Viva Comrades, Viva South Africa
61 Countries. 90km. 20,000 runners. 1 Race - The Comrades Marathon.
Standing at the start as the last strains of Chariots of Fire fade away sends tingles of excitement mingled with trepidation down my spine. I’m surrounded by so many different people - old, young, large, small, talented, untalented, tall, short - yet all with one goal - to finish the race that means everything. Many have been called crazy to even try this. Many have been been warned of the dangers. Yet we stand together, determined but humble.
A loud boom signals the start, as we set out on the race of a lifetime.
From the sun rising on a new day to the burning heat of the midday sun, this brave cohort of runners marches on. Over hills and through valleys. Relentless. Determined. A Comrade from the past watches from the side. His race is now over, but his words of encouragement still making a difference.
Kilometres more. Sweat. Cramps. Nausea. Pain
An elderly white man stumbles. A loud thud as he hits the road. Immediately a young black runner is there to help him up. No thought of colour or talent. One race. One goal.
Kilometres more. Sweat. Cramps. Nausea. Pain.
Loud sounds of retching from a young coloured girl vomiting on the side of the road. Her race taken from her. A white lady stops. Fumbles in her pouch, and tenderly whispers to her, handing her something to give her hope. No thought of colour or talent. One race. One goal.
Kilometres more. Sweat. Cramps. Nausea. Pain.
Then there it is! The stadium. The spectators' cheers are deafening. My heart bursting with joy. Arm in arm we cross the finish line together - old, young, large, small, fit, unfit, tall, weak…61 Countries. 90km. 20,000 runners. 1 Race.
The commentator celebrates - Viva Comrades, Viva South Africa.
11 Languages. 9 Provinces. 50 million people. 1 country - South Africa.
Standing at the start as the last strains of N'Kosi Sikeleli fade away sends tingles of excitement mingled with trepidation down my spine. I’m surrounded by so many different people - old, young, black, white, able, disabled, rich, poor - yet all with one goal - to become the new South Africa that means everything. Many have been called crazy to even try this. Many have been warned of the dangers. Yet we stand together, determined but humble.
A loud cheer signals the start, as we set out on the journey of a lifetime.
From the sun rising on a new nation to the burning issues of a new democracy, this cohort of brave citizens marches on. Over troubles and through despair. Relentless. Determined. A comrade from the past watches from the side. His journey is now over, but his words of encouragement still making a difference.
Years more. Violence. Protests. Scandals. Crime.
A rich white businessman crashes his car. A loud smash as he hits the barrier. Immediately a young black student is there to help him out. No thought of race or status. One country. One goal.
Years more. Violence. Protests. Scandals. Crime
Loud sounds of wailing from a young coloured girl crying on the side of the road. Her purse stolen from her. A white lady stops. Fumbles in her bag, and tenderly whispers to her, handing her something to give her hope. No thought of race or status. One country. One goal.
Years more. Violence. Protests. Scandals. Crime
Then there it is! The dream. The worlds' cheers are deafening. My heart bursting with joy. Arm in arm we become the new South Africa together - old, young, black, white, able, disabled, rich, poor…11 Languages. 9 Provinces. 50 million people. 1 Country.
The world celebrates - Viva comrades. Viva South Africa.
I wrote the above story after completing my 11th Comrades together with my wife who completed her 10th last year. This year we stood ,for the first time in 11 years, on the sidelines as supporters. However, one thing remained - witnessing the amazing spirit of comradeship in this epic race. Here's hoping we can foster this same spirit in our beautiful country South Africa.
Silence. Nothing stirs under the oppressive blanket of the harsh African sun. A ripple in the tall grass as a gentle breeze rolls across the valley floor. I pull at the collar of my uniform as I try and loosen its throttling grip. A trickle of sweat runs down my back, causing me to shiver, despite the heat, as though prescience of something coming. At first I think it’s my eyes playing tricks on me, as the green grass seems to shimmer and suddenly turn black. I rub the sweat out of my eyes with the back of my hand, shifting my rifle to my other shoulder. It’s not a cruel trick of the heat. The hill beyond out camp has instantly transformed. Thousands of Zulu warriors have materialised out of nowhere. I stare in horror - the depths of which I would never have imagined - as suddenly the chilling sound of the beating of thousands of shields mixed with an eerie ululation sweeps across our camp in warning of what is coming - a battle unparalleled in our nation’s proud history.
We have been invited to visit Isandlwana Lodge, located on the edge of the famous Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift battlefields - battles of loss and victory never before witnessed. “Wow,” I say as we drive along the gravel road winding between a sprinkling of local huts and the ominous hill of Isandlwana jutting out to our left, “Is that the lodge?” To our right, set majestically on the side of Nyoni rock, is the magnificent Isandlwana lodge.
After a royal welcome from Shane, the manager and his team, we are shown to our room. I’m distracted from the comfortable, elegantly decorated room by the floor-to-ceiling glass doors that provide unfettered views of the story before us. It’s like a time travel portal as I stand for a moment on our balcony clearly seeing the hundreds of dotted white stone cairns marking the graves of the thousands of British soldiers who lost their lives here.
