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On a recent trip to the Eastern Cape and while staying in the charming Storms River eco-village, I did a Canopy Tour with Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour, a fair trade company that inspires with their community work. Here is some footage that I managed to capture on my WOHZA GoPro inbetween having the most exhilaratingly fun time - thank you to my guide Chantelle for taking such good care of me.

 

Sho’t Left to the Eastern Cape. The art of South African travel.

Travel is in my blood.

As a small girl I clearly remember my Dad carrying my brothers and I to the car at around midnight, settling us in with blankets and pillows and once snug we would embark on the 15 hour road trip that began our annual holiday. Living in the Free State, these long drives meant destination Cape Town, where we would stay for a week or two.

The smell of coffee freshly poured from a flask and egg sandwiches lovingly made by my Mom, mixed with the warmth of the early morning sun on our skins, woke us to Karoo landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see.

This anticipation and discovery was the foundation of the traveller in me.

It didn’t involve large amounts of money or fancy hotels, it was about togetherness, the adventure of driving open roads with endless games of I spy as we broke ground. Lots of stops and detours to see new things and meet interesting people, something that gave us a sense of pride and love for our country.

This is exactly how I see the SA Tourism Sho’t Left campaign.

'There is indeed nothing more fun that a Sho't Left' and the past few days in the Eastern Cape with travel buddy and fellow blogger Di Brown of The Roaming Giraffeaffirmed just this.

Flying in and out of George we picked up a hire car and embarked on a round trip that had us staying in the Tsitsikamma, Port Elizabeth, Cradock and Graaf Reinet areas, all arrangements flawlessly made by Jonker Fourie of ECTour. These are some of the things we managed to see and do, additional posts will follow as I’m bursting with stories to share, but this is the sum of it.

The approach to Wilderness with views across the long white beach, always mark arrival on the Garden Route for me. We stopped and took to the boardwalk that follows the curve of the Touw River Estuary, pausing for a while next to the tranquil waters to watch the birds and canoeists. From here activities are diverse, with hiking in the surrounds most popular. There is a variety of accommodation on offer with special mention of the SANParks’ Garden Route Park which we visited.

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In Sedgefield a stop at Wurst Express, a cool mobile food trailer where German speaking Jan Schiebe offers street food to regulars and passersby, is a must stop! Open Monday to Friday, Jan is found at the local market on Saturdays. Seated at his table with an umbrella for shade we indulged in a currywurst he had prepared for Di and a special spelt based vegetarian version for me. His homemade chilli sauce adding the bite and his charm much enhancing the conversation as he passionately told us about life in his hometown.

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When in Sedgfield keep your eyes open for the work done by Mosaic Job Creation Project - an inspiring local community project. There are the horses we all know to look out for whilst driving through town, and near the look out point to the river mouth, a large fish and a tortoise that reminds that this is a proudly Slow Town

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From here the drive along the N2 into the Eastern Cape and Tsitsikamma forested area, where the adventure series began. We stayed in Storms River at the 49 room beautifully renovated Tsitsikamma Village LodgeMy room was simply gorgeous.

The whole town has a strong eco-village feel to it and I’m sure you could stay here for days and never tire of things to do. For us though it was the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours in the afternoon and Segway Tour to the big tree the next day.

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The Tsitikamma indigenous forest is an enchanting place to be, with some of the Outeniqua Yellowood trees as old as 700 years. Here the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours have carefully constructed 10 platforms that we zoomed between, mostly at a height of about 30m above the ground with distances as great as 90 meters. I loved it! Flying through the sky. All capably assisted by our guide Chantelle and her crew. The company is registered as Fair Trade Tourism and beyond their environmentally sound ethos have also just awarded 15% of their shares to the staff.

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Happy faces on one of the platforms.

The Segway Tours offered a thrill of a different sort. Basically the only way to find out how much fun this is, is to go on one. Having had a lesson from our guide Chris, we ventured into the forest towards the big tree. From start to finish the grin on my face was so broad I could hardly say anything but weeeeeee … We even crossed the N2 before venturing off-road and between the tall trees, I never wanted it to end! Besides, walking is so last year!

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That afternoon a meet up with geocache superstar and friend in travel Jonker Fourie at the pier at Hobie Beach in Port Elizabeth allowed us the opportunity to bask in the sun whilst learning more about a city that is too often overlooked. Not only the gateway to Addo Elephant Park and a collection of high end game reserves, Port Elizabeth has all you’d want from a coastal city, yet has managed to retain a small town feel. The beaches and swimming are excellent and the promenade along the coast show signs of continued development whilst being enjoyed by locals.

