AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Ladysmith, Knysna, Tsitsikamma – 10th Oct 2018 – Day 27

Breakfast was a typical huge farm style meal. Not the best B&B though, breakfast is extra!

Heading east over this undulating plain with the mountain range to the north, the road soon led down to the relatively flat plain of olive green fynbos  to Oudshoorn. At a glance there is nothing to recommend the fynbos, but on closer inspection there are variations in shades of green interspersed with yellow and fuchsia coloured flowers against a backdrop of tiered, ever higher blue mountains. 

Oudshoorn was once renown for fashionable ostrich feathers, but over time a use has been found for every part of the bird. In 1975 we visited an ostrich farm, watched them race, and the girls sat on them. We also toured the Cango Caves, the largest in SA; a narrow passage, the ‘post box’ was claustrophobic; we all remember it. 

The Little Karoo drops down the steep Outeniqua pass near the coastal town of George, where we turned north east. The Wilderness is still a pretty small town on a large estuary. Wind swept houses crowd the ridge facing the sea, while others huddle amongst the thick leafed dune bushes facing inland. The gardens proliferate in this sheltered zone. 

Knysna is a large regional town popular with retirees, known for a long history of logging and fine yellow-wood & stinkwood furniture. We checked the best known shop, Fechter; most is now a blackwood as the other are rare finds. I was surprised to find the price for a thick top yellowwood table to be only Au$4000 and a pretty two-seat bench at $750 (not cheap in Rand though).. Enquiries revealed that shipping is prohibitive, as high as 3 times again.

A stop at the heads is warranted; the narrow gap causes strong currents between the sea and the large inland lake as the tide changes. 

Plettenberg Bay is a popular beach town, catered by numerous hotels. 

Natures Valley marks the end of the long established Otter Trail, a tough 5 day walk from the Tsitsikamma park entrance to the east at Storms River mouth. We became aware of it on a holiday from Mooinooi to Cape Town and back along this Garden Route about 1976. A few years later, we returned via Durban through the Transkei (a difficult trip without a passport at the time). We were not prepared as well as we should; Maria was only about 8. All food had to be carried in and we didn’t have the light foods of today ie heavy tins. The exciting few days will need telling another day, briefly Maria was ‘lost’ for an hour at the Lotteringrivier; crossing the tidal Bloukrans River at 8pm required divine help, and the end at Natures Valley did not go as planned. 

Today we walked across the broad sand of the Groot Rivier at Natures Valley, to just opposite the trail end on the bluff. The late afternoon sun lit up the craggy walls, reflecting on the wash of the incoming tide. A couple had climbed to the top of a rocky pinnacle standing silhouetted against the blue sky.

We drove the old twisty road through the gorges, as I did so long ago, rather than the newer highway where cars speed along unaware of the deep forest beauty below. The dark brown tannin stained water flowing fast to the sea, past the tall old yellowwood trees hung with moss and vines. The forest perfume enveloped us as we drove the unmaintained road, past rock falls. I fear it will be closed one day, such a shame to lose an iconic road. 

David had booked our B&B in small Storms River town. I was surprised at the change to this once private logging and road camp. Almost every building is now devoted to tourism in some way. The 30 year old Andelomi B&B, operated by two families, is set in a pleasant garden of shrubs and trees.  A row of good ensuites face the track on one side, and a lawn on the other. At one end is the kitchen/dining and reception. WiFi is only available near the office. As they no longer offer dinner, we walked round to the Bistro, who offer a decent menu. We sat outside initially as the place was full, but moved inside later as it became cold.

AFRICA reprise The Western Cape – Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Caledon, Ladysmith – 9th Oct 2018 – Day 26

The lifts were still not working. I made two trips with my bags and the lifts then worked. David took his in the lift to L3 where the owner met us and then the spare flat key was missing. I made the trip up, then he found it in his bag. Not a good start

Still cloudy today. Very long traffic lines into the city. Passing miles of shacks along the BMW & Mercedes packed highway, shrouds of power cables feeding 10 shacks from a single pole. The low cloud hides the mountains. We pass the white gabled homes, estates, and vinyards, Spier, Tassenberg, La Pomier, Zorgvliet, Molenvliet, Pniel. Boschendal. All homesteads have a low white wall defining the boundary, giving a sense of solidity.

