6 Drakensberg experiences for people who hate hiking

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The Central Drakensberg is reached via a 200km stretch of the N3 highway from Durban, followed by 60km on minor roads leading into some of the most impressive mountains in South Africa.

Hikes, climbs and adventures are expected in an area like this, but the allure of this area is very diverse.

Did you know that these roads will also lead you to the home of one of the top youth choirs in the world?

Or that these peaks and valleys offer a safe haven for birds of prey to recover from injury?

Or that you can step out of your hotel room and be walking on a path into forests of ferns, rivers, waterfalls and caves?

I recently spent six days in the Central Drakensberg and apart from the scenery, peace, fresh air and great food, these were the highlights of my stay.

Music in the Mountains

You do not have to be a music aficionado to relish every moment of the concert performed by the talented youngsters of The Drakensberg Boys Choir

60 boys dressed in formal black trousers, white frilly shirts and sky blue waistcoats stand dead still, all eyes on the conductor, Charlotte Botha.

With a flick of her baton the auditorium is filled with magic as these pure voices blend and soar to become one. The next hour is filled with music, ranging from an operatic duet from Don Giovanni to a haunting rendition of The Lion King’s “Circle of Life”/”Babu Yethu” mash up.

After a break for tea and scones, we return to the auditorium that is now in total darkness. Silence is called for, and after a tense minute of sensory deprivation, the world explodes as the boys run on stage from the back of the hall. Rhythmic African sounds fill the air and bright colours of the dark continent flash as the boys appear, dressed in the vibrant costumes representing our many cultures.

What follows is an emotional roller coaster and a musical celebration of South Africa. It segues from the foot-stomping high energy of 60 voices to free-flowing tears as one pure voice conveys the sadness of a lament. The pride is palpable; the audience is encouraged to clap or sing along to Shosholoza, and feet tap in time when the choir sings and acts out Bobejaan Klim die Berg (an Afrikaans folk song translated loosely to “the monkey climbs the mountain”).

The boys clearly enjoy the second half of their performance and the audience is loath to let them go. What is incredible is that these artists are all between nine and 15 years of age. Their talent and level of dedication to their craft is admirable. The boys have two hours of choir practice every day, over and above six periods of academic classes and two of music training in the form of aural lessons and music theory.

To get a taste of a Drakensberg Boys Choir concert, you can watch the live stream most Wednesdays at 3:30, or attend a live show at their facility in Winterton. Tickets cost R160 and booking is imperative.

For bookings phone 036-468-1012, email bookings@dbchoir.co.za, or visit the ticket sales web portal.

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Falcon Ridge Bird Of Prey Centre

The setting of this place alone makes a visit worthwhile. Set on a ridge with the imposing Sentinel and Monks Cowl peaks as a backdrop, the valley opens up in front of you, offering views of miles of golden rock, green lines of trees and hazy folds of mountain that fade into the distance.

 The skills of these birds are unbelievable until you see it with your own eyes.

Greg and Alison bring the birds out one at a time and give a brief outline of each bird’s story as well as some information about their capabilities. While the family dogs bark around Greg’s feet, desperate for a bit of chicken neck, the birds are in charge, and only swoop down for a treat if they feel like it.

We watch as an eagle flies far into the distance and then circles on the thermals that carry him to 2km high in the air. Greg gives a call, gets the attention of this amazing raptor, then throws a chicken neck high into the air. The bird locks its eyes on the food and flies in at an astonishing 2-300 kilometers per hour to catch the treat before it hits the ground.

Another raptor flies in low, skimming our heads with such precision that you feel the wind they create as it rearranges your hair.

Greg shows us the feet and claws of the eagle and you can see how easily they can pick up or tear into their prey.

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A shy spotted eagle owl is called. He is sitting on the thatch roof of the bomo and will not move. His head is turning in all directions as he watches for danger. Eventually, after scanning the sky, Greg finally detects the threat that the owl spotted way before him. A tiny black speck, circling very high up has its eye on the owl, causing it to assume a hiding pose.

After the display there is plenty of time to walk around and view the big variety of large birds in their enclosures, and ask questions from the well informed staff. For more information on Falcon Ridge, contact Mark or Alison on 036-468-1752 or 083-354-1392. Shows times are 10:30 AM every day except Friday, and are dependent on weather conditions; cloud or rain means there will not be a show. Tickets can be purchased at the venue; no booking is required.

Head for the Hills

The Drakensberg Sun Resort offers five hikes from its premises. Distances range from an easy 2.2km walk around the lake, to a strenuous 7.5km guided climb up Skeleton Gorge. The hikes are free of charge for residents, and a small fee of R20 is levied for non-residents. A R50 deposit is required from all hikers, and signing in at the start (and again on return) is mandatory. No hikes may be commenced after 2:00 PM, as the weather can change really quickly, and it gets dark before 6:00 PM in the winter.

