Day 140: Looking Back on Women’s Day: Arendsrus Country Lodge

It’s amazing how when you actually sit down and look for places to stay, you find gems right on your doorstep. One such place is Arendsrus Country Lodge. It’s less than 45 minutes from where I live, and the perfect place to stay a night or two to recharge your batteries.

Driving to Arendsrus, you may think where is this road taking me – after all, it takes you past the Morningside chicken farm, but when you arrive at the lodge, you feel like you’re in a different place. The road leading to reception is lined with trees, which, when in bloom, must be breathtaking to see.

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Day 140: Looking Back on Women’s Day: Cango Wildlife Ranch

At the beginning of the year, when the Coronavirus was still only in China, I set a list of goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions) – one of which was to have a getaway at least once a quarter. Lockdown totally messed with quarter one and two, but as soon as whatever-minister-is-in-charge-of-tourism announced that intra-provincial travel was allowed, I was online to find things to do and places to stay like white on rice.

860 m above seal level. Downhill into Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo.
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Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse

As the lighthouse high on Cape St. Blaize winks and watches Mossel Bay was the opening line of my primary school’s anthem. Today I finally got to see that view for myself.

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Review: Bellevue Restaurant

I’m a firm believer of taking the road less travelled, because often, they do lead to stunning destinations, unless you get lost, of course!

On Saturday a friend celebrated her birthday and invited me to join her and some others at a place called Bellevue Restaurant, at The Village Lodge.  It is about 40 minutes’ drive from my house, seven kilometres of which are on a well-maintained gravel road.  A bonus is that on the way, you may get to see some game.  In this instance we saw zebra, Cape Buffalo and some antelope (but they were too far away to photograph).

Zebra 1Cape Buffalo

It is essential to book ahead if you’re planning a visit, as the lodge may have guests, and they have preference to dine at The Bellevue.  The atmosphere is relaxed, as both the lodge and restaurant are child friendly.  There is a luscious green lawn where kids can run around to their hearts’ content, as well as a jungle gym and tyre swings.

Saturday’s meal was so impressive, that I booked a place for Sunday, intent on taking a follower-friend and my parents for lunch.

Saturday’s meal consisted of two harvest boards:  A Ploughman’s Platter and an Antipasti Platter, and three pizzas:  Parma Ham, Cajun Chicken and Pulled Pork.  The platters are colourful and fresh.  The orange slices on the ploughman’s were sweet and juice, without spitting in your eye.  The pizzas were delicious too, and have super-thin bases, making them easy to fold to enjoy your pizza calzone-style if you prefer.

Afterwards we had milkshakes for dessert.  I’d seriously go all the way back there just to drink another one.  The Lemon Meringue one I had was out of this world!  There are other options, like Bar-One, Salted Caramel and Peppermint Crisp to name a few.

Lemon Meringue Milkshake

Sunday, after our coffee-stop, we hit the road again; this time we saw zebra, some antelope and rhinos.  Even if we’d gone home starving, seeing the rhinos would have been enough.

Zebra 3Rhino and ZebraZebra 2

We were seated outside, close to the bar area, and if it’s a little chilly, there are light blankets available for patrons on request.  There is also seating indoors and in the evenings the fireplace is lit.

Our lovely waitress, Claudine, took our drinks order and within a few minutes we were clinking glasses, drinking to happy days and new places.

I ordered a Ploughman’s Platter for the four of us (which mind you, was enough for us to all have our fill).

Ploughman's Platter

Follower-friend opted for the Parma ham pizza (as I told her it’d been a hit the day before), Mom had battered fish, hand-cut chips and salad, Dad had pork hock served with mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables and I opted for a rosemary Karoo roast lamb sandwich on seed loaf with sweet potato fries and salad.  That seed loaf tastes almost sweet and has a cake-like consistency.  Deeeeee-lllliiiii-cious!!!!

At the beginning of our culinary adventure, we’d wanted dessert, but we were so full we had to take the leftovers home, so we’ll have to go back for sure.

Menu

There are dishes for every taste, ranging from mid-level to high prices.  The quality and freshness of the food justifies the price, as does the service.  The waitstaff are always close by, without hovering over patrons, which is a huge plus.  There is also a large selection of beers and ciders I’d not seen before until my visit.  The cocktails described on the drinks’ list sound superb, but if you’re driving, I’d probably say it’s safer to give them a miss until you can savour them and have someone drive you home.  The setting is tranquil, and given the distance from home, a delightful place to escape to over a weekend even if only for a cocktail, coffee and something light to nibble on.

My rating:  5 out of 5 stars.  Highly Recommended.

