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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Cape of Storms

We headed back down to Cape Town over Thanksgiving weekend (my 2nd trip in 5 weeks; JG’s fifth!) to meet up with Catherine and her friend Steve. We headed out to Gansbaai (with a few – okay, five – stops at various Elgin Valley wine farms along the way) for a 2-day guided hike along the coast. Mother Nature had a few tricks up her sleeve, but overall it was a smashing weekend!

We had fun with waiters and wine-pourers asking the group where we’re from, replying that we are two Americans who live in South Africa, one South African who lives in a America, and one un-confused South African who’s where he belongs.

Setting out on a 15km hike through 50km winds

Setting out on a 15km hike through 50km winds

"Spookdorp" (Ghost Town). South African planning at its best: the government built a sort of national park holiday resort right on the sand dunes, which the beach reclaimed within 5 years of opening.

“Spookdorp” (Ghost Town). South African planning at its best: the government built a sort of national park holiday resort right on the sand dunes, which the beach reclaimed within 5 years of its opening.

Catherine struggling to stay upright against the wind (I just mistyped that as "wine", which is rather another story altogether)

Catherine struggling to stay upright against the wind (I just mistyped that as “wine”, which was only later!)

Self portrait to demonstrate how many layers were involved in this "springtime" hike. Sunglasses were employed as sand goggles.

Self portrait to demonstrate how many layers were involved in this “springtime” hike. Sunglasses were employed as sand goggles.

In the mouth of one of the caves

Johnny G in the mouth of one of the caves

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4 hikers + an angry sea

4 hikers + an angry sea

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Day 2 = much nicer weather

JG, on top of the world

JG, on top of the world

We did a bit of caving with the most enthusiastic old local guy, who gives tours for free just because he loves to show off the caves.

We did a bit of caving with the most enthusiastic old local guy, who gives tours for free just because he loves to show off the caves.

Whales! Hard to capture, but this was a mother/baby pair, and the baby was albino. So cool!

Whales! Hard to capture, but this was a mother/baby pair, and the baby was albino!

We walked by the house where we stayed with the Cape Town peeps for Halloween 2010!

We walked by the house where we stayed with the Cape Town peeps for Halloween 2010!

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Bush to Beach to Berg

For the first half of August, we had the honor of playing host and tour guide for John’s brother Chuck, his wife Tracy, and their sons Charlie (14) and Alex (12) — collectively “The Chucks”. We drove more than 1,000 miles, saw dozens of animals, ate our way across SA, slept in luxury tents and a leaky cave, laughed ourselves sick, and generally just had an absolute blast.

Click on any photo to launch a full-size version of the slideshow

The photos and captions tell the story pretty well, but here’s a bit more context to how we spent our 13-day vacation. It’s amazing how quickly 2 weeks flies by when you’re having fun!

Part 1: Bush

After The Chucks’ 8pm arrival on Saturday night, we grabbed some takeout and had a quick catch-up session (and first-ever Roxy meeting!) on the patio before sending them off to bed. On Sunday – despite what should have been a very jet-laggy morning – everyone rolled out of bed fairly cheerfully and we were on the road by 11am after a nice pitstop by our monthly neighborhood food/craft market, The Wonder Market, for some breakfast and many, many coffees.

We arrived in St. Lucia mid-afternoon in time to check into our lovely guest house, then rolled straight over to the docks to board a cruise of the estuary in search of crocs and hippos. Many wild animals later, we enjoyed a delicious feast at a Portugese restaurant and then retired back to the lodge for some vino and chitchat.

Monday morning found us on a day tour of the wetlands, all the way up to Cape Vidal. All in an open-air Land Cruiser with an affable guide named Paul, complete with a lunch braai on the beach. By mid-afternoon, we were on the road again to head another hour north to Thanda game reserve.

