A HOLIDAY TO THE WHALES – by Dave Jack

A couple of years ago I found myself in Hermanus towards to the end of whale season and for the first time I watched, not one, but two whales breach four times each and they were not a lot further than about 400 metres from the edge of the bay and it was one of those sights that will stay with me forever.

To see two creatures weighing around 20 tons each lift themselves out of the water is simply amazing.

With this memory I spoke to a few of my Harley friends and suggested that we should take a ride to Hermanus to see the whales so we’re going to be doing this in October and as it was my idea I had the job of organising the ride, a ride that would be a touring holiday so if you are wanting to see the whales it’s not too late to make the arrangements.

What I will do in this blog is to take you through our trip from Johannesburg and back again because we are certainly not simply going straight to Hermanus and back.

Day one we’ll leave Jozi for a longish ride on a motorcycle and head to Gariep Dam where we’ll stay at de Stijl Hotel that sits up on the hill above the dam and where all the rooms look out over the dam. It’s early in the rainy season so hopefully the dam will be full enough to make it look spectacular.

 GARIEP FROM DE STIJL

Gariep Dam is fed by the Orange River and not too far south of Gariep on the road to Colesberg you cross the Orange River. Not difficult to see why the Voortrekkers called it orange. That’s exactly what it looks like.

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From Gariep Dam day two will take us to Beaufort West to overnight there. Just 400kms but a leisurely day with stops in plenty of places.   One of the main places to stop is at Three Sisters just 90km or so before we get to Beaufort West. In this photo the “three sisters” are clearly seen although the “sister” on the left is just in the photo.

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The farm on which they are situated and the nearby railway siding are also named Three Sisters but I have tried, without success, to find out who it was who named the three sisters. What we do know is that the Cape Colony’s railway system saw the main line pass the dolorite formation in 1881 on its way to Kimberley and a small station was built there but I can’t find who actually named the Three Sisters.

 From Beaufort West on the third day we’ll ride straight down the N1 towards Cape Town through Laingsburg that was devastated in 1981 when heavy rains caused the river through the town and which is usually no more than a trickle came down in a raging torrent.

It’s on the Cape Town side of Laingsburg that we find the fascinating little town of Matjiesfontein with its equally fascinating Lord Milner hotel.   This tiny village, on the fringe of the Great Karoo, was founded in 1884 by legendary railway man, James Douglas Logan. The double-storey Milner Hotel was built in 1899 by James Logan, in the early stages of The South African War. The hotel was used as a military hospital during the conflict with British forces and the hotel turret was then used as a lookout post.

lord-milner-hotel

It’s certainly worth a stop for lunch. At the Laird’s Arms you can enjoy a pint and a pub lunch in the atmosphere of a bygone era while enjoying the entertainment provided by the regular honky-tonk pianist. The Lord Milner Hotel is, incidentally only about 1km off the N1.

After lunch take a wander through The Transport Museum that has old vintage cars, trains and bicycles within a private garden and courtyard setting.

 After Matjiesfontein, we head south towards Cape Town and close to Worcester we turn off the N1 and onto the R43 that takes us to Hermanus through Villiersdorp and Theewaterskloof to Hawston and then Hermanus.

 We’ve decided to stay at Sandbaai about 6Km from the centre of Hermanus at Mountain View Manor Guesthouse.

SANDBAAI BEACH

And after a long day in the saddle we’ll be looking forward to seeing this sunset as we relax and unwind.

SANBBAAI SUNSETAnd of course, what we are going to Hermanus to see.

 WHALES IN hERMANUS

The plan is to take a whale watching boat trip. Two and a half hours up close with these amazing animals. By the time we get there many of them will have their young and hopefully we’ll get to see the young up close and personal too.

 

On one of our days in Hermanus we are going to take a ride from Hermanus to Gordon’s Bay but along the coastal road and then from Rooi Els to Gordon’s Bay to ride Clarence Drive which is one of the most stunning drives I have even seen and that includes parts of Europe I have ridden. It’s one of those roads of which I never get tired.

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After we say goodbye to Hermanus we head off up the Garden Route with our first stop at George for the night. A wonderful view of Mossel Bay on the way to George as we start the Garden Route proper.

 MOSSEL BAY

The morning we leave George we then head further along the Garden Route. At the top of Kaaiman’s Pass is the spectacular view over Dolphin Point.

dolphin point

Then it’s on to Knysna with the beauty of the Lagoon and the Heads where the Lagoon opens up to the sea.

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 A little bit further we get to the holiday mecca known as Plettenberg Bay.

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 Then we head towards Port Elizabeth but first a stop at Storm’s River Mouth which is truly spectacular and a spot in South Africa not known to many South Africans.

storms river mouth

Then the day ends with the ride to Port Elizabeth and for our stay overnight at Summerstrand.

SUMMERSTRAND The next morning it’s the ride through to Queenstown and whilst some good scenery it’s the day after we leave Queenstown that everyone will be thinking about.

From Queenstown we head towards Aliwal North but it’s the route we’re taking that is going to make it special. Two stunning mountain passes. Very scenic with quite a few twists and turns.

The Barkly Pass and Cala Pass which, as I write this in July, are both closed because of snow and are closed “indefinitely” so a lot of snow falling on the passes.

The Barkly Pass in the summer is spectacular with the green hills common in that part of the Eastern Cape.

 BARKLY PASS

 

The Cala Pass equally pretty but it has some severe climbing with a climb of 300 metres over its distance of 5.8km with some tight twists and turns.

 CALA PASS

 After the beauty of the passes it’ll be down into Aliwal North for our stay at the Riverside Lodge on the banks of the Orange River.

 riverside lodge

 When we leave Aliwal North we’ll do the gentle hop to Bloemfontein and then the next day along the N1 back to Jozi.   A total of around 3500km in the 10 days and a total cost including fuel in an a fuel efficient vehicle, of around R16,000 per couple for a wonderful HOLIDAY AT HOME. Cheaper than two return air tickets to most European destinations.

