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.

 

Slow living on the Garden Route.

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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.

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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.

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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.

DeZeekoe in Oudtshoorn

Heat shimmers in waves off the tar, the air is as dry as ostrich biltong and smells faintly of the fynbos that thrives on either side of the road in the rich rust coloured earth. Mountains frame the views in distant washed out greys and the land changes to shades of green as we turn off to De Zeekoe.

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This luxury accommodation is on a working farm on the R328, just ten kilometers outside of Oudtshoorn .  It is far enough to get the rural feeling but a five minute drive will get you into town so it really offers the best of both worlds.

Farm life

De Zeekoe has three separate areas offering accommodation to cater for different needs. The luxury suites are at the main reception next to the restaurant and pool flanked by a true Karoo wind pump, play area and fire pit.

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At the top of the hill are the self catering stone cottages offering privacy and views forever and down in the dip are the rustic wooden chalets overlooking the dam.

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Bellowing cows joined the dawn chorus and sunrise called my name. The tick tick of the huge water sprayers drew me like a magnet pulling me in for an unplanned shower, and the horses in the field laughed.

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The colours are on steroids and I have to drag myself away to go for breakfast.

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This huge digger passes me on the farm path. There is something very sexy about these giant working vehicles.

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The farm is already busy with farmy type activities as I wander back to my room to shower, dress and head off for food.

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Fed and well coffeed up, it’s time to visit some locally recommended places and Die Smitswinkel is the first stop. The interior is a great collection of #Karoomobilia, I just quickly made up that word, but think of little wind pumps, mugs, keyrings, meerkats, carpets, clothing and of course food, all made in true Karoo style or depicting something iconic from the area.

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Good for an hours browsing at least.

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Then  go out the back and top up with some more coffee, this time from Blacksmith, the roasters with heart. Called the Blacksmith Coffee Movement,  it’s about making fantastic coffee with a good conscience. Fair trade principles are adhered to, and the Barista Upliftment Program offers real hope and opportunities for the youth. Please go and look at their website, buy their coffee and drink some goodness.

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Oudtshoorn is a perfect starting point for a circular drive you will never forget. You need an early start and a whole day to really enjoy this, and probably the next two days to return to your favourite finds.

Some highlights of this route include R328. Known as the Cango Route, there are plenty of attractions on the 50km you travel before reaching the start of the mighty Swartberg Pass. Olive estates, Karusa Winery and Tapas, Kobus se Gat country pub, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm and Bella Mia Olives and Pottery to name just a few.

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Plan a day or three to visit and explore the fine wines and ports from the Klein Karoo Wine Route.

Take your time as you navigate the Swartberg Pass, stop at the viewing points and marvel at the genius engineering of Thomas Bain. The building of the pass was completed in 1886 and used only by carts and wagons. The first time a car  traversed the pass was in 1904.

swartberg pass views Di Brown

These views have to be photographed somehow, and I was forced by Anje to resort to extreme measures to get the shots I wanted.

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We left too late to do the whole route and after passing signs telling us that the road might be closed we passed a lorry coming the other way who said we could continue. We got totally side tracked by the burned veld and the proteas that survived, that we never made it to the top.

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flower Di Brown

Burned proteas Swartberg pass Di Brown

Earlier in the year when I planned to drive this amazing pass, a short way up, this happened and the pass was closed. Maybe next time 😦

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On completing the drive over the pass, you can either carry on for about 10km to the town of Prince Albert, well worth a visit, or turn right onto the R407, continue on to the N12 and drive along the prettiest pass in South Africa, the Meiringspoort Pass.

This will take you into De Rust. Visit the Village Art Scene, enjoy a donkey cart ride, and do not miss the Doornkraal winery just out of town or Mons Ruber  directly opposite. Pot stilled brandy, witblits and entertaining conversation await you. From there a drive of 25km will take you back into Oudtshoorn.

Curious ostriches come to say hi, or buzz off from their home on the lower slopes of the Swartberg Pass.

Hello ostrich Swartberg Di Brown

Driving back into De Zeekoe the dipping sun got our attention and the race was on to find the best spot for some pics.

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DeZeekoe river sunset Di Brown

We raced around the farm like lunatics, stopping to gasp, click and do another 360 scan before we finally settled at the river.

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Joggers and cyclists passed us as we sat here in awe.

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We waited until the very end, silent, humbled by the show that the Karoo sky put on.

The next night we went to the dam and were rewarded again with a spectacular show.

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The only sounds are the birds and the frogs and the click of a camera.

 

DeZeekoe sunset over dam Di Brown

DeZeekoe dam sunset Di Brown

DeZeekoe is a nature lover and photographer’s dream.

An activity not too miss is a Meerkat Encounter on the property. Ethical, incredible and discounted to DeZeekoe guests, you can read about my experience here.

Zip-lining West Coast style

Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort is 170km from Cape Town on the N7, situated just after the top of the pass with the same name. The Cederberg Mountains shimmer in blues and greys in the distance and the road we arrived on continues its twists and turns for another eight kilometres to the farming town of Citrusdal, appearing as a hazy mini land at the foot of the valley.

We arrived just after nine in the morning on a perfect Cape West Coast winters day. Impossibly blue skies contradicted the chill in the air, and the bright sun lights up rocks and trees in copper tones.