Stellenbosch is world renown for the wine, old gracious homes, and the mountains. Ailine & I spent over an hour shooting them! It also has a very prestigious university, once only Afrikaans. Confirmation of the vast changes here – two women sharing coffee in a cute cafe, one black, one white. Just a conversation between two friends; maybe there is hope yet?  

Franschoek (French Corner) is significant to me as this was the town settled by the Protestant French Huegenots, persecuted by the Catholics, the forebears of my mother. A symbolic monument and museum was built at the top end of town to preserve the history. The complex consists of three identical small one-room buildings linked by an arch with the text “Post tenebras lux”, a Latin phrase translated as Light After Darkness. It appears as “Post tenebras spero lucem” in the Vulgate version of Job 17:12. The phrase came to be adopted as the Calvinist motto, and was subsequently adopted as the motto of the entire Protestant Reformation. In front is a larger building, the museum, currently under repair. All are flat roofed, embellished by corbels (plaster) and painted white.

The first Huguenots settled in the Cape in 1688, and the memorial was dedicated on 17th April 1948. The figure of the woman holds a bible in her right hand and a broken chain on the left, symbolising freedom of religion. She is looking south from Europe to her new land. The ‘fleur-de-lis’ on her dress attests to nobility of spirit and character. She casts off the cloak of oppression and stands above the earth in spiritual freedom. Their art and culture are represented by the harp, agriculture by the corn and vine, industry by the spinning wheel. The sun and cross depict the Christian faith. The pool (under repair) expresses tranquillity after strife, and the three arches behind her represent the Trinity. The entire memorial is enclosed by a half circle colonnade. Viewed from the front against the high mountains, it’s a lovely place moving me to thank God for my mother’s faith. To one side stands a sun dial on which are inscribed the names of the ships and families.

The next town was Caledon, not without numerous photo stops up the high pass for views of the valley. Caledon is the town of my mother’s birth. I have little data about her, but she had a framed postcard of a shelter the Botanical garden which I hoped still existed. Indeed it does! Near the entrance facing a large pond though my recollection is of flowers in front. It had significance for her living so differently thousands of miles north in Rhodesia. The garden did not disappoint us; at first it appears dry and barren but quickly one sees carpets of flowers, several small stone & timber rest or viewing shelters hidden along the thickly planted stream running to the pond. Large trees, rock faces, bridges, narrow tracks run everywhere up and down both sides of the stream. Ericas, daisies, and cactus crowd on the tracks. And up above where this Karoo fynbos park ends are balancing rocks on the mountain range. The park has a reputation as a hide for druggies, so its not visited often. We only saw gardeners

Good lunch in a Wimpy Bar for past memories. The owner had a bar in another town, but moved here as it offered a better return. Not happy with life in general, and I can’t say I’m surprised; my mother would not recognise or like the town now.

We made many more photo stops along the road for the large open, neat wheat fields against a backdrop of another majestic mountain range. We crossed the steep Tradouw pass into the semi-desert Little Karoo where most of this broad east-west valley is covered by short fynbos and flat top hills. Another high range marks its northern extent into the Great Karoo beyond, continuing for thousands of miles north. Barrydale was a lovely sight in the late sunlight in the valley against the mountain. 

Our stop is Volstruis B&B in Ladysmith. A large old house conversion, 4m high ceilings, well appointed ensuites but no wifi though it claims so on its web. I had a lamb stew at a local eatery, served in a miniature black three-leg pot on a large plate of rice, sweet potato, fresh beans and carrot. A very Karoo meal.

