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?
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!
I love Cape Town but not the traffic. The solution is the hop-on, hop-off, City Sightseeing Red Bus, and we've got tickets for the family to explore for the day. “Welcome on board,” beams Eric the bus driver as we step on board. We've boarded the bus at Sea Point, close to where we are staying.
The bus makes its way along the Sea Point promenade. The sun is poking out after an evening of cold rain. It's fortunate, because this experience is best seated on the top level of the bus in the open air section. “Hey Josh,” says Hannah leaning over, “there's a kids' channel.” I plug my headphones in and see they have, besides English and a whole lot of languages, a dedicated kids' channel. It's actually very vibey and I'm listening to it enjoying the banjo and “Daar kom did Alibama oor die see”. I'm feeling young...I'm looking forward to this adventure.
We arrive at the Waterfront which is where all the adventures begin and end, although you can leap on and off at will. We've decided to do the blue Peninsula tour but with a stop to do the yellow downtown tour. We love inner city experiences especially in vibey Cape Town.
The kids have their headsets plugged in, tuned to the kid channel awaiting our departure. Maybe I should “grow up” and hear what the adult channel has to say.
We've driven thousands of kilometers on our travels this year around South Africa, so there is something particularly relaxing to just sit on an open air bus while around us cars hoot and jostle for position.
As we sit atop the bus I'm grateful for my warm jacket as the winter air is fresh but invigorating. As we weave through the city we are fed a constant stream of fascinating information from the audio feed. "Look up," the commentary says, "at about the same height as the bus you will see a balcony." Like obedient robots everyone turns and looks up. "It was from this balcony that Nelson Mandela first addressed the nation of South Africa after his release." Wow, it's so cool to drive past places which were momentous occasions in the birth of our new country.
“District 6 was the birth place of Cape Town's colorful carnival,” says the dude in my ear as once again the strains of “Daar kom die Alibama” play to make the point. There is no carnival on at the moment, but a colorful array of people, from tourists to locals, fill the streets around here. It's testimony to transformation where tourist and locals mingle together in the streets.
“This wine farm has the best views and the most modern wine tasting area,” says one of the bus operators as we arrive at the wine loop. Of course you have to do the wine loop - it's Cape Town. And so we hop off at Beau Constantia. It's a short stroll from the bus stop and soon we are seated in a glass enclosed tasting room perched high above the beautiful vineyards. The sun streams into our glass sanctuary warming us as we soak it and the ambiance in.
“This sushi is delicious!” Nicky exclaims. And it is delicious. We love sushi but this warm crispy sushi on a cold day blended with a glass of award-winning wine is just what we need to satiate our lunch needs. The only issue is that we won't be buying any because the prices seem to match the area...fancy!
After Beau Constantia we continue on to Hout Bay and decide to get off here for the requisite dose of fish smell and real harbor experience. Some locals have charmed a large seal out onto the pier with fish snacks. For a few rands tourists get to take photos and have a chat with the seal. Net in Suid Afrika (only in South Africa) #ilovesouthafrica
After strolling around for a while and eating some fish-tasting “slap tjips” the bus arrives, always like clockwork, on time. It's the homeward journey now and the bus turns around at Snoekies factory...there's no doubt what they sell here as all the kids - land lubbers they all are - cover their noses to mask the smell. It's our trip back now along the beautiful Atlantic seaboard towards our end point, Sea Point.
The sun is rapidly heading towards its seaward destination and is bathing the mountain in a warm light as we travel along the bottom of the magnificent Twelve Apostles range. It's truly beautiful, and I'm almost dizzy from deciding whether to look right at the majestic mountains or left at the sun-tinted sea.
Finally with the song, from the kids audio channel, “the tourists on the bus go click, click, click...” playing over and over in my head, we get off the bus. We certainly have gone “click, click, click” as we tried to capture some of the stunning and different scenes we saw on our trip. We're just in time to watch the majestic sunset back at our apartment, with a glass of wine in hand and some more...click, click, click.
