Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Patensie panorama

The town of Patensie in the Gamtoos Valley is surrounded by beautiful scenery.  Rolling hills, distant mountains, citrus and vegetable farmland, valley thicket, guest farms and some of the friendliest people you will find anywhere.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ziplining in the Tsitsikamma

Imagine flying over a waterfall, across a river valley or down a river gorge.  All of that is possible at the Tsitsikamma Falls Adventures zipline east of Storms River.  Visitors get to zig-zag across the Kruis River right next to the N2 and the whole experience only takes about an hour.  It means that there is no excuse not to stop and experience one of the activities that make the Tsitsikamma the adventure hub of the Garden Route.  I've been fortunate enough to do both this one and the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour a couple of times and people always ask which one is better.  Its impossible to say if one is better than the other.  Other than the fact that they are both ziplines, both experiences are vastly different from each other.  In actual fact, I would say you have to do both. 


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas to you all

I'm sure by now everybody has sent out Christmas wished to all their friends, family and followers.  So even though I'm probably a little behind everybody else, it's still Christmas so here goes.  I would like to wish all the regular and faithful Christian followers of The Firefly Photo Files as well as those who stumble on the site from Google, social media links and shared posts,
A MERRY AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS. 
I hope you all had a wonderful day with friends and family, received lots of gifts, had a big Christmas lunch and most importantly, remembered and celebrated this very special day of Jesus' birth.    

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Father Christmas is coming tonight

Its Christmas Eve and all the children are excited, for Father Christmas comes tonight.  But when will he come and where is he now?  Check out Google's Santa Tracker, the best way to keep tabs on the big guy.  I caught him in the Christmas Shop here in Port Elizabeth before his journey started. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wolwefontein Hotel

The sleepy village of Wolwefontein lies on the road between Port Elizabeth and Graaff-Reinet and only exists because the railway line runs through it.  Over the last few decades a lot of railway stations have closed down due to the decline of the railway system in South Africa but it seems that Wolwefontein is holding on for dear life.  I pulled over onto its dusty streets for a quick look on the way to Graaff-Reinet the other day and discovered that the village actually has a little hotel that still operates.  Perhaps it's time for me to do a bit of exploring around the Eastern Cape and discover more places like this.  I think it would be a good idea to start right here and spend a night in this establishment with its wooden floors, old pub and fireplace.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Soweto landscape

A typical Soweto landscape with the Orlando Towers in the background and a couple of minibus taxi's thrown in for good measure, photographed from the Hector Pieterson Memorial.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Pale Chanting Goshawk in Addo

I have never been a big bird expert.  When I started working as a tourist guide I went to a lot of effort to increase my birding knowledge, but a LBJ (little brown job) and an Overtheroadian were still the most common answers I gave when something flashed across the road as we drove along somewhere.  Addo Elephant National Park has a bird checklist of over 400 species with about 200 occurring within the main game area. In all the years that I worked as a guide and visited Addo, my favourite bird to spot was probably the Pale Chanting Goshawk.  Don't ask me why.  I just liked this light grey bird with its bright orange beak and legs.

The Pale Chanting Goshawk is a bird of prey of the family Accipitridae.  It is found all over southern Africa and usually a resident of dry, open areas with low rainfall.  This species grow 56 – 65 cm long with a wingspan of about 105 cm.  They eat a variety of vertebrate prey, mainly lizards, but also small mammals and birds as well as large insects. This one I spotted on my last visit to Addo sitting on top of a thorn tree, but they often walk around on the ground as well.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Waiting for the sevens

Late last week I got to go on a pre Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens Instawalk around the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium as the final touches was being put in place for this weekend's #NMB7s tournament.  I've been to the stadium so many times before and I was looking for something slightly different and I kinda like the result I got just by changing the angle a little bit. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Grabbing a taxi (tour) to Soweto

Johannesburg really surprised me while on the City Sightseeing Tour of the city.  The problem is that I wanted more and got myself a ticket to do the Soweto Tour Extension the next morning.  I was up bright and early and made my way down to Gold Reef City to hop on the first vehicle of the day.  The guide for the morning was the very delightful Brenda and I was joined by a couple of Brits, a German and two Brazilians.  Soweto here we come.  The first stop was outside Soccer City (FNB Stadium) where we had the opportunity to hop out for a couple of pictures followed shortly after by a stop at the "famous" Welcome to Soweto sign. 
 
