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photography

View of Plettenberg Bay from the Robberg Nature Reserve

From the Beach to the Desert, Part I: Plettenberg Bay

Earlier this month I visited Plettenberg Bay (a.k.a. Plett), one of South Africa’s most popular beach towns, for the first time. Plett is part of the drop-dead gorgeous piece of coastline east of Cape Town called the Garden Route, near the border between the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape provinces. The visit was part of a media trip to Plett and Oudtshoorn, a desert town about an hour from the Garden Route. (More on Oudtshoorn in the next post.) Sky Villa, Plettenberg Bay I stayed at the Sky Villa Boutique Hotel, a luxurious property at the top of a steep hill overlooking Plett. Sky Villa used to be a private villa (hence the name) and was converted into a hotel a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed the vibe at Sky Villa, which is quirky and luxurious at the same time. The decor is an interesting combination of whimsical and modern, with really beautiful art, and I like that the place doesn’t take itself too seriously despite being high-end. (Room rates start at R2200, or about $144, for a mountain-facing room and run upward to R4950 for the presidential suite.) Also, I normally don’t care about TVs in […]

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Mishack Rapalalani in his studio

Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge: An Art-Lover’s Paradise

I love Limpopo and I also love African craft art. So when I went to Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge — a lodge outside Louis Trichardt in far northern Limpopo that promotes the work of Venda and Tsonga artists — I was in heaven. Madi a Thavha started 15 years ago when Dutch immigrants Marcelle Bosch and Aart van Soest decided they wanted to open a lodge in northern Limpopo. There was very little tourism development in this area and Marcelle and Aart had a particular interest in this region’s artists and artisans — sculptors, potters, beaders, textile-makers, etc. — as the Venda and Tsonga cultures have very strong and unique artistic traditions. (Read more about the art from this region in my 2016 post about the Ribola Art Route.) Marcelle and Aart bought an old farm, about 10 kilometers west of the town of Louis Trichardt, and set about turning it into a lodge. They named the lodge Madi a Thavha, which means “water from the mountain” in Venda, because the farm’s water comes from natural springs that flow down the mountain. Today, this lodge is basically paradise. I don’t think my photos properly convey the sense of tranquillity […]

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Meruschka in Turkey

12 Portraits of Inspiring South African Women

Today is National Women’s Day in South Africa. South African Women’s Day, which is a public holiday and falls on 9 August, is different from International Women’s Day on 8 March. The holiday commemorates the Women’s March of 1956, during which 20,000 South African women of all races marched in Pretoria to protest the apartheid pass laws. On that day in 1956, the protestors sang a struggle song that included the famous line: “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” Every time I hear or even think about that sentence, the hairs on my arms stand up. I didn’t think much about celebrating womanhood before I moved to South Africa. Women’s Day isn’t really a thing in America. We have Mother’s Day but that’s really not the same. The truth is, before moving to South Africa it never really occurred to me to be proud of being a woman. But now I am. I’m grateful to this country for that. Also Women’s Day in South Africa is fun. Everyone has the day off, winter is coming to an end, all the restaurants and bars and coffee shops have specials for women. It’s a day for celebrating […]

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20 Pictures From Walk the Talk 2019

I’d never really considered signing up for MTN Walk the Talk with 702. Even though I knew this is one of the most iconic events in Johannesburg with 55,000 participants, and even though lots of people told me it’s great, and even though the walk starts and ends around the corner from where I live, and even though I’m awakened at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday (every single year) by the noise from Walk the Talk anyway, it somehow never occurred to me to participate myself. I didn’t get it, to be honest. I mean, Walk the Talk doesn’t involve running or cycling (not that I do much of those things either) or any real sport. It’s walking. Who wants to get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. in the middle of winter on a Sunday to just…walk around? But this year Walk the Talk invited me to be part of a public awareness campaign (see my previous post on the topic) and to participate in the walk. It was a special year for Walk the Talk: Since South Africa is celebrating 25 years of democracy in 2019, there was a 25-kilometer route in addition to the usual 15-, 8-, […]