And we will have seen some amazing stuff.

WHY STAY IN A GUESTHOUSE? – by Dave Jack

In previous blogs I have spoken about guesthouses as my first choice in accommodation and it occurred to me that at no stage have I explained my reasons for this so in this blog, I will do my best to explain why it is that I think that guesthouses is the way to go when travelling in and around South Africa and with school holidays happening this might give people who hadn’t planned to go on holiday, the opportunity to think about it again.

I have come across people regularly who have visions of having to share a bathroom with the owner of the B&B or with other guests and 25 years ago this may well have been the case but the guesthouse industry in South Africa has developed over the last 20 years or so, leaving behind the situation, in most cases, I have just described. What generally used to be the case is that the kids had grown up and left home and suddenly there were a couple of spare bedrooms in the house and the decision was taken to open a B&B. Shared facilities very often with the owners and for many people this is still the idea of what a B&B is like – but is it?

Not at all. The guesthouse industry in South Africa has in most places in the country developed into a very different type of accommodation to that of 20 or more years ago.

PORT ELIZABETH

Today, a B&B or guesthouse in the vast majority of cases, will not have any shared facilities and also most (although not all) have rooms with its own entrance, so no walking through the owner’s living area whilst the owner is eating dinner or entertaining friends. In fact in the early days, one of the things that was used to differentiate between a B&B and a guesthouse was whether the owner had separate living areas, but in almost all instances that is a thing of the past although in some more outlying areas this may not be the case.

It’s not considered rude to ask the owner to be shown the rooms and dining areas before making a final decision whether to stay there or to find another guesthouse more suited to your needs. This is a perfectly normal request but don’t feel offended if in looking at the guesthouse, that you don’t have free reign of the guesthouse as some establishments have “guests” wanting to look at rooms and removed items whilst busy looking.

So what then are the other advantages of staying in a guesthouse? Firstly and one of the most important aspects is that in the majority of cases you are dealing with the owner at beat or a trusted manager. The guesthouse is a smaller business and the owner needs to be certain that the guest gets the very best service possible and the owner is, in most cases, very visible and very often lives on the same, premises but remote from the guest areas because that business of you staying there makes the difference between the owner being able to maintain a certain standard of living or not. The advantage here is that any problems can be addressed immediately and directly to the owner.

A major consideration in these times is of course cost of accommodation and guesthouses are usually a lot less expensive than a lot of hotels. Lower overheads so lower costs so the amount they need to charge you as a guest is lower. Let’s not forget that in most cases breakfast is included and many guesthouses will, on request, provide an evening meal of a home cooked dinner.

Guesthouses are increasingly installing free wi-fi following reports that this is a major requirement of guests, whether business or leisure and this is something else the guesthouse industry has done to keep abreast of, and in many cases ahead of, the overseas establishments.

I mentioned earlier the changes we have seen from those early B&B days in South Africa to where we are today. I have had people tell me what their objections are to staying in a guesthouse and I have yet to hear a single objection that can’t be addressed to the owners and immediately rectified. Many owners are in fact able to gauge what the guest wants on arrival. Does the guest want to interact with the owners. Many foreign visitors want to know more about the country and where they can visit locally, and tend to want to talk to the owners whereas many business tourists (yes business travellers are also tourists) prefer to be left alone and most guesthouses are able to identify the difference.

QUEENSTOWN GUESTHOUSE

I remember many years ago travelling through Scotland and I had been told to look out for a board outside the establishment reading “Commended by the Scottish Tourist Board” and it was OK to stay there. Back in the old days no similar facility was available in South Africa but as the industry moved ahead and became more and more professional, so the facilities for guesthouses to have themselves “graded” or “approved” by various organisations. This too is something that the visitor should look out for. If the establishment has had the nod of approval from one of the bigger organisations there is usually a facility for an unhappy guest to give feedback to the organisation concerned and that organisation will then address it with the establishment.

At one time there were several Associations representing the B&B and Guesthouse industry but just one left and it has the ear of government and the Minister of Tourism and that’s the National Accommodation Association and they are passionate about maintaining a high standard in the guesthouse industry.

honeypot

Whilst not all guesthouses are “approved”, the industry is moving that way, but as I said, whether “approved” or “graded”, you are within your rights to be shown around and you can make your own decision. This particularly applies in your smaller towns and not as much in your cities.

Something else worth checking is the extent of the insurance the guesthouse carries. The last thing you need, is to be injured and it’s the fault of the guesthouse owner and you find they have no liability insurance.

How do you find a guesthouse in a certain area? There are many websites that list guesthouses in South Africa but the one I always use is http://www.bnbfinder.co.za which lists several thousand guesthouses all around South Africa. Having said that, the listing is not an endorsement of the establishment by bnbfinder.co.za and it’s up to you to check that it’s what you want. The biggest advantage of http://www.bnbfinder.co.za is that each and every listed establishment carries at least R30m in liability insurance.

So there you have it. My reasons for choosing a guesthouse whenever possible. Cost, direct access to the owners and very often a true “home from home” feeling and experience.

You have nothing to lose and at the end of the day, it’s your choice after seeing the establishment but remember that if they are a bad experience, they wouldn’t be full a lot of the time.

If you have a good experience at a particular guesthouse, you are very likely to return as a guest in the future, an important aspect to the owner. In my case, I always stay in the same guesthouse in various parts of the country whenever I happen to be there and only a serious problem would make me change. As a result I am welcomed back as a friend, something seldom found in a big hotel.

If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.

IS IT CHEAP TO HOLIDAY IN THE UK? – by Dave Jack

I write this at some 43,000 feet on a flight home after spending a day or two under two weeks in the UK.

The first thing people will tell you is that you mustn’t convert currency with the Rand having weakened to the point where it is, and I completely agree with them – but only to a point because it’s just not possible to avoid doing so with certain things. Go into a department store – any of the well-known ones – and it’s only natural to compare and in cases you could be pleasantly surprised if you look on the “sale rails” as the UK starts to leave winter behind and as we start to approach that time of the year.