For most of the tour the well know painted Orlando Towers dominated the skyline and one can't help but to keep glancing at them in amazement.  The stand out above the township, literally and figuratively.  The cooling towers have become an activity center with a 70 meter bungee jump from the top.  We fortunately unfortunately didn't have time to stop for that....

The first major stop of the tour was at the Hector Pietersen Memorial and Museum.  We were met by a community guide who took us around the memorial and told us a bit more about the tragic incident that led to this memorial.  The site is just a few blocks from where the 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot on 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising when high school students from the township took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.  The iconic photograph of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, became a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime.  The tour gives you the option to either continue on foot along with the community guide to Vilakazi Street or to stay on the bus.  I opted to go on foot and as we went along the guide pointed out the significant sites one sees along the way.

Vilakazi Street is a hive of activity.  Tourists and traders everywhere.  The main attraction here is Mandela House while just down the road you will find some of the most popular eateries in the township.  You'll also get a glance of Desmond Tutu's house, making Vilakazi Street the only one in the world where two Nobel Peace Laureates used to live.  I had about an hour before the next tour bus came by so I had a look around Mandela House.  The museum wasn't open yet during my last visit to Soweto so it was great to see the house Madiba and his family lived.  As I had an afternoon flight to catch I decided to skip having a meal but in hindsight perhaps I should have and I probably would have if I had a travel companion on this day.  When the next City Sightseeing combi came by I hopped back on and we were off to the last stop of the day.  This time at Walter Sisulu (Freedom) Square in Kliptown.  Here another community guide met me and took me to the Kliptown Open Air Museum that tells the story of the Freedom Charter.  It was here in 1955 that 300 people came together to adopt the Freedom Charter.  Again time constraints made me decided to jump back on the vehicle and not to explore while waiting for the next one.  I won't say I'm sorry I didn't, but if you do its a great way to get to know Soweto and its people, places and cultures a bit better.

Not long after we were back at Gold Reef City and it was the end of my tour.  A tour all visitors to Johannesburg should actually go on because you can't truly say you've been to Jozi if you haven't been to Soweto.

Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards.  My tour of Soweto was as guest of City Sightseeing Joburg.   I received no further remuneration and keep full editorial control over the post.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Scenic views of Patensie and surrounds

A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of days touring around the Eastern Cape with a group of journalists and one of our stops was in the Gamtoos Valley town of Patensie.  After a visit at the Malan Cucumber Farm we were taken up to their new cucumber tunnels on a koppie outside town and I snapped these pictures of the view.  The Gamtoos Valley truly is a very scenic and undiscovered area with most visitors just heading through to the Baviaanskloof.  For those who don't have the vehicle to go to deep into the Baviaans, its a great idea to just spend a few days in the valley to enjoy the mix of scenic, historic and agricultural attractions coupled with good ol' country hospitality.
 




Monday, December 8, 2014

The good ol' windpomp, from underneith

We all know what a windpomp looks like.  Don't know what a windpomp is? NO! Really? Hahahaha...  Ok, so perhaps you've heard of a windpump or windmill?  To most of us its just a windpomp, doesn't matter if you say it in English or Afrikaans.  Or perhaps even Xhosa.  I should ask one of my Xhosa friends what they call it.  Anyhow, we all know what a windpomp looks like.  One of the icons of the Karoo.  An object standing in the veld just beyond the fence and barely spotted by most Vaalies trying to get to the coast as quickly as possible to make the most of the summer holidays.  Here is my actual question today.  Have you ever stood right under one and looked up at it while it creaked in the wind?  Not?  Well, I did it the other day after a short visit to Kuzuko Lodge just north of the Zuurberg Mountains.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

My Mandela House selfie

I recently had the privilege to go on a Soweto Tour with City Sightseeing Joburg and one of our stops was Mandela House in Vilakazi Street.  Last time I was in Soweto they were still busy with the renovations on the house so I took the opportunity to visit and have a look.  There are various quotes throughout the house and decided to do a double whammy with this picture, taking a selfie while getting the quote on the window.

