With all the news this week I thought it was topical to share my pics of Zimbabwe. I lived in Zimbabwe until we moved to South Africa when I was five. I have strong memories of living there. My parents worked on a flower farm growing chrysanthemums. My first year of school. Our friends dairy farm. Open spaces. My cousin doing cartwheels in our garden. Growing strawberries. After we left my dad was heart broken. Zimbabwe was his life, in his bones, but he wanted a better life for our family. I went back for my cousins wedding and visited Victoria Falls while I was there... what an incredible experience. It is the most beautiful peaceful country. It is one of the most incredible places I've ever been... and long to go back again. I am so excited about the sudden changes in the country this week... the celebrations on the news and in my facebook feed have been tear jerking, I've had goosebumps every day! Exciting times ahead...
Gondwana is a private game reserve near Mossel Bay on the Garden Route. As part of our last South Africa trip we stayed there for 3 days. If you know me, you know I never go for fancy hotels or accommodation, I will always opt for an interesting Airbnb or a homely guest house. The main reason we chose Gondwana was the location which was perfect as it was in the middle of our planned route. It was the height of luxury, but also fitted the bill of unusual interesting accommodation. We also had Chris's parents with us and we weren't sure they would have enjoyed staying in rustic safari tents we'd stayed in before so we thought we'd treat ourselves to a few days of luxury. We arrived covered in dust after about half an hour on a dirt road. We were greeted by friendly Gondwana staff who handed us cold face cloths to clean our faces. They parked our cars for us and took all of our luggage to our rooms while we checked in and enjoyed a welcome cocktail .
We stayed in one of the thatched roofed rondawels in Kwena Lodge. These modern circular huts are based on traditional Khoi-San bushman huts. They are built in a half circle around a small valley so they all have an amazing view. Each one is a stunning open plan room with a bathroom/ shower and verandah that looks out into the valley. They have fireplaces and a sky light above the bed to look at the stars. All of the accommodation is in the main game reserve so the animals occasionally wander through the camp. While we were there we had zebra, eland and elephants wandering through.
We arrived in the afternoon with just enough time to get ready and head out on our first of 6 game drives over the next 3 days. We had paid for full board so had all our meals and 2 game drives a day included. Our guide, Brian who was from Zimbabwe looked after us and took us out on every drive so we had just one dedicated person who we got to know quite well over the few days we were there.
Over the time we were there we saw zebra, rhino, kudu, hippo, wildebeest, red hartebeest, elephants, giraffe, eland, buffalo, ostrich, cape zebra, sable, impala, springbok and lion (plus a few more... I don't want to bore you too much! :-)). Early on in the first drive became apparent that there were pros and cons to being on a private game reserve. One of the first things we did was drive to see the lions which weren't on any of the main tracks. They were tagged and the rangers always knew where they were. Having been on game drives before it felt a little bit odd and ever so slightly like a zoo rather than a large game reserve with wild animals. The animals are of course wild, but part of the fun of a game drive is not knowing what you will see and having no guarantee that you will see everything. It makes the special chance encounters even more special. After this most of the animals we saw were by chance so it wasn't all like that.
On our second night after dinner one of the guides walked us back to our hut in the dark. He flashed a torch down our path and as we were saying goodnight to Chris's parents, Chris noticed a puff adder in our path. It was crazy! The guide quickly called for help who came and safely removed the snake to move it back into the bush away from the camp... that was an exciting end to our day and very nearly the end of our holiday! :-)
One of the pro's of being on a private reserve is the special attention, time and knowledge you get from a dedicated guide. Brian was brilliant. He was so knowledgable and pointed every bird, plant and tree as well as any larger wildlife. There wasn't anything he didn't know about. He was known by all of the other guides for always being the last back from the drives. We were supposed to have sundowner drinks and snacks on each night drive during sunset. Our sundowners always landed up being in the dark as we'd been driving longer than planned. Even in the dark the sundowners were amazing! We had a table covered with wine, beer, spirits and really tasty different snacks each day.
We learnt a lot about the challenges of being a smaller private reserve. Poaching is a major issue. The rhinos have to be closely followed at all times. The luscious fynbos landscape is not a natural environment for some of the animals, they have issues with taking in too much water - most of the Springbok had died because of this. As there are so few, the lions are swapped out with other game reserves to stop inbreeding in the prides. The cost of some animals is incredibly high, so they may only have a few whereas others are free, but they need to keep a balance between them. There are issues with disease which can be fatal when you have limited animals. There are also really amazing things about being a small reserve such as the conservation projects. A couple of things Gondwana are focusing on are protecting and preserving the endangered fynbos vegetation and the long term sustainability of the Desert Black Rhino, White Rhino, Cheetah, Bontebok, and Cape Mountain Zebra.
