Review: Sekelbos Restaurant

I’ve been seeing daily ads in my Facebook newsfeed for a place called Sekelbos Restaurant, so decided to take The Bean there yesterday for a light bite. Sekelbos, as explained to us by our polite waitress (whose name I didn’t get) is a type of wood that is said to burn for ages, but never to ash.

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Circles in the Forest: Oakhurst Farm Cottages

One of the followers on my Facebook page asked for a few facts about me, so here they are – 13 of them because I’m not superstitious.

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Also, four come up in this post:

Forest-lover, but not tree hugger

Mild arachnophobe

Cheesecake freak

Enjoyer of puns

Growing up I spent time reading South African author, Dalene Matthee’s books because they were set in the Knysna Forest, which is an hour’s drive away, and also because I knew they would be our Afrikaans prescribed literature at some stage.  She published many books, but the two I think would be her most well known are Fiela se Kind (Fiela’s Child) and Kringe in ‘n Bos (Circles in a Forest).

Last weekend, after literally being home from Victoria Falls for two days, I set off on another adventure with three girlfriends from work, Catherine, Yoki, Rhonda and Kerryn (Rhonda’s daughter) to Oakhurst Farm, where we stayed in one of the quaint cottages, called Kween’s Kaya (Queen’s Home).  Apt, considering that we are amazing gals who could rule the world if the humdrum of work and paying bills didn’t stand in our way.

Kweens Kaya

We arrived at dusk on Friday afternoon, using trusty Google Maps.  We found our accommodation with no problem. There are various types of accommodation available – check out the website here.  Our home-away-from-home was clean and well equipped.  What I found particularly lovely is a box of different toys in one of the cupboards, for those people travelling with young ‘uns, and a really cool way to play Tic-Tac-Toe, or as some others may know it, Noughts-and-Crosses.

Tic Tac Toe

We lit a fire in the small indoor fireplace, more for atmosphere, than warmth and dinner prep was begun shortly after.

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Fire

I go away every year with the same group of friends and every year is an experience because we gel as a team.  One loves to cook, others don’t mind washing or dishes and I love setting the table.  We have a silent understanding that we’re all away to relax and that there is no need to keep one another entertained.

Saturday morning after a hearty breakfast we set off to explore the farm a bit.

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It is a working dairy farm so we saw many cows.

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We also got to sample the fresh farm milk because our hosts had placed a bottle in our fridge.  Soooooo creamy!

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There is a lovely playground for children, a delightful farm shop, a farm pool in which to cool off and activities such as archery and horse-riding, costs of which are not included in your stay.

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Beautiful pastures, meadows and dams are dotted around the farm, and the dusty road is lined by tall Bluegum trees.

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We decided to do the Forest Walk, (which this forest lover, but not tree-hugger was happy about).

Forest Walk

It is meant to be a 5 Km circular route, with a waterfall just past halfway.  Not one of us thought to bring water, nor did we think that we would be character candidates for Kringe in ‘n Bos, volume 2.  We found the waterfall with relative ease, although the water was more of a trickle than a fall.

Waterfall

Maybe I’m biased after having seen Victoria Falls, who knows?  On the way to the waterfall, we saw a sign that read, “To Cottages/Church” and decided that this was the way home.  It may very well have been, had we not gone to the waterfall, because after circling back to get on that trail, we ended up doing almost 10 Km in total.  Catherine pretty much summed it up in a single sentence “It was fun, and then it wasn’t anymore”.

Mental note to self:  Do not wear jeans during a hike, regardless of the distance.

Additional note to self:  Take water, regardless of the distance.

While the distance was slightly killer, we made it and we got to see some beautiful things walk.

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Rhonda spotted a skull in a hole in the ground.  I of course immediately thought murder in the forest, but it turned out I read too many mystery novels.  The victim was a baboon. Did you see what this Enjoyer of Puns did there?  Kerryn adopted it, christening it Bobby/Bobbi (because we’re not anthropologists, so we couldn’t sex it just by looking at its orbital sockets), intent on gifting it to her Biology teacher.