“The Zulus attacked the British at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879,” Shane says as we stand atop the hill behind the lodge, looking out at the battlefield below. “A Zulu force of 20,000 warriors attacked the British camp of 1,800 soldiers.” A cool breeze sweeps across the remote outcrop we’re standing on, sending a shiver down my spine - or is it the tangible feeling of loss and victory forever etched on this landscape that I’m feeling? History, loss, death and senseless suffering mingle with stories of incredible bravery, hope and human compassion.
In the evening we are seated around a warm log fire, the mercury has plummeted to 8c. Sipping gluhwein and chatting about lives and history is the perfect segue into dinner - a delicious affair, and a fitting conclusion to the opening act for what lies tomorrow - our visits to the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift.
“Day waned and the night hung over the hill as we reached the last ridge beyond which had been our camp…in silence we marched down into the gloom below, where lay shrouded by a mericful pall the horrors of the past day…when we saw what had happened every man could not help crying to see so many of our poor comrades lying dead on the ground, which only a few hours before that we left them all well and hearty” (Col Crealock’s account)
It’s stunning waking up at Isandlwana lodge. A belt of mist has been draped across the valley floor as though it were a shroud in memory of the fallen. Only the stark landmark of Isandlwana peak appears above the shroud.
“I am Dalton,” Lindizwe says giving us his English name. “I am a descendant of Chief Sihayo.” As the descendant of one of the chiefs of the epic battle that played out on this stage of history, Lindizwe is the master conjurer. We are transported from the verandah where we stand overlooking the battlefields straight into the heart of the battle. Around us the smell of sweat permeates the air as thousands of Zulu warriors squatting on their haunches pause to take some snuff before the battle begins. Down below the red uniforms of the British soldiers look like tiny red ants as they scuttle between the white tents below the hill.
After painting a vivid picture of the background, we all eagerly pile into a vehicle and head to the Isandlwana battlefield, where we come face to face with the bravery and horror of this most epic battle. Climbing up the Isandlawana peak past countless white cairns is a somber reminder of the sad cost of war. Political decisions made thousands of miles away in gilded rooms that forever stamp red blood blotches all across the African planes.
“In memory of James Adrian Blakie…Killed here in battle, 22nd January 1879. Aged 19 years,” says one of the countless graves. It’s the British army’s worst defeat ever against an indigenous foe.
From Isandlwana we head, after a delicious lunch at the lodge, to Rorkes Drift, where once more we are drawn into the most epic battle. A battle where more Victoria crosses are handed out than at any other time. A story of incredible bravery, but one written in the sad waste of lives of both British and Zulu alike.
"As the Zulu army retreats from Rorkes Drift,” Lindizwe says as we stand next to the small stone strucutres where the battle took place, “they pass the returning reinforcements of Lord Chelmsford. Silently both armies walk right past each other. Not a word is said. Not a weapon is raised. The death - the loss - the horror, has been too much for both sides. Wars futility is etched on every face. Wars painful cost exacted in sons never to return, in wives left widowed, in wounded never to be whole again."
Back at the lodge as the sun sets over our time here, we enjoy an amazing braai outside on the deck, while warming ourselves around a roaring log fire. What a contrast as we sip our wine and look down on the lights of the huts dotting the plane below. The battle may be a distant memory, but the scars are all too visible under the silvery light of the rising full moon, in the endless white cairns dotting the valley like discarded bones.
We have travelled across a century and returned convinced both of the futility of war and of the need to celebrate and share our beautiful country and its epic history. Why just visit a place for your next getaway, when you can visit a place and a time - and have not just a holiday, but an unforgettable experience.
Isandlwana Lodge has 12 stylishly furnished en-suite bedrooms, each with a private balcony overlooking the panorama of the battlefield and plain. It's an ideal retreat for writers, photographers, hikers, adventurers, and anyone else wanting more than just a holiday. Besides the attraction of the history of this area, there is the beautiful scenery, quiet solitude, great food, and even exciting activities like hot air ballooning. To find out more visit the lodge's website.
One of the biggest surprises during our year of exploring South Africa was discovering the stark beauty of the Cederberg. And now we have been invited back to this incredible landscape - a place that ranks amongst the best places we have traveled.
It’s an easy, scenic drive from Cape Town up the west coast to Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve in the Cederberg mountains. The tar road gives up and we find ourselves winding slowly along a gravel road past jagged rocky outcrops and wide open vistas, before finally arriving to a royal welcome.
“Hello, I'm James the lodge manager, and this is Cecile the front office manager and Christiaan, your guide.”
Scented facecloths, welcome drinks and an orientation tour of the magnificent lodge complete our introduction to the resort.
There is something I’ve noticed at all the Red Carnation hotels we’ve visited so far - incredible service. You get beautiful hotels all over the world, but few deliver incredible service - a level beyond what you expect. Where the staff exude passion for what they’re doing and pleasure from making your stay exceptional. It’s not just incredible service…its incredible hospitality.
“There are four pools!” I exclaim.
“Yes,” Cecile replies, “and one is heated.”
