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.Continue reading
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.
Also, four come up in this post:
Forest-lover, but not tree hugger
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.
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.
We lit a fire in the small indoor fireplace, more for atmosphere, than warmth and dinner prep was begun shortly after.
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.
It is a working dairy farm so we saw many cows.
We also got to sample the fresh farm milk because our hosts had placed a bottle in our fridge. Soooooo creamy!
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.
Beautiful pastures, meadows and dams are dotted around the farm, and the dusty road is lined by tall Bluegum trees.
We decided to do the Forest Walk, (which this forest lover, but not tree-hugger was happy about).
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
I signed the indemnity form, which I got to keep as a souvenir.
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.
That happens further down, in the gorge below the Falls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before this flight, I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was thrilled to be seated in front, alongside our Captain, Lesley.
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.
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.
I was a little sad that it was over so quickly, but it was an experience I will never forget. The view is magnificent!
Old Drift Lodge Sunrise Cruises
As I mentioned here, Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa or you don’t”.
During my trip I did two sunrise cruises at the Old Drift Lodge, and both were spectacular. The boat sets sail from the jetty shortly after 05:30 AM, but dawn breaks much earlier, meaning me getting up at 04:30 AM to catch the first light, which changes from dark shades of blue to warm oranges and then fiery red, with a touch of purple. If I hadn’t had a heart for Africa before, I would have after seeing the magnificent sunrises.
I cannot put into words the feeling that being on the water as the sun begins to rise brings. The water is so calm, a mirror of only beautiful reflections and yet there is an underlying excitement within which surfaces when a pod of hippos does the same, although I did get a huge fright one morning while taking photos (from above, on the jetty) when a hippo decided to make his presence known to me, but the river was so calm, even his reflection was captured on camera.
Both morning cruises, Fanwell was the guide. He is friendly, well-versed with the birdlife and game along the river, and he is a good boat Captain to boot.
The first cruise I shared with a South African couple, Marko and Maryke, from Pretoria, both keen bird watchers. As we sailed up and down the river, we saw many birds, many of which were firsts for the pair.
I recall great excitement and joy when they saw a Lesser Jacana, and a bird with bright reddish orange feet (and beak) which name I can’t remember, but Marko told me that what I was seeing was something truly special.
We saw Maribou Storks nesting in the high treetops, and an array of other water birds, including a Black Heron, which Maryke explained to me, spreads its wings to form an ‘umbrella shadow’. The little fish swim towards the shade and before they know it, breakfast is served and they’re it!
There are also many Water Berry trees on the banks of the river. Their roots are exposed during the drier months, but when the rain comes and the river rises, their roots are covered entirely and the don’t drown. How incredible is that?
My last morning at the lodge, I went out on a solo trip with Fanwell and again we saw much birdlife. I was so lost in the serenity of it all, at peace for the first time in as long as I can remember, that I almost forgot to take photos.
It was only when a lone hippo (not the same one from the jetty) stepped out of the shallows that I grabbed my phone to snap a picture of it.
We saw a few crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, with some white billed ducks keeping a close eye from what I don’t think was a safe enough distance. To me, crocodiles always look dead, but I’ve seen how quickly they can move. They are reptiles not to be trifled with.
We heard the call of an African Fish Eagle, and while we spotted him with the help of binoculars, I couldn’t get close enough to get a picture. I was a little sad about that because again, The Toppie and The Bean would have loved to see it. I did get to see a Water Buck drinking on the banks, which was a super consolation prize.
The Zambezi is known as mighty, and it is. But for me, it is a soul-restorer too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seven Days and Counting
…and we will be in Durban, the night before our cruise. While I’m excited about that, I am even more excited about seeing Geri and Dan, two very special friends of mine, as well as their two kids, James and Lulu. I will be staying over with them on Sunday evening as well as the weekend after the cruise. It is going to be great fun! I am busy sharpening my wit to be a match for Dan who manages to cut me down to size without too much effort.
I have already started packing! Only because Dad has rationed me to a single (super small) suitcase and I need to make sure everything can fit into it – particularly my hair dryer, straightener and my silver shoes. I have packed a dress for every evening to wear to dinner (I have some beautiful clothes, but no real occassions to wear them to) and some nice sexy tops and jeans to go clubbing or gambling in. I hope that the latter will be as good to me as it was on my first cruise. Shorts and strappy tops have been allocated for the Maputo and Barra Lodge shore excursions.
There is lots to do this week still – Mom is going to wash all the clothes that we want to take with tomorrow and on Tuesday it is off to Carmen to pick up our tickets and convert our Rands into US Dollars – once we have the tickets in hand I think Aunty Carol is going to uncork a bottle of champagne as the trip becomes a “true” reality. She and Uncle Barry are going shopping for something to wear to the Captain’s Gala Cocktail evening too.
Thursday Mom and Aunty Carol are getting their hair done (I threw broad hints to get mine done too, but my cries fell on very deaf ears), while I will be fetching Dad at the airport and getting him and his paperwork sorted out for a Ghanaian Visa Application as this is where he will be working during his next stint. The bad thing about this is that I won’t be able to go with Mary to her scan appointment, something which I was really looking so forward to 😦 Ah well, maybe next time.
Friday it is off to the dentist for me to get my knashers all pearly white and chip-free. Mom and Aunty Carol are going to get their nails done and I have arranged with my Sh’zen Team Leader, Jennifer, (who is a qualified beauty therapist) to give the two old ducks a pampering pedi and a facial for me in the comfort of our home.
Anyhow, enough about that…
Last night Elizabeth and Candice (who is my “older sister”) were here to visit. We didn’t have the energy to do much – even opening a bottle of wine was too much effort – so we sat round catching up. By ten we were all tuckered out. Candice is in the hospitality industry and has been working like a lunatic the past six weeks, and Elizabeth has been relieving in her boss’s position, so she too is dead on her feet. So much so that this morning she was up just after five, sick as a dog with a migraine headache. She went home soon after. I tried phoning to find out she is doing, but her phone is off.
This afternoon we are taking Candice back to Wilderness, but before that we are going to stop off at Mary and Mark for tea and cake as it is Mary’s birthday tomorrow. Mark bought her a Chev Spark for her birthday – and when I asked him what we could get her, he said he didn’t know, but a bottle of red wine would be welcome because he would drink it on her behalf. So, Mom and I are still presentless. Maybe we’ll see something special on our travels that we can get for her…
My Spanish Hot Chocolate appears to be quite a hit – I gave Jay a bottle to take back to Cape Town, as well as a bottle for Carmen and Ewan (who I understand hasn’t had any as Carmen has been squirrerling it away at her office) and my personal bottle is empty, so I will have to make some more. I also feel like baking again, which I will consider doing when I get back this afternoon, if I feel like it.
I still haven’t made any progress with Don’t Blink, but I will definitely finish it by the time we hit the road. Before I forget, here is the bookmark that Rachel gave me the other night. I think it is lovely, don’t you?
There isn’t much more to tell at the moment…
Have a Super Sunday folks! ‘Til later 🙂