Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The hog will lead the way

One of the most famous trail markers in South Africa must be the hogs marking all the hiking trails around the village of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape.  We slipped and slid around some of the trails in Hogsback over a wet weekend recently but as we say in Afrikaans, "Mooi bly maar mooi" meaning "beautiful will always be beautiful".  I'll post a full blog post as well as a couple of individual photos about our visit soon, just watch this space.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sunset from Signal Hill

They say that you can't really say you've visited Cape Town if you haven't been up Table Mountain. We've done Table Mountain before and with a family of four it's a bit of an expensive exercise so on our whistle stop visit to the Mother City for the Cape Town Mega event we decided on the next best option.  Signal Hill.  Even better, Signal Hill at sunset.

The one thing we didn't quite think of was that it was a Saturday afternoon and the weather was great so just about half of Cape Town had the same thing in mind.  Traffic up was hectic and parking is limited.  Add to that a coach parked in the middle of the turning point at the top and cars squeezing into every available spot so the clever option was to park on the far side and cut across the top of Signal Hill on foot.  Something which turned out to be a wise move as leaving later on was much quicker from that side. 

The material covered take off area used by the paragliding outfit based up on Signal Hill makes for the ideal viewing site and as the sun started heading towards the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean, people took their places. 

There you have it, a beautiful Cape Town sunset over the sea.  Not many clouds, or more accurately just about nothing at all, meant no beautiful colours and painted skies, but still stunning never the less.  

The options to watch the sun setting over the Atlantic in Cape Town is many but I prefer Signal Hill because of all the added views of Table Mountain and the surrounding city.  But lesson learned.  Don't go on the weekend in peak season.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Bethulie Concentration Camp cemetery - a sad part of our history

Bethulie in the southern Free State is one of those places not many people pass through as it's not really on any of the main thoroughfares going south (or north, depending how you look at it).  On my last trip up to Johannesburg I deviated off the normal route to see what this town on the banks of the Orange River is all about.  One of the things I found out was that Bethulie was the site of one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902.  I was shocked by the size of the Concentration Camp Cemetery Memorial and even more so when I saw all the names on the remembrance wall.

It turns out that even the English called the Bethulie camp "the hell camp" because of the shocking conditions Boer men, women and children were being held in.  The ravages of disease, starvation and extreme temperatures, enhanced by the bad administration of the camp, meant that the camp saw a death toll of 1 737 prisoners among its population of about 5 000 over the 13 months it existed between April 1901 and the end of the war in May 1902.  At one stage about 30 people a day was buried in the camp.  Truly shocking and it literally had me speechless as I stood reading the info around the memorial.  

The original camp and cemetery was located much closer to the river back in the days but all the graves were relocated to this position when the Gariep Dam (called the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam back then) was constructed in the 1960's.

At the top end of the cemetery is an enclosed area containing all the original hand-carved sandstone headstones which were removed from the old cemetery.  They've all been set into three walls and having a closer look at the information on them you suddenly realise how many children were among those who had dies in the camp.  Unfortunately the gate was locked tight so I couldn't get a closer look at all of them,

I drove away deeply touched.  The Anglo Boer War was such a significant event in the history of South Africa and yet so many of us never get to visit sites like this because it's often off the beaten track.  So next time you're on the main drag down to the beach fro your summer holidays, why not set a day aside and take some of the back roads.  You will come away the better for it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

All the views from Signal Hill

Signal Hill in Cape Town isn't just a great spot to view the sunset from, but it's also has some awesome views which is ideal if you don't have the time or budget to go up Table Mountain.

Green Point with the Cape Town Stadium and Table Bay with Robben Island in the distance on the left

Cape Town Harbour with the V&A Waterfront as well as the City Bowl

Table Mountain, Lion's Head and the Twelve Apostles

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Still my Table Mountain

Table Mountain
My Table Mountain
Just because I love that flat mountain so much
Would love to still spend some time exploring her on foot one day and not just look up at her
One day

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Who was Louw Wepener and why does he have a monument in the Free State?