Whilst you are unlikely to pick up bargains at ridiculously low prices, you are often likely to be able to buy clothes at about the same prices, or even slightly cheaper than at home. Quality is much the same but what does differ is style of the clothing, simply because the UK is half a year ahead of us so what you can buy off the sale rails as is last season’s fashions will be coming to South Africa in the coming season. Even then the style there is only six months ahead of us.

That is however pretty much where it ends. It is very expensive to eat out in London even if you are earning in pounds and most people in London will confirm that to you but even more horrendous if you are paying in Rand. A perfect example a day of two ago was a fifties style American diner with a fantastic vibe and décor and one of the best hamburgers I’ve tasted in a long time. Trouble is that there were five of us. Three adults and two children. The three adults each had a hamburger and chips and the two children a kiddies portion of the same thing.

The total bill was £55 which is expensive if you are paying in pounds but paying in rands it was just R5 short of R1000 – for five hamburgers and a few cokes!

We complain about our petrol price but in the UK, the cheapest I found was £1.12 a litre.

Accommodation is frightening. An average lodge is around £55 a night for a room. That’s not too bad until you include breakfast at £8.75 a person.

You will hear the argument that “but they are earning in pounds” but when you consider that a pretty average salary is between £25,000 & £30,000 a year and that’s before the taxman takes his share that’s not a huge amount of money. Transport around London is plentiful but travel an hour outside London by train and you are looking at around £26 return. That’s R520 more or less.

A friend of mine has a small two bedroom apartment in West Sussex and it costs £850 per month. Work that little lot out.

Bottom line is that I don’t think it’s a cheap holiday to visit the UK but I am not for a moment suggesting that one shouldn’t travel. Travel is good and it broadens your horizons but with our current exchange rate it’s not a great idea to overspend or to go into debt to holiday abroad.

Let’s look now at being on holiday at home. In my previous blog I spoke about the fact that we have a choice between a touring holiday and a destination holiday. Either way, your first saving is the better part of R25,000 on air fares for two people if you choose to fly economy class with any of the major airlines. By comparison, our low cost carriers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a bad day will cost you R4,000 and that’s a really bad day.

Rent a small car in Cape Town for 10 days and it’s around R400 a day so now on airfares and car hire we have saved R32,000, give or take a Rand or two. Accommodation in Cape Town in an equivalent lodge to that in which we stayed for 10 days would cost you about R10,000, so now our saving is getting towards R40,000 but then you need to eat out and this is where the difference really is noticeable.

Apart from obvious things like our weather and the huge savings between holidaying in the UK and at home, one has to ask oneself “what is it that foreign tourists are seeing in South Africa that we South Africans can’t see?” What is it that causes them to rave about their holiday and how they would like to come back again?

I have travelled around South Africa a great deal and I have seen some amazing things but when I ask many South Africans if they have seen the things I’ve seen they look at me and ask “where’s that”.

I have often been asked if I have seen England’s Lake District and I have. I have been asked if I have seen the hills in the Highlands of Scotland covered in purple when the heather is in full bloom, and I have, I have been asked if I have seen the French Riviera, and I have, but I have also seen the road between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay and driven through Meiring’s Poort and any day of the week those two places alone are as beautiful as anything I have seen abroad.

I have seen whales breach in Hermanus and the flowers in bloom in Namaqualand. I have been to Sutherland and gazed at the clearest skies I have ever seen through a telescope. I have sat in a cave on the top of the Cedarberg mountains and had lunch there whilst staring out at the magnificence of the country. I have seen Huisriviers Pass and very few people I meet even know where it is. I have been asked, as someone who rides a motorcycle if I have been the Ronny’s Sex Shop on Route 62 and what it’s like they ask with a look of excited expectancy in their eyes.

It’s a pub!

This then is the country I call home and there are dozens of other places in South Africa that many South Africans have not seen – and dare I say will probably never see as they are spending a fortune holidaying overseas and leaving what we have to foreign tourists.

I said earlier that I was writing this at some 40,000 feet in a Boeing and I look through the window of the aircraft towards the east and I see something that is pure splendor.

It’s an African sunrise and I’m home.

DESTINATION OR TOURING HOLIDAYS? – by Dave Jack

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I have come to the realisation that we have the option of two different types of holiday, particularly in South Africa. The destination holiday or the touring holiday. In most instances where a person has a family with children (of any age) the destination holiday is probably the one that suits the best.

Go to a destination and stay in that one place for as long as the holiday lasts. A beach holiday is generally the one that suits families the best. Quieter centres for those with young children but places with more vibe if the children are teenagers.

So what then is the “touring holiday” and who does it suit? Simply it’s the holiday where one moves from place to place and takes in the beauty of the country and doesn’t necessarily stay in any one place for longer than a day or maybe two. The places where one stays are usually only places to sleep and it’s the travelling where the interest is and the things to see will be found.

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Recently some friends and I took a touring holiday on Harley Davidson motorcycles and we did a total of around 4000kms in some 11 days. Allow me to take you on that trip and you don’t need a Harley to do it. I simply want to take you on the trip and you can easily do it in a car.

Our first day was from Johannesburg straight down the N1 to Gariep Dam, a distance of some 650kms. As with any National Road, not a great deal to see but plenty of places to stop for that coffee or fuel. If you don’t want to go as far as Gariep Dam on one day, you can always stop in Bloemfontein for the night. Lots to do and see there and some very pleasant eating places. There is an abundance of guesthouses in the city that are very reasonably priced.

Direct to Gariep Dam via the N1. South of Bloemfontein and about 250kms along the N1 is the Gariep Dam, one of the biggest dams in South Africa. Accommodation is also not a problem with hotels, guesthouses and self-catering establishments.

 GARIEP DAM

 From Gariep Dam the next place – and still on the N1 is Beaufort West, some 400kms further towards Cape Town and again lots of good quality accommodation in the form of guesthouses.