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Ode to Limpopo

I spent seven days driving 1500 kilometres (about 1000 miles), mostly alone in my very tiny car, through Limpopo. I drove Limpopo — South Africa’s northernmost province — from top to bottom and around again. I visited towns with lyrical names: Mookgophong, Mokopane, Polokwane, Tzaneen, Giyani, Makhado. I stayed in luxury lodges and self-catering chalets. I gaped up at a full moon from beneath a towering white tree that’s been dead for more than 30 years. I got lost in an orange grove. I drank gin and tonics. I ate a hamburger on a bun so stale I could have used it as a hockey puck. I ate macadamia-crusted trout and rare beef fillet and vegan burgers and beetroot quinoa. I sat alone and cried in a birdwatching hide. I faced down a warthog. I watched monkeys copulate. I hung out with honking geese at sunrise. I photographed women embroidering elaborate masterpieces. I drove up a mountain on a dry, pockmarked dirt road and gazed down at a sacred lake. I communed with an ancient baobab. I saw the dusty grave of a Canadian First Nations soldier who died in a savage South African war. I visited a macadamia nut […]

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Sculptures and Tiny Sweaters for Nelson Mandela Day

Today is Nelson Mandela Day. July 18th was Nelson Mandela’s birthday (he died in 2013 and would have been 101 today), and while it’s not an official holiday, it’s a day when South Africans are called to do something small but significant to help others in their country. I spent the day driving through rural Limpopo province and happened to meet a legendary South African artist who has made many beautiful sculptures portraying Mandela. I’ll have more to say about Johannes Maswanganyi in a future post. But the actual purpose of today’s post is to tell you about Andrea’s Little Lung Warmers. 67 Little Lung Warmers for Nelson Mandela Day A couple of months ago a woman named Andrea asked if I could photograph a project she was working on. Andrea is a knitter and she was making 67 tiny sweaters — Andrea calls them Little Lung Warmers — to donate to charity in honor of Mandela Day. The number 67 is significant for Mandela Day because Mandela served South Africa for 67 years. (Read more here.) Once the sweaters were finished, Andrea wanted to photograph each one and then donate them to Friends of Tambo Babies. Andrea and I […]

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Slouw coffee trailer in Potchefstroom

Five Things to Do in Potchefstroom

The town of Potchefstroom, 120 kilometers southwest of Joburg in North West province, has several claims to fame: Potchefstroom is a very old town by South African standards, founded in 1838 by Voortrekker Andries Potgieter. Potchefstroom is a university town. The Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education — now the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus — was founded here in 1869. Potchefstroom has the longest avenue of oak trees in South Africa — possibly in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Potchefstroom is a long and difficult (at least for me) word to say. Thank goodness most people call it Potch. (Read more about the origin of the name Potchefstroom.) I lived 90 minutes from Potch for nearly nine years before going there. I didn’t expect to particularly like it. With the exception of the oak tree story I’d never heard much about Potch, and it isn’t a town that one unexpectedly stumbles upon. It’s not really on the way to anywhere. But I did finally go to Potch a couple of weeks ago, for about 24 hours. And guess what? I had a great time and didn’t want to leave. I liked Potch because: University towns are fun, interesting places. I’d forgotten […]

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Heather in the Swartland at Allesverloren Wine Estate

8 Magical Moments in the Swartland

I visited the Swartland — a wine region about an hour northwest of Cape Town — almost two months ago. My visit was mostly about wine, which I wrote about already, but I have all these other cool pictures and memories from the trip that I wasn’t able to share in that post. Here are some of the best: Swartland Moment #1: Lambs at Vleidam Guest Farm Swartland Moment #2: Allesverloren Swartland Moment #3: Olives in Riebeek Kasteel Swartland Moment #4: Lazy Afternoon at Kloovenburg Swartland Moment #5: Serenity at AA Badenhorst Swartland Moment #6: Overlooking Riebeek Kasteel Swartland Moment #7: A Colonial Church Swartland Moment #8: Hike to Pulpit Rock I think that’s a good place to finish. I visited the Swartland with support from the Swartland Wine and Olive Route. Opinions expressed are mine. Pin it:

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Owner Christophe at Ophelia in Emmarentia

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: Ophelia in Emmarentia

This post, featuring Ophelia Café, is the ninth in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  Making a great coffee shop is about more than just serving great coffee. In the global indie coffee culture of 2019, coffee shops must also have style. They must be bright and Instagrammable, in a cool but unlikely location, with pretty tableware and light fixtures. The food must be good. The servers must be attentive and friendly, preferably with tattoos and cool but effortless-looking hairstyles. The furniture must be attractive and comfortable but not too comfortable, as customers need to stay awake as they type away at their MacBooks. Ophelia Café in Emmarentia checks all these boxes. Ophelia opened a couple of months ago in this funny, retro little shopping center/apartment cluster at the corner of 5th Avenue and Thomas Bowler Street (just behind the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens) in Emmarentia. I go past this center all the time — it’s a four-minute drive from Melville — and have been waiting for years for something cool to open there. (The fantastic Craft Beer Library, which used to be up the road in Linden, is now at the back of this same center.) I had […]

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Bedroom in the deluxe suite at Mhondoro Safari Lodge

Mhondoro: Ultimate Luxury in the South African Bush

I have safaried in every possible fashion during my years in Africa. I’ve done low-budget camping trips, high-end tented camps, mid-range SANPark self-drives, river safaris, and walking safaris. You name it, I’ve probably done it. But when it comes to flat-out luxury I don’t think any of these past trips compare to my recent weekend at Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa. Mhondoro is in the Welgevonden Game Reserve in central Limpopo, less than three hours from Joburg. Welgevonden is a private, Big 5 game reserve (meaning all the “Big 5” animals — lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant — live there) and there is no self-driving allowed, so the only vehicles driving around are those belonging to the reserve’s small number of lodges. This sense of exclusiveness makes for excellent game-viewing as at any one time there are a very limited number of people — and a huge number of wild animals — hanging around in Welgevonden. Yes, it costs a lot. But the money helps preserve a huge, beautiful piece of wilderness and keep the animals (many of which are critically endangered) safe within it. There are 21 lodges in Welgevonden. They all look pretty nice online but I […]

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Cheetahs on the Hunt in Welgevonden Game Reserve

Over the recent long weekend I spent two days at Mhondoro Safari Lodge in the Welgevonden Game Reserve, which is in the Waterberg region of Limpopo. This trip amazed me in several ways, the first of which was how close Welgevonden is to Joburg (about two-and-a-half hours), and the second of which was how luxurious and fantastic Mhondoro is. It’s definitely one of the top three nicest (if not the nicest) safari lodges I’ve ever been to. The third most amazing thing about Welgevonden was, of course, the animals. I’ll have a lot more to say about Mhondoro in my next post. But I don’t want my cheetah hunt story to get lost in the shuffle of that post so I’m telling it here. I have been a travel writer in Africa for nearly a decade and during that time I have participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of game drives and bush walks and other wildlife viewing experiences. But the Holy Grail of wildlife viewing — watching big cats on a hunt — eluded me until my trip to Welgevonden. Cheetahs on the Hunt in Welgevonden Spoiler alert: I didn’t see anything kill anything else. (I’m not sure that’s […]

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The Rand Club, Reinvented

I last blogged about the Rand Club — one of the oldest, most historic, most colonial buildings in Joburg, founded by Cecil John Rhodes — more than six years ago. I just reread that post — titled The Rand Club: It’s Old — and (as with many of my old blog posts) felt a little ashamed of it. Although it’s informative and historically accurate, I was subtly making fun of my visit to the Rand Club that night. I implied the club was stodgy and uptight and said I’d probably never consider becoming a member myself. Last week I went past the Rand Club to deliver a copy of my book to one of its members. What I initially intended to be a 10-minute stop turned into an entire afternoon; I literally could not bring myself to leave. I realized a lot has changed at this place over the past six years and it’s definitely time for a new blog post. The Rand Club is still old and it always will be. (I won’t repeat the whole checkered history here — see my previous post for that.) But it’s also changing with the times. And after a brief closure in […]

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