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Exploring Church Street
10 Apr 2013

Exploring church street, Tulbagh.

Church street is considered to have the largest number of Cape-Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage sites in one street in South Africa. It can certainly swallow up a good chunk of time if you decide to explore everything, and by the time you're done you won't have walked more than 5 minutes from where you started.

The first thing that surprised me on our recent trip was how close Tulbagh actually is to Cape Town. We drove out twice in two days, and it was an easy hour and a half to get there both times. I got lost on the way back and found myself in Stellenbosch, so I won't comment on the return trip! We had a lovely stay in Alfa Apartments, one of the best maintained self-catering venues I've stayed at in years (although we took the breakfast option and were fed like kings). This really makes for an easy weekend getaway.

Besides exploring the rich heritage of the town itself, there are a variety of things to do in the Witzenberg Valley. Mountain bikers will know that the Cape Epic finishes here, and there's also some great horse riding. At a more sedate pace, the area is growing in popularity with bird watchers, and offers good wine tasting.

More info:

Horsing About
9 Apr 2013

Upon Jo Lister's recommendation, we spent last week exploring Tulbagh. Of course, the reason we'd been in touch with Jo was to go a trail ride with Horse About. I haven't been on a horse since before I grew chest hair, but still considered myself quite the cowboy... that is, until I stood next to a horse considerably bigger than (how I remembered) the ponies at the riding school I attended when I was 12. I had planned on having a macho photo for this blog, but believe me, the image of me using a stepping log to get on is far more accurate!

That is, however, the point I wanted to make - Jo and the crew catered incredibly well for people who have limited experience or comfort on horses, and who are keen to explore a world typically seen as being reserved for more hardcore riders. They've even developed an overnight camping trail which has shorter stints than usual on the horses, so that novices can keep up. The horses themselves behaved admirably, being almost as easy to steer as a bicycle.

But onto the ride! We looped through what used to be a baboon trail through the forest, onto a scenic plateau with a breathtaking view of the valley, and back to the paddock. I have no idea how long the ride took because I enjoyed the scenery too much, but later calculation pegs it at just over an hour, with more than enough variation to keep you entertained.

If you are interested, remember that Tulbagh is only an hour and half's drive from Cape Town, and do speak to Jo before you plan your trip - she has a wealth of knowledge about what else you can do in and around Tulbagh.


More info - 

Arriving at Gateshead
8 Apr 2013

It had been a long day's fishing, and despite being advised not to, we began the trek up the Bokspruit valley well after sunset. In the foothills there is an ever-present sense of remoteness, but trundling along the rough dirt road with not a single farm light or sign of life in sight, driving past dilapidated buildings with their window panes broken, we felt like we were on the furthest edge of civilisation... and it felt wonderful. The driver proceeded to look for an unlocked door into the cottage, and, as is the passenger's duty, I walked to the rear of the vehicle to begin the unloading process. It was while I was still fumbling for a light switch in the bakkie's loadbed that it happened.

Suddenly, the noisy tranquility of the frogs and crickets was overridden by a deep, booming male voice. Right behind me, his words were as loud as gunfire, speaking in a language I did not understand. I turned, heart pounding, weak at the knees, to stare into an intensely friendly and decidedly confused smile, as a perfect gentleman offered me the keys to the cottage. So shocked was I that I forgot to offer both hands in acceptance, further underscoring to him that I was a bumbling fool well out of his depth. Worst of all, I could not in any way that he could understand explain why I had screamed like a little schoolgirl when he greeted me. I hope that the flushing of my cheeks in embarrassment sufficed. 

For long after he left, I sat on the stoop, watching the stars and listening to the babbling of the stream, contemplating the juxtaposition of my world and his. For even longer, I just sat watching the stars.

Nightjar Travelled
8 Apr 2013

This weekend we decided to blow off some steam, so we booked a clay pigeon shooting session with Shootopia. Even though the wind outside Grabouw made the shooting tricky for newbies like us, we had a blast (couldn't resist the pun), and the highly enthusiastic Sebastian even let us shoot some zombie targets with a pistol. Stress relief to the max, and a sure-fire (oops) way to put a grin on your face for the rest of the day (and a bruise on your shoulder)! The range is just behind the Tri-Active lodge, off the N2.

