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
    img_8839

    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!

 

DSC_0365-01

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.

img_4711

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.

img_4739

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.

img_4782

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.

img_4775

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.

img_0410

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.

img_0395

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.

IMG_6378

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.

robsons-real-beer

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.

dsc_0497-01

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.

IMG_7674

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

img_4640

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 

img_4643

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.

15401429_10154634081985993_1265283527_n

 

 

 

 

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.

img_2740

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.

img_2750

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.

img_2756

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.

img_1797

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.

img_2764

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.

img_1080

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. 

img_1065

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.

img_1809

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.

img_2803

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.

img_2823

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.

img_2835

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.

img_2844

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.

img_1827

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.

img_2851

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.

img_1823

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.

img_2869

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.

img_1826

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

img_2865

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.

west-coast-map-holiday

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

7stopsn7-7-stops-kardoesie-768x975

Aqua hiking, the ultimate experience on Reunion Island.

IMG_0446.JPG

“Look straight ahead and just take a step” says Aliocha, our guide.

I am about to obey and then time slows down,

My legs turn to jelly and my mind screams

“Are you flippen insane? “

I am standing on a slippery rock next to a waterfall that drops for way too many meters before it hits the pool below in a fury of white water. Above me green cliffs soar towards the heavens, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I am in paradise.

I am also absolutely petrified and unable to move.

For days I have been mentally preparing myself for this jump of eight meters.

“It is mind over matter. It will be over in seconds. You can do it.”

Right, tell that to my body, because as much as I really want to jump, I just can’t seem to take that one little step.

I decide to start again.

I take a step back and foolishly look down. A swear word escapes from my lips.

I breathe.

Deeply.

Right, I am afraid of heights and today I am going to face my fear.

I make the decision, step forward, look forward and so begins the longest hesitation…

For thirty endless seconds I stand like a fool saying out loud

“I am going to do this, I want to do this, I can do this”.

I hyperventilate.

And then I just jump.

di-jumps-aqua-hike-reunion-island

It is not pretty, it is nowhere near graceful, but it is exhilarating.

I free fall and hit the water like a bullet, my body goes underwater while the life jacket rockets up to my ears and pops me back above the surface.

Laughing and gasping for breath, I look up to where I was standing just a few seconds ago.

It looks so far away; I can’t believe I just jumped from way up there.

I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

Welcome to the ultimate experience on Reunion Island. This is Aqua Hiking, and if I can do it, anyone can do it.

The first challenge of aqua hiking starts after a winding, uphill drive from the coastal town of Saint Benoit to a small informal car park alongside the Langevin River.

The guide Aliocha, (just call me Yosh) presents me with my outfit for the day.

Stripped down to my bathing costume I start the long and arduous process of putting on a full body wetsuit. This involves a lot of grunting, rolling, stretching and pushing flesh into rubbery corners until finally it is on and I am exhausted.

Then come the socks, takkies, life jacket and helmet and the final flourish is a heavy duty Prussian blue piece of plastic that fits like a nappy. Not styling this look at all, and sweating profusely in this attractive getup, I start the 200 meter uphill walk to official starting point.

The not so little pint sized one in the middle is me.

aqua-hike-reunion-island-2

 

The views from the start are spectacular and a good excuse for a quick rest. A group in front of me are ziplining into the pool below, but our route involves climbing, slithering and slipping down black mossy rocks, over boulders in finally into the 8 degree water.

A few practice jumps off a meter high rock and I am oozing confidence. Bring it on.

Saying goodbye to the eight waterfalls that thunder into the first pool, I realise that this water flows pretty fast and concentrate on the instructions from Yosh.

Basically he tells me to lie on my back and use my feet and hands to avoid crashing into large rocks. OK then.

Yosh is incredibly fit, softly spoken and really calm. This is a good thing as freaking out was definitely an option on hearing these instructions.

IMG_8189.JPG

“Lie down, I am going to push you underwater. You must go under this rock, but don’t worry, you will come up on the other side.”

