Our bathing bird from earlier, now catching some sun. Isn’t it just adorable?
Our bathing bird from earlier, now catching some sun. Isn’t it just adorable?
Have you ever sat and watched a bird take a bath? The vigour and enthusiasm takes me back to playing as a child, especially when mom asked you not to get dirty!
Having travelled South Africa with a camera for many years, I thought I had become fairly proficient at expressing the incredible beauty that we are so fortunate to find on our soil, until I recently came across a group of local landscape artists hanging out on Google+ ( nightjar.travel/1e7MTXh ) and I was so blown away by the obvious passion in these artworks that I simply had to share them. I think many of us will feel an instant connection and intimacy with the scenes these artists depict.
I was lucky enough to get into contact with Malcolm Dewey, who agreed to share some of the stories behind the paintings with us. Over the week we’ll share some of his Karoo scenes here.
Timeless Karoo (oil) by Malcolm Dewey www.malcolmdeweyfineart.com
This typical Karoo farm road is between Nieu Bethesda and Richmond. Stunning vistas and silence.
This weekend, I ate take-away sushi in a grungy Cape Town bar, and not only did I survive, but it actually wash’t half bad!
Okay, I’m abusing my artistic license here... but you’re still reading so I won’t apologise. What really happened was that I found a lady selling Onigiri, or Asian Sandwiches as the business card says, and after initially battling to understand what she was selling, my curiosity got the best of me and I tried one.
And, as I said, it was actually quite nice. I like my sushi to have that crisp dry seaweed wrapping on the outside, and this was a similar taste experience. I’m not a foodie so I won’t go into more detail, but this unusual food certainly had me tickled.
For more info, check out www.onigiri.co.za
Checking the calendar this week, I saw that the first mini-FEAT is imminent, and it brought back fond memories of attending the 2013 FEAT event in Jo’burg last month. I’ve been to numerous entertaining events in my life, and although FEAT was high up on the list, it was not the entertainment factor that made it stand out for me. You see, I brought something home with me that night, and it has been growing inside me for the last month…
But before I satisfy your curiosity, allow me to briefly explain what FEAT is all about. Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks, organised by the very passionate Lisa de Speville, is an evening of time-limited talks by adventurers where they focus on a particular aspect or theme of their expedition. Each talk is exactly and strictly seven minutes long, with image slides to accompany it. The short format allows the audience to experience several completely different adventures in one evening in an interesting way, so even if, for example rock climbing isn't your thing, there would be plenty more to entertain you.
Now with my involvement in Nightjar Travel, I've had a bit of exposure to adventurers in the past, and they have all been very impressive people... but more than that, I've looked at what they've accomplished, and all the excitement their expeditions have generated, and been slightly intimidated by these awesome individuals. This is not necessarily a bad thing - it is always worth having a few people to admire - but it did leave me with the subtle perception that hardcore adventure was for other, more formidable people than myself.
However, at FEAT, I noticed something else. Yes, granted, some of the speakers were stereotypical adventurers - youthful, tough looking, etc - but at least every second talk, someone would get onstage and they looked like me or you. Just another person who went about their day, and then decided to do something different, something more… so they got up and did it. Don’t get me wrong, their achievements are still no mean feat (I tried, but the pun was inevitable), and there were certainly hardships to be overcome and sacrifices to be made, and I admire each and every single one of them. However, when one of them patted his belly and said “I must admit, this was smaller while we were training”, I looked down at my own belly and thought, “Huh.”
There was another factor that took a while for me to notice, and that was the unusually high level of audience involvement. Even the best hypnotist would have struggled to have that many people say “Awww” as someone on stage expressed a setback on their journey, or cheer as the speaker said they finally succeeded. Listening to the small talk after the event, I realised that most of the people in attendance had some or other pretty cool story under their belts, and this was far more of a community than just an audience here for the show.
