48 hours in the Northern Cape

Endless horizons that fill your eyes and sear your soul.

A land of space, and time, and air.

In the words of Minister Derek Hanekom

“Northern Cape is a place of extremes”

As the largest province in South Africa it is extremely big covering more than 360 000 square kilometres

Desert, plains, rivers, pans and 6 National Parks.

Extreme weather with temperatures ranging from  -5 C to over 40C

KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER NATIONAL PARK

It is 6am and I am shivering in a desert. The sky is blue and the sun is rising but I feel like I am sitting on an iceberg.

While we wrap scarves around our heads, Rob our ranger drives  happily in his shorts! They breed em tough out here!

We are driving in South Africa but looking at Botswana as we leave the office at  Twee Rivieren.

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We stop to examine the huge sociable weaver nests that almost take over the acacia trees, appearing to break them in half as the weight becomes too much.

Not true says Rob. In the fork of these trees messy little creatures called Tree mice make their nests. Being too lazy to get up and go to the loo, they wee in the nest.

The high acidity in their urine rots the tree causing it to split and collapse. Personal hygiene is not one of their strong points.

A little further on and Rob points out a solitary male lion jogging along the old road.

He stops from time to time to sniff a tree, rub himself on the bark before urinating, marking his territory.

We chugged alongside this arrogant guy for a good 20 minutes, all eyes on him, while he never even gave us a look.

It seems he has really adopted the mantle of King of the Bush and does not have the time for a glance at mere humans.

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A Secretary bird strides out, looking extremely fierce and bad tempered.

They walk on the ground looking for snakes, and when they see them, they stomp  them to death before eating them whole.

Bigger than I imagined and not graceful in their beauty, these Secretary birds are like scruffy gangsters . I would not fancy meeting one of them in a dark alley!

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Did you know?

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park covers 1,6 million square kilometres and is totally self sustaining.

The only man made intervention are the waterholes.

Kgalagadi means Place of Pans.

It is not actually a desert, more of a giant sand pit  is how Rob the ranger describes it.

It is a huge sand mass the begins way up in the dunes in Namibia and extends into Botswana and the Northern Cape.

Visit the Face Book page for updated sightings. https://af-za.facebook.com/LatestSightingsKgalagadi

MEERKATS and WINDMILLS

Meet Prof Anne Rasa.

Mother to orphaned Meerkat, passionate about her Kalahari and devoted advocate of the little guys and the fine details.

Her desert haven is situated on the R360 about 30km before the entrance to the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park. Do stop, it is well worth it.

The Prof tells us that she believes one must walk in the Kalahari to truly know it. She offers night walks where she shows the bustling nightlife of the desert.

Beetles and spiders, scorpions and bugs, explained by a tracker and a biologist.

Day walks and drives are also offered , and the Prof is enthusiastic about educating young children about the area. From the geology and plants to the meerkats and the bugs.

The Prof is inspiring and as she talks and wanders around her piece of desert her passion is evident.

Although she was born and raised in Wales, there is no doubt that the Kalahari is where she belongs. She is one with this landscape.

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Sadly for us, but happily for the Meerkats, Anne had no orphans when we visited. When she speaks about these beguiling creatures her face softens and she sounds like a proud mum.

They are human and comical in their interactions. She tells us stories of brothers and sisters, eloping couples,the birth of babies, fights and leaving home with such animation that you forget she is talking of Meerkats and not family.

The female meerkats have their babies and then pretty much carry on with life, leaving a babysitter from the group to care for the little ones. The mum does manage to fit in suckleing, but that is it.

Visit the Face Book page for more info  and do take time to read more about the meerkats and their stories here. http://www.kalahari-trails.co.za/en/

Annes trail costs are incredibly reasonable and I will be returning for a few days to learn about her Kalahari.

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HAKSTEENPAN

Haksteenpan,   This is only a small piece of it! The next jewel in the Northern Cape crown

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It is becoming well known as it is the site where in 2015 the Bloodhound Team aim to break the World Land Speed record by attempting to travel at 1600km/ph over a 20km track.

More info on the  World Record attempt here.
 http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/project/adventure/desert-race-track/hakskeen-pan

It is the location for Speedweek Kalahari that sees petrolheads from all over coming to put foot, have fun and not worry about noise bothering the neighbours.

Haksteenpan is really in the middle of nowhere. The closest settlement is Rietfontein, 60km away.