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I walked the Blue Grotto trail, an interesting hike which starts in the open veld, weaves through the forest, crosses rivers, ascends and descends along steps and embankments and has plenty of scenic places to stop and take in the views and tranquility nature.

One stop is at an icy waterfall that cascades into a pool, another is at a large cave, and my favourite, after a steep uphill slog in the very humid forest, offers a view out over the mountains, made even more alluring by the storm clouds gathering overhead.

I did the walk back at a much faster pace, as the wind suddenly came up and rattled the leaves, blew sand in the air and provided a few minutes of relief from the heat. Then it stopped and allowed me to hear the distant growls of the thunder getting closer.

Five minutes after signing back in to the hotel a downpour drenched the thirsty earth, falling hard from a moody black sky. Not enough to break the drought in the area but more than capable of soaking anyone caught outside.

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Take to the skies

For those who like their nature laced with adrenaline, the zip line adventure offered by the Drakensberg Canopy Tour is right next to the Drakensberg Sun, and Drakensberg Ballooning is a few kilometres outside of Winterton.

Find a little something to take home

 Shopping at the little centre in the Champagne Valley on the R600 you will find most basics you require, an ATM that usually works, a great coffee shop and some interesting curios.

 

Closer to Winterton is the funky Thokoziza Centre, a small rural mall that looks like a tourism hot spot. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was not priced for tourists, but had a nice mix of clothing, art, crafts, curios and eateries.

Take the slow road, after all the journey is part of the experience.

An alternate route between Durban and the Central Drakensberg is via the Midlands Meander. This is an area of rural roads on either side of a 120km stretch of the N3, starting near Hilton just outside of Durban and extending North towards Estcourt. There are five routes that make up the Midlands Meander, each route having anything from 10 to 30+ attractions which include artists, craft shops, eateries, accommodation, curio shops and other activities where you can stop, relax and part with some money.

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If you are thinking of heading for the hills, planning some serious hiking or looking for a mountainous retreat let Accommodation Direct take the hassle out of finding a place to rest your head.

2016: Reminiscing and shout-outs

Life is all about balance.

We need the lows to truly appreciate the highs.

Being happy all the time only exists in our social media lives.

The reality of 2016 has been one of extremes. The highlights were abundant and beyond anything I had dreamed for myself. The lows, well, can you get any lower than Zuma and Trump 😦

Like any other year, in 2016 I have had moments of 100% magic, experiences that were above average, times that were just”nice” all counterbalanced by crap days, admin, boring chores and frustrating curve balls.

Let’s start with the magic.

By now you all know that I wish I was a ninja but I am actually the biggest fraidy cat in the world. This year I tried really hard to face some of my fears .

Fear of heights and a generally overactive mind that imagines all the ways I could die doing an adventure activity.

I went aqua hiking in Reunion Island

I jumped from about 5 miles high into a pool. Read about it here. I almost had a heart attack and bailed out, but I eventually jumped. Thanks Dawn Jorgensen for making me brave.

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It is much higher than it looks when you are standing there trying to jump.

I swam in the Devil’s Pool on the very edge of the Victoria Falls in Zambia.

Obviously I was convinced I would be swept over the edge, but I survived it and actually the scariest part was the unseen fishes that kept biting my feet, that was creepy.

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One of the most exilarating experiences of my life

I zip-lined. In the dark.

I have a love hate relationship with zip-lining. I love the feeling of flying but I am petrified of heights. Add to this the fact that I was not very good at braking and it gets messy. I would twist and turn totally out of control while imagining plummeting to my death in the valley below. Then, I learned how to brake (finally, after completing over 10 zip line experiences, I’m a very slow learner) and now I am addicted to zip lining. Cape Canopy Tours took it to a whole new level with their full moon adventure. Except the moon stayed hidden behind the mountain and only appeared as we were hiking out. Ziplining in pitch blackness is bizarre, unique and a total rush, especially when you know how to slow and brake like a pro 😉

 I went underground to explore the lava tunnels on Reunion Island

I fought my claustrophobia (only just) and spent a fascinating and slightly terrifying 2 hours underground in the lava tunnels formed by the many volcanic eruptions on the Island. I will confess to joining a few others in our group for a brief moment of panic and hyper-ventilating, but I did it, I’m glad I did it and I would even do it again.

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The lava tunnels are under this other worldly landscape.

Helicopters.