Huegenot Memorial

AFRICA reprise – The Western Cape – 7th Oct 2018 – Day 24

Because of its natural beauty, Cape Town can never be a disappointment; majestic, impossibly flat, Table Mountain, blue ocean, tucked away cove villages on the slopes, gracious white gabled homes hidden behind ancient oaks and trimmed gardens, or surrounded by neat lines of vinyards. Constantia, Groot Schure, Hout Bay, Fishoek, Tokai – strange names. The city lies on the north east slope of the mountain, sheltered ( sometimes) by the arm of Lions Head and Signal Hill. Its old, set up by Jan van Riebeck in 1752. The only castle south of the equator was built on the sea front to guard the safe harbour. Today it is stranded several  inland by the reclaimed ground, initially for the railway, later for port extensions. We spent a few hours here to sense the history; the slave quarters, the long dining room, prison cells one can hardly lie down, surrounding a large courtyard overlooked by the Captains room. 

The Company Gardens adjacent Parliament, the Great Synagogue, St Georges Cathedral, and other public buildings, set along a leafy tree lined avenue. 

Bo Kaap, the pastel coloured blocky homes of the Moslem Community on Whale Street had us shooting from all angles in the morning light, causing traffic issues! 

Koopman de Wet house, once a furnished example of an early home, is now boarded up sadly, surrounded by seedy shops.

And lastly the District Six museum, displaying how the ‘Coloured’ mixed race people lived in this designated area. I was told it was unsafe for others to venture there. Sadly the area had become valuable and the people were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid gaverment. 

Groet Constantia was established as a vinyard in 1685 using cuttings from Europe. A simple house initially, though with the Dutch gable, it was extended subsequently so the complex now has a new cellar and two restaurants. It still sells home grown well regarded wines. It is approached along an avenue of very old leafy oaks. I saw it as a 7yr old which impressed me so much, I had to build on at Forth, Tasmania, and in 2002 in Perth as a B&B. 

These are all places I visited with my mother in 1952  my sister, Myra, lived in a suburb here, Bellville. Mom had nursed me through Rhumatic Fever over several months so Dad sent us by train from Salisbury (Harari), a 3 day journey via Botswana.

And we ended the day shooting the mountain from Blaubergstrand across the wide bay. The view from here has been painted and photographed since the beginning of the colony, so why not us?


AFRICA reprise – Victoria Falls to Cape Town 6th Oct 2018 – Day 23

I’m waiting for the Kenya air flight to Cape Town in a new spacious air-conditioned airport. On the ground floor so I will need to carry my 12kg bag up the stair.

As we drove the 22km to the airport, on a wide well maintained road, lined by the green thorn trees and blank stemmed brown leafed mopani, I debated whether I am more Rhodesian than South African. I think so but will wait till Im back in Perth. The taxi driver was Matabele. His heritage goes back to Lobengula then living in ‘The place of slaughter’, Bulawayo, some 400km south east. It was he who Rhodes and Jamison negotiated with for land and free passage. He later became concerned about the deal, so caused the death of many settlers, in particular, the decimation of the Jamison party who fought to the end.  The Matabele are an offshoot of the Natal Zulu. Now this history is dragged from school days so may not be absolutely correct!

Its a 3hr flight on Kenya air to Cape Town, the ‘Mother City’. Established as a victual stop for the Dutch East India Company ships in the 1800’s, it was later taken by the English. However, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was here way before that, only erecting stone crosses where he harboured. And before him? The Hotentots a people now mixed with black and white, the ‘Coloureds’ as they were named in the apartheid era.

It is interesting to see how the ‘sins of the fathers are passed down to the 7th generation’. When the British took the Cape, the Dutch were well established, not that the British cared. The Dutch were treated as 2nd class people; their children forced to English schools, the developing Afrikaans language banned. And so the Great Trek started; wagons pulled by teams of oxen were loaded as families sought a place far from these laws. It is said they also chose to not have homes in sight of the smoke of neighbours, but could also be due to the need for larger land in the semi- desert Karoo. And so as they gradually migrated north they came in contact with the local Bantu peoples, requiring encircled laagers as protection. Meantime the British decided to send people to the south eastern area around Port Elizabeth, encouraging them with very upbeat information on the place of honey! Amongst these 1820  settlers are my Scottish ancestors. They faced hard times in the poor soils and fiery Xhosa cattle raids. My farther was born in King Williamstown not far inland; my first year university was at nearby Rhodes Uni in Grahamstown, and daughter Karen was born there too.