“Welcome Mr and Mrs Blewett,” say both Nicole and another person in stereo as we sit in the plush chairs at the check-in of the Twelve Apostles hotel. They apologize for the stereo welcome, but I chuckle at their enthusiasm, it's a good sign for our timeout night of escape from the kids. Soon we are sitting sipping a welcome sparkling wine while Nicole checks us in.
Entering the Twelve Apostles hotel, named after the magnificent peaks that rise behind it, that border the majestic Table mountain range, is like being transported to another world. “It's a long story,” says Nicole in reply to our question as to how they got this spot. “The hotel began as a hunting lodge, was once an advertising agency, and various other twists and turns on its journey to what it is today.” This hotel really is one of a kind, and sitting on the side of one of the world's natural seven wonders on one side and the beautiful sea on the other is a story that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
After our check-in, Nicole chatting with us like long lost friends, shows us around this amazing boutique hotel on the way to our room. I'm already wishing we were staying here for longer. “I wonder if the kids would miss us if we stayed two nights?” I muse.
“Wow!” is the first word out my mouth as we are ushered into our room. A luxurious room filled with tranquil music, fresh orchids, chilled wine and a stunning view of the sea opens before us. Our bedroom draws in the sea through a large opening that looks across the inviting lounge...where the fresh fruit, snacks and chilled wine beckon...to the sea beyond.
After soaking up the ambiance for a while, we decide to go and check out the Leopard bar before dinner. We saw it on our guided tour en route to our room. A warm chatty vibe draws us in on this cold evening. Soon we are seated beside a roaring log fire and beneath slowly turning fans, reminiscent of a bygone colonial era, waving lazily above us.
“I'm part of the family,” Nsikelelo our waiter says as we engage him in conversation after he delivers our draft beers and a tasty snack selection of nuts and olives. We have asked him how long he has been here and we can see from his beaming face that he genuinely enjoys his job. There is something about a hotel where the staff are happy that transcends good service. It's seen in their natural and relaxed conversation and the obvious pride in where they work.
What particularly strikes me about this hotel is not just the friendliness and professionalism, but something else. I can't quite put my finger on it yet.
“We'd better go to dinner if we want to make our movie,” Nicky says. Wow, I can't believe it's already time for dinner. Time seems to compress here. We walk into the Azure restaurant and are seated at our corner table. Soft music, low light and happily chatting diners fill the ambiance.
We have booked in for their special three-course dinner and movie special. Jabu our waitress explains how the menu has two styles of food from two chefs. Bea Tollman’s dishes - the owner of this hotel, has designed some delicious traditional meals like chicken noodle soup and prawn stroganoff, which sound particularly tasty on a cold winter's evening, while executive chef Christo Pretorius does a range of European taste sensations. We choose one from both.
“Here is your goat cheese mousse with passion fruit,” says another beaming waiter who looks as proud as though he were the chef. Wow! If that's what they call the palette awakener then my taste buds are now certainly waiting in eager anticipation for the meal.
However, it's not just yet. A selection of corn bread, seed bread...even a Banting option with Salmon pate arrives. “It's all too tasty for words,” says Nicky as she reaches for more. I don't bother wasting time on commentary I'm trying convince my mouth to calm down and not gobble this taste sensation too quickly.
“For me food is about the experience,” we overhear a nearby diner saying to her friend who seem to be here for a birthday celebration. I couldn't agree more. And this meal is certainly becoming a sensual experience on so many levels. My taste buds are going crazy and our starters haven't even arrived!
“This is a crazy delicious,” taste I say as I try and make sense of the explosion of flavors in my Baby Calamari Risotto. The crispy tentacles balance the succulent roast calamari, while cauliflower, barley and sultana purée compete in a dance of precision for my attention. We should quit now while our taste buds are in heaven. But we can't. What's next?
“I'm bringing you 'Table mountain in the morning',” says Jabu as she delivers our palette cleanser. I stare confusedly at her. All of a sudden our berry sorbet palette cleansers are covered in a silky plume of soft smoke as a smoking table mountainesque scene, a magic combo of dry ice and water, creates a surreal effect on our table. Ok now I really should quit. This is not only a taste sensation but a visual splendor too.
