The Funky Fynbos Festival. Celebrating the outdoors like a boss.

It is just after 7 am on a Saturday morning.

I am sitting eating freshly flipped pancakes dripping with cinnamon and lemon juice, sipping the best coffee I have ever tasted. The sun is just starting to warm my bones and I feel my body relaxing after the 3 hour drive from Cape Town.

DSC_0499-01

Brightly coloured tents displaying artworks, colourful clothes and crafts draw my eyes, and then the sound system comes alive and my feet start tapping to Golden Earrings “Radar Love”

I’m feeling it. It’s the weekend; it’s festival time in Gansbaai.

IMG_1281

Gansbaai is a small coastal town in the Overberg, 163km from Cape Town. It is a good community with a strong emphasis on creativity, earth friendly living and a healthy paced rural lifestyle. Gansbaai and a few of the businesses recently won the top awards for sustainable and responsible tourism. Read more about Gansbaai, its delights, attractions and awards here

I am on a farm called De Uijlenes  . Continue just past Gansbaai and take the left turn onto the Baardscheerdersbos / Elim road and 15km after Gansbaai you will find yourself on this pretty farm in the flower valley.

The event is the 2nd Funky Fynbos Festival and it’s a celebration of the wild flowers, farm life, the wine, food and activities of this very pretty area.

DSC_0400-01

DSC_0385

This year the 3 venues for the festival are the farm and wedding function venue De Uijlenes, the wine estate down the road called Lomond, Strandfontein Caravan Park and the farm and nursery Groeneweide.

The festival is also host to great outdoor competitions. A challenging MTB race on Saturday morning and a tough Trail Run on Sunday morning saw individuals and families pushing themselves to the limits through farm tracks, over rivers, up hills and down into the valleys.

IMG_1427

A new 4 x 4 trail was put to the test by enthusiasts at Strandfontein, and keen fishermen tested their skills and luck on Lake Lomond at the wine estate of the same name.

For the kids Fun Go Karts were a big hit, especially after they found a short downhill path and then the races were on. Face painting, Milo the clown come fire eater and the jumping castle donated by Grootbos kept the kids busy and happy all day.

IMG_1390

The refreshing ice cream from Moo’s Frozen Treats  was irresistible. I had at least one of each flavour and happily slurped and messed all over my hands, face and clothes, and then went back for more. At R5 a sachet, it was not my fault that I totally pigged out.

I spent two very happy days in the fresh air, walking around farms and forests, listening to great music and eating way too much.  The reggae sounds of the Rivertones blew me away, going to find them again and drag all my friends along.

DSC_0469-01

DSC_0463-01

Of course we all adjourned to the pub on Saturday evening to watch South Africa take on Japan in their first Rugby World Cup game During half time we were entertained by the fire eating Milo, and after the game, magic happened.

As the devastated fans walked out of the pub, 2 of the musicians who had finished their paid stint got together and started jamming. The fire pit was soon sporting a blazing bonfire and we sang along, danced or chilled around the fire as Chris Else and Guy Feldman belted out tunes like they had been playing together for years.

DSC_0495-01

The highlight of the festival for me was the people I met.  Let me introduce you to some of them.

Kloeks and Henk. This multi-talented husband and wife team have invited me back and I will be going as soon as possible. Kloeks is apparently the best cook in the world and has a restaurant in her home. Henk grew up with a dad who roasted his own coffee beans way before coffee was an urban hipster thing. Henk is now the owner of the Naked Coffee works and says the secret to his coffee is the passion and unhurried pace of the process. I believe him. When not lovingly roasting beans, Henk can be found guiding tours of the ancient caves and shipwrecks in the area.  A local history buff, Henk can tell you stories for as many hours as you have to listen to his tales.

DSC_0517-01

Wayne Gabb, owner of the fantastic Lomond wine estate. Wayne certainly knows how to add fun into the serious business of wine making and life in general.

The Lomond wines are all named after different fynbos species found in the area. This wine producer works with nature rather than trying to dominate it. For wine that is very different but delectable, get yourself a bottle. I am not even I wine drinker but I enjoyed the Cat’s Tail Syrah immensely.

DSC_0382-01

There is something special going on in the grapes down there. Perhaps it’s a combination of the salty air, the scent of the fynbos and the imagination of the wine makers?