And that's just the start. Luxurious lounge areas, secret gardens, a cozy pub, an inviting outdoor dining area, walking trails, archery, hiking, cycling…We are already excited by the time we reach our room where we are welcomed by a melding of home comfort with tasteful style. We take a few minutes to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and let the tranquility and beauty of Bushman's Kloof wash over us.
After a swim we get ready for the afternoon activities. These commence with high tea at 4pm, with the emphasis on high. From quiches to tarts to cakes and coffee, all enjoyed under the large outdoor thatched area overlooking soft green grass, alive with birds, stretching out towards an infinity pool that drops off into the stark, rugged terrain of the rocky outcrops beyond.
With tummies content we jump into our Landcruiser.
“Are there many animals around here?” I ask as Christiaan deftly navigates his way along the winding roads. Before long the answer is abundantly clear, as we see eland, springbok, bontebok, ostrich, zebra, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, and oryx. This harsh, rugged terrain is teeming with wildlife.
“Eland are the biggest antelope,” Christiaan says as we stop and watch a herd grazing alongside some springbok. “And springbok are the fastest.”
“Look at that one,” he says pointing at a lone bontebok. “ It's a unicorn!”
With only one horn it looks amazingly like a unicorn from some fantasy place. I’m beginning the believe we may be in a fantasy place.
After toasting the sunset in regal style overlooking the beautiful Biedouw valley below, and watching the sun paint the sky and rocks with splashes of red and orange, we head back to the lodge. If we thought the nature drive was amazing, what’s planned for tonight is going to be incredible.
As a dark veil is silently drawn across the sky revealing a sparkling treasure trove of stars, we head out into the inky darkness to a secret dinner location. Rounding a corner we are suddenly welcomed by twinkling lights and a roaring log fire causing shadows to dance on the lone stone cottage atop the hill, as if in celebration of our arrival.
Sitting around a crackling log fire on a cold autumn evening, sipping smooth red wine, and chatting while sparks dance towards the diamond studded sky is what fantasies are made of. Maybe the unicorn was real. As we move inside the fantasy continues, as we are seated at a table illuminated by the flickering light of 88 candles set atop candlesticks with long wax rivers frozen below them, as though reminders of a place where laughter, food and celebration have existed for aeons. “You can't capture this,” someone says. And they’re right. How do you describe magical.
And so begins the next adventure. A culinary journey. The chef describes each course before we our tongues are allowed to follow the tastes our minds have already conjured.
“Wow,” we gush, “after having just enjoyed the unique flavour of a deboned Karoo lamb shank pie. "That was delicious!”
“The lamb was slow roasted for 6 hours,” the chef says revealing some of his culinary secrets.
“Would you like to see the stars before dessert?” Christiaan asks as we recline in our chairs letting the wonder of the moment carry us away. We follow him outside into the inky darkness. The wind has magically stopped completely, and a sparkling necklace of diamonds has been tossed haphazardly across the sky. It's truly incredible. Stars like I have seldom seen before. Christiaan points out Mars, Venus, Orion, and Scorpio.
“And look there," he says, as we stare through binoculars at the regal display, “It's the moons of Jupiter.”
As I finally lie back in the soft warm comfort of my bed back at the lodge, slowly succumbing to sleeps embrace, I am left wondering whether it was a dream, a fantasy...
“We are going to explore some rock art,” Christiaan says as we clamber into the Landcruiser the next morning. The Cederberg is famous for its rock art - two kinds of rock art. One are the thousands of works of art left by the nomadic bushmen who once inhabited this area, and the other are the incredible sculpted spires and jagged peaks forged by the ravages of wind and rain upon the arid canvas of this desert land.
“It's a short walk,” Christiaan says as we follow him around large boulders up to an overhanging cave-like shelter. We’ve stepped through a portal and back in time. The walls are alive with art - eland, elephant and the bushmen. A world from a another time comes alive as Christiaan explains the stories depicted in these ancient and beautiful works of art. Once more it seems magical. Almost a fantasy, as we are transported to other worlds, other times, hidden behind towering rock behemoths standing like silent, frozen sentinels.
“That's what’s unique about this place,” I muse as we enjoy a late breakfast back at the lodge “It's a fantasy world, where old and new, rugged and sublime, earth and heaven meet in a surreal dance. It's a world that not only calms the soul but energizes the spirit. A world not explained - a world that must be experienced. Quite simply it’s magic...unicorn and all!
Bushman's Kloof was recently voted by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, the No. 1 resort in South Africa and the No 3 in the category Best Hotels and Resorts in the world!
To find out more about Bushman's Kloof Wilderness Reserve visit their website.
Franschhoek is one of those towns that seems to have been translocated from somewhere in Europe into South Africa. The main road with its incredible collection of art shops, coffee shops, and restaurants is always filled with more people speaking le French or da German, than English. This little town is also home to many of South Africa's top restaurants. To open a restaurant here shows great courage. To survive as a restaurant here, shows excellence.
As the last rays of a lingering Cape summer day turn the sky orange and pink, we arrive at Le Bon Vivant, where we've been invited. We're greeted by a garden setting turned magical by twinkling candles set atop white-decked tables. The tepid evening air is alive with the buzz of beetles and the content conversation of diners enjoying their pre-dinner drinks.