Our main meal arrives. I'm almost nervous. Prawn Stroganoff. My poor tastebuds are already needing Ritalin to calm them down. They're behaving like ADHD kids in excited anticipation. The stroganoff is...I can't use words here. You are going to have to taste it because words will not capture this taste. All I can say is now my tastebuds are now really hyper!
“Wow Jabu you're busy tonight,” I say as I've watched her go from table to table with the same passion and enthusiasm. We chat briefly and she shares her story. Her rise from being unemployed to today working in this world-class restaurant and her vision to rise to the top. “Some of the regulars ask for me she says,” beaming with obvious pride, “and so sometimes I have to handle extra tables.” I can see why they ask for her. She loves what she does, and it shows.
It looks like one of those long thin perfect pools that you see at luxury resorts for the fitness fanatics to swim lengths in. But this is not designed for a swimmer but for the tongue. It's the most amazing creme brûlée severed in a long thin bowl and my tastebuds are now swimming hyperactive lengths.
Besides the beauty of this setting, what originally drew us to the hotel was the experience. There are many great restaurants. Great hotels. Yet for us we love an experience. That’s what our journey has always been about. And so when looking for a special place to spend the evening we were attracted by the “Overnight Dinner and a Movie” combo. I have a vision of sitting in an intimate movie theater after a lovely meal. And so with the meal done its now movie time. “Milkshake or hot chocolate for the movie?”Jabu asks. Before my overindulged tastebuds can respond by requesting both I order the hot chocolate.
We're seated in the conservatory sipping hot chocolate and snacking on a tub of popcorn which arrived, just in case we are still hungry, while enjoying an old Tom Hanks movie. I'm not sure how my body is taking all this in. But there's no stopping now. I'm sinking into the soft couch. My eyes are slowly closing. Thankfully my bed is close by. For now it's just Tom, hot chocolate and the prospect of pure bliss.
Finally as the soft sheets and feather pillows draw me back to our room I realize what the “something else” is about this hotel. “It's their stories!” Jabu's story, Nicole's story, Nsikelelo's story. Our fellow diner’s story. Even the hotel's own fascinating story. It's an intersecting of lives and stories, tastes and experiences that has made this such an authentic and special place. Maybe it is fitly named after the twelve apostles about whom such great stories were once written. One thing is certain, we’ve just written a single entry in our story here. I’ve heard about a dinner and star gazing…now that sounds like another experience waiting to become a story.
Pizza, vino, cappuccino, deez are da things that make life worth living. As I cross the road I see someone looking at the menu. “Ciao,” I say. “We have the best pizzas in the world.” The girl, she looks at me and smiles. I think she will be back. I watch as she walks away. Yes, pizza, vino and cappuccino, they are the things that we live for.
After leaving the network of dirt tracks in Mozambique we return to South Africa. It's like chalk and cheese, sand and tar, wild and calm. It's been fun but it's good to cruise on a paved road with signs and lines and modern things. Yet it's short lived as we turn off on our way towards Sodwana. The route hugs Lake Sibaya, and just like in Mozi, it is mainly thick sand and undulations, winding through dense coastal forests. It's beautiful seeing glimpses of this magnificent Lake Sibaya, but I'm giving the driving full concentration as once or twice Pajey fights furiously to get through the thick sand. Getting stuck out here would be a problem - there is no cell signal, no humans that we've seen. Years later, all that would be discovered would be our remains picked clean by hippos. However, finally after about two hours we arrive at Sodwana Bay Lodge.
We awake and are ready for action. Today we are headed to Mkuze Game Park. Our first stop on route to Mkuze is the Spar at Mbazwane. We've had to adapt to a new style of shopping as we move off the grid, and shop where Africa shops. The shop cuisine sports everything from bulk packs of chicken claws to 50kg bags of mealie meal - enough to feed a small nation for a week. No suhsi in sight....Aah, for a taste of sushi. Actually just chicken that no longer looks like a recently departed chicken would be good.
