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Chickens
12 Feb 2014
 
     

If you’ve spent any time in the country you’ll know that South Africans love chickens – they’re everywhere. You’ll see them at bus stops, tied onto the backs of bicycles and along the roads. You’ll see them made of wire and beads, served up with piri piri sauce and scratching around in yards and homesteads, especially in more rural areas. These chickens have inspired a whole genre of wood carving along the western edge of the Kruger National Park, stretching from Nelspruit to Thohoyandou.

I first fell in love with these wooden chickens somewhere close to Hazyview, and over the years they’ve become more and more prevalent at craft shops and stalls. Not all hoenders (Afrikaans for chickens) are equal though, and some artists manage better than others to capture their quirky, quintessential antics - like artist is Nelson Mrussia. He displays his chickens – along with guineafowl, elephants and giraffe carvings – at Kruger’s Numbi Gate. You can identify his work from the price stickers bearing the number 38, which is his ID in the artists’ co-operative he’s part of. Nelson spends several days getting his chickens to strut and cluck for the tourists on their way into the park and I plan to build up a whole flock of his beautiful birds.

- Dianne Tipping-Woods

Thota Bakkie Skiing
10 Feb 2014
 
     

Thota Bakkie Skiing

Thota Lodge is situated within a 2 000-hectare expanse of arid landscape with hardly a sign of human activity as far as the eye can see. This rustic setup is fuelled by gas and candles and has no cell phone reception -  a true escape from everything.  

Experience one of the lesser-known extreme sports - all you need to do is try to hold on as the bakkie revs up and the drag kicks in. And, of course, sign the indemnity form. Once you've mastered the red dunes behind the bakkie and need still more adventure, try horse riding or have a go at the local flying fox...

(GPS coordinates: -26.7395, 22.4851)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/activities/thota-bakkie-skiing

Groenkloof Yellow Trail
10 Feb 2014
 
     

Groenkloof Yellow Trail  

This pretty trail traverses the hilly slopes and grassy plains of Groenkloof Nature Reserve in the Fountains Valley of Pretoria, a few minutes’ drive south of the Pretoria city centre. Groenkloof Nature Reserve is an ideal destination for city-bound nature lovers with well-maintained and clearly marked trails. There are three trails on the reserve: the 4km white trail; the 3,5km red trail; and the 10,5km yellow trail. Maps are available for self-guided hikes. There are also guided hikes that must be booked two weeks in advance...

(GPS coordinates: -25.789683, 28.196189)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/hiking/groenkloof-yellow-trail

Addington Children’s Hospital
10 Feb 2014
 
     

Addington Children’s Hospital

Durban locals will notice that the usually grim architectural icon on Durban’s beachfront looking a little cheerier. Colourful graffiti and murals have engulfed the perimeter of the Addington Hospital. Opened in 1931 the hospital was an all races facility, a concept that caused tension during Apartheid and eventually contributed to its closing down in the 1980’s. It was the first medical facility in all of Africa that was dedicated exclusively to kids. Since then the beautiful Victorian building has been abandoned and left derelict, an eerie sight on Durban’s golden mile. It’s currently undergoing the first stage of restoration.

- Megan Pilditch

Suikerboschfontein Hiking Trail
10 Feb 2014
 
     

Suikerboschfontein Hiking Trail

Carolina in Mpumalanga might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about hiking in South Africa, but after completing the Suikerboschfontein Hiking Trail, that might change. This challenging two day trail was an unexpected pleasure, because from the N4 highway the area’s landscape seems to comprise of nothing but Highveld grassland really. This isn’t the case. The hike takes you through a range of terrains, from high vantage points up to 47 metres above the valley’s floor, down into rocky riverbeds bordered by patches of indigenous forest.

On each of the two days it takes to complete the technically challenging but relatively short 20km kilometre trail, you will walk, climb and clamber over rocks and waterfalls, in some places assisted by ropes and ladders. You’ll come cross patches of Marloti aloes, sip from streams lined with ferns, and find rock art that not many other people have seen. Each night, you’ll watch the sun set or the moon rise over the veld, listen to nightjars and jackals call and sleep deeply in the basic but comfortable hiking huts. And on day three, when the last stretch of the walk is over - and your backpack is lighter than it’s been before - you’ll wish that you could keep on walking, just a little bit more. 

