Discovering the back roads in an OPEL MOKKA X

 

Breakfast at Nitida Wine Estate in the hills of Durbanville is a pretty good way to start the day.

It gets even better when you arrive in your 2006 Fiat Panda, and depart two hours later in a brand new Opel Mokka X.

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The vineyards at Nitida Wine Estate

No, sadly I did not buy a new car, but I did get to play with the new Opel Mokka X for 24 hours and travel along about 300km of scenic back roads, narrow passes and coastal highways.

For those who like and understand details that include words like torque, tortion beams and McPherson struts click here for all the technical specifications of the Mokka X.

 

The Western Cape has got thousands of kilometers of rural roads and we went exploring.

Bainskloof Pass.

Thirty kilometers of narrow, winding road hugs the Limietberg mountain on one side and follows the course of the Witte River on the other. This pass, now a national monument, was built in 1853 by the inimitable Andrew Geddes Bain. Gunpowder was used to blast away the rock and hundreds of convicts provided the hard labour. Steel rings bolted into the rock face can still be seen, this is how the convicts were chained while they worked.

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One of the viewing points on the pass

Ernest Page is a stunt driver and I was quite happy to let him take the wheel and negotiate the tight twists and turns of this pass. This is a man who “crashes safely” for a living and knows how to put a car through its paces.

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We never saw a leopard but it’s thrilling to know that they are there, somewhere

The Bain’s Kloof Pass has campsites, rock pools and day hikes. For more information visit Cape Nature

From Bain’s Kloof we travelled on the R43, crossed the Breede River and continued on the R46 to Tulbagh.

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Bridge over the Breede River

This quiet little town made headlines on 29th September 1969 when a devastating earthquake took nine lives and destroyed many buildings. Sadly one of the people who died in the earthquake was a young baby who to date has not been identified. The earthquake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, the strongest quake recorded in South Africa.

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The approach to Bain’s Kloof Pass from the Tulbagh side.

Established in 1699 this town boasts 32 Cape Dutch buildings that are National Monuments, most of them found in the very picturesque Church Street.  Wines farms are plentiful around Tulbagh, chocolate tasting at Moniki is a must, and a visit to the Earthquake Museum while sobering, is a fascinating experience. Find more information on Tulbagh here.

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Moniki Chocolate in Tulbagh. Coffee and chocolate treats galore.

It’s my turn to drive on the long flat roads as we head towards Riebeeck Kasteel. We have established the road holding of the car on the pass,( excellent) but I want to test the brakes. This is a good excuse to floor it and the Mokka responds beautifully. I sort of control my urge to speed and gently brake, all seems good. The long dead straight section of road begs me to put my foot flat, so I obey. Then with a brief word of warning to Ernest I brake hard. No skidding, not even a quiver, the car slows really quickly and sits solidly on the road. I like this.

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Taking up the whole road because you can.

 

About two kilometers on, I use the brakes for real as we round a bend and are faced with a cow standing in the middle of the road watching the world go by.  I blinked, the cow did not, she just ambled over a bit so we could pass.

We then used the car as a model and played silly buggers for a while, shooting from all angles.The styling on the car is pretty sexy. Chunky and solid but with smooth lines and flowing contours.

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Gleaming in the middle of nowhere.

Our next leg stretch and car swap was at the Olive Boutique in Riebeeck Kasteel. Derek and Susan take olives to another level with their infusions. Well worth a visit, as is the rest of this little arty, foodie town. Find out more about Riebeeck-Kasteel here

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Olives to suit any taste.

Tummies full of olives we made our way to the Pleasant Pheasant Restaurant on the Allesverloren Wine Estate for an al  fresco feast, while the cars got a loving wipe down from the diligent crew.

As the sun dipped low in the sky we navigated the many detours to get to the coastal town of Langebaan and the Farmhouse Hotel, our spot for the night.

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View from my room

Cars got yet another wash, polish and refuel while we checked in and relaxed before feasting on seafood, true West Coast cuisine and fine wines. This hotel is a great little place, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. An old school sweet shop, a slave bell and walking distance to the beach but tucked in a quiet street it’s a perfect weekend away spot.

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Waiting to tuck in to the prawn potjie

 

Suitable for families or romantic breakaways, this place is a must for beach lovers and sea- food aficionados.

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After a great night’s sleep and a huge breakfast we hit the coastal road back to Nitida and said a sad goodbye to the Opel Mokka X.

Starting at R317 000 the Opel Mokka X is certainly a car I would consider if I could just find that other R300 000 lying around somewhere.