How are you going to explore, discover new places and see interesting things if you don't road trip and venture off the beaten track?  A little detour past Bethulie in the southern Free State while heading north had me cross the second longest bridge in South Africa, take a walk through the Bethulie Concentration Camp Cemetery and learn who Louw Wepener was.  To be honest, I probably would have totally missed the Louw Wepener Monument a few hundred meters off the road if there wasn't a Geocache located there.

So who was Louw Wepener and why does he have a monument?  Lourens Jacobus (Louw) Wepener was bron in Graaff-Reinet in 1812 and was a war hero.  As a Cape burgher, while farming in Somerset East and then Aliwal North, Wepener distinguished himself through his military ability and fearlessness during the frontier wars of 1835, 1846 and 1851.  In 1862 he moved to the farm Constantia outside Bethulie and threw his lot in with the Orange Free State.  On the outbreak of the Second Basuto War in 1865 he became commandant - in - chief of the southern commandos.  As the Boers advanced they were eventually encamped at the foot of Thaba Bosigo, Moshesh’s stronghold.

Wepener and 400 volunteers decided to take the mountain by storm with Wepener, in the lead, dying a hero’s death at about sunset near the summit of the mountain.  Legend has it that his heroism made such an impression on the Basutos that they roasted and ate his heart, believing that by doing so they would acquire some of his bravery.

Louw Wepener's bones were later buried on his farm outside Bethulie on the site where the monument stands today.  The town of Wepener near the Lesotho border was also named after him.  I hopped onto the wall next to his bust after retrieving the Geocache and had a quick chat with Oom Louw while signing the logsheet.  He truly was a heroic man if you read his whole history and that of the attack on Thaba Bosigo.  The other thing that got my attention is the fact that this monument is located on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, but with close ties to Wepener plus the monument is a simple stone structure with a bust.  Perhaps a lesson to those wanting to put up monuments for struggle heroes.  Monuments don't have to be anything more than this, located in a place with no links to the person or cost millions of rands.  Just saying. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Reading the travel book one page at a time - Tree lined lane

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page - St Augustine

Very true words indeed.  But I also believe that while travelling you need to go off the beaten track every now and then as well otherwise you will just keep seeing what everybody else sees.  There really isn't anything wrong with that, it's just nice to see a little more sometimes as well.  And often it's something simple, like driving along this tree lined dirt road surrounded by citrus orchards between Addo and Kirkwood. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The (second) longest bridge in South Africa

My normal route through the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape when heading up north is over Cradock and Steynsburg towards Venterstad and then a short left to the Gariep Dam before hitting the N1 for Bloemfontein.  Before my last trip to Johannesburg I had a closer look at the Geocaching map to see if there are any possible alternative routes that will take me to cache locations I haven't been to.  A couple of green dots around the town of Bethulie in the southern Free State caught my eye.  It wouldn't necessarily mean more distance, just a right at Venterstad and a loop via Bethulie towards the N1.  The one thing that really caught my attention though was that one of the caches was called The Longest one in SA. Longest what?  It turns out that the (now second) longest bridge in South Africa spans the the Orange River, connecting the Eastern Cape and Free State, just outside the town. 

The arched D.H. Steyn Bridge (also called the Hennie Steyn Bridge) is 1,152 km long and 51,5 meter high above the river below.  The bridge was built in the 1970's and was named after the then   chairperson of the Orange River Development Project Advisory Council.

Another unique aspect of it is that the bridge isn't just a road bridge but also acts as railway bridge with the railway line running parallel to the road.  Approaching it from the Eastern Cape side is probably best with a great view of the bridge, but I have to be honest, standing on the bridge itself it doesn't look very spectacular. The view to both side are beautiful though (in a Karoo way) and just the fact that I can say I have visited the (second) longest bridge in South Africa made the detour worth while.   Just a pity that more people don't venture off the beaten track to come and discover places like this.  

Oh yes, and I did find the Geocache in case you were wondering.

UPDATE: Thanks to Grant Stater for the information in the comments.  The longest bridge in South Africa is now along the John Ross Parkway along the N2 near Rochards Bay in KZN.  A 1.2km long bridge spanning the Enseleni floodplain and Nsezi River was completed in December 2009 at a cost of R270-million and is now the longest bridge in the country.