These whirlybirds tap in to all my usual fears of crashing, dying and heights but I’m over that now as I was totally spoiled  with helicopter flips this year. I learned a valuable lesson. Up to half an hour in the air is fine, anything longer and the airsickness kicks in along with desperate teeth-clenching to avoid vomiting. Viewing Cape Town from the air with NAC Helicopters is a must do experience, you can read about mine here

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Perfect views of Cape Town from inside an NAC Helicopter

I fell in love with a river and despite the drought, flying over the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River  with United Air Charter was a hugely emotional experience.

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Exploring the whole island of Reunion from a helicopter is an adventure second to none. We flew over volcanoes, through skinny gorges and spiraled dizzyingly above multiple waterfalls before calming down to serene views of the beaches and coastline. Some serious flying skills by Pierre from Helilagon during this mind blowing hour in the air.

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Wildlife

Wild animals are always amazing and seeing them where they belong, in the wild, is a humbling experience. Swaziland blew me away with the beauty of their reserves, their conservation success and the abundance of wildlife there. I trotted past zebra on horseback, viewed elephants bathing, giraffe eating, hippo yawning and lions sleeping. All over just a few days in this fabulous kingdom.

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Thanks to Anje Rautenbach I was part of a group of bloggers who adopted a penguin, read all about Pax the Penguin here.

I marched for Lions in Cape Town to highlight the plight of captive bred lions. Read more and support BloodLions  and get all the info on the plight of lions here in my article on Traveller 24.

It sounds like my life was a non stop perfect adventure, so before you start hating on me, lets get back to reality. In January and June I had surgery to remove skin cancer from my face and arms. More to still be removed,but that is a issue for next year. Please wear hats, load on the sunblock and beware of the sun.Skin cancer is a big problem in our country and it comes and bites you years after your over exposure to the sun.

My hot water cylinder burst,and a new one set me back ZAR15K, I nearly cried. My car decided it needed a new everything and then some dip-shit reversed out of a parking place on the side of a road and hit me as I was driving past. This was in Sedgefield while I was on holiday. Of course the driver had no ID, insurance or license. In fact they were even unsure of their own address. Turned into an admin nightmare.

My beloved Xperia Z3 phone had 3 CPU’S replaced as it kept overheating and then dying. Vodacom were beyond unhelpful, my insurance people were awesome but I still spent too many ZAR’s buying and iPhone 6s and I am still locked in to the Z3 contract. 😦 I think I am not an Apple fan because compatibility is a tech nightmare.

Let’s get back to the happy stuff. Highlight on the home front was getting my 2nd grandchild in April. His name is Oliver and he is an adorable brother to Stella who turned 3 this year.

Photography

Four days into this year I decided impulsively to commit to posting a pic a day on Instagram. #366daysofmakingspace. I was inspired by Heather Mason  whose photography I am in awe of, and she never missed a single day on the project, and she started on the 1st. I missed a few days due to illness or absolutely no connection, but I did make the effort to “make space” for photography and it was awesome. There are probably too many images of Table Mountain on my account but I realised that actually I don’t care.

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My photos are for me. I experiment, photograph what appeals to me and it thrills my soul. I have climbed trees, mountains, bridges, roofs and walls, risked speeding fines chasing a sunset, captured incredible moments, stood on the middle of bridges, roads and railway lines to the extent that my friends created #DiDontDie. I have spent about 1000 hours on photo missions this year, learned a lot and am no longer daunted by how much more I still have to learn. This is an exciting adventure and all consuming hobby that I am loving.

I was surprised to have three images accepted for the Cape Town Igerbook (hope it comes out soon) and did my first ever weekend taker over on Instagram for Kaapstadmag. Thanks for the vote of confidence guys.

Please follow me on Instagram, I’m begging 🙂 In my quest for the perfect shot only a few phones and one camera have been harmed.

I travel

Addicted to beaches and sunsets

I almost became a foodie 

I have had some outstanding culinary experiences, I ate Miso soup at 89 on Copper, the restaurant at Brahman Hills in the Natal Midlands. I rate this as the best eatery I experienced in 2016, if you are ever in the area treat yourself. I even read the whole article on Anje Rautenbachs Degustation Experience, after I had looked up what degustation means.

I tasted countless mouth watering feasts in various towns along the Cape West Coast Foodie Route, drank bucket loads of pink gin in Zambia, sipped and became addicted to Groot Constantia’s Grand Constance and became a fan of many of the various flavours of Rooibos Tea by Carmien, read all about this proudly SA company here. It’s just not in me to be a foodie, but huge respect for the creative people who use food as their medium for art.

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South Africa

I explored some new areas and returned to old favourites.