For more information on  Kalahari  http://speedweeksa.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KalahariDesertSpeedweek?ref=br_tf

10603877_558268904273980_3194366821722029327_oMedia Team 1 jumping in the desert to try to stay warm, strange at that may seem.

Being a mapmaker, I had to look it up on satellite imagary.
The 7km track used by Speedweek Kalahari   is clearly visible.

My measurements estimate the pan at about 21,4km in length end to end, and 8,4km at the widest point.

What the photos can not describe is the unique beauty of this landscape that becomes more interesting the longer you are there.

Malibongwe Tyilo and I spent a fair amount of time in the impressive MTN Media Centre, backed by a huge tower and a 150kw power plant, especially built for the World record attempt next year.

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Haaksteenpan was also the location for the WTM2014 celebrations.

Minister Hanekom, the Northern Cape MEC, tourism bigwigs, and representatives from the other provinces arrived en masse at Haksteenpan.

Locals came in their droves to party the day and night away, while others set up stalls to feed the party people.

The massive stage was jumping with DJ’s, singers, dancers and bands rocking the desert.

Derek Hanekom even managed a wiggle or two before his address.

The food and wine flowed, the smiles were huge, the chatter was loud and this party was on!

And then the sun went down. It went orange, then pink, then grey and then B L A C K

I have never experienced such total darkness before. The nearest town, which is tiny, is 60km away, there is no light pollution at all.
Although the visible stars are abundant and clear, the blackness is all encompassing.

It makes you walk in a really peculiar manner as you have no concept of when your feet are going to connect with the ground. Could this be the start of a new condition, the “Haksteen Hobble”?

Nothing could have prepared me for the creative drama that followed dinner. Orchestrated by Witch and Wizard, the light and sound show was astounding.

Entitled  “The Desert comes Alive” this magical show had the crowds screaming in awe.

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A videographer is bathed in luminous green as he captures this spectacle on camera

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To end off, fireworks burst high in the sky and go on for a spellbinding 15 minutes.

SA Tourism and Northern Cape showed us that that know how to celebrate in style.

The name Haksteenpan is synonymous with Speedweek Kalahari, but by next year it will be a name known all over the world.

Northern Cape tourism have embraced this opportunity to showcase their province and have already been commended by Bloodhound for their support and co operation.

Thanks to all at Northern Cape Tourism for organising, hosting and showing off . Special mention must go to Desti van der Merwe who acted as our guide,  George our tireless driver who took us safely over 600km in 48 hours, Minister Hanekom for the awesome giraffe selfie, and of course for being so inspiring and exited about tourism,  and Debbie Damant for everything else.

#Shotleft

For more information on the Northern Cape visit www.experiencenortherncape.com

Some highlights include:  Birds, meerkats, beetles and scorpions

The Augrabies Falls and the Roaring Sand Dunes

The SALT Telescope, extreme adrenalin adventures and the Big 5

The Orange River wine route, the Big Hole in Kimberley.

Stanford. The repeat #shotleft destination.

L o c a t i o n.           Lo  c  a  t  i  o  n          L   o   c   a   t   i   o   n.  

143 km from Cape Town

Mountains & rivers  |    Birds & bush   |     Food & wine   |   Beer & cheese

 Adventure   |    Pamper  |   Relax

  Explore 

via

Horse   |  kayak  |  quad-bike   |  bicycle  |  car  | boat  | small plane

Walk or hike the

heritage  |  history   |  fynbos & flowers  |  markets & crafts  |  birds  |  antiques  routes

STANFORD-VILLAGE-INFOGRAPHIC
This infographic was created by
Xplorio for the Stanford community.

Eastern Cape #shotleft. 5 days of coastlines and kloofs, people and projects.

 

A dream #shotleft destination, this holiday province has loads to offer.

However, like any area there is an underside to it. A place of social and ecological challenges, unemployment, limited resources and lack of support from local government. The people of the Eastern Cape in their own quiet way are performing  daily miracles. 

This trip was a combination of the fun, action and wonders of the tourism face of the Eastern Cape, and the inspiring, everyday face of community projects, environmental initiatives and the people who get involved and are actively growing the province.

The Eastern Cape has bewitched  me.

Not wanting to waste one second of my 5 days in Eastern Cape, I am up at 3am, sleepily shivering  but singing in the shower in a cold and wintry Cape Town.

