Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cogmans Kloof

Cogmans Kloof outside Montagu is one of the famous landmarks on Route 62 through the Klein Karoo.  The Cogmans Kloof Pass passes through a poort (a poort being defined as a path through a mountain range) which runs through the Langeberg between Ashton and Montagu.  The first white farmers in the area were allocated farms from 1725 onwards and the original road through the poort was a dangerous one alongside the Kingna River which incorporates eight hazardous drifts.  To get around Kalkoenkrantz the wagons had to actually travel in the riverbed itself.  This route was very susceptible to flooding.  Authorisation was given to built a road in 1861 with work only starting in 1867, stopping again in 1870.  Thomas Bain, son of Andrew Geddes Bain, surveyed the pass and work was restarted in 1873 with the biggest job being to blast a tunnel through Kalkoenkrantz.  Up to that time blasting was generally done with gunpowder, but the Cogmanskloof tunnel, which is 16 metres long and had a 5 metre high roof, became the first time in South Africa that a tunnel was blasted using dynamite.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


'n Lantêring wag vir gaste op hulle aankoms by Camp Figtree in die Zuurberg na 'n wildsbesigtigingsrit in die Addo Olifant Nasionale Park.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Orchards and Kannas

Driving along the wine farms between Robertson and Bonnievale recently there were a lot of orchards with Kanna flowers growing between it and the road.  I know in some areas they plant roses next to the orchards to warn the farmer of deceases but I'm not sure if the Kannas are for the same purpose or just to look beautiful.  Because they did look beautiful if nothing else.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Canopy Tour

Ziplining is probably one of the most fun and exhilarating yet safe activities that I have participated in.  I remember my very first time, sitting on the first step and trying to get my pounding heart to just slow down enough for me to get my breath and push off.  The joys of being afraid of heights.  But I did it and has now done ziplined six times at three different locations.  The best known spot to zipline in South Africa must be the Treetops Canopy Tour in the Tsitsikamma.  The Treetops Canopy Tour consist of consists of 10 platforms (up to 30 meters high in the indigenous forest) and 10 'fufi' slides, the longest of which is 100m! I recently got to do this wonderful activity with a group of media again.  Here are a couple of pics of the experience.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cango Caves

Some people probably think caves are all small damp passages full of creepy crawlies and only accessible to the most adventurous. If so then clearly those some people have never been to the Cango Caves outside Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo. The Cango Caves are magnificent, huge and probably one of the best show caves in the world to visit. What makes it even better to visit is the fact the because the caves go into the mountain and not down under ground, the temperature inside remains at a constant 18°C (67°F) and you don't even need to take along a jacket.
The Cango Caves were discovered by herdsmen looking for lost sheep in the 1770's.  The first person to explore the caves was a local farmer named Jacobus van Zyl who was lowered by rope, holding nothing but a candle, into the first hall.  These days you enter this first hall via steps with electric lights all around and as you look out into it from the top you realise how special the Cango Caves really is.  After the guide's introduction they normally switch off all the lights to show visitors what Van Zyl would have experienced way back then.  This spacious hall, named the Van Zyl's Hall, is over 90 metres long, 50 metres wide at its widest point, and between 14 and 18 metres high.  There is nearly 100 metres of solid limestone rock separating the cavern from the ridge above. Van Zyl's Hall is dominated by the Giant Organ Pipes, a spectacular flow stone combination, and Cleopatra's Needle, a stalactite estimated to be in excess of 150 000 years old.

The second hall, and probably the most spectacular on the tour, was only discovered several years later.  The Botha's Hall draws gasps and "ooh's and aah's" when the guide switches on the lights.  It really is stunningly beautiful and, like the Van Zyl's Hall, huge.  There are two completed columns at the entrance to the hall.  The largest, an ancient formation some 500 000 years old, is known as The Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Next to is stands a soaring 13 metres high column approximately 250 000 years old.  From here the rest of the standard tour covers a couple of smaller halls before you do the return walk to the entrance.  Visitors on the Adventure Tour will continue on slipping, sliding and squeezing through tunnels called The Coffin, Devil's Post Box and Lumbago Ally amongst others.  This section really is only suitable for letters, and not parcels.

What visitors see on these two tours is only part of the extensive caves complex.  With visitors coming through Cango 1 since the end of the 18th century, this section of the caves can't really be called living caves anymore.  This is the reason why the public doesn't get to see Cango 2 and onwards.  That section of the caves are untouched, wet and still growing with no human hands that have broken off pieces, too many breaths making CO2 or electric lights intervering.      

