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nature

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 Magaliesburg 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 Magaliesburg 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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A Beautiful Hike in Golden Gate (or, a Near-Death Experience in Golden Gate)

On New Years Day, my friend Michelle and I paid an impromptu visit to Golden Gate Highlighnds National Park. We were staying nearby in Clarens and thought we’d check out the park, which I’d heard was beautiful. We were tired from our recent strenuous hiking in Lesotho, and Michelle had a bad blister. So a long hike was out of the question. We thought we might take a brief stroll. Apparently Michelle and I don’t know ourselves very well.

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My New (Almost) Favorite Jozi Park

This week, while poking around the Illovo/Melrose area for my SandtonPlaces research, I wandered into James and Ethel Gray Park: a city park just off the M1 highway in the small suburb of Birdhaven. Sunset dog-walk in James and Ethel Gray Park.

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Vic Falls Do’s and Don’ts: Zambia Edition

Read parts 1 and 3 of this series. I recently took a short holiday to Victoria Falls, based from Livingstone, Zambia. Other than booking a B&B, I did virtually no research or preparation before arriving in Zambia. Thus, I learned many valuable lessons about what one should and shouldn’t do when visiting Vic Falls. Here is part one of my list of do’s and don’ts. DO check the Zambia visa requirements before leaving. DON’T forget your yellow fever vaccination certificate. I woke up on the morning of my flight to Livingstone and suddenly remembered that I would need to buy a Zambian visa upon arrival. I googled and realized the visa costs US$50. I had no U.S. dollars at home. Fortunately I had just enough time before my flight boarded to exchange some rand for dollars at the Forex desk in the airport.

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