The water is glassy still as I look down at it from my vantage point on top of a dead tree. It seems as if nothing is alive beneath that glassy surface, but I know different. After a few moments I catch sight of movement just below the surface and launch myself into the air before banking sharply left and diving down towards the water. In seconds my talons break through the water and sink deeply into the soft flesh of my prey. With a mighty thrust of my wings I rise quickly above the water holding my catch as droplets roll off it like silver tears. I cry out my success to my mate as I rise high into the air.
From bush to beach. From north to south. We make our way from northern KZN and the beauty of Phinda's stunning game reserve 5 hours south to a cottage we have just outside the little coastal town of Port Edward (H). And once more God, using a different brush to the one he used to paint the bush in the north, sweeps his divine hand across this area to create an equally stunning, yet vastly different vista.
Gone are the thorn trees and endless bush - before us is a mirror-still estuary, framed by twin hills covered in dense coastal forest that reaches out to kiss the white beach and sea beyond it. Gone is the rich smell of dust and fynbos replaced by the scent of tropical coastal bush blended with salt spray.
One of our goals on our trip is to not only walk Africa but to also run Africa...that means we get to explore on foot the many wonderful places we are visiting.
It's a sticky humid day, the kind of day when the sweat drips off your body with just the slightest exertion - it's summer in KwaZulu-Natal. So if you decide to go for a run, you can expect to return hot and sweaty - and that's what we do. After a few days of inactivity balanced by equally active eating we know that a run is needed to help with the restoration of body and soul. And so despite the heat, already oppressive at 8am, we set off.
Running through the small coastal town of Port Edward on the south coast of South Africa is a real treat. The road wends its way between the sea and small old style homes that have been here for years, sporting interesting signs such as "Likable Local". Soon the paved road gives way to a dirt track framed on both sides by cool, shady trees that almost touch each other above the road. Our 8km run finally ends back on the beautiful white sandy beach where it began - but now there is the added reward, the tantalizing prospect of a cooling swim.
The moods of the Indian Ocean on this south coast of South Africa are as changing and unpredictable as the moods of a male elephant - one moment calm and serene and the next wild and dangerous. Today we are rewarded with a silky smooth sea that looks like God has turned it to glass. Beautifully formed waves grow slowly and perfectly as they approach the beach, rising in grandeur before crashing down in a spray of foam as they reach the shore and roll up the sand.
We need no second invitation and quickly doff our running gear and race towards the cool, silky embrace of the sea. The chilled liquid pleasure envelopes us and instantly washes away the heat of our run. It's invigorating, exhilarating, and what is most amazing - it's just like this nearly all year round.
Port Edward and the beaches nearby are what might be termed "far from the madding crowd". Unlike the busy and popular beaches of Durban and Cape Town, Port Edward and the nearby Ramsgate Blue Flag beach are tranquil and uncrowded - especially if you come out of season. Beautiful walkways and paths wind through the coastal bush and along the beach enabling you to walk many kilometers enjoying the beauty, searching for shells or just relishing in the amazing weather. This is the place of the endless summer!
I sit on the patio of our cottage at The Estuary, and even though we have been here many times over the years, I am overwhelmed by the beauty. The tranquil estuary stretches out to the tree-dressed hill beyond. The air is tinged with the salty smell of the sea air as the early evening sun paints the sky a kaleidoscope of colours. And then I see it - Africa's most magnificent bird, the African Fish Eagle. It rises with graceful ease off a branch and plummets towards the water to grasp a fish. In seconds it is rising again crying its iconic sound - the sound of Africa, the sound of tranquility. I raise my glass of chilled Chardonnay and toast this place of endless summer and endless beauty.