It took a week or so for that “Huh.” to turn into anything, but sitting at my desk, replaying my favourite moments from the talks (and boy, did we laugh!) I remembered everyone receiving a postcard, and being told to write their planned adventure for the year on it. Lisa would then mail the postcard to you at a later date, to remind you not to forget your goal. I thought it was a nice idea, but did not fill in my own card, and someone told me I would regret that… and suddenly it all came together. I’ve been in all 9 provinces this year, and I’ve seen fantastic things, but I spent the whole year feeling like I could do more. And having now seen the ‘holiday photos’ of such beguilingly innocent-looking folks, I realised that a wild adventure is not such a difficult thing, if you put your mind to it.
I haven’t chosen the adventure yet (and you are more than welcome to make suggestions) but I have shaved a minute from my 5K time in the last month, and grown an adventurer’s beard. I’ll figure out what I’m getting ready for soon enough, but FEAT made me realise that instead of just day dreaming, I really could.
By now you’ll have noticed that I haven’t gone into any detail about the adventures that were presented on stage, and this is by choice - the talks were all so good that I would much rather encourage you to watch one or two or all of the seven-minute clips when they are released (I will post it in the blog). In the meantime, you can check out videos of past events on the FEAT website.
As you may have gathered from the image, there are also related events coming up. The mini-FEAT events are a new concept where a 7-minute opening act is followed by an hour-long talk by a renowned visiting adventurer. The November visitor is the famed author and mountaineer, Stephen Venables. Do check out the FEAT site if you are interested.
It always tickles me to sit in a Mugg&Bean and chat to one of our Nightjar Adventurer contenders. With their friendly natures, it is hard to imagine their smiling faces battling the elements, facing all sorts of adversity that harken back to the golden era of exploration… Particularly so when you’re speaking to Kai Fitchen, winner of the Readers’ Choice, with his youthful enthusiasm as he recounts the ups and downs of finding sponsorship over a cappuccino. It is easier to picture him wooing the ladies at University than on a mountain. Fortunately, he brought some more photographic evidence to remind me of why he had been nominated last year!
As it turns out, Kai is only months away from embarking on his next crazy adventure, and I listened in awe as he described the challenges he would face. He will be sailing to Rio in one of the world’s most iconic yacht races, then surviving the harsh terrain of Patagonia, the high Andes and the Atacama Desert. My immediate question was, ‘How do you prepare for such a diverse set of challenges?’
Kai’s answer would do us all proud – as it turns out, South Africa has such a diverse natural heritage that he has found many adequate training grounds right here. He’s even done his snow training locally! Of course, we’ll be detailing his next adventure in the Nightjar Travel blog, but if you want to dig a bit deeper then check out his site http://www.mykape.com/kape-2-atacama-2014/
Kai Fitchen won Readers’ Choice in Nightjar Adventurer 2013. To nominate someone for the 2014 awards, go to http://www.nightjartravel.com/nightjar-adventurer-2014
Today in the mag, we featured Vertical Kilometer races. In a nutshell, these events require you to run up a mountain. As it turns out, this isn't the only gruelling (read, crazy) thing that trail runners like to do. I've just received a press release about South Africa's first SkyMarathon.
So what's a SkyMarathon?? The goal is to 'run where earth and sky meet' – to qualify, the event has to exceed an altitude of 2000m, with enduring inclines exceeding 30% with climbing difficulties of less than 11 degrees. South Africa's first event sanctioned by the South African Skyrunning Association (SASA) will be the Matroosberg Trail Challenge (MTC). The MTC will take place on Oct. 26, and there will be some big names on the line, such as AJ Calitz, Nic de Beer, Ake Fagereng and Charl Soumer! Top female competitors will also feature, such as Robin Kime, Linda Doke, Annemien Ganzevoort and Chantel Nienaber.
