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tourism

Pansy shell on Bazaruto beach

Three Days in a Mozambican Paradise

Yes, I’m a travel blogger, and yes, I travel a lot for work. Yes, I often field sarcastic Facebook comments like, “Wow, what a rough life you have!” or, “I wish could quit my REAL job and become a blogger like you.” I usually resent these comments. Travel blogging is harder than it looks and most of my travel is far from glamorous.

My most recent trip to Mozambican paradise, however, was an exception. This trip was every bit as glamorous as it looked and you should resent me for it.

Looking down on VilanculosLooking down on the town of Vilanculos, Mozambique, during my helicopter ride to Benguerra Island.

We flew from Johannesburg to Vilanculos with Airlink, as part of a campaign to promote Airlink’s flights around Southern Africa. (Incidentally, the flight from Joburg to Vilanculos is ridiculously short — like an hour and 15 minutes. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to fly from Joburg to Durban.) Once in Vilanculos, we took a 10-minute helicopter ride to Benguerra Island, the second-largest island in the Bazaruto Archipelago.

Benguerra Island from the helicopterA birds-eye view of Benguerra Island at low tide.

The helicopter dropped my colleague Frances and I off at Benguerra Island’s Azura Retreat. Azura is literally paradise.

Villa at Azura RetreatMy villa at Azura.

Azura Retreat bedroomThe bedroom.

View of Azura villa from the beachThis photo gives you an idea of the villa’s proximity to the beach. I watched every sunset from that thatch-roofed lounger.

Birds in plunge pool at Azura RetreatI’ve heard legends about luxurious resort rooms with individual plunge pools, but this was my first time actually experiencing one. The pool was awesome — I loved relaxing in it. But most of all, I loved watching the birds in the plunge pool. Here are two weaver birds having fun.

benguerra-island-weaverI took dozens of pictures of the birds in the pool. It was hard to choose.

Dhow on Benguerra IslandA traditional dhow that took us on a sunset cruise our first evening.

Azura has only 20 villas, each of which is assigned a dedicated “host”. Our host was Paulino, who served all our meals and drinks and catered to every need during our stay.

PaulinoPaulino shows us the lunch menu on our first day.

The food at Azura was sensational. We ate local fish for every meal and there wasn’t a single buffet. (I hate buffets.) One night we even had local soft-shell crab for dinner. Soft-shell crab is one of my favorite dishes in the world — it’s a specialty in my home town of Baltimore — and this is the first time I’ve seen it on a menu anywhere outside the United States. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the Azura soft-shell crab, as we were eating that meal on the beach in the dark. I assure you though, it was paradise in my mouth.

Azura also serves delicious cocktails.

benguerra-sunset-toastOne evening I fell asleep on the thatched lounger. I woke up at sunset to find this margarita next to me. (Paulino delivered it without waking me up.) I toasted with the sun.

One day we took Azura’s “island-hop” tour, visiting nearby Bararuto Island and snorkelling on the pristine coral reef nearby.

Heather on Bazaruto IslandMe on Bazaruto Island. (Photo: Frances Steyn)

Bazaruto sand dunesClimbing Bazaruto’s immense sand dunes with guide Sujado (left) and honeymooners Lily and Mike (right). 

Pansy shell on Bazaruto beachA pansy shell, aka sand dollar, found on the beach. These shells all have the same design, created by nature.

I don’t have an underwater camera so I couldn’t take photos while snorkelling. But the coral reef was spectacular and we saw so many beautiful things. I particularly liked the giant blue starfish.

Our last full day we took a tour of Benguerra island, which is 55 square kilometers and has a population of about 1800 people. It was nice to see the interior of the island, which feels far removed from the fancy resort. We visited with a small flock of flamingos, and went to the beautiful deserted beach on the Indian Ocean side of the island. We also visited the local school, which was celebrating the official opening of two new classrooms with support from Azura.

Flamingos and heron on BenguerraUp close with the flamingos and another water bird (an egret, I think).

