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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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 ūüė¶

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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.

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.

Hermanus Fynarts Festival.

I like art, although I am not a frequent visitor of galleries, nor do I have a cheque book that can cope with the price tags attached to what I like. That said, art can be enjoyed and appreciated just by looking and I have just spent two days doing exactly that at the Hermanus Fynarts Festival.

Now in its fourth year, this festival is really coming into its own and getting bigger and better all the time. This year the festival theme is A French Connection, and considering South Africa’s passion and excellence in all things related to food, wine and the performing arts, coupled with our French Hugenot heritage, it’s a very good connection all round.

During his performance at ‚ÄúLast night at the Proms‚ÄĚ our very own maestro Richard Cock dismissed politicians, statesmen and business leaders and boldly stated…

‚Äú We ,the creatives are the future of this country, because creatives talk to our souls.‚ÄĚ

I tend to agree with him. I have spent two days viewing beautiful and thought provoking art, listened to exquisite music, eaten food made with passion and flair and spent time on the beach with my camera. My world is in perfect harmony. I have been rejuvenated.

Richard also noted that the arts had a very difficult job as the natural beauty of the area is a tough competitor. I say that while nature and art might have been competing, they complimented and inspired one another, and they both won. After all, we are in South Africa, the most talented and beautiful country in the world.

So whatever talks to your soul, inspires and delights you, you will find it in Hermanus this week until the final day of the festival on Sunday 19th June.

Spread out over Hermanus and the surrounding area the festival is a celebration of sculpture, paintings, food, wine, music and poetry. You can wander around and look, you can taste, listen and learn. There are talks, workshops, cooking demos and wine tastings with lots of mixing and matching at a variety of venues. Visit wine estates, hotels, galleries, churches and municipal halls, just look for the Hermanus Fynarts posters and signs that are dotted all around.

To view the complete program of events, talks and workshops click here to view and book if necessary.

 

All the galleries and venues displaying artworks are free and a handy map showing the location is readily available as Hermanus now boasts a First Fridays Artwalk through the village.

As I am neither a foodie nor a wine lover, I focussed on the art and this is what I found and loved. It represents a tiny fraction of what is on display.

My photographs do not do justice to the artwork, they serve only to give an idea of the feast that awaits your eyes.

The featured artist of the festival is Louis Jansen¬†van Vuuren, a home grown¬†talent who now spends his time in France and South Africa. His exhibition titled “Heaven and Earth” can be seen at the Rossouw Modern SPACE Gallery.

 

I met Terry Kobus  of Originals Art Gallery and was very moved by his works inspired by the child refugees of Syria.

 

I also loved his African scenes.

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Terry Kobus

I was intrigued by the sculptures by Jaco Sieberhagen, all the ones on display at the Rossouw Modern as well as the large piece on the cliffs at Gearing’s Point. Jaco depicts individuals and the components that make us who we are.

 

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Jaco Sieberhagen’s beautiful installation overlooking Walker Bay in Hermanus

At the entrance the the Rossouw Modern the Wild Dogs by Frans Mulder seem to run of of the painting at you. I spent ages at this painting.

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Wild Dogs by Frans Mulder

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Frans Mulder, up close of wild dog

 

I was lucky enough to find Malcolm of Malcolm Bowling Art Gallery at work. His love and understanding of animals is reflected in all his paintings and drawings.

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Malcolm Bowling, a masterpiece in my eyes. 

 

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Malcolm bowling drawing

 

The natural beauty that is in your face as you walk between galleries is art in itself. Sunrise and sunset in the Overberg can be spectacular, so do remember to keep an eye on the sky.

 

At Birkenhead House in Voelklip, a suburb of Hermanus, the abstract sculpture panels by Dylan Lewis are very interesting.  Animal spoor in relief, moulded, and painted using the unique technique developed by him.

 

Sculptures on the Cliffs at Gearing’s Point. 

This year traditional artists were asked to nominate a sculptor to exhibit with them.  My favourites pieces were Stairway to Heaven by Strijdom van der Merwe, Love Alone by George Holloway, Traveller by Jaco Sieberhagen and Assemble by  Lionel Smit.

African stories are told on beautiful tapestries by the artists of The Keiskamma Art Project. 

 

 

I could go on and on with pictures and stories, there is so much talent in our creative country. Below are the last few artists I just have to mention. Go and feast on art in Hermanus, it is so inspiring.

Sculpture by Bruce Little and Etching by Titia Ballot

 

Oil paintings by Solly Smook

 

 

Arabian Heart Throb by Florian Junge seen at the Walker Bay Gallery.

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Arabian Heartthrob by Florian Junge

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Close up of Florian Junge’s Arabian Heart throb

Don’t miss the ceramic displays at the Windsor Hotel and the beautiful jewellery at the Marine Hotel.