I'll leave you with some more details from the release, but this looks like something to keep an eye on! If you want the blow-by-blow on race day, follow the event on twitter:
www.twitter.com/MatroosbergTC (or #MTC2013)
" The MTC is the first of two SASA-sanctioned events in 2013. The much-awaited Lesotho Ultra Trail, southern Africa’s first Ultra SkyMarathon®, will cover 55km in the Maluti Mountains in the Kingdom of Lesotho on 30 November. The starting line-up will boast one of the best ever fields in trail running in southern Africa, including Canadian ultra-distance trail runner of the year 2012 Adam Campbell.
Both races will form part of a national skyrunning circuit from 2014 – the details of which will be announced soon.
MTC race organiser Ghaleed Nortje is excited to have his race as the one that introduces local trail runners to skyrunning in South Africa.
“I’m really excited about the MTC being sanctioned by SASA, and by the prospect of it forming part of a national skyrunning circuit from 2014. Gone are the days when we trail runners had to drool over skyrunning events in Europe and the USA – our South African athletes can now be a part of the rich experience too, by participating in local skyrunning events,” says Nortje.
With just a few days to go before the race, all eyes are on the weather – just a fortnight ago the Matroosberg was still covered in snow. As with all mountain trail races, runners will be required to carry specific mandatory kit with them during the race to prepare for all weather eventualities. "
Photo by Andrew King
Sunset in St. Lucia
Before I tell you anything else about this photo, let me ask you simply - do you like it or am I cheating?
You may recall last year that I spent an extensive amount of time exploring the limits of mobile photography, and went so far as to shoot a full magazine piece with my phone. I stand by what I said then, and still shoot a lot of my blogs with my phone, as I find I can simply take it places where I wouldn't take my DSLR - and the @nightjartravel Instagram account will attest to the number of places I take my phone! However, I have now acquired a 'new' toy, and it might just keep me very distracted!
You see, I've picked up an iPad Camera connector, allowing me to pop images straight off a DSLR onto my iPad - which is wonderfully convenient for sharing photos, etc, etc. but I was specifically interested in editing. I have written before that the quality of mobile editing software allows you to bring back any colour and detail lost due to a weaker lens/sensor combo - so What happens when you apply that to a photo that does not suffer from a weak lens/sensor??
Well, I guess the answer is rather obvious - you have to learn to restrain yourself (which I perhaps did not, with this image!) But I now have, at my fingertips (quite literally, in this case), intelligent foreground selection, tap-to-add-layers, swipe-to-boost-xxx (where xxx may be contrast, saturation, sharpness, or anything you fancy). I also have 100 photos from my last trip, so I know what I'll be doing this weekend!
Back to my original question, where do you stand on all these new gizmos? Too much? More please?
I have an embarrassing confession... I call myself a real hiker, and have spent many a night under a variety of cover options, with varying degrees of waterproofing and correlated occupant happiness. I have navigated in mist with a compass and a prayer, and I know all about "Uhm where did this road come from?" However, I have never done a hike in the Western Cape. *Gasp*!!! Obviously it's time that I fix this, and while doing some research I noticed this in my inbox:
The Green Mountain Trail is a four day hiking trail around the Green Mountain in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, South Africa. The trail meanders around the Groenlandberg, part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. Guided by THETA accredited guides you learn about the biodiversity and the history of the area. Swimming in rock pools and dams on a hot day is as refreshing for the body as it is for the soul.
Apparently you walk across several fruit farms and stay in 4 star guesthouses... talk about luxury! More info here: http://www.greenmountaintrail.co.za/
Photo by Andy Nix
Did you know that the first brandy in South Africa was distilled aboard the Dutch ship De Pijl, anchored in Table Bay harbour in 1672? Rumour has it that the ship's cook did not think the wine onboard was drinkable, so he distilled it, and suddenly had a hit on his hands!
I learnt this at Vista Bar, in One&Only Cape Town, where I recently attended the launch of their limited edition heritage cocktails. These two brandy cocktails will only be available for the month of September, and I'd strongly recommend that you try them. They kindly provided us with the recipes for the more adventurous, but I should note that Vista Bar is only 500 metres or so from the location where the De Pijl was originally anchored, so I would make an outing of it... for cultural reasons. Who says culture can't be fun as well?