Trees in winter Piekenierskloof Di Brown

Sitting on the deck overlooking the Olifant’s River Valley we dived in to welcome bowls of creamy butternut soup, warm spicy breadsticks, and steaming hot coffee. Bellies full and bodies warmed we were ready for our adventure. Zip lining !

 #ZipLineKloof

Safety trumps fashion as we gear up and listen to the briefing of the do’s and don’ts when zip lining. I don’t think the full body harnesses suits many people, but I do feel reassured that it won’t come off under any circumstances. The lovely Shammy Shamrock manages to own the look, styling in her bright colours, clips and safety gear.

Before I have time to wonder if I am nervous, I am on the first platform being clipped in and looking over the dam to my landing point some 90 meters away. Natasha, our guide is calm and reassuring and with a big smile, she sends me on my way.

 “I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky” sings R.Kelly in my head and I forget about the lines, the harness and the helmet and embrace the freedom. For a moment it is just me, traveling in the air looking up at the endless blue and down at the rocky ground, burnt trees and vivid greens of the new growth.

Yes, I am flying and it’s awesome.

The line Pikenierskloof Di Brown

This is a perfect experience for first timers or anyone who is keen to try but is a little apprehensive about the thought of zip- lining.

Some zip-line adventures involve platforms that are extremely high up and bolted to rock faces or trees and the views looking down  are knee trembling sheer drops into a wild abyss. Totally awesome if you have zip-lined before or are hooked on adrenalin rush adventures, but nerve wracking if you have even the smallest fear of heights and do not know what to expect once you take off.

The zipline platforms Pikenierskloof Di Brown

The platforms here are a manageable four to six meters above the ground making the leap of faith into fresh air an easy one.

They also have a braking method that I particularly enjoyed as I am not any good at the traditional method of braking which involves using your  gloved hand to push down on the line behind your head.

This method has you positioned with both hands in front of you, slightly above your head, holding onto two  handles that are attached to a metal runner clipped onto the line. It gives you full control of your speed as it’s as simple as “push up  to go pull down  to  stop” After the first slide, for the first time ever, I was a zip- lining pro and it felt good.

Views from the zipline Piekenierskloof Di Brown

Waiting my turn to do the second slide I got distracted by the incredible abandoned building next to the platform . Wandering through the remains of  this home with no roof and  crumbling walls, the windows reveal magnificent views and I pause to think about who might have lived here, what is their story and why did they leave such a beautiful place. Hopefully I will find out next time.

Piekenierskloof views Di Brown

On the 16th January 2016 a wild fire raged out of control and for two days the staff and every available hand fought the flames that approached from all sides. The burnt vegetation is still visible no more than twenty meters from the hotel buildings. Staff members tell me that the expertise of Jan Horn, the GM of Piekenierskloof, and an ex Firefighter for the City Of Cape Town, is what saved the resort.

The existing zip-lines that crossed the valley were all burned down or damaged and we were there to celebrate the re- opening of the first three of the seven new slides.

The Shadow Minister of Tourism toasts the success of another WestCoast adventure attraction.

James and Nadia, ready to fly Di Brown

Piekenierskloof took this opportunity to make this adventure even better than before and the new slides are longer, traversing down the valley rather than across it, making them even more exciting.

Its easy Piekenierskloof zipline Di Brown

The remaining four lines will be open to the public around the end of August 2016 and promise to provide thrills to all who dare to #ZipLineKloof. I can’t wait.

Ziplining at Pikenierskloof Di BrownZipline Piekenierskloof Di Brown

The cost for zip-lining is extremely affordable at ZAR150 per person for three slides or ZAR250 per person for all seven slides.

Other activities worth looking at are target shooting, MTB routes, hikes and walks.

For the less active give your taste buds some excitement with pure West Coast flavours that involve chocolate and other tasty treats paired with local wines and / or Carmien Teas. This is Rooibos and citrus country where you get the very best, very fresh.

For after action relaxation the Piekenierskloof Wellness Centre can soothe and pamper you, or you can refresh in the heated indoor pool or swim outdoors where the views are truly magnificent.

Pknsklf pool Di Brown

Piekenierskloof is part of the WestCoastWay Berg Route. This route offers a variety of tastes, culture, adventure and nature and is a comprehensive way to discover and explore the area.

MASTER-Copyright-West-Coast-Way-Routes-2016-2

 

How to book and all the details.

For zip-line bookings in the pre-scheduled time slots (and with at least a day’s notice to ensure availability) contact Natasha on 022 9213574. Guests must arrive at least 30 minutes prior to complete an indemnity form at Reception and bookings are weather permitting.
For more information on Piekenierskloof and the West Coast Way Berg Route, as well as the list of 101 Things to Do on the West Coast visit www.westcoastway.co.zaor call West Coast Way on 0861 321 777. Connect with West Coast Way on Facebook and Twitter at WestCoastWaySA.

Facilities available at Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort

  • Accommodation • Child Friendly • Bar • Restaurant (Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner) • Outdoor Pool • Indoor Heated Pool • Wheelchair Accessibility (Chalets 9 & 16, Hotel Room 217) • 4 Star Tourism Grading • Trip Advisor • Conference Facilities • Wedding and Function Venue • Tuck Shop • Un-Guided Nature Walks • Online Booking Facilities

Contact: Reservations +27 (0)22 921 3574  | pkloof@dreamresorts.co.za

Pikenierskloof dam Di Brown