Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baviaans Lodge - a special oasis in the southern Baviaanskloof

The Baviaanskloof must be on the bucket list of a lot of South African travellers.  Stunning scenic beauty which, if she was a person, would put her in the top three of a Miss Universe competition.  Isolation, but not like just around the corner where you can't hear the traffic.  A true wilderness area.  UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Overnighting in caves or on a river beach next to sheer cliffs.  Challenging roads.  Unfortunately for us mere sedan drivers a big part of it is only the domain of the 4x4 boys and off-road bikes.  Sedans can get in for a short distance from both the Willowmore and Patensie sides, but we will never see the middle section of the Kloof unless our cars have some sort of death wish.  Very few people know though that sedans can also get into the southern section of the Baviaans.  It was here where the Damselfly and I escaped to for a weekend without the Kids  to recharge our batteries at Baviaans Lodge.  Yes, we left the KidZ at home for a change. 

When we first got the invitation to go I was seriously worried about getting there.  Owner Rob le Roux put our minds at ease though and the trip was on.  To get there it's about an hour and a half from Port Elizabeth to the Langkloof town of Kareedouw and from here you head along a dirt road over the Kouga Mountains and into the southern Baviaanskloof.  The lodge is situated 47km along said road and even though it was a little roughish every now and then, we comfortably got there.  With numerous photo stops, and believe me there are many possible ones, we arrived 90 minutes after hitting the dirt.  Cresting the last rise the lodge was visible in the valley below, looking like an oasis waiting to sooth our souls.  The only difference being this oasis wasn't situated in a desert but in the midst of rolling hills and mountains, meandering streams and endless scenic views.  

As we pulled up to the lodge, the first thing I noticed was that I had no cellphone reception when I wanted to check in on Facebook.  Although I did find out that the lodge does offer guest wifi, I decided not to even ask Rob about it and left my phone on the bedside table for the next 48 hours.  Something we all need to do every now and then.  But I'm digressing.  We weren't even out the car yet and Rob came to greet us.  A short tour of the main lodge with its sitting area, bar and dining room later and we were on our way to our cottage.  Baviaans Lodge has five stone cottages, all a short walk from the main lodge.  Not to sound too cliche' but each cottage is well appointed and laid out with our's, the Bush Cottage, giving us extra privacy due to its location.  The other thing that one spots immediately is the fact that there is no electricity. No city slickers, it doesn't mean the end of the world.  You can go without television for a couple of days and, like I mentioned before, you don't need to charge your mobile phone.  The best part of no electricity is that the soft light of burning lanterns and fire places give the place even more of an ambiance once the sun goes down.  Plus who needs a tv if you can watch a fire burning in the fireplace in your room.  Romantic. #nuffsaid.  Take that Eskom.
After putting down our bags and having a quick and welcome coffee out on the lodge's verandah, it was time to explore a little bit.  What's the use of being somewhere this beautiful and not knowing what it looks like?  Rob's youngest son, Robert, took us for a walk around the lodge and showed us one of the ancient yellowwood trees growing on the property before we headed up a nearby valley to the dam.  What dam we didn't know and he didn't say, but this is what exploring is about, isn't it?  Hopping across a stream a couple of times, with vegetation quickly changing from fynbos to a more foresty feel as we went deeper into the valley.  Suddenly the old dam loomed up in front of us.  It wasn't the Gariep Dam nor was it a run of the mill farm dam.  It had a very old look and feel to it.  The kind of thing that immediately tickles my interest.  Once here we knew we won't get lost anymore and released Robert from his responsibilities, watching him head back down the valley at a jog.  For most people just getting to the dam and enjoying the scenery and surroundings would be enough.  I wanted to go further. 

Getting the Damselfly up to the dam wall was the least of my problems though.  Getting her across to the other side where the trail continued was another thing.  It took some coaxing and promises of (hopefully) more beautiful settings and on we went.  She wasn't sorry that she did though.  About 10 minutes later we got to the most beautiful spot we encountered all weekend.  A tranquil spot with cliffs all around, a mountain pool and a small waterfall beyond.  Not another soul in sight.  All you could hear was the water and the birds.  If it was warmer I would have stripped off and gone for a swim in the pool, but being autumn and late afternoon there was no way.  So we just sat there and took in all the spot had to offer.  What a pity we had to leave after a while but by then the sun had disappeared behind the mountain and started heading to bed already.