- Dianne Tipping-Woods

Bloemfontein MTB Trails
9 Feb 2014
 
     

Bloemfontein MTB Trails

There are several self-guided off-road riding areas in the middle of the city. Local bicycle shops and mountain-bike clubs also organise guided social rides and racing events. Brandkop is one of the latest additions to the Bloemfontein mountain-bike tribe's hunting grounds. Hemmed in by the suburbs of Basewater and Westdene, Happy Valley is a small pocket of nature dominated by a rocky koppie characteristic of the Bloemfontein area. The Seven Dams Conservancy is bordered by the northern suburbs of Helicon Heights, Pentagon Park and Dan Pienaar...

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/mountain-biking/bloemfontein-mtb-trails

Grootwater 4x4 Trail
9 Feb 2014
 
     

Grootwater 4x4 Trail

Just 250km from Pretoria, Grootwater is a lovely weekend destination with something for the whole family. Keep your eyes peeled while driving for the large variety of birds and game. Even leopard, if you’re extremely lucky. Several short trails like Apies or Koedoe will take you across varying terrain and obstacles, including mountains, rocks, sand and mud. You will always be assured of some very challenging rock driving at Grootwater. Once you’ve tackled all the routes you can explore further on your mountain bike or on foot along one of the hiking trails. There is also a quad track to challenge and canoes to paddle…

(GPS coordinates: -23.917015, 27.841533)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/4x4/grootwater-4x4-trail

Halong Bay, Vietnam
9 Feb 2014
 
     

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay was a long anticipated destination. Its famed beauty and mysterious legends had called to us and it was top on our list of things to do in Vietnam! And there was no better way to see it than from a boat. So we booked ourselves on a 3 night trip jam packed with activities and made our way from Hanoi to Halong Bay.

When we finally climbed aboard our floating home, we were impressed by the beautiful boat with 10 en suite bedrooms, a dining room and top deck lined with loungers – heaven! But the boat could have been the titanic and we wouldn’t have noticed once we started to sail out into the bay. Limestone cliffs rise like stone sentinels out of the water in this maze-like archipelago. There are more than 3000 islands dotting the emerald waters of the gulf of Tonkin. Words cannot do the vision of Halong Bay any justice. It is majestic, mysterious, imperious… it is awe inspiring and breathtaking!

You cannot afford to miss this experience. Combined with our cycle on the jurassic-like Cat Ba island and a kayak through the crystal blue waters and unending caves, Halong Bay will live forever in my dreams! 

- Shan Routledge

Lake Bled
9 Feb 2014
 
     

Lake Bled in Slovenia is pure natural beauty, a glacier lake with a tiny island in the middle. On the island sits a castle and a church, a rather romantic sight. Tourists flood this fairytale spot and hiking, biking, fishing, bathing and rowing and weddings are all popular lake activities. During summer the lake reaches temperatures of up to 25°C and during winter it freezes over. The best way to experience the lake’s beauty is to stroll around the lake taking photos at every opportunity and enjoying the postcard views. You might even hear the church bells ringing from the island too. 

- Megan Pilditch

Magalies Gliding Club
8 Feb 2014
 
     

Magalies Gliding Club

If gliding sounds like the sort of thing you’d like to do, the best way to find out for sure is to do an ‘Introduction to Gliding’ - a scenic flight from Orient Airfield. It’s best to set aside the whole day, as flying time is weather dependent and there may be quite a few aspiring glider pilots giving it a try. You will either fly in a motorised glider, which uses an engine to get up in the air and then glides, or in a non-motorised glider that is pulled into the air by a tow plane. Either way, you’ll get to experience the thrill of unpowered flight…

(GPS coordinates: -26.041558, 27.594432 )

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/activities/magalies-gliding-club

Cape St Francis Trail
8 Feb 2014
 
     

Cape St Francis Trail

There are myriad hiking trails in the area but one of the most spectacular is from Seal Point to Port St Francis. Park at the Cape St Francis Lighthouse, confusingly also known as the Seal Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1878. Leaving the Seal Point Nature Reserve, the track follows a rocky stretch of coastline for a while alongside a dangerous reef that stretches a kilometre out to sea. Ahead of you is the main beach of Cape St Francis, a very popular surfing spot. And not just with the pros - if you look carefully, you’ll often catch bottlenose and common dolphins surfing the breaks...

