I stood on the deck and surveyed all below me, feeling like a conqueror discovering new lands. Indigenous forest swept as far as the eye could see. We were at Wild Spirit Backpackers, an eco oasis just a stone’s throw from the Tsitsikamma National Park.

Everything at Wild Spirit finds a home – from weary travellers to old car seats. Planning to go completely off the grid, Wild Spirit holds upcycling workshops and encourages guests to compost, recycle and conserve water.

I especially loved the bathroom basin – cleverly positioned above the toilet, guests washing their hands also fill up the tank.

Our next port of call was Plettenberg Bay. I’d come across the café Liv Green while searching for healthy food, and just one e-mail conversation with owner Kira Primo convinced me she was a woman after my own heart.

Kira is an ardent environmentalist with a mission to help people in whatever way she can – and if her healthy food is any indication, she’s already doing more than her fair share. Two smoothies later, we didn’t ever want to leave, so we decided to spend the night at her sister business, Plett Beachfront Accommodation, right on Central Beach.

There’s a wealth of eco activities to choose from in Plett, but we’d never tried sea kayaking before. Kira’s husband, Giovanni, has been running Dolphin Adventures for 12 years and offered to take us. We kitted ourselves out in a rash vest, booties, life jackets and wetsuit shorts – which did nothing to cover our rapidly goose-pimpling legs.

Giovanni gave us a quick lesson and a push, and we were paddling furiously through the crashing waves, while as the “driver” I laboured to keep the kayak in a straight line. With the ocean on each side of us, gently touched by the last rays of the fading sun, it was easy to see why Gio kayaks daily. Having avoided sharply jutting rocks and hidden currents, our last challenge was to surf the waves back into shore.

Paddling furiously, we were so close we could almost touch the sand when what could have been the world’s tiniest wave sent us into an inexorable turn, and, despite Gio’s specific instructions on what to do in such a situation, determinedly dunked us.

I was roundly smacked on the head by the kayak as if in punishment for not paying closer attention. I surfaced and dragged it the short distance to shore.

Spluttering, cold, but laughing, we rushed to the blessedly warm showers that awaited us.

Our next challenge was the drive to Baviaanskloof, where we’d be camping amid the Karoo’s cold embrace. We took the scenic R339 through Diepwalle Forest, past friendly cyclists.

We followed a seriously degraded gravel road up to a view point, where some of the most beautiful views awaited us, like an artist’s masterpiece brought to life.

We stopped at a padstal in the tiny village of De Vlugt for fresh water and some dried fruit and drove along a waterfall and through the stunning Prince Alfred’s Pass on a winding road that was little more than a one-way. And then we were in the not-quite-desert wastelands of the Karoo, carpeted in acacias and bristly shrubs. After a night of camping, we set off early the next day for Willowmore, fists raised with glee as we passed a sign welcoming us to the Eastern Cape, my homeland.

After a short break for a made-to-order brunch at a café reminiscent of a Victorian lady’s tea parlour, we set off to Steytlerville, roughly 100km away. We followed the GPS and ended up on a gravel road which was clearly the wrong route, but we’d come too far to turn back. Besides, it was only 30km.

An hour later the road was getting worse.

The only wildlife we saw was the backsides of rapidly departing livestock, while our fuel ran lower and lower. We filled up with our spare jerry-cans, and eventually hit a graded gravel road. We upped our speed to a relatively zippy 60km/h, watching the drooping sun with trepidation. At last, a tar road and we saw, with sinking hearts, still another 53km to Steytlerville.

Unfortunately, that was too much for the dwindling fuel in my tank. Just 25km out, Butternut came to a halt. We hid her from immediate sight in a slight depression and set off to Steytlerville together on Chris’s bike, Spud. The sun went down in the blink of an eye – the sky was pink one second, then faded purple like an old bruise and suddenly dark as an inkblot.

And it’s the Karoo, which means that it’s blindingly cold, so cold it’s actually painful. Despite extra fuel supplies, Spud spluttered and died 1.5km out of town and the nearest petrol station.

We tried to flag down a few cars, but with our jackets and hoodies on, probably looked like trouble.

My faith in human nature was taking strain by the time we called Frieda Kleinhans, manager of the Noorspoort Guest Farm where we’d stay that night. Frieda came to our rescue like a guardian angel, equipped with a jerry can full of fuel, a funnel and a siphon. Then it was an icy night-time ride back to my bike with extra fuel. We finally arrived at Noorspoort at 9.30pm like two icicles, never so glad to see a place in our entire lives. - Cape Times

l Andrews and List are on a 7 500km carbon-neutral scooter safari to document and photograph SA’s natural beauty and the inspiring environmental projects that aim to conserve this. See www.ecofriendly-africa-travel.com or www.facebook.com/EcoFriendlyAfricaTravel or www.twitter.com/greeninafrica