As far as food goes, Rob's website states: We pride ourselves in offering the warmest country hospitality and  serve delicious country style cuisine. All our meals served are freshly prepared at every mealtime by your host in our Lodge kitchen. 
Spending two nights we were curious what the meals would consist of.  Firstly we are literally in the middle of nowhere with no shops nearby and secondly, Rob doesn't strike you as the kitchen type and with only his boys (over weekends) and one staff member as help, one would have just expected him to throw a couple of tjops and wors on the coals and serve that with roosterkoek.  Would he even know what a salad was?
After sitting by the fireplace with a drink chatting to the other guests, Rob came out and announced that dinner was ready.  We were well and truly hollow after our afternoon walk and all the accompanying fresh air, so took our places in anticipation as the smell from the kitchen had our mouths watering for a while already.  Out came the most yummy cheese soufflé followed by stuffed chicken breasts served with veg and as dessert, malva pudding.  Truly delicious country style food.  Exactly as promised.  Dinner the next evening by the way, consisted of vegetable soup coupled with Rob's home made buns (amongst the best I've ever had), meatballs, gravy and veg and topped off with peach pudding.  I just also want to give an honorary mention to the omlette I had the second morning.  True food porn.  Rob makes sure nobody leaves the dining room hungry.
Stunning accommodation... Lekker food...  Beautiful scenery... Friendly hospitality...  But Baviaans Lodge and Baviaanskloof was the gift that kept on giving.  We were still in for the biggest treat of the weekend.  Staying at the lodge the same weekend as us was Alan Fogarty of Alan Tours.  I have known Alan for years and must say that Alan must be one of the top nature guides in the Eastern Cape.  With that I mean as in better than most of the rangers that take guests around at the top notch game reserves in the province.  At breakfast Rob announced to the guests that Alan would take those of us who wanted to go and see the rock paintings on the property. WOW! What an unexpected surprised. 
After a short 20 minute drive on the back of Rob's bakkie, now kitted out with home made seats for our comfort, we headed off on foot along another valley and up to the overhang where the rock paintings are located.  The walk wasn't just a walk.  It was an moving lesson.  Every few steps Alan pointed out a different plant explaining names and uses, identified flowers, taught us the inner workings of termite hills and had us scan the surrounding hillsides for kudu and other animals.  He even knew that there was a few kudu up on the trail not far ahead of us by the fact that there were hoof prints in the soft sand after each stream we crossed.  How did he know they were just ahead of us?  The sand and rocks around it were wet from them splashing through.
The rock painting site must be one of the best I've ever been to.  Figures, animals, fish and hands adorned the rock walls.  There's even one that looks like he has a cape on and shooting energy from his hands.  A cousin of Superman's perhaps?  Yet again Alan's knowledge came through as he explained what a lot of the drawings were and the thinking behind why they were put there and what they represented.  Like the previous evening at the mountain pool I just didn't want to leave.  Luckily for us Alan wasn't in a hurry and gave us more than ample time to examine and photograph the drawings. 
Before we knew it our time at Baviaans Lodge was over and we trekked back to civilization, proverbial batteries recharged and ready for whatever the weeks ahead were going to throw at us.  What did I take from this weekend?  You can experience the Baviaanskloof without actually going through the main Baviaanskloof.  You don't need a 4x4 to experience this part of the Baviaanskloof cliché. Ok, I'm lying.  I didn't learn that one.  I've known all along.  People just need to experience it more.
Disclosure: We enjoyed our visit as guests of  Baviaans Lodge.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What reigns supreme in the Baviaanskloof?

The Baviaanskloof.  A place where nature, scenic beauty, fresh air, great hospitality and, where I was at Baviaans Lodge in the south, no electricity and no cell phone reception, reigns supreme.  Keep an eye on the blog in the next few days to read all about our Baviaans Lodge experience. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Weekend time is braai time

We are so fortunate in South Africa that we can braai with coals created from burning wood.  In so many countries you aren't allowed to braai on an open fire and if you are a real braaier then you would agree that a braai on gas just isn't a braai.  It's also so much more than just a braai.  It's about the socializing around the fire.  Enjoying a drink and a chat with friends and family while the fire is crackling away.  Getting the fire going again afterwards for a lekker kuier fire or to just sit and stare into.  Plus a wood fire makes the best braai because it gives the meat that extra bit of flavor.  It is weekend time... Braai time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Madiba's glasses

On my last visit to Cape Town I wanted to make sure I got to see the Madiba inspired "sunglasses" placed next to the promenade at Sea Point.  The art piece was created by artist Michael Elion, in conjunction with the City of Cape Town as part of World Design Capital 2014 and was in the news recently when it was defaced. 