Circles in the Forest: Oakhurst Farm Cottages

One of the followers on my Facebook page asked for a few facts about me, so here they are – 13 of them because I’m not superstitious.

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Also, four come up in this post:

Forest-lover, but not tree hugger

Mild arachnophobe

Cheesecake freak

Enjoyer of puns

Growing up I spent time reading South African author, Dalene Matthee’s books because they were set in the Knysna Forest, which is an hour’s drive away, and also because I knew they would be our Afrikaans prescribed literature at some stage.  She published many books, but the two I think would be her most well known are Fiela se Kind (Fiela’s Child) and Kringe in ‘n Bos (Circles in a Forest).

Last weekend, after literally being home from Victoria Falls for two days, I set off on another adventure with three girlfriends from work, Catherine, Yoki, Rhonda and Kerryn (Rhonda’s daughter) to Oakhurst Farm, where we stayed in one of the quaint cottages, called Kween’s Kaya (Queen’s Home).  Apt, considering that we are amazing gals who could rule the world if the humdrum of work and paying bills didn’t stand in our way.

Kweens Kaya

We arrived at dusk on Friday afternoon, using trusty Google Maps.  We found our accommodation with no problem. There are various types of accommodation available – check out the website here.  Our home-away-from-home was clean and well equipped.  What I found particularly lovely is a box of different toys in one of the cupboards, for those people travelling with young ‘uns, and a really cool way to play Tic-Tac-Toe, or as some others may know it, Noughts-and-Crosses.

Tic Tac Toe

We lit a fire in the small indoor fireplace, more for atmosphere, than warmth and dinner prep was begun shortly after.

Kindling

Fire

I go away every year with the same group of friends and every year is an experience because we gel as a team.  One loves to cook, others don’t mind washing or dishes and I love setting the table.  We have a silent understanding that we’re all away to relax and that there is no need to keep one another entertained.

Saturday morning after a hearty breakfast we set off to explore the farm a bit.

Area 3Area 4

It is a working dairy farm so we saw many cows.

CowsArea 2

We also got to sample the fresh farm milk because our hosts had placed a bottle in our fridge.  Soooooo creamy!

milk

There is a lovely playground for children, a delightful farm shop, a farm pool in which to cool off and activities such as archery and horse-riding, costs of which are not included in your stay.

Welcome Pack

Beautiful pastures, meadows and dams are dotted around the farm, and the dusty road is lined by tall Bluegum trees.

Road

We decided to do the Forest Walk, (which this forest lover, but not tree-hugger was happy about).

Forest Walk

It is meant to be a 5 Km circular route, with a waterfall just past halfway.  Not one of us thought to bring water, nor did we think that we would be character candidates for Kringe in ‘n Bos, volume 2.  We found the waterfall with relative ease, although the water was more of a trickle than a fall.

Waterfall

Maybe I’m biased after having seen Victoria Falls, who knows?  On the way to the waterfall, we saw a sign that read, “To Cottages/Church” and decided that this was the way home.  It may very well have been, had we not gone to the waterfall, because after circling back to get on that trail, we ended up doing almost 10 Km in total.  Catherine pretty much summed it up in a single sentence “It was fun, and then it wasn’t anymore”.

Mental note to self:  Do not wear jeans during a hike, regardless of the distance.

Additional note to self:  Take water, regardless of the distance.

While the distance was slightly killer, we made it and we got to see some beautiful things walk.

FeatherFungiMushrooms

Rhonda spotted a skull in a hole in the ground.  I of course immediately thought murder in the forest, but it turned out I read too many mystery novels.  The victim was a baboon. Did you see what this Enjoyer of Puns did there?  Kerryn adopted it, christening it Bobby/Bobbi (because we’re not anthropologists, so we couldn’t sex it just by looking at its orbital sockets), intent on gifting it to her Biology teacher.

Bobby

Back at the cottage we all wolfed down our lunch (tuna or ham & cheese rolls) and Kerry and I headed off to the outride we’d booked for the afternoon.  Her horse was called Striker and mine, Home James.  We had a lovely walk on the farm and again through the forest, guided by Isaac, who comes from a jockeying family and clearly loves horses.  He even showed off some of his dressage moves in one of the meadows.

We got back to the cottage and soon the fire was lit outside for a braai.  We were intent on dining al-fresco, but we found quite a few eight-legged creepy crawlies which very quickly made us rethink our plans.  This mild arachnophobe was just grateful to be inside, because even though there were spiders indoors too, they were smaller than the one that had nearly hitched a ride on me because I’d been standing too close to the wall it was on.  After dinner and washed dishes, we all checked out to Club Duvet.  The walk had tuckered us out.

Sunday morning, we headed home after another delicious breakfast, but not before stopping at Hoekwil Country Café, for something to drink.