Hermanus is a one and a half hour drive from Cape Town so a day trip visit to the festival is easy. There is so much to see and do that overnighting is recommended and there is plenty of accommodation available. With the public holiday on Thursday, why not take Friday off and head for Hermanus.

 

Thank you to the amazing Mary Faure and the organisers of the FynArts Festival for hosting me in Hermanus. To Auberge Burgundy for the comfortable accommodation right at the beach, Burgundy Restaurant for breakfasts to fuel me for the day and Frieda Lloyd for her time, coffee and passion for her area. All opinions are my own.

 

The Turbine Hotel and Spa. A visionary’s masterpiece

My article as published in African Travel Market Magazine.Turbine front entrance Di Brown

A¬†visionary’s masterpiece¬†is how the previous GM, Chris Schutte describes this hotel¬†on Thesen Island in Knysna, one of the most popular tourist towns on the Garden Route.

In an industry where location is everything, the Turbine Hotel ticks all the boxes, and then some.

It is impossible to say no to a property anywhere in Knysna, but when I was introduced to a five star boutique hotel on a tiny island marina that is a Heritage site within a National Park, I knew this was going to be something special.

The Turbine Hotel & Spa comprises 24 bedrooms and suites. The Amani African Spa has a wide range of treatments for hotel guests and the Turbine Water club offers many options for water-based activities. Enjoy fine dining at the 90 seating Island Café at tables overlooking the canals, pool deck or nestled between the original refurbished turbines. The Turbine Tapas Bar offers a la carte menus and lagoon sunset views. A pool deck overlooks the quiet waters of the canals and a jetty provides easy access to the two motorized pontoons available for lagoon cruises. Each bedroom has been individually decorated, themed and named to reflect the rich cultural, historical and geographic diversity of Knysna. Fibre optic cables deliver high speed Wi-Fi, and all rooms have King size, extra length beds.

Turbine from water DiBrown

A TOWN OF MANY STORIES.

Knysna is a town with many stories. Its history is peppered with tales of adventurous men, the pioneers and mavericks of the dominant industries of timber and gold. It whispers of elusive elephants still wild in the dense and mystical forests, it enchants with tiny sea horses that live in the lagoon and are fiercely protected.

The story of how a power station became a luxury hotel starts way back in 1922 when Thesen Island was the hub of a thriving timber industry. In 1939 the Power Station was built and fuelled by the enormous amount of wood waste generated by the saw mills. It provided power to the towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and to the ESKOM National Grid until it was decommissioned in 2001.

Thesen Island could have become a sad industrial waste-land; instead it has been converted into an award winning marina boasting the triple bottom line of social, economic and ecological integration and sustainability. Lovely as this marina is, for me the biggest success story is the conversion of the Power Station into the Turbine Hotel.

 

By 2007 the island and many of its dilapidated buildings had been declared Heritage sites, and the Power station building was purchased by hoteliers Geoff Engel and Dandre Lerm Engel.  In 2010 the result of three years of work and outstanding creative genius was unveiled to the world.

 

The exterior of the hotel is relatively unchanged with three long halls side by side showing off the original 1930’s brickwork, whitewashed to the second floor, and exposed red brick extending to the three individual tin roofs. Three steel chimneys still soar skywards completing the industrial edginess of the building and giving the first hint of the heritage preserved inside this hotel that is a monument to the past.

 

The front door is flanked by brightly painted machinery and the entrance hall sports a section of glass floor affording views the inner workings of a power plant. At the reception area the original control box displays a complicated array of dials, switches and meters, while the opposite wall is papered with the blueprint plan and framed by pipes and ducts.

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Architects, engineers, designers and anyone with a little bit of creativity will delight in this hotel. I was fascinated by the whole concept of creating pleasing public spaces around massive pieces of machinery.

 

After returning home I was thrilled to find and chat to Mike Louw, the Hotel Architect for CMAI responsible for the Turbine Hotel project, and now a lecturer at UCT.

Mike tells me that the original power station was built by factory workers so there were very few square corners and that the levels varied considerably. He says this was a natural generator for creativity.

The machinery was the primary aspect of the heritage site resulting in a limited building footprint as the requirements of the hotel had to be fitted around the large machinery which included an old boiler manufactured in 1909, three STAL turbines from 1940, and a GEC/David Brown generator from 1930.

FORM AND FUNCTION.

I asked Mike about some of the challenges involved, his answers merely added to my amazement at what has been achieved.

He tells me about cutting the old boiler in half. This required the combined expertise of Mechanical and Electrical engineers with Heritage experience, and an Industrial Archaeologist. The entire structure had to be suspended off a new steel framework, a process he describes as hair raising.

It seems as no detail was too small and no effort too great to achieve this dream of a perfect fusion of old industrial heritage with new luxury accommodation.

The piping connecting all the machinery was retained, enabling visitors to follow the electricity generating process through the building.  The woodchips were brought via conveyor belt and burned in the boilers. The steam propelled the turbines which in turn generated the electricity. The pipes were meticulously scraped down to reveal the original colours. These colours were then matched and the pipes repainted according to their use. Blue pipes carried condensate, orange pipes were used for oil and green pipes transported sea water coolant.