The significance of posting this today is that it is the one year anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela truly gave his life for the betterment of all in South Africa and making the transition peacefully while others wanted to do it otherwise.  For that I have all the respect in the world for this man and as a tribute I post this picture today.  My Mandela House selfie. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Constitutional Court and the Joburg skyline

The Constitution Court is the highest court in South Africa and is situated on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.  Surrounded by what used to be the Number 4 Prison, the Old Fort and the Women's Jail, the court forms part of Constitution Hill and can be visited while on a tour of the precinct.  I didn't get to go on the tour - it's a long story which I have told before - but I did take a stroll around and ended up on the Old Fort wall allowing me to get this picture of the court (in the middle of the pic) with a bit of Joburg's skyline in the background.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Karoo Riverbed

A couple of months ago I spent a night at Ganora Guest Farm outside Nieu Bethesda.  What an amazing place!  Although I didn't have a lot of time but did get to do a tour of JP's Fossil Museum.  Unfortunately I didn't get to go and see the rock drawings on the farm.  Before heading into the village for the meeting I was there for I took a walk down to the river just below the homestead.  If it wasn't for my appointment I probably would have just plonked myself down on a rock and drank in the environment for an hour or two.   Being late winter there were no leaves on the trees and the grass was brown from severe frost they had during a particular cold snap but that still couldn't detract away from the true beauty of this part of the Karoo.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto

The Hector Pieterson Memorial is one of Soweto's iconic sites and a popular stop on a tour of the township.  The Memorial along with the Hector Pieterson Museum is situated in Orlando West and commemorate the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid.  The site is just a few blocks from where the 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot on 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising when high school students from the township took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.  The iconic photograph of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, became a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime.

I've been to the memorial and museum before but got to visit again while on a City Sightseeing Tour of Soweto.  This time around I gave the museum a skip due to time constraints but the memorial is definitively a must see stop when in Soweto.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Standing on top of Africa's highest building

I got to say "I'm on top of the world". Well sort of.  At least I can say I was on top of the tallest building in Africa.  Exploring Johannesburg on the City Sightseeing tour I was quite keen to visit the Carlton Centre in downtown Jozi.  Time allowed it and I hopped off along with a couple of my fellow travelers to head up, up, up.

The great part of being on the City Sightseer tour is that they have a guide permanently based at the Carlton Centre who takes you through the shopping centre and up to the top.  Entrance tickets are only R15 per person and the trip up the express elevator to the 50th floor literally takes seconds.  Once at the top the guide took us around showing us the 360 degree view down, and I mean literally down, onto Joburg.  The Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa (I think I've said that already) and once the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.  It stands 223m high and was built between 1967 and 1974.  The view is absolutely magnificent and the guide comes in very handy as he points out all the interesting landmarks as you move around the viewing windows.  A great perk of the open bus tour.  He also makes sure that you get back down and to the bus stop before the next bus comes by.  I have to be honest.  If I didn't go on the tour I probably would never have had the opportunity to do this so just another great reason to get your ticket for a City Sightseeing Joburg tour when you are in the City of Gold.
 
Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards
My tour with City Sightseeing Joburg was organized by Gauteng Tourism. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

FNB Soccer City - The Calabash

If you are into soccer (or football as they call it in Europe), then you would at least have heard of the FNB Stadium.  Also called Soccer City and The Calabash, the stadium is seen as South Africa's main soccer venue and is situated next to Soweto in Johannesburg.  The stadium has a capacity of 94 736 making it the largest in Africa.  Significantly it was the site of Nelson Mandela's first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990 while it also hosted a massive memorial service to him after his death.
 
The stadium was designed to look like a calabash, or African clay pot, from the outside.  The cladding on the outside is a mosaic of fire and earthen colours and at night there is a ring of lights around the bottom of the structure which makes it look like there is a fire underneath the pot.
 
The stadium hosted the finals of both the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations but has also played host to major rugby matches and many top music concerts.  I've never had the privilege to go to a match at the FNB Stadium but its a little difficult being based over 1000 kilometers away.  Perhaps some day though. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Flame of Democracy

Constitution Hill is one of Johannesburg's most prominent heritage sites.  It is the home of South Africa's Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, and is located on the site of a number of prisons dating back to the Apartheid years.  One of these prisons were Number 4 Prison (the other two were the Old Fort and the Women's Jail)  where a lot of awaiting trail prisoners were kept during those years.  Although most of the old prison buildings are no more, some of the stairwells were kept and made part of the new precinct as a reminder of the dark days of oppression.  The Flame of Democracy is found in one of these stairwells and was established to celebrate 15 years since the signing of the constitution.  The flame was originally lit by Nelson Mandela in his birth place in Qunu and transported to Johannesburg where it was placed in this significant spot, never to be extinguished again. 