I popped by early morning before heading off to World Travel Market Africa which I was attending...

... and came back the evening to get some photos of the sunset after the show

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cruising Cape Town's Waterfront canals with City Sightseeing

Just over a month ago I attended World Travel Market Africa at the CTICC in Cape Town.  One of the exhibitors was City Sightseeing Tours and they offered all delegates a free canal cruise on presentation of our delegate badges.  There are canals linking the V&A Waterfront with the Cape Town International Convention Centre and it is on these that City Sightseeing has started regular cruises to link the two areas as well as hotels like the One and Only, City Lodge and the Westin in front of the CTICC.

I decided to slip out for lunch on the first day of the exhibition and head down to the V&A Waterfront making use of the boat.  The boats depart from both the CTICC and the Waterfront sides every 20 minutes so I didn't have to wait long.  Both spots are also stops on the Hop on - Hop off bus tours so could be combined with their tours of Cape Town.  The cruise gives one a very different view of the Waterfront and it's surroundings than what you get from the road.  Luxury apartments flanked the canals just about all the way and I kept wondering what it must be like living here... or what you have to earn to afford it.  There is commentary available but as I wasn't on the bus tour I didn't have ear phones.  Not that it was an issue.  I made sure I sat right in front and was chatting with the skippers all the way and they answered all the questions I had.  As I mentioned the drop-off spot is at the One and Only Hotel and from there its a quick walk to the craft market and the rest of what the V&A Waterfront has to offer.  Wish I had time to do the Hop on - Hop off tour while in town as well, but that will have to wait till another time. 
Disclosure: I went on the canal cruise as a delegate attending the World Travel Market Africa exhibition and received no remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Camping and canoeing at sunset

You know your kids are enjoying a camping trip and perfect weather when they're still out on the water after sunset.  The picture is from a recent camping trip to Sitrusoewer on the banks of the Sundays River outside Kirkwood. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Moonrise on the Wild Coast

I spent the most amazing three days exploring the Wild Coast recently and will still post all about it in the coming weeks.  Obviously there are lots of photos to share as well.  In the mean time here is one I took at Wavecrest on my first night of the moon rising over the river mouth at about 7pm.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Dune Ridge - a country jewel in the St Francis Bay crown

When you think St Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape you tend to think beautiful coastline and black and white houses on the canals.  If you had to spend a weekend in St Francis you would probably expect your guesthouse to have stunning sea views or be situated right on the canals.  Yes, but not always.  We spend a fabulous weekend at Dune Ridge Country House just outside (and with this I mean literally only a stone's throw away) St Francis Bay and found anything but.
As we arrived at Dune Ridge we knew we were in for a treat.  This award winning - it was the national winner in the four star country house category at the 2013 Lilizela Awards -  accommodation establishments are nestled away between thick coastal fynbos teeming with a multitude of bird species and the large dune fields to the rear of the property.  You are literally removed from the rest of St Francis Bay so it gives you a great country feeling while still only 5 minutes away from the beaches and canals.  We were welcomed by owner Sarah Swanepoel who showed to our rooms consisting of two of the 6 double rooms in the main house.  Unfortunately the family cottage outside was booked but there was an inter leading passage joining the rooms giving us our privacy yet still being close to the KidZ. 
The guesthouse is surrounded by lush gardens and once the KidZ started exploring they quickly came back to fetch us and point out the paths to the swimming pool and well hidden spa area.  The pool looks like the ideal spot to sit with a book and cool down between chapters.  Unfortunately for us it was a cool autumn weekend which meant that we skipped the pool and rather went for a couple of short hikes along the Cape St Francis coastline nearby.  The one thing we didn't get a chance to do was Dune Ridge's Frog Safari.  Not for the squeamish I presume but I'm sure the adventurous would get to see a couple of potential princes (and princesses?) hopping around in their torch lights.

