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Matroosberg Trail Challenge 2013
23 Oct 2013
 
     

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
6 Sep 2013
 
     

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?

Erik

Green Mountain
5 Sep 2013
 
     

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

Brandy Spring
27 Aug 2013
 
     

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?

 – Erik

Afropolitan - created by Yanda Njokwenie

Ingredients

  • 25ml Klipdrift Gold

  • 1 teaspoon Smooth Black Cat Peanut Butter

  • 25ml Wild Africa Cream

  • 75ml Heavy Cream

  • 12.5ml Chocolate Syrup

Method

Blend all ingredients

Glass

Brandy Snifter

Garnish

Chocolate Ice Ball

 

Sixteen72 – created by Johan Blaauw

Ingredients

  • 45 ml KWV Brandy 10 year

  • 12,5ml Rooibos Syrup

  • 45ml Apple Juice

  • 12,5ml Lime Juice

Method

Shake & Fine Strain

Glass

Martini

Garnish

Top up with Sundown Peachy foam

Bid Huisie
26 Aug 2013
 
     

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.

http://www.southofafrica.co.za/properties/bid-huisie-prince-albert/
http://www.nightjartravel.com/regions-towns/prince-albert

 – Erik

Ooh Route 62
12 Aug 2013
 
     

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!

Crocodile River Mountain Conservancy
19 Jul 2013
 
     

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

Gods Window
19 Jul 2013
 
     

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. 

 – Erik

A stranger's shoe
18 Jul 2013
 
     

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:

www.theshoe.org/site

Shangri-La Country Hotel
3 Jul 2013
 
     

There is a certain romanticization of the act of driving down a long dusty road to your ultimate destination, which should ideally erupt from the bare earth in front of you like a sneaky oasis. From my skeptical tone, you may have guessed that in my experience, this seldom happens, and upon a little reflection it seems obvious that places that are surrounded by bare earth and long dusty roads generally tend to be bare and dusty! Fortunately, every once in a  while you will find one of these sneaky oases jumping up out of the dust, and that's precisely what happened to me when I arrived at the Shangri-La Country Hotel (at the end of, you guessed it, a long dusty road). 

For those who prefer to shed their stresses in ways that are less likely to involve adrenaline and a bit of pain, Shangri-La is a rare treat. Nestled within a lush green forest on top of a majestic koppie in the middle of the bush veld, the ambiance is fantastic, and there are numerous spots to sit and gaze out over the world. These breathtaking views are at their best when enjoyed from the Zen garden, which blends the local rock structure and rugged vegetation into a magically peaceful place to sit and ponder.

Of course, I desecrated the Zen garden by connecting to the wifi and sending e-mails (you may remember the photo I posted last week - guiltily), but despite my best attempts at heresy I could not get much work done as I was soon wrapped up in watching a family of mongooses at war with the vervet monkeys, battling it out for the shadiest corner of the garden. I don't know how long I sat and watched them for, but the next thing I knew, I was watching the world turn pink as the sun set, and one magnificent dinner later I was lying in my room wondering if I really had to go back to the city.

Winelands with a twist
27 Jun 2013
 
     

Winelands with a twist!

I have an obsession with doing things differently, which normally makes me really annoying to travel with, but occasionally I find something really cool... like during our week in the Winelands!

The winelands area is famous for its pretty mountains, exquisite food, and of course wine tasting. This is all nice enough, certainly, but instead we went horse riding in Tulbagh, and the next day we poked around and learnt how Igadi Olive Oil is made - it's a more complicated process than I'd expected, with pipes and conveyor belts and all sorts of mechanicals, but my favorite part was the pleasantly olive-y smell of the machines. 

We then had an olive-themed lunch at the olive tasting station in McGregor, followed by a grappa tasting at Tanagra (which was sublime, I am still cherishing my bottle).

Of course, we had to taste a little bit of wine as well, so we went to Excelsior Wine Estate where we blended our own wine (told you, obsessed with 'different')! Of course, getting the blend 'just right' involved a lot of tasting, which led to me eventually jamming one of the taps open and screaming like a little girl as wine squirted out the top of my bottle... Fortunately, the lady behind the counter is used to clumsy tourists and sorted me out efficiently - but so much for the perfect 20 - 20 - 60 ratio of my cab sav - merlot - shiraz blend. Next time :-)  There were a myriad of other possibilities which we had to drive past - there's only so much time in the day - but the point is, there's a lot more to the winelands than just the wine.