The Cango Caves have been at the forefront of tourism in South Africa since the end of the 18th century.  Its the oldest tourist attraction in the country, the first to employ a full-time tourist guide and the first to be protected by environmental legislation, implemented in 1820.  My only complaint? Not being allowed to take in my small tripod to be able to take better pictures for this article.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Donkin mosaïek op Roete 67

Een van die mooiste kunsstukke wat deel uitmaak van die nuwe Roete 67 kuns- en kultuurroete in Port Elizabeth is die reuse mosaïek op die Donkin Reservaat.  Die moasïek wat deur studente aan die Nelson Mandela Metropolitaanse Universiteit gedoen is verteenwoordig aspekte van die Ooskaap.  Die sluit in diere, voëls, plante, mense en vele ander dinge.  Route 67 bestaan uit 67 kunswerke wat die 67 jaar wat Nelson Mandela in die publieke oog deurgebring het verteenwoordig.  Dit begin by die Campanile en eindig op die Donkin Reservaat met die kunswerke wat oral langs die roete gesien kan word. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cherries in bacon and steak stuffed with mussels

For the last couple of years we've been away from home on a camping trip over Christmas and every year tried to make something special for Christmas lunch.  This year we were camping in Montagu in the Western Cape and decided to go out for Christmas lunch, but alas, by the time we were looking the few places open that day were fully booked already.  "Whatever!" *imagine me saying that with my finger waving in the air* We decided rather to spoil ourselves with a lekker Christmas lunch made over the coals at the campsite.  It so much better than sitting in a stuffy restaurant and works out cheaper anyway.  Plus I can do what most South Africans do well. Braai!
As a starter we decided on good ol' cherries and dates wrapped in bacon.  Usually I only do cherries, but we bought dates at the Montagu Dried Fruit shop the previous day so I wrapped a few of those as well.  I prefer to use streaky bacon as they are narrow and wrap around the cherries very nicely.  They also have enough fat on them to grill nice and crispy.  Seeing that bacon is getting more and more expensive I stretched my bacon use by cutting them in half and was able to make twice as many as I would have using a whole strip per cherry. 
Rather than standing there and turning them individually... one by one... and taking a chance of them burning, I throw the wrapped cherries (and dates) into my sandwich grid which makes it a lot easier to braai them.
Personally I could make a whole meal of cherries wrapped in bacon, but good thing that wasn't the plan cause Drama Princess tucked into them with such ferocity that I probably would have been left hungry afterwards.

The main which I was preparing while the wrapped cherries were braai'ing away was fillet steak stuffed with smoked mussels, cheese and garlic.  Yes you read right, fillet stuffed with smoked mussels, cheese and garlic.  It was Christmas Day after all so why not pull out all the stops?  Making it was straight forward.  Take the tube of fillet, cut it in pieces and then cut open.  The filling was quite easy.  I took a tin of smoked mussels and mixed it in a bowl with grated cheese and crushed garlic. Lots of crushed garlic.  Stuff the fillet with the filling and stitch is closed with toothpicks.

At the same time as the cherries were on the coals I started with my cheese and mushroom sauce for the steak.  The fresh mushrooms were cut into slices and fried in my little black pot over the coals.  To this I added a packet of Ina Paarman's cheese sauce and some grated cheese.  At this stage the sauce was just waiting for the steak to come off the coals.

There it is, the final product. Served on a plastic camping plate (so no chirps about the design now) with carrot salad and baked potato. Nom Nom Nom!!!
That is about the best I can do on a fire though. Wish I knew more about food so that I could enter season two of the Ultimate Braai Master.  I learned so much from watching the first series and every week I was inspired to try something different the following weekend.  Perhaps if I keep working on it I would be ready for season 3.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bonnievale landscape

Most international visitors to South Africa know and get to visit the wine routes around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, yet there are others as well.  One such wine route, which the locals indeed know of, is situated around the towns of Robertson and Bonnievale with some super wine estates along the Breede River.  The picture was taken on the R317 between the two towns.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Port Elizabeth - Firefly's top 10 attractions

Geogypsy was one of the very first blogs I followed and still is one of my absolute favorites.  Gaelyn is a traveller at heart and spends half the year working as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon National Park.  If somebody gave her half the chance she would travel the world professionally and write about as she goes.  A couple of years ago she visited South Africa for a month but by the time she passed Port Elizabeth her time was starting to run out and we didn't get to meet.  She has decided to return to South Africa for a 6 week adventure and has been writing about the places she is planning to visit.  This time around she is stopping in Port Elizabeth for a couple of days and asked me to do a bit of a guest post for her blog about the city.  Not to let a good fair original any writing go to waste I decided to post it on here as well just for good measure.   