It’s after Beaufort West that the trip starts to get interesting. About 12 to 15kms south of the town towards Cape Town on the N1, is a turnoff to the left that takes you either to de Rust and on to Oudtshoorn or you can turn off and visit Prince Albert from that road and then after that visit back onto the same road and continue to de Rust.

It’s just before de Rust which is a tiny village that one gets to Meiring’s Poort and it’s truly magnificent. One of those places that no matter how often I have travelled through it I don’t get tired of it.

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From there, after spending time in Meiring’s Poort it’s on to Oudtshoorn and either an overnight stay there with a detour to the Cango Caves for a morning or carry on and get onto the South African well known Route 62.

After Oudtshoorn, the first two towns are Calitzdorp and then Ladismith but it’s between the two that the stunning beauty of the Huisrivier Pass is found. Nicely paved stopping places with the amazing views offer ideal photo opportunities.

HUISRIVIER PASS

After Huisrivier Pass it’s continue along Route 62 and one can either stop at the world famous “Ronnie’s Sex Shop” which is a pub in the middle of nowhere but very interesting and a favourite stopping place of travellers, particularly those travelling long distances on two wheels.

Barrydale is next and two choices. Either a turnoff to the left and down the Tradoux Pass which is also has fantastic scenery to Zuurbrak and the N2 that eventually takes you to Cape Town or you can continue on Route 62 to Montagu. A charming little town that is surrounded by typical Cape mountains that add to the charm of the town.

MONTAGU ROCK

From Montagu, our trip took us to Franschhoek. We travelled down the Franschhoek Pass with its views over the valley where one finds the beautiful town enjoyed so much by visitors, local and from abroad and the wine farms in the Franschhoek Valley

 FROM FRANSCHHOEK PASS

After Franschhoek, we made our way up the Cape West Coast stopping overnight in Paternoster, again a charming village that sits right on the Atlantic Ocean and again an abundance of accommodation. Certainly the place where one can have a relaxing day or two after the drive from Johannesburg.

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From Paternoster our next stop was Springbok, a predomintley industrial town and our stop there was really because of the distance to our next stop which was Kakamas.

Also on the road to Springbok one will come across Bitterfontein, which is another town that “time forgot” except that this is the centre from which huge supplies of granite mined near Springbok are brought in order to be railed out to the various destinations the granite is needed. Unfortunately we arrived in Springbok as the sun was setting on a very hot early summer afternoon so any thoughts of seeing the sights were quickly overtaaken by the thoughts of the swimming pool at our guesthouse.

The setting sun in Springbok is however a very pretty sight. 

Leaving Springbok the following morning it was off to Kakamas but to get there one must go through the town of Pofadder (yes it really exists and whilst there is not a lot of activity in the town itself it’s at the petrol station alongside the main road that we found interest. At the petrol station there us a small shop and amongst the items in the shop is a genuine Voortrekker wagon and one can’t help but ask oneself how they survived for years under those circumstances.  The wagons were tiny and most of the Voortrekkers had fairly big families. I have been told that the women and girls slept in the wagon and the men and boys on the ground under the wagon but I don’t know if that is true or not.

IMG-20141027-WA0009After Pofadder it’s off again to Kakamas and some 35km from the town the famous Augrabies Falls and spectacular after the seasonal rains have filled the rivers. Even when the rivers are low and the falls not at full capacity it still remains a wonderful sight.

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Kakamas itself is a small town and the interesting thing there is that it’s a big grape growing area. Not table grapes but grapes used for raisins, etc.

I remember asking one of the locals whether the very dry and hot climate didn’t adversely affect the grapes and he explained to me that for those grapes they don’t want rain. They have controlled irrigation from water tunnels that take water from the Orange River through the grape growing and then leads the water back via the tunnels into the Orange. Rain would cause mildew on the grapes and that is not conductive to those needed for raisins. Most of the raisins from that part of South Africa are for export.

Leaving Kakamas we travelled to Uppington that sits on the Orange River and some very pleasant views of the river from restaurants and guesthouse along the river’s edge. Uppington known for its very high temperatures reaching 40 degrees on most summer days.

From Uppington we made our way to Kimberley via the “forgotten” town of Groblershoop.  500kms from Kakamas to Kimberley.

Kimberley for the history lover is a must. So much South African history can be found in the town and certainly worth more than a visit. The Kimberley Club is now a Boutique Hotel and photographs taken from the days of Rhodes and Barnato adorn the walls along with other equally famous citizens of the town many years ago.

KIMBERLEY CLUB

There is so much to see in Kimberley that at least two full days or even more are needed and of course no trip to Kimberley is complete without a visit to “The Big Hole” the diamond mine that itself has a fascinating history and in which many people lost their lives over 100 years ago.

For those wanting to spoil themselves you will also find shops at the Big Hole where you can buy diamond items that they claim are cheaper than one would get them in the cities.

From Kimberley it was home to Johannesburg after a wonderful trip.

You will notice that I have mentioned guesthouses for most towns on our route. If you have not travelled using South African guesthouses, give it a try. In most cases it reduces the cost of your trip substantially and you will often find your hosts more than happy to tell you about their town.

There you have it. Destination or touring holiday? For me it’s a touring holiday every time. I have done many of them through South Africa and haven’t seen a quarter of what the country has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JOHANNESBURG – THE CITY OF GOLD by Dave Jack

 

Johannesburg

Mention one of Africa’s biggest cities and most South Africans who don’t live in Johannesburg will tell you what a dreadful place it is, crime ridden and every road potholed where every car in the city is damaged after hitting one of these huge holes in the road.

Have a look at Johannesburg or Jozi or Joburg or Jhb closely and you’ll find something very different. You will find the financial hub of South Africa. You will find a city that has a “buzz” and where people are always busy “getting things done” as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s very likely this latter aspect that frightens non-Jozi residents where they refer to the “rat race”, but let’s have a look at different aspects of Egoli – the City of Gold.

HISTORY

The history of Johannesburg goes back thousands of years to when it was inhabited byhunter-gatherer people. The Johannesburg area was the home to Bushmen (San) and Stone Age and over time migrants established and Iron Age Culture and was formally established in 1886 with the discovery of gold and the Witwatersrand Reef.