If you are interested in taking good wildlife photos you will have a much better chance here than on a standard game drive. Brian would take so much extra time to make sure we had got as close as possible and stayed as long as we needed to get good photos. He would also dedicate a whole drive to ensure we found different animals we hadn't seen previously. It was good too to have time to just sit quietly and appreciate the animals too without rushing off to finish the drive.
Overall Gondwana was lovely. Even though there wasn't the volume of animals you would see at a national game reserve it was still wonderful to be out in the open, under the African sky, waking up really early and heading out on a drive in the cool dusk eagerly hoping to see animals, seeing incredible African sunsets. Enjoying early morning coffee and rusks and evening sundowners. Going for massages. Spending our days lounging around in the heat, reading, eating and swimming. The staff were wonderful and it was really nice to experience a little bit of luxury for a change :-)
We slept, ate and played at: Gondwana Game Reserve
This is the second time we've driven Route 62 and I think it was even more spectacular than the first. We drove in the opposite direction as we were heading from Cape Town towards Port Elizabeth. We started in Worcester and finished in Oudtshoorn with the Cango caves and we took the Robinson mountain pass back to the coast. We spent the night part way in Barrydale in the interesting and quirky Karoo Art Hotel. I don't want to say too much about it as I have written about it before (you can read my previous post here), but I thought I'd share my photos from this trip...
As part of our trip we spent a couple of days drinking wine. A lot of wine! Surrounded by beautiful scenery. It was great! We based ourselves in Stellenbosch and managed to fit in 7 vineyards over a couple of days, one day on our own and one day as part of a private tour.
In Stellenbosch we walked around looking at all the bookshops and little galleries. It is such a beautiful place to just wander or stop for a coffee or brunch. We obviously stopped to see the famous 'Oom Samie Se Winkel' again with all its little goodies too!
On the day we drove ourselves around (well, Chris drove us which was so kind and a huge sacrifice! :-)) we started the day at Simonsig Vineyard. Chris's brother Tony had Simonsig MCC (South African equivalent of champagne) at his wedding, and his parents have bought it ever since. We all love it, so it was so amazing to visit the vineyard! We got there pretty early and were one of the few tables there... we took our time, enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and slowly drank our wine. It was wonderful and probably the best vineyard we visited on the whole trip!
The second vineyard we visited was Delaire Graff. The main reason we chose it was I was desperate to see some of Lionel Smit's paintings and had heard there were a few there. I have followed Lionel Smit for a few years and absolutely love his huge colourful portraits. There were quite a few Lionel Smit paintings, so I was super happy. It turned out that Laurence Graff has a huge personal art collection, a lot of which is on display at his vineyard, including the famous Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff which was a wonderful surprise. Everywhere you look there are the most incredible sculptures and paintings all in the most beautiful surroundings. Absolutely stunning vineyard!
Our final stop for the day was Vergelegen, one of the oldest vineyards in the area. Chris and I have been there previously, but wanted Chris's parents to see it, as there are some lovely Dutch buildings and incredible 300 year old camphor trees. We had a lovely lunch with peacocks walking between our tables.
On day 2 our driver and tour guide Tarryn picked us up in a minivan. Our first stop was Rustenberg Vineyard. This was a lovely small vineyard surrounded by fields of cows. I think one of the bonuses of going with a tour guide is getting to try out some of the lesser known vineyards. The big ones are beautiful, but do attract crowds of people. Rustenberg (and all the vineyards we visited on our tour) was off the beaten track... we would never have even known about it. We were the only people there so we got special attention and the wine was great!
Our second stop was Villliera, who specialise in making MCC (Méthode Cap Classique - South Africa's champagne) where we drank our wine under the trees, followed by a hearty lunch at Delheim.
Our second to last stop was Uitkyk vineyard and our final stop Lavenir. At Lavenir we relaxed in a lovely garden, enjoyed some cheese and ham platters and sampled a whole lot more wine. Tarryn also showed us her champagne saber trick where she opened a bottle of champagne with the swipe of a sword.