A 6am flight from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, a short drive to the Cape St Francis Resort and by 8.30 I am unpacked, have shed my Cape Town winter woollies and am enjoying a coffee in the sun.

The Eastern Cape magic kicks in.

Beach hikes and boats

Our first adventure is a 12km beach hike and clean-up. We are just east of Cape St Francis, walking the route of day 3 of the  4 day slackpacking Chokka Trail. This section of coastline in referred to as the Coastal Cradle of Humankind. Shell middens & ancient fish traps are evidence of the Khoisan who lived here thousands of years ago.

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Armed with large plastic bags and big smiles we meander along sandy paths with eye candy views in all directions.

Dunes of colourful fynbos, rocky outcrops and stretches of beach free of footprints.

 

 

The sound and smell of the sea, a shipwreck, an unmarked grave on the beach.

Friendly holiday makers in the remote cottage who saw us in the distance and welcomed us with some shade, a chat and a platter of sliced oranges. Of course, I messed, am am now sticky and somehow have orange juice in my armpits!

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Our group filled 8 large refuse bags with offensive, man made rubbish, from rope and bunched plastic used by the fishermen, to discarded plastic water bottles, tins and a single shoe. All this man made debris is very damaging to the marine life and regular beach clean ups are done in the area. The single shoe fitted me, but sadly I never found it mate, or saw any one legged women on the beach.

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A quick look at the Seal Point lighthouse which was being repainted, and a peak through the cage at the penguins at SANCCOB ended our beach activities for the day. I almost fell into the sea while trying to get a shot of the waves breaking against the rocks. I did stumble in on the flat section of beach, getting drenched up to me knees, and squelching the last kilometer in sodden takkies.

At the Balobi Fish Market at Port St Francis, a Neptune’s feast of  sea food refuelled us,my takkies sort of dried, while Jacques Le Roux told us about the waste management programs on the chokka boats, the zero overboard policy, and the international MARPOL Protocol that South Africa abides by.

From there we visited the Kromme Trust Heritage Centre set right on the rocks,at the mouth of the Kromme River.  John Suckling showed us the clever fishing line bins and spoke about the problems in the area as there is no Environmental Officer . The Kromme Trust is run by volunteers and its mandate is to protect and preserve the environment for future generations. They will be announcing a very exciting discovery in the near future. More about that in another article.

As the sun was saying goodbye, we were treated to a cruise around the canals of St Francis Bay.

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A bottle of bubbly, a gem of a sunset and then back to Cape St Francis Resort and their Joe Fish Restaurant for supper.

In spite of the bubbly, I managed to stay on the boat and even did a spritely leap from boatside to dock at the end of the cruise.

A early morning walking tour of the Cape St Francis Resort with Anita Lennox and Diesel the beach loving collie,before meeting Betty’s Tours.

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Schools, artists and ninja knitters

We visited the Talhado Childrens Haven, a successful, vibrant Montessori school and were blown away by the Rotary Recycling Project where the children are educated about waste management, earn mula for everything they collect, and once a month they can redeem their mula for goods in the volunteer run shop. I would love to see this project rolled out throughout South Africa. This project will get a blog post all of its own.

We then met the creative ladies of Nomvula’s Knitters at their workshop before continuing to the retail outlet in the Village.

This is a great community initiative where it is a pleasure to support local crafters.  I have huge respect for these ladies as I am totally unable to wield knitting needles. The fine motor skill and craft genes bypassed me completely.

A walking tour of the Art Route in the Village, visiting Inside Art where talented artists Gerda Hamm and Annelene Terblanche have a studio as well as gallery, Sea Cottage Antiques and Collectables and the Blue Earth Gift and Coffee Shop.The signage really appealed to me.

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Waving a sad goodbye to our new friends in Cape St Francis we take a short drive to Jeffrey’s Bay, surfing mecca, where we are meet by Jacqui Bursey of the tourism office. First stop is  The Bay Pasta Co for the biggest pizzas ever seen, while discussing our activities for the afternoon.