Gold and diamonds were discovered in Johannesburg and Kimberley, starting a rush by prospectors around the world; the Dutch, led by Paul Kruger, were overwhelmed by this hoard; the British once again took charge, ignoring treaties, precipitating the Boer Wars of the 1890’s and 1900’s. The Boers fought a cut and run war against the red troops until the British played dirty by emprisoning the Dutch families resulting in death and disease, and hate till now. Once again the Dutch were under the yoke of British rule. The two world wars did nothing to improve matter; many Boers supported Hitler with some exceptions like General Jan Smuts who later became Prime Minister.

1948 was a turning point. The English United Party lost power to the Afrkaans Nationalists which became more draconian over time, treating the Black people as they were in the past. The sins of the fathers. I should add that my mother was of French Huegenough stock, similar to the Dutch so I often felt ‘in between’.

Our flat in Cape Town is at the top of an iconic 9 story art deco building in the heart of the city. Love it. A lady met us and took us on a tour enthusiastically. Formally the Old Mutual, it was converted to flats in the ‘70’s. The exterior is decorated with friezes and figures; the heavy brass doors to the tiny lifts are engraved. The core is an empty space with all flats on the exterior. All are double height with interior stairs to a second balcony bed or dining space. Quirky and unconventional. 

We left soon for Lions Head. We have made the steep climb on the slope of Lions Head to where solid rock rises vertically to the top, for a sunset view of the west side of Table Mt and the 7 sisters. I’m here early to find a spot clear of proteas. Its hot with a cool breeze occasionaly bring the scent of proteas and other flowering shrubs. Far below the blue sea breaks on Clifton beach and rocks. Its peaceful; the soft, sea waves are a background to the occasional bird and more frequent hikers. So peaceful, but I know that those homes down there are locked down as night falls.

As the sun set, an eagle called high above along the cliff face. We walked and slid down in the dark,David well ahead as usual. They decided to go to the harbour for dinner.  It was after 8 before we ordered, nearly 10 when we left. The meal was too large; I should not have eaten it all. A 4 man band played loudly, fortuneately a Country &. Western style I like. Its now 11.30

AFRICA reprise- South Africa/Botswana – 25th Sept 2018 – Day 12

A sad departure at 7am. We are unlikely to meet again till that great day – Pauline (always the one with an appropriate remark) said I should have the kettle on for tea if I’m ahead. I will too!

We had enough time to drive over the Hartbeestepoort dam wall with the last view of the bushveld to the north, and the homes clinging to the west end of the imposing Magaliesberg overlooking the dam. The airport check went without incident, and we arrived in Maun 90 minutes later, to queue in the heat (under shade) for 20 mins to get through their immigration. I hailed a small taxi on the road; David doubted we would get all the gear in but we did, and 20 mins later we were at Island Safari Lodge on the delta. Memories flooded back. The lovely thatched huts, open dining room all shaded by the huge yellow trunked fever trees. I hoped we were in the huts, but were placed in standard ‘heritage’ rooms which I don’t recall from our 1988 visit. They now only do one day mokoro trips and the motor boat still plies the Bora river, taking people up to the mokoro launch site. The owner was telling me that what I did then is still possible but the ‘polers’ don’t take one far from the base island, so cattle and other people are everywhere. When I went, I was taken by motorboat one hour up to an island base where I spent a night with just the polers. Next day James poled me most of the day to an isolated island where we camped for the night (I had a 2-man tent). The quiet and birds were so relaxing, but the night became exciting. James woke me at 1am as elephants were near over the stream, pulling down palms for the nuts. We moved the mokoro to the side of the clear launch site in the reeds in case they came over, and went to bed again. About 3 he woke me again – they were nearer. But I gave up and again went to bed. We watched the sun rise between the trees, had breakfast, and returned – an unforgettable experience. The owner also said they now drive guests to another site 45 mins away who can still provide this service in an uninvaded area – pity I wasn’t told.

