Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Unusual monuments

At the end of August I took a road trip to Johannesburg and on my travels discovered two slightly unusual monuments.  Discovered by the way, as there were Geocaches hidden close to both.
The first one was a monument just outside of Middelburg in the Eastern Cape.  The stone monument has a picture of a chair on it and the sign says "Stoel Monument" (Chair Monument).  So what is the story behind the Stoel Monument?  There's a long and a short so I will keep to the short.  During the Anglo Boer War Commandant J. C. Lotter was well known for his daring hit and run tactics employed against the British forces.  Lotter and most of his commando were caught near Graaff-Reinet.  Lotter stood accused of "murder, marauding and disgraceful conduct of a cruel nature" and was charged with human rights violations and war crimes.  He was found guilty and sent to Middleburg where he was sentenced to death.  At the spot where the monument stands is where he was tied to a chair and shot.  Get it? Tied to a chair and shot = chair monument to remember him.   

The second unusual monument I got to visit on the trip was the Bles Bridges Monument outside Bloemhof in North West Province.  Bles Bridges was a much beloved and very popular Afrikaans singer who died in 2000 in a car accident on this spot just outside Bloemhof.  The local business chamber decided to put up a monument to remember him by and there you have it, a monument that looks like a grave stone with a guitar on it. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Going on an Adventure Drive in the Gamtoos Valley

Beautiful scenery, rolling hills covered in fynbos, citrus orchids, farmlands, white frothing streams, mountains on the horizon, forested valleys, interesting back roads, friendly people and countryside hospitality.  These are all things you will find in the Gamtoos Valley.  The best way to explore and get to know the Gamtoos Valley is to spend a weekend and see for yourself what this valley on the eastern doorstep of the Baviaanskloof has to offer.  One of the quick fire ways to do this is the annual Gamtoos Tourism Adventure Drive.  On Saturday morning we headed out to Loerie for our fourth Adventure Drive and we were joined by our friends Mr and Mrs Smith with their two littlies.  For the second year now the Adventure Drive started at Loerie Ruskamp and included the area around Loerie and Hankey.  We covered a distance of about 60 km with eight fun challenge stops along the way.

Our first stop for the day was in a wooded valley outside Hankey at InnieKloof.  The challenge were to throw naartjies into containers to see how many points we scored.  Each stop had a possible 100 points up for grabs and hitting that yellow crate in the middle would give you an automatic 50 points.  

The route is set out very nicely so it's very hard to get lost.  Unless you have a deaf and dumb navigator and you miss a turnoff. Luckily for us I'm not and we didn't.  The valley is so beautiful though that I really don't think anybody would mind getting lost around here.

Stop number two was at the Hankey Golf Club.  This 9 hole golf club apparently is one of the best local courses in this part of the Eastern Cape.  We didn't have time to go a driving so ended up chipping for points awarded closest to the hole.

Our next stop was just outside of town below Vergaderingskop.  This little koppie is where Sarah Baartman was buried in 2002 after her remains were repatriated from France.  Across the road they are busy building a big cultural centre which I really hope will become a worthy attraction in the valley.  The point was manned by the guys from SANCCOB in Cape St Francis and a steady hand was needed to get a high score over here.

The route then hit one of the back roads.  This is truly what the Adventure Drive is about. Discovering and exploring.  We didn't need an excuse to stop and enjoy the scenery though.  The next challenge was on hand.  I did grab the camera for a pic of the rolling hills with the Cockscomb Mountains in the distance before it was jukskei time.

Jukskei you ask?  Yes, jukskei.  Jukskei is a 270 year old Afrikaner folk sport and said to be the forerunner of American Horseshoe Pitching.  The sport is believed to have started around 1743 in the Cape and was developed by transport riders traveling with ox-wagons.  They used the wooden pins of the yokes - Skei in Afrikaans - of the oxen to throw at a stick that was planted into the ground.  The game was also played during the Great Trek and became an organized sport around 1939.  Let's just say I came close to hitting the stick a few times and only scored with the last throw.  Needless to say, I suck at Jukskei.

The next stop on the route brought us to Spekboom Lapa.  Last year we stopped here as well and we had to fish Smarties out of a bowl of flower with our mouths.  This year the challenege was a little less hardcore and... No, we didn't have to do break dancing. I'm just glad there are no photographic evidence of me trying to pop balloons between my legs.

From Spekboom Lapa we followed the road via Melon and along the Gamtoos River to the Gamtoos Ferry Hotel were another "traditional" sport was awaiting us.  A bit of egg and spoon racing.  Humpty Dumpty sat on a spoon...