We make our way along a bumpy dirt road that occasionally gives way to what appears to be the distant memory of a tar road before giving up completely and returning to gravel again. Added to this are the bonus points for dodging cows, goats, and equally non-intelligent pedestrians.
Eventually, we arrive at the Mkuze gate, flash our Rhino card, fill in endless, pointless forms, as though this is a border crossing, and are finally admitted. By this stage we are feeling peckish - it must be the lingering memory of chicken claws. We head to a lake-side picnic spot arriving just after noon having not seen another car or human on route here. It's wonderful having this game park all to ourselves. Soon we've set up our table, poured our chilled wine, and are smelling the wors braaing as we listen to the hiss of our promised meal mingling with the nearby sound of snorting hippos and the distant cry of a fish eagle. It truly is incredible to be just 20 meters away from these magnificent animals while enjoying fine food.
Sodwana Run & Snorkel
'Tis always a joy for the children to be awoken with the news “We're heading out for a run in 10 minutes”. But such is the lot that does on occasion fall upon them, as it is on this fine morn. With Hannah's mumbles muted due to a restraining order already imposed, we head out, and what a rave run it is…for us at least. We run the gently undulating road towards Sodwana beach but are forced to turn at 2.5km as some of the less running inclined kids deem this far enough.
The deep blue sea is calling us and today we will venture into it. We've booked a snorkeling adventure. “It's women and children first,” says the guy who is going to lead our dive as we get ready to launch. “And then when you are waist deep the rest can get in the boat.” So much for equality. Clinging white-knuckled to the side of the boat as the waves roll in I await the call to “abandon sea” hoping it will come before the waves swamp me or the boat propeller slices me into biltong pieces.
Getting out to sea in the rubber duck is like driving on a badly potholed road, which resonates with our driving experience in this area. We bump along the coast for about 20 minutes finding nothing more than a shoal of hyperactive tuna leaping through the waves. Aah, sushi...so close yet so far.
“This is the reef,” the dive master says once we give up on the elusive dolphins, “follow me,” he says leaping overboard into the big wide ocean. Reef? This looks like the great wide open sea. An ideal place for sharks to suck on turtle-looking snorkellers.
In moments we are all bobbing in the ocean like a flock of colorful jellyfish. Putting my face down a hidden world of visual splendor erupts into view. Floating high above the reef far below, I see schools of colorful fish dance and dart to the crackling sound of the coral. The scene is stunning as we “fly” over this hidden world and get a glimpse into the unseen.
Returning to the boat after about 30 minutes I find Hannah and Josh already there having succumbed to the ocean's kiss - nausea. Clinging onto the boat we bounce our way back and before long are showered and warming, like contented lizards, in the sun.
In the evening we attend the local church, Solid Ground, that takes place in a home. We are warmly welcomed and enjoy the worship and the powerful message ahout hearing God - something I really need as the fear of the upcoming Comrades marathon settles upon me! Should I run it this year? It's number 10...but this was going to be the year off. Decisions...
Across the road from the church is an Italian pizza restaurant claiming to be the best in the world. We met the proprietor yesterday and he is Italian both in accent and enthusiastic spirit. The restaurant is just a caravan nestled on the side of the road with a few tables planted in the sand. Candles on the table and stars above create a truly remarkable ambiance as jovial music pumps out of a pair of small speakers coming out of the caravan kitchen.
The thin based pizzas are delicious and we wash them down with the wine served in paper coca cola cups. “It's an epic way to end an amazing stay at Sodwana,” I think to myself as we walk the kilometer or so back to our chalet. Africa just keeps on serving up the best in tastes, sights, experiences and people. Nkosi Sikilele Africa.
It should not be long now. Thankfully it’s winter and the sun is not too hot, but still while standing on the side of the road waiting droplets of sweat begin to bead on my head. A few vehicles pass, fishtailing as they drag themselves through the thick sand. Not long now. A car passes, and then I see it. This is the one. It bounces over the bumps in the sandy track, each bump causing it to leap higher. Surely now. And then the vehicle slows and stops. Yes…we've got one. Moments later it tries to pull off, but its wheels spin in the thick sand. In seconds it sinks deeper and deeper. Yes, we've got one!
