little to alter their size and shape.

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And like the cave yesterday, they contain some secrets.

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Long after Homo sapiens first introduced shellfish to their diet,

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this plentiful coast became the preserve of southern Africa's true indigenous population,

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known as the San.

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For at least 10,000 years, they enjoyed an uninterrupted existence here,

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free from other tribes and races.

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And they left behind piles and piles of evidence of their day-to-day activities.

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So, it's a cairn of shells, Willie.

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-Yes.

-A little mountain of shells.

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Ah.

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Loads of them, thousands and thousands!

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-Now, this is a midden.

-A midden?

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Yes, where the San was collecting their shells on the sea and come here...

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-The San people?

-San people, yes.

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And collected them here

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and prepared to make some food, just like a kitchen today.

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You see, I've been here before, into these dunes,

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and I thought that the sea had brought these shells here over years and years.

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-But it was the San people?

-Yes, that is the San people.

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Today, Willie can thank the San for the wonderful click sounds of his language, a feature that Xhosa

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and several other South African languages acquired from their San predecessors.

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And what about all the little stones around here?

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Ja, they were the tools what they used in those days.

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-These are tools?

-Yes.

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And they're just lying here in the dunes!

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-They're thousands and thousands of years old!

-Yes.

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-Sharp!

-Ja.

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OK.

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How many people, I wonder, must pass by a beachside midden without even a glance?

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Willie has helped bring this coast to life for me,

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and there is simply no way that without him I'd be on the lookout for a certain type of footprint.

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Here is the spore of the leopard.

0:23:350:23:40

-The leopard?

-Mm.

-This is?!

-Ja.

0:23:400:23:42

-Really?

-Mm!

0:23:420:23:44

-You're joking!

-No, no joking.

0:23:440:23:47

-So a leopard has walked along these dunes?

-Mm.

0:23:490:23:53

Where's the leopard from, then?

0:23:530:23:55

They come from the mountainside.

0:23:550:23:58

I'm so scared that when the farmers can see them, they can shoot them, because it eats the lambs.

0:23:580:24:04

Yes. A leopard is not really the best friend of a farmer!

0:24:040:24:07

No, the leopard is not the best friend of the farmer.

0:24:070:24:10

It's a reminder that you're walking in Africa, Willie,

0:24:110:24:15

when there are leopard prints in the sand dunes!

0:24:150:24:19

Heading back to the shoreline, it's time to press on to the end of the beach.

0:24:290:24:35

This giant sweep of sand was given the name Vleesbaai by the Dutch, literally "bay of meat".

0:24:350:24:42

They arrived here a century after the Portuguese to replenish supplies

0:24:420:24:46

and, it would seem, acquire fresh meat.

0:24:460:24:50

Today, the meat on offer tends to come from the sea.

0:24:500:24:54

The rocks at low tide are the hunting ground for the rare African oystercatcher

0:24:540:24:58

and their human counterparts.

0:25:000:25:03

160,000 years after man first came hunting here,

0:25:030:25:07

people on this coastline are still catching shellfish.

0:25:070:25:11

-Hi!

-Hi!

0:25:130:25:15

That looks like really hard work.

0:25:180:25:22

Ja, it is.

0:25:220:25:23

-Are there many women that do oyster catching?

-No, it's only me and two other women.

0:25:230:25:29

But they don't go in the water like me.

0:25:290:25:31

-Can we have a look at your haul today?

-Yes.

-What have you got?

0:25:310:25:34

That's a large. That's a small.

0:25:390:25:41

-Yeah.

-And that is a medium.

-So you've got three there.

0:25:410:25:44

-Ja.

-Three for one!

-Yes.

0:25:440:25:46

-That's good for you!

-Ja, that's good!

0:25:460:25:49

-Now, do you like oysters?

-No. I don't eat them.

0:25:500:25:53

No, no, no.

0:25:530:25:55

As I head towards my final viewpoint,

0:26:020:26:05

it's incredible to think of the different eras that have come and gone along this walk.

0:26:050:26:10

It's been a wander through the making of South Africa's Rainbow Nation,

0:26:100:26:15

from the very beginnings of modern man, the San hunter-gatherers and their great shell middens,

0:26:150:26:21

to the arrival of the Xhosa and the early Europeans.

0:26:210:26:25

The term "Garden Route" may be a modern creation,

0:26:260:26:29

but for thousands of years,

0:26:290:26:31

humankind has been making the most of everything on offer here.

0:26:310:26:35

That is my first bit of headland since Mossel Bay,

0:26:430:26:46

and actually, it's the end of my walk.

0:26:460:26:48

The jagged rocks at Fransmanshoek were the setting for the sinking of a French warship in 1763.

0:26:550:27:02

Amazingly, all 400 men on board are said to have made it to shore.

0:27:020:27:06

But the story makes for a fitting end to my walk today,

0:27:100:27:14

a reminder of yet another European power taking an interest in southern Africa.

0:27:140:27:20

By the time the French vessel sank, the Dutch East India Company had assumed control of Mossel Bay,

0:27:200:27:26

and within decades, the British had seized control of a fast-developing settlement up the coast

0:27:260:27:31

known simply as Cape Town.

0:27:310:27:34

There's the whole of my walk stretched out behind me, with Mossel Bay in the distance.

0:27:360:27:40

And here I am,

0:27:400:27:43

facing Antarctica, just as I was in the beginning.

0:27:430:27:47

This walk has confirmed what I've been told already.

0:27:590:28:02

The coastline has an abundance of flora and herb life.

0:28:020:28:05

Its nickname is the medicine basket and pantry of South Africa.

0:28:050:28:09

A feast of nature awaits you and a coruscating human history, as well.

0:28:090:28:14

But the Garden Route is under threat from all the usual human predators.

0:28:140:28:18

Long may it fight its corner, because I hope that you can enjoy this walk for lifetimes to come.

0:28:180:28:24

It really is "ongelooflijk lekker", unbelievably nice.

0:28:240:28:28

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:420:28:46

E-mail subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:28:460:28:50

Having tackled treks across the UK, Julia Bradbury embarks on a grand adventure in South Africa, setting out on four different walks that explore its claim to be 'a world in one country'.

Julia is a regular visitor to the Rainbow Nation, but this is her chance to go beyond the normal tourist destinations to a series of increasingly remote locations. However, these are walks that any reasonably adventurous walker could embark on, and they offer a fresh and personal perspective on a friendly and fascinating country that is often misunderstood.

The southern coastline of Africa is home to the sun-drenched Garden Route. With fabulous beaches and immense flora and fauna, this is an increasingly popular holiday spot, but Julia's walk reveals secrets of the history of the Rainbow Nation. She even encounters research suggesting that this abundant spot gave rise to the modern human race.

With her Xhosa guide Willie bringing every feature to life, Julia finds her first walk an absolute delight. Here is proof of South Africa's warm and friendly welcome and of the constant surprises it has to offer.