This is what I liked about it. Remember I’m not a petrolhead, motoring journo or a boy.

Styling. Great colours, yes, seriously. The gold was my favourite followed closely by the red. Bright, funky and fun.

 

Interior. Classy, not fussy or overly bright and flashy. As one who needs glasses for reading, I loved the large touch screen display that does everything from navigation to radio, and Apple Car Play that allows all your phones functionality to be accessed via the  on board display.

Being a shorty I liked the variety of adjustments that can be made to the seats, in particular the length of the seat and then being able to adjust the steering column for the perfect driving position. This car is very comfortable for long distance driving.

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Safety. The Mokka X has an innovative lighting system called Adaptive Forward Lighting LEDs. Efficient and clever, these lights adjust to suit your surroundings, dim automatically when oncoming traffic is detected and even adjust for dynamic cornering for the best possible visibility.

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Space.  The boot is spacious and would easily accommodate all the luggage required for a family of 4 heading out on a roadtrip.There is nothing cramped about the interior of this car and there are plenty of spaces and cubbyholes for stashing drinks, maps and bits and pieces.

Overall. A very comfortable drive in a stylish looking vehicle. It sits well on the road, is responsive without being sporty and making you want to travel at 200 km / ph. The  on board display is great as it meets the needs of today’s driver, and the intimate relationship they have with their mobile phones, while the lighting is a welcome safety and energy saving feature.

For more detailed information about the specifications of this car and to book a test drive visit the Opel website. 

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Thank you to General Motors South Africa, Opel SA and all the team for hosting me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time out. Recharging #shotleft to Citrusdal

April and May were a whirlwind of inspiration, stimulation and non stop excitement in the travel and blogging world where I live.

A fast paced Eastern Cape #shotleft, the first #TravelMassive in Cape Town, the first #WTMAfrica, the first #Swellenblog, #Indaba2014, my first #Instawalk.

Meeting all the travel and blogging ninjas that I revere, face to face.

My head exploded happily, but like an overtired kid,  I needed to recharge before it ended badly.

A chance conversation in my local coffee shop, where I was buying coffee by the bucket in an attempt to appear lucid, led me to Olifantsrus at the foot of the Piekenierskloof.

Trees, mountains and greenery to stare at mindlessly for 2 days, with a bit of shopping thrown in for sanity’s sake, just what I needed.

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It took us 3.5 hours to drive the 180km from Cape Town to just before Citrusdal, as a stop in Piketberg to trawl the 2nd  clothing hand shops, and  a very early 5pm supper at the countryish Spur there was deemed compulsory.

How else can you get 2 shirts, a scarf and a steak with veg for under R200?

Eventually arriving at Olifantsrus in the dark, the comfy bed, a kettle and good supply of coffee, the bed kidnapped me for 9 hours of blissful coma like sleep.

A breakfast feast and an introduction to all who matter at Olifantsrus. Martine and Elizma, the owners, Boeta and Sussie, the giant Great Dane / Boerbull crosses, and Mathilde, the kitten who knows she is a Tiger.

Betty da Silva, local resident and manager, told us to go to the NGK Bazaar in town that morning. We did, and after buying plants, too many pancakes and surprisingly good coffee, we got takeaway homemade meatballs and other treats. Supper sorted with ease.

A visit to a few stores on the main road in Citrusdal, meeting the locals and farm hands as we queued for decades in the “payday madness” and back to assess our loot for the day. (4 more scarves, black tights, chocolate, honey and 3 bags of adorable baby things for my granddaughter, in case you were wondering)

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The afternoon was spent lazing, drinking coffee, staring at trees and ultimately climbing a tree, and just letting the my mind wander aimlessly, as my body was too lazy to join it. That was the extent of my exercise for the day. We saw a flash of the resident cardinal woodpecker that lives in one of the trees, a thrilling blur as I fumbled for my glasses and camera.

Lovely touches that made Olifantsrus a place I will return to were:

FREE WiFi    |  SERVICED ROOMS    |  HUGE BREAKFASTS    |   PIZZA OVEN & BRAAI FACILITIES

Other extras worth a mention are the full length mirrors in the rooms, nice one ladies, the liquor licence for the tired and thirsty, and endless rooibos and coffee supplies.

 

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After another huge breakfast served outside,  owners  Martine and Elizma took us to see their other baby, Natures View campsite, a few km down the road.

It is hard to believe that 3 years ago this was wild.

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A rock pool for the 40 – 45 C heat in summer, large green campsites with lights and electricity, clean ablution areas, and loads of activities including quad biking, paint ball and rafting in the river.