Ladismith on Route 62 was unexpectedly fabulous (blog post coming soon) and the Natal Midlands is a place I will definitely go back to.

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Brahman Hills and the Midlands Meander in KZN

Piket-Bo-Berg was another eye opener and place I had never heard of. Take a drive on the N7 and visit this place if you are in the Western Cape. Read about People Rocking Nature on the N7 here.

Durban is always a repeat destination, as is the Garden Route and in particular the Wilderness. Read about my Garden Route travels here and here.

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One of my favourite Durban images taken at Moyo Pier.

I loved road tripping to Oudtshoorn and showing off Gansbaai and the West Coast to Anje. Covering the Fynarts Festival in Hermanus reminded me just how creative South Africans are.Read about this amazing festival here.

This post is way too long, if you have read all the way to the end, thank you. This is just a fraction of what I experienced in 2016. I am tired. So much of the really awesome adventures were concentrated into a very short time frame that saw me catching 22 flights in 11 weeks. At the end of that fantastic, manic round of travel I got some nasty bug and was forced to my bed on and off for 2 weeks.

Overall 2016 has been very good to me and I am lucky to have shared it with great friends, my supportive travel family ( you know who you are) and wonderful clients who have become friends and introduced me to inspiring places and new people.

Thank you everyone who has been part of my journey in 2016.

After all the adventures I have had, I broke my toe in my kitchen last week 😦

Happy 2017 everyone.

PS. Once again I have been inspired by Heather Mason.

I am committing to a blog post a week for every week in 2017.

This is going to be really tough but it is the ONLY way my poor neglected blog will get attention, and I know that certain unnamed bloggers will nag me and hold me to this promise. Wish me luck.

 

Discovering the back roads in an OPEL MOKKA X

 

Breakfast at Nitida Wine Estate in the hills of Durbanville is a pretty good way to start the day.

It gets even better when you arrive in your 2006 Fiat Panda, and depart two hours later in a brand new Opel Mokka X.

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The vineyards at Nitida Wine Estate

No, sadly I did not buy a new car, but I did get to play with the new Opel Mokka X for 24 hours and travel along about 300km of scenic back roads, narrow passes and coastal highways.

For those who like and understand details that include words like torque, tortion beams and McPherson struts click here for all the technical specifications of the Mokka X.

 

The Western Cape has got thousands of kilometers of rural roads and we went exploring.

Bainskloof Pass.

Thirty kilometers of narrow, winding road hugs the Limietberg mountain on one side and follows the course of the Witte River on the other. This pass, now a national monument, was built in 1853 by the inimitable Andrew Geddes Bain. Gunpowder was used to blast away the rock and hundreds of convicts provided the hard labour. Steel rings bolted into the rock face can still be seen, this is how the convicts were chained while they worked.

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One of the viewing points on the pass

Ernest Page is a stunt driver and I was quite happy to let him take the wheel and negotiate the tight twists and turns of this pass. This is a man who “crashes safely” for a living and knows how to put a car through its paces.

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We never saw a leopard but it’s thrilling to know that they are there, somewhere

The Bain’s Kloof Pass has campsites, rock pools and day hikes. For more information visit Cape Nature

From Bain’s Kloof we travelled on the R43, crossed the Breede River and continued on the R46 to Tulbagh.

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Bridge over the Breede River

This quiet little town made headlines on 29th September 1969 when a devastating earthquake took nine lives and destroyed many buildings. Sadly one of the people who died in the earthquake was a young baby who to date has not been identified. The earthquake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, the strongest quake recorded in South Africa.

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The approach to Bain’s Kloof Pass from the Tulbagh side.

Established in 1699 this town boasts 32 Cape Dutch buildings that are National Monuments, most of them found in the very picturesque Church Street.  Wines farms are plentiful around Tulbagh, chocolate tasting at Moniki is a must, and a visit to the Earthquake Museum while sobering, is a fascinating experience. Find more information on Tulbagh here.

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Moniki Chocolate in Tulbagh. Coffee and chocolate treats galore.

It’s my turn to drive on the long flat roads as we head towards Riebeeck Kasteel. We have established the road holding of the car on the pass,( excellent) but I want to test the brakes. This is a good excuse to floor it and the Mokka responds beautifully. I sort of control my urge to speed and gently brake, all seems good. The long dead straight section of road begs me to put my foot flat, so I obey. Then with a brief word of warning to Ernest I brake hard. No skidding, not even a quiver, the car slows really quickly and sits solidly on the road. I like this.

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Taking up the whole road because you can.

 

About two kilometers on, I use the brakes for real as we round a bend and are faced with a cow standing in the middle of the road watching the world go by.  I blinked, the cow did not, she just ambled over a bit so we could pass.