DSC_0368-01

DSC_0356

At Lomond I met up with pop up chef, Craig Cormack from Roasters. He was preparing a sushi feast using trout caught in the Lomond Lake. We had a great chat about the importance of using fresh seasonal ingredients and how time taken to prepare and cook slowly is the secret to healthy, tasty food. Craig loves what he does and should be checked out by all foodies.

IMG_1418

Henk van der Walt from Overberg Aviation made me brave enough to have my first ever helicopter flip, in the smallest helicopter I have ever seen. It was incredible and I want more. We flew from De Uijlenes to Pearly Beach in the Robinson 44 helicopter and the ocean and mountain views were amazing. I was not brave enough to fly with the door off, but even so, seeing the mother and baby whales and a few sharks through the window was a memorable experience.

DSC_0541

DSC_0550

I finally got to meet Cat Nyquist from Panthera Africa, a sanctuary for big cats that are unable to live in the wild.DSC_0528-01

Her enthusiasm for the animals and her determination to educate the whole world on why we must not interact with wild animals is inspiring. More about this sanctuary after I have visited and had the full educational experience. Prosperity for Predators, the Panthera motto gives me hope for the future of our wild life

Sean Privett, from Fynbos Trails and Witkrans cottages.  Sean is a botanist of note and a very innovative, nature loving person. He is also extremely active and has recently opened new MTB routes on his farm, and broke his leg while riding the ultimate South African MTB race, The Freedom Challenge. In between all these outdoor activities Sean does incredible work with fynbos, a nursery, finding new fynbos species and writing a book about them.

DSC_0384

Thanks go to Dave and Caron from Saxon Lodge in Gansbaai, and Michelle Williams from Sorted Solutions who made me so welcome.

I believe this festival is going to grow slowly into something huge and not to be missed. I will be back next year.

Saldanha Bay. Where nature is raw and people are real.

The deepest natural harbour in the Southern Hemisphere is situated in Saldanha Bay, 140km from Cape Town on the Cape West Coast, and a mere 22 km North of the upmarket tourism mecca,  Langebaan.

First Impressions

Saldanha is a working town of many contrasts.  There are areas that look decidedly unloved, others of great natural beauty that are dominated by huge industrial plants from the commercial fishing and steel industries that sustain the local economy.  The SA Naval Training base adds a strong military flavour to this coastal community.

There is a sense of being on an island as the sea is often visible in more than one direction. In parts the landscape is appealing with its rugged plains and fynbos rich hills, but the first impressions of Saldanha do not reveal the depth of natural and cultural offerings.

IMG_8048

The Cultural Heritage Centre is the logical first stop in Saldanha.

Old photographs, artefacts and documents will provide great insight into the town and its multi layered history. The highlight is the curator Linda and her stories.  She brings the past to life with tales of family sagas and war stories, the local heroes and the apartheid era. She describes everyday living as a worker in the fishing factory, and revives the horror of shipwrecks and fishermen lost at sea.  She answers any question you pose to her.   Linda was the first of many locals I met whose passion for the area fuelled my desire to get to know their Saldanha.

DSC_0426-01

 To book a visit to the Cultural Heritage Centre please contacts Linda Prezens on 073 492 7815.

DSC_0417-01

SlipWay Waterfront Restaurant

When hunger strikes you can drive, sail or kayak to the Slipway Restaurant in the Saldanha Bay harbour. Partially hidden by a large ship in the dry dock this eatery is a place where you could spend all day. It has a fully stocked bar and the seafood is so fresh you wonder how you missed seeing them catch it.

The outside deck looks out over the bay where there is always some activity going on, or you can pass the time chatting to the owner Diane Schaafsma. Not only does she have a passion for Saldanha, Diane and her late husband, Robert, were also adventurous travellers. They have circumnavigated Africa in a yacht, sailed all over the Mediterranean, and encountered pirates in the Red Sea.  A Kombi Camper van was their home when they explored Europe and they have travelled to many of our neighbouring countries on safari. So yes, do chat to Diane, she is  not your average restaurateur, and can certainly talk about much more than food.

SlipWay Waterfront Restaurant 022 714 4235   http://www.slipwayrestaurant.co.za/

DSC_0440

WEST COAST CANON

Blue Bay Lodge

If you were any closer to the sea, you would be in the water.