Whaaat? I can’t  even see the other side. Somehow I obey, and don’t drown.

I swirl along a few more gentle rapids, taking the line Yosh indicates and probably due to brain freeze, I trust everything that he says. Mostly it works out fine and then this happened.

I have been slipping and sliding over rocks, wading through shallow pools and climbing up and down embankments around trees, when I am told to sit down on a flat rock waist deep in water.

“Move to the left and lie down in the channel. Look up, cross your arms over your chest, I am going to push you, and keep to the left of the waterfall. Just trust me”

What the……. ?

I am sliding, no I am airborne and I am hurtling down a waterfall, inhaling most of it as I go. Once again the life jacket hits my ears and spluttering, choking and laughing I hang on to a rock to catch my breath.

aqua-hike-reunion-island-1

A swim to the rocky wall and I am behind a waterfall. Oh my soul, this is too much. I stand there grinning like a maniac trying to take it all in. The noise of the water rushing to meet the pool overwhelms all other senses and for a moment I am completely in awe of the power of nature. It is raw, unbridled energy.

Crouched down, I use everything I have to launch myself and I dive right through the waterfall and into the white water. I roll onto my back and float with the current.

I have never felt so alive.

shooting-into-the-unknown-reunion-island

All too soon it is over and I wade through a few more pools before the short walk up and along the embankment to the car park.

The adventure ends with an ice cold beer and the long process of getting out of wetsuits, helmets and all the rest and back into regular clothes.

I felt like I could conquer the world. The next day, I could barely walk and sported an impressive collection of scrapes and bruises.

But I feel like a ninja. I am a flippen ninja.

I would do it again without a second thought. Next time, I’m choosing the full day option.

IMG_0407.JPG

To book an Aqua Hike contact www.Runaventures.com

Air Austral flies between Johannesburg and Reunion Island on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Thanks to Hannelie Diedericks for taking the pics with my phone. I need the evidence to prove to myself that I actually did this. 🙂

Disclosure:  My visit to Reunion was as a guest of Reunion Tourism.   Opinions are all my own.

How to escape from the crowds in Knysna, South Africa

dsc_0649

Knysna is the ultimate holiday destination which means that loads of people flock there over the holidays. Sometimes the vibe starts to feel a little manic, the action somewhat frenzied, the crowds, the noise and the traffic overwhelming. It’s time for a change of pace. Here are 10 ways to enjoy Knysna that will not leave you stressed, frustrated, and yearning for peace and quiet.

Escape to Thesen island and the Turbine Hotel

From the busy Knysna Waterfront, a 365m bridge over the water will welcome you to the relative calm of Thesen Island. Once a gritty industrial area and hub of the timber industry, it was converted into the Thesen Island Harbour Town, a magnificent marina development that was awarded Blue Flag status in 2013.

dsc_0712

Cars are only seen around the shopping mall and restaurant area, the rest of the island is linked by canals, waterways, pedestrian paths and nineteen bridges.

The Turbine Hotel on Thesen Island is masterpiece that will enthral anyone with an interest in architecture, design and engineering. This twenty four roomed boutique hotel manages to blend industrial edginess, five star luxury and local history into a refreshingly different place to stay in. Read more about the Turbine Hotel and restoration here.

The hotel is a skilful conversion of the old power station. Due to the heritage status of the building the exterior is unchanged, but the interior is what makes it unforgettable.

Brightly coloured tables and chairs share space with massive, freshly painted wood boilers, generators and turbines. A huge chain hoist and hook is a feature in the Tapas Bar and the dials and switches of the control panel situated behind the reception desk beg to be examined.

Metal stairs lead up to a grid walkway and one of the wood boilers, restored to pristine condition. The surrounding walls have stories to tell. Framed newspaper cuttings, some dating back to the early nineteen hundreds provide insight into a different time in history.  An old 1:50 000 map of Knysna shows how much the entire area has developed over the years.

A swimming pool that looks over the canals, fine dining at the Island Café and a peaceful sleep uninterrupted by traffic noise make the Turbine a tranquil haven for your base in Knysna.