Below is the farm where gold was first discovered in 1886. 

FARM WHERE GOLD DISCOVERED

After the discovery, the population of the city exploded, and Johannesburg became the largest city in South Africa. Today, it is a centre for learning and entertainment for virtually all of Africa a far cry from how it started in 1886 and developed by 1890 when this photograph was taken.

Johannesburg,_South_Africa_(1896)

Johannesburg was initially controlled from Pretoria, the government capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republijk (ZAR) or Transvaal Republic and people came in huge numbers of the country and the world, including the UK, Europe and the USA.

Because of efforts to control the resources, tensions developed between the foreigners and the ZAR government and ended in the South African War (1899–1902). The British government applied scorched-earth techniques which included the burning of crops and killing of livestock. Thousands of Africans and Boer women and children were forcibly moved from their land into concentration camps where it’s estimated that around 40,000 died.

In 1902, ZAR was annexed by the British Empire and the Peace of Vereeniging was signed. The South African War left most of the Transvaal population homeless, poor and destitute leading to urbanization, cheap labour and the huge control of mining rights by foreigners.

During 1910, Lord Milner, governor of the Union government which was part of the British Commonwealth instituted Land Alienation Acts which resulted in many rural blacks being forced to leave for Johannesburg looking for employment in the mining industry.

After the National Party took power in 1948, it established the Group Areas Act and forcibly moved black population groups out of inner Johannesburg areas, such as Sophiatown to the newly developed Soweto, and acronym for South West Townships and which has become a city within a city.

JOHANNESBURG STOCK EXCHANGE

The discovery of gold resulted in mining and financial companies opening and a need soon for a stock exchange and The Johannesburg Exchange & Chambers Company was formed by a London businessman, Benjamin Minors Woollan on 8 November 1887. By 1890 the trading hall became too small and had to be rebuilt but this too was outgrown. Trading then moved into the street. The Mining Commissioner closed off Simmonds Street between Market Square and Commissioner Street by means of chains.

 JOBURG_(1893)_The_Exchange

In 1903, a new building was built for the JSE on Hollard Street. It was a storey building that took up an entire whole city block bounded by Fox and Main, Hollard and Sauer Streets.

After 108 years, the open outcry system of trading was changed to an electronic system on 7 June 1996.

In September 2000, the Johannesburg Securities Exchange moved to its present location in Sandton and changed its official name to the JSE Securities Exchange.

 

JOHANNESBURG LEARNING INSTITUTIONS

Whilst there are many very good schools both private and State funded or partially State funded, it is the two universities that are probably the best known learning institutions in the city and amongst the best in the country.

The older of the two main universities is Witwatersrand University (Wits) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and formerly called Rand Afrikaans University.

Both universities offer a huge variety of courses leading to degrees in many subjects.

 

PLACES OF INTEREST

“There is nothing to do in Joburg” is what one often hears from “non-Joburgers” but nothing could be further from the truth.  A trip into Soweto will take you to such places as the Hector Pieterson Memorial that shows the build up to the Soweto uprising in 1976 where the young Hector was the first person shot and killed by the police.

HECTOR PIETERSON

Also in Soweto you’ll find the only street in the world that has the houses of two former Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Those two houses are in Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.

Vilakazi street

Restaurants and plenty of them are in Soweto from your traditional “shebeen” serving local food to upmarket restaurants appealing to “white” pallets but with a mix of traditional and western food to suit everyone.

 SOWETO RESTAURANTS

A little way outside Soweto is the Apartheid Museum where visitors spend hours looking at South Africa’s history.

 SHOPPING

Johannesburg boasts some of the finest shopping in the world and can certainly compete with the best in the world in terms of fashion from exclusive boutiques to the clothing chain stores to satisfy more modest taste and there is hardly any area in Johannesburg that doesn’t have a “mall” and in addition to clothing there are restaurants serving dishes from South African foods, steak specialists to foods from virtually anywhere in the world.  Italian, Greek, Chinese, Thai, Sushi and everything else the heart desires.

An aerial view of Sandton shows just how it has developed since those early days of the beginning of the nineties when development started.

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A very popular venue, particularly on a restful Sunday afternoon is Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton with its restaurants, and visitors both local and international with photographs being taken all the time of the giant statue of Madiba.

 MANDELA SQUARE

It is virtually impossible to cover all that Johannesburg has to offer in one blog so do yourself a favour and make this city a place to visit whether you are a South African or one of our visitors from abroad. There really is a lot more to Jozi than just our magnificent O R Tambo International Airport.

 

 

 

 

THE GARDEN ROUTE CONTINUES by Dave Jack

After a stop in Knysna we continue on our trip along the Garden Route to get to Mossel Bay which as I said previously for me the end of the Garden Route although officially is isn’t.

The entire route from Knysna to Mossel Bay is a scenic paradise and the next town one comes to is Sedgefield which proudly claims to be “The Slowest Town in South Africa” and as you come into the little town a large board tells you this.

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Not a great deal happens in Sedgefield and apart from one or two eating places not much to stop for unless you are fascinated by vintage and veteran cars.  As you travel from Knysna, not long after you enter Sedgefield and on your right hand side is a fascinating “motor dealer” specialising in old cars and when last there I spent a very happy hour or more looking at everything they had on display and all the while battling to keep my credit card hidden in my pocket.  The temptation was great though.

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After dragging myself away from the beauty of some of these old cars (both American and European) we make our way further south being aware of all the speed cameras on that road which are actually a benefit in slowing you down to look at the scenery.

Next we get to Wilderness with its lovely beaches where you’ll find people enjoying walks along the white sand. Lots of eating places as well as accommodation along the entire stretch between Knysna and Wilderness if you want to spend a day or two in that area.