"I always dreamt of opening a restaurant,” says chef Pierre in his continental accent. "And so I decided to open this restaurant when I came here from Netherlands," he continues. "I opened in 2001, and I'm still here!"
That in itself is testimony to Le Bon Vivant. Any restaurant that survives, even a year in this culinary capital of the world, is amazing. To not only survive, but to be fully booked, as it is tonight, after 15 years, is incredible! This I'm looking forward to.
We decide to go for the "carefully designed 5 course surprise dinner”, and what a surprise it turns out to be. I won’t spoil the magician's secrets, because they are incredible, so I'll lift the lid on just a few.
“It’s beetroot sorbet topped with cheese and cumber,” says Joyce our waitress as she lays down a fascinating display before us.
“Is this sweet or savory?” I wonder as I bend over to inhale the interesting aroma. In anticipation I dip my teaspoon in to begin my adventure of culinary surprises.
“It’s swevaoury!” A blend of slightly sweet, refreshing beetroot challenged by tangy cheese. And so begins a sensational (in the literal meaning of the word) experience, as each course arrives in a dance of flavours and visual splendour, carefully paired with an appropriate wine.
Beef, foie gras praline, and potato lattice paired with a Jordan desert wine. Now that's a surprise. Sweet wine with a savoury course, as art and taste dance together. Salmon ceiviche, pickles, saffron froth, dumplings and Black Forest froth paired with Rupert and Rothschild’s Terra Del Capo. I feel like I'm violating one of Picasso’s works of art as I lift my fork tentatively to taste this dish. Contrasting textures and temperatures leaves you guessing - leave you wanting more.
And so the courses continue to arrive in a dance of flavours and visual splendour before finally climaxing in a sweet finish that is only experienced, not described.
As I settle back after five sensational courses, beneath a starry sky, the orange glow of the candles causes shadows to dance across the table cloth as if in celebration. The quiet chatter of guests mingles with the singing of the night insects. I think to myself, “This is joie de vivre - the joy of living.”
For millennia man has wanted to fly, but has been held back by his innate fear of death by forceful impact. So I’m not sure why we didn’t think of kite surfing years ago. Standing on the beach at Langebaan, one of the best places to kite surf in South Africa, I’m in awe of the serious air time the kite surfers - or are they flyers - get. It’s a blend of sport and art, hip-hop and ballet.
“Hi, I’m Shaun,” the friendly guy behind the counter at The Kite Lab greets us with a smile. “Josh is going to really enjoy this,” he says. Josh has long wanted to learn to kitesurf, and has spent endless hours mastering his power kite, enjoying being dragged through the sand and water in the quest for the thrill. The Kite Lab, in Langebaan says it is “South Africa’s number one kitesurfing lessons and gear centre” so they seem the obvious choice for the next step in Joshua’s flying adventure.
Soon Josh has his kit, and is headed down to the beach along with his instructor. “I’m George (pronounced in some indecipherable Greek way - which really makes this Greek-styled village feel authentic), I will be teaching Joshua,” he says. “When the conditions are right,” George continues, “we train at Shark Bay.”
“Hmm,” I think to myself, “I’m glad the conditions are not right - the name sounds ominous.” Later I find out it’s a name given for harmless sand sharks that come their during certain times to mate. “But today, because the wind is a little bit light,” he says gesticulating towards the wind which seems to be blowing pretty hard as far as a Durbanite is concerned, “today…we will learn here at the main beach.”
While Nicky and I relax on the beach, Josh and George begin the first of his two 3-hour lessons, flying a kite. He’s taught how to control it, what the power-zone is, reading the wind, and loads more. He seems to be mastering this, so we wander off to grab a beer at Pearlys overlooking the beach. This is the life! When we return Josh has upgraded. He is now attached to a real kitesurfing kite and is learning to control it on the beach.
“Josh will now let the kite pull him in the water, without the board,” George explains. “But he is very safe. I will talk to him with the radio,” he says pointing to a radio that is attached to the head gear Josh is wearing. I’m really impressed by Kite Lab’s training system. Not only does this radio provide a safety system whereby the instructor is always in contact with the student, and there is a rescue boat also on patrol that can be radioed at any time to pick up a wayward student, but it also puts the instructor in the student’s head. What better way to learn, than have your instructor giving you instructions all the time while you’re mastering your manoeuvres .
Soon Josh is having serious fun as he’s dragged like some hyperactive seal through the sea. Every now and then he manages to manipulate the kite and he leaps right out of the water, while all the time George runs along the beach issuing instructions.
“Tomorrow,” George says, “Josh will use the board.”
I can see he’s really excited about that…Josh, that is - and George too!
The weather does not play nicely and so “tomorrow” turns out to be the “day after tomorrow”, but soon Josh is back in the water, and this time he has a board strapped to his feet too.
“It’s important for him to understand the kite first,” George explains, “and then he can focus on the board.”
We watch as Josh begins to master standing. It reminds me a bit of when I learned to ski - it takes time, but as Alan who is the founder of the Kite Lab said earlier when we spoke to him, “once you’ve learned you never forget!”
By the end of his second lesson Josh is getting up and beginning to experience the thrill of the ride.
