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 ūüė¶

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 ūüėČ

 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. ūüė¶ 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 ‚Äúmake space‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt 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 ūüôā 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 ūüė¶

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.

 

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 ‚Äúbusiness‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúworkaways‚ÄĚ where interested travellers can learn all about his earth friendly farming and lifestyle.

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No generators, TV‚Äôs 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‚Äôs playground. You too will contribute to the compost. ūüôā

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 ‚ÄúDie Sandveld Huisie‚ÄĚ, 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. ūüôā

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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 Piketberg, Citrusdal, 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 ‚ÄúPeople Rocking Nature‚ÄĚ

For more information go to www.westcoastwaySA

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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.

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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 ‚ÄúSedgies‚ÄĚ you will find your sanity. Slow living is celebrated in this official ‚Äúslow town.‚ÄĚ 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.

DEZEEKOE TREE DI BROWN

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.

DEZEEKOE FIRE PIT DI BROWN

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.

DEZEEKOE ROADS DI BROWN

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.

sprinklers early DeZeekoe morning DiBrown

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

DeZeekoe farm machinery Di Brown

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

DeZeekoe farm living Di Brown

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

SMITSWINKEL FRONT DI BROWN

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.

OWL SMITSWINKEL DI BROWN

Good for an hours browsing at least.

SMITSWINKEL SHOP DI BROWN

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.

BLACKSMITH COFFEE DI BROWN

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.

ROOFTOP DI BROWN

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 ūüė¶

OVERTURNED TRUCK ON SWARTBERG PASS DI BROWN

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.

DeZeekoe road Di Brown

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.

DeZeekoe irrigation Di Brown

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.