I have been getting into my cooking classes recently. I think it's a lovely thing to do as part of travelling, to learn a bit about another countries food and culture. I searched to see if there were any in South Africa and found The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour in Cape Town. It was brilliant. We started walking the colourful cobbled streets of the Bo-Kaap with a mini tour and stopped in one of the little shops to have a look at some of the ingredients we'd be cooking with and then headed to Zainie's lovely house. There was a group of about 8 of us and we all mucked in. We learned about the different Cape Malay spiced including 'mother-in-law' and 'father-in-law', ('mother-in-law' being a bit spicier) and learned to mix our own masala spice. And then we cooked dhaltjies (chilli bites), samoosas, rotis and Cape Malay chicken curry, all of which we got to enjoy afterwards. If you are in the area and want to learn a bit more about South African food and cooking, I would definitely recommend it.
This was my third visit to Cape Town and Chris's parents first ever holiday to South Africa! We had 6 days which was great and long enough to do almost everything we wanted to (leaving a few things for next time). I could never tire of visiting this city... it is incredible and honestly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I thought I'd share what we did in case you need any ideas... this is not a comprehensive list, just a few things I have done and enjoyed on my last few trips.
1. The Waterfront - There are so many good restaurants, shops and you have an amazing view of Table Mountain. There is also the Waterfront food market with local food stalls and the Watershed, an industrial building with over 150 stalls selling locally produced and designed crafts and goods... you won't see this much unique, creative, high quality stuff again, so if you see something you really want, buy it!
2. Table Mountain - This is obviously a must! You can hike or get the cable car up/ down. If you are limited for time and have a clear day you should definitely go up! We decided to go up on our first day and am so glad we did, as every day after that there was cloud covering the top and we wouldn't have been able to see a thing if they even let us up!
3. Cape Peninsula - If you want to do all of the peninsula, down the east coast and up the west, you either need to plan for a very long day, or spread it over 2-3 days and take your time enjoying all the stops! I would recommend starting with Kalk Bay (have breakfast at Olympia Cafe), and then have stops at Simons Town (you can take a boat trip from here), Boulders Beach (to check out the penguins on the beach) and finish the east coast with Cape Point. On the west coast start with driving Chapmans Peak, stop at Noordhoek (you can go horse riding on the beach), Hout Bay and then up to Camps Bay. These would be my main stops, but there is so much more to see and explore in-between these.
4. Cape of Good Hope - Most people just head straight to see Cape Point, where you can see the meeting of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, but there is a whole national park with trails you can explore. Look out for the baboons, penguins, eland and bontebok.
5. Bo-Kaap - This incredibly colourful multicultural area with it's cobbled streets is definitely worth checking out. It used to be a township and the centre of Cape Malay culture. More recently it has become very popular with other people buying houses... it is still a feast for the eyes though! There is a very good Bo-Kaap museum which is in the oldest house in the area.
6. South African cooking class - there is a brilliant Cape Malay cooking class in the Bo-Kaap. You will go on a little tour, check out one of the local shops and then cook loads of tasty food in one of the colourful houses!
7. The South African National Gallery - The brilliant gallery is located in the company gardens with a backdrop of table mountain. There is lots of interesting and thought provoking art, definitely worth a visit.
8. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens - These are hands down the best botanical gardens I've been to. So lovely and peaceful and surrounded by mountains. There is a fantastic greenhouse, restaurant and cafe, loads of sculptures and walkway among the tree tops where you are high up with the birds and have a different view point of the mountains and gardens.
9. Groot Constantia - This is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. We had a fantastic lunch outside under the trees with the best views, followed by a really good wine tasting. If you don't have time to head to to Stellenbosch and the winelands definitely try and stop here as it is so much closer and just as good. If you do have time try and do both!
10. Hermanus - This is a bit of a drive, but if you are in Cape Town between June and December you have a high chance of seeing wales. It is a gorgeous drive and a lovely stop for some lunch or a stopover even if you don't see wales!
