Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quintessential Karoo

Dusty roads with flowering aloes alongside and farm workers walking along seemingly in the middle of nowhere - Quintessential Karoo 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Moyo at Spier – The ultimate buffet lunch

I remember the first time I went to Spier Wine Estate after Moyo opened thinking that it so doesn't fit in with Spier and it surroundings at all.  But just walking past the outside and going inside to experience it are two totally different things and after having lunch at Moyo's the other day I have so changed my opinion.  Its the difference between Spier's Cape Dutch and colonial look and the free spirit African feel under the ancient oak trees that make the two ideal bedfellows.  The restaurant offers different kinds of seating from casually under the massive trees, privately on the stilted platforms or communally under the marquee tent.  We went for the "under the tree" option.
 
As soon as you are seated the ladies come by to paint the traditional African dots that has become so synonymous with a visit to the Moyo restaurants throughout South Africa.  Although I noticed that there were a couple of South African okes around who weren't too keen on it, the women and especially tourists love it.  And just in case you were wondering about this South African man.  Yes, I had my face dotted as well.

A nice touch I liked very much was the process of washing your hands at the table.  A staff member goes around with a pitcher, bowl and towel and I couldn't help but snap a picture of one of the guests on our table having her hands washed. 
 
 
But seating, face painting and hand washing niceties apart.  We were here to eat and the test taste of a restaurant is in its pudding.  Well all their food really.  Did they pass this test?  The food was orgasmic so the appropriate answer would be yes, yes, yes...  In actual fact, this is the buffet lunch that all other buffet lunches should aspire to be like.

The menu is extensive and consisted of starter, mains and dessert options.  Lots of it.  I was especially impressed with the Impala steak, so much so that I went back to tell the chef that, while some of us returned for another helping of the pumpkin fritters and little bite sized brownies. 
 
I think it's wrong to write a restaurant post like this if you aren't close to the restaurant cause my mouth is watering right now.  Unfortunately I live 800km away otherwise lunch at Moyo would have been on the cards.   

Disclosure: I had lunch at Moyo at Spier as guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Robertson Dutch Reformed Church

 
Most small towns around South Africa's histories are very closely woven into that of the church and often these towns got started because of a church.  In this case the town of Robertson in the Western Cape is no different.  In 1728 a large piece of land which fell within the very large boundaries of Swellendam district, was let to a Mr. P Joubert.  Soon farmers requiring grazing for their sheep started moving into the area, many purchasing land from the government by 1800. 
The farm Roodezand in the district belonged to Johannes W van Zijl in the 1840's and church services were held in his home every three months when Dr William Robertson, the Dutch Reformed Church Minister at Swellendam, visited the area.  In 1852 it was decided that a town needed to be established in the area and Mr. Van Zijl’s farm was purchased for that purpose.  The town was named after Dr Robertson and plots were laid out.  A well-situated block in the centre of town was selected for the Dutch Reformed Church to be laid out with the corner stone of the original church being laid in 1853.  

The original church was pulled down in 1905 and a larger, more imposing church was erected above the old foundations.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

African Sunset

There is nothing like a magnificent African sunset after another beautiful day.  This is just one of many sunset pictures I took on a recent visit to Kuzuko Lodge in the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.  The quality isn't that awesome as its on full zoom and my camera isn't that good in low light, but even that doesn't spoil a good sunset. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Place of Glory - the KidZ edition

Going anywhere with the KidZ in a car, and that includes the local supermarket a couple of blocks from home, more often than not result in a back seat battle of some sorts.  When those back seat battles start to take on epic proportions and I'm forced to stop in a cloud of dust on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere to threaten them that I will be kicking them out the car and leave them just there, then you know this dad has had enough.  But enough of our domestic driving problems.  What were we doing on a dirt road and where were we going, the travel minded amongst you ask?  We were heading towards the 5 star Kuzuko Lodge situated in a concession area in the northern section of the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.  It was the first time we've taken the KidZ to a major game reserve and lodge and that was probably why they were so hyped up in said back seat in the first place.

The lodge is situated on top of a hill with beautiful views across the valley covered in Karoo bushveld.  Guests are accommodated in 24 luxurious chalets, each with its own private deck.  It was on this private deck I sat just before bed time looking up in awe at the milky way overhead, seen like you don't see it in the city.  A great white line across the sky made up of millions of twinkling stars.  But I digress.  The spacious chalets feature an en-suite bathroom with bath and walk in shower, all the other amenities that normally come standard with such a lodge (in this case also with free WiFi), a twin or double bed and a foldout couch for children with a maximum of two children under 12 years of age allowed per chalet.