 

Aloes, penguin bins and etchings

We spent 2 fascinating hours with Alison Kuhl of the Supertubes Surfing Foundation. This initiative gets support from the surfing community to preserve the beaches and surrounding areas. Alison spoke with great passion about the aloes she “rescues” and showed us some of the 28 hectares of aloes that now beautify the dunes of these busy beaches. We marvelled at the community garden, an open well used space between the beach and the main road that she and her volunteer helpers have restored, and filled with indigenous plants. We delighted in the funky, giant penguins that serve as recycling bins in the park and on the beaches. Local “bergies” were sternly told to not throw litter or fall into the plants after their braai party.

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Next stop was a visit to the Surf Art Gallery where owner Garth looked exactly as a veteran surfer should, while Martin Bakker showed us his incredible etchings depicting marine life.

A visit to the brand new Trauma Centre at the local police station was sobering. Marieka, the areas Traumatologist, is a saint. She is exposed daily to human tragedy, yet is unwavering in her belief that everyone is entitled to be heard, in a safe and private environment. The project is funded by Rotary, supported by the local police and staffed by trained volunteers.

The evening was spent on the balcony of our  Seashells luxury apartment, gazing at the waves, watching the rain clouds roll in as we contemplated our early morning surfing lesson!

 

 

               

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Surfing, horse riding and muscle aches 

Andy  Moon of Wavecrest Surf School is the most patient teacher ever.  I managed to trip over my board before we even got to the water.

With Andy waist deep in the waves shouting encouragement, I almost stood about 10 times before a wobble and almighty splash back into the breakers. A 2 hour surf lesson is a full body work out, as well as a natural exfoliation!

I had sand everywhere, like really, E V E R Y W H E R E and the next day I felt pain in muscles I never knew I had.

But, oh my hat, it was lots of fun.

I have serious plans to return to JBay next year to take advantage of Wavecrests’ 7 day special. A lesson a day for 7 days, plus all day access to a board and wetsuit.

I can imagine myself actually standing up, fit and toned, with shiny smooth skin sandpapered by the sand. Thats my dream.

Off a surfboard and straight onto the back of a horse. Another first for me.

Hilmary of Featherfoot Horse Trails, helped short old me climb onto tallish boy Friesian horse who only wanted to stop and eat weeds, unlike the well behaved girl horses who trotted prettily along the road and onto the beach.

Once I got over the vertigo, and dear old Whisky was reprimanded by Hilmary, we had a scenic sedate walk along the beach.

For me, a first timer, wading through a river that comes up to the horses thigh (do horses have thighs?) was rather thrilling, as was staying on the horse for the full hour and a half.

Next time, I would like to try the next speed up from walking. I love to live dangerously.

Horse riding activates very different muscles to surfing. By the next morning every single muscle I own was letting me know I should go easy.

 

 

 

 

 

Spekbooms and proteas

Waking up from a comatose sleep at Tropical Eden  Villas in Patensie, we headed off to the Tolbos Farmstall to meet  Kobus Kok for breakfast and to hear about the Spekboom Project.

Spekboom are known as “eco engineers”, sort of plant ninjas.  Armed with picks and spades we climbed into bakkies and headed for the hills. The scenery and tranquility of the Baviaanskloof are unrivalled. The only sounds that were not from nature were my squeals when some N’guni cattle did not share my passion for wandering in their pasture taking pics of their kids.  We eventually stopped, climbed a little and then planted our own spekboom. Pick wielding is not as easy as it looks, but we got the result. The best 15 minutes were spent standing sliently. Observing, listening and relishing the solitude.

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The Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project (STRP) is a collaboration of Working for Ecosystems , Restoration Research Group (R3G) and Gamtoos Irrigation Board .It is a rehabilitation programme within the Baviaanskloof, Addo and Fish River area. More about this project in a separate post for all the conservationists and keen gardeners.

As it was Womens Day, we made stopped outside of Hankey to visit the final resting place of Sarah Bartman. Our chatter stopped as we walked around, reflecting on her life. Her grave is situated on the top of a hill with sweeping views of the Gamtoos Valley. Apparently an Educational Centre is planned for the site. I hope it happens as  a visit to her grave leaves you eager for more information.

For some reason, I am permanently hungry when I am out and about. Thankfully, just 3 hours after breakfast we were heading to Oudebosch for lunch. The landscape changes again and becomes more tree ish as we get closer to the Tsitsikamma area. Jonker Fourie aka #FireflyAfrica was there to meet us. After stuffing my face yet again, we follow Jonker to the Regyne Protea Farm.