Afropolitan - created by Yanda Njokwenie
25ml Klipdrift Gold
1 teaspoon Smooth Black Cat Peanut Butter
25ml Wild Africa Cream
75ml Heavy Cream
12.5ml Chocolate Syrup
Blend all ingredients
Chocolate Ice Ball
Sixteen72 – created by Johan Blaauw
45 ml KWV Brandy 10 year
12,5ml Rooibos Syrup
45ml Apple Juice
12,5ml Lime Juice
Shake & Fine Strain
Top up with Sundown Peachy foam
Philosophising in Prince Albert
You often hear the term "a little village in the middle of nowhere" in conversation, and most of us have our own interpretation of this. In your mind's eye do you see the vast open spaces of the Karoo, and suddenly three windmills and a post office appear? Or do you envisage hectares of rugged Zululand bush, opening up suddenly onto a thick-beamed wooden lodge overlooking a waterhole? These, and all sorts of other philosophical questions, were what I reflected on while spending the night in my idea of nothing and nowhere.
You see, Prince Albert might technically be quite easy to get to these days, but cradled in the Swartberg mountains as it is, you certainly wouldn't guess it - especially if your chosen route was the Swartberg Pass (and it should be... it really should be!) Depending on how recently it has been graded, the pass will be a slow but steady drive, or a bumpy slippery affair, but with the sweeping views, and the often incredible winds at the top, it is guaranteed to feel like an adventure of note. After an hour or so, you will finally come to your first sign of civilisation, and suddenly Prince Albert will pop up. The town itself is wonderfully charming, with a wealth of heritage remaining, and a strong inclination towards the artistic, as most of the Karoo tends to have.
I spent a wonderful night at Bid Huisie, a beautifully preserved small old church - now a two bedroom self catering cottage owned and managed by South of Africa. The cottage was well positioned just off the golden mile (the stretch of the main road where everything happens, quite literally), and captured the old-world charm of the village perfectly. How appropriate, then, to spend an evening in the prayer house reflecting on life, love and everything.
I know you are all getting tired of Route 62 photos by now... Oh who am I kidding, one could never! Here I find myself rushing through the most beautiful cloudy landscape because I forgot to fill up in the previous town and am now freaking out about getting stranded on a Saturday with only half a pack of biltong in my car. It eventually started raining to make me feel less guilty about only stopping for a photo every 30km, but then the light became so soft that it became even harder to focus on fuel economy. Well, I eventually found fuel, but let me just advise you that not all petrol stations along Route 62 are open over weekends, so don't pass up an opportunity to fill up!
As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I have a surprisingly bad sense of direction. So when I popped into the Kruger on my way to Nelspruit from White River, I thought I'd avoid the roadworks on the N4 by taking the road running parallel on the opposite side of the river (which, retrospectively, was obviously a narrow winding mountain pass so I really should have know I wasn't saving any time).
First, the Kruger. Turns out that you can't just pop in for an hour or two and 'stalk' game at 30km/h in a roaring little coupé, nor are you going to have a good time if you decide to turn off onto the dirt roads in said little coupé. That said, I was enormously impressed by how friendly the staff were, and how well maintained the roads were (I might have felt a bit nervous, but even the dirt roads were fine for my car). So, I got to see impala and have an wonderful scenic drive and a nice lunch. Perhaps a different strategy next time!
Now, onto my drive back... as it turns out, the road on the other side of the river winds through the Crocodile River Mountain Conservancy - on which I can find very little information online but from what I saw the area appears to be mixed use general conservation land - very bushy, a few tiny villages and farms, and one long gloriously twisty mountain road. This was without a doubt the prettiest mountain pass of my entire 4 week trip! As I hinted earlier, it's not a fast route to take, but if you are in the area and have the time, I'd highly recommend it.