From the reception area we were whisked to the lodge in a game viewing vehicle and after a welcome drink had a quick tour of the facilities before being allowed to settle in and relax.  The KidZ loved the view from our private deck but it didn't take long for them to discover the Wii connected to the big plasma television in the main lounge and they were out under our feet, joining a couple of other kids in a game of Wii tenpin, golf and tennis.

Three o' clock meant it was time for the pre-game drive  high tea which was so much more than scones, crumpets and cucumber sandwiches.  To be honest, I would rather have Kuzuko high tea than a full on lunch any time.  The Wii was like magic for us as the KidZ had to sit still and eat if they wanted to go back playing, but a magic trick it sure was. Eat you here, eat you there and poof... they were gone.  Ok, so I'm not one who's big on televisions at game lodges, but this one was keeping the KidZ busy, giving the Damselfly and I some time by ourselves.  But if you want to relax you go to a spa, which Kuzuko has one of by the way as well, and before we knew it it was time for our afternoon game drive.



Ranger Romeo met us at the open land cruiser with the Damselfly and Drama Princess taking up the middle seat and Chaos Boy and I going on the back, often bouncy trampoline seat.  Romeo did warn us that it's behind the wheels, but I would endure the little bit of extra bounce for the benefit of having an uninterrupted view (and photo opportunity) behind me in case of a good sighting.  After a couple of Cape Mountain Zebras and Kudus, our first Big 5 sighting presented itself.  Kuzuko's two male lions, Kalahari and Matt was having a siesta in the late afternoon sun.  There was a moment of panic by Drama Princess which we thought was because we got too close to the lions, but turned out to be the vehicle taking a bump through a ditch.  The lions themselves didn't scare her at all.  A brilliant sighting like this early on boded well for the rest of our stay
 
Romeo was the perfect ranger.  He's knowledge was outstanding but he didn't bore us with all the details unless we wanted to know.  Ours weren't the only children on the vehicle and he switched from giving us serious info to joking with the kids, mixing it up just enough.  Then word came through, although it sounded like he knew it already, that another member of the Big 5 was hanging out in a valley on the other side of the lodge. So off we went hopping along the uneven road to look for the biggest of the Big 5, Loxodonta africana, or the African Elephant.

The herd was making their way down the valley when we found them.  One of the highlights of the drive happened next.  A young bull browsing a little way away from the rest of the herd didn't see them move off and suddenly found himself all alone.  He threw a bit of a tantrum and went running down the road after the others.  Made me think of the kiddies rhyme about the piggies with the 5th piggy running "wee, wee wee" all the way home.  Romeo slowly made his way around the herd for us to get a better view - in the process "treating" us to a mock charge by the matriarch - and for the next 20 minutes or so we sat and watched these magnificent animals go about their peaceful way.  We even had Saracen, the local dominant bull, give us a walk by.

With the sun heading towards the horizon at a leisurely pace, Romeo drove us to an open area where approaching animals could be seen from a distance for our sun downers.  With cold drinks for the kids, beers for the adults and snacks all around, the African sun set over the horizon in brilliant oranges and yellows.  My favorite time of the day and my favorite part of the game drive.  A time to really take in the surroundings, enjoy the smell of the veld and watch the end of another day.  With dusk turning to darkness, Romeo turned the nose of the land cruiser back towards the lodge and we all knew that dinner was calling. 



Dinner was a scrumptious affair of four courses for the adults and, impressively, a separate menu specially catering for children.  The main menu started with an entreĆ© of roasted tomato soup and followed by a starter of Bobotie or Green Salad.  The main meal was a choice of Karoo Lamb Shank (which I had and I nearly chewed my lips off, mouth watering stuff), East Coast Sole or Blue Cheese Chicken.  Dessert, for those who still had space was Tiramisu or Bread and Butter Pudding.  The KidZ's choices off the kiddies menu were pizza - ham, biltong and cheese - for Chaos Boy and grilled hake and chips for Drama Princess.  I had a taste of the fish and kinda wished I could have had a full portion of it while Chaos Boy wasn't going to share his pizza with anybody.  Not even for a taste.  Kudos to Kuzuko for catering for children separately.
 
Never being one to miss a game drive, and I'm happy to say that the clan all felt the same way and we got up early the next morning for the 7am morning game drive.  Word was that the lions made a kill during the night and that they were still in the area so we headed straight in their direction, this time with Chaos Boy riding shotgun and being on the lookout for anything and everything.