I really enjoy visiting places like this and I wish more South Africans would.  In the USA a place like this would receive the biggest regard and respect by visitors who will make sure to include it in their itineraries and I can't see why it shouldn't be any different in South Africa.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exploring Jozi with the City Sightseeing open top bus

My visits to Johannesburg have always been ones of in and out, with very little sightseeing connected with it.  Wham, bang, thank you ma'am.  This means that I always look at the Joburg travel bloggers' blogs with longing wanting to see the places they write about.  A two day trip to Johannesburg meant that I had some time on my hands to explore and a couple of calls later I had a reference number in my hand to join City Sightseeing Joburg for a tour of the city.  City Sightseeing Joburg offers tours in their red open top buses along a set route and at scheduled times.  This would allow me the freedom to get off and explore along the way, knowing what time the next bus came by to hop back on.  The starting points for the tours are the Gauteng Park Station and Gold Reef City while there are a total of 12 stops along the way where you can get off and visit an attractions or go for a bit of a walk. 

I was on the red eye flight from Port Elizabeth to Jozi and as soon as I got my car I headed over to Gold Reef City in the hope that I would be in time to catch the first bus of the day.  Pulling into the parking lot on the hotel and casino side I spotted the red bus and seeing that I had 5 minutes before departure I headed straight to it.  Eugene, the driver, met me with the biggest smile of the day.  During the day I landed on his bus another two times and he had that smile every time I saw him.  He printed out my ticket, gave me a brochure showing the route and, more importantly, the time table and offered me a pair of earphones to listen to the on board commentary.  This all while asking me where I was from and giving me some advise on what I just had to see during the day and some timing tips.  The Commentary by the way is done in 16, yes your heard right, 16 languages.  When it was time to get going I took a seat upstairs, popped the earphones in my ears and made use of the on-board wifi to tweet my first picture of the day.  The first of many to come.  The commentary is very informative but not overwhelming.  They tell you everything you need to know and what you see along the way without giving you information overload.

It was impossible to get off at every stop but I knew what I wanted to do.  My first stop was at the Apartheid Museum where Gauteng Tourism had organized entrance for me along with permission to take photos inside the museum.  One can probably spend half a day in the museum, but two hours later I was outside waiting for the next bus while checking all the photos I took.  I will do a photo blogpost about my visit to the museum shortly.  My next stop was in the mining district where I took a walk around to look for a couple of Geocaches I new was in the area.  Too many muggles around meant I came up empty handed and I nearly missed the next bus when I saw it driving towards the busstop which was a good 400 meters from me.  A flat out run and a waving arm caught the driver's attention and he waited for me at the stop. 
 
I gave Newtown and the Wits University Origins Centre (this one I'll definitively visit some time in the future) a miss and got off at Constitution Hill where entrance was also organized for me.  Unfortunately the lady at reception didn't know I was coming and to quote her, "If I don't know you're coming then it wasn't organized."  Not the friendliest reception.  She eventually agreed to find out who knew about my visit but 30 minutes later when I went to ask her if she had found anything out yet her answer was, "What did you want again?"  I immediately walked out and boarded the next bus.  Very sad that I didn't get to see what I am told is a very special place, but it also meant I would now have time for a visit to the Carlton Centre.  The Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa and the passengers who got off was met by a guide from City Sightseeing and we were taken to the observation deck at the top of the building.  The view from up here is literally a bird's eye view and I will write about it in another post as well. 
 
Unfortunately for me the hotel I was staying at wasn't at Gold Reef City so I had to head back towards my car so that I could go and check in before getting ready for the Lilizela Awards I was in town for.  I was very happy with what I got to see and learn, but I will have to come back to visit Newtown and Maboneng at some stage as these two areas are now at the top of my "Joburg to do list".  After this day I can say with conviction that City Sightseeing Joburg is the best way to explore Johannesburg without any worries of getting lost, getting all the info you need and feeling safe and secure.
 
Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards.  My tour with City Sightseeing Joburg and visit to the Apartheid Museum was organized by Gauteng Tourism. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wild Fly Fishing in the Karoo

Fly fishing - An angling method in which an artificial "fly" is used to catch fish. The fly is cast using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted line. Casting a nearly weightless fly or "lure" requires casting techniques significantly different from other forms of casting.