Houston, we have a problem. The bug has bitten. It’s like giving cake to a sweet'oholic. Josh has tasted the thrill, the power, the adrenaline of kitesurfing…he hasn’t flown…yet, but he knows he surely can. For now he’ll have to wait, because our time here is up, but he’s already plotting his return.
“Josh,” a friend asks him a few days later, “what has been the best thing you’ve done on your year-long holiday adventure?”
Without hesitation he answers - “Kitesurfing!”
“It’s a postcard town,” the captain of the catamaran says as we glide silently over the turqouise sea looking at the whitewashed buildings clustered along the seaside. This is the second time I’ve heard this description today about Langebaan, and it could not be more apt.
There must be something special about Club Mykonos in Langebaan, because this is our third time back here in the past year, and every time we have just loved it. “It’s a relatively undiscovered gem,” the manager of the Bouzouko restaurant, adjoining Club Mykonos, furtively whispers to us as we enjoy the most amazing setting for a dinner.
The sun sets over the yacht mooring creating a postcard scene as the yacht sails are silhouetted against an indescribale riot of colors competing for attention across the sky, and I sip my beer, and tuck into succulent chicken souvlaki. “This is one of my favourite dinners,” my kids chime. I can see why. It’s the combination of good food and incredible setting.
Most of the people from Cape Town don’t seem to know about Langebaan. It has been discovered by Gautengers, and a few foreigners, like George from the kite surfing shop, who comes from Greece each year to teach people to kite surf. “It feels just like my home,” he says. “The whitewashed buildings, the sea, and the friendly village atmosphere.” Of course I have to lean forward to understand him as he enthusiastically explains this in his rich Greek accent.
What strikes us as amazing about Langebaan, and especially Club Mykonos, is that it is not only a destination but a launchpad to explore this area. “If anyone is bored here,” the Bouzouko manager says, “then there must be something wrong with them.” And he’s right. The Club Mykonos resort is built like a Greek village. A maze of winding, cobbled pathways snake between whitewashed homes, arrayed with brightly coloured shutters, set around a Mediterranean-like sea. Just lying under the palms and soaking up the atmosphere would be enough…but there’s the siren’s call of the refreshing sea, cruises on yachts, spas for those needing pampering - and our personal favourite, a glass of wine watching the sun dip into the sea and transform the world into a wonderland.
However, the opportunities don't end here. The town of Langebaan has everything from the best-value breakfast at Breeze to the best place to learn to Kite Surf in South Africa, to a plethora of quaint shops and eateries. Then within about thirty minutes drive there is the West Coast National Park with it’s stunning white beaches and flower displays in Spring, Paternoster for the quant fishing village experience - make sure you have your hake and chips in paper wrapping at the takeawawy by the beach, and Veldrift for a boat cruise and pink flamingo extravaganza!
Maybe it’s best that not too many people find Langebaan so it keeps it’s small town feel, but I think the word is getting out, and we’re sure glad we found this place! Why look at postcards when you can step into one?
We've been invited to check out The Big Easy, South Africa's world-famous golfer Ernie Els' new restaurant in Durban, located at the Hilton Hotel in the city. The city? What! Normally us country folk only frequent eateries in the wooded outer suburb. However, if there's good food, I'll go anywhere!
I'm surprised at how quiet the roads are at 6:30pm as we glide effortlessly into the city, over the new bypass. Within 10 minutes of leaving Westville we are parked in the Hilton Hotel's undercover parking. That was easy...
The regal splendour of the Hilton greets us as we head to the restaurant situated on the ground floor. As we enter I am immediately attracted by its layout. Unlike many cavernous restaurants I've experienced, the Big Easy has created several smaller, cosier dining spaces. There's an elegant bar area adjoining a lounge with a TV and then there are several dining areas, including, as the waiter shows me, a lovely outdoor area for fine evenings or day visits. Photos and memorabilia relating to Ernie Els are also tastefully displayed on some of the walls.
We settle down next to a window that comes alive like a cityscape with the reflected wine display, and are welcomed by Simon our waiter. His beaming smile and warm welcome resonates with the obviously South African styled fare on offer at the Big Easy. Led by chef Janine Fourie the menu is a fascinating weave of reimagined South African food plus a selection of regular favourites.
I like wors and pap, just like the next oke, but normally I reserve that for around the braai with my mates. As such I've never really been attracted to South African food at a restaurant. My bias is about to be challenged, but first we need to select a wine.
Eric, the sommelier talks us through the options. To me it's obvious. We are at Ernie's place so we need to have an Ernie wine, and so we order his Sauvignon Blanc which immediately sets my mouth singing with joy..."Daar kom die Alibama..."or something traditional like that. It's refreshing grassy nose is delivered in a beautiful smooth taste...unlike the eye-scrunching, spine-tingling sharpness of many Sauvignons. Easy...very easy!
We sit back and enjoy a tasty corn bread and coriander butter pre-dinner snack while settling into the experience. “I’d recommend the Pork belly and bacon skewers and the Oxtail and marrow fritters,” Eric suggests. I’m all for going with insider trading when it comes to restaurants, and so we go with Eric's intel. We're not disappointed. The pork belly and bacon skewers are a soft, explosion of flavour - a carnivores dream, while the oxtail and marrow fritters are delivered as crispy on the outside with flavour-rich marrow inners. We’ve hit the first course well down the fairway, and looking good as we consider our approach to the green.