 – Erik

More info:
http://www.excelsior.co.za/
http://www.tanagra-wines.co.za/
http://www.olivegardencountrylodge.com/ 

 

Trails for beginners
26 Jun 2013
 
     

You may remember that a month or two ago I did a beautiful trail ride in the Witzenberg valley, and I specifically said that the crew I went with were excellent with beginners. Well, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and took my girlfriend back to Tulbagh for a ride with horseAbout Trails. My girlfriend's last horse ride was an interesting experience, with a stubborn horse trying to rub her off on a tree, and ended in an acrobatic dismount, so she was a little apprehensive, but came along nonetheless. 

The scenery was beyond belief, on a crystal clear winter's day with the green green wine valley stretching out in front of us, and a light dusting of snow on the mountains behind us. The horses were calm and gentle, and the ride was challenging enough to keep us thrilled, but we did it all at a sedate pace and the situation never felt beyond our control. In the photo, John Lister regales us with hilarious cowboy tales.

The proof is really in the pudding, by which I mean that instead of being ordered to take her home straight after, my girlfriend was smiling as she suggested we end the trip with a slice of cake in town.

 – Erik

More:
http://www.nightjartravel.com/activities/horseabout

Fishless
25 Jun 2013
 
     

Are there fish in there? Maybe some grass carp... - This is not known to get a fisherman's blood rushing, and yet I simply could not ignore the small dam in front of me. I grabbed my fly vest and camera, and ambled through the bush veld (another clue that I was unlikely to encounter your typical flyfisher's quarry). It took me nearly half an hour to cover the 500m down to the water, as every possible variation of a beautiful sunset photo jumped out at me, but eventually there I was.

The pond was so weeded up that I needed to take care, so I tied on a light minnow imitation which would float near the surface. After a cast or two I found my rhythm, working the fly all around the little clearing the middle, lifting off carefully once it left the safe zone. I stood there, happily casting over and over, watching the sun go down, bathing in the afterglow that you seem to find further north, lost in a million thoughts.

This is what fishing is all about, I said to myself. Being at one with nature, enjoying the sights, sounds, smells. The fish are merely an excuse for getting out there. In this frame of mind then, I calmly packed up my rod when it got too dark, knowing that my last hour had not been wasted in the slightest. It was wonderful to have seen a new water, especially in such a pretty setting. 

As I turned to walk away, a giant swirl erupted under the lily pads, and several expletives later, I realized that I wasn't fooling anyone. 

 – Erik

[No fish were caught in the making of this story, and the author is recovering from a bruised ego] 

Meloncino
20 Jun 2013
 
     

(6) Cape Town as a Tourist: Meloncino 

The Italians are globally revered as excellent chefs, and after two delicious courses, Meloncino had a high bar to live up to. However, if anyone could make desserts delicate enough to find all those gaps we didn’t know we still had, it would be the Italians, and so this was our final stop.

Meloncino sits on the upper level above the previous two restaurants, giving us a whole new angle on the harbour. There are two elegant couches for a coffee or a cocktail if you are simply there for the view (which is well worth it). The menu offers a contemporary take on traditional Roman food, and the thin base pizzas are a purist’s dream. My frozen Nutella mousse filled every last gap in my body, and I thought I would pop but I simply couldn’t stop eating it!

To whet your appetite, have a look:

http://www.meloncino.co.za/menus.php

City Grill
20 Jun 2013
 
     

(5) Cape Town as a Tourist: City Grill

We are fortunate in South Africa to have a delicious selection of game roaming our bushveld, and few places know that as well as City Grill does. This is the quintessential South African steakhouse, with an excellent selection of game, traditional cuts and the perfect wines to compliment them.

We decided to duck out of the winter cold and sat behind the enormous bay windows, savouring the view and warming up simultaneously. Curiosity overcame us and we decided to try the game selection. This was most definitely the right decision, as the subtle flavour of crocodile and the incredible tenderness of warthog saw us feasting far beyond what we thought our stomachs could hold!

The Waterfront may offer a cultural variety like no other, but if it’s the local experience you’re after, this is the menu for you:

http://www.citygrill.co.za/menus.php

Greek Fisherman
20 Jun 2013
 
     

(4) Cape Town as a Tourist: Greek Fisherman

The Greek Fisherman is the oldest restaurant in the V&A, having been there since Victoria Wharf opened in 1992. With proud mediterranean roots, they offer over 25 meze, starters and tapas. The Seafood Platter Feast is renowned, as is the Lamb in the Oven.

We enjoyed the crisp clear day by sitting out under the umbrellas, where we could see and hear the hustle and bustle of the harbour, with the Wheel of Excellence turning lazily in the background. The ambiance complimented our selection of meze perfectly, and we ended up passing small plates around the table, sampling everything.

Needless to say, the food was superb - check out the menu here:

http://www.greekfisherman.co.za/menus.php

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Erik