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Elephants in the fever tree forest

The Land of Elephants and Baobabs

The Pafuri Triangle — a piece of wilderness in the very northern corner of South Africa’s Kruger National Park — is a land of giants. The trees are huge. The animals are huge. The beauty of the landscape is beyond comprehension. This elephant looks small in the photo (which, incidentally, was shot from the doorway of my tent at Return Africa’s Pafuri Camp). Trust me though — he’s huge. I spent three days at the Pafuri Camp, run by Return Africa, in the Makuleke Contractual Park. This section of the Kruger has a fascinating history, which I’ll describe in a future post. Elephants and Baobabs: Kruger’s Photogenic Giants I saw so many elephants during this trip and it’s been a struggle for me to narrow down the number of elephant photos I want to share. Same goes for the baobabs: I love these huge, ancient, topsy-turvy trees — which can only be found in the northern part of the Kruger — and I photographed them profusely. So before I go into the whole story of my trip, here are my favorite photos of the giants. This is my favorite baobab photo because you can also see the shadow of our […]

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Wendy and David sitting on the Melville Koppies

Quick Photoshoot on the Melville Koppies

Last week Wendy Carstens, the chairperson of the Friends of the Melville Koppies, asked me to take a portrait of her and her husband, David, at the top of the Koppies. The portrait is a gift for their daughter’s birthday. I have huge respect for Wendy and the work she does maintaining and promoting the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, with a small amount of money and a massive amount of determination. So I was honored when she asked me to take the portrait, but also nervous. I don’t do many assignments like this and I was scared of messing it up — that Wendy and David wouldn’t like any of the pictures I took and I would feel like a miserable failure. Luckily that didn’t happen. Wendy and David at the top of Melville Koppies Central, with the northern suburbs and Sandton City behind them. This is the picture they chose. Another option, with Melville in the background. Wendy liked this one too. This one was my favorite but I don’t think they wanted such a close-up shot. Anyway, this is a super-short post. But I thought I’d show off some pictures I’m proud of and remind you that the Melville Koppies is (are? Subject-verb agreement […]

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the wilds Johannesburg

The Wilds: Joburg’s Controversial Garden of Eden

There is a big park in Johannesburg, very near to the city center, called the Wilds. For many years I didn’t go there because everyone said it was dangerous. Even the name — the Wilds, bwahahahaaaaa — has a menacing tone to it. I assumed the warnings were legit. I’ve now been to the Wilds twice over the last several months, and damn, is it beautiful. The Wilds is so stunning and peaceful and well landscaped and immaculately maintained that it puts most other Jozi parks to shame. (I don’t say this lightly, as I’m a serious fan of Joburg parks.) The park was opened in 1938, after the Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company donated it to the city on the condition that the land remain in its natural state. The park is hilly and planted with thousands of indigenous trees and other native flora, crisscrossed by several kilometers of winding stone paths. Walking on the wild side, through the Jozi Wilds. Walking on the Wild Side I don’t want to totally discount the perception that the Wilds is dangerous. I’ve visited lots of quote-unquote dangerous places in this city — Hillbrow, Alexandra, Yeoville, and many others — but none of them seem to elicit quite […]

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That Day When I Flew Over an Erupting Volcano

I’ve just returned from a weeklong trip to Reunion Island with six other blogger/writer/photographers, as part of a camapign called #GoToReunion. We experienced so many amazing things during those seven days; by the end of the week I was already struggling to remember what we’d done at the beginning. Yesterday I began the long, slow process of sifting through my pictures from Reunion, trying to wrangle them into some kind of order so I can edit them and put them into my blog. I started with our first major activity — a 40-minute helicopter tour of the island with Helilagon. As I scrolled through the pictures, the memory of that experience returned, and my jaw slowly dropped. If not for these photos I might have convinced myself that the Reunion helicopter ride was a dream. It was that surreal. I haven’t yet sifted beyond my photos of the helicopter ride. I need to blog about it before the memory fades. Did I actually fly over a lava-spewing volcano on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Well yes, it appears I did. I’ve been lucky enough to ride in a few helicopters in recent years (see here and here), even as recently as last month during the […]

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South Africa’s Wild, Wild Coast: Part 2

Read Part 1. After 12 hours of driving, a flat tire, and a minor head injury, Ray and I pass through the gate of the Dwesa Nature Reserve. We would weep for joy if we weren’t so traumatized. The gate is abandoned. But at least it’s open and we can drive in. The road changes immediately — from hard, uneven, and rocky to soft, flat, and sandy. The landscape changes too; we’re plunged into a dark, quiet forest. Ray keeps driving and I fumble for the park map that I printed out yesterday. The map indicates six different gates, but I can’t tell which gate we entered through. Eventually we come to a fork in the road, with a sign. Left to Gate 6, the sign says, and right to Gate 1. I look at the map and deduce that we entered via Gate 5, on the northeastern side of the park. Gate 1 — the main gate, where we should have entered the park if we’d taken the easier route that we don’t yet know about — is mysteriously not marked on the map. Via process of elimination I deduce that Gate 1 is where the chalets are. We follow the sign to Gate […]

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South Africa’s Wild, Wild Coast: Part 1

We round a bend and there it is: a metal gate with a sign for Dwesa/Cwebe Nature Reserve. Finally! I was starting to feel like we’d never make it. Now we’ll have just enough time to get to the beach before sunset. The smartly dressed park ranger, a stout woman with curly hair and a wide smile, walks out to greet us. We exchange the usual pleasantries. “We’ve booked a chalet in the nature reserve,” I tell her. The ranger looks confused. “You’re not booked at the hotel?” she asks. “No. A self-catering chalet.” “Eish! You’ve come the wrong way.” The ranger explains that this is the entrance to the Haven Hotel, which is inside the Dwesa/Cwebe reserve on the north side of the Mbhashe River mouth. The self-catering chalets, however, are on the south side of the river mouth. There is no bridge across the river mouth. To reach the chalets, we’ll have to backtrack and drive about 40 kilometers to the other side. It takes my brain a while to absorb this news. We left Durban at 7:00 this morning and it’s now after 4:00. The sun is very low in the sky already — winter days are short in the Eastern Cape. […]