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Back at the cottage we all wolfed down our lunch (tuna or ham & cheese rolls) and Kerry and I headed off to the outride we’d booked for the afternoon.  Her horse was called Striker and mine, Home James.  We had a lovely walk on the farm and again through the forest, guided by Isaac, who comes from a jockeying family and clearly loves horses.  He even showed off some of his dressage moves in one of the meadows.

We got back to the cottage and soon the fire was lit outside for a braai.  We were intent on dining al-fresco, but we found quite a few eight-legged creepy crawlies which very quickly made us rethink our plans.  This mild arachnophobe was just grateful to be inside, because even though there were spiders indoors too, they were smaller than the one that had nearly hitched a ride on me because I’d been standing too close to the wall it was on.  After dinner and washed dishes, we all checked out to Club Duvet.  The walk had tuckered us out.

Sunday morning, we headed home after another delicious breakfast, but not before stopping at Hoekwil Country Café, for something to drink.

 

Whenever I’m with Catherine I always feel the need to drink a pot of tea, preferably Earl Grey.  The friendly waitress shared a story with us about the café’s cheesecake having been voted the best cheesecake in South Africa in 2010.

 

It may be nine years later, but oh my giddy aunt, the cheesecake freak in me had what Sally had when she met Harry.  I will drive to Hoekwil again just to have cheesecake; it was that good!

Tomorrow is Catherine’s birthday and she’s invited some friends and I to join her for lunch at a place I’ve not been to yet, and on Sunday I will be taking my mum and dad to lunch at a new place that opened on Thursday less than five minutes’ drive from my house.  Reviews to follow next week 😊

In the meantime, have an amazing weekend, and if you’re crazy enough to venture to the stores for the biggest shopping day of the year, don’t get trampled by the Stampede of Shoppers.

 

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

I’m a huge Batman fan, and I particularly love Joker (as portrayed by Jack Nicholson) and his signature line “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

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No, I haven’t, but I have swum in the Devil’s Pool, which is way better.  I guarantee it.

This was by far my most favourite excursion.  Make no mistake, all the others touched me deeply on some level, but not many people get to see the Falls from this perspective; the Devil’s Pool is only open for a few months a year (when the water levels are low) and the number of people that get to visit during the open window is about 80 per day.  So I am very privileged to have been one.

The day started super early:  first to watch another breathtaking sunrise and then hop on to the transfer bus which took me to the border post.  Farai, the manager on duty at Old Drift Lodge kindly had a light breakfast packed for me, in case I got hungry.  Once through Zimbabwe, I was met by another driver who took me into Zambia, to the Livingstone Island launch site.  Check-in was done with Prince, a Zambia local, who says he has been doing this job for many years.

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I signed the indemnity form, which I got to keep as a souvenir.

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Prince said that I was in actual fact signing a marriage certificate; that he was going to make me a Zambian woman.  I had a good chuckle.  Soon more people arrived and once the first six were ready, we set off.  I was in a group with an American father and his daughter, a Canadian man stationed in Lusaka for work, and two students (from the Netherlands and Japan) who are studying English in Cape Town.

The speedboat ride to Livingstone Island takes about seven minutes and in some parts the water is a little tumultuous, but nothing remotely rapid-like.

Rapid Water

That happens further down, in the gorge below the Falls.

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For the most part, the water is flat, not unlike it was during my sunrise cruises at the lodge.

A short swim across a small area is required, but the water is smooth and there is a rope for support if required.  You don’t have to be an exceptional swimmer, but some relative swim-fitness won’t do you any harm.

I expected the water to be freezing (as it is in South African natural pools), but the water was a comfortable temperature, like that of a tepid bath.

Our entire group slid into the pool under the careful instruction of our guides, Kevin and O’Brien and remained in the water until it was our individual turns to get onto the ledge and experience the wonder of this natural infinity pool.  It is a little scary, especially when the mudsuckers decide to lightly nip you but with adrenalin flowing through your veins, you don’t get a chance to think about fear, only have fabulous you feel!