My highlight was a visit to Donkin Reserve where I learnt about the Route 67 art project, climbed the light house and took a moment to hold hands with Madiba. These moving words appear on the pyramid built by Sir Rufan Donkin in memory of his late wife Lady Elizabeth after whom the city is named - ‘In memory of one of the most perfect human beings who has given her name to the town below.

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That night had us at Kragga Kamma, a small reserve on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, where giraffe, zebra, warthog, white rhino and buffalo are found. We settled into our cabin that evening as the sky turned orange, watching the game pass by. In the morning our seld-drive yielded excellent game viewing, particularly of the white rhino which have been dehorned for their safety. Sadly a necessary precaution these days.

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As an ocean advocate and lover of all things marine themed, I couldn’t wait to visit SAMREC. A marine bird rehabilitation and education centre in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve with special emphasis on the African penguin. Our guide Keith, a volunteer at the centre, showed us around the facilities and we had the pleasure of meeting some of the penguins. They are equipped to deal with emergencies such as oil spills and often rehabilitate birds caught in nets or with injuries from boats and fishermen.

That said, the greatest concern for these little guys is the lack of breeding ground and fish in the ocean. Most have to swim 25+km per day just to find food, meaning that by the time they return to shore there is little left for their young. It was fascinating and I will be adding more detail on the work done here. They work purely on the funds taken at the door and donations. An organisation worthy of support.

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This little guy is recovering from a bad cut to his back from a speedboat.

Taking to the open road between Nanaga and Cradock, where we stopped for coffee and a chat with my long time friends, the Sandra and Lisa Antrobus at Die Tuisehuise and Victoria Manor. There is no greater show of what heart and soul can do for a small Sho’t Left town than what they have done for Cradock. Now a 16 room hotel with 30 restored self-catering cottages, dining room and wellness centre, they deserve all the love they can get. 

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Victoria Hotel, built in 1840, is one of the oldest hotels in South Africa and is said to have hosted Olive Schreiner and Cecil John Rhodes.  The cellar was reportedly used as a prison cell in the South African war.

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Back on the road we stopped to breath in the great Karoo and capture one of my favourite South African road signs.

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SanParks continue to meet all expectations with their collection of reserves beautifully kept and proudly managed. We arrived at Mountain Zebra National Park just as the afternoon was nearing its end. About 5 minutes in we were offered a gift from the rhino gods when a black rhino walked across the road right in front of us. Pausing slightly before running off … We also saw Mountain zebra, vervet monkeys, red hartebees and more on the short drive to our accommodation. 

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Walking in the bush heightens the senses. There’s always an element of risk in the wild, yet with a professional guide to lead the way its the smells, sounds and feel of the bush that holds the focus. With ranger Charl Lyell we headed up the hill after picking up the signal on cheetah Angela’s collar. Cheetah tracking is one of the many activities on offer at Mountain Zebra, one I highly recommend. Approaching from below, we found her relaxing in the shade under the tree. What a pleasure to spend time in her company.

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Thanks for the above pics Di Brown.

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It was hard to leave this park, actually it was hard to leave everywhere we visited on this trip, even though we knew new discoveries and adventures awaited us.

In Graaff-Reinetthe gem of the Karoo, we were warmly welcomed by Chantelle Marais aka Karoo Girl. Who better to show us around than a girl with the area firmly embossed on her soul?

Staying at her parent’s Karoo Park guest house in one of the biggest most indulgent rooms I’ve seen, we indulged in more Eastern Cape hospitality before heading to Obesa Nursery, the largest succulent garden in the Southern hemisphere.

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The only way to end an evening in Graaff-Reinet is with sundowners at the Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Parkwhich is exactly what we did.

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Dinner that night was under the stars with the weather warm and clear.

The last day of our Sho’t Left had arrived and we did a walking tour of Graaff-Reinet with our Karoo girl ,who brought the history of the town and buildings alive with her anecdotes and knowledge. I always say ‘walk a town’ and now I’m adding to that ‘with a guide’. We never looked at buildings, we looked at architecture, design, history and the stories that they held.

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The Ou Kerk, the fourth one to built on this site, completed in 1886.

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Outside a Made It handcrafted shop in Graaff-Reinet where yard bombing is the thing!

No visit to Graaff Reinet is complete without paying respect to the great anti-apartheid activist Robert Sobukwe who was born here and died on 27 Feb 1978 aged 53. My favourite quote by him - ‘The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.’ It felt right to stand here and say thank you for the lessons he brought us.