 

Whenever I’m with Catherine I always feel the need to drink a pot of tea, preferably Earl Grey.  The friendly waitress shared a story with us about the café’s cheesecake having been voted the best cheesecake in South Africa in 2010.

 

It may be nine years later, but oh my giddy aunt, the cheesecake freak in me had what Sally had when she met Harry.  I will drive to Hoekwil again just to have cheesecake; it was that good!

Tomorrow is Catherine’s birthday and she’s invited some friends and I to join her for lunch at a place I’ve not been to yet, and on Sunday I will be taking my mum and dad to lunch at a new place that opened on Thursday less than five minutes’ drive from my house.  Reviews to follow next week 😊

In the meantime, have an amazing weekend, and if you’re crazy enough to venture to the stores for the biggest shopping day of the year, don’t get trampled by the Stampede of Shoppers.

 

 

 

 

 

Old Drift Lodge Sunset Game Drive

The Saturday night I dinner at the lodge, this African Proverb was on the menu:

Wisdom is like a Baobab tree; No-one can embrace it

Menu

Oddly enough, I saw it in a friend’s Instagram newsfeed today and thought The Universe is telling me to finish my post about the sunset game drive at The Old Drift Lodge, during which we saw a beautiful Baobab tree, about 800-1000 years old.

Baobab

There is an even bigger one outside the reserve with a rather stout trunk: Victoria Falls’ own Big Tree, estimated to be about 2000 years old.

Saturday had been a rather exhausting day with all the excursions I had done, so the afternoon game drive was the perfect way to wind down and process all the sensational things I’d experienced during the day.

Vusa was the guide for the excursion which I shared with Alex & Dawn, a couple honeymooning from Canada, and Tova (who was traveling with friends – they opted for the sunset cruise) from Norway.  It is clear that Vusa knows his field, and he has a practiced eye for spotting animals that are extremely well camouflaged by the vegetation and grass.

The first animal we saw was a Monitor Lizard (also known as an Iguana).  I initially thought it was a baby crocodile.  After that faux pas, I cleaned my spectacles and saw the reptile for what it was.  They are usually found close to water and at this time of the year are on the prowl for unattended crocodile eggs to eat.  This one was digging in the dirt, and Vusa explained to us that it may be looking for eggs or insects.

Monitor Lizard

Further along the drive we saw a journey of giraffes.  That is the right collective noun – Vusa told us so.  These tall animals, despite their size, are extremely graceful when they move.  The older they are, the darker their markings will be, and like no two humans will have the same fingerprints, no two giraffes will have the same markings.  We sat at a spot where they were grazing for quite a while.  As a South African, I admittedly take seeing African game for granted, because I’ve been on a few safari-like outings in my life.  However, seeing the sheer childlike-wonder and hearing the squeals of excitement and wonder of the other people of the drive with me made me smile.  Ah, the magic of Africa.

Giraffe

My favourite African animal is by far the elephant.  Maybe it’s because they operate in a Matriarchal society, or maybe it’s because the baby elephants are just so damn cute.

Mama Baby

I’ve been fortunate enough to interact with them up close, at places close to home that do such things, but I’ve never been in a Mexican (or would that be African?) standoff with one, like we were during our excursion.  One young elephant ventured away from the herd and came to stand squarely in front of our vehicle, of which the ignition was off.  It didn’t show any signs of aggression, but it was still intimidating.

Elephant

At one stage I was holding my breath, thinking if it hears me breathe, I may be a goner.  First the hippo that morning, now an elephant in the evening.

Hippo 1

Who says Africa isn’t exciting?

Another interesting sight was that of a Cape Buffalo carcass.  It has been taken down by lions about three weeks before.

Buffalo Carcass

The temperature began to drop, bringing with it welcome refreshment in the form of a pop-up-bar next to the Zambezi River.

Pop Up Bar

What a privilege to stand next on the bank, enjoying a creamy Amarula on ice, while listening to the babbling of the water and intermittent birdsong.

I didn’t take many photos during the drive, partially out of complacency coupled with slight exhaustion, but mostly because I was simply enjoying the dusky coolness of the sunset.

Dusk 1

Dusk 1

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

I’m a huge Batman fan, and I particularly love Joker (as portrayed by Jack Nicholson) and his signature line “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

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No, I haven’t, but I have swum in the Devil’s Pool, which is way better.  I guarantee it.

This was by far my most favourite excursion.  Make no mistake, all the others touched me deeply on some level, but not many people get to see the Falls from this perspective; the Devil’s Pool is only open for a few months a year (when the water levels are low) and the number of people that get to visit during the open window is about 80 per day.  So I am very privileged to have been one.