Nature’s View is also used as a team building venue and a childrens outdoor classroom. Kids can learn by doing fun activities like counting ants or fish, learning to swim, using maps to plan hikes or being educated in the Underwater classroom and finding out about Marine life and conservation. I wish I was a kid still, sounds like my kinda school.

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Imagine owning a part of a river!    This section of the Olifants belongs to them, I’m so jealous. A small beach that had braai spots, shade, and tubes for adventures and exploration for the energetic types.

 

 

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  A bush pub for evenings of ensuring a mother of all hangovers, or just getting to know your fellow campers, your choice.

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    This is a great spot for families, outdoor lovers and hikers, add it to your “places to go in summer” list.

A slow Sunday afternoon drive back to Cape Town, with a stop 6km from Olifantsrus to see the “old town” Modderfontein.
Great mountains views, vivid flowers , mighty trees, an old cemetery and timeless buildings creatively restored

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The cellar based ladies loos delighted me with the large aardvark gracing the entrance, certainly different.

The lunch being served smelled and looked divine. Unfortunately we were already stuffed to the gills with breakfast, but some other time, oh yes!

 

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  Off again over the pretty, curly Piekenierskloof Pass and you simply can not drive past the De Tol Padstal.

A resident cat tethered to a 20m piece of rope comes for some love, outdoor tables in the sun entice you to have at least a cup of coffee, cake, or in our case, the largest,

most delicious homemade hamburger and chips at a ridiculously low price.

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The inside is an Aladdins Cave of food, preserves and delectables to be explored and added to your basket at a leisurely pace.

 

 

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 Our baskets are full, are tummies are bursting, our faces are smiling.

Restored and rejuvenated by just 48 hours away from the rush of normal life.
The perfect #shotleft from #CapeTown.

TIPS.
Do take time to chat to the owners of Olifantsrus. Martine and Elizma are both passionate about the area.
Rooted in the community,these two amazing young women do so much, and have stories to educate and entertain you with.

The highs and lows of employing local folks, the area newsletter they produce, the programs they have created to expose children to nature and outdoor life.
The NGO HUG, Help us Grow, they started that does community outreach work, and the uBuntu Creche and Old Age Home they are involved in.
Martine is the one with a degree in Nature Conservation, but their affinity with the outdoors is evident in both of these inspiring energy bunnies.

For information on activities and sites in the area, visit www.citrusdal.info 

Huge thanks to Martine and Elizma for inviting me to their little piece of paradise.

#Shotleft. 5 days in the Eastern Cape

Nothing is more fun than a #shotleft.

Having just spent a whirlwind 5 days in parts of the Eastern Cape, I am itching to go back for more.

To make the most of the 5 days, a flight from Cape Town to George takes just 50 minutes, and early morning flights provide spectacular views of the sunrise from above the clouds.

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A quick stop at AVIS to collect the Toyota rental, and the road trip adventure begins. A detour off the N2 into the SANPARKS Wilderness camp, part of the Garden Route National Park is the first stop.

Getting out the car the the still peacefulness is the first thing I noticed. City stresses fall away and you can just breathe. This camp is a very tempting spot for a few days to absorb nature, canoe, hike, wander along the boardwalk, or simply sit and gaze at your surroundings. Although not part of the Eastern Cape, this area is an ideal #shotleft destination from Cape Town or Port Elizabeth distance wise.

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Next  stop is in Sedgefield for the best #shotleft snack around. Currywurst from the lederhosen clad “sausage boys” of Wurst Express. This traditional German street food is a tastebuds dream. You will find Jan and the funky Wurst Express trailer on the side of the road in Sedgefield, or at most of the markets and events in the vicinity. Umbrellas, tables and chairs are provided, or eat it on the move. But do eat it, and buy some currywurst sauce to take home. I am hooked on it. Jan is also the guy to talk to for the inside info on what is what in Sedgefield. A sausage selling tourism fundi!   Only in South Africa, ne!

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A quick photo stop down the road to capture the incredible mosaic horses,and to drive the Mosaic Route. The mosaic initiative is a community based project that provides skills training, employment and adds to the visual appeal of Sedgefield.  Look out for signs and art installations beautifully created in mosaics by the locals in this dreamy town. Sedfield’s logo is the tortoise and the towns takes pride in it’s ethos of “slow living”.

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Storms River Village is a forest of adventure that embraces community and welcomes visitors.

After booking in to the Tsitikamma Village Inn it was time to face my fear of heights and experience the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour.

Ziplining along 10 routes, 30m high, some as long as 90 meters, stopping in between on platforms built around 700 year old yellow wood tress. WOW !

