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travel

Mom on road trip in South Africa -- Route 62

The Ultimate Mother-Daughter South African Road Trip

As you may already know, my mother and I took an epic road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. I called it the #2SummersSARoadTrip. Our road trip route (roughly) between Cape Town and Joburg. I’d been wanting to do this for years: Take a full week to drive at a leisurely pace between South Africa’s two largest cities. (In case you’re curious, it takes about 15 hours to do this drive straight through.) There are many different routes to take but we chose a simple one, heading east from Cape Town through the Langeberg and Swartberg Mountains, northeast through the Karoo desert, then straight north through the grassy Free State back to Joburg. We spent two nights in the Robertson Wine Valley (one in McGregor and one in Ashton), one night in Oudtshoorn, two nights in Mountain Zebra National Park (outside Cradock), and drove the rest of the way home from there. As I mentioned previously, I hired a car for this trip through Around About Cars. Mom and our cute little white car, on Route 62 between Montagu and Barrydale. I can summarize this entire post in just seven words: South Africa is a fu*%ing beautiful country. The Naudesberg […]

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Oldest house in Johannesburg in Bezuidenhout Valley Park

The Oldest House in Johannesburg

A few weeks ago I visited the oldest existing house in Johannesburg. I’m a little confused as to exactly how old the house is. The house standing beside the oldest house was built in 1852. At least that’s what the historical plaque on the house says; this article by the City of Joburg says it was built in 1863. This second house (not the oldest one, but the one standing beside it) is referred to as the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. It was built by the Viljoen family and later taken over by the Bezuidenhout family when a Viljoen married a Bezuidenhout. The Bezuidenhout Farmhouse, built in 1852 (I think) and currently used as a Rotary Club office. Blue plaque on the Bezuidenhout Farmhouse. But the actual oldest house, which the Viljoens presumably lived in before building the larger house next door, doesn’t have a plaque. Isabella Pingle, the heritage activist who showed the houses to my friend Marie-Lais and me, says it was built around 1850 — more than 35 years before Johannesburg itself became a city. The oldest house in Johannesburg, built sometime around 1850.  The most interesting thing about this house, to me at least, is that there are a bunch of regular people living […]

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Rooiberg wine from Robertson Wine Valley

Two Days in the Robertson Wine Valley

After our epic two-day journey on the Rovos Rail, my mother and I embarked on an epic weeklong road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. Our first stop was the Robertson Wine Valley. Before I start talking about wine I need to give a shout-out to Around About Cars. Renting cars normally gives me huge anxiety, but Around About Cars was so easy to deal with and we couldn’t have made this journey without their assistance. Also we loved our little white car, which was perfect for wine country photo-ops. The Zandvliet Wine Estate and our cute car, which took us from one end of South Africa to the other. Anyway, back to the wine. The Robertson Wine Valley is about two hours north of Cape Town, consisting of about 50 wineries in and around the towns of Ashton, Bonnievale, McGregor, and Robertson. (This area is also commonly referred to as the Langeberg.) I’ve been wanting to visit for ages and I thought this would be a great time to do it because Mom loves hanging out in small towns. I was right. I love Stellenbosch and Franschhoek but Robertson has a totally different vibe — homier and more casual. […]

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Staff at NGC Blairgowrie

July Restaurant of the Month: NGC Blairgowrie

NGC is not what you’d expect to find at the busy intersection of Barkston and Conrad Drive in Blairgowrie. There’s a tire store across the road and a lawnmower repair shop next door, and it just doesn’t feel like the right place for a classy restaurant. And yet here it is, amidst the Joburg sprawl: a little bistro that could pass for a Paris pavement café. Outside NGC: The man in the photo is the chef, Gareth, who owns NGC with his wife Emma. In case you’re wondering, NGC stands for “Neighbour Goods Café”. I had lunch at NGC on a Saturday afternoon when I was really, really hungry and busy catching up with friends. So I don’t have many photos and this will be a short post. But I don’t want to delay writing it any longer. This is a restaurant not to be missed. Saturday Lunch at NGC In many ways the NGC menu is standard 2018-style bistro food, with a selection of “small plates” and larger main dishes and burgers. All very classy and what a lot of nice Joburg restaurants are doing. But NGC stands out because it’s particularly unpretentious, and because the food is So. […]

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Rovos Rail train outside Matjiesfontein