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After Wilderness we climb Kaaiman’s Pass that was badly damaged by storms some years ago but which has now been rebuilt into a better road than it was before the damage.  The highlight of Kaaiman’s Pass is the viewpoint at the top overlooking Dolphin Point. Turn slightly to you left and the miles of white beaches of Wilderness I was talking about.

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A short stop there to take in the splendour of it all and our journey continues until about 10kms before the town of George and a left turn off the N2 and you can work your way down to Victoria Bay. A cosy little bay offering a nice beach, surfing and snorkelling as well as accommodation. Victoria Bay is certainly worth more than one day if you want to sit and stare at the ocean with a good book. Relaxation!

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Back onto the N2 and not far and you get to George which is the hub of the area with large shopping malls plenty of restaurants and accommodation.  If “city life” is your “thing” it’s certainly worth stopping in George. The town sits below the Outeniqua Mountains and whilst no views of the sea, the mountains are equally spectacular.

George is also home to the famous Fancourt Golf Club that has seen some of golf’s big names playing on its magnificent greens and fairways.

George is also served by a small but efficient airport that was upgraded before the World Cup in 2010 and has flights in and out on a regular basis by more than three airlines and basically to destinations all around South Africa.

On the other side of the N2 before we head further south you will find such gems as Herold’s Bay and Oubaai, playground of some well-known people but let’s get back onto the N2 and head south.

The settlements of Klein Brak and Groot Brak and are on your left before you get to Mossel Bay but it’s the views that are fantastic.  You come around a corner and in front of you in the distance is Mossel Bay but it is not only Mossel Bay that you are seeing. You also see the entire coastline from where you are all the way to Mossel Bay. Places to stop and photo opportunities as you travel towards these towns and it certainly is worth the stop for a while.

After soaking in the scenery we set off again heading for Mossel Bay and all it has to offer in the way of rest and relaxation and at the right time of the year some whale watching although seals and dolphins and be seen often.

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Accommodation in Mossel Bay?  Plenty of it from a couple of hotels to many of the more personal and intimate guesthouses in the area.  One of my favourite places to stay is in Reebok and high on the hill overlooking the bay but not too far away from the sea to be able to have a good view of dolphins and whales when they come to visit.

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One of the things that I have found in Mossel Bay is the friendliness of the people who live there, whether you are in a guesthouse, a restaurant or even a shop. To me Mossel Bay is a real “get away from it all” as long as you enjoy any of the festivals held there, ranging from motorcycle rallies to cultural events. It’s one of the few places in the country I know about where one can experience real Afrikaans culture and cooking!

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Before you leave Mossel Bay and head off to wherever it is you are going next, there is one trip you must do. It’s a circular drive of around a little under 200kms and if you do it correctly it is an entire day’s outing.

Leave Mossel Bay and head up Robinson’s Pass to Oudtshoorn. Robinson’s Pass is very pretty with some very good views but not well known to many. Viewpoints for those photo opportunities on the way up the pass which has very few tight bends.

Over the top and you start to get views of Oudtshoorn in the distance and at the right time of year the wild proteas are in bloom (illegal to pick the flowers) and the pass is fantastic.

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Down into Oudtshoorn where there is plenty to choose from in the way of restaurants. If you decide to start this circular route in Oudtshoorn instead of Mossel Bay there are literally hundreds of guesthouses and if you enjoy the arts the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees  (KKNK) takes place at the end of March.

Starting and finishing in Oudtshoorn can also be a good idea if you want to take in the Cango Caves I spoke about in an earlier blog.

Leave Oudtshoorn to complete the circular drive and it’s back to George leaving curious ostriches behind as you drive out towards the Outeniqua Pass with spectacular views and plenty of rest spots for those photos.

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Down into George and back to Mossel Bay and the route is done.

If you have never been to this part of the country spend a day here or rush through it and you are not doing it justice and losing out on one of the nicest parts of South Africa

THE GARDEN ROUTE – by Dave Jack

Possibly one of the prettiest and most scenic parts of South Africa has to be The Garden Route and although it is generally regarded as including Oudtshoorn which is about 50km inland of the coast, it’s the coastal part of it that holds particular attraction for me. It’s the part from Storms River to Mossel Bay that is the section I like and if you ask many people who have travelled the N2 in the direction of Cape Town if they have been to Storms River Mouth they will describe the bridge on the main road where there is a petrol station and various places to buy “goodies” or have something to eat, but that is most certainly not Storms River Mouth and if you are on the N2, slow down for a couple of hours and go down to the mouth. The turn off is about 10kms on the Cape Town side of the Storms River Bridge I have just mentioned.  Travelling towards Cape Town you turn from the N2 and make your way down a narrow twisty road to the mouth with its chalets and caravan park for those who want to take in the beauty of the mouth for longer than just a couple of hours.   02IndianOceanviewTsitsikammaNPStorms[2] If you’re feeling peckish, sitting virtually on the rocks, is a very pleasant restaurant where you can satisfy those hunger pangs and take in the raw beauty of it all.  Those who have travelled the N2 between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town and have not taken the time to go down to Storms River Mouth have missed one of South Africa’s most rugged and raw places of beauty.  Next time you are on that stretch of road don’t, whatever you do, miss it.

STORMS RIVER MOUTH

Tear yourself away from Storms River Mouth and back onto the N2 in the direction of Cape Town and the next town you get to after passing a few resorts alongside the river, is Plettenberg Bay, a very popular holiday destination, particularly over Christmas for visitors from all over South Africa but in particular many from Johannesburg wanting to unwind and catch their breath after a busy year. During holidays the beaches are full of people soaking up the sun and wanting that tan they can take home to show they had a good holiday. 250px-Plet_Bay Plettenberg Bay hosts one of the largest seagull breeding colonies along the South African coast at the mouth of the Keurboom’s River. There are many sea birds in the area including the endangered African Oystercatcher living along the shores.