Wow! Hanli Viljoen gave us a tour of the coldroom, the greenhouse and finally into the fields, 80 hectares of proteas. These flowers never cease to amaze me. Their beauty is so intricate, complex, yet they grow wild on the mountains.

At Regyne, the largest protea farm in the world, they are cultivated primarily for the export market. Anyone who likes flowers or has the slightest interest in gardening, a visit here is a joy.

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“There is nothing in Eersterivier, but you must go there. Just do it! ” says Esti Stewart of St Francis Tourism.

Being obedient, we did and oh my what a place, what a view, what a beach! I will let the photos do the talking. It was drizzling when we were there, but I must go back. It was outstanding in the rain, I cant imagine how amazing it could be in the summer sunshine.

No #shotleft is complete without a braai. Jonker did the honours until the rain dominated the fire and the oven was used to finish the job. A great nights sleep lulled by the ocean sounds and a wet windy walk on the beach in the morning that was divine, in spite of the weather.

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Suspension bridges and grumpy dassies

Our last stop was to SANPARKS  Storms River Mouth camp. I say this about every SANPARKS camp I go to, but this must be one of the most dramatically beautiful parks in the country. Vertical drops from green cliffs to wild sea, hidden beaches, steep gorges  and tannin coloured rivers. Raw nature and an adventure playground. The cool weather was ideal for the curly climb, steps and viewpoints to the legendary suspension bridge. The path, viewing points and educational boards and signage seem to blend in with the surrounds. A dassie glares at us a few feet from the path. Buck toothed and grumpy looking, probably the nerd of the herd, he did pose for photos. I am not sure why, but it is thrilling standing on that bridge, swaying in the wind with mountains and the river behind you, and the sea shouting and splashing below. Judging by the height of the waves, and not being terribly brave or fond of being cold, I was secretly pleased that we had forgotten to book for kayaking and SUP lessons with Untouched Adventures. The water looked like it would turn my blue and miserable in seconds, wetsuit and all.

Next time, in warmer weather.

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A big thank you to Debbie Damant and the #shotleft team, Dawn Jorgensen and Linda Markovina, intrepid travel buddies and friends,Esti Stewart and all the Cacadu District team for showing us their area, generosity and friendship.

Lessons from #eTAS14. Hire a teenager & talk to your granny.

7th e Tourism Africa Summit.

 

This summit was a collision of new meets old.

We were told to RETHINK TRAVEL, and I did.

There were three recurring points that shouted at me once I filtered out the buzzwords, technical jargon, slick presentations and statistics.

  • Tourism is about people
  • If you care, customers will share
  • Technology and social media are powerful tools

 

We were told that customer expectations are at an all-time low. This presents a huge opportunity that can be embraced with a simple mind shift.

Understand that your brand is not about you, it is about what your customer thinks about you, so focus more on your customer and less on your brand.

Go back to the ethics of forty years ago where the customer was king, and great or at least good service was expected and delivered.

In those days your actions created your brand reputation, not clever words and contrived marketing campaigns. A genuine desire for satisfied customers dictated people being seen as individuals. This attitude guaranteed good service, which led to brand loyalty. This is how good relationships are built.

Make your business all about your customer. Be friendly, be human and go the extra mile.

These were the default settings of successful businesses back in the day.

Kindness, humanity and a good work ethic will never go out of fashion. Be generous to your customers. People want to at least feel that they received the service that they paid for, and your aim should be to make them feel that they received more than they had expected.

Do this and they will remember you, recommend you and if you allow them, they will tell the world how wonderful you are.

 

Social media is nothing more than modern day word of mouth on steroids.

Technology allows us to amplify our customer’s voices and reach the whole world.

You need to create a presence on social media, allow people to know and understand you. Be human, be real and engage with them.

 

If you are in the tourism industry FREE Wi-Fi is a must.

 

Make it easy to for clients to share information about who you are, where you are and how great you are via pictures, videos and stories.

Ask for, support and encourage sharing. Engage with your customers when they do share.

You don’t have to tell the world how great you are.

Be great and your customers will tell the world for you.

Customer generated content is authentic and free.

Curated by you for marketing, it is priceless.

 

On a lighter note, the way I see it is to succeed in the tourism industry in 2014 and beyond you need to do 3 things.

  • Talk to your granny, and learn about old school customer service.
  • Hire a teenager, to create and manage your social media platforms.
  • Focus on your clients, serve them, listen to them, and delight them.