Karoo - The Karoo (from the KhoiSan word which means Place of Thirst) is a semi-desert region of South Africa. The Karoo covers nearly 400 000km2 of South Africa and is mostly defined partly by its topography, partly its geology but, above all, its low rainfall, arid air, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold,
 
So lets put the two together.  Fly fishing in the Karoo.  Doesn't make sense does it?  But it does.  Alan Hobson of Angler and Antelope Guesthouse in Somerset East runs fly fishing tours doing just that.  Fishing in the Karoo.  The Karoo isn't all arid.  There are some great rivers and streams flowing through the region and the area around Somerset East has some of the best fly fishing spots in the province.  One moment you could be driving through a dry landscape and the next you drop down into a valley with water that could just yield something like this...
 
I've known Alan for a number of years now and by all accounts he must be one of the top fly fishermen in South Africa.  I've been wanting to go fishing with him for a while now and on a whistle stop visit to Somerset East I got to accompany him to a nearby dam for an hour or so before the light faded and we had to pack up.  That hour was more than enough though for him to demonstrate to me how it all works and for me to have a go.  When you see somebody fly fishing on television it looks quite easy.  You just flick the rod forward and back and wait for the fish to bite.... NOT! Its slightly more complicated.  You hold the rod in your one hand and the line in your other.  As you flick you let go of the line little by little to let the fly go further and further.  Its also not just for flicking.  There is a whole scientific technique to it, but after a couple of tries I got it right. Kinda.  At one stage I even got a bite as well but it got away.  I have to tell you though, it must have been the same size as the one Alan is holding above.  That is my story and I'm sticking to it.
 
Back at the ranch guesthouse, Alan went to show me his fly shop.  The fly shop along with the guesthouse's dining room and Alan's malt whiskey collection is situated in what used to be a  Catholic Church on the premises of the guesthouse.  There were flies everywhere and I just couldn't get enough of looking at the different styles and sizes.  I asked Alan how you choose which fly to use and I again found out that science and biology is very much involved in it.  If you really know what you are doing you choose your flies according to the conditions and what you see on the water.  If you see little insects walking around on the water and there is fish movement around them, you choose a fly that looks like those insects.  If there are flying insects, that is what you choose. Hectic! Clearly fly fishing is the total opposite of just sticking a worm on a hook on a line and casting it in just once.  I was back in the fly shop the next morning after breakfast to watch Alan's fly tying assistant at work.  Looking at her work I knew Alan had taught her well and even though I only had an hour or so by the water the previous night I knew he had taught me well too.  Now to find an excuse to go and spend a full day out on the waters with Alan. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fort Peddie flowers

A little while ago I stopped by Fort Peddie on my way from Port Elizabeth to East London and discovered this historic site while hunting for a Geocache.  The thing with most travelers is that they are so focused on the big things that they often miss the little ones.  In this case the big things were the old tower and the cavalry barracks which I both went to have a look at.  The former to find the cache and the latter because I wanted to see it as I was there already.  I noticed these pretty purple flowers growing outside the old stables and the staff working in the office nearby must have had a good laugh at me crawling around trying to get a nice pic without catching my own shadow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hibernating snails

One of the beauties of travelling is exploring and discovering new places and things.  I dropped my mom off in Despatch after a visit and swung through town to pick up a Geocache I hadn't ticked off my list.  I parked next to a couple of Coral Trees (Lucky Bean Trees as some people know them) and on my way back to the car noticed a whole bunch of snails on one of the trees.  And when I say a whole bunch I don't mean like 10 or 20.  There were literally hundreds.  On closer inspection I saw them on all the trees along the road but I selected the one with the most and grabbed my camera.
 
I've been sitting with these pics for a while now and posted one of them on my Facebook Page.  The pic got a lot of reaction and somebody asked why they do that.  Going back to the day I saw this, I noticed that non of them were moving.  It was as if they were dead.  A snail cemetery perhaps.  Pulling one or two of them off they had a film across the hole of the shell and the snail was still inside.  Peculiar.  So this morning I decided to consult my good friend Google.  It took some time but finally I found out that some snails go into hibernation, specially during colder months and very dry periods.  Not sure which one of the two was the cause of this mass hibernation as it was a dry winter.  Both perhaps but regardless, always nice to discover and learn something new.

