Browsing Tag

travel

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

Mob of meerkats in Oudtshoorn

Monday Morning With a Mob of Meerkats

Early Monday morning I sat on a camping chair in the desert outside a town called Oudtshoorn, watching a family of meerkats emerge from their burrow as the sun came up. The meerkats hung out for a while — stretching, sunning their little bellies, scanning the horizon as they balanced on their hind legs and tails — paying us no attention as we snapped pictures of them in front of an impossibly beautiful mountain backdrop. Eventually the meerkats melted away into the bush to collect bugs for breakfast. It was a pretty good way to start the week. I could really end this post right now. If you have any sense at all you’ve already stopped reading and are booking your trip to De Zeekoe in Oudtshoorn, where you can go for the weekend and meet the meerkats yourself. But I’ve got a few more meerkat pictures I want to share so I’ll just continue for those of you who are still with me. Let me back up a bit. What’s a Meerkat? Meerkats are not cats and they are not rodents — they are part of the mongoose family. Their scientific name is Suricata suricatta. Meerkats are bigger than […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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:

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading

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 […]

Continue Reading