The beachfront lodge has an interesting history and has grown organically from a modest single dwelling to the grand beach resort it is today.

In the very early 1800’s a man called Dirk Kotze built himself a shanty cottage on a sand dune. He had many kilometres of beach and fynbos to himself, his only living neighbours were snakes, scorpions, moles, steenbok and bat eared foxes. Life was obviously tough and he eventually vacated the cottage and it quietly decayed, alone and unloved until the early 1950’s.

In 1953 Henry and Babeta Wicht bought the farm Pienaarspoort, and on this land stood the remains of Dirk Kotze’s home. Henry and Babeta used the bones of this cottage to create their family home, adding on as their family expanded to 9 children. The original homestead in now the 16 roomed lodge and is owned and run by Andre, one of the 9 children who grew up there. Over the years Andre has grown the lodge to the resort it is today, adding suites, self-catering cottages, tennis courts, a swimming pool, hall, conference centre and the children’s play area.  http://bluebaylodge.co.za

WEST COAST XPERIA PICS1

Mart-Mari is not only the Marketing manager for the lodge; she is also a third generation Wicht.

Her pride in the lodge is evident and she has clearly grown up on stories of what it was like in the early days, and she has her own dreams of how it will continue to grow to meet the future.

Her gorgeous dog, Crispy, is just as proud, and clearly loves living here with a beach as his playground.

There is a sign in the dining area that is obviously obeyed by all. It reads “BE NICE, OR GO HOME”

Blue Bay Lodge offers relaxation, action, and nature in equal measures. Just get there, and let the rhythms of the surroundings dictate your pace.

They are presently running themed specials that include “Cycling & Hiking”  “Health & Wellness Getaway”  “Making Memories, a family break” and a “Besties Weekend”  They all sound very appealing especially when you know they will include great dollops of West Coast hospitality.

Birds and beaches

Two hundred years ago French explorers were astonished by the “impenetrable clouds of birds of all sorts and colours” and today while numbers might have diminished, the birdlife in the mornings and evenings is still quite remarkable.

An early morning mission to catch the sunrise was not to be, as the fog was so thick the horizon disappeared and it was impossible to tell the sand from the sea, or the sea from the sky.

The whole world was grey, and silent.

WEST COAST CANON1

And then the birds appeared. A never ending flow of black and white action. Swooping, diving, calling, gliding, gathering in in groups, showing off I think.  Magical, mesmerising stuff.

They were so thick on the ground that I abandoned my beach walk and sat and just watched as they flicked in and out of sight in the cold, grey nowhere.

After an hour of just watching, I decided the birds could share the beach with me. A walk along the beach to the reddish glow that is the massive steelworks, fed with ore from Sishen way up North, and transported to Saldanha on one of the longest goods trains in the world.

Again, Saldanha does not initially impress. The beach was not a pristine white holiday brochure. It was coloured in stripes of red, green, white and brown. A combination of seaweed, dying seaweed, completely dead seaweed, and flotsam dyed red from the emissions from the steelworks.

Surprisingly, there was not bad smell from any of this, and squatting down for a closer inspection revealed all kinds of fascinations. The dead white “stuff” was like a scribbled spider’s web, the green and red like a thin crust over the sand. Tiny creatures scurried and ate, and footprints of birds were imprinted in all directions in the sand.

WEST COAST CANON2

Cliff paths and curious sounds

Mart -Mari took us on a walk and scramble along one of the many hikes that need to be explored. We started fairly high up, with outstanding views that are a big help in getting your bearings. As we slipped and slid over the loose stone, (I landed on my bum in the first three minutes) we saw the first few flowers making an early appearance. Flower season starts in July and I am told that the hills are an artist’s palette of colour then.

The path winds up and down onto the beach in parts, over rock pools and back up onto gorse covered dunes. The terrain and scenery are continuously changing.

As we walked I kept hearing a sound that was similar to the Noon Day gun, a canon shot fired at midday in Cape Town. Mart- Mari said nothing, grinned and kept walking.