Although Dune Ridge serves dinner we tried out a couple of places in the village.  Breakfast was a feast though, served out on the stoep the first day and inside the dining room the second.  Talk about spoiling us rotten.  The KidZ especially loved the waitress who brought them hot chocolates with probably more marshmallows in it than actual hot chocolate.  The same stoep was also the perfect spot for afternoon coffee and listening to the birds (when we could get to KidZ to be quite for 5 minutes) with a glass of wine around sunset.  Was it sunset or wine 'o clock? I can't remember.  But is there a difference?
Dune Ridge really is something a little bit different from what you expect out in that area.  The guesthouse is a mixture of colonial nostalgia and modern sophistication yet it isn't stuffy and pretentious.  It's family friendly, very homely, a beautiful setting, offers great service and dishes up good food.  Yes I know that line sounded just a bit too cliché but believe me, you get everything but cliché.  The only problem?  Our stay being just too short. 
Disclosure: We enjoyed the visit as guests of  Dune Ridge Country House.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Red Dragonfly

Even though I am known as Firefly, the Dragonfly must be my favorite insect.  A long weekend at Sitrusoewer next to the Sundays River near Kirkwood had me spending a lot of time on the water in a canoe and I was amazed at seeing how many dragonflies and damselflies there were.  I got this picture of a Red Dragonfly and decided to see if I can find out what it is called.  I never really found the answer to my question.  I did find this out.  There are in the region of 750 species of dragonfly in the whole of Africa.  Most of these are found in the tropics.  In South Africa there are 158 species, 90 of these being ‘true' dragonflies and the other 68 damselflies.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The beauty of the Langkloof

The Langkloof may not be a developed and marketed tourism route, but it is very scenic and has tons of tourism potential.  Its biggest disadvantage though is that it runs parallel to the world renown and very popular Garden Route.  I really enjoy driving through the Langkloof which stretches over a distance of about 200 km between Kareedouw in the east and Herold, just north of George.  But who wouldn't?  It is flanked by mountains on the north and south and the scenery changes from fynbos to summer fruit orchids and back at regular intervals.  The Langkloof was named by Isaq Schrijver in 1689 but wasn't thoroughly explored until 1752 by an expedition led by August Frederik Beutler.  The valley has been farmed since 1760 and some families have been there several generations by now already.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Table Bay sunset

In my home town of Port Elizabeth we get the sun rising over the sea giving beautiful sunrise picture opportunities along the beachfront.  In Cape Town its the total opposite.  Sunset is enjoyed with the Atlantic Ocean as setting.  Usually when I am in Cape Town I like to head up to Signal Hill at least once to enjoy sunset.  During my last visit I decided to rather head down to the Sea Point Promenade.  A rather good choice me thinks. 

African Blogger Awards - Photography runner-up

I am currently exploring the Wild Coast a bit while on my way to #Indaba2015 in Durban and have had very periodic internet access.  On checking Twitter yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet announcing that The Firefly Photo Files has taken the runner-up spot in the Photography category of the African Blogger Awards.  Say what?  It took a double take and a quick check at the other tweets announcing the different winners and runners-up before it dawned on me.  I actually took second place in the African Blogger Awards!  It hit like a ton of bricks. Well, actually like a totally unexpected message on Twitter but you get the idea.  The one thing that struck me though (except for that proverbial ton of bricks) is the fact that the category was my second choice, Photography.  I actually entered the blog in the Travel category and it gave me an option to choose a second category as well.  So there it is.  Always keep your options open because sometimes it pays off to have a little backup in place. 

I don't normally enter blog competitions because often the winners are chosen on popularity by seeing who can get the most votes.  These awards used Webfluential's social media tracking to measure blog traffic as well as social media engagement so I gave it a shot.  Apparently a shot was all I needed. 

The African Blogger Awards aims to acknowledge the top African talent in the world of Bloggers, YouTubers, Facebookers, Tweeters, and Instagrammers. These awards provide an opportunity to the most successful online influencers in Africa to be recognised for their hard work in growing and keeping their communities active and engaged.  Reading this makes me really proud of the achievement and recognition that this blog has received.  Now all I can hope for is similar recognition from my peers and those making use of bloggers  in their campaigns or just to create content.  To my regular followers, thanks you for sticking around and enjoying what I have to share.  I may not be a professional photographer or writer (well, hopefully at some stage in the future I will make some money from doing it) but I do it because I have an absolute passion for travel and really enjoy sharing what I see, discover and experience with you.  This one, is for you.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My Table Mountain

I have a special affiliation with Table Mountain.  If I haven't been to Cape Town for a while I miss it like you miss a loved one.  When I do visit the Mother City I can't take my eyes off her... it... erm... the mountain.  One would swear I'm having an affair with her. So what if I do?  Anyhow, I usually try and visit Table Mountain every time I'm in town, even if its only for a trip to Signal Hill.  I wish I had time to hike up Lion's Head or the table itself while in town or just had the bucks to go up the cable car every time. This last trip I stayed in Tamboerskloof so at least had an early morning walk along Table Mountain Road, but in general Signal Hill it will have to be.