We spent an amazing and relaxing 3 days at Thanda, where we were completely spoiled by the staff and amazed by the animals. We not only saw the Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion, cape buffalo, leopard), we actually spent considerable time with many of them. There were also cheetahs, hyenas, warthogs, zebras, wildebeest, and too many types of bok to count. I can’t say enough good things about Thanda – if the opportunity ever presents itself, GO!

After a final early-morning game drive on Thursday, we said goodbye to Thanda and headed back to Durbs.

Part 2: Beach

Although the weather had been gray and rainy in Durban the whole time we were away, it was blue sky and warm by the time we returned. So we stopped off for lunch by the beach in Ballito on the way home, and then enjoyed a chilled night in with everyone’s favorite Pug.

Charlie (who answered “That sounds awesome – I want to do that” to every activity idea that I suggested) wanted to do the swing at the World Cup stadium, which is billed as the world’s largest swing (106m high, with a swinging arc of 220m). That’s basically jumping off of a 35-story building. John and Chuck agreed to take the plunge with him, while Alex, Tracy and I watched from stadium seats. It looked terrifying!

With Chuck hoarse from screaming like a little girl on the swing, we headed out for some lunch and a steadying beer. The plan was to grab lunch by uShaka Marine World and then head inside the water park for the afternoon, but the awesome and pragmatic Alex declared that the park was “too expensive”, so we opted for the free Umhlanga beach instead.

We had had the brilliant foresight to ask Terry and Steph if we could have the whole Durban crew over to their place for a braai Friday night, so all we had to do post-beach was clean ourselves up and head down the street. It was total fun to see our blood relatives mixing in with our Africa family.

After having our planned surf lessons canceled due to poor water conditions (it was lovely and warm and sunny out, just unfavorable surf) we spent all day Saturday hanging out at the beach at the Durban Undersea Club, playing corn hole and drinking beers. We rounded out the day with a soccer match at the World Cup stadium – Durban’s own Amazulu vs. the Kaiser Chiefs. It didn’t end well for the hometown boys, but a good time was had by all.

Surf lessons got waved off again on Sunday, so we hung around the house a bit and then headed down South to Umlazi township for an all-day lunch at Max’s Lifestyle. Meat and beer, beer and meat, rinse and repeat. As the sun went down, we decided to call an end to “lunch” and head home to rest up for the next leg of the trip…

Part 3: Berg

We headed out early Monday morning to rendezvous with the mountain guide who would take the boys on an overnight hiking trip to camp in Zulu Cave high up in the Drakensberg Mountains. As the boys disappeared up the trail, Tracy and I headed another hour into the Berg to The Cavern hotel and spa, where we spent 24 hours in the lap of (relative) luxury while the boys survived on cheese and crackers and slept in a cave. But the boys related that they had a fabulous time, and the pictures are simply breathtaking.

Once the team was back together on Tuesday morning, we headed out for a bite of lunch and then retired to Terry’s fabulous cottage for the rest of the day. Clean and rested up on Wednesday, we headed over to the treetop canopy tour for some ziplining. A heated bowls match and a delicious dinner rounded out the day, then most of us turned in for a good night’s sleep (**certain members of the household whose names may or may not rhyme with Con and Muck may have stayed up until the wee hours solving the world’s problems / drinking bourbon).

After an epic breakfast on the back patio, we packed back into the van and headed for the Midlands to do some meandering. Chuck – whose love of indigenous trinkets is only rivaled by that of his brother – continued his souvenir shopping spree, with the day’s haul including a bull’s horn, a springbok hide, a wildebeest skull (a gift for JG), and an iron warthog statue named Lil’ Coo. After an early dinner pitstop in Pietermaritzburg, we got back to Durban in time to change into comfy pants and have a group screening of The Fighter.

Friday morning (what?! How did it get to be Friday already?!) found us down at Warwick Market for a bit of a cultural tour and some final purchases at the weekly bead market. Terry served as our tour guide / Zulu interpreter, and I think the Chucks were suitably impressed (and slightly horrified) with the aisles of traditional medicine components.