We were now on a series of huge black rocks, and after cautioning us to be careful, Mart- Mari introduced us to Bomgat. (Literal translation is bomb hole)

Two huge rocks stand side by side, and a very narrow channel has been eroded between them. This channel opens into a wider pool. The waves drive the water into this narrow gap where it hits the wall and sprays high in the air. The noise that sounds like an explosion is from the water, the shape of the pool below creating the acoustics. It is very tempting to want to get really close, or even try to climb down a little way for a better view. The rocks are very slippery, the water sprays high in the air, so please be careful. Hang on tight to young children at this spot. But do go. It can be seen and heard impressively from a safe distance.

DSC_0491

Water sports Galore

The shape of the Bay and the weather conditions make for perfect sailing, kayaking and canoeing. Due to two four km long piers with an opening of just 800 meters between them, the bay is sheltered and can be enjoyed all year round.

And more

Whale watching, and the magnificent display of wild flowers from around July to September, golf course, yacht club, mountain bike trails, birding sites, horse riding and walks will keep all outdoor lovers busy and smiling for days.

 DSC_0422

How to get there.

Travel on the R27 from Cape Town for 120km. Turn left at a sign marked Saldanha, Namakwa Sands Saldanha Street for 12 km then turn left again onto the R399. Drive for 6km to the centre of town.

For more information go to http://www.westcoastway.co.za/

Thanks to WestCoastWaySA and Blue Bay Lodge for hosting me and showing me this delightful town.

Blue Bay Lodge is an attraction on the Blue Benguela Route of West Coast Way

5 Reasons why we should celebrate the fire

In no way do I wish to detract from the enormous losses and trauma suffered by residents and businesses, I extend my sincere sympathies to all of you.

The increased awareness, education and fund raising, can unfortunately only be achieved by a fire of this magnitude.  A fire that is big enough to captivate an entire city.

Often dramatic events are needed to facilitate change and to alter perceptions.

Here are the 5 reasons why I celebrate this fire.

  1. The VWS (Volunteer Wildfire Services) received much needed publicity for the great work they do, most of it unseen by the general public. This resulted in a financial injection of over R3 MILLION  from generous and grateful businesses and residents in the city who responded so well to the KFM and CapeTalk radiothon. Before the fire, most people never paused to give thought to the firefighters of the City of Cape Town or Working on Fire, and very few people were even aware of the existence of the VWS.

Website Header

  1. Cape Town United. This is not the name of a football club, it is the only way to describe how the people of Cape Town worked together in their support, doing whatever needed to be done to get the fire out. Capetonians are generous, compassionate and stand together in a crisis. The stories of acts of kindness, selflessness and generosity towards neighbours, firefighters and emergency services staff  will be told for years.

20150303_190526

  1. We have learned so much. The best lessons come from experience.
  • We know firsthand how fast a fire can spread and how difficult it is to contain
  • We know how easily a fire can start and that butt tossing, littering, particularly bottles, can easily start a fire of this magnitude. We know that we can never be careless with anything that has even the tiniest spark, as that spark can grow into a giant fire.
  • We know that while we are all drawn to a fire, we must stay well out of the way of the fire fighters, give way immediately for emergency vehicles, and ensure we are not hampering their efforts in any way.
  • We have a much greater understanding and respect for the men and woman who put out these fires, and how we can support them.
  1. Fynbos, the next generation. We will be seeing outstanding displays of colour on the mountain as soon as next week as the fynbos bursts into new life.  We know that fynbos needs fire to germinate, so although the mountain looks really sad and barren right now, this will not last for long. Many aliens were burned and this is good and bad. The heat intensity when aliens burn can negatively impact on the fynbos seeds. Overall, more good than harm was done, and it is predicted that new flowers will be appearing in a few weeks and this spring will deliver a spectacular show.

IMG_1633

  1. Capetonians are adaptable. The first to turn a disaster into a positive event are the organisers of the Cape Town Cycle Tour. They have reduced the route, and named this years event the #‎Showyoucaresolidarityride They state “The ride remains a celebration of Cape Town and this wonderful Peninsula on the southern tip of Africa. The Cape Town Cycle Tour will go on because, as the fighting spirit of the people of Cape Town has demonstrated, nothing can take it away from us – not even fire.”

 Cycle-Tour-2015-Route-Map_FINAL-page-001

I am immensely proud to be a citizen of this incredible city.