From where we sit we can see the hive of activity in the kitchen. I enjoy being able to see into the kitchen, and I’m encouraged by signs of fresh herbs growing in pots around the kitchen. For the main course I’ve been drawn to my favourite food, a bunny chow! I’m especially attracted as this is the first time I’ve heard of a lamb shank bunny. That sounds like a combo of two of my favourites. How will it be?
The generous portion arrives, reaching out olfactory tendrils even before it’s landed on the table. My eyes begin to water with anticipation, and I begin to respond like a conditioned Pavolvian dog. Eric narrowly misses me biting his hand as I grab a piece of tender lamb combined with curry-soaked bread, and pop it into my mouth. I hear wedding bells! It’s the marriage I'd hoped for. It's gastronomic heaven - the tender succulence of the lamb combined with the flavour-full explosion of Durban spice. My only warning for those seeking this heavenly combo, is come hungry. Thankfully with my full-loaf bunny pedigree I have no problems eating every morsel while the wedding bells continue to chime.
Nicky orders a rump steak with gorgonzola sauce and veggies. This succulent rump has been waiting for 30 days for this exact moment and it's as tender as a princess's feet. Smothered in smoky gorgonzola sauce and accompanied by fresh al dente veggies, I can see from Nicky's dreamlike gaze, that this is another perfect hit. Of course this dreamlike gaze may be because she is enraptured by her elegant dining partner. However I daren't interupt her tranquil reverie, in case it's the former!
The main course has been hit true and straight, leaving us lying perfectly on the green, with just a final putt ahead - desert! While pondering our options, Janine, the chef pops by and chats to us. I can see where the passion in the food's taste comes from. This well traveled young chef bubbles with enthusiasm as she talks about her food, locally sourced ingredients, and excitement with being involved in this venture. There’s no getting away from it - a good chef means a good experience.
As we consider our final putt, I look down at the assortment of dessert options. In true South African style there are old favourites like melktert, koeksisters, and hertzoggies in Amarula. Words that would most likely leave many foreigners wondering if they’d stumbled upon the writings of an ancient civilisation.
We decide to go for the creme brûlée, and the baked lemon meringue cheese cake. It’s sweet heaven! I'm a savoury dude, so I felt a little like a bee in a Hulette’s factory - over-sweeted, but glad I did it. If you’re a savoury person like me, you can easily share one of these delicious desserts, but if you’re unsavoury - meaning you’re the type who eats dessert before mains…then order your own portion, and enjoy!
It's exciting to see Durban get some great restaurants again...why must Cape Town get them all? The Big Easy is just 10 minutes drive from the western suburbs, even less from the Berea, and you drive straight into the Hilton’s undercover parking, and before you know it you're sipping good wine and eating South African food that will make you proud to say "Ima Souf Afwican!'
It's in the hole!
This meal has certainly hit the spot. In golf-parlance, The Big Easy has scored well below par…well done Ernie, Janine, and team!
To find out more or book, check out The Big Easy, Durban here!
What do King Goodwill Zwelithini, President Thabo Mbeki and Oprah Winfrey have in common? They've all stayed at Ingeli Forest Lodge, and we've been invited to check it out.
We make our way along the N2 heading south as we attempt to escape the busy Christmas traffic of Durban. Turning off we follow the road past Oribi Gorge as the bustling towns are replaced with rolling hills dressed in Sappi forests and interspersed with colorful huts dotting the hills. Finally the pine trees also give way to thick indigenous forests, as a sign on the roadside informs us we have reached our destination - Ingeli Forest Lodge.
Set back from the main road, the hotel welcomes the visitor with a commanding thatched entrance and a large deck area that looks out over the green grassed area below replete with tennis court, a serious looking adventure putt-putt course and a kids play area. Tasteful Christmas decorations set a festive scene in the entrance and are made complete by the smile we receive from Rejoice at check-in.
Built way back in 1973, in the era of roadside motels, travelers would stop here regularly and receive a Kingdom of Ingeli passport that was stamped with each visit. Once a year a "prime minister" was elected as friends regularly met up in this fun, family hotel. The hotel has now been refurbished and extended to a 44-room hotel. I can see the obvious signs of attention to detail in the décor as we enter our hotel room which is tastefully decorated and flows out through a large sliding door onto a patio and the central grass area with a pool. “Check out the Victorian bath,” I say as I inspect the bathroom, “this is going to be great way to end a day.”
The rate includes dinner and breakfast, and so we will most likely end up more circle-shaped than when we arrived. But then apparently there is lots of active things we can do too…but the only activity filling my mind, as we enter the dining room, is what food should I eat?
The dining room is intimate with tables arranged around a central serving area, giving it a cozy feel – something that is often lacking in hotel dining rooms, and especially appreciated on a cool night like tonight. Soon we are warmed in and out, after enjoying a tasty roast with all requisite vegetables. Tomorrow we will explore Ingeli’s forest area…and address some of the weight gain from our delicious feast. Eish…I’ve overeaten…but it was just so delicious!