Find peace on the water

A sunset Cruise from the Thesen Island canals to the Knysna Heads with Turbine Water Club pontoons is a relaxing way to explore the marine eco- system, or just float mindlessly and take in the view. The bubbly and canapé’s served on board  add a decadent touch to the fresh sea air and the stunning views.

dsc_0705

Celebrate the sunrise

In summer first light is around 5 am, the perfect time to take one of the bright red canoes out for a paddle on the waterways, sharing space only with the birds. Head out to the open waters of the lagoon and watch the Pied Kingfishers having breakfast. Nature puts on some great displays as these birds hover in the air before diving for fish. By 8am you can be back at the hotel enjoying a stack of pancakes and a cappuccino, completing the feeling of utter contentment.

Discover the views

A drive to Knysna heads is a must if you find gazing at the ocean therapeutic. The Knysna Heads are two cliffs that rise up to 80 meters on either side of the narrow opening where the lagoon meets the sea. A short walk from the car park leads to various view points and gives a great orientation and overview of the Knysna area. Less popular, but a favourite place of mine are the Heads at sea level. A restaurant and a rocky beach lead to a cave like rock where the water echoes as it rolls in and out. Red starfish and sea urchins are easy to spot in the cave, but first prize goes to the Fish Eagle who paused briefly on a wooden pole, calling to his mate.

dsc_0685

Explore on two wheels

A trip with Knysna Hike and Bike is not your average cycle tour. It starts with cake and cappuccino at a café with Anne and Mandy, Knysna locals and accredited professional tour guides. The pace is comfortable and the stops en route are unusual. A bit of effort was required to get up the hill in the industrial area but the reward was a beer tasting with The Red Bridge Brewing Co. This natural hand brewed beer is a celebration of everything about Knysna.

The Pioneer Series pays tribute to the Prospectors, Mariners and Woodcutters who shaped the town as we know it, and the ethos of this brewery is all about the community, from sourcing staff and ingredients to branding and manufacturing of bottles, crates and apparel. The beer is great too. The Privateer IPA is as good as any bitter, the Prospector Golden Ale is lighter and thirst quenching but the Woodcutter Saison Ale is the ultimate in craft beer. Subtle citrus undertones blend perfectly with hops and malt, this beer is best ordered by the jug, with a case or six to take home.

red-bridge-beer-di-brown

Visit the Knysna sea horses

These curious little creatures can be found at the SANPARKS office on Thesen Island. At just 7cm in length they are small in stature but big on design.

They are an endangered species, but could they also be suffering from an identity crisis

They have the exo -skeleton of an insect, and an internal skeleton of bones like a human. As water creatures they have fins and gills, but also have a pouch in their midsection just like a kangaroo, and sport a monkey like tail that is used for gripping. Their chameleon style eyes move independently and can see in all directions. Sea horses mate for life and the male is the one who gives birth. They seem a little shy but if you stand quietly at the tanks that house them you will be enchanted by these delicate, fairy-tale creatures.

dsc_0624

Knysna Hike and Bike can tailor make your ride to suit your interests and focus on beer, wine, gourmet food or anything else you can dream up.

Head for the hills

A 25 km drive from the centre of Knysna will take you into the heart of the Millwood Forest where the trees soar, paths lead to waterfalls across golden coloured rivers and signs warn of the dangers of entering the old mining tunnels. Guided by an expert in the area from the Rheenendal Ramble tour company, the history of the woodcutters is brought to life, and the flora and fauna of the area explained, including tales of the elusive Knysna elephants, three of whom are definitely still living here.

dsc_0781

Forests are mystical and healing and Millwood is no exception, green, dense and silent apart from the sound of the rain splashing the top of the forest canopy but unable to penetrate the thick foliage.

dsc_0739

Eat like your grandma once did

Lunch at the inimitable Totties Farm Kitchen is a feast for all the senses. The original store that served the woodcutters with their basic requirements still trades today and the buildings are a hodge podge of corrugated iron, stripped plank ceilings and mismatched window frames. Old photographs and memorabilia are dotted all around the interior and the gardens, and it is difficult to decide what to do first, eat or explore.

dsc_0793

Indulge your senses

The ultimate in relaxation is a pamper session at the Amani African Spa, situated at the Turbine Hotel. Their signature kurhala ritual is a blissful ninety minutes of a full body and face massage coupled with a pressure point foot treatment that leaves you feeling like a new person.