I love Port Elizabeth. Yes I do. Love may be a bit of an understatement though so let’s rephrase it.  I have an absolute passion for the city.  There was a time when people said, “Will the last person to leave PE please switch off the lights and release the dolphins.”  PE may not have dolphins anymore, but nobody would be switching off any lights because we aren’t going nowhere.  With about 1,3 millions people, Port Elizabeth is South Africa’s 5th largest city and part of the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area.  It’s a city with all the big city amenities yet still is a town at heart.  You can get anywhere in the city within 15 minutes and our general way of life is just a lot more relaxed than in the big cities, which means PE has the all round lifestyle package. 
The first building in Algoa Bay, as the bay is known, was Fort Frederick, built in 1799 to protect the bay from invasion.  For the next 21 years the village consisted of nothing more than a couple of wooden buildings and tents on the beach.  That was until the arrival of the British Settlers in 1820 which brought the start of the development to what we have today.  The then acting governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Rufane Donkin, came to the bay to welcome the Settlers, finding a village with no name.  He decided to name the town after his recently deceased wife Lady Elizabeth Donkin.  Meaning, Port Elizabeth wasn’t named after Queen Elizabeth as many thinks.  One of the things that irk me most is the fact that the city gets referred to as a small industrial city.  This with the fact that we don’t have any big “must-see” well known attractions like Table Mountain or Sun City gives people the idea that it’s a boring and dirty place with nothing to do.  And the truth can’t be any further away.  The city has a magnificent coastline with beautiful beaches, many historical and cultural attractions, museums, art galleries, nature reserves and is surrounded by absolutely stunning game reserves.  Algoa Bay is home to the biggest breeding colony of African Penguins in the world, the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an hour away and the start of Alexandria Dunefield, the biggest coastal dune field in the Southern Hemisphere, can be seen across the bay from the city.  Addo Elephant National Park which borders the metro is home to the Big 7 while malaria free luxury Big 5 game reserves dot the horizon.  And then there are the people. Port Elizabeth isn’t called the Friendly City for nothing.  What makes Port Elizabeth even better as a destination is that it’s the gateway to the Garden Route and within easy reach of the Karoo and Sunshine Coast.  It truly is a destination that deserves a lot more credit than what most people give it.
My 10 favourite attractions / things to do (in no particular order):
1.       Addo Elephant National Park
Addo borders on Nelson Mandela Bay so is literally only a stone throw away.  The park is home to the biggest concentration of African elephants in the world and is best appreciated from the comfort of your own car. Relax at a water hole with camera ready and watch a group move in to drink or sit and experience a herd walk across the road right in front of your car.  The park is also home to lion, buffalo, black rhino, hyena and many small game and antelope species.  It’s also a bird watchers paradise with over 160 different species of birds documented.  Addo truly is a park not to be missed.
2.       The Donkin Reserve and Route 67

The Donkin Reserve is probably the most iconic site in Port Elizabeth.  It has very close links with the early history of Port Elizabeth as Sir Rufane had a monument built here for his wife Lady Elizabeth in 1820.  He also declared the spot an open space.  Next to the Donkin Memorial stands the old Hill Lighthouse, built in 1861, which has some of the most stunning views in the city from the top.  The newly developed Route 67 ends at the Donkin Reserve and is an art route with 67 art pieces placed along it.  The 67 refers to the 67 years that Nelson Mandela spent in the public eye.  The most prominent pieces is a huge mosaic next to the Donkin Memorial, the tallest flag pole in Africa (with the biggest SA flag in the world) and the Voting Line with Madiba himself at the point.
3.       Cape Recife Nature Reserve and SAMREC
Cape Recife is the western point of Algoa Bay and the surrounding nature reserve is home to the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre.  SAMREC works for the conservation of the African Penguin and rescue and rehabilitate penguins for release back into Algoa Bay.  The reserve has a 9km hiking trail that takes in the coastline and coastal bush as well as the Cape Recife Lighthouse, built in 1851, and the ruins of a World War 2 observation post.  
4.       The beachfront
Port Elizabeth has 40km of sandy beaches. Enough said.  But I’ll say more.  The main beachfront isn’t as over developed like most other coastal cities in South Africa and the best way to take in all the beaches is with a walk along the promenade.  The new redevelopment that has taken place alongside Kings Beach truly has enhanced the beachfront with its new lake, features and kids playgrounds.  Humewood Beach is South Africa’s oldest Blue Flag Beach while Pollok Beach at the far side is a bit more rugged and a popular surf spot.  Between the latter two is Hobie Beach with its famous Shark Rock Pier while the Boardwalk Entertainment Complex across the road is a must visit for its new musical organ fountains that operates every night.
5.       Sundays River Ferry