The view is indescribable and the sound of the water rushing by so close to you is almost deafening.  I am so grateful that I got to see not one, but a double rainbow.  Later that afternoon, when I did the rainforest walking tour, the clouds had covered the sun and no rainbows were visible.

Some friends said I was completely robbed of my senses wanting to be so close to the edge, but as an excursion-goer you never feel unsafe because all through your turn on the ledge, a guide is either next to you if you’re sitting, or holding your feet while you’re trying to pull out your best model-pose for the other guide who is photographing you.  One thing I know after this experience is that I would suck as a model.

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After our excursion, we took a walk along the warm, black basalt rock and got to see a statue of Dr. David Livingstone and were told some history about him.

Black Basalt Rock

Livingstone Statue

After that we headed back to shore, where a light breakfast awaited us.  There was an option of a croissant with cheese and tomato, or Jungle Oats with some berries.  I opted for the former, which was delicious.  The coffee was a welcome boost after the energy I expended in the water.

I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone wanting to experience the Victoria Falls from within the waters of the Zambezi River that feeds them.

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Go on!  Be a little daring!

Flight of the Angels

Another must-do excursion when in Victoria Falls is The Flight of the Angels:  a short helicopter flip of ±13 minutes above the Falls.   The operator I was booked with was The Zambezi Helicopter Company.

There is a comprehensive safety briefing given by one of the friendly staff members and the thing that most women dread, a weigh-in.  Getting on the scale is necessary in order to evenly distribute the weight of passengers so that everyone has a safe, comfortable experience.

Safety

If you get thirsty while you wait (quite likely with the African sun beating down), there is a bar on the premises where you can purchase something ice-cold to drink.  I imagine they’d have something a little stronger too, for those who need their nerves calmed a bit.

A member of staff is on hand with a camcorder in hand, filming everything.  After the flight the group gets to view their video, along with still photos, which are available for download onto a memory stick (provided by the company), for a fee of US $50.  Credit cards are accepted.

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Ready to fly

Before this flight, I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was thrilled to be seated in front, alongside our Captain, Lesley.

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It was a little surreal because one moment I was still on the ground and the next I was in the air, kind of like a giant magnet that picks something up in a cartoon. I didn’t hear too much of the commentary through the earphones, because I was in awe of the sights below.

The flight takes the form of a figure 8, so that everyone gets a fair view of the Falls and the opportunity to take photos.

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If you have a quick eye, you may even see some elephants grazing on the ground, along with some other game species.  The group before us said they saw giraffe, but I was too mesmerized by the lush greenery and beauty of the Zambezi and Victoria Falls to see any animals.

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I was a little sad that it was over so quickly, but it was an experience I will never forget.  The view is magnificent!

Coming in to land

Review: Old Drift Lodge, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Arriving at the five star Old Drift Lodge was an experience in itself.  I was welcomed by the Manager on Duty, Farai and the resident “Granny”, Hilda, who is learning the ropes.  To ward of the sweltering heat, I was given a cool, damp towel and my suitcase was whisked off to my quarters, while I was checked in, over my first (of what would be a few) cocktails.

The main area of the lodge, where all meals are served, overlooks the Zambezi River.  The furnishings are classy and comfortable.  The décor speaks to the history of the Old Drift Town, and has the touch of Africa visible throughout, with chessboards that have wild animal pieces.

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Every day the lodge has brainteasers up on the chalkboard, which is a great way to get the travellers (which are from all corners of the Globe) to interact with one another.

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I was escorted to my accommodation by Granny and taken aback by the size of it.  The king size bed was covered in crisp white linen, and there was an elephant made out of the towels on my bed, along with a personalized note, welcoming me to the lodge.

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I was given a quick tour of the lodgings and told that if I needed anything (including a change to the beverages in the minibar), it would be arranged.  I tested the theory by asking for a bath to be drawn for me upon a return from an excursion my last evening, and it exceeded my expectations.

