“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?
Pack pack…quick quick - that's the joy of timeshare - too easy. We are headed to a place we have never been before, the Magoebaskloof area…wherever that is? Leaving Hazyview we head back through Hoedspruit and then on towards Tzaneen and then to Magoebaskloof.
As we ascend the Magoebaskloof pass the weather begins to change rapidly. “Wow. Look at that. It's 19 degrees,” we say looking at the temperature gauge. Then it's 18…17…16…15…14. A thick mist hangs over everything as we drive through a transformed world. What a contrast to what we are used to.
There is an air of excitement. It feels like we are arriving in Europe. We’re staying at my cousin Susan and Don’s home, and we’ve been told to wait for them at pre-determined spot so they can lead us to their home, because “there are no signposts or road names”. Sounds interesting. We follow them in their Jeep along a gravel road, past a dam, through forests…
“My hat,” I say as we wind along, “how did they find this house?”
The mist is thick as we pass sheep roaming in the road before finally arriving at a beautiful home set above a stunning dam. We have stepped out of Africa and arrived in Scotland, made even more authentic as we sip whiskey next to a roaring log fire, while outside the mist wraps in cold wisps around the house.
Arising in the morn, in this wee bit ‘o the Scottish highlands, we ease into the day chatting over a cuppa tea while a log fire crackles warmly away in the hearth. “Let's go and look at the village,” Susan suggests, and so we leap into our cars and are soon winding our way along the misty gravel roads. Haenertsberg is a tiny little village set at the top of the Magoebaskloof pass.
The quaint little shops and pub are like a small version of Franschhoek. We wander along the street in the light mist, which creates a surreal feel, looking at the shops. “This is the cannon the Boers blew up when they were retreating from the British,” Don says as we stare at the remains of a large Long Tom cannon. There's even a small museum with more about the fascinating local history.
After our stroll we stop at the pub for some lunch before following Don on a different route back, through a lovely forest where the mist hangs like a bridal veil in between massive pine trees that reach heavenwards like silent sentinels in silky garments.
“Ask Don about the bikes.” Susan whispers to us conspiratorially. “If you don't get him moving it will be too late.” And so we raise the topic of the quad bikes - much to the glee of he children. Soon Don has taken the four bikes out of the garage and kids, Don and dog are off on a quad adventure.
After a while, the kids arrive back with coat hanger grins stuck to their faces. “This is so amazing,” they gush, “there are so many cool roads to ride on.” It's the parents turn and so Nicky and I head out. We wind our way along gravel roads, dirt tracks, through dark forests, past ponds and grazing sheep.
It's a stunning ride in beautiful surroundings. I can see why the kids enjoyed it so much.
Returning home we're in time to catch sunset over the lake and the somewhat disappointing exit of the Scottish rugby team. However, as the log fire crackles away again, I raise my glass in toast to a grand display of rugby and a beautiful country - Scotland….in South Africa!
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.
I'm attracted by the cries of excitement of the others. It means they have found food. Swooping down from high I see that they are fighting over some food on the beach. As I near the edge of the building a piece of food flies past me towards the ground. I dive down determined to catch it before it reaches the ground. Just before the food hits the ground, and the others with beaks open expectantly can anticipation grab it, I snatch it from the air, rising with a squawk of triumph.
“Wow, this feels like like Greece,” Nicky gushes as we walk the narrow cobbled alleyways between the whitewashed buildings towards our accommodation. We are staying at a timeshare at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, and the haphazard tiny streets and white buildings next to a tranquil sea remind us of our time in Greece. Langebaan, situated on the north cost of the Western Cape provides not only an idyllic place to chill, but a perfect spot to explore this fascinating area.
“It’s like being in a boat,” Joshua says as he stands on the balcony looking down at the beach. Our unit is built suspended just above the beach with the waves crashing below us. All of a sudden there is a flurry of activity amongst the seagulls on the beach below. Joshua has tossed a scrap of bread down to them. “Watch this,” he says, as he throws a piece of bread down towards the beach. “It won't touch the ground.” He’s right. A seagull comes sweeping from above and snatches the bread in midair, before banking sharply to rise again while the disconsolate seagulls below hurl abuse at it.
“Crayfish meneer? Crayfish?” a weathered looking fisherman says holding a live crayfish out towards us. Paternoster, just 45km north of Langebaan is a tiny fishing village that has become a popular tourist destination. Paternoster means "Our Father” and its old whitewashed stone houses that cluster together around the tranquil blue bay make it appear to be a “father” of towns. The beach is a riot of colours and activity caused by the brightly coloured fishing boats that have been pulled up on the sand and the customers huddled around the fresh catches that the fishermen have brought in. A lone yacht is moored in the bay that stretches out from the long white beach to the azure blue sky in the distance.
Nestled right next to the beach is a fish market where, in the busy season, the fishermen display their catches. It’s here that the best fish and chips can be bought. Leaning over those waiting to pick up their orders I shout, “Three hake and chips, please.” Through the hatch in the wall I can see a frenzy of activity as an endless procession of freshly fried fish and chips is being produced. There’s nothing that makes fish taste better than sitting on a hard wooden bench, hunched over paper-wrapped fish, surrounded by the sound of seagulls, and the smell of the sea hanging in the air.