Let Accommodation Direct help you find your ultimate hideaway. Deep in a forest, overlooking a beach or down a quiet dusty road, they will find the bed in the setting that matches your dreams.

Save time by flying

Knysna is a 6-hour drive from Cape Town or as I recently discovered a 45 minute flight from Cape Town with Airlink.
Airlink – the Regional Feeder Airline, offers a wide network of regional and domestic flights within southern Africa and operates as a franchisee to SAA

Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights between Cape Town and Durban to George.

Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA travellers can connect conveniently with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.

Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways (SAA) Loyalty programme -Voyager.

Website:  http://www.flyairlink.com

Flight Bookings:  online, booking agent or SAA Central Reservations +27 11 978 1111.

Disclosure My stay was hosted by the Turbine Hotel, this article first appeared on AFK Travel website.

Slow living on the Garden Route.

 sedgefield aerial

The Garden Route is the name given to a stretch of coastline, mountains and forests that extends from Albertina to Storms River, in the Southern Cape region of Western Cape province in South Africa. Best known for the very popular towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the whole area is ridiculously attractive and positively overflowing with golf courses, nature reserves, game and safari ranches, wildlife sanctuaries, water sports, hiking trails and scenic routes.

I recently spent eight days in a few of the small villages in the area, where life is lived at a slower pace.

Wilderness

Boardwalk at Wilderness

Imagine a beach with sand so white it hurts your eyes to look at it.  Black rocks, sand dunes covered in green and flowering succulents, fynbos covered mountains rising up from the coastline and roads and a railway line cut into the rock. Houses look on to the dark tannin stained waters of the Touws River, boardwalks beckon and bird calls fill the air. Looking up you will often see para-gliders floating on the thermals above this natural playground, sharing space with Fish Eagles, Reed Cormorants, Kingfishers and Spoonbills.  Welcome to the Wilderness.  A place for walking shoes, canoes, binoculars and your bathing costume.

Much of the greater Wilderness area is part of the Garden Route National Park which consists of rivers, forests, beaches and lakes. The Wilderness camp offers accommodation and an information office that has useful information on the various hiking trails, MTB Routes, bird hides and other activities within the Park.

Until 2007 a steam train ran between George and Knysna, crossing the iconic Kaaiman’s River Bridge.  Extreme flooding after a storm caused a landslide that covered a small section of the tracks high above the Wilderness beach.  Since then the steam train no longer operates but part of this railway route can now be enjoyed on foot.

Kaaimans Railway Bridge

Starting at the old Wilderness station follow the train tracks as they climb into the mountainside, weave through tunnels and afford fantastic views of the beaches. Take time to stop and examine the fynbos and flowers, listen to the birds, breathe in the air and enjoy the contrasts as you wander from sun to shade and into the chill of the tunnels.  Scramble down the rough path to the little village of Victoria Bay to watch the surfers and enjoy an ice cream before heading back. A highlight is crossing the old bridge over the Kaaimans River. I was petrified as I am afraid of heights, but it was both heart stopping and worthwhile. The round trip is about 7km.

Just 7 km inland and about 200m above sea level is the rural area of Hoekwil,  and the tranquillity of the 7 Passes Tented Camp. Forests and farmlands thrive side by side in these hills.  This is the place to truly get away from it all. Hikes, easy walks, bird watching or just lazing on the deck of your tent set on a stilted platform in the trees overlooking the lake.