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While the lodge specializes in being a couples-destination, the luxury tents are able to sleep four persons:  two on the king size bed, and two more on twin beds, in a separate room.  My personal feeling is that this is not the sort of place to bring small children, given the wild animals roaming around, and because the idea is to retreat from life and truly rewind.

The bathroom boasts beautiful his-and-hers handbasins, made of copper.

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There is a large indoor shower, as well as one outside.  What sold me on this lodge (and I considered a few!) was the outdoor bathtub.  Who wouldn’t want an indulgent bubble-bath, while overlooking the Zambezi, with the possibility of view game as an added bonus?

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If you’re wanting to cool down, every room is equipped with its own private splash pool; sometimes used by the passing elephants to grab a drink.  If this happens and the water is left a bit murky ‘n muddy, one call to reception is all it takes for it to be turned back into sparkling blue. On my last day, I enjoyed an ice-cold local ale, Zambezi Lager in the pool.

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After dinner every evening, each resident is accompanied to their room by a ranger, in case there are wild animals roaming about.  This is a requirement of the National Parks Authority, and a necessary one.  One evening there were both Cape Water Buffalo and a herd of elephants roaming around the lodge.

I had a busy time during my holiday, wanting to do as much as I could in the short time I was in Victoria Falls, but the staff at the lodge are flexible and always willing to help.  For example, lunch is served between 13:00 and 15:00, but if one arrives back from an excursion a bit later, something to nibble on can be arranged.

The lodge offers sunrise-, and sunset cruises (whether a single person, or a number of people) are booked, as well as game drives, and nature walk safaris.  The sunrise cruises include coffee, hot chocolate, and tea for your enjoyment on the river.  For those that can’t resist, there is Amarula for the coffee too.  Oh, and the most delicious biscuits too; the oats crunchies are dangerously addictive!

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During afternoon excursions, there are alcoholic beverages available – on the sunrise cruise you can enjoy a sundowner while you gently chug along, and the game drive has a pop-up bar somewhere along the route, where travellers can sip on something cold, enjoy some bite-size snacks and soak up the breathtaking view.

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All the guides that accompany guests on the excursion are extremely knowledgeable of the area, the animals and the vast array of birdlife that can be found in- and around the lodge.

The meals at the lodge are next-level delicious!  Chef Gabriel and his team indeed know their onions.  The menu is a five-day rotational one, as Farai explained to me, but if there is something specific a guest would like to have, it is easily arranged.

Breakfast is a continental one to begin with, and guests can order an assortment of hot meals, which are prepare to order.  I had eggs benedict one morning, and the Rangers’ breakfast the next.  One thing that I love about the meals served is that the hot meals are served on hot plates, keeping the food warm throughout.

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At every meal, Chef Gabriel makes a turn at the tables to make sure the guests are enjoying their meals.  The waitstaff are polite and always at the ready to fill your water glass or get you a drink to have with your meal. I only had lunch at the lodge once, given my hectic schedule.  It was Fillet of Tilapia (one of the 80 types of fish found in the Zambezi).

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The dinners at the lodge are a culinary experience, with a selection that caters to all tastes.

I had dinner on two of the three evenings I was at the lodge (as I attended a dinner excursion on the Bushtracks Express one evening).

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caeser saladpork filletcheese board

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Beet soupFillet Teak

The travel agent that booked my stay at the lodge is a friend, and mentioned to them that I was coming to Victoria Falls as a to-myself-from-myself-40th-birthday-present.  On the last night I was there, the manager on duty, Lessley, joined me for dessert.  Halfway through that cheesecake, all the staff on duty came out singing “Happy Birthday”.  For a minute I thought it was Lessley’s special day, but it turned out  that I had been blessed with a birthday cake, which I was quite willing to share with the other guests, but they were all “well fed” with no extra space for cake.  I ate a piece and had the rest divided amongst the staff.