I got the following information off Snail World:

Some snails Hibernate.
Some species of snails actually hibernate during the colder months of the year. They cover their bodies with a thin layer of mucus, which prevents them from drying out. Sometimes snails are also able to hibernate in the summer to survive if they are faced with a severe drought. They live off of the stored up fat during this time of year. This process is one of the many reasons why they have been able to survive for million years.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

At the top of Kloof Nek

I'm an Eastern Cape boytjie through and through and I have so many wonderful destinations and places to visit right in my backyard, but I do enjoy to venture a little further every now and then and is always open to invitations *wink*.  The Cape will always stay one of my favorite places away from home province and on my last visit I drove over Kloof Nek where I decided to stop and check out the Kloof Nek Cannons.  I snapped this pic of Table Mountain from the side with the Twelve Apostles stretching away to its right.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A walk to Salt River Mouth at Natures Valley

 
The Garden Route has some excellent hiking trails.  The Otter, Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma trails are epic and will take you a couple of days covering long distance lugging along backpacks while short loops like Storms River Mouth, The Big Tree and Garden of Eden will use up an hour of your time with only a camera over your shoulder before heading off to your next destination.  These aren't the only trails though and whichever trail you choose will depend on where you are and how much time you have.  Spending a Sho't Left long weekend in the Crags and Nature's Valley we decided to put aside a morning to do the 5km round trip hike to Salt River Mouth. 
 
We left our car at the Nature's Valley Restaurant and Trading Store and headed off down the beach in a westerly direction.  After a quick discussion we decided to do it anticlockwise so about 500 meters down the beach we turned right and followed the path through the coastal forest up towards the lookout point above Nature's Valley.  The lookout point is the perfect spot to get your breath back after the climb.  It gives you a stunning view of the coastline and Nature's Valley below.

Shortly after the lookout point you turn left and from there it's downhill all the way to the Salt River.  Before you get to it you start to catch glimpses of the river and the little lagoon by the river mouth.  The path spits you out slightly upstream and from here you follow the bank down towards the ocean.  We timed our walk to coincide with low tide so there wasn't as much water as you would find at high tide. 

There was more than enough water for a dip though and seeing the inviting water after a warm walk had the KidZ nagging for us to take a break before heading back.  There's no body surfing to be done in the lagoon so the Damselfly just splashed down in the shallows while the KidZ and I explored the banks (yes, there was a Geocache to be found) and swam a little bit.  This is also a great spot to break out the snacks we carried along.  Although we didn't spot anybody while walking, I was quite surprised how many people actually made their way down the path and along the banks while we were there.
 
After drying off in the sun a bit it was time to head back towards Nature's Valley, this time along the coastal route.  After a short distance we hit an area I saw referred to somewhere as the Black Rocks.  I imagine this could become an exciting little piece of traversing at high tide and I was quite glad that we chose low tide what with having the KidZ with us and all. 
 
After a bit of rock hopping and finding the best path to follow we reached a spot from where we could look back on the coastline.  In the photo the Salt River is situated in the bay visible in the middle of the picture.  From here it was about a kilometer back to the car.  Not that we got back in the car.  It was first time for an ice cream and something to drink at the restaurant while watching a couple of hikers who just finished the Otter celebrate.  We may not have done the Otter, but we got to hike and see some of the beautiful coastline this part of the world has to offer.  Very much the same as the okes on the Otter. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Norvalspont Concentration Camp Memorial

The Anglo Boer War (1899 - 1902) is one of the big turning points in South Africa's history along with the arrival of Europeans in the country, the Great Trek, the Apartheid years and a new democratic South Africa.  Okay, so the history is about more than just those five turning points but that is what came to my mind just now.  One of the most significant things that happened during the Anglo Boar War was that it was the first time ever that concentration camps were used anywhere in the world.  During the war thousands of men, women and children were kept in these camps with 4 177 boer women, 22 074 children under sixteen and 1 676 boer men dying in these camps.  That's not even counting the over 14000 deaths in black concentration camps.
 
A couple of years back we spent a holiday at the Gariep Dam and I read about Norvalspont where one of these concentration camps we situated.  I never got a chance to visit the site but driving back from Johannesburg recently I decided to make a stop on my way back towards the coast.  The turnoff was on my route and after about 2 kilometers on a smooth dirt road I came across the site.  No magnificent monument, no fancy visitor centre, no guides hanging around to show visitors around and no tourist trap curio and food stalls.  In actual fact, there wasn't another soul in sight.  Just a big paved area surrounded by a low stone wall and three stone monuments with plaques on them.  From what I can gather its the site of the concentration camp's cemetery.
 