And with “Zulu Market” checked off of the list, it was time to (SOB!) head back to the airport. Our luck with the weather held out just long enough, as the skies broke open while we were returning the rental car.

It was an unforgettable trip seeing amazing things with some of our favorite peeps in the world. A million thanks to our first family visitors for making the trek to SA – we’ll never forget it!

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A waterfall we found on the hike that drove us into the arms of a Hooters girl. Don’t ask how our photographer got up there – it was scary to watch!

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Hawaan Hike

A few weekends ago, we jogged right past the “No Dogs Allowed” sign at the entrance to the beautiful Hawaan Forest to do a little hike that ended up on the beach. Lovely!

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Hawaan Mini-Hike

Saturday found us on a little (and I mean little — 30 minutes out and back, and that was with 10 minutes of beach walking) hike through the Hawaan Forest, which is just a few minutes’ drive from our house. It’s very cool to see jungle open up right onto the beach (sort of feels like being in ‘Lost’, though with monkeys instead of polar bears), but there’s apparently not much of it left, between sugarcane fields and housing developments.

Have we mentioned the sugarcane? It is a MAJOR crop around here. The harvest process involves setting fire to the fields to burn out all of the leavings after the cane has been collected, so during harvest season (which seems to have tapered off around August as far as I can tell) the whole landscape is on fire. I would say “the countryside”, but it’s a remarkably urban crop — you can see and smell the fires just a mile or two from us, and huge flakes of ash rain down constantly all over everything.

Anyway, small hike, Hawaan Forest.

Also, bonus baby monkey sighting (clinging to mother's undercarriage). That baby monkey is STRONG -- it's mother was in a full-out sprint here.

 

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Meandering

We rolled out on Saturday morning to head inland along the “Midlands Meander“, a tourism route that follows several small roads between Pietermaritzburg and the Drakensburg Mountains. It reminded us a lot of Bath County VA, with lots of little shops and hikes and quaint roadside stuff.

The higher elevation means that the weather is almost always cooler than it is in Durban (they say it’s a great escape from the heat in the middle of summer), and Saturday’s cool cloudiness turned into a full-blown eerie fog later that night. Perfect weather for sitting by a fire (or under a propane heater, as the case may be).

A great, easy escape — and one we look forward to doing again!

First stop: the Piggly Wiggly coffee shop / produce market. We skipped the coffee and the veggies and headed straight for the champagne tasting.

Lunch at Il Postino, where we had the BEST PIZZA WE'VE HAD IN AFRICA! So, so good. And with actual italian sausage! We're already scheming a return trip.

Roxy picks out some Belgian chocolates at Chocolate Heaven. The surprise winner was the cinnamon milk chocolate. Ungh!!

Our home for the night, the Nottingham Road Hotel. Bonus: the ground-floor pub is the hottest spot in the Midlands. Who knew?

A common theme for the day: no dogs allowed. Each rejection sent us to somewhere more awesome though, so it's really just their loss!

Beer sampling at the Bierfassel pub, where we watched rugby while toasting ourselves under a propane heater. Glorious!

Roxy staying warm (sharing my scarf) at the Bierfassel.

Johnny G with our new friend: a mormon Zulu named Washington. Nottie's Pub at the hotel.

Sunday was hot and sunny, so we took a hike down to the bottom of the 95-meter Howick Falls (4th highest in SA).

It was a bit hot for pugs that day, so I gave Roxy a lift for part of the climb back up.

Rox definitely enjoyed the aircon for the ride home.

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The Anti-Hike

Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far (close to 100), so we (un)wisely set out to do a hike along a ridge with absolutely no tree cover. Brilliant! About 100 meters in, we walked by the area’s other big attraction: the reservoir. It was pretty irresistible, so we gave up on the hike and threw ourselves into the icy water instead.

Lindsay, Jared, Roxy, and John cool off in the water. (Lindsay spent the afternoon picking up a progressively larger series of logs from the bottom of the reservoir and hoisting them over her head. Jared had forgotten his hat and so was sporting John’s giant baseball cap.)

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