Living It Up on the World’s Most Luxurious Train

I took a ride on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos Rail, which bills itself as the world’s most luxurious train. I don’t consider myself a “luxury travel” writer. I generally blog about everyday places and things I happen to be doing anyway, or things I could at least conceivably afford to do if I wanted to. But every once in a while I receive an invitation to do something so luxurious and fantastic and magical that I simply can’t say no, because it would mean turning down the opportunity of a lifetime. Such was the case for my trip on the Rovos Rail. The Rovos describes itself as “the most luxurious train in the world” and I have every reason to believe this. I rode the train for two days and two nights, from Pretoria to Cape Town, and I can’t imagine how the trip could have been much more luxurious than it was. The old-school Rovos Rail cars on a brief stop outside Matjiesfontein, Western Cape. The best thing about my Rovos Rail experience was I could invite a plus-one. So I invited my mom and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. Convincing Mom to leave warm, sunny South […]

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Zietsies dining room at night

A Beautiful Place to Eat and Sleep in Auckland Park

People are always asking me for recommendations on places to stay in Joburg, and I never know what to say because in Joburg I tend to sleep in my own house. But here’s a place I can recommend for sure: Zietsies Guest House, which is technically in Auckland Park but I call it Brixton. View from the porch at Zietsies. I’d been hearing about Zietsies over the years and had done a one or two pickup/drop-offs of friends who stayed there. Technically Zietsies is in the suburb of Auckland Park, but it’s on Brixton Ridge just across from the Sentech Tower. I heard Zietsies had an amazing view of Melville and the northern suburbs, and that while it’s primarily a guesthouse you can also have dinner there upon prior arrangement. Then a few weeks ago I met Elzabé, Zietsies’ owner, while having coffee at Breezeblock, and she invited me for dinner. I asked if I could bring my mom and nice-guy-Kevin along and she said yes. Two weeks later we were there. Dinner at Zietsies I feel that my photos do a very poor job of conveying the atmosphere at Zietsies, especially at night. But just imagine a house perched […]

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Jackal in Dinokeng

A Quick Visit to the Dinokeng Game Reserve

I recently went to the Dinokeng Game Reserve for a quick, one-night media visit. Dinokeng opened officially in 2011 — pieced together from a bunch of private farms — and is the only free-roaming Big 5 game reserve in Gauteng province. (The Big 5 are lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.) Sunset in Dinokeng Game Reserve. The most remarkable thing about Dinokeng — which means “place of rivers” in Tswana — is how close it is to Gauteng’s main city centers. It’s less than 90 minutes from central Joburg and less than 30 minutes (even as few as 15-20) from Pretoria. People are always asking me to suggest quick weekend getaways from Joburg; Dinokeng is one. One Night in Dinokeng Chris Pieterse, our guide for the Dinokeng media visit, owns the Chameleon Bush Lodge. My colleague Marie-Lais and I loved our night at the Chameleon and found ourselves wishing we could stay longer. Fun branding for the Chameleon Bush Lodge. Marie-Lais’ room — each has a different color scheme, mimicking the changing colors of a chameleon. Dinokeng is still new and doesn’t yet have the established feel of a park like the Kruger or even the Pilanesberg. While we had quite […]

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Hot air ballooning at Bill Harrops

Hot Air Ballooning Over South Africa

I have a terrible cold, my second in a month. (How is this even possible?) The last thing I felt like doing this morning was waking up at 4:30 a.m. and driving more than an hour through the cold winter darkness. I did that anyway though, because one can’t pass up a chance to go hot air ballooning through the Magaliesburg Mountains at sunrise. This week the South African National Hot Air Balloon Championships are happening at Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris in Skeerpoort, near Magaliesburg. I was invited as part of a media contingent to photograph part of the competition — from the vantage point of our own media balloon. Balloons prepare for the air at the start of this morning’s competition. I took a Bill Harrop’s balloon safari once before and blogged about it. I won’t repeat myself now, other than to reiterate that taking a balloon ride over the Magaliesburg is one of the coolest tourism experiences in this area. It’s worth the price — around R2000-R2500, or $150-$185, depending on the package. Anyway, today I just want to show you this morning’s pictures. Up in the Air at Bill Harrop’s Waiting for the balloons to inflate […]

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Johanna and Sunday in their food truck