Heart stopping at times if you are a wimp like I am. That said, our guide Chanelle was funny, efficient and professional, and with the other 2 guides made me feel quite safe. Definitely worth every knee trembling minute. A delightful finishing touch after the short hike and drive back to the village was hot coffee and toasted sarmies while watching video footage of ourselves flying through the forest. A bit of retail therapy to calm my nerves at the craft shop, then homemade soup, and bed. A busy first day.

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An early start, a huge breakfast and off to see the Tsitsikamma Big Tree………….on a SEGWAY.

 

This is the most fun I have had in years. After a brief training session, we were off, into the forest with our guide. The Segways can reach about 25km/ ph and tempting as it was to speed through the forest, we stuck close to the guide as he pointed out the various trees and told stories of the history of the area. I want a Segway, I need a Segway, I wish I could afford a Segway!

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Then we crossed the N2, on a Segway!

Finally reaching the approach to the Big Tree, we parked our fun modes of transport and  were immediately absorbed into the forest.

A sense of timelessness and awe of nature engulfs you at the first sight of the 800 year old mighty Yellowwood. In spite of temperatures in the 30’s, it is cool in the forest. It  felt like I was cocooned from the busy world, and when I did need to speak, it seemed right to whisper. The forest was a calming balm on my city bruised soul.

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So sad to say goodbye to Storms River Village, it’s back in the car and on to Port Elizabeth to meet Eastern Cape fundi, Jonker Fourie. A warm welcome from Jonker who is keen to show off his beloved city in the little time he has available.  Our first stop is at the pier at Hobie Beach, busy with locals enjoying the late summer, strolling, swimming and soaking up some sun. The mood is carefree and infectious.

A short drive to the CBD to the Donkin Reserve, an inner city park and testament to democracy and the history of Port Elizabeth. Home to Nelson Mandela Bay tourism office, a lighthouse, open space ,10 art installations,  and the starting point of the R67 walking route. The lighthouse and pyramid built by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his beloved wife Elizabeth, tell a tale a great love, devotion and sadness. The plaque on the pyramid reads:

To the memory of one of the most perfect human beings who has given her name to the town below”

The Donkin Reserve for me was a place of history, peace, hope and celebration. It conserves the stories of our past, the creativity of our present, and the dreams for our future. A truly inspiring place.

 

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With my head full of history and South African pride, it’s goodbye to P.E and a 16km drive to the Kragga Kamma Game Park for the night. Sitting outside as the sun says goodbye, with no sound but the pulling up of grass as a herd of buffalo and a few frisky warthogs and their little ones have supper a few metres away from the cabin. Pure Mzansi magic.

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A boardwalk stroll in the fresh morning air, a sighting of leopard, rhino and buffalo concludes the all too brief stay at Kragga Kamma.

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The rest of the morning was spent at SAMREC, The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Rescue Centre. Staffed mainly by volunteers, this centre was established in 2000. The centre draws attention to the plight of the oceans, and how overfishing, global warming and pollution are threatening our seas. We all need to be aware of the issues and become part of the solution.

The African Penguin numbers have dropped by 80% since 2000. Overfishing has resulted in these beautiful birds having to swim 60 -70km a day just to feed themselves and their young.

The centre offers interactive programs for adults and children, has a volunteer program and an option to “adopt” a penguin.  It is a lovely family day out, and educational too. These people really deserve our support and assitance in trying to preserve the marine life for the next generation. Do pay them a visit.

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A brief tea stop in Cradock to visit friends of Dawn Jorgensen, had me promising to return soon to explore this historic town.

Embraced as family by the delightful proprietors of Die Tuishuise  & Victorian Manor, I could have spent all day exploring the superbly restored  houses and listening to the stories of the fascinating Antrobus family.

The small towns of the Eastern Cape are steeped in history. Populated by proud locals who go back generations, and have endless stories to tell, weaving families, buildings and businesses together in seamless Karoo wanderings,  and equally proud newcomers who add to the rich tapestry of small town life.

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Back on the road after exchanging details and promises to return, it’s goodbye to Cradock and a ten minute drive to the most under-rated park in the SANPARKS stable.

One kilometer in to Mountain Zebra National Park and what a treat. Standing looking at the car before breaking into a run was a magnificent Black Rhino. A few minutes down the road and it was time to turn off the engine again as a troupe of vervet monkeys and their babies  played in the road before vanishing into the trees. This small national park is an absolute treasure. Immaculate, close to town, and open for day trips, it’s a must to visit.