Nelson's Eye - Fantastic steak house
Olympia Cafe - Bakery and breakfast in Kalk Bay
Mooiberge - Strawberry farm for breakfast
Miller's Thumb - Seafood
The Power and the glory - Awesome little place for good breakfast. coffee, or a beer in the evening
Amber Tree Lodge - We have stayed in a private room here twice now. Fantastic location and lovely reasonably priced hostel
Bo-Kaap Cape Malay Cooking Class
From Durban we travelled North along the coast to spend a couple of nights in the bush! Our first stop was a Raphia Palm forest in Mtunzini. Other than the raised walkway, the forest is left to it's natural course and attracts deer and vultures that eat the palm nuts. It is a lovely peaceful place and we were the only ones there. We met one of my friends for coffee and then headed on to iMfolozi Hluhluwe Game Reserve, stopping briefly at an amazing roadside market selling curios, crafts and fruit.
Just on our drive into the game reserve to check in to our chalet we saw a hippo out of the water, rhino, warthog, wildebeest, zebra, kuala, impala, kudu, a herd of buffalo (the first time I've ever seen buffalo!!!) and an elephant. It was very dry which makes it easier to spot animals, but it was so incredible to see so much before we'd even had a game drive. It was such a treat to be back in the bush with it's huge open spaces and enormous night sky. We had an amazing African sunset that night on the way to our cabin. We had a simple dinner and sat outside on our verandah drinking wine surrounded by the sound of animals and insects. Our electricity was switched off at about 9pm so we got ready for bed by candlelight and had an early night.
We woke up at 4:45am for an early morning game drive and breakfast in the bush. We drove around for a few hours... saw loads of buffalo, rhino, elephants, impala and nyala. By the time our drive ended it was absolutely sweltering. We left and drove to our guest house in St Lucia. We checked in, freshened up and headed out for a boat trip on the estuary. We saw loads of pods of hippos really close up while they swam and played... I've never seen hippos that close, it was actually quite scary. We also saw crocodiles, birds and a lone buffalo by the water and towards the end of the trip we had another spectacular sunset over the water. We went out for a seafood dinner and fell asleep totally exhausted after a very long day.
I have very strong memories of the Drakensberg when I was younger. We once went on a camping trip with some family friends and a few times drove nearby just to get a glimpse of the snow on the mountains. It is dramatic and stunning. On my recent trip back to Durban the one thing I really wanted to do was go back to the Drakensberg. I planned a trip with two close friends for a couple of days. We stayed in a chalet in the Northern Drakensberg right up in the mountains. I had the most incredible few days... we arrived when it was getting dark and woke up to sunrise and baboons. We hiked in the heat and took a dip in the icy water to cool down, stared at the most stars and biggest sky I have ever seen. We saw bushman paintings, loads of birds and wildlife. We braaied, chilled, talked, laughed and cried. I hadn't seen these two friends properly for about 10 years and could not have imagined a better weekend away or special time to catch up with old friends!
As part of my trip back home to Durban I desperately wanted to go to the Drakensberg, so I planned a road trip with two of my most special old friends that I grew up with and hadn't seen for a long time. On the way to and from the Drakenberg we drove through the Midlands Meander, a lovely stretch of gentle hills with little shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, farms, spas and golf courses between Pietermaritzburg and the Drakensberg.
Our first stop was the Mandela capture site, which has a huge instalment of Mandela's face and a museum. The sculpture is a huge instalment of 50 tall steel columns that slowly come into focus as you approach the sculpture and they all line up. The 50 columns represent 50 years since Mandela's capture. If you go and struggle to see it, try looking through your camera... for some reason I think your eyes play tricks and see right through it and your camera flattens what you see. At least mine did anyway until someone explained it to me.
Next we stopped at Piggly Wiggly for breakfast and some shopping. I had bacon, banana and berry french toast and a red chai (there are all sorts of red drinks in South Africa, red chai, red cappuccino, red late... they are all made with a shot of strong rooibos tea!). The shops were great too... I bought a Christmas decoration, a wire bird ornament, some cushion covers and some Simonsig Wine.
We stopped Ardmore, a gallery and shop with the most fascinating pottery. Each piece is a unique piece of art (we actually studied it at school!) and costs about £2000! When we went they were all away on holiday, so we could still look around, but you can usually visit the workshop and see the artists making the pottery too.
On the way to Drakensberg we stopped at Bierfasl, a traditional German pub and restaurant serving very tasty German food and beer. On the way back we stopped at Blueberry Hill for lunch... it is up on a hill, has large glass windows looking out at the fields of Nguni cattle and plants everywhere. The menu is full of blueberry flavours. I had blueberry lemonade, bunny chow with a blueberry chutney and we shared a blueberry cheesecake after... it was such a stunning place.