First there is the sound of breaking glass and then moments later the air is filled with the smell of wine. “I smell wine,” Sarah says. And soon we are all in agreement. There is no doubt that there is a wine smell in the air, but there's nothing we can do about it at the moment. “I can't stop here,” I say as the back seat drivers suggest I pull over. “The sand is too thick and the dense forest leaves no room to pull over.”
We are on our first adventure as part of our year long travels, out of South Africa. We are headed to a remote town not far from Ponta d'Ora in Mozambique. Crossing the border is always a fun experience. Leaving South Africa is relatively simple. It's now getting through the Mozambique side that is the challenge. We've driven from St Lucia, the secret gem of KZNs north coast and are headed up to Ponta Molangane. After beaming friendly smiles at the Mozambiquen border officials, paying our R220 for some third party insurance and answering, “about 3 bottles of wine” to the inquisitive border guard, we are on our way.
“Insane” is probably the best word to describe the change in road condition from leaving South Africa to entering Mozambique on its eastern edge. A single smooth, freshly tarred road delivered us up to the SA border post. Thick, sandy roads splitting into an inexplicable number of branching tracks explode in every direction before us. Our instructions from the accommodation we're staying say “the route...is a sandy track with little signage.” This is code for “thick beach sand tracks with no signposts”. Who would expect signs on “national roads”? The instructions encouragingly continue...“the road splits in three directions...choose the middle one” - OK, got that, we take the middle fork. However the instructions then become vague... “the road has multiple forks” code for hundreds of forks, “...don't get too anxious...they will all eventually meet up.” Are you serious? As we drive, every few minutes we're suddenly presented with a random split - left or right? Braking or slowing down in the thick sand is not a good idea so I just pick at random and go, and sometimes despite the instructions' reassurance, the tracks don't meet up as we arrive at some lone hut. Obviously this fork is a “driveway” which is inconsiderately unsignposted.
We've arrived in real Africa. This is the Africa of the movies where one expects to see herds of elephant at any moment as open grasslands and cosps of trees frame our sandy 4x4 track. It's as we're bouncing over some mini sand dunes through a thick indigenous coastal forest that we hear the wine bottles clink once again in the back of the car as they are airborne for a moment. And this time the clink is followed by the unmistakable bouquet of an unwooded Chardonnay...or is it the grassy scent of Savingnon...or is it a blend of all our wine we're smelling?
We have to wait until we exit the forest before I can pull over. These sandy national roads are of course two way roads, despite the fact that there is just enough room for a single car. We've already met an oncoming 4x4 sand ploughing a spray of dust in front of him as he slammed on brakes to stop in time.
Leaping out, it is with mounting trepidation that we carefully open the back of Pajey. Will we be in forced sobriety and sipping water for our sundowners for the next three nights or has some of our wine survived? Wine is dripping down the back of the car and reaching an ignoble end in the thick sand. “They're all broken,” Nicky declares as she gently lowers the now sodden box onto the sandy road. I swoon slightly. It must be the 30c heat not the recent news. However on further inspection its discovered the news is not as dire as first proclaimed. In fact what has happened is that our customs declaration has been implemented. “About 3 bottles of wine” is now correct. It seems there were four but now there are three. At least everything is above board.
With the fruity smell of a dearly departed Chardonnay, unwooded I think, filling the car, we continue bouncing, sliding, and guessing our way to our destination. Amazingly all roads do finally lead to Ponta Molangane and we arrive. Paradise unfurls before us.
The glass doors that welcome us into the accommodation at Baleia Azul that we're sharing with the two other families ushers us into the most spectacular view. A deck stretches out before us to a suspended pool and the unobstructed view of the endless sea beyond. It's stunning. The ride here, the adventure makes this worth it. What adventures await us here, in real Africa.