We then used the car as a model and played silly buggers for a while, shooting from all angles.The styling on the car is pretty sexy. Chunky and solid but with smooth lines and flowing contours.

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Gleaming in the middle of nowhere.

Our next leg stretch and car swap was at the Olive Boutique in Riebeeck Kasteel. Derek and Susan take olives to another level with their infusions. Well worth a visit, as is the rest of this little arty, foodie town. Find out more about Riebeeck-Kasteel here

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Olives to suit any taste.

Tummies full of olives we made our way to the Pleasant Pheasant Restaurant on the Allesverloren Wine Estate for an al  fresco feast, while the cars got a loving wipe down from the diligent crew.

As the sun dipped low in the sky we navigated the many detours to get to the coastal town of Langebaan and the Farmhouse Hotel, our spot for the night.

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View from my room

Cars got yet another wash, polish and refuel while we checked in and relaxed before feasting on seafood, true West Coast cuisine and fine wines. This hotel is a great little place, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. An old school sweet shop, a slave bell and walking distance to the beach but tucked in a quiet street it’s a perfect weekend away spot.

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Waiting to tuck in to the prawn potjie

 

Suitable for families or romantic breakaways, this place is a must for beach lovers and sea- food aficionados.

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After a great night’s sleep and a huge breakfast we hit the coastal road back to Nitida and said a sad goodbye to the Opel Mokka X.

Starting at R317 000 the Opel Mokka X is certainly a car I would consider if I could just find that other R300 000 lying around somewhere.

This is what I liked about it. Remember I’m not a petrolhead, motoring journo or a boy.

Styling. Great colours, yes, seriously. The gold was my favourite followed closely by the red. Bright, funky and fun.

 

Interior. Classy, not fussy or overly bright and flashy. As one who needs glasses for reading, I loved the large touch screen display that does everything from navigation to radio, and Apple Car Play that allows all your phones functionality to be accessed via the  on board display.

Being a shorty I liked the variety of adjustments that can be made to the seats, in particular the length of the seat and then being able to adjust the steering column for the perfect driving position. This car is very comfortable for long distance driving.

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Safety. The Mokka X has an innovative lighting system called Adaptive Forward Lighting LEDs. Efficient and clever, these lights adjust to suit your surroundings, dim automatically when oncoming traffic is detected and even adjust for dynamic cornering for the best possible visibility.

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Space.  The boot is spacious and would easily accommodate all the luggage required for a family of 4 heading out on a roadtrip.There is nothing cramped about the interior of this car and there are plenty of spaces and cubbyholes for stashing drinks, maps and bits and pieces.

Overall. A very comfortable drive in a stylish looking vehicle. It sits well on the road, is responsive without being sporty and making you want to travel at 200 km / ph. The  on board display is great as it meets the needs of today’s driver, and the intimate relationship they have with their mobile phones, while the lighting is a welcome safety and energy saving feature.

For more detailed information about the specifications of this car and to book a test drive visit the Opel website. 

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Thank you to General Motors South Africa, Opel SA and all the team for hosting me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My top 11 for Durban this summer. #CheapFlightsExplorer

Coming from Cape Town, for me Durban is an all year round summer destination.  I usually escape the cold Cape  in May and again in August and head to Durbs for sunshine, beach swims and friendly vibes. Summer in Durban ticks all the holiday boxes and here are a few of my favourites.

  1. Surf.Sup.Yoga. The name of this company says it all. They have packaged the beach with activities that will thrill anyone enjoying an active lifestyle. Start your day with a Yoga class on the beach, followed by a healthy breakfast to fuel you for a day in the waves, surfing, SUP and salty water fun in the sun. Break for lunch and relaxation before getting back into the water to own those waves and perfect your balance. What a way to spend a day. Find them on Instagram and FaceBook or check out their website for a full package for days of Durban magic, with accommodation included. Day packages can be tailored to suit your personal preferences. Mail Lauren at lauren@surfsupyoga.co.za
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    Beachfront yoga. Photo credit Surf Sup Yoga

    2. The Moses Mabhida Stadium dominates the skyline and the soaring arch seems to draw you in for a closer inspection. Standing on the ground looking up at this stadium is the only way to appreciate the gracefulness of the design and the height of the arch.There are eateries and public space to enjoy around the stadium and the I Heart Market  is held on the first Saturday of each month, and more frequently over the festive period. See their site for upcoming dates.

    There are 3 options to see Durban from the top of the stadium.