Sedgefield

In “Sedgies” you will find your sanity. Slow living is celebrated in this official “slow town.” Time is not measured, nature is savoured, and shoes are optional. Slow living encompasses all aspects of life, from finding a healthy balance between work and play, to embracing the community,  conserving the environment and respecting the seasons.

mosaic at Gerikes point

Sedgefield is built around a lagoon and the beach so a water view is almost always an option. Friendliness is the default setting of the locals and you quickly become accustomed to being greeted by everyone.

It is easy to spend all day wandering along the beaches, marveling at the fossilized dunes at Gerrike’s Point, spotting birds while walking along the lagoon towards the sea, or driving around town and stopping at the mosaic installations which are part of a community project. There is plenty to explore for free, but if you like you can add a tour  guide which will create a richer experience.

Saturday mornings are for rising early as it is market day.The Mosaic Market, The Wild Oats Farmers Market and the Scarab Village Market all converge just outside of town and it is a festival of shopping for locals, tourists and residents of the surrounding towns.  Fresh and home grown local produce is sold out fast, breakfast, brunch, lunch and snacks are consumed at the huge variety of stalls. Crafts, art, wine, beer, clothing and almost anything else you can imagine is sold here.

My personal favourite is the Currywurst from Wurst Express, and I never leave without a few bottles of Jan’s special sauce.

If you are visiting the area, you absolutely must include a Saturday in Sedgefield.

Lakes near sedgefield

Injured or human imprinted birds of prey find a safe haven at Radical Raptors , an education and rehabilitation centre situated on the N2 approaching Plettenberg Bay.Flying displays are offered three times a day at 11am, 1pm and 3pm and are educational and entertaining. Dennis is clearly passionate about these birds and a staunch conservationist as well.

He explains that birds raised by humans are unable to be released into the wild as they would not have the instincts or skills needed to survive. These birds need to be exercised and they are used in the educational displays. Dennis knows each bird intimately and he is spot on in his description of their different personalities. The Rock Kestrel loves to show off and swoops and swirls gracefully for the small audience. The Crowned Eagle wants to be in charge, and even when tempted with food will only fly when she feels like it. My favourite, the Spotted Eagle Owl is cheeky and swoops over our heads brushing our hair before circling for another round. Dennis offers us a glove and we extend our arms for an up close look at the various birds as the fly in and perch inches from our faces. . This visit taught me a lot about rat poisons and other pesticides and the huge threat they pose to these glorious birds.

Nature’s Valley

This exquisite area is only slightly tamed, nature is in charge here.  From 250m above sea level at the National Road, a narrow pass curls and bends through a tangled forest for 12 km before giving you a sneak preview of a jaw dropping beach unmarred by too many footprints.

DSC_0785-01
Conservationists will love this area as there are numerous sanctuaries within a 20km drive.This small settlement consists of about 10 narrow streets laid out in a dense forest that leads to the beautiful beach.  I stayed at Lily Pond Lodge which is on the road that leads to the village.

I met the dynamic Lara Mostert, one of the passionate wildlife activists behind Birds of Eden, Monkeyland and Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary. Lara took me on a guided tour around Birds of Eden talking with pride and passion about the 3500 birds now living here. The area is 2.17 hectares of trees, waterfalls, a river and dams, creating a very natural feel to a controlled environment. The birds can fly fairly freely as in parts the huge mesh enclosure is 35 metres high.

Monkeyland operates on a similar system, with lemurs, vervets and capuchin just a few of the curious primates you can see as you walk through the tree paths.

Jukani is where you will find the big cats, lion, cheetah, black and snow leopard and caraculs. Each animal has a sad story to tell and although very educational a visit is a very sobering experience.

All the sanctuaries mentioned are opposed to any human interaction and exploitation of the animals. No petting or touching is permitted, and no breeding or selling takes place.

The accommodation options on the Garden Route are endless, from Hotels, backpackers and golf lodges to game farms, beach houses, self catering  cottages, tree houses and log cabins. Find the perfect base for your Garden Route exploring with Accommodation Direct.

It’s as easy as click, book, pack and go.