We left the lodge again by taxi for a 1hr Robinson helicopter flight flown by a young Kiwi. The delta is an inland water world. Rivers flow from Angola in the northwest into the delta where it is dammed by a ‘wall’ created by the uplift of the area to the east, which is a semi-desert. I was in the front left, Ailine behind. He gave us a good flight to shoot the patterns made by the elephants along their ‘highway’ through the green on the water. Hippos clear the reeds and lilies completely making open channels. We saw large herds of both these, plus one croc, the indigenous lechwe, giraffe, warthogs, a motorboat pushing up-stream, a group walking back to camp, and the homes and enclosures of the locals.

We had a late dinner which took ages to bring as there were two large groups plus others. Wifi was very poor, almost useless, also due to heavy use.

There are many camps in the delta as well as to the north, ranging from expensive to ridiculous. And this is because of the service they supply – 1st class for even the lowest price, which are for the few outside the ‘usual’ areas eg my first camp, Tuskers, to the east of Moremi and the delta. My most expensive one is Savuti to the north.

We considered renting a 4X4, but permits are needed, and one still has to book the safari camps, or camp in the designated places which are not fenced so stepping out the tent at night can be an issue!

Logistics are big – much has to be flown in, including guests. It is possible to get to the drier places self-drive, but you need time and good road skills to negotiate the tracks. We flew over two camp sites, and a group walking back to camp.

Flying over the delta is a great experience, especially in a helicopter. I was here in 1988, and flew in a 4-seater fixed-wing; the view was not good due to the thick glass, but the woman Aussie pilot went lower and tilted the plane over the animals. We had extra time too as she felt ill soon after take-off, landed in a very upmarket lodge on Chiefs Island for 30mins to recover. The colours are striking, deep blue water, vivid green marsh, and dry brown islands with occasional white patches of salt.

The lechwe antelope are found in the wetlands of south central Africa. Their hind legs are somewhat longer in proportion than in other antelopes, to ease long-distance running in marshy soil.

We returned to the Lodge, passing the numerous stalls to a late dinner which took ages to bring as there were two large groups. Wifi was very poor, almost useless.
But the lovely thatched huts, and open dining room are all shaded by the huge yellow trunked fever trees. I hoped we were in the huts as in 1988, but were placed in standard ‘heritage’ rooms which I don’t recall from that visit.

AFRICA reprise- South Africa – 24th Sept 2018 – Day 11

After a great breakfast prepared by Pauline, Dave & I drove around his large block on the Magaliesberg ridge. It is a dry rocky area, with bare scrub bush, contrasting with the watered areas around the houses. The block has been divided into 3, for the two children Noel and Natalie. Apart for their houses, there are several other small houses, some occupied by friends. Dave and Pauline are great Christian examples. They also have three horses, a bull and cow.

We continued into Rustenburg. So many more roads, highways, and buildings so that I did not know where I was. The church building is a private house once again, on a smaller block as the road is wider, the original large lawn is now another block – quite unrecognisable. I treied several shots through the barred gate till a large black guy approached asking what I was up to.

The town was cleaner than I expected, but still not great. We drove up the hill slopes where the homes are more expensive and gardens lush. Much of the flat area is now Black-owned and in disrepair.

As I would expect, Pauline’s house is unique. A large double storey, steep roof, wide veranda’s surrounded by trees, shrubs, some native, terraced, with a long view to the west and north from the small lawn and pool platform projecting over the hill slope. The interior is eclectic; comfortable couches and a standard dining table in the large lounge entry room; a door into the kitchen, another to a hall and the stairs; and another door into the Christmas’ room. Every room is filled to capacity with furnishings, pictures, and interesting objects. A clutter to some, a nightmare to dust! But that’s Pauline! The top floor is timber (the exterior walls are brick). Each bedroom reflects Pauline’s restrained taste ie not as full. They are in the steep roof space with dormer windows. Mine looks out on the south uphill side where a motorcycle rusts away adjacent to a red UK telephone box. Dr Who? Pauline badgered the original owner till he sold.