Benguerra Primary SchoolThe new school building on Benguerra, which was holding an official opening ceremony while we were there.

 When we got back to Azura, I was lucky to meet the chief of Benguerra Island, Aaron João Zivane. He had also been to the opening of the primary school and was dressed in his full chief regalia.

Benguerra Chief AaronThis chief is too cool.

And then, of course, there were the sunsets.

Sunset and water on BenguerraSunsets never get old in paradise. There are so many different ways to photograph them.

Sunset and boats on BenguerraMy favorite Benguerra sunset shot.

Thanks for taking me to paradise, Airlink. You’ve made all my readers hate me but it was worth it.

This post was sponsored by Airlink and Azura Retreats. Opinions expressed are mine. 

Man flyfishing in Stanford Lake

Magoebaskloof: 13 Pictures of a Beautiful, Misty Morning

Magoebaskloof, a mountainous region in South Africa’s Limpopo Province between Polokwane and Tzaneen, is referred to on its tourism website as “the Land of the Silver Mist”. It didn’t take me long to figure out why.

Man flyfishing in Stanford LakeFly-fishing at sunrise on Magoebaskloof’s misty Stanford Lake.

I arrived in Magoebaskloof on Friday afternoon with a bunch of Instagrammers, on a mission to visit as many interesting places as possible in less than 48 hours. On our first morning we rose at the crack of dawn (actually before the crack) and walked down to Stanford Lake, where a magical, misty dreamworld unfolded before us.

Stanford Lake and lily pads in the mistReflections and lily pads on the glassy lake, just before sunrise.

I’ve got hundreds of Magoebaskloof photos, and I’m actually still here (I decided 48 hours wasn’t enough) and accumulating more and more. But for now I’m just posting my favorite pictures from that first morning.

Morning Mist in Magoebaskloof

Fly-fishing is the most beautiful thing in the world to photograph on a misty morning. Who knew?

Young kid flyfishing on deckA teenage boy fly-fishing. 

Young boy flyfishingI don’t think he caught any fish. But really, who cares?

Lake and mist and treesMist, reflections, and a hint of sun.

Older kid flyfishingMore fly-fishing. I’m glad I wasn’t the one in that freezing water. But it sure was fun to photograph from the shore.

Flyfisherman and perfect reflection on Stanford LakePeaceful perfection.

Forest in the morningAs the fly-fishing wound down, I walked up into the pine forest.

Asma in pine forestAsma (@_asma_b), one of the Instagrammers I was hanging out with over the weekend.

Samantha and Hunter hiking in MagoebaskloofSamantha (right) and her daughter Hunter (left), local Magoebaskloof residents enjoying a walk through the foggy forest. The light got better and better as the sun grew stronger.

Waterfall Ebenezer DamFinally I walked over to Ebenezer Dam, which is connected to Stanford Lake via a waterfall. 

Ebenezer Dam waterfallAnother view of the waterfall, still surrounded by mist even though it was well after sunrise.

Zain and Soraya at Ebenezer DamZain (@zaindee) and Soraya (@sueno_adventures) compare photos of the dam.

I think these are my favorite nature shots I’ve ever taken. But my trip to Magoesbaskloof isn’t over yet and I’ve got a few more adventures planned before I return to Joburg. Prepare for a lot more beauty.

My accommodation in Magoebaskloof is courtesy of Magoebaskloof Tourism. Opinions expressed are mine. For more photos from our weekend (and the rest of my time in Magoebaskloof), check out #visitmagoebaskloof on Instagram.

Sunset in Alexandra Township

A Walk Through Alexandra Township

A couple of weeks ago I took a walk through Alexandra Township, aka Alex, as part of an event sponsored by an Alex-based tourism company called The Hub Presents and a travel networking organization called Travel Massive. I’ve been to Alex many times but I never turn down an opportunity to go back, as I believe Alex deserves more love as a tourist destination.

Child on the Jukskei River in AlexandraA child runs next to the bank of the Jukskei River, a trickling waterway that runs through Alex.