Birthday Cake

On my last night, I came back to my room to find an envelope with my name on it, and a note inside.  Again, it could have just read “room 6”, but that personal touch made it special.

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I wish I could remember everyone’s names to thank them individually for their incredible hospitality, but for fear of (unintentionally) leaving someone out, I am simply going to say a universal “thank you!” to everyone at Old Drift.  Being at the lodge has opened my eyes to the beauty of Victoria Falls town, the Mighty Zambezi and given me renewed hope for the future.  I arrived at the lodge as a weary stranger, but left feeling like part of the Old Drift family.  I’ve left a part of my heart there.

You may be rated as five-star by travel standards, but in my book, you’re a 10 out of 5 😀

Thank you for the memories!  Ones I will treasure forever.

The Adventure of a Lifetime Begins…

Now, I live in a tourist country, as many of you know. More so, I live in what is regarded as a tourist town, although out-of-season, the streets are rolled up at 5 PM. My favourite local destinations are Cape Town and closer to home, Wilderness and the Tsitsikamma. I’ve been to Durban and I spent the first nine years of my life in The City of Gold, and while it holds a nostalgic place in my heart, I’m not sure I would ever want to live there again. I’m a lover of small towns, with history or places that have trees. Cape Town has both characteristics, so that’s why it qualifies for me, despite being a city.

Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa, or you don’t”. I thought it was a joke. Seriously! Yet, ever since I was 12, having learned about Cecil John Rhodes, David Livingstone, and Henry Morton Stanley in history, I’ve had a yearning to visit Victoria Falls. I finally realized, after a stint in hospital earlier this year following a major depressive episode, that it’s time to realize long-term dreams, and then dream some more, turning those dreams into goals, with a definable deadline.

I’m going to blog about the best experience of my life in parts, because a single post will not do it justice.

I had a lovely flight from George to Johannseburg on Mango, enjoying a Zulu Blonde, a beer brewed in Eshowe in Natal.

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I spent Thursday night with Kayla, at her home close to OR Tambo International Airport and met another amazing soul, Caroline. For the first time since my hospital stint, I had a drink, and then another and then another and well, at the end of the evening, it was 4 ½ bottles of wine and a truckload of laughter later.

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Kayla made me swallow two paracetamols before bed, which thankfully warded off the worst part of an insane hangover. Caroline kindly dropped me at the airport, which was somewhat chaotic as the national airline, SAA is once again striking about wage increases. It irks me every time to hear about strikes, but even more so after my visit to Victoria Falls.

I went through passport control quite quickly because I was keen to browse around the duty-free area. So many shops, with so many wares, but nothing was bought because I didn’t want to have to lug anything all the way there, and then back again. Soon I was at the boarding area, where I sat reading my book, drinking coffee to properly wake up, and copious amounts of water to flush out the Wrath of the Grapes.

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The BA flight to Livingstone left on time, and while I unfortunately had an aisle seat, the flight was pleasant. As we approached for landing, the Mighty Zambezi was clearly visible through the opposite window and I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed. My dream was slowly becoming truer by the second. Exiting the plane on the tarmac (which I’m used to, because we do it at George as well) at Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, I was hit squarely in the face by stifling heat. I hate getting hot, but there is something magical about the rays of the real African sun kissing your skin.

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Declaration to enter in hand, Customs formalities were dealt with. Quickly and efficiently. Soon I was on the transfer bus, with another declaration form to complete to cross the border into Zimbabwe, which would be my home for three nights. The bus driver’s name was Stanley, a Livingstone local.

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He drove me and some other BA travellers to their respective hotels (if within Livingstone), and the rest of us to the Victoria Falls border post. Once again, Customs entry was painless. Stanley handed us over to another driver, Lungile, and we entered Zimbabwe. I was the last person to be dropped off, as my accommodation was in the Zambezi National Park itself – an incredible place called The Old Drift Lodge.

My next post will be about The Old Drift Lodge, in the form of a review, which I will post to other-travel related sites, such as Tripadvisor.