Leaving Paternoster we drive further north to Velddrift. We arrive early for our sunset cruise, so we sit next to the Berg River and soak up the atmosphere as the boat makes final preparations to leave while the sun starts melting into the horizon bringing with it a welcome coolness to the hot day. “Hello everyone,” the captain says as we all seat ourselves on the boat. “Wil jy he dat ek in Afrikaans praat or would you prefer me to speak in English.” Thankfully there are some visitors from the UK on the boat so I won’t have my limited Afrikaans put to the test. “My name is Tollie,” he continues with a chuckle as those in the know laugh at the meaning of his name. I lean over and ask my father-in-law, who is Afrikaans, why people are laughing, and he says it has something to do with bulls losing their manhood. I ask no more. “I’ve been doing this for years,” Tollie says consoling the foreign visitors aboard, “but I am not old,” he quickly adds with a grin. “In fact I never want to be so old that I have to watch Sevende Laan,” he says referring to a South African sitcom. I nod in agreement - that would be old!
Soon we are cruising along the glassy smooth Berg river which has its source in the Franschhoek mountains, where we departed from a week ago. “This is the area to see birds,” Tollie says, as he points to a group of pelicans sitting on the edge of the water. With that there is a rush to the one side of the boat with cameras whirring. Thankfully the passengers are not super-sized so there is no serious listing of the boat. “Look there,” Tollie says moments later. And there we see a flock of beautiful flamingos. It’s like we have be transferred to South America. They stand gracefully on the edge of the river, in their iconic one-legged pose, surveying us with seeming indifference as we cruise quietly by. Their vibrant pink colours burst into life as the sun casts its final orange and red hues on them. We’ve traveled from the beach paradise of Greece to the tropical waterways of South America, and we have not left South Africa. This country truly is a world all in one!
The sun lances through the water scattering into bands of light as it sparkles off the bubbles rising from the sea bed below. With ease I slip through the rays of light, gliding above the sandy ocean floor below. The clear water and calm sea above makes swimming easy, although a slight surge causes the seaweed to dance back and forth as though in response to an unseen hand. Suddenly a dark shadow breaks the sun, and seconds later with a quick flick of my tail I dart to the side to avoid inevitable death from above. The water erupts in an explosion of bubbles as a huge beast lances through the water where, just moments before, I was swimming.
“I can’t believe this is low season,” I say as we pull up at the back of a line of 10 cars waiting to get into the Tsitsikamma National Park. “I’d hate to see what it’s like here in peak season,” I grumble as we wait for about 15 minutes in the rising heat for our turn. Once more I’m thankful for our Wild Card, it's saved us a fortune in entrance fees to national parks.
Once we’re inside it does not seem too busy as we quite easily find a parking. We unpack our picnic lunch and sit down to eat it in God's diner - endless deep blue sea stretching out to meet endless deep blue sky, wrapped together by the free audio ambiance provided by seagulls floating effortlessly on the light wind.
“Hey, look at the cool raft floating out in the sea,” Hannah says pointing to a small wooden pontoon secured about 30 meters out from shore. We’re sitting on the small Tsitsikamma beach, nested between the wooden structure that houses a shop and restaurant and the cliff that rises up next to the Storms river. “Let’s swim out to it,” Hannah suggests. With the early afternoon sun causing the temperatures to reach the low 30s, we don’t need a second invitation. The cool sea instantly washes away the heat as we swim out towards the pontoon. Pulling myself out I flop down onto its gently bobbing, warm surface. It’s like having your own private island as we watch the people back on the shore. It’s the sound of a motorboat that catches our attention, as it deep throaty roar rises in intensity as it bounds playfully out to sea. “Now that is what we need to do,” Joshua says looking on with excitement.
I’m warm now and it’s time to swim back to shore…there’s no other way off our little piece of tranquility. I stand soaking up a few more sun rays as I steel myself for the waters cool embrace. Diving in I frighten a silvery fish, that with a flick of its tail darts away looking noticeably relieved that we did not collide.
It’s not long and we have purchased tickets for the boat ride which promises to be a combination experience - some fun wave bouncing action, and a photographers dream ride, slowly up the Storms River.“You should hold on tight,” the friendly boat captain explains, as he we all put on our lifejackets and cling tightly to the seats. “We will head out to sea then turn around and return to the river. Once we are in the river you can walk around and take photos.” With that the powerful twin-engined boat roars into life and within seconds we are racing away out to sea. The sea spray whips into my face as the boat goes faster and faster, flying over waves and crashing down the other side in a spray of water and shouts of euphoria. The adrenalin induced smiles are still carved on our faces as we finally slow down to enter the mouth of the Storms river.
A hidden world of stunning beauty opens up before us, as the rusty dark water slowly makes its way between the huge cliffs that tower on either side of us. Our camera is smoking as we turn it from one stunning spectacle to another, from the grandeur of the cliffs, to the colors of the water, to the overhanging caves. It’s like a lost, quiet world in here, a stark contrast to the heart pounding, thumping noise of a few minutes ago.
With our souls satiated with beauty we turn around and a few minutes later we are once more white knuckled as we laugh with childlike glee as we bounce like riders on an untamed horse over the glassy waves, leaving a swathe of foam and memories behind us. As I step off the boat, the mixture of tranquilly and adrenalin, of beauty and adventure swirling in my mind, it seems like I’ve just enjoyed two espressos with a cream scone between them. Perfect!