Once again we weren't disappointed with Kalahari and Matt sleeping off their meal in the morning sun with Matt only getting up when we blocked his sun.  Like before Romeo maneuvered the vehicle so that we could get some striking photographs before heading on in search of another big cat.  This one being the world's fastest land mammal.  The cheetah.  Kuzuko has two male cheetahs, Batman and Robin, both who wear radio collars for when guests go on cheetah walks and they need to be found quickly.  We didn't make use of the signal to find them, preferring to do it the hard way.  Ironically enough they seem to have found us rather then the other way around as somebody looked back and saw them casually strolling down the track after the vehicle. 
 
Our last major sighting and the third of the Big 5 to be spotted was Cape Buffalo.  Probably the most underestimated of the Big 5, buffalos live in herds and can be extremely dangerous when threatened.  The buffalo was also the animal we got to see the closest with one old bull literally rubbing himself up against the land cruiser's back bumper.

The game drive was followed by a hearty breakfast back at the lodge, but this also meant that our visit was nearly over.  The KidZ gulped down their food and went to play a last game of Wii sport while we were in no hurry to leave behind this little spot of paradise, taking our time and enjoying the view, trying to imprint it on our minds.  Then it was time to go, pack our bags, say our goodbyes and head on to our next destination.

Kuzuko showed that they can proudly carry the right to be called a Place of Glory.  Visitors and guests can look forward to a stunning lodge and suites, designed for comfort and don't look over the top like some lodges I've seen before.  The food is good and the rangers, in our case Romeo, knowledgeable, friendly and, like the rest of the lodge, accommodating and patient with children.  One word of warning though.  Don't come to Kuzuko expecting to see huge herds of animals.  Kuzuko is situated in the southern part of the arid Karoo which means less water, less grazing and subsequently smaller groups of animals.  It doesn't mean that the quality of the sightings we has was less.  On the contrary, the sightings along with the unique beauty of the Karoo meant that we left happy and with some stunning photographs.  As for the KidZ, they want to know when we'll be going to a game reserve again.
 
Disclosure:  We were invited to Kuzuko Lodge and stayed on a complimentary basis while our transport and drinks were for our own account.  I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Mongoose

If I stand on my toes I can see the weekend.  Just like this yellow mongoose I recently spotted at Addo Elephant National Park.  Most people who see him standing like that may think it's a meerkat, but that would be a case of mistaken identities. Have an awesome weekend!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shark Rock Pier on a sunny day

Everybody loved the beach in summer, but there is no reason not to love it in winter as well.  Specially on a warm sunny day like today.  Only difference is you can't go for a swim.  Personally I think winter is the best time for long walks on the beach or the adjoining boardwalk.  At least the sun doesn't burn my ever growing forehead as much.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A memorable weekend

Clan Firefly spent a memorable long weekend across the Zuurberg enjoying the best the southern Karoo has to offer and as soon as I get a chance to edit the pictures and write a blog post or two I will share it all with you.  Here's a taste of what we did so long, most of which were new experiences for the KidZ.
 
 Game drives at Kuzuko Lodge...

... looking for big game. 

Learning about the history of Ann's Villa...
 
 ... and taking in the beauty of the flowering aloes.

Enjoying endless views...

... while ending the days off with breathtaking Karoo sunsets

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sharing my passions with the KidZ

I'm very fortunate that both the KidZ adore the outdoors.  They're mad about camping, they're addicted to geocaching, they love travelling and exploring and are slowly starting to show an interest in photography.  All this means that I can share my passions with them and we can always find something new to do or somewhere different to go.  I'm just not sure I want them to start blogging any time soon cause then I'd never get to use my laptop.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aloes on the Swartkops River

Clan Firefly is heading over the Zuurberg into the southern Karoo tomorrow for a couple of nights at Kuzuko Lodge and Ann's Villa.  We're starting out at Kuzuko Lodge for the first night before moving on to Ann's Villa for the next two.  Kuzuko Lodge is a 5 star lodge and lies in a private concession in the northern part of the Addo Elephant National Park while Ann's Villa started out in 1864 as an inn on the Zuurberg Pass when it was the main road north.  The whole idea behind the weekend is to get away from the city to the Karoo with its uninterrupted views and flowering aloes, where the evening silence is only broken by the howl of the black-backed jackal and sunrise is accompanied by the melody of bird song.
 