The route took us back towards Loerie and up to the Loerie Dam.  Here it was time for... the one activity that comes up each and every year.  The obligatory and compulsory, Kududrolspoeg.  And for those who doesn't understand Afrikaans or who have never heard of it.  Spitting kudu dung pellets as far as you can.

I've gotten used to it over the years and stick those pellets in my mouth with no hesitation.  This year was the first time Drama Princess did it though and it was an Oscar winning performance.

Actually, she wasn't quite the only one in the running.  There were also great nominations for Chaos Boy, the Damselfly and Mrs Smith.

The last stop of the day was at the Koekepanne Farmstall on the road between Loerie and Hankey.  By now we were on a roll and could smell the end.  The activities got completed and we bundled back in the car for the last drive up the road to Loerie Ruskamp.

After the race everybody got together for lunch while the calculations were done to determine the finishing order.  All the points as well as the times were fed to the computer and then it was time to announce the winners.  One of the great things about the day is that everybody are winners and that each competitor gets something.  The names are called out in order of final scores and you then walk up to the prize table and choose your prize.  The Gamtoos Tourism members and other businesses in the valley comes on board in a big way and makes it worth everybody's while. I'm really hoping to see bigger numbers enter next year though.

We've already marked the date in our diaries for next year and be sure that we will be back to explore the valley a little bit more.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Karoo koppies - Koffiebus and Teebus

The flat top koppies (mountains) of the Karoo is as part of this arid region of the country as windpompe, Angora goats, Karoo lamb, flowering aloes and big open skies.  Two of the best known Karoo koppies are the Koffiebus and Teebus south of the town of Steynsburg.

 The word "Bus" means pot in old Dutch as the hills are said to look like the old teapots and coffee pots of the early Dutch Settlers.  This means that if you had to translate, let's say, one of the names, the mountain would be called "Coffee Pot" or "Coffee Caddy".  I really enjoy driving this particular road, the R390 between Steynsburg and Hofmeyr, when heading back to the coast from up north.  Perhaps for one specific reason. Stopping to take a photo of the koppies.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Port Elizabeth's Hop on Beer Route Tour

The Western Cape has it's various winelands where one can take daily tours to taste wines and learn more about how they are made.  Port Elizabeth does have it's share of wine lovers, but the closest wines they can taste at source are in Plettenberg Bay so they usually end up having wine tasting events with Western Cape wines.  But how about beer?  Craft beer in particular.  This is probably what Tony Neveling of Gecko Tours here in the Bay was thinking when he came up with the idea of a craft beer route in the city.  More exactly, the Hop On Beer Route tour.
I joined a few journo's, photographers and tourism peeps for the launch of the tour and although I'm not a big beer drinker, had a fab time tasting what is being brewed right here in Port Elizabeth.  The tour starts in the parking area at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars and hopped onto a bus that was to shuttle us around to the three breweries that we were going to be visiting.
Out first stop was at the BeerYard in Richmond Hill.  The BeerYard has become one of the city's most popular gathering places for lovers of beer, where they may not always know your name (hope you get the Cheers reference) but you can write it on the walls with pleasure.  The venue is extremely laid back with the pool in the backyard even stating that bikini's are optional.  Ok, so it's probably not that laidback, but I'm sure that pool gets thoroughly used in summer.  At this stage BeerYard produces two of their own beers, namely Car Park John and Two Rand Man, with a new micro brewery being built next door that will allow them to expand on their offering.  They do offer what is probably the biggest variety of craft beers in the city so you will be truly spoilt for choice when visiting for a cold one.  We didn't just have a cold one, but rather four cold ones, tasting their own two brews as well as another beer and a cider.  Then it was time to head back to the bus and move on to brewery number two.
Our second stop was at an extraordinary brewery which I hadn't heard of before.  Dockside Brewery in the lower Baakens Valley is a true artisans brewery producing extreme, exotic and extraordinary beers for a small but extraordinary niche market.  Notice how I have used the work extraordinary three times (four time now) in this paragraph.  It is because that is what Dockside Brewery is.  