Dawn brings a misty cool day today, which means it's a perfect opportunity to explore the forests that cluster around the hotel. We are very impressed with all the cycling and walking trails Ingeli offers. Our first exploration is to the forest across the road. This 10km path winds through thick indigenous forest but also comes festooned with spiders. That’s the price you pay for indigenous…maybe we just have to up our adventurous spirit… however, after about an hour we decide to turn back as this is a 10km route and we are receiving numerous “status updates” from some of the kids on the trauma of walking so far in such spidery conditions - although it's not them who have to battle the arachnids.
Back at the hotel we grab a couple of beers and sit in the overstuffed couches enjoying some time reading in the lounge - which of course naturally brings on hunger. This is quickly dealt with when we order some pizzas to share. I'm impressed by the thick, juicy pizzas, and we are soon all licking our lips in gastronomic appreciation. While pizzas next to a log fire are blissful, nothing beats exploring and hiking for us, and so it’s time to head out again.
A magical silvery mist is now hanging thickly over the treetops which creates a perfect condition for walking. There's a shorter 3km walk to a dam that we try this time. This is obviously a more popular path, as there are no spider webs and the walking/cycle track is well maintained as it winds through thick, indigenous forest alive with the sounds of hundreds of birds.
The path winds down into a valley finally emerging at a tranquil lake. We sit down at one of the tables set beside the lake and are transported to a surreal place as we sip our red wine beneath a silky veil of mist, before a mirror still lake reflecting the green forested wonderland around us. "Shh...," says Nicky as we sit there.
"Be quiet for a moment and just listen."
The only sounds filling the air are the sounds of insects and birds dreamily drifting in the air.
We don't do enough of this.
Just being still.
What a perfect spot to do just that...especially with a glass of good red wine.
As I lounge in the warmth of my luxurious Victorian bath, back in our room, my thoughts drift like the mist to Oprah and friends. “It doesn’t really matter how rich or famous you are,” I muse, “peace and joy are found only by those who create the space, the moments, the opportunity to experience it.” And in this moment, I’ve found that space.
It’s the iconic sound of Africa, the cry of the fish eagle that draws me from my blissful somnolence. Opening my eyes I’m rewarded with a visual feast. The mirror-still estuary reflects the blue sky and the tropical forests that cluster on the surrounding hills. Faintly I can hear the deep baritone thump of the distant waves as they attempt to enter the estuary. This is the Estuary Hotel & Villas, near Port Edward on the KZN South Coast. It's a place we come to about five times a year…and we’ve been coming here for over 10 years, and this is exactly why!
“Let’s go for a canoe,” Nicky suggests as I come fully awake after the all important morning coffee. We grab our canoe and paddle up towards the river that enters the estuary. It looks like a knife slicing a mirror as we cut through the water. A flash of colour. It’s the stunning Malachite kingfisher skimming above the water in search of breakfast. Every time we canoe up the river I feel like I’m entering a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, as the thick, indigenous coastal forest, complete with vines, and huge legavaans lounging on rocks, closes in around us. And it seems we are not the only ones who think this. Earlier in the year we were surprised when we came upon an entire village that had sprung up in the forest over night. A village with canoes, reed huts, dried fish hanging….we couldn’t believe it. It turned out to be a set built by Disney for their new movie Jungle Book. However it had no sooner miraculously appeared in all it’s intricate detail than it vanished again leaving only the jungle setting.
“What’s that?” says Nicky pointing ahead as we round the corner of the river. “Oh, my hat! I can’t believe it.” Sure enough there appears to be more buildings in the forest. This time it’s an old trading store and pump house. Once more it turns out to be a set for another movie.
After our morning canoe adventure we head down to the beach. It’s a short stroll and we are soon seated on velvet soft sand pondering whether we should heed the siren’s call of the smooth swells that are rolling up the shore. I love this beach - it’s beautiful white sand, framed by the estuary and lush tropical forests on the surrounding hills. It’s little wonder that there’s a wedding taking place on the beach. What a spot to seal the deal as guests seated on white trimmed chairs, sans their shoes, enjoy the ultimate cathedral under the endless blue sky.
“How about a beer at Bobbys?” I suggest after we’ve enjoyed our swim and are now drying like content lizards. This is one invitation that never requires repeating. Beach Bobbys is just a short stroll across the beach and soon we are seated on their lovely deck area where we satiate out thirst with an icecold draft beer and the requisite plate of wedges, while looking out for dolphins and whales in the sea.
Time here seems to fold in on itself as morning somehow becomes afternoon, and afternoon melts away into evening. It’s as though the tranquility of the estuary is reflected in the tranquility of time. As the sun begins to set and turns the estuary into a canvas of red, orange, and pink we stroll up to the Estuary hotel. This beautiful hotel, originally designed by Sir Herbert Baker, is set atop a hill and commands stunning views of the living canvas below it. What better spot to enjoy our sundowners.
“Hi, I'm Quinton,” the assistant manager introduces himself. “Would you like a snack basket with your drinks?” Now that sounds like a great idea. As we sit outside sipping our wine and enjoying a tasty snack basket of samoosas, calamari, chicken and other goodies we soak in the vista.