The aloes in the picture are next to the Swartkops River at Redhouse outside Port Elizabeth and seeing them just got me more excited about our trip with aloes in full bloom at the moment. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New shoots of life

Nature is a wonderful thing.  It can be destroyed so easily through natural causes or human doing, but it is resilient and will always fight back.  Sometimes immediately and sometimes only much later.  We as humans don't always give nature the respect it deserves, destroying and polluting as far as we go.  At least many are waking up to the fact and is trying to do something about it.  Some people are trying hard to distroy this world we live in either through their greed or ignorence.  But Mother Earth will persist and with our help will (hopefully) be around for a long time to come. 
 
Sorry, didn't mean to be so deep this morning.  Just didn't want to write something like "A new shoot appearing after a fire" or something like that.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The old Cape Point Lighthouse

Cape Point is a many historic tales and legends.  In 1688 Bartolomeu Dias passed around the point in a storm without even knowing it and only got to see it for the first time on the return journey.  He named it Cabo Tormentosa or the Cape of Storms.  Its also off this point and coastline that the mythical Flying Dutchman under the command of  Captain Hendrick van der Decken is doomed to sail into eternity.  Cape Point is also one of the biggest tourist attractions in Cape Town with thousands of tourists flocking there to admire its scenic beauty and sheer cliffs.  Visitors to the point usually take the path (or funicular for those not in the mood to walk) up to the old Lighthouse at the top from where the point itself can be seen.

The old Cape Point Lighthouse was built in 1860 and could be seen out to sea from a distance of 36 miles.  The problem was that when misty and cloudy conditions moved in the lighthouse was invisible to ships.  After the Portuguese liner Lusitania wrecked just south of Cape Point in 1911 it was decided to have a new lighthouse built close to the point itself at a much lower elevation.  The old lighthouse is still around and truth be told, probably gets photographed a lot more by tourists than the new lighthouse does.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Queen Victoria in the Gamtoos Valley

 
One of the well known landmarks in the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape is the Queen Victoria Profile on the road between Patensie and the Baviaanskloof.  The profile is the result of erosion of the sheer cliff and can be seen when driving towards Patensie.  
 
About 140 million years ago the Cape Mountains were roughly three times higher than today.  A period of high rainfall then eroded them and the Enon Conglomerate, of which much of the Gamtoos valley is composed of this, was the result.  A conglomerate is a rock consisting of individual clasts within a finer-grained matrix that have become cemented together.  The geological strata of this area known as the Enon Formation is the result of boulders, pebbles, sand and clay which were deposited in an early basin of the Gamtoos.  The material was subsequently cemented together to form conglomerate.  The Enon Formation was deposited in the form of alluvial fans by rivers draining the Cape Fold mountains.  In places the Enon conglomerate is quarried to produce crushed aggregate.
 
 But back to Queen Vic.  Have another look at the rock formation and then at this old picture of queen herself.  Kinda looks like her, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The new kid on the Jozi skyline

The Nizamiye Turish Masjid - or Midrand Mosque -  has made a big impact on the Johannesburg, and in particular Midrand, skyline.  The mosque with its 55 meter high minarets is the brainchild of retired Turkish property developer Ali Katircioglu (known as “Uncle Ali”) and was modelled on the Selimiye Camisi mosque in Edirne, Turkey.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mushroom Farm Park - greening urban areas

Johannesburg boasts that it's the world's largest man-made urban forest and that's difficult to imagine until one actually visits the city and see how many open spaces, parks and nature reserves there are.  One of these parks is Mushroom Farm Park in Sandton.  I've passed here a couple of times before but visited for the first time on my last visit to the City of Gold. 

Sandton started out in the 1930's as farms and estates and only transform from a farming community to a business district in 1973 when Sandton City was built.  In the 1990's it became part of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality at the time when there was quite a boom in development which seemingly hasn't stopped yet.  I haven't found any history on why the area is called Mushroom Farm, but in 2006 during the construction of the Gautrain a shaft was sunk here to access the underground tunnelling operations. 

After the completion of the Gautrain development, rehabilitation of the area started by representatives of the developers.  The terrain has been landscaped, new pathways have been laid, a children's play area created, irrigation and pathway lighting installed, topsoil introduced, the waterways have been cleared and new indigenous flora was plated.  Most of this have now been well established and the park is looking stunning.  On my visit the park was being utilised by both families and business people taking a break away from the hustle and bustle of their offices.  I imagine there will be a couple more people using the park late afternoons after the end of business as well as on weekend, specially those living in apartments in the area.

There is an aerial balloon in the park in which visitors can go up to 120 meter for a lovely view of surrounding Sandton and Johannesburg in the distance.  The Mushroom Farm Park is a prime example of what can be done in urban areas by municipalities in partnership with the private sector when there is a will to do so.