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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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Adi Badenhorst in his winery

Quirky Winemakers of the Swartland

The Swartland is a rural farming region in South Africa’s Western Cape province, about an hour northwest of Cape Town. “Swartland” means “black land” in Afrikaans, referring to the endemic renosterbos plant that looks black from a distance at certain times of the year. The Swartland is known for wheat farming and sheep farming and various other kinds of farming. I went there for the wine farms. I love visiting South Africa’s wine regions and the Swartland is one of the largest and best. My friend Dee is currently working in the Swartland, so I booked a flight to Cape Town and we spent a few days drinking wine together and doing other fun things. I visited a bunch of wine farms in the Swartland and had the privilege of spending time with several winemakers. I noticed something: Winemakers are often quirky and weird, in the best possible way. It makes sense. Making wine is a delicate, finicky business — part science, part business savvy, part art, part insanity. You’ve got to choose which grapes to grow, grow the grapes (praying year after year for the right weather), harvest the grapes and crush the grapes, ferment the grapes in specially […]

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Ba-Pita: A New (Old) Restaurant in Melville

Ba-Pita opened at the end of last year in Melville, at the top of 7th Street where the old Golf Tea Room used to be. A few weeks after it opened, a great article on Ba-Pita’s interesting origin story appeared on New Frame. I shared the article on my Facebook page and it got so much traffic that it somehow felt redundant to write a post of my own. Now that a few months have passed, I can’t let another day go by before getting Ba-Pita onto my blog. I went there for lunch again today — the food tastes so damn good and the vibe of the restaurant is so damn nice. So here’s an abridged version. (Read the New Frame article above for more detail.) To cut a 30-year-long story short: Ba-Pita opened in 1986 in Yeoville, which — as I’ve been told — had a similar kind of hippy-ish/hipster-ish vibe to what Melville has today. The Middle-Eastern-style restaurant became a legendary eating and drinking hangout for Yeoville’s bohemians. Times changed, the city changed, and Ba-Pita closed its Yeoville doors in the late 1990s. In 2018, the eatery re-opened in Melville under the same ownership. Lunch at Ba-Pita […]

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Hermanus overlook

36 Hours in Hermanus

Everyone in South Africa knows Hermanus, a quaint little town about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, as the whale-watching capital of the world. Hermanus is overtaken by tourists in whale season, which runs from June to December but is heaviest during the peak calving season in July and August. Up until recently I had been to Hermanus only once — an October day trip many years ago. My friends and I drove from Cape Town, wandered the promenade looking for whales, spotted a couple far out to sea, walked through a couple of shops, had lunch, then drove back to Cape Town. I now know this was a mistake. I recently revisited Hermanus again for 36 hours (still not long enough) and couldn’t believe how beautiful it is and how much there is to do there — even when it isn’t whale season. It’s a crime to drive to Hermanus and not stay for at least a few days. Here’s a quick run-down of everything I packed in during my two nights in Hermanus. 1) The drive from Cape Town If you take the right route, the drive from Cape Town to Hermanus is one of the most beautiful […]

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Gin cocktail from Tonic

Five Fantastic Jozi Cocktail Bars

There’s a cocktail revolution happening in Joburg. New cocktail bars seem to be opening on a monthly basis in this town. By “cocktail bar”, I do not mean a smokey pickup joint with a disco ball serving florescent cosmos made by a bartender with slicked-back hair and a shiny shirt. (For some reason this was my cocktail bar stereotype until recently.) I’m talking about classy, cool, thoughtfully designed establishments run by people who are as much artists and chefs as they are bartenders. There’s not a shiny shirt to be found, and the cocktails these bartenders concoct are not of the two-for-one variety. Each drink is a carefully crafted work of art meant to be savoured slowly, like a French meal. Don’t expect to order more than one or two. So, in a continuation of my long-running Jozi Top Fives series, here are my five classy Jozi cocktail bar picks. 1) Mix Mix, in Rosebank’s Keyes Art Mile, is the bar I visited most recently so I’ll write about it first. Mix is inside Mesh, which is a fancy members-only club during the day but open to the public on evenings and weekends. Confusing, I know, but don’t let this […]

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Inside Urbanologi restaurant

Urbanologi: My Number One Date Night Restaurant

Many of you read my previous post about the interesting experiences I’ve had recently on Tinder and other dating apps, and my plan to start a business helping people improve their dating app profiles. In conjunction with that I’m starting a series of posts about my top recommendations for Jozi dates. First up: Urbanologi. I have mentioned Urbanologi briefly on this blog but never devoted a full post to it, which is inexcusable because it’s one of my favorite high-end restaurants in Joburg. In fact it might be my very favorite. And Urbanologi is definitely my number one Jozi date night recommendation for people who are adventurous — in both the places they go and the food they eat. Urbanologi is downtown, which always feels like a bit of an adventure (although the location in Joburg’s 1 Fox Precinct is totally safe), the restaurant’s decor is the perfect combination of edgy and classy, and the food is innovative, beautifully presented, and insanely flavorful. Urbanologi is also vegetarian-friendly. And did I mention the drinks? Urbanologi shares its space with Mad Giant Brewery, which makes some of the best craft beer in the city, and also offers a great selection of wine. […]