“Come on everyone, we're leaving.” There's a mad early morning scurry as everyone heads to the 4x4s. It's only about a 45 minute trip along the non-existent Mozambique roads to Ponta d'Ora. We've booked a dolphin adventure. The plan...leap onto boats, find dolphins, swim with them, be amazed. The ride to Ponta is fun as usual, as we bounce along thick sandy tracks, but we arrive unscathed. We find the Dlophin place and are soon seated wathcing a video on what we can expect. The excitement is mounting...but just before the video ends, our hopes are dashed. Someone appears and tells us that the trips are cancelled as the conditions are not good. I'm not sure if its a collective sigh of relief or disappointment, as the sea was looking a little turbulent. Either way, the action's off, and so we settle for a stroll around the town. This is Africa of the movies. Shops line a the dirt roads where vendors sell their wares. One vendor has taken up residence in a burnt down building while across the road a modern looking shop competes for attention. It's such an eccelctic mix you can't help but be drawn into the beauty and charm of the place.
“Let's head back and grab a snack at Sunset Shack,” someone suggests, as the shopping spirit dwindles. We all leap into our cars - three 4x4s in covoy and head out of Ponta. And that's when the fun starts. The car behind me suddenly seems to vanish, and so I back up to see what's happened. “Can anyone see John,” I say referring to the ML that is number two in the convoy. “There he is,” Hannah says. And there he is indeed. Belly deep in the thick sand. “Don't worry John, I'm here to rescue you.” My moment of pride is finally here. Soon I've attached a tow rope to John's beleagured ML and Pajey is ready to show his grit. Alas it does not work out as planned. Pajey, with the added weight attached to him, struggles to move. In moments the glory-to-be evaporates and Pajey...well, Pajey is belly deep in the thick sand too. Two vehicles stuck. So much for the gallant steed to the rescue.
Thankfully some locals are standing on the side of the road, amazingly with spades in hand, ready to dig us out. It's amazing their foresight, that they would be at this spot, ready and waiting with spades in hand. An hour later...lots of digging, burning clutch and money changing hands and we are all on our way again. Well, the lesson is, "this is Africa"stunn. She eats cars without a second thought. “But, the adventure is amazing,” I think to myself, as we stop at a roadside pub...OK, not a pub but a shack on the side of the road that sells R&Rs - Mozambique's iconic Rum and Rasberry drink - horribly sweet, but amazing as you sit with your feet in the sand watching the sun dip into the horizon. This is Africa, is so unique...there's nothing quite like it!
The cool of the water makes me want to stay underneath for longer, but I must come up to get some air. I rise slowly. As my head breaks the water I exhale sending a fine spray of water into the air. Not far from where I am I can see a lot of activity. Its humans. At first I am not sure what they're doing, and then I see. They're running. Something must be chasing them...but I'm not really interested. I sink below the cool water once again, savouring it's cool embrace.
A gentle breeze wraps languidly around me as drops of condensation distill on the glass of Sauvignon Blanc I'm holding. It's 30c but the light breeze and the deep shade of the huge African Fig tree under which we're seated makes this a perfect spot for our picnic. Before us stretches wide open grasslands dotted with clumps of trees. A herd of giraffe look quizzically at us as we settle down for our picnic. “This has to be one of the world's best picnic spots,” I think to myself as I sit soaking in the surreal vista before me.
We're in the iSimangiliso St Lucia Park. We've found an amazing spot to have a picnic and soak in all that is amazing about Africa. We have it all to ourselves. A lone warthog scuttles with its aerial-like tail held high towards the dwindling water in the pan.
The salty biltong and blue cheese stuffed olives are a perfect complement to our wine. The weave of the animals grazing, the soft caress of the wind, the symphony of the birds, the taste of fresh rolls layered with ham, basil and tomato makes this an almost indescribable experience. How do you describe this feeling? How do you put into words the exhilaration, the joy, the peace of an experience like this? It can't be described. It must be lived. They say TIA - “This Is Africa” - and they're right. In the distance the fish eagle cries out her agreement as she rises gracefully on the late afternoon thermals. This is Africa and it's beautiful. It's life-changing. It's real. It's unequalled. Hannah and Josh climb an ancient tree framing out view and sit on its long, stretching, thick branch. Their vantage point gives them an unobstructed view of the open planes before them and the slowly moving herd of giraffe as they head off.