    • The Sky Car, suitable for  everyone is R60 per ride.
    • The Adventure Walk is for the fit and the fearless and costs R90. Attached to a safety harness, climb up 500 steps to the top, do 100 sit ups, admire the view, and climb 500 steps back down to terra firma.
    • The Big Rush Big Swing is R695 and is ideal for adrenalin addicts and the slightly insane. A climb of less than 500 steps  to the platform from where you launch yourself into an 80 m free fall , swinging out in a 220 meter arc into the heart of the stadium. Screaming!

 

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Not brave enough to do the jump but loving the design of this space after a Segway tour

 

3. Get active. Be a total tourist and enjoy the promenade. Hire something with wheels and make exercising fun. Propel yourself from Ushaka to the Umgeni River Mouth and back. It’s about a 14km round trip so you will get a decent workout. Your options are anything from a bicycle to a skateboard, pedal kart, roller blades or your own two feet.Stop and talk to the sand artists, they have interesting stories, watch the high energy of the Zulu Dancers, enjoy the scenes of people out having fun. Visit Xpression on the Beach, The Bike and Bean or The Skate Store for rental options.

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Energetic dancers interact playfully with the crowds

4. Sunrise moments. Get up early and head for the beach . It is quite safe if you go to North Beach and there are plenty of surfers, kayakers, walkers, joggers, and swimmers all coming for a bit of beach love before starting their day. Once the sun is up and you have your shot, have a swim before going old school with a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and a large coffee from Wimpy. The Moyo Pier at Ushaka is probably the most photogenic place in Durban, get there too, it’s great in the early morning and evening.

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Moyo Pier at sunset

Alternatively head to Wilson’s Wharf for fantastic views of the city skyline. If you are lucky a flock of birds will fly up as the sun rises and  Instagram will reward you will hundreds of little hearts.. It really is a good spot if you like taking pics.

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Views from Wilson’s Wharf

The water can be a bit iffy, litter is present, but the pics are good and there is a railway line there too, easily accessed  by a jump over the wall.

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Railway lines at Wilson’s Wharf

5. Walk the city. There is plenty of variety in the architecture, the City Hall is a favourite of mine, the Emmanuel Church, Jumma Mosque, and of course the markets.

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First glimpse of the mosque

The Muti market is best visited with a local guide, and is not for the squeamish. Victoria market for the vibe, the variety and amusingly named curry powders, the smells, the sounds, the art.

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Sculpture at Victoria Junction market

6. Curry. You can’t experience Durban without at least one curry. Offered pretty much everywhere, but these are a few of my favourites.  The Britannia Hotel in Umgeni Road, Goundens in Umbilo at 376 Magwaza Maphala Street  (previously Gale Street) and for vegetarians the locals highly recommend Little Gujurat in town, at 43 Dr Goonam Street, town (previously Prince Edward Street )

7. Get onto a Segway. Segways are such fun you will be grinning like a kid the whole time you are on it. They can be hired from Segway Gliding Tours situated at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.The Stadium Tour is great, but my favourite is the tour along the Golden Mile next to the beach.The guides give you a lesson before you start and then it is just full on fun for the next hour. The cost is R280 for the stadium and R290 for the beach, or you can go all out and do both for R440.

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Speeding along on a Segway

8. Afro’s Chicken is another Durban institution and you have to experience it at least once in your life. Find them on South Beach or go to the new one that opened in Davenport Road (now Helen Joseph Street) in October this year. They are stocking a local craft beer. Poison City , absolutely worth sinking a pint or two to beat the Durban heat.

9. Surfriders on the beachfront do the very best, most inspired gourmet burgers and light meals with a beach vibe.

10. Take time out at The Point. Robson’s Real Beer craft brewery 72 Albert Terrace, Happy Hippo for rooftop drinks.

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11. Grab your camera and explore the Piers in Durban. These structures are a photographer’s dream.Start at the Ushaka Pier at Addington Beach and work your way in the direction of the stadium, stopping at New Pier, North Pier, Bay Pier, Snake Park Pier, Argyle Pier and finally Sunkist Pier.

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Early morning at Moyo Pier

The light in Durban is great, and the piers can be captured from endless angles. Don’t forget to get underneath them as well.

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Instagrammer under Moyo Pier

If you are an early riser, or a sunset fan, you will probably find a few Instagrammers at one of the piers setting up or performing tricks and magic. For inspiration take a look at the Instagram account of the super talented Dane Foreman or the legendary late Andy Carrie , the two guys who introduced me to the wonders of the piers, and showed the world the awesomeness of Durban.

A short drive will get you to the best pier of all, Umhlanga Pier. The iconic curved railings, and adjacent lighthouse and rock pools are waiting to be explored and photographed.