I'm sitting under the cool shade of a huge oak tree while before me the beautiful berg river rushes over a weir before racing on its long journey towards the sea a couple of hundred kilometers away. A cool breeze rising from the river brings relief from the summer sun carrying with it the scent of the nearby pine forest and the shrill song of a million Christmas beetles. A flock of sheep leisurely eat the leaves from the plants on the water's edge while we await the children to return - it will be our turn soon.The river is calling. It beckons us with is cool arms to enter and experience it's adventurous, free spirit, as we ride its rapids on a tube and live the adventure. It has begun!
Just two hours west of our base camp in the leafy suburb of Cowies Hill rise the mighty uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountains. The Zulu name means "barrier of spears" as their majestic peaks stab proudly into the vast blue skies of Africa. Their Afrikaans name, Drakensberg, captures their ancient living presence - Dragon mountains.
From where we are staying at Eagles Lodge, in the aptly named Champagne Valley of the central berg, we look out at the giant peaks of Cathkin, Champagne Castle, and Sterkhorn dropping off towards the jagged crags of the Dragon's back. This beautiful barrier of spears is framed by an azure blue sky above and rolling green hills below. It's here that we will begin out AfricaTour warmup.
For 10 days we will explore the wonders and adventure of this majestic area. It's sort of a test of our Africa Tour as we see if we've packed the right things, how cleaning and cooking duties pan out (pun ;), how routine in the random works, and so on. We need to trial things before our first leg in mid Jan. And what a great place to begin.
The weather in this area of KwaZulu-Natal in summer can vary from intense heat to endless humid wet days to even a surprising hail storm or snowfall. We are blessed with the former as the berg delivers endless long blue sky summer days. The abundant rains from prior weeks have turned everything into a beautiful vista of velvet green punctuated by splashes of colour from the wild flowers that are springing up everywhere.
The mountain seems to weep as temporary runoffs drip down cliff faces. The cool shady forests that huddle around the rivers in the valleys are alive with the shrill cacophony of thousands of Christmas beetles singing their welcome of sun, summer, and fun.
It's late afternoon and the sun lances down with a lava like intensity from the sky effectively keeping everyone indoors or under shade. However while most holiday makers hide in their cool sanctuaries, we decide to head to our river swimming spot higher up in the mountains. While the sun's intensity is undiminished we bravely set out hoping the fact that it is now late afternoon will provide some respite.
Arriving at Monks Cowl we are surprised to find the parking lot nearly empty - testimony to the effectiveness of the sun's purging. However what the sheltering average person does not realise is that closer to the mountain a cooling shadow is cast by some gathering clouds. Are they the portent of a coming storm? With excitement we descend towards the river, luxuriating in the silence of a mountain all to ourselves.
Arriving at our swimming spot we are rewarded with some unexpected cooling shade as the early afternoon sun dips behind a copse of tall trees straddling the river's edge. We quickly discard our gear and leap off the high rock on the river's edge into the refreshing embrace of the crystal Berg water. In seconds all memory of the day's heat are washed away as we emerge laughing and energized. This is bliss!
After our swim in the cool river we sit drying on the large rocks on the river's edge. Here we soak in the palette of brilliant colours that compete for attention - the velvet green hills dotted with a few horses giving way to the majestic grey mountains rising to touch the deep blue sky. All the while the smell of the grass and fynbos mingle with the sweet smell of the river to rejuvenate our soul.
We head back to our car and the children decide that the weather outside is better than inside - and so perched on top of the car's roof carrier they get to ride high enjoying the view from on top as we slowly negotiate the road back home.
Back at Eagles Lodge we move our chairs outside under some shade so we can drink deeply of the stunning beauty of the early evening, and of course of the fruit of the vine too. No evening is quite complete without the soothing effects of fine wine tasting even finer in these champagne surrounds.
However the mountains many seasons are not yet complete. Out of what looks like a blue sky comes a sudden downpour, causing us to hurriedly scuttle under cover. Yet the inconvenience is far outweighed by the reward.