I had never heard of Dockside Brewery before the tour, but I won't forget it any time soon.  They are located just behind the Herald in the Baakens Valley and have been producing beer for just over a year now.  Their beers are very unique and not to everybody's taste, but those who appreciate a proper craft beer will really enjoy it.  Personally I prefer ciders or a pilsner, but tasting their beers was an experience.  They don't compromise on quality, make sure they don't skimp on the ingredients and take much more time to produce a lot less beer than most other breweries.  Most other breweries produce ales in 11 days.  At Dockside they take between 42 and 56 days.  The other unique ingredient they use is spring water from the Elands River Valley.  So no municipal water going into their beers.  Another thing to note is that Dockside don't produce their craft beer in kegs as draft.  Their beer gets bottled and thus also allowing them to be sold directly to the public through the shop on the premises.

Except for getting to taste not just four (as planned) but all five of their beers, we also got to try beer bread baked with beer from Dockside Brewery.  They found the very first beer they produced not really to anybody's liking and decided to bake beer bread with it.  The beer bread turned out to be a winner and the decision was made to continue brewing that beer specifically for bread.  Now Dockside doesn't only sell beer, but also beer bread kits which we tried at home and was very impressed with the result.  Tour guide Tony couldn't keep up cutting the bread as the group was tucking in.
The last stop on the tour, eight (or was it nine) beer tasters and some beer bread later, was back at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars earlier.  In the few years since opening, Bridge Street has become an iconic spot where one gets to not just have excellent craft beer, but also scrumptious food.  We started off with a tour led by master brewer Lex Mitchell himself before we got to make ourselves comfortable in the tasting room.

At Bridge Street we got to taste all four of their own craft brews; three beers and a cider.  Amongst them the Celtic Cross Pilsner, my favorite beer.  These were accompanied by their lip smacking, hot out the oven pizzas.  The beer tour includes a meal so it wasn't a case of trying to impress us but rather to show us exactly what people on the tour would experience.  This would also be the end of the tour, but most people would probably opt to spend the rest of the afternoon or evening here at Bridge Street or perhaps head back to BeerYard.  Just make sure you keep to the limit or have a dedicated driver on hand if you are going to enjoy a few too many.  All in all the Hop on Beer Route tour was a huge hit with everybody present and I am sure as word gets out it will become a very popular tour not just with visitors but also for corporate and end of year groups.  Cheers.
Disclosure: I got to go on the Hop on Beer Route Tour as guest of Gecko Tours and Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The mouth of the Bushmans River

The coastal Sunshine Coast town of Kenton-on-Sea is flanked by two tidal river, the Bushmans River and the Kariega River.  Normally the area is a quite and peaceful area until the summer holiday arrive.  That is when mostly inland holiday makers flock to the area with a lot of them bringing their boats to enjoy the river with.  The Bushman's River, on the western side of Kenton, is the 2nd-longest navigable river in South Africa and offers a 22km stretch of open water.  The river is ideal for water sports or just a leisurely cruise upstream.  What makes it even more attractive is that fact that most of it is unspoiled and undeveloped due to a number of game reserves along its upper reaches. 
A trip out to the area a week or two three ago gave me the opportunity to snap this pic of the river mouth.  I know it's not the most exciting picture, but it does show how beautiful the place is.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A classy day at the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire

Anybody blindfolded and flown around the country before being dropped off at the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire would have been excused if they guessed their destination to be somewhere in the Cape Winelands after seeing what was around them.  They would have been very wrong though.  The JBC wasn't taking place in the Cape Wineland.  Far from it.  It took place just outside Addo at Africanos Country Estate in the Sundays River Valley of the Eastern Cape.

The JBC Affaire wasn't just another event with music and stalls.  It was something slightly different and brought to the Sundays River Valley some of the Western Cape's top wine estates, specialty food stalls ranging from cheese and cold meats to olives, oysters, chocolate and biltong as well as a craft brewer and PE coffee roasters Mastertons.  These were all  bound together with live jazz performances on stage and the most amazing food, flower and fragrance pairing demonstration.

The Damselfly and I left the KidZ with friends and headed out into the Addo countryside nice and early on a perfect spring Saturday morning.  The beauty of the valley this time of year is the striking fragrance of citrus blossoms in the air and one just can't help but to pull over and suck in lungs full of it.  We arrived at Africanos just after the doors opened and before the crowds started coming in which gave me a chance to have a look at all the food stalls and take some pics.

The wine section of an event like this is always a huge attraction and the glass we received at the door came in very handy when wanting to taste some of the wines on offer.  Wine estates on offer included Calitzdorp Cellar, Ken Forrester, Simonsig, Beyerskloof, Cape Point Vineyards, La Motte and a couple more so there was something for everybody.