Where new floors were put in, the original walls were not strong enough to cope with the additional weight. This resulted in the building of a new structure within the original walls, with concrete being cast through small openings in the roof and through the existing windows.

The public areas of the hotel are on various levels accessed by metal stairs in keeping with the industrial theme. Although all the large machinery remained in situ, the smaller pieces were removed, cleaned and repainted and now can be found dotted all over the hotel.

From reception a metal staircase leads to the Tapas Bar, but before you enter and are confronted by a gigantic hook hanging from a thick chain suspended from the ceiling, pause a while on the platforms around the massive boiler.

Thesen Island old map Di Brown

These walls are adorned with a fascinating collection of memorabilia. Newspapers dating back to the 1950’s report of snow on Table Mountain and test cricket matches. Old maps of the area and historical photographs take you back to a different era. Take time to read the old newspaper cuttings, marvel at the price of lodgings and the fact that people advertise the fact that they would like to purchase artificial teeth.

CUISINE BEYOND COMPARE

Eating at the Island Café is an event to be savoured. It starts with choosing where to sit.

Brightly coloured chairs and tables are spread out on two levels. For larger groups the conservatory styled add on looks onto the water and is lovely on warm evenings, doors can be opened up and tables are available outside. For a quiet meal, find one of the more intimate tables tucked in between the machines, then get comfortable and prepare for a feast.

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All food is locally sourced wherever possible, and only fresh, seasonal produce is used.

Starters include homemade soups and tough choices between creamy parmesan and pesto white wine mussel pot or a smoked springbok and parmesan Carpaccio. Perhaps you would prefer the Tempura prawn, feta and poached saffron pear salad? Ordering takes me a while as I keep changing my mind. It’s best to go in a group and order a variety, then poach food from your friend’s plate.

The main course offered a grilled beef fillet béarnaise, Karoo lamb chops, slow aged beef sirloin, fresh line fish, glazed duck breast and a sundried tomato and cream cheese chicken dish.

Desserts are just as creative as the preceding courses however over a three night stay I never got further than the Fynbos Honey crème brulee.

Apart from the top notch food I really enjoyed the attitude of the staff. All are local folk, friendly, unpretentious and extremely proud of their establishment. I am told that some of the staff employed at the Turbine were originally employed at the power station. Unfortunately I never got an opportunity to meet and chat to any of them. Oh to hear their stories.

Turbine lounge Di Brown

On a final note about the building, not only is it an architectural marvel, it also has a conscience.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM

I am always thrilled when developers truly embrace responsible and sustainable tourism and the Turbine Hotel have done just that. Starting with the design, they positioned the rooms and public spaces to maximise natural light and ventilation, and developed a run off and storage system for rainwater which is used for irrigation and back up water for the hotel. Further water savings were made by planting only indigenous plants, laying artificial lawn and fitting all bathrooms with water saving shower heads and dual flush toilets.

Solar panels and heat pumps provide all the hot water for the hotel, and light fittings are either LED or CFL. An automated system ensures that on exiting the rooms all electrical devices switch off.

The kitchen runs on gas and during winter heating in the public areas is by way of flueless gas fireplaces.

Paper, cardboard, glass and plastic waste is separated and collected for recycling purposes.

TRANQUIL SURROUNDS

The Thesen Island Harbour Town is a relaxing place and there is no need to leave the island, however if you feel the need for action the mainland is just three hundred meters away, accessed by the bridge.

The Heritage Walk on the Island can be done alone or with a guide. Information boards along the route show what the island was like and bring the story to life.

The perfect way to say goodbye to the day is on a sunset cruise around the lagoon and up to the Knysna Heads. The Heads are two cliffs that flank the narrow entrance to the lagoon, a dramatic sight from the water or from the viewing points at the top. The Turbine Hotel has two pontoons that cruise daily and I loved the bubbly that they serve on board.

Arrange a kayak with the hotel and get up at sunrise for an early morning paddle through the marina. The water is calm, paddling is easy and the birdlife is prolific. Once you are warmed up venture out into the lagoon, enjoy the sea breeze and watch the rest of the world waking up. I spent a very happy half hour watching a family of Pied Kingfishers diving for breakfast. Return in time for a stack of pancakes or a full English breakfast and excellent coffee at the hotel, an exhilarating way to start the day.

The Turbine is not just any hotel, it is an inspiring experience. When you embrace the past and weave it into the fabric of the future you create something that can speak to the heart of all generations.

Turbine bedroom Di Brown

http://www.turbinehotel.co.za¬†¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†reservations: 044 ‚Äď 302 5746¬† ¬†¬†reservations@turbinehotel.co.za

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

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

My stay at the Turbine Hotel was a hosted media trip. All opinions are my own.