There is little as relaxing as cruising leisurely down the Sundays River, keeping an eye out for birds while sipping a cold drink. A trip on the Sundays River Ferry also includes a stop at the Colchester sand dunes (the western part of the Alexandria Dunefield).  Here visitors get the opportunity to climb these giant dunes and be rewarded with a bird eye view of the dunes with Algoa Bay and Port Elizabeth beyond.  The easiest and most fun way back down is by sand board before the return cruise.  The Sundays River Ferry trip truly has the potential to become one of Port Elizabeth’s iconic attractions.
6.       Port Elizabeth’s southern coastline, known as the Sunshine Saunter and the Wildside
The Sunshine Saunter starts on Port Elizabeth’s main beachfront and follows Marine Drive along the southern coastline.  This piece of coastline is referred to as the Wildside as it is a rugged and rocky yet very beautiful coastline.  The route then takes one slightly inland to rural (mink and manure) Port Elizabeth through indigenous coastal bush before heading past Seaview and on to Maitland with its giant dune.  A day out on the Sunshine Saunter is best enjoyed combined with a visit to Cape Recife as well as Kragga Kamma Game Park.
7.       Township outing

The best way to experience Port Elizabeth’s townships is from the ground and not just looking at it through a bus window.  The ideal visit would start at the Red Location Museum, a museum purpose built to remember the freedom struggle in Nelson Mandela Bay.  Other “attractions” and stops while driving through the township could include visiting an informal corner take-away; a container where ladies sell vetkoek (fat cakes) and roosterkoek (bread made on a grill or over coals); a township artist; and Njoli Square with its traditional herb market, smilies (cooked sheep heads), taxi rank and informal shops.  Something else to try is ending a visit off with a drink at a township tavern or a traditional tshisa njama (a Zulu or Xhosa word for what we know in South Africa as a braai and elsewhere as a barbecue).
8.       Kragga Kamma Game Park
Not everybody has the time to visit Addo or the money to go to a luxurious private game reserve.  Kragga Kamma Game Park can be found just outside Port Elizabeth and is the ideal morning or afternoon getaway.  The park has white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, cheetah and a number of small game species. Because it’s a relatively small park it’s also an ideal spot for photographers to get some good close up animal pictures.
9.       Port Elizabeth’s historical buildings and monuments
The city has some truly beautiful historical buildings and very interesting monument.  The Public Library with its stained glass windows, St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, the Prester John Monument, City Hall, No 7 Castle Hill, Fort Frederick, the Horse Memorial, the PAG Memorial are just a few of the sights one could see on a tour of the city.
10.   Sacramento Trail
The Sacramento Trail starts in the village of Schoenmakerskop and follows the rugged coastline for 4km to Sardinia Bay Beach.  From here the return journey takes one along the escarpment on a bridle path with beautiful views of the coast.  The Sacramento is probably Port Elizabeth’s most popular trail, but this doesn’t mean it’s crowded.  Along the way you will find a cannon from the Portuguese Galleon Sacramento which wrecked here in 1647, Khoi San shell middens, lots of interesting coastal plants and birds, beautiful views and perhaps a glimpse of a passing otter, dolphin or whale.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The KidZ at Ronnie's Sex Shop

The KidZ were absolutely amazed with what they saw at Ronnie's Sex Shop on Route 62 outside Barrydale and were snapping away pictures with their cameras the whole time we were there.  They even went to Ronnie himself to get pictures with him.  I finally got the two of them to stop bouncing off the walls long enough for a picture in front of the famous bar before they went off again.