The program on stage started at 10 am with a different band going on every hour.  While we were there there were some excellent performances by Khanyiso, the John Edwards Trio and Cosa Nostra with a few more that we didn't get to see.  I'm not one who can sit and listen to Jazz all the time but the music on stage was the perfect backdrop for enjoying the food and wine on offer.  I even caught myself bobbing along with the beat at one stage.

As I have said already, there was really something for every taste on offer at the JBC.  Claus the Cheeseman from Knysna had a great variety of cheeses, cold meats, salami and artisan breads while those who like their meat dried could pop by Kirkwood's Famous Karoo Butchery's stand.

People went to the Laharna stand to try their olives, chillies, sundried tomatoes and herbs and most enjoyed it so much that they came away with tubs of olives and other goodies.

The Sundays River Valley is famous for elephants and oranges and oysters couldn't be further removed from what the area has to offer, but oysters turned out to be one of the most popular treats at the JBC.  I always thought that the first dude to dare throw a raw oyster down his throat must either have been very hungry, very stupid or very brave.  He must have known something cause as we know oysters are regarded a delicacy by many today.  Some even believe it to be an aphrodisiac.  Whatever you think, the Oyster Bar did a roaring trade of both the traditional raw oysters as well as a yummy deep fried one that I got to try. 

The coffee and chocolate lovers wouldn't have felt left out with what was on offer.  Sjukla's hand-made Belgium chocolates are delectable, especially those with a hint of citrus in them.  Right next to their stand Mastertons' barista was waving his magic coffee wand for those in need of a caffeine fix or some chocolate covered coffee beans.

Not everybody are into wine, but the organisers had thought of that as well.  They also had craft beer on tap brought to the valley by the Dragon Brewing Co as well as craft ciders by Everson's.

The highlight of the JBC, for us anyways, was the Neroli Fragrance Experience which involved food, flower and fragrance pairing during an interactive session in the Africanos hall.  The food bit was done by South African TV and Kokkedoor chef Mynhardt Joubert...  

 ... while the flower arrangements were done by PE based German Master Floral-Designer Fayette Scherwinski who is a floral magician. 

Flowers decorations and topped up glasses were the order of the day

The one hour session, done at 11 am and 2 pm on both days, didn't just involve us sitting and watching a cooking and flower demonstration.  It involved interaction as well where all six senses with us getting to see, touch, taste and smell the food, flowers and perfumes; and of cause listening to the experts.

While the demonstrations were on the ladies were encouraged to try out the DKNY scents on display while one lucky lady from the audience also got to have a makeover.  Wine glasses got topped up and taste buds were tantalised.  Some of the delicacies Mynhardt and his assistant dished up was an instant meringue with citrus rind, a quick sticks cheesecake with lavender flowers in it and various spreads and dips (sorry, but at a loss for a proper description for it) that went with the proper meringues and fresh fruit that also went onto the table.

One of Fayette's table decorations

Once the food and flower demonstration was done the final products were used to set the table in the middle of the hall.  It wasn't just a case of dishing everything up on plates.  It goes straight onto the table. 

Then it was our turn and spoons were dished out - excuse the pun - and we were invited to tuck in straight from the table.  We were encouraged to try different combinations and to even try some of the flower petals with the food.  Truly a very unique experience and very well presented.

All in all the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire was an absolute breath of fresh air.  There are a lot of artisans and country markets all over the show these days, but there is definitely a market out there for something like this.  Something a little more sophisticated combining good food, wine and music in a controlled environment.  When I first heard about the JBC, I have to admit, I had my doubts.  Those doubts vanished like mist in front of the sun after visiting and seeing what they had to offer and I am sure that next year will be even bigger and better.

Disclosure: We received tickets to visit the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire from the organisers  and visited on the first day of the event.  Our transport and all other costs were for our own account.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A very unusual beach

Can you guess where this beach is?
Technically it's not a beach.  Not a coastal one anyway.  It is the sandveld on the banks of the Bloemhof Dam on the border between the North West Province and the Free State.

Bloemhof Dam was built in the late 1960's and is located at the confluence of the Vaal River and the Vet River.  At 25 000 hectares the dam with it's 4 270 m long dam wall is one of the largest in South Africa.  The dam itself is very shallow as it isn't located in a gorge and stretches up to a 100 km upstream from the wall. 

The area around the dam has been declared a protected area with the Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve on the North West side is the more prominent Sandveld Nature Reserve in the Free State.  The Sandveld Nature Reserve is one of South Africa's top birding spots with 295 bird species recorded here as well as game like giraffe, buffalo, eland, gemsbok, and rare sable and roan antelope.