AFRICAN OYSTERCATCHER

The Robberg Peninsula is home to a large Cape Fur Seal colony, seals can often be seen in the surf off Robberg Beach. Great White Sharks, attracted by the seals, can also often be seen from the high ground of Robberg Peninsula. Southern Right Whales as well as other species of whales are common in the bay during their breeding season from July to December. Plettenberg Bay also has three species of dolphins that visit the bay throughout the year. A distinctive flower-shaped sea shell called a pansy shell is endemic to this part of the coast, and is used as the symbol representing the town.

PANSY SHELL PLETT

Plettenberg Bay has plenty to offer in the way of accommodation with a couple of hotels and dozens of guesthouses ranging from modest to top of the range and some very good restaurants where you can spend a relaxing evening after a day on the beach.

Next stop on the N2 is Knysna with its famous lagoon on which you can travel in one of the boats, some offering meals, and most with a pub on board. At the far end of the lagoon you’ll find the “Heads” that opens into the sea but only the most experienced sailor would consider going through the Heads.

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The best views of the Heads, if you are a little apprehensive about going close on the lagoon, is to drive out to the Heads to one of the restaurants where once again very relaxing and with lovely views of the entrance to the lagoon through the Heads from where this photograph was taken.

They say there are only two speeds in Knysna. Very slow and stopped and this makes it the ideal destination for those wanting to get away from it all but who don’t want to lie and fry on the beach.  Relax at one of the local coffee shops or take in the goods on offer at one of the curio shops in the town.   The big attraction in Knysna though, is the Waterfront with its little shops and places, both big and small, where one can sit down to have a meal, all the while looking out over the lagoon and the feeling you get is that there is not a problem in the world.

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What about accommodation in Knysna though?  It’s estimated that there are over 200 guesthouses in an around Knysna and with that sort of competition one can get extremely good accommodation at extremely reasonable prices. Not far away, if you are wanting the beach you will find beaches that are not as busy as the beaches further up the coast but almost as good. So let’s stop over in Knysna until next week when we move further south towards Mossel Bay and more of the beauty of the Garden Route.

DURBAN – THE WARMEST PLACE TO BE – by Dave Jack

Durban has long been the destination of choice for holidaymakers but about 10 years ago lost some of its popularity but is fast getting it back as holidaymakers find it an exciting and inexpensive place to be with a great deal of accommodation in guesthouses both in Durban suburbs and in outlying suburbs.

Beaches are good, well patrolled by life guards with Blue Flag beach status being sought again.

The derivation of the word eThekwini has been debated for years with some language experts saying the name is said to mean either ‘lagoon’ or ‘the one-testicled one’, referring to the appearance of the Durban Bay.

In an 1859 Zulu grammar book, Bishop Colenso concluded that the root word “I Theku” means “bay of  the sea” and noted that the locative form, eThekwini, was used as a proper name for Durban.

A 1905 Zulu-English dictionary notes that eThekwini is used for Durban.

Many residents of Durban refer to the municipal area phonetically as “eh-Tek-When-i” which if one listens to a Zulu speaking person saying the name one will soon realise that that is not quite correct.

So what is there in Durban to attract the visitor?

The Durban Municipality started work on the  promenade along the beachfront starting from uShaka (we’ll get to that later) shortly before the World Cup in 2010 and converted it into a world class facility enjoyed by runners, cyclists and those simply out for a stroll in the sunshine.

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The promenade stretches for a distance of some 6kms of brick paved walkway and has numerous restaurants and take away outlets across the road from the beaches.  There can’t be very many places in South Africa where one can sit at a table under an umbrella on the sand to enjoy a Sunday morning breakfast not 60 metres from the water’s edge.  Food is not expensive but it is good and it’s filling.

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As I have said the beaches are great, the water warm enough to swim almost all year and the weather, whilst very humid from November through to March is extremely pleasant.  The months of April and May are generally said to be the best in Durban but when you consider that you can swim in the sea in July, the middle of  winter, this is an indication of exactly the sort of climate you can expect. Then on top of that, it seldom rains during the autumn and winter months.

One major plus of the Durban beaches apart from the water temperature is the fact that many years ago shark nets were installed as a protection for bathers against these predators and they have worked well over a long time allowing safety when in the water.

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I mentioned uShaka Marine World built some years ago and home to one of the longest living dolphins in captivity, Gambit who is over 40 years of age and still the star of the dolphin shows at uShaka that are held a few times a day.

In addition to the dolphin shows, one of the finest aquaria in the world can be found at uShaka with a huge variety of fish and the shark tanks the main attraction although the smaller tanks have some of the most fascinating sea creatures.

The big attraction of course, for children is the water playground with its slides and pools where kids drag reluctant parents and even more reluctant grandparents onto some on the tube rides down slides.

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It isn’t only the children who enjoy the playground though and many adults are found sunning themselves on the lawns rather than lying on the beach sand. There are some who say that the cost of entry to uShaka is expensive but when you consider that your ticket gives you the dolphin show, the aquarium and the water playground for the entire day if you wish, it isn’t expensive at all.

It was an English commentator during the World Cup in 2010 who said “ask any Durbanite and they will tell you that they have just two seasons in a year – summer and summer.

Staying with the World Cup, and the stadium at which the Durban matches were played is quite magnificent and one of the most modern in the world able to seat a little under 70,000 people.  The Moses Mabhida Stadium is the pride of the city and since the World Cup, has been used for all sorts of events, many of which have been sporting but primarily football but with cricket and even music concerts held there.

For the more adventurous and if you don’t have a fear of heights you can take the two-minute Sky Car ride up the stadium arch, before you step onto the platform and take in the unparalleled 360º views of Durban and beyond.

The Sky Car gives you the chance to see Durban from a 106m-high view point. Look one way and you take in the ocean views as far as the eye can see, look the other way and you’ll see the city living for miles.

Then if you are really adventurous and you are brave enough to free fall 80 metres into the stadium bowl then the Big Rush Big Swing is just for you.  It has been officially named the world’s tallest swing by the Guinness Book of Records since 14 May 2011. Certainly not your average swing, the Big Swing lets you to take the jump swinging out into a massive 220m arc where you “fly” into the centre of the stadium.

If you don’t mind, I’ll give that one a miss!