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Pop-Up Travel: Addo Elephant National Park

I visited Addo Elelphant National Park about a year-and-a-half ago as part of a blogger trip to Port Elizabeth. Addo is one of South Africa’s largest national parks and one of the best places in the world to view elephants in the wild. There are more than 600 elephants living in Addo, up from just 11 when the park was proclaimed in 1931. I only visited Addo for about half a day. It rained the day we went and our safari was cut short. I guess this is why I never got around to blogging about it — I figured I’d get back to Addo sometime soon, take more pictures, and write a full-length post. But alas, I haven’t made it back yet and my Addo elephant photos are languishing. So here are a few of my favorites. A small herd of elephants bathing in a dam (small lake) in Addo. This young elephant was cruising the shore close to our vehicle. Still cruising. Now stopping for a drink. End of sequence. Heavy rain moved in around this time and we had to return to the camp. Addo Elephant National Park is less than an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth and makes a […]

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I Climbed the Highest Mountain in Zimbabwe

Apologies for the lag in posting lately. My trip to Zimbabwe was a month ago and I’m just writing about it now. Last month I traveled to Zim with Ray‘s family to celebrate his grandmother’s 90th birthday. We spent a couple of days in Harare (the capital) and then four days in Nyanga, in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. The whole family stayed together in Nyanga, in a rambling mountain holiday house. Nyanga is a magical place. I’ll have more to say about the area as a whole in a future post. Nyanga National Park. But first let me tell you about one of the highlights of the trip — climbing Mount Nyangani, the highest mountain in Zimbabwe. I’m pretty sure I’ve never climbed the highest mountain in any country before so this was a pretty big deal. It wasn’t all that hard, either. And of course the views were amazing. Mount Nyangani is the highest mountain in Zimbabwe at 2592 meters (8504 feet) above sea level. The mountain is inside Nyanga National Park. The sign above states that Mount Nyangani is spiritually important to many Zimbabweans and tourists are asked to respect traditional beliefs. Among other things, you should point at objects with a […]

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Mystery Photo: Where Did I Take It?

I spent the weekend in a beautiful, exotic place. Here’s a photo that I took there. Any guesses as to where I was? In reality, it’s impossible to keep secrets in this digital age. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram then you already know the answer. Nonetheless, guesses are welcome from the social media haters among you. A longer post with more details is coming soon. UPDATE: Want the answer? Click here.

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Jozi Top Fives: The Best Parks in Town

In the second installment of my “top five” series, I present my five favorite parks in Joburg. An editor once asked me to review a description of Joburg for an expat website. The description said something like, “It’s difficult to spend time outdoors in Johannesburg because there are no safe parks in the city.” I nearly laughed aloud when I read this, as it’s such complete nonsense. There are so many lovely parks in Joburg that I struggled to narrow my choices to five. All of the parks listed here are safe in my opinion, as long as you don’t go alone or at night. 1) Sandton Field and Study Centre Corner of Louise Ave. and 14th Street, Parkmore A swimming dog at the Sandton Field and Study Centre. I don’t think the trees are indigenous but I love them anyway. I first visited the Sandton Field and Study Centre while researching for the SandtonPlaces book. Sorry for the cliché but the Field and Study Centre is Sandton’s best-kept secret. It’s just minutes from downtown Sandton and yet it feels so relaxing and rural. The Braamfontein Spruit runs right through the park, its grassy banks lined with huge trees. The Field […]

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Zip-lining Through the Magaliesberg on an Autumn Easter Weekend

Nearly four years after my move from America to South Africa, I’m still disturbed by holiday season-inversion. Celebrating Christmas in summer is surreal, and I will never adjust to my July birthday — which used to be a summer rite of passage — now falling in the middle of winter. However, Easter in autumn (or fall, as we Americans call it) is a holiday season-inversion that I actually enjoy. Autumn isn’t so different from spring, after all, and somehow this holiday lends itself well to the end of summer. Easter is also a bigger deal in South Africa than it is in the United States. Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays so everyone gets a four-day weekend. Fall colors are more muted here than they are on the East Coast of the U.S., but still beautiful. I shot this during a weekend Instagram gathering at Modderfontein Dam on Joburg’s East Rand. I did quite a few cool things over this Easter weekend, including a great Instawalk (see photo above) and lunch at a delicious Turkish restaurant in Mayfair. (You’ll have to wait a bit for that post.) But my most notable Easter weekend activity was a zip-lining adventure in the Magaliesberg Mountains. My friend Nina […]

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Charged by a Dassie in Fourways

Fourth in my series of Sandton Snapshot posts, leading up to the publication of SandtonPlaces. Read posts 1, 2 and 3. This past weekend I went to Fourways, the northernmost Joburg suburb. I know what you Jozi city folk are thinking: Fourways is a sprawling, traffic-choked suburban wasteland and I wouldn’t go there if you paid me. I know many of you are thinking that, because I used to think it myself. Until someone actually did pay me to go to Fourways. So I went. And I discovered interesting things. Sure, Fourways has traffic and gated communities and Montecasino. But Fourways also has chubby, slightly evil-looking dassies, living in the wild. (Dassies are kind of like prairie dogs. But bigger.)

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