Minutes later as the downpour moves on further down the valley, God's hand paints a majestic double rainbow of striking beauty across the grey sky behind the house, its colours seemingly dripped from heaven itself. The rich smells of early evening intensify as the fresh aroma of the rain on the grass fills the air. It reminds us of God's blessing - for witnessing God's beauty in places like this is a blessing that words can never capture -
“Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.” (Deuteronomy 32:2)
This is our Africa Tour...let it begin in earnest!
Braai, Beer, Berg...Bliss is the the awesome foursome especially on a perfect day like this. And today we grabbed the awesomeness to the full as our last full day. I'm sure this is the ideal spot to study the space-time continuum and the warping of time, because I have undeniable proof of time compression. Yesterday was a week ago!
Being our last full day we grabbed the opportunity to cycle to our newly found swimming spot right at the end of the road...a 3km uphill cycle and walk that leave you warmed up and ready for a dip. However afterwards there is the flying home - which is what the 5 mins of downhill feels like all the way back.
The parents were heading home so we had an early braai before bidding them adieu. The warm sun enticed us to go and try out the new hotel swimming pool with slide and caves. Nicky and kids also decided to finish the experience in the Cove - a nice heated pool, but I did not fancy the idea of sharing a "bath" with others who were wallowing in it. This premonition proved valid as they shortly returned with smirks of a near miss on their faces. Their hasty retreat had been initiated by some young kid saying to another "now you make me weewee"...Eish!
We topped off our day with a final hike up to Mushroom Rock for sundowners and a moment to be mesmerized by the beauty of God's divine tapestry. Wow!
We're looking at the most majestic Rhino, while experiencing Hippo and there is not an animal in sight. And that is why this possibly the most spectacular place on earth!
We're at Drakensberg Gardens in KwaZulu-Natal's southern Berg, staying at the amazing Fairways timeshare. I consider this the unbeatable holiday destination.
The ever present vista of the majestic Drakensberg mountains dominated by the iconic Rhino Peak, satiates your visual sense. A stunning walk along the river and into the mountains, a swim in the invigorating, crystal clear Hippo pool, restores even the weariest soul.
The smell of log fires, pine forests, and champagne air, which are the defining scent of this paradise, fills your lungs and your heart to bursting.
The gurgling sound of the peppermint colored water mingled with the the melodic song of doves, occasionally punctuated by the guttural call of a troop of baboons, reaches deep into your very being.
It's upon this divine tapestry that we are blessed to be a single thread woven by God's hand. A thread that is woven into a tapestry so amazing we can hardly comprehend it. It's only when we stop for just a moment that we realise the true wonder of what we have been blessed with!
This is Africa. This is South Africa. This is the mighty Drakensberg. This is perfect. This is a Gift!
It's the warm up before the big trip, 5 days away to the Berg. Sort of a "practice this travel thing".
The guiding tenets and purpose of our trip are threefold:
"Through our travels around Southern Africa (and beyond) we want to:
- experience beautiful places,
- touch and be touched by people's lives
- grow in knowledge and love."
So part 1 of this is to "experience" and that means not driving like a possessed chihuahua intent simply on the destination, but rather to enjoy the journey
And so in good beginner form we stopped off at Puckety Farm in Underberg en route to our first destination, Fairways (Drakensberg Gardens).
Puckety Farm is the origin of some of our guinea pigs, back in the day. And true to form the farm has a pod of pigs with cute tiny ones too. Of course this resulted in a chorus of demands for adoption which so far have been resisted, but a further battle looms on the horizon as we return later in the week past this very spot.
We strolled up to their farm store that sells all sorts of tasty things including a fresh batch of definitely non-Banting, hot farm bread. Who can resist! After browsing the delicacies for a while we were hit with our first African surprise - An Honesty Payment system.
There is no one in attendance in the shop, just a container to put money in, a credit card machine, and a book to record purchases in. Imagine a world that could operate like this. Honestly, fantastic! Here's to Puckety, their guineas, bread and belief in people!