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Naked Tinder selfie

Men on Tinder: Read This

Okay people. It’s time to talk about dating apps. If you’re using a dating app like Tinder — or considering doing so — read to the end of this post. You could win a free dating app profile consultation and photoshoot. I avoided the dating app scene for ages. The whole concept terrified me. But I have several friends who are using dating apps — Tinder most commonly — or have used them in the past, and while the feedback wasn’t 100% positive I’d heard a few success stories. So a couple of weeks ago I swallowed my fear and downloaded the app. I chose a few photos, wrote a bio, and bam: I was on Tinder. I thought I’d swipe on a few profiles, have some nice chats, block a few creeps, maybe go on a couple of dates. And much of that did happen, except for the dating part — I haven’t gone on a single Tinder date yet. But that’s a story for another post. Anyway. The main thing I’ve done while browsing Tinder is laugh. I don’t laugh because the men are witty (although a small percentage of them are). I laugh because many of the […]

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Savory dishes from TJIPS

This Is the East: TJIPS in Eastgate Mall

Sixth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. A few weeks ago I saw some photos of a plate of chips — fries, to the Americans among you — on Instagram. These were no ordinary chips. They were beautifully presented, sprinkled with colorful sauces and herbs, and I could taste them right through my phone. My mouth literally watered. A couple of clicks told me these chips come from a place called TJIPS in Eastgate Mall. (Eastgate is the pre-eminent sprawling Joburg mall of the East.) The Eastgate food court is not the first place I’d expect to find a high-end, gourmet chip shop. I was intrigued all the more. Within minutes I was DM-ing with Jaron, the TJIPS’ founder, arranging a visit. The Story of Slap Chips Before I continue, I need to explain about slap chips. Slap chips (pronounced something like “slahp tchups”) are basically soggy fries — a South African staple food. Apparently slap chips originated during South Africa’s gold mining era, when miners ate a lot of fish and chips and food stalls sloppily fried huge quantities of thick-cut potatoes in massive vats of cheap cooking oil. The […]

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Chili sauce vendor in Maputo at the Mercado Central

15 Quirky Things to Do in Maputo

I spent six days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Two friends joined me for the last two days but the rest of the time I was alone. Other than booking my flight and accommodation and buying a guide book — the Bradt Travel Guide for Mozambique, which has a short and rather disappointing chapter on Maputo but was helpful nonetheless — I made zero plans before going. Once there, I continued making zero plans and just wandered around looking at things. I realized Maputo is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Southern Africa (perhaps surpassed only by Johannesburg), especially for people who like cities. Maputo is cosmopolitan, with incredible food, history, architecture, art, and culture. There aren’t many cities like that in this sparsely populated corner of the world. Here are the top 15 quirky places/things I discovered in Maputo. This list is by no means comprehensive. Read to the end for a few tips about visiting the city. My Favorite Things in Maputo 1) Architecture Quirky architecture is everywhere in Maputo. 2) Museu De História Natural de Maputo (Museum of Natural History) This is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. The building is stately […]

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Loretta Chamberlain, owner of Yukon House in Bezuidenhout Valley

Afternoon Tea in Bezuidenhout Valley

Bezuidenhout Valley, aka Bez Valley, feels like a forgotten suburb. Once home to wealthy Johannesburg socialites, the area has declined in recent decades. Many of Bez Valley’s stately old houses have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair. But Bez Valley maintains its sense of history. You can feel it while driving or walking its tree-shaded streets. Johannesburg’s oldest house is here and a few other historical landmarks remain. Yukon House is one of them. Yukon House was built between 1906 and 1911 and was home to two Johannesburg mayors in the early 20th century. The house suffered periods of neglect as it changed ownership over the years (read this article about the theft of its priceless stained glass windows) but its current owners, Loretta and Henry Chamberlain, have lovingly restored the mansion back to its original glory. I’ve been meaning to visit Yukon House forever but it’s not open to the public all the time. So when I heard Kennedy of Micro-adventure Tours was hosting a historical tour there — including afternoon tea, my favorite meal — I jumped right on board. Tour and Tea at Yukon House This isn’t your average historical house tour. Loretta and Henry live at […]

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Photo of Mother Theresa at Langwan Cleaners

Langwan Cleaners and the Mother Teresa of Albert Street

In March 2017 I receive a Facebook message. “Do make a turn at my mom’s store, corner Albert and Mooi Street, called Langwan Cleaners. Will make a good story. “My mom, a single mother now 70 years old, has been running a ‘general dealer’ for the past 40 something years. Her business has evolved over the years but she is truly a kind of Mother Teresa of the area. Two years later in February 2019, in a comment to a comment on another post, I receive a gentle reminder. “Reminder to visit my mom😘. 99 Albert Street.” 99 Albert Street. I write it down. Three weeks later I return to that note in my day planner. 99 Albert Street. By this time I’ve forgotten the name of the person who sent me the message or where she sent it from. I know it’s an Indian name and begins with an S. 99 Albert Street. A laundry? Owned by a woman. Someone’s mom. I can’t remember but I know it’s time to go. In a WhatsApp message to Fiver, I write: “Any chance you’d like to go with me on a mysterious mission?” Fiver is always game for mysterious missions. A […]

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