I don’t want to say too much about this walk because I’m definitely going to do a full-length tour with the Hub Presents — it seems like such a cool company and I want to experience all of its offerings before doing a full review. But here are a few photos in the meantime.

Kids playing in AlexandraKids playing in a new park built along the banks of the Jukskei. 

Thalibhan car wash in AlexInteresting car wash sign. I chatted briefly to the owners but couldn’t get a clear answer on what the sign actually means.

Alexandra sewage pipeOur guide, Sifiso, explained that this sewage pipe used to be one of the only places where pedestrians could cross the Jukskei. Fortunately there is a new pedestrian bridge now.

Child on bridge in AlexA child on the pedestrian bridge.

Alexandra tuck shopA small food shop — or spaza shop — in Alex.

Alexandra pay phoneAn Alexandra pay phone.

Pay phone guy in AlexThe owner of the pay phone.

Lady selling offal in AlexandraA “gogo”, or granny, selling animal entrails and chicken feet by the side of the road.

View of AlexLooking out over Alex from a sports field on the edge of the township.

Sunset in Alexandra TownshipAn Alexandra sunset.

Pat's Tavern in AlexandraPat’s Tavern, a popular Alex hangout.

As I’ve written in previous posts, Alex is one of Joburg’s most historic places. It’s the oldest township in Joburg (older than Soweto), and it was Nelson Mandela’s first Joburg home. Alex is home to high concentrations of immigrants from all over South Africa, and Africa. Alex is severely lacking in resources and public services and the majority of its residents live in poverty. Alex is only about three square miles in size and it houses about 200,000 people, possibly more.

Alex is directly adjacent to Sandton City, nicknamed “Africa’s richest square mile”.

Alexandra Township and SandtonAlex with Sandton City looming in the background. I shot this photo during my first tour of Alex in 2011.

If you don’t live in Alex yourself, it’s easy to forget (or perhaps to pretend) that it doesn’t exist. But Alex does exist and it’s a pretty cool place to visit. I highly recommend it.

Wild Cats Belong in the Wild: #AnimalRightsInTourism

I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today, and I don’t normally use my blog as a soap box. But then I woke up this morning and heard about the #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign.

lionsrock lions fence

If you live in South Africa or the United States, you probably saw last month’s terrible story about an American tourist who was killed in the Lion Park. The Lion Park, about 30 minutes north of Johannesburg, is a zoo-like game reserve where tourists go for an up-close look at lions and other big cats. One of the biggest attractions at the Lion Park is lion-cub-petting, in which visitors enter enclosures with big cat cubs (up to six months old) and are invited to interact with them. (The tourist was mauled by a lioness in the drive-through section of the park. Despite warnings to keep car windows up, the woman had her window open.)

I confess that I’ve never been to the Lion Park. But about four years ago I went to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, not far from the Lion Park, which offers similar activities. I knew nothing about these cub-petting programs at the time, but while I was in the reserve I saw a couple interacting with a tiger cub and felt really unnerved.

First, the cub looked way too big to be interacting with people. Second, the keeper in the enclosure was handling the cub very roughly, slapping it hard when it got too playful with the guests. And third, I couldn’t stop thinking about what kind of life that cub was going to face once it outgrew its babyhood job.

tiger cub

A tiger cub at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve in 2011. I wonder where that cub, which would now be a massive tiger, is today?

It’s been well documented that the cubs involved in these petting programs — which exist all over South Africa and are 100% legal — are frequently sold into the canned hunting industry. Canned hunting farms — which are also all over South Africa and totally legal — buy up captive-bred animals at auctions, or breed the animals themselves, and then charge big bucks for tourists to come to their farms and “hunt” the animals.

The Lion Park denies ever selling its lions into canned hunting, despite evidence to the contrary. (Since the tourist-mauling incident, the Lion Park has also announced that it will end its lion-cub-petting program in 2016. Let’s hope the park follows through on that commitment.) I’m not sure of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve’s official stance on canned hunting, but according to the reserve’s website its so-called “Animal Crèche” is still going strong. (Read more about cub-petting on my friend Meruschka’s blog.)