As we drive out of the park the sun begins to descend towards the tree fringed horizon. We can't miss it. It's too beautiful to let it go uncelebrated. Leaving the park we head straight to Sunset Jetty, which adjoins the estuary. The sun is just melting over the horizon, painting the estuary a fiery glow of orange.
“It's so early,” one of the kids complains, as we wake up at 7am on Sunday morning. They are sure out of the early morning school routine if this feels early. But we're all getting up. “Come on guys,” I say, “we are not going to be late.” Thirty minutes later we are headed out and down to the St Lucia Skiboat club where the action begins. Today we're running. Hannah and Josh are doing the 5km fun run. Sarah is doing the 10km run. Nicky and I are doing the 21km - a final fun trainer before Comrades. And what a run it turns out to be. It goes through thick coastal forest, along the main road of St Lucia, next to the game park and finally along the beach front and the boardwalk. What an epic run. We finally all meet up back at the club, and with the music pumping, the announcer welcoming back runners, we enjoy a beer and toasted sandwich. In the river a large hippo breaks the surface of the water, and exhales loudly sending a fine spray of water into the air. It floats for a moment, seemingly looking at us and thinking, “Crazy dudes...you don't get a figure like mine by running like that!” It sinks below the water.
“This place is infested with hippos,” I say loving the fact that there are just so many. I don’t realise just how many there are. As evening settles upon the tiny town of St Lucia we are given the Eskom treat…darkness. We decide to take a walk down the main street and look at some of the shops that are still open, and have power. “Hey,” Nicky suggests, “why don’t we walk back on the back streets as it will be darker and we can see the stars.” We all agree. It is dark, and the only tourch I have is my cellphone which I point at the road, not so much for the potential of tripping over something, but because hippos roam freely in St Lucia at night. However the small torch does little to pierce the thick darkness.
Just up ahead the road passes a park and opposite that is the entrance to our timeshare. We stop for a moment to appreciate the stars, and are about to move on when Eskom decides to return the light like some benevolent utility provider. But on this occasion their benevolence is appreciated. Just across the road in the park, three large hippo are grazing, just meters away from where we would have been if we had continued to walk. Hannah yelps and runs for safety into a nearby driveway, while we all back away. Wow. This really is a hippo infested place. You just have to love it.
The next night, as we are enjoying an evening coffee and cake at one of the restaurants, we see a hippo come trotting up the main road. This is a crazy place. “Dad,” Josh says, “let’s go hipp spotting.” Yeah, why not…and so we pile into Pajey and drive the streets of St Lucia. It’s pitch dark as we enter a car park that borders the estuary. Joshua is shining the torch out the window. In moments a huge dark form is illuminated…and then another, and another. A pod of hippos is grazing contentedly next to the car park. Carefully we all slip out of the car in the ink-black night, and clamber onto the roof. Above us a million stars have been sprayed across the sky. The night is still. The only sound is the rustle of something large, and the sound of grass being eaten as the hippos graze contentedly. Wow. What a place. Where else in the world could you feel so alone yet so close to such amazing animals. Wow.
In an earlier post I shared our 8-hour adventure with, led by Caine our guide, to see one of apparently only two waterfalls in Africa that plunge directly into the sea (the other thousands of kilometers north). However what he shows us is not what we expect at all, it blows us away, as we explore the unsigned, unnamed, and unexpected places of the Wild Coast of South Africa. Click here to read about this adventure and our surprising discovery...or join us on a short video experience by watching the video below.
If you did not read the blog on our experience of the Shipwreck Trail, because words are too exhausting in our modern visual age, then below is a video experience of the 6 day trail. Come along and join the experience from crackling fires, to beautiful beach walks, to outdoor toilets, to blasting rain...it's all here...