The soft orange light of the restaurant draws us in as outside the deep purples of early evening create a stunning living painting behind us. It's not just by chance the restaurant is called the Fish Eagle Restaurant. Here you feel like a fish eagle perched up high, and the cry of these magnificent birds often floats in the air.
Tonight we have options of the buffet or the a la carte. Normally I'd go for a la carte, but the buffet looks good, so I opt for that. The delicious looking beef curry is probably what sways me, and I'm not disappointed.
With great resolve I have small portions of the crumbed chicken, pasta and other items reserving myself for the curry. Aah…and how good it is. Succulent and spicy. My love with curry is reaffirmed. The chef TK comes out to see how we are enjoying our meal and I congratulate him on his curry. Here's hoping he keeps it up because I'd go back just for that, not to mention the best views on the South Coast.
As I lean back in my chair, satiated visually and gastronomically, I am left in no doubt why we keep on coming back to this amazing place. A blend of wild and modern, beauty and adventure, forest and sea, action and tranquility…and at the moment it’s tranquility that’s winning, as we head off to bed accompanied by the distant sound of the sea and the goodnight chorus of nighttime birds and insects.
For more info on the Estuary Hotel, check out their website here!
“Wow, that’s a nice entrance,” I say as we arrive at Bushman’s Nek hotel. It’s our first time here although we are regulars in the beautiful Southern Berg. The bubbling sound of the waterfall welcomes us in, but that is nothing compared to the pools inside. Soon we are oo’ing and ah’ing at the hotel’s huge rim flow rock pool, complete with waterfalls, a slide and even hidden heated pools and coves. The pool ushers in the view across the green valley below, dotted with horses grazing, to the majestic Drakensberg mountains. It looks like we’ve found another reason why we love the Southern Drakensberg. We are going to enjoy wiling away our days in these pools.
What we don’t take into account is that there is just so much to do here, and so pool soaking time will have to fit in with cycling, running, hiking, putt-putt, paintball, tennis, bowls, archery, squash, coffee-shops, sundowners, horse riding, bingo, games, exploring. It reminds me of Basil Faulty’s quip in response to the brash American tourist boasting about all they could do in a day, “Sounds exhausting!” But this is the exhausting we just love!
“The roof is still the original roof, and the buildings are all over 100 years old,” says the elderly lady taking her dogs for an early morning walk. Nicky and I have headed out for an early cycle along the beautiful gravel road that runs from the hotel towards the mountains and the Lesotho border. We’ve stopped at an old stone building that houses a store and quaint coffee shop. “You must come back later when we’re open,” she says, “our carrot cake is delicious.” Friendly locals, stunning vistas, historic buildings, and fresh air – with the promise of tasty treats – this is a stunning place.
Sunday lunch. It’s one meal that holds a special place for millions of people around the world, and today we’re going to enjoy it in this beautiful mountain paradise. The smell draws us in, as only the smell of roast beef can. Unlike many hotel restaurants Busman's Nek restaurant is intimate and cozy but with beautiful views through huge glass windows of the majestic mountains outside.
“This is how Yorkshire Pudding should be made,” I say as I sink my teeth into the puffy, crisp on the outside but airy-soft in the inside, Sunday roast delicacy. Paired with perfectly done roast beef and the full ensemble of Sunday vegetables I'm reminded why Sunday roasts have an aura of joy about them.
Josh has chosen paintball as his outing of choice for his birthday, much to the horror of some of his siblings. Just below the hotel is a stunning horse farm, which also boasts a lovely coffee shop offering everything from Oreo milkshakes to BarOne waffles. It’s here amidst the tall trees of a forest that the action unfolds.
Thud, thud, thwat.
The sound of paintballs striking the trees harmlessly, leaving a trail of blue paint running slowly down them, like the promise of pain. As I run from tree to tree letting off a volley of bullets for cover I get closer to the flag poking enticingly out from an old car discarded amongst the tall forest trees.
OK, now I know why there was some reticence about this. It’s not paintball, its painball…but fun nonetheless, as we proudly compare bruises and share stories once the paint has dried.
The hotel is putting on an evening braai on the lawn, and so we grab our meat and go and join in. The sun is setting in dramatic beauty behind broken clouds, transforming the valley below into golden green. A spectacle we enjoy sitting on a cushioned swing bench hanging between two huge oak trees. Sipping a glass of wine and watching the stunning display unfold on this grand scale again affirms why this part of the world is one of my favorites.
Hannah and Josh braai our meat and soon we are enjoying it together with pap, sauce, salad and other extras the hotel has provided. What an epic spot to end an epic day…well, it’s not quite ended.
“Come on dad,” Hannah urges. “It's warm and you'll like it.” The children have decided that night swimming is a fitting end to our day. After leaping in the cold pool they are now luxuriating in the blue ethereal glow of the heated pool. Seeing the family all floating happily in the pool I steel my resolve and decide to join them. I’m immediately enveloped in lovely warmth as I float beneath an endless dark sky stretched above. It feels like a dream…but I suppose that is what this stunning place is - a dream destination.