I’m not against hunting in general, although why people enjoy shooting animals and watching them die is beyond me. Many of my friends and colleagues will disagree, but I think hunting can be done ethically and I also believe that ethical hunting brings big financial and ecological benefits to local communities in South Africa.

But I am against canned hunting and cub-petting, as well as any tourism activity that puts human beings into physical contact with wild animals. This includes elephant-back safaris, which my friend Kate wrote about on her blog today. As far as I’m concerned, South Africa’s tourism industry would be better off without these activities and I believe they should be banned.

I have one more confession. A couple of years ago I was invited on a media trip to a high-end private reserve in South Africa’s Waterberg region. During that visit, I pet a pair of cheetahs. I justified my actions back then by telling myself that these cheetahs, who had been hand-reared by the couple who managed the reserve, were family pets and would probably never be sold to a canned hunting farm.

But I realize now that my justification was wrong. Those beautiful cheetahs were purchased at an animal auction that almost certainly catered to the canned hunting industry. By petting those cheetahs I was indirectly supporting that industry, and that was uncool.

Heather and cheetah

Me and a cheetah. Cute, right? But I’ll never do this again, no matter how much peer pressure I feel.

 Blood Lions, a documentary about the canned hunting industry in South Africa, is premiering this evening in Durban. I watched the two-minute trailer earlier today and couldn’t get through it without crying, so I don’t think I’ll watch the whole film. But the Blood Lions release is the main motivation behind today’s #AnimalRightsInTourism campaign. To show your support, please follow Blood Lions on Facebook and Twitter and voice your own opinions about unethical animal practices using the #AnimalRightsInTourism hashtag.

lionsrock lions

This photo and the one at the top of this post were shot at Lionsrock, a sanctuary for formerly abused big cats in South Africa’s Free State. I visited Lionsrock in 2011.

Also, please don’t pet cubs. The end.

Jozi Top Fives: Walking Tours Edition

I wrote a feature about Joburg walking tours for the February 2015 issue of BA High Life magazine. I’m really excited about the article but you’ll only be able to read the full feature if you’re flying on British Airways in Southern Africa this month.

JoburgWalks1 resized

Here’s a screen shot of the first page of the article. 

I posted screenshots of the article on Facebook and it garnered so much interest that I’ve decided to do a shortened version for the blog. And since five walking tours were featured in the article it provides a perfect excuse to revive my “Jozi Top Fives” series from last year.

So here are my five favorite Joburg walking tours, in no particular order.

1) JoburgPlaces: Regenerated Inner City Tour
www.joburgplaces.com

I’ve written about Gerald Garner’s JoburgPlaces tours many times before: See here and here and here. I like his Regenerated Inner City tour the best because it provides a great overview of how Joburg was born and how it became the city that it is today. Gerald has a special way of telling Joburg’s story and he also has access to many of the best rooftops in town.

Cat looking down

A feral cat outside the Anglo American building on Main Street, spotted during a JoburgPlaces evening walking tour.

2) Dlala Nje: Taste of Yeoville Tour
www.dlalanje.org

I love Dlala Nje, first and foremost because they are based in Ponte City, my favorite building in Joburg. Also Dlala Nje is one of the only companies doing tours in Hillbrow and Yeoville. Read some of my posts about Dlala Nje here and here and here. Their Taste of Yeoville tour is my favorite because it revolves around food but you can’t go wrong with any of Dlala Nje’s tours.

Yeoville at night

Yeoville by night.

3) Past Experiences: Inner City Graffiti Tour
http://pastexperiences.co.za

Past Experiences leads all kinds of interesting walking tours in downtown Joburg — shopping tours and historical tours and public art tours. But as far as I know they are the only company in town doing graffiti tours. I have a soft spot for Past Experiences’ Inner City Graffiti tour in Newtown, as I met my boyfriend on that tour. (He works as a part-time guide for Past Experiences.)