Norvalspont was seen as a model camp and was much better off than most of the other camps even though conditions were still very bad.  It was situated on the banks of the Orange River which meant that there was at least enough water and fire wood available.  It was not that Norvals Pont lacked the problems of the other camps. On the contrary, the measles epidemic struck early and was followed by scarlet fever and diphtheria.  Families also poured in without warning and tents and blankets often ran out.  The camp was one of those visited by Emily Hobhouse in 1901.  At times there were over three thousands people housed at Norvalspont, all housed in tents on the site, while the camp had a total of four hundred and twelve deaths.      

Standing there on a warm winters afternoon without a breath of air moving and only cicadas calling it does become a bit of a profound experience.  One where you realize how much sadness and despair there must have been right there yet there is also a spirit of strong and proud people who supported each other and stood together through this difficult time.  A profound experience indeed.   

For more information on the Norvalspont Concentration Camp have a look at
Anglo Boere Oorlog/Boer War (1899-1902) NORVALSPONT Camp/Kamp
and
Waschbank River Lodge

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I miss my ellie friends

Way back when I started working in the tourism industry I worked as a freelance tourist guide and one of the companies that used me had tours going to Addo Elephant National Park just about every day.  That means that I got to go to the park 5 or 6 times a week and I never got tired of it.  These days I don't get to visit Addo nearly as much as I would like to and when I had the opportunity to drive through it on my way to a meeting I didn't say no.  It was nice to spend some time with my old ellie friends, even if it was only for an hour or two.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Forest scenes and senses from the Tsitsikamma

The Tsitsikamma is famous for its stunning scenery, magnificent forests and exciting adventures.  I often wonder how many people visit here and marvel at the big things but totally miss the little ones.  Ferns with new leaves opening up, soft moss growing on a rock, bracket fungus on the side of a log, the sound of a forest stream slowly flowing through the underbrush and over a little waterfall and the call of baboons in the distance.  What about the sound of the wind in the trees, the breaking of a branch falling down, the smell of the moist forest and the red flash of a Knysna Loerie overhead followed by it's ko-ko-ko call.  Suddenly I yearn to be in the forest, somewhere I go to feed my soul and always leave behind a piece of my heart.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pine forests in the Tsitsikamma

The Tsitsikamma's three biggest industries are tourism, dairy and forestry.  So by the last one you can gather that the area is more than just indigenous forests.  The Tsitsikamma also has a huge amount of commercial pine plantations.  Pine trees were first planted early in the 20th century to replace indigenous forests that were cut out due to extensive logging.  The exotic trees were a bad replacement for the indigenous trees but the fact that they grow quickly meant that they could be grown on a commercial scale keeping up with the demand for wood and wood products.  They also make for great photos.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour with the family

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its Firefly and the Famdamily.  Well, that is what you would have said if you were on a walk in the Tsitsikamma forest the other day.  I'm in the very fortunate position that I have had the wonderful privilege to go on the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour in Storms River a couple of times before, but I've always wanted to take the family for them to experience it as well.  I'm not much of an asker (or demander like some people I have encountered over the years) but a passing mention in a random conversation led to an invitation from Anneline of Storms River Adventures for us to come and have this wonderful experience while on our Tsitsikamma Sho't Left weekend in Eersterivier.  I'm not sure who was more excited, the Damselfly or the KidZ. 

I know the guys at Storms River Adventures deal with children every day, but I was still slightly nervous about Drama Princess as she can be a bit of a, well, drama princess.  While Chaos Boy and his mom was all eager beaver, you could see Drama Princess wasn't totally convinced and asked lots of questions before the trip.  At arrival I had her ready to go and kitting up went well.  The guides explained everything and a thorough safety briefing was done.  We were joined on our tour by three other South Africans which meant that I was hoping for no hiccups.  At the first platform when the leading guide asked who was going first, Chaos Boy jumped at the opportunity.  He had absolutely no nerves and from the first slide already looked like a seasoned zipliner.  The Damselfly was up next and gave a little yell as she pushed off on her first slide.  Not a scared yell but more of a mixture of excitement and nerves.  When Drama Princess' turn came she was hooked on and then pulled the hand brake. Oh no!  I really want her to have the experience but the going alone thing got to her.  No worries, the guide was on it.  He unhooked her and let the rest of us go before hooking her back onto the cable as well as onto him.  All she had to do was hang there and he did the rest.  Problem solved.