A thrilling game drive with expert tracker, Charl takes us to shimmering Karoo silence, where we park the vehicle and start silently walking through the veld. Spider webs shimmer in the sun and a lone buffalo glares at the intrusion of two legged creatures in his space.

Meet Angela, the gorgeous cheetah we tracked to her chosen spot for a midday nap. Being so close to this powerful animal was as good as it gets in Africa.

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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Mountain Zebra National Park and head off to Graaff Reinet to meet Chantelle Marais aka Karoo Girl, tour guide extraordinaire and owner of Camdeboo Cottages. Chantelle is like a positive force field. Her passion and roots to the area define her, and her energy pulls you into her world.

She tells us that a visit to Graaff Reinet is not complete without a visit to The Obesa Cactus nursery. It is the largest in the southern hemisphere and has to be seen to believed, with over 2 million plants. These waterwise cactus and succulents are well suited to the dry Karoo, and almost all of them produce unexpectedly intricate, beautiful flowers at some time . From the towering cactus to the minute detail on the tiny succulents, this place has you spinning. The miracle of desert plants and the hidden beauty that is there as a reward for those who make the effort to look. Mother nature at her awe inspiring best.

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A short drive out of town took us to the impressive Valley Of Desolation in the Cambedoo National Park.  Cambedoo  is the isiXhosa word for Green Valley. The green coming from the Spekboom tree which grows  in the area. A climb to the Toposcope reveals Google Earth type views of the Nqweba Dam and the town of Graaff Reinet. The town is unique in that it is surrounded by the national park. The clean air turns the rock amber in the fading light, giving a surreal glow and adding to the mystery of Cambedoo.

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Another short drive and hike took us to the pinnacle of the Valley of Desolation, where Chantelle produced wine, glasses, and told us to sit back and bask in the miraculous sunset. Talk about nature showing off!

The raw dominance of this landscape over mere mortals was both humbling and breathtaking. The hike down in the encroaching darkness was silent as I contemplated the fine balance between man and this earth.

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Not being much of a history buff, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed the walking tour of Graaff Reinet the following morning. Karoo girl has a way of telling stories about real people, pointing out little details, and weaving a tale of families, wars, love, tragedy, drama and mystery. The architecture of Graaff Reinet is magnificent and well preserved. The Reinet House Museum was like taking a step back into the history books, and living that life. Graaff Reinet boasts 220 national monuments. The 2 hour walk covering a mere 1,5km around The Horse shoe, which is the historical centre of town, barely scratches the surface of the tangled history of this fascinating town. Chantelle is most certainly the perfect guide to educate and entertain you on all things related to Graaff Reinet and the surrounding area.

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Minds filled with life in days gone by, we made one last stop at the grave of Robert Sobukwe. Recently completed, this memorial is a fitting testament to a truly great man. Born in the town in 1924  he was educated in the area and became a teacher. He went on to become a lecturer in African studies at the University of Witwatersrand. In 1959 he formed the PAC as was it’s first President. A believer in Africanism and inspiration for the Black Conciousness Movement, Sobukwe was arrested in 1960 and released in 1969, but restricted to house arrest in his home in Kimberley. He died in 1978 at the age of 53 and was buried in Graaff Reinet. The monument to him has only just been completed in 2014, and therein lies another story.

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A rather hectic paced drive from Graaff Reinet to George airport, a 45 minute flight to Cape Town, and back at home, enriched, educated, inspired and planning return trips already.

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The small part of the Eastern Cape that I explored has so much to offer. Each town requires a few days to enjoy and discover . Every place I visited I want to return to for further exploration and adventure.

 This is what taking a #shotleft is all about. Having a good time and exploring your country, as a fast paced road trip, or one tiny dorp at a time.

The Eastern Cape is home to very diverse cultures, landscapes, history and adventure. It also has a secret ingredient, that intangible something that makes it such a special place to visit.

In the words of Chantelle Marais, our favourite Karoo Girl,

We don’t have a Table Mountain, but we believe we must make all our guests feel like they  are visiting family

 That truly is the ethos of the Eastern Cape. Hospitality is at the core of every interaction . It is a most appealing quality, and proves my belief that travel is actually all about the people.

Footnote:

Many thanks to Debbie Damant, Bonolo Modisa, Lwazi Moletsane and the SA Tourism #ShotLeft team . Also to Jonker Fourie of EcTour and Chantelle Marais of Graaff Reinet for making this fabulous #shotleft trip possible.

Last but not least, thanks to Dawn Jorgensen, aka The Incidental Tourist for being such a hardcore travelling companion.

Watch this space for in depth posts on each area. Coming soon ish.