We had a braai lunch; some neighbours came too. The birds were very active, especially my favourite yellow masked weaver. There was a large msasa tree at my bedroom window on Idesleigh farm in Rhodesia (1950’s), invaded by these birds and their nests. Pauline is much taken with a large green pigeon that has nested 2m from the veranda. It has one nestling that is almost ready to fly.

This is the southern edge of the low veld, several hundred metres lower than Johannesburg to the south in the high veld. Both areas hosted large herds of animals till the gold rush to Johannesburg, and the later discovery of platinum and chromite in the low veld. I worked on a platinum mine from 1972 till emigration to Australia in 1981. Game farms have become popular, and large areas bought for game reserves The two best known in the western low veld are the lavish Sun City in the Pilansburg, and the private reserve at Thabazimbi maintained by a small iron ore mine. Kruger Park is in the eastern low veld.

We watched the sun set in a red ball, in line with their path out to the viewing platform. Having taken several shots using the tripod, I moved to the platform – and the camera and lens fell off. The 16-24 lens is broken – I will try to get a replacement in Cape Town but that means not having it for the next 10 days.

AFRICA reprise- Kenya/South Africa – 23rd Sept 2018 – Day 10

I was up early and offered breakfast though we were promised packed last night. Pretty ordinary – fried egg, samosas, toast, tea. No butter. Hot water with milk.

We managed to squeeze into the small taxi, had to exit at the Nairobi International airport barrier to walk through security while the car and bags drove through. I don’t know how much good that does. More scans before check in; my carry bag could have been a problem at 12kg but was allowed on.. More scans and even shoes off. And then a long wait.

A 4 hr flight to Jo’burg (SAA food and service was appreciated) where we each bought a SIM card for the phones, found the rental car, and drove north to Pretoria.

We stopped on the road to shoot my old University of South Africa sitting on the edge of one of several ridges in Pretoria. We saw our first white beggar, a white woman, standing on the lane marker. Going further on the highway, we passed the ugly, black, reject chromite mine dumps, turning off to Mooi Nooi (pretty girl), where we last lived till emigrating in 1981. And what a mess; so sad to see it. First stop the post office, now a church, and the adjacent fenced-in school. Rubbish blowing around, the houses in poor condition, the shopping centre with high security fencing to protect a further mess. Across the main road from the original homes, is a new centre in better condition, where the orange grove and blue gums once were. Our house is now a 2nd hand ‘shop’; old fridges and bits lie in the garden. I went into the Wimpy bar (like a McDonalds), spoke briefly to the young black serving woman who replied she was not even born when we left! I could not live here.

We continued on the old road to Rustenburg, to pass the lovely Cape Dutch ‘Rondalia’, still a tourist resort, but now hidden behind trees and fences. I loved passing here at night on the Suzuki 425cc as the orange blossom filled the valley. Now ugly shops line the road.

I could not recognise the road as we approached Kroondal; a mish-mash of ugly buildings, rubbish lined fences instead of the neatly fenced wheat fields and trees. David and Pauline have a large thorn bush property south of Kroondal, on the rocky slopes of the Magaliesberg, a high quartzite ridge running east-west, the physical and climatic boundary between the northern and southern Transvaal (as I knew it). We arrived at about 7pm to an emotional meeting – we have become so old! I could hardly recognise David. Dinner was waiting in Pauline’s ‘Christmas’ room, a permanent fixture. There we met their daughter Natalie (again) with their children and talented husband. And a single lady who lives in a small house 200m away on the property. The large ensuite bedrooms are all upstairs, protected by a strong gate at the head. We watched the sinking bright moon from the veranda, reminiscing about the long distant past. The church, the people.