Nothing to do with piers but photography fans should really explore the street art at the Warwick street interchange. It is crazy chaos, so go with someone who can act as an extra pair of eyes so you don’t get in the way of the traffic. Connect with the local Instagrammers for tips

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Umhlanga Pier

Thanks to my young friend Lauren Batchelor for showing me the best places in Durbs every time I visit.This very talented jeweller designer  describes herself as “For all things jewellery – @laurenbatchelorjewellery, Low tide explorer. Durban.  You might see lots of pics of her making crazy faces on Instagram but she is often found at all the best places for full on fun. Follow her here @lollbatchelor 

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Lighthouse view from Umhlanga Pier

Get out and enjoy summer in Durban.

This post is part of the Blogathon project by Travel Concept Solutions 

Book your flight to Durban with CheapFlights now.

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Go Wild with 7 Stops on the N7.

The N7.  Six hundred and seventy kilometers of hot black tar heading relentlessly north from Cape Town to  Vioolsdrift at the border to Namibia. It’s a long road, mostly straight, veering off every now and then to skirt a mountain, leading you up the odd pass and providing a hint of the exquisitely raw ,untamed landscapes of South Africa.

It would take forever to explore the countless roads leading off the N7 into two street towns, mountain villages, farming communities and remote Atlantic beaches.

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Piketberg is a small town off the N7  built on the slopes of the Piketberg mountains and it looks out over the Olifants River Valley. The town has interesting architecture like the Neo Gothic Dutch Reformed Church built in 1880. It is also very hot and it is only 8:30 am.

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The air seems to buzz in the stillness of the heat as we drive out of town and start weaving up the tight turns of the Versveld Pass. This extremely narrow road requires some concentration to navigate. Conversation ceases and ten eyes are fixed on the road. A collective sigh of relief as we near the summit and stop for road works. A wall is being built between the edge of the road and the sheer drop to certain death. This is a good thing !

We get out the car and take in the view. Any anxiety is forgotten as we hover on the edge snapping frantically trying to capture this yellow and blue vista, nor very successfully in my case, so go there, you have to see this, and drive this skinny road.

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The chatter starts again as we summit the mountain and into the hanging valley of Piket-Bo-Berg.

Like soldiers on parade peach, plum, pear and apple trees form precise green rows as far as the eye can see. The sun is drenching the land with warmth and light and you can almost hear everything growing.

Kruistementvlei Farm is a celebration of the earth.

They work with nature, because nature knows best.

Jeremy the owner takes us on a quick walkabout as he enthusiastically talks about pooh and compost, and explains the concept of PermaCulture. This Eco Friendly farm aims to be totally off the grid and self – sustainable in the not too distant future. Nothing goes to waste here, not even the “business” of guests staying in any of the five cottages, caravan or campsite. (so reasonably priced I thought the rates were from 1995)

Creative cabins, outdoor showers, dining areas in cave like rocky overhangs are shown to us at high speed, we  only slow down and stop when we get to the compost.In front of us are piles of what I hope is soil and behind us large wooden pallets are filled with fruit peels, happy bugs and other waste.

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Jeremy has a passion for the earth and the power of pooh. We stand in the rising heat as he explains the concept of waterless toilets. He plunges a spade into a pile of something dark and earthy looking, then scoops a handful and we each have it thrust under our noses for a sniff. It has no odour at all, yet it originates from a very smelly source.

Nature is amazing.

We head back down towards the house, stopping to see the pot bellied pigs flopping around in a pool. In a separate pen, year old piglets snuffle and roll over for a belly tickle. The farm dog yawns and settles under a bush and a jackal buzzard glides overhead, too hot to bother flapping its wings..

I am a hot sweaty mess by the time we arrive in the coolness of the dining room for a brunch .It is approaching 40 degrees C, summer is definitely here to stay.

Jeremy believes that to be part of a community you must be involved in the community. The Piket-Bo -Berg Farmers Market is held on his farm on the last Saturday of each month and by all accounts it is an event not to be missed. Live music, farm produce, vintage clothing and other lekker stuff is for sale while live music adds to the atmosphere, and everyone contributes to the rich compost produced by the waterless toilets.

Jeremy also established a community library for all the children in the area, has a youth group for the teenagers and hosts “workaways” where interested travellers can learn all about his earth friendly farming and lifestyle.

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No generators, TV’s or motorised equipment are permitted here. It is just you and nature. Hikes through pristine fynbos lead to caves and rock art, bird sightings and hearty appetites. MTB trails abound, swimming, star gazing and making the most of nature’s playground. You too will contribute to the compost. 🙂

Piekenierskloof Pass is an easy hour and a half drive from Cape Town and just before the summit you will find a delightful farm-stall / shop / accommodation called Kardoesie. Unique in every way, this place is where you stop to embrace the countryside and really leave the city behind you.