– Erik Brits
So, the God's Window viewpoint... wow! During my recent trip through Mpumalanga, I finally got to check this one off my list. Unfortunately the day was quite hazy, so I don't have a nice scenic photo, but the view point is famous enough that I'm sure you've all seen plenty of those. What did shock and awe me, however, was the sheeeeeeeeer drop down within half a fright's length of where you stand on the pathway - eek! Hence the photo... I reckon this drops off almost as spectacularly as the Drakensberg escarpment (but I might be biased because I've seen that without the haze), and it certainly requires less of a hike to experience.
The intimacy of strangers
I recently went on a South African road inspection. Ok, not exactly, but after driving from Cape Town through the Waterberg around Polokwane to Nelspruit and then back to Cape Town, it certainly felt like it! I've put up a few of the more interesting things I discovered on this trip in the blogs already, but given the nature of today's date, I thought I'd reflect on one of my more unusual experiences.
On the final leg of my journey, I decided to make a straight run from Hoedspruit to Joburg - I was tired of finding interesting things, and was looking forward to a familiar bed. I knew that with Mpumalanga's road conditions, this would be a tiring drive, and thus intended to make only the necessary stops (bladder and photography - we all have our weaknesses). About an hour and a half into my journey, I pulled over at a highly unusual looking roadside cafe (or so I thought) for a quick LMNO (sing the alphabet to yourself) and seeing the burger special I thought I'd stretch my wallet to my stomach.
Little did I know that 15 minutes later I would be debating the influence of the parenting style in my house on my emotional and educational development as a young adult, moving quickly on to the roles of different forms of spirituality in a balanced lifestyle, with a complete stranger. The conversation lasted through my burger, which (on the topic of spirituality) was the biggest I'd had all year, and through two cups of coffee and a good hour and a half of daylight. The subject matter was interesting but for the point I wanted to make, not particularly important - what stood out in my mind and still does was that this was the deepest and most interesting conversation I'd had in all my time on the road, and I'd had it with a stranger 5 minutes after meeting him.
Perhaps, there is something disarming about entering a conversation with a complete lack of prejudices - implied by the complete lack of familiarity… and thinking back this isn't the first time I've had an interesting conversation with a stranger. Perhaps, just perhaps, I will try to be a bit more open to strangers in future (I am normally quite beardy and glum looking - thats just my face, I'm afraid), and hopefully someday soon I can make someone else's day like mine was made.
I eventually got to Joburg, long after dark but it was worth the stop. The shoe, as it turns out, is a cafe, gift shop, museum, and offers accommodation - check out their website:
I'm an addicted city slicker. I wear fancy shoes, I always carry an iPad, and when it rains my first thought is 'Oh my hair'! As great as the big city is, however, every once in a while it is nice to do something completely different - to get your hands dirty, so to speak. The bush veld makes for a great place to escape to, because there is a spectacular variety on offer. One dilemma I've always had with an active escape like this, however, has been finding a place to stay that is conveniently located for getting around - the closer you stay to the road, the less of a bush experience you get!
I was absolutely delighted then, to find Birdsong Cottages, nestled less than 10km from the R101 (the main artery between Bela Bela and Modimolle). The cottages are located around a typical Waterberg koppie, but importantly, also have a few koppies between them and the R101, making the road invisible and silent... I got the full Waterberg escape experience, but I was also 10 minutes from the main road and everything that the area had to offer. (In case you missed yesterday's blog, the area does deliver! From elephant rides and zip slides, through adventure resorts, to quad bikes, mountain bikes and sommer a crocodile farm in between, you can keep adventurers of all ages entertained in the Waterberg).
Birdsong has a short but lovely hike on the farm, with the potential to see zebras and a few antelope species, and the view point next to the wedding chapel gives you the most spectacular sunset views over the stream and veld. My (self-catering) cottage was also kitted out with everything I could have wanted, except for a few extra days...
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