The day started super early:  first to watch another breathtaking sunrise and then hop on to the transfer bus which took me to the border post.  Farai, the manager on duty at Old Drift Lodge kindly had a light breakfast packed for me, in case I got hungry.  Once through Zimbabwe, I was met by another driver who took me into Zambia, to the Livingstone Island launch site.  Check-in was done with Prince, a Zambia local, who says he has been doing this job for many years.

Launch Site

I signed the indemnity form, which I got to keep as a souvenir.

livingstone-island.jpg

Prince said that I was in actual fact signing a marriage certificate; that he was going to make me a Zambian woman.  I had a good chuckle.  Soon more people arrived and once the first six were ready, we set off.  I was in a group with an American father and his daughter, a Canadian man stationed in Lusaka for work, and two students (from the Netherlands and Japan) who are studying English in Cape Town.

The speedboat ride to Livingstone Island takes about seven minutes and in some parts the water is a little tumultuous, but nothing remotely rapid-like.

Rapid Water

That happens further down, in the gorge below the Falls.

Gorge Water.jpg

 

 

For the most part, the water is flat, not unlike it was during my sunrise cruises at the lodge.

A short swim across a small area is required, but the water is smooth and there is a rope for support if required.  You don’t have to be an exceptional swimmer, but some relative swim-fitness won’t do you any harm.

I expected the water to be freezing (as it is in South African natural pools), but the water was a comfortable temperature, like that of a tepid bath.

Our entire group slid into the pool under the careful instruction of our guides, Kevin and O’Brien and remained in the water until it was our individual turns to get onto the ledge and experience the wonder of this natural infinity pool.  It is a little scary, especially when the mudsuckers decide to lightly nip you but with adrenalin flowing through your veins, you don’t get a chance to think about fear, only have fabulous you feel!

The view is indescribable and the sound of the water rushing by so close to you is almost deafening.  I am so grateful that I got to see not one, but a double rainbow.  Later that afternoon, when I did the rainforest walking tour, the clouds had covered the sun and no rainbows were visible.

Some friends said I was completely robbed of my senses wanting to be so close to the edge, but as an excursion-goer you never feel unsafe because all through your turn on the ledge, a guide is either next to you if you’re sitting, or holding your feet while you’re trying to pull out your best model-pose for the other guide who is photographing you.  One thing I know after this experience is that I would suck as a model.

Devil's Pool Feature PhotoPose

After our excursion, we took a walk along the warm, black basalt rock and got to see a statue of Dr. David Livingstone and were told some history about him.

Black Basalt Rock

Livingstone Statue

After that we headed back to shore, where a light breakfast awaited us.  There was an option of a croissant with cheese and tomato, or Jungle Oats with some berries.  I opted for the former, which was delicious.  The coffee was a welcome boost after the energy I expended in the water.

I would definitely recommend this excursion to anyone wanting to experience the Victoria Falls from within the waters of the Zambezi River that feeds them.

Double Rainbow

Go on!  Be a little daring!

Flight of the Angels

Another must-do excursion when in Victoria Falls is The Flight of the Angels:  a short helicopter flip of ±13 minutes above the Falls.   The operator I was booked with was The Zambezi Helicopter Company.

There is a comprehensive safety briefing given by one of the friendly staff members and the thing that most women dread, a weigh-in.  Getting on the scale is necessary in order to evenly distribute the weight of passengers so that everyone has a safe, comfortable experience.

Safety

If you get thirsty while you wait (quite likely with the African sun beating down), there is a bar on the premises where you can purchase something ice-cold to drink.  I imagine they’d have something a little stronger too, for those who need their nerves calmed a bit.

A member of staff is on hand with a camcorder in hand, filming everything.  After the flight the group gets to view their video, along with still photos, which are available for download onto a memory stick (provided by the company), for a fee of US $50.  Credit cards are accepted.

Ready to Fly
Ready to fly

Before this flight, I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was thrilled to be seated in front, alongside our Captain, Lesley.

Lesley

It was a little surreal because one moment I was still on the ground and the next I was in the air, kind of like a giant magnet that picks something up in a cartoon. I didn’t hear too much of the commentary through the earphones, because I was in awe of the sights below.

The flight takes the form of a figure 8, so that everyone gets a fair view of the Falls and the opportunity to take photos.

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FOA 1FOA 2

If you have a quick eye, you may even see some elephants grazing on the ground, along with some other game species.  The group before us said they saw giraffe, but I was too mesmerized by the lush greenery and beauty of the Zambezi and Victoria Falls to see any animals.

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I was a little sad that it was over so quickly, but it was an experience I will never forget.  The view is magnificent!

Coming in to land