On top of the world
7 Apr 2013

Those of you who've followed the blog this week will know that we had some good sport at the recently re-opened Tiffindell resort. Now, this being the highest resort in South Africa, you obviously have to get Up There... and what goes up must come down! I'll stop the philosophical rambling and get to the point. There are two passes that lead up to Tiffindell; one from Rhodes village and the other from the Wartrail valley. From Rhodes, you take the Carlisleshoek Pass up to Tiffindell, and can then go down to Wartrail via the Volunteershoek Pass (or vice versa, of course). Both passes offer breathtaking views, and you'd be surprised how noticeable the different characters of the two valleys are when looking down from the top. At the moment, the road up Carlisleshoek is in better shape, but even Volunteershoek is easily navigable in a bakkie - a sedan might struggle as it is steep and bumpy, but you always hear rumours about the places a citigolf can go!

This shot was taken from the top of Volunteershoek in the early evening light. We really felt like we were on top of the world.

Malpas beat
7 Apr 2013

We have a family tradition that when we are in the Rhodes area, the Bell is running low. Despite this being correlation and not causation, our strike rate is still 100%. However, as most fishermen tend to be, we are a stubborn bunch, and insist on giving it a bash nonetheless. Usually, we have good sport with the finger fry, and this year was no different. Trout so small that it is feasible to retrieve the fish entirely through the air, thereby not disturbing the run for further fishing... not that these fingerlings are easily disturbed.  In such thin water the thought of bigger fish hardly crosses the mind, making it even more special when you do occasionally hook an 8 or 10 incher in the slightly deeper sections. We were happily wading through a stretch of water so shallow we didn't even expect to see the fingerlings in it, when a fish peeled itself out from under a rock and left a bow wave as it rocketed up the pool. Having caught and measured several fish in the lakes over the past few days, we could confidently estimate the fish to have been between 18 and 24 inches, making it a stunning fish for a river, and especially so for a river so marginal that a 10 incher surprised us. One often hears stories of these sized trout being taken once or twice a season at the Rhodes hotel bar, but with fisherman one has to apply a pinch of salt... or so we thought! But clearly, these submarines are there for the taking - although I suspect the closest we'll come is the occasional brown streak through a shallow pool.

The forgotten luxury of the bare essentials
4 Apr 2013

I live my city lifestyle unashamedly. I have cellphone signal 24/7, and the petrol station cafe will provide most of what I could possibly run out of at 3 a.m. (usually chocolate - I'm not complicated). The list goes on, but the point is, my childhood days in a seaside village with no Eskom, no tv, and gas geysers, are long forgotten. It was with a shock then, that on our trip through the Eastern Cape, something awoke in me a nostalgia that I was totally unaware of. I say 'something', but I've pinpointed the culprit. On my various travels, I've experienced the spectrum of accommodation, from the bare essentials to every luxury, but it has been a while since I've stayed at a farm cottage. On our Eastern Cape trip, however, they were the only type of accommodation that we stayed at.

Farm cottages are invariably furnished with pieces that look like they have been passed across a generation or two, and the doors and windows tend to creak gently. Wooden floors, worn carpets, dusty tiles... the mere thought would give a Hilton hotel GM a heart attack. Yet, somehow, when you kick off your dirty boots and sit down at the massive wooden dining table for a cup of coffee, it all comes together to transport you into another world, and the message is clear. Switch off the devices - they won't have signal here anyway. Stop stressing about the bright lights - not even a helicopter could get you there fast enough to make a difference. Take off the suit and tie - it will just get dusty here. Relax. If you've ever been into the main homestead on a farm, you'll know that the best furniture is often reserved for the guests, and after a while you forget about the pristinely sterile city lodgings you're used to, and start to appreciate the volumes of character that these cottages exude. When this mental transition occurs, you are ready to appreciate the forgotten luxury of the bare essentials. You are now on holiday.

Home of the wild trout
17 Mar 2013

Our blogs have been unusually quiet this weekend, so you might have wondered where in the world Nightjar Travel went?! Well, we went somewhere wild... to the home of some of the most spectacular trout fishing in South Africa, and some of the best home cooked meals we've had in years.

Yup, we are in the Eastern Cape!  It's hard not to feel like you're on holiday and forget the rest of the world exists when you're this far up in the Drakensberg foothills, but we will do our best to remember our responsibilities and keep up the blogs this week :-)  and we'll keep the tales of the one that got away to a minimum (but seriously, as long as my arm).