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After the day lazing in the sun or diving from the top of the Moses Mabhida Stadium, it’s time for some night time action and many will head to Florida Road that over the last few years has become the place to be and from sidewalk cafes in the mornings, it all goes on through the day and well into the evening with restaurants, clubs and bars offering the fun that Durban is known for and Florida Road has earned the reputation as one of Durban’s top night spots.

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For those looking for the more sedate activities such as shopping (not sure that husbands would agree), Durban has everything to  offer from the usual chain stores to a host of boutiques in the many shopping centres around Durban and the latest fashions can be found as well as the more formal wear for that special occasion and one such special occasion must surely be the annual Durban July horse race held at the Greyville racecourse  in July each year and this is probably the event that both visitors and locals have the opportunity to show off fashion, sometimes to its extreme.

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Apart from “The July” there are numerous other major sporting events in the city. Home to the Sharks rugby team at the Kings Park Stadium where not only provincial matches are played but also international matches.

The famous Dusi Canoe Marathon, a three day event from Pietermaritzburg over a distance of 120Kms ending at Durban’s Blue Lagoon is held in February every year (it used to be held in January) and of course the “greatest ultra-marathon in the world” the Comrades Marathon in alternate years starts and finishes in Durban.

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I could go on for pages about Durban but I guess the city’s “pay off line” says it all.

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MPUMALANGA – THE REST OF IT – by Dave Jack

I said previously that Mpumalanga is a large province with a huge amount to see and do and it would be a very big job to try to cover every tiny bit of it and as a result, it is very possible to leave parts of it and some activities out. As an example, in my blog last week I didn’t mention the king swing in Graskop or Africa’s longest canopy ride in Hazy View as we rushed through those two towns.

What I’m going to try to do this week is to take in a few more places worth seeing and where you might want to spend time, assuming of course you don’t want to go back to do the adventure activities we missed last time.

This week we’ll go in a slightly different direction. Get onto the N4 as though you are heading towards Gauteng and not too far out of Nelspruit is a turnoff to Sabie. Again my suggestion is to drive that road slowly so that you don’t miss the scenery, a lot of which are tree plantations but still a very pleasant drive. On that road you’ll also find the Sudwana Caves also worth a visit.  It’s not too far before you get to a T junction. Turn right towards the town of Sabie or left onto the Long Tom Pass that eventually takes you to Lydenburg but it’s the pass itself that is worth travelling. The scenery is quite spectacular with places where you can stop to take photographs or simply to savour the pure and amazing beauty of it all.

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Virtually at the top of the pass is the replica of the “Long Tom” gun.  The Pass was named after the final conventional Anglo Boer War battle that took place on the slopes of Mauchsberg between Lydenburg and Sabie, reaching a peak summit of almost 2000 meters. A replica of the Long Tom cannon is at the Devil’s Knuckles on the pass to remind tourists why the pass is named Long Tom.   These cannons were fairly successfully used against the British Forces during the Anglo-Boer War. They were imported from France by the Boers as platform cannons that could swivel a full 360 degrees, and were originally used as fort cannons, which could be adapted by the Boers to be used as mobile artillery. Initially transported on rolling stock as an armed deterrent along railway lines, but later as field guns on 4 wheeled carriages, that were drawn by spans of oxen.

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Having enjoyed the Long Tom Pass and had a look at the cannon replica, let’s do an about turn and head back down the pass to the town of Sabie with its coffee shops, eating places and more pancakes. After the drive to the top of the Long Tom Pass you may well feel like that cup of tea or coffee and the decadence of a pancake or scone before we head off to our next destination, a little town that years ago was a prospecting town for those looking for their fortunes.

Coming from the the direction of Sabie, the road to Pilgrims Rest is over what some would call a mountain. Up a narrow twisting road and a very steep and equally twisty road down to the town, a road that has had the brakes of many a vehicle burning in protest.

Pilgrim’s Rest is protected as a provincial heritage site. It was the second of the Transvaal gold fields, attracting a rush of prospectors in 1873. In the 1970s the town, that hadn’t changed much, became a tourist destination.

Pilgrim's Rest in 1998

It is certainly worth a stroll around the village and a trip to Pilgrim’s Rest wouldn’t be complete if you don’t have a visit to the graveyard. That in itself reads like a story book.

At the graveyard, every grave was laid facing in the same direction, except for the famous Robber’s Grave and that’s perpendicular to the rest, simply with a cross and the large words “Robbers Grave”. It’s said that his grave was laid out that way, so that he couldn’t see the rising sun.

One story is that it is the grave of a robber who was shot stealing a tent from one of the miners. A tent was a “home”, so was the most valuable of anyone’s belongings. Stealing this tent was the worst crime and the punishment the extreme. Another story is that the robber instead of a tent had stolen a wheelbarrow.

I guess nobody will ever know!

After you have finished the fascinating trip to Pilgrim’s Rest (again with more pancakes), it is probably time to head back to Nelspruit for the night. The following day the incredible trip awaits to the tiny village of Kaapschehoop.

It is 1486m above sea level on the Highveld escarpment, about 25 km from Nelspruit and on a circular drive that takes you from virtually the centre of Nelspruit to the village and then down to the N4 again and to Ngodwana where the paper mills are. Paper a huge part of business for the province along with tourism.

The name of Kaapschekoop is probably from the fact that when gold was found in the town, it gave hope to the early inhabitants of the De Kaap Valley not far away, of ideas of huge wealth.

Kaapschehoop is set out between large natural clearings in the rock fields near the top of the escarpment looking over the De Kaap Valley about 800 metres below, with faraway views towards Barbeton and Nelspruit.

Below a typical little road in the village.

One of the big attractions is the wild horses running freely in the veld around the town but for me the fascination of the village is that it almost feels as the world stood still in Kaapschehoop in the late sixties.

I have touched on as much of Mpumalanga as I can and taken two weeks of my travelling around South Africa to do so, but quite honestly one needs to spend at least a week or maybe more there to see all that this incredible province has to offer.

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