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From here we hit the road back to George airport, taking on a few detours nearby, before checking in for our trip home.

Suggestions and note - Our country is larger than we imagine. No matter how ell we plan, there will be things we wish we could do or add. Allow time in each area. Pack padkos and water for the long drives. Walking shoes and a sun hat. An open mind and the desire to Sho’t Left down any road that grabs your attention.

For me this trip exploring the Eastern Cape brought home the facts. As much as I love all travel, from the safety of the backseat as a child to the exotic international destinations I’ve encountered and seductive days falling for Africa, there is nothing as special as touring your own city and country. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and know for a fact that I will never stop.

This is what a Sho’t Left can give you.

So do it - take a Sho’t Left - by train, bus, car or taxi. I can’t emphasise enough how worthy our country is of your domestic travel love injection.

For Sho’t Left travel deals look here.

Spoiler alert: There are many more posts to come!

My thanks to Debbie Damant, Bonolo Modisa, Lwazi Moletsane and the SA Tourism #ShotLeft team for making this possible. To Jonker Fourie, Chantelle Marais and Di Brown for sharing my love for local travel.

Lion and Baboon. - I was sent this moving story and series of events and thought I would share it. Very moving and I just adore animals.

Photographer Evan Schiller and Lisa Holzwarth were on a game drive in the northern Botswana’s Selinda area when they came across a big troop of baboons charging through the bush.

The baboons were obviously frightened by something and they all scampered up trees, shouting, alarming, and making a big scene. It quickly became clear what the problem was: two large lionesses came out of the tall grass and rushed the baboons into the trees, soon joined by two more lionesses.

"Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene," Lisa says.

But then the real chaos began! One brave baboon descended the dead tree and tried to make a run for it, but got snapped up in the jaws of a lioness.

The lioness grabbed a female baboon on the run. But there was something else there. As the baboon lay dying in the jaws of the lioness, a little baby (less than a month old) slowly disengaged from its mother’s body. Instinct took over and the baby tried to make a go for a tree, but did not have the strength to climb. At this point the lioness noticed the “little guy” and went over to investigate.

Instead of snapping the baby up in a deadly movement, she started to play with the baboon. The lioness was inquisitive and gentle at the same time.

After a while she picked up the baboon softly in her mouth and walked away, then settled down with the baby between her paws. In a strange behavioural twist, the baboon started to try and suckle the lioness. 

The lioness got distracted-this time by two male lions who arrived on the scene. Their advances, however, were met with aggression by the lioness. Was she defending the baby baboon? Or just uninterested in their mating advances? 

Here’s where it gets interesting: Waiting in a nearby tree is a big male baboon, who is obviously intent on saving the baby. The male lions were causing such a ruckus that it presented a short window of opportunity for the brave hero to descend the tree, grab the baby and head back to safety.

The father baboon had to make a move. Holding the baby, in all sorts of contorted positions, he tried numerous times to climb down the tree. He tested the lionesses’ interest with each descent. The heroic male baboon, having just saved the baby from the lions, cradled him in his arms. 

"I was touched by how gently the father baboon held this little baby who was in tough shape after its ordeal." 

Life is fragile and no matter how much we fight to control its outcome, all we can do is live in the moment.”

Elgin. Some did you know stuff?

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These are the things I learnt about the Elgin area whilst visiting at South Hill Wines.

- Only an hour from Cape Town over Sir Lowry’s Pass down into the valley and you’re there.

- Situated between mountain and sea this is an area with its own wine route and some really impressive wines and bubbly.

- This is a mountain bikers dream with some of the most demanding and spectacular single tracks for professionals. They also host the Cape Epic each year. Actually it had been through the day before I visited.

- Other outdoor activities include quad biking, kayaking, water-skiing, hiking and nature walks. Although all I wanted to do was drink in the view from a comfy chair whilst sipping on the South Hill bubbly, it was good to know I had options.

- Its a rather remarkable place to get married. Whether its ultra-luxurious or rustic romance that you are after, the area has a natural beauty that will ground any love-locking ceremony.

- Local artists offer exhibitions throughout the area with special mention of The Gallery at South Hill and The Still Room at Paul Cluver.

- Accommodation options vary from self-catering to luxury tented, airstream trailers to the gorgeous South Hill Guest House.

More info in available on the Elgin Valley website. So, see you there, because quite frankly, I’m hooked on a valley that can be so generous with its natural beauty.