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Views for days, a restaurant, gift shop, fresh produce and mini shop as well as accommodation, a pool and a dog who goes for rides on a quad bike. We were given the most thoughtful personalised “Padkos” boxes containing mini quiche, chicken nuggets, dried sausage, peanuts and raisins and sweeties to see us on our way to Citrusdal.

Padkos directly translates to road food. Snacks for a long car journey. 

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At the foot of the Piekenierskloof Pass lies Citrusdal and the most intriguing info centre I have ever encountered. Situated in a room in “Die Sandveld Huisie”, a whitewashed house with a long stoep and a thatch roof, in itself quite charming, but that is not what makes it unusual.

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Every inch of this building, the surrounding trees, garden and verandah are adorned with the most colourful and imaginative everyday items that have been recycled and decorated with bright enthusiasm. It is a place that must be examined at length over a long period of time. Broken glasses hang from trees and catch sparkles of sunlight, a toaster is planted on a step and has flowers growing out of it. An old kettle swings in the breeze and colourful ribbons contrast with rusty remains.

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Inside is a shoppers dream of pretty things and stuff.  Juandre drags us away from what could be a shopping frenzy, sits us down and tells us about the artists and crafters who produce much of these colourful items. The talk is accompanied by mint flavoured ice cold water, most welcome as the temperature is now at 41 C and there is a very real danger that I could overheat and my head would just explode and make a mess over all these lovely things.

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Fortunately the ice cooled me down and my head did not explode so I was able to listen to Juandre talk about the community projects he runs without any funding. He knows the reality of this community and has applied this knowledge wisely to really address the needs of the youth and little ones. A feeding scheme supports The Ubuntu Child Development Centre , teenagers are given options to develop self esteem, be creative with recycled materials and to play a positive role in the community.

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We moved on to the museum which houses another fabulous project telling the stories of the residents and providing materials and equipment for the women to create items that can be sold and help to support their families. This is truly inspiring stuff and deserving of your support if you are ever in Citrusdal.

The museum displays interesting furniture and household items from days gone by, showcased by recreating rooms in a home.

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Clanwilliam, Gateway to the Cederberg, home to the mighty Clanwilliam Dam that I am so tempted to jump into fully clothed. It is late afternoon and still just over 41 C. These are not reasonable temperatures for women over a certain age. God bless the person who invented aircon in cars.

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We are in the very heart of Rooibos country where these plants thrive. They obviously love this extreme heat. Even the sunflowers were taking strain and given their name you would think they would be flourishing.

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Fortunately we are heading to the  Rooibos Tea House, the only one in the whole world. It stocks eight brands and over one hundred flavours of this healthy tea and we are going for a tasting. Sanet gives us a brief intro into Rooibos tea before we adjourn to the covered verandah where we sniff the various dried blends.

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The flavours are varied and endless, and although served hot, surprisingly refreshing.

Chai spices , berry infused, ginger and chilli all delicious and aiding a broad variety of ailments. I left feeling slightly less melty, pleasantly hydrated and with an armful of teas to enjoy at home in more pleasant climes.

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Did you know that the 16th January 2017 we will celebrate the very first National Rooibos Day. This day is not just for tea lovers, rooibos is used in cooking, baking, cocktails, beauty products and of course exciting tea flavours. Watch this space for more details closer to the time. All locals should be celebrating this day as rooibos is very Proudly South African.

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The Rooibos Tea House also sells a fabulous selection of bags, jewellery, gifts, fabrics and wool. And yummy cakes to counterbalance the healthy teas. 🙂

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And so ends my #7StopsN7  adventure, all that is left is to enjoy the aircon in the car on the 3 hour journey home.

So, lovers of nature, MTB riders, hikers and rock climbers, foodies and city dwellers the next time you are on the N7, make a stop, take a detour, stay over and discover the secret attractions of this area.

It’s not just about the attractions, natural beauty and outdoor activities, it is about the communities, the friendly welcomes, the respect and care of our natural resources, the creativity and the desire to share their treasures with you.

People Rocking Nature. I love it.

7 Stops on the N7 Route is the brainchild of  Kardoesie owners Hanri and Anette Theron, and aims to share the magic of the areas surrounding their thriving farm stall and restaurant. This route includes the towns of PiketbergCitrusdal, Clanwilliam, Wupperthal, Van Rhynsdorp, Nieuwoudtville and Garies.

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West Coast Way SA incorporate the 7 Stops on their exciting new Wild Route where the slogan is “People Rocking Nature”

For more information go to www.westcoastwaySA

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