The best thing about a graffiti tour, in my opinion, is that you can do the tour over and over again. The walls are always changing.

Bias mural

The first photo I ever shot of Ray’s graffiti.

4) Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre: Heritage Tour
http://sophiatown.net

I featured the Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre in my Jozi Top Five post about museums and galleries, but the affiliated Sophiatown Heritage walking tour also deserves a mention. I first did this tour a few years ago and then again late last year. I loved it both times. This tour is the only way to fully comprehend what happened during Sophiatown’s brutal forced removals of the 1950s.

Sophiatown Mielies

The mielie lady of Sophiatown.

5) MainStreetWalks: Underground Pub Crawl
www.mainstreetwalks.co.za

I blogged about the MainStreetWalks Underground Pub Crawl recently so many of you might remember it. If you want to experience Jozi nightlife from a totally new perspective, take this tour. MainStreetWalks also does unique daytime tours of downtown Joburg, including picnics at the top of the Carlton Centre, and partners with Dlala Nje on the weekend-long Jozi immersion tour.

Pub crawl Fairview Bar

Pool player at the Fairview Inn, a stop of the Underground Pub Tour.

There are many other great walking tours in Joburg, including tours by Ancient Secrets and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. And there are probably more that I don’t know about yet. Suggestions are welcome.

Urban Hiking, Jozi Fashion, Mexican Rooftopping, and an Underground Feast

It’s a long title, I know. I can’t help it though — it was an eventful day.

The purpose of the JCTA media weekend (read about the beginning of the weekend here) was to show the media (and the world) the great things downtown Joburg has to offer. And this city offers a lot. Therefore we were very busy on Saturday and we all had a ridiculously good time.

Here is a photographic narrative of my day.

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On Holiday in My Own City

This past weekend, I joined 75 journalist/writer/blogger/photographers on 48-hour whirlwind tour of the Joburg inner city, sponsored by the Joburg City Tourism Association. It will come as no surprise that I had an amazing, bad-ass time.

Heather at Corner House

This is me, having a bad-ass time in the Joburg inner city. (Photo: Gareth Pon or Tim Van Rooyen. Not sure which.)

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What I Didn’t Know About Joburg

“You know more about Joburg than most South Africans.”

People say this to me all the time. I hear it so often that I started to believe it. Even though I’ve lived in Joburg for less than three years, I had begun to think of myself as an authority on all things Jozi.

Then I went on the JoburgPlaces “Regenerated Inner-City Walking Tour”, led by Gerald Garner. During this tour I realized that, actually, I don’t know as much as I thought I did.

view from Rea Vaya

Pretty downtown building glimpsed from a rapid-transit bus platform in downtown Jozi.

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Mystery Monument to Be Revealed. But When?

UPDATE: The mystery monument was revealed in May 2013. Read about the monument here.

I went on an amazing walking tour of the Jozi CBD yesterday, led by Gerlad Garner of Joburg Places. I’ll have a lot to say about this tour in a future post. For now, here are a couple of Instagrams.

Rissik St. post office instagram

Wide-angle shot of the Rissik Street Post Office, one of Joburg’s most historic buildings. 

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The Magical Village of Hugel-Bugel

Part 2 of a 3-part series about the Cederberg Heritage Route. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

When I left off at the end of my previous post, my two friends and I had just arrived via donkey cart in Heuningvlei, a traditional farming village in the Cederberg Wilderness Area. We were welcomed by three adorable children.

You met the boy on the left in my previous post.

I’m sort of at a loss on how to describe Heuningvlei. First, I’m incapable of pronouncing the word, which means ‘honey lake’ or ‘honey swamp’ in Afrikaans. It’s pronounced something like ‘HYEN-ing-fly’ but that’s not quite right. My friend Michelle (a fellow American non-Afrikaans speaker) christened the village ‘Hugel-Bugel’ and the name stuck.

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