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(Pics were taken from the South Hill site without express permission).

South Hill. A place of dreams.

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I’m not a foodie. What I am is a very privileged girl. One who gets to track gorillas, do overland safaris, stay in beautiful reserves, camp next to remote rivers and then write about it; counting my lucky stars and feeling ever grateful as I go. Yet an invitation to South Hill uncovered new things for me, in an area that I don’t know very well, one with a generous natural beauty and a welcome warmth. I could tell right away that dreams live here

We were at The Gallery Restaurant for lunch and as I looked at the menu, at the lovingly sourced ingredients and extraordinary setting, I said to my friend and lunch partner Hein - ‘I’m excited! This menu excites me! Not because I’m a foodie but because I love and appreciate original things, original thought, passion in people - and I’ve always had a thing for a cool looking chefs’.

Situated just on an hour outside Cape Town off the N2 and down a dirt road, through the gates that hold their wine label, is the beautiful tasting room and restaurantof South Hill Vineyards, home to Kevin and Sandy King.

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The Gallery Restaurant is where Chef Damian Dearlove serves his delicious bistro-style food, a converted barn with impressive old Indian doors to decorate each end, as well as the divide between the tasting and dining rooms. Currently showcasing an impressive collection of South African Art worthy of collectors, I found myself getting up from the table to take a closer look at the collection of sculptures and paintings on display throughout the meal.

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We were taken though the range of South Hill and Kevin King wines, with the Rose and Blanc de Blanc Methode Cap Classique 2008 making a particular impression. I could’t resist bringing some home.

From a menu that offered a wonderful selection of locally sourced produce, I selected the vegetarian options. The sweet corn, ginger and saffron soup with croutons, followed by the roast pumpkin and rosemary risotto, both wonderful.

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Hein had the pan fried salt hake and spring onion fishcake, swiss chard, tomato beure blanc and a poached egg. It looked amazing!

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This was followed by dessert which Chef put together for us. It was simply too difficult to make a decision. His selection included the apple tarte with a ginger anglaise - after all we were in apple country … And the charamelised pineapple chardonnay syrup and tropical fruit sorbet, which blew my mind. I only recently fell for pineapple and this is one of the most inspired desserts I’ve enjoyed.

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All this whilst sipping on their fine bubbly and chatting to one of my dearest friends made for a perfect afternoon. The art of the long leisurely luncheon truly perfected.

Here a group of passionate people had dared to dream, giving us the opportunity to come out and benefit from that dream.

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There were a few art pieces I wished I could have. 

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Owner and own label wine maker Kevin King.

After lunch we took a look at the South Hill Guesthouse knowing we’d like to spend a few days here. It certainly is a magical part of the Western Cape that I’m much looking forward to getting to know better. 

I strongly recommending that you take the drive out and enjoy an inspired meal at South Hill, followed by a linger on the couch outside overlooking the vineyard vistas.

It is true what they say, all the best things are at the end of a long dirt road, and I am very excited to know about this one!

Thank you Coenie Visser for arranging the lunch and to Kevin King for taking such good care of us whilst we were there.

Restaurant hours are Wednesday to Sunday between 12h00 and 15h00, you can call ahead at all 021 844 0033 to reserve your table. This is also the perfect venue for a wedding, do contact them for info if you’re looking to seal your love in a special place.

South Hill. - A photo collection of the villa guest house which is set just across from The Gallery. With the most incredible views, it has the magical mix of luxury, space and understated elegance. The type where you feel you can kick your shoes off and simply relax … yet never want for anything.

Sold either as a whole unit or on an individual room basis, there is a large living area, open plan kitchen, pool and five en suite bedrooms. Each individually decorated with doors opening out on to a private patio. Upstairs is a loft area with tv and library, which can be converted into a sleeping area for children.

This is a very good spot to escape for a few days, be it with family, friends or a quiet retreat. Bring your camera to capture the moments and prepare to stock up on good wine and the treat of real food made in the best possible way.

Activities on offer include walks on the farm, a picnic or a newly launched sunset adventure wine tour.

As a contributor on the Grootbos blog I am lucky enough to be a regular visitor to this place I call ‘my kind of wonderland’. On my recent visit the focus was on time at their Garden Lodge, an eco boat trip with Dyer Island Cruises, horse riding on the reserve and quad biking nearby. The place never ceases to amaze me. We made a little video of the happy days.

Thank you Grootbos, Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics for always showing me the unbeatable beauty of the Overberg.