(GPS coordinates: -34.212248, 24.836517)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/hiking/cape-st-francis-trail

Huisrivierspas
8 Feb 2014
 
     

Huisrivierspas

To get to some of the passes of the southern Cape requires a bit of route planning. Not so the Huisrivierspas. It is on the main drag between Ladismith and Calitzdorp, two of the bigger towns on the well-known R62. 

The downside of this pass is that it is what we at Nightjar refer to as a ‘high speed pass’. It is wide, fast, and carries a fair burden of traffic. No mercy is taken and none given as cars and trucks thunder down its declines and crawl up its inclines. 

It’s a pretty enough pass, make no mistake, and there are a few viewpoints from where you can observe the grandeur of the mountains to the accompanying symphony of road traffic. But, in the main, you will have to have a knack for high-speed observation to enjoy this pass as it flashes past your windscreen.

KwaMuhle Museum
8 Feb 2014
 
     

KwaMuhle Museum

The KwaMuhle Museum was arguably one of Durban’s most hated buildings during Apartheid. The infamous property was previously used as the Native Administration Department and was the center of the harsh labour system. Nowadays it’s a small museum that exhibits the history of Durban’s residents during Apartheid. Inside the courtyard is an eerie statue of three men representing all the people who used to wait for hours, even days, looking for a job and a work permit at the Department. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday and is free to the public. 

- Megan Pilditch

Olifants River Rafting
7 Feb 2014
 
     

Olifants River Rafting

The Olifants River is a high-volume, low-gradient river that’s great fun for experienced and inexperienced paddlers alike. Guests will enjoy the flexibility of the boats, which swing slowly into the current as it becomes a series of wave trains, standing waves, pour-overs and holes, all resulting in exciting and unforgettable rafting.The best time to go is between the summer months of November and May, but the section is very dependent on the rainy season and water levels so it’s best to check on conditions beforehand...

(GPS coordinates: -24.43539, 30.552646)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/rafting-kayaking/olifants-river-rafting

Woodcutter Trail
7 Feb 2014
 
     

Woodcutter Trail

The Woodcutter trails, near Goudveld, take you on a wonderful journey into the heart of the Knysna Forest. There are two options – a relaxed, three-kilometre clockwise loop and a rambling, nine-kilometre anti-clockwise loop. Both trails start at the memorial of renowned South African author Dalene Mathee, which is located at the base of one of the oldest Outeniqua yellowwoods on the Garden Route – estimated to be about 880 years old...

(GPS coordinates: -33.916708, 22.958035)

Read more at www.nightjartravel.com/hiking/woodcutter-trail

Ngwenya Glass
7 Feb 2014
 
     

Ngwenya Glass

Close to Swaziland’s Ngwenya (crocodile) border post, a group of Swazi craftsmen and women are hard at work recycling glass into a range of fantastic forms. As a recent visit to the Ngwenya Glass workshop revealed, they’re very, very good at it. The showroom shimmers and sparkles with the astonishing range of glassware on display. From the fragile beauty of tall champagne flutes balanced on the thinnest of stems, to the glistening heaviness of elephants and hippos sculpted from glass, there are so many products of astonishing beauty that it’s hard to believe they all come out of the small workshop adjacent to the showroom. They do though, and you can arrange to watch the glass blowers hard at work transforming glass that mainly comes from soft drink bottles gathered from all over Swaziland into works of art.

Under the direction of the Prettejohn family, the business has grown from its humble beginnings in 1979 as a Swedish Aid project into a renowned brand that has a boutique outlet and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and sells its ornamental and functional glassware all over the country. Ngwenya Glass employs several dozen workers and contributes to a number of social and environmental causes in Swaziland. It forms part of Pure Swazi, an association of Swazi handcraft producers which promote Fair Trade principles.

- Dianne Tipping-Woods

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