Preekstoel Braai & Info Site
19 Feb 2013

As you may have surmised from our previous photo, we concluded our visit to Langebaan by stopping in the West Coast National Park, and couldn't help but notice what an amazing view this braai spot has!  This photo was taken at the Preekstoel Information stop, which has several of these braai spots, clean toilets, and an information board that has at least half an hour's reading material about the local flora and fauna on it.  The beach all but disappears at high tide, but has several magically secluded 'cubby holes' formed by the surrounding low cliffs at low tide.  The feeling of privacy is nice, but deceptive - every so often, someone will come strolling past along the water's edge!

Here are the links again:

Valentine's Day
14 Feb 2013

Although we are not particularly traditional at Nightjar Travel, it would be hard not to notice that today is Valentine's Day, and I certainly won't say no to a nice meal and some time with someone special tonight...  So on that note, Happy Valentine's Day to all, and I do hope that someone makes you smile today!

On the topic, did you know that Valentine's Day originated as a day to honour not one person, but several figures who shared names with the same root?  It was only in the middle ages that the link between their actions and romantic love began to take seed. 

Pinboards and Leopards
13 Feb 2013

We were recently invited to pin to a group board focussed on leopard photos on Pinterest.  This was our contribution - a leopard in the Okovango Delta intently focussed on the ground as it prepares to run down a near vertical tree trunk.  Obviously we're quite proud of our photo, and it was a special moment to see... but the rest of the group members have been posting some stunning pins as well so I thought I would let you all know to check it out if you're interested:

Of course, if you want to see more of our leopard specifically you can find the photos in our gallery:

How not to hike (2)
4 Feb 2013

Alas, there was one more upset to come... but as I indicated earlier, all three girls are still my friends, so allow me to tell you how it all ended!  We were all pretty eager to get a good night's rest, and spend the next day enjoying being so far up in the valley - I guess we were hoping to reap some reward from having pushed so hard on day 1.

Now, in the 'Berg you will often end up having to compromise when it comes to choosing where to pitch your tent, and on this particular instance, the only flat ground we could find that wasn't too close to the valley floor (and thus at risk of flash flooding), was on a ridge.  I knew this would present a risk of unpleasant wind during the night, but failed to notice that we were actually now camping at the meeting point of two valleys, and would therefore face double the wind if it did blow... which it did.

Now, I've had windy nights in the 'Berg before, but this was the first time I've actually had to brace the frame of the tent!  Needless to say, we woke up pretty much as exhausted as when we went to 'sleep'!  At this stage, my girlfriend staged a grumpy mutiny, and we had a group re-evaluation of the plan, after which things went more smoothly.

So how did I not end up in everyone's bad books?  Well, actually I have no idea... the only pleasant thing about the hike was the scenery!  Or maybe that's the secret... the Drakensberg is one of the most spectacular places in South Africa, and despite all the odds, the majority of our stops involved the frantic whirring of shutter mechanisms, and a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing.  And waking up on a ridge, 2500m above sea level, in the vast empty chasm at the confluence of those two valleys, with the whole world stretching out before us, and watching the sun dust off the mist, is a memory that I will treasure forever.

So, in short, do a bit more research than I did before you transition from hiker to hike-leader... because although the 'hardcore' badge is appealing, the enjoyment of the hike is a much better prize!  Oh and take the right friends!!! 

How not to hike (1)
4 Feb 2013

I am a lucky man... not because I went hiking in the Drakensberg with three girls, not because I am unharmed despite poor planning, and not because I managed to get my girlfriend's father's sporty Audi all the way to Injesuthi camp and back without breaking the undercarriage.  No; I am a lucky man because the Drakensberg is such a breath-taking part of the country, that despite leading my girlfriend and two friends on the worst organised hike I have ever been involved in (also the first one I led, hmmm), all members involved are still happy to be my friends!  Allow me to tell you about my December 'how not to hike' experience.

I've been on a number of overnight hikes before, and thought I understood the process fairly well.  Little did I know just how many vital decisions are made before you put a thing in your backpack... My first mistake was trying to cater for too many options.  Half the party wanted two nights, and the other half wanted three, so I thought we'd carry three nights of food and see how we felt on day two.  The group wanted to head for the escarpment, but this is hard to do in two days (from Injesuthi) so we picked a route which looked like a hard hike but allowed us the option of turning back if we ended up not wanting to do the full three days.  