Even though, like I mentioned, I've been before, the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour will never get old for me.  Its a fantastic experience and like with game drives and other tours no two are alike because of the people on the trip and how they experience it.  The Canopy Tour has ten slides and, as you must have gathered, there are two guides with you at all times.  The first guide is the safety guide who goes first every time to operate the braking system for those who don't stop in time themselves.  The following guide tells the group more about the forest and what you see along the way.  They name the trees and point out interesting things like the baboons foraging on the forest floor below us and the three Knysna Loeries hopping around in the trees about halfway through our trip.  I even had two of them sweep past me as I started out on one of the slides. What an experience!
 
The Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is one of those must do activities if you are travelling on the Garden Route.  Anybody can do it (that Drama Princess proved to us) and its a great way to see the forest from a different perspective and the kind of activity everybody should do at least once in their lives.  A big thank you for making this a truly memorable Sho't Left with the Famdamily.
 
Disclosure:  We went on the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour as guests of Storms River Adventures
I received no further remuneration and keep full editorial control over the post.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

Regyne - the biggest commercial protea farm in the world

The Tsitsikamma is more than just indigenous forests, rugged coastlines and adrenalin filled adventure activities.  I'm going to lie if I say I didn't know it, but its always great to spread the word.  Our Sho't Left in the Tsitsikamma and Eersterivier area included a visit to Regyne, the biggest commercial protea farm in the world.  Tours of the farm is organised by Oudebosch Farm Stall who does a tour and lunch as well as a tour and afternoon tea and cake option for groups. 

Joining us on the tour were fellow travel bloggers Dawn Jorgensen of The Incidental Tourist, Di Brown of The Roaming Giraffe and Linda Markovina of Moving Sushi.  We were met by Hanli Viljoen who took us on a tour of the farm and its facilities.  Regyne's protea fields cover 80 hectares and they produce flowers primarily for the export market.  Proteas are cut, sorted and trucked straight to the airport for export.  Hanli started off by showing us their sorting shed and cold room.  Because it was weekend there were no staff on site, but she explained the process they followed.  Most of the proteas were shipped out the day before but there were still an impressive variety of flowers in the cold room for us to see.  From here we moved onto the protea nursery where Hanli spends most of her day.  It was unbelievable that the proteas are actually grown from seed and how the seedlings are handled before going into a field.  We also visited one of the fields where they grow King Proteas, South Africa's national flower.  Seeing them grow like that makes me want some in my own garden.  I didn't think the KidZ would be very interested in the farm, but they actually paid very close attention and I think enjoyed it and learned as much as we did.

Disclosure: We visited Regyne Protea Farm as guests of Oudebosch Farm Stall.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Sir Percy FitzPatrick Lookout in Sunland

Sir Percy FitzPatrick, (24 July 1862 – 24 January 1931) is probably best known for writing the book Jock of the Bushveld, but also played a big role in the early development of the Sundays River Valley.  In his younger years he was involved in gold and diamond prospecting in Mpumalanga where Jock of the Bushveld also plays off.   In 1895 FitzPatrick became the secretary of the Reform Committee in Johannesburg which conspired to overthrow Paul Kruger's South African Republic.
 At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) FitzPatrick helped to establish the Imperial Light Horse Regiment but was prevented from active service by ill health.  He was knighted in 1902 as a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.  He served as one of eight Transvaal representatives in the national convention of 1908–9, where four British colonies were consolidated into the Union of South Africa and went on to serve as a member of the parliament of the Union of South Africa.

After coming to the Sundays River Valley he established the Sundays River Settlement Company which encouraged people to settle in this area.  He also played a very big role in the establishment of the citrus industry in the valley and the amazing irrigation system of this area was his brain child.  His idea was to channel water from the Orange River, six hundred kilometres away from Sunland, into this arid area thus enabling agriculture to flourish here, as it does today, providing employment for the many local people.
 
FitzPatrick bought a piece of land next to the river from where his guests could enjoy the stunning view of the surrounding valley.  He even had a lookout platform built on the land where visitors can still go to marvel at the view.  After his death he was buried at The Lookout where he's wife is buried alongside him.  The Lookout and the surrounding land was donated as a public space my his daughter and son-in-law in 1953 and the site was declared a National Monument.