A Tour of Johannesburg Food Trucks

Lonely Planet recently asked me to do some research about Jozi food trucks for a book about food trucks in different cities around the world. Dream assignment! Once I started investigating the Joburg food truck scene, I realized they’re everywhere and there are all different kinds. There are the hipster food trucks, brightly painted with clever branding and usually selling some kind of ethnic food with a twist. There are the basic South African food trucks — which are technically trailers, not trucks — usually plain white, selling down-home South African staples at rock-bottom prices. Then there are the trucks that fall somewhere in between. A collection of what I call “hipster food trucks” at the Hoods in Sandton. Tselane’s Kitchen, a traditional South African food trailer in Midrand. This post is by no means comprehensive. But here is a selection of delicious Jozi food trucks I’ve come across in my recent travels. Note some of these trucks move around so you might not find them in the same places I did. Hangry Chef: South African/Indian cuisine (Joburg CBD and elsewhere) I discovered the Hangry Chef, which at the time was called the Chilli Chef, in the parking lot next […]

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Andrew, owner of Sumting Fresh

June Restaurant of the Month: Sumting Fresh

I can describe Sumting Fresh in one (not so) simple word: South-African-Asian-American-fried-chicken-street-food. Sumting Fresh, on Grant Avenue in Norwood. Inside Sumting Fresh. Really though, Sumting Fresh is hard to explain. It was once a food trailer in Midrand, then became a food truck, then a full-on food party bus feeding thousands of festival-goers, then a brick-and-morter restaurant in Norwood. (Also, the food bus is still going strong today.) Sumting Fresh serves creative and sophisticated cuisine in a casual, fun, almost-fast-food environment. Sumting Fresh doesn’t fit into any particular genre. It’s just delicious. What is Sumting Fresh? The magic of Sumting Fresh can be summed up through its signature dish, Gujon Chicken. Here’s the Gujon Chicken description from the Sumting Fresh menu: “crumbed deep fried chicken strips / asian slaw / aioli / sweet chilli / parmesan / fries / watermelon”. It’s a crazy combination of ingredients served in a big, cheese-covered, deep-fried pile that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with at first. But I was enchanted by the first bite. I didn’t stop eating until I was way too full, even though I hadn’t even come close to the bottom of the dish yet. I asked co-owner/chef Andrew Leeuw — […]

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Yemi and Ladysmith Black Mambazo at MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland

Swaziland’s Bushfire Festival: My Top 8 Tips

Last weekend I attended the MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland. It was my second time at the festival (read about my first Bushfire in 2012) and my seventh trip to Swaziland, one of my favorite countries on earth. But this was my first time doing the full Bushfire experience, i.e. camping out on the festival grounds and staying for the full three days. Crowds at Bushfire. Swazi sunsets are the best. I’m not a hardcore camper nor a hardcore partier, and this generally precludes me from enjoying big music festivals. I went to Oppi Koppi, South Africa’s largest music festival, a few years ago and while I’m glad I did it once and survived, I would never go again. There are far too many people, too much dust, too much ridiculous behavior, and — most importantly — too few clean bathrooms (i.e., none) at Oppi Koppi. Bushfire is different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a festival and camping is a pain and people are drunk and the whole thing is exhausting and I came home with a stupid cold. But Bushfire is a delightful walk in the park compared to Oppi Koppi. House on Fire, the wonderfully eclectic, funky venue where […]

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Pantsula dance group in Orange Farm

Jaw-Dropping South African Dance in Orange Farm

On Saturday and Sunday I participated in the 2018 #JoziWalks weekend. Sponsored by the Johannesburg Development Agency, #JoziWalks invites people/groups from all over Joburg to organize walking tours in their communities. (Read about last year’s #JoziWalks.) On Saturday I joined the walk through Orange Farm, led by the InTouch Youth Development group. The start of our walk through Orange Farm. Photographer Hymie (left) walks with one of the hosts from Orange Farm. Cute kids who demanded a photograph. Orange Farm onlooker. Orange Farm is a township founded in 1988. It’s an hour’s drive south of downtown Joburg — a perfect illustration of the spacial segregation of apartheid. There are very few jobs in Orange Farm so virtually everyone (I mean everyone able to find a job, which isn’t easy) living there has to make the long, costly commute to Joburg for work. I was excited for this walk as I’d never been to Orange Farm before. It was really interesting seeing a new place, and I was particularly blown away by the dancing. Dancing in Orange Farm We watched three dance groups perform: a Tswana dance group called Jascho, a Pantsula group called Killers Entertainment, and a Zulu dance group […]

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