Now at the time this sounded reasonable, but let's look closer.  If you plan a two-night hike it's easy to justify carrying nicer food, and nicer means heavier.  If you suddenly add a third day (in a party of four), it is easy to just add more food, instead of realising that you are now adding a significant amount of extra weight, and should actually replan the meals entirely.  A route which allows the option of turning around sounds ok, but  we chose to head to the foot of Ship's Prow pass, and to get there from Injesuthi is not only a difficult hike in its own right, but also means scrambling through a kilometre or two of very undefined path about 12km out of camp, after having climbed nearly 1000m already.  This may sound fine when your legs are fresh, and when the ranger describes it as a bit of an adventure, but when you get there after 6 hours of hiking uphill it suddenly becomes less appealing, and much more of an adventure!

We did one thing right, which is that we were over-prepared for emergencies, so at no stage did we feel unsafe or in danger, but the effect of these innocent pre-hike choices meant that by the time we pitched our tents, more than 2,500m above sea level, we were so exhausted that we couldn't even appreciate the view.  Straight into our sleeping bags after dinner, and we were all hoping that the next day would be better!

Nightjar Travelled
28 Jan 2013

This weekend, we had the opportunity to pass through the Breede River valley just outside Robertson in the Cape Winelands, and what a sight it was.  With perfectly manicured flora stretching as far as the eye could see, and everything flowering, it felt like driving through a botanical garden!  With numerous wine estates to explore, as well as all the curiosities of Robertson, it is easy to lose a few hours in this area!

By the way, I'd love to know what these flowers are - any ideas?  

More info on the region:

Sun City
22 Jan 2013

We recently spent a weekend at Sun City, and although there are a myriad of activities to keep you busy inside the resort, they also offer several day excursions, so we thought we'd investigate further.  We could find on offer, quad biking adventures, elephant rides, a shebeen trip, and a massive zip slide.  Height: 280m  Length: 2km  Avg. Speed: 120km/h... this had to be seen!

They bundle you onto a surprisingly comfortable truck, and you drive uphill for about 10 minutes.  Now, a logical thinker would realise that what goes up must come down, and the fact that you are driving uphill for so long should send signals of terror to you, but to be honest, the view as you drive up is so impressive that it is hard to remember to be afraid.

We did the 9 a.m slot, and consequently my coffee hadn't really kicked in before I found myself dangling from a pulley-thingy and looking down what had suddenly become Kilimanjaro Junior.  Waaay down there, they said, is a landing zone.  They were right - about the 'waaay down there' part!  

I hardly had time to protest, and we were off, at what felt like 300 km/h... and it just wouldn't stop!  Most zip slides are over before you can blink, but the full 2km run here took nearly 2 minutes!  Suffice it to say that I was fully awake by the time I got off!


More info:   

Nightjar Travelled
21 Jan 2013

Having been spoilt for choice with breath-taking outdoor experiences over the recent December holiday, I would not immediately have put Sun City at the top of my wish-list.  "Crowded" and "artificial" were my somewhat biased associations.  However, I have learnt by now that when a place is "crowded" it inevitably means there is something exciting to be found, so when an invite came along, I thought I'd better investigate.

I'd been under the impression that Sun City was a giant casino with a variety of watery things to keep the children out of your hair.  Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the water park is one of the best in South Africa, with slides so fast you'd think you were on a rollercoaster.  Just hold on to your swimwear!  Beyond that, there are a myriad of other activities for all ages, from the scratch patch and mini-golf, through parasailing and wake snakes, to sundowner cruises and stunning forest walks.  With this variety, it also becomes easy to dodge around the crowds.

So what does the blog image have to do with any of this?  That bridge leads to the Maze of the Lost City, which is roughly 2km long (this includes an allowance for making a few wrong turns) and ends at a lovely restaurant and bar, with several craft beers on tap.  The assumption is that you challenge the kids to a race through the maze, and let them rush ahead.  You then quickly exit, and take the 'lazy route' around the maze, and peacefully wait for the kids at the end while enjoying the R30 craft beer tasting platter.  Let me just warn you that kids are more capable that you'd think, so you might have to blindfold them if you really want time to enjoy the tasting!  We actually did the maze ourselves, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience... and we only needed to ask for directions once!

More info: 




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