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.

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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.

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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.

KnysnaWaterfront

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.

Views from the Long Tom Pass - Copy

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.

Aside

MPUMALANGA – THE SUN COMES OUT – by Dave Jack

It is not my intention when taking you around South Africa and places to go and to see that we should concentrate on just one province until we have exhausted everything there.  To try to do that would take a huge amount of time at the cost of the rest of the country so I will try to spread it around the country as much as I can.

Mpumalanga – translated into English is “the sun comes out”.  Many people in South Africa mistakenly put a vowel between the first and second letters resulting in “Mapumalanga” or “Mupumalanga” both of which are incorrect as there is no vowel between the M and the P.  In correctly pronouncing Mpumalanga the “M” is almost – but not quite – silent so the word sounds more like “Pumalanga” than it does “M-pumalanga”.

The capital of the province is Nelspruit and over the last 10 to 20 years has grown tremendously with new businesses and shopping malls all over the place and these shopping malls have become a shoppers’ delight.  The road outside Nelspruit on the way to Johannesburg you will find the informal traders at the side of the main road, the N4, selling curios and fruit that grows in the area.  The curios are usually wood carved ornament type items sought after by tourists. A word of warning though. Look out for the possibility of woodworm but a good examination should give the answer to that.

It would be difficult to cover the entire province in a single day as it is extensive and the distances from one side to the other, added to which is stopping time, would make it very difficult.  The secret to travelling in Mpumalanga is to do so slowly.  There is so much beauty it would be a pity to miss it because of travelling too fast to see it. As a result you and I will travel the province over two weeks.

Nelspruit is a good base given its infrastructure with many restaurants and accommodation establishments many of which are good quality guesthouses and in fact the entire province as a large number of these establishments ranging up to 4 or 5 star.

From Nelspruit, it’s a good idea to head out towards White River (watch out for speed cameras through the town) and on to Hazyview and then to Graskop.  The scenery is fantastic and when you reach Graskop you have arrived in the heart of “Pancake Paradise” where some of the best pancakes in the country can be found but if you are there over a weekend expect a queue to get into any of the pancake eateries.

From Graskop and just 5kms away is the first of the well-known tourist spots in God’s Window. A short walk that is not too strenuous although it can be for the elderly, takes you to the vantage point with spectacular views that, on a clear day, allow you to see as far as the mountains of Mozambique.  Back in the car park a lot of stalls with locals selling all sorts of curios and these are always a very big attraction, particularly to foreign visitors.

Leaving God’s Window the next bit of the journey takes you to Bourke’s Luck potholes and a fascinating look at multi shaped potholes worn into the rocks by millions of years of water running through them. Many might think “what is exciting about a bunch of holes worn into rocks” but only once you see them will you understand the fascination of the time it has taken Mother Nature to do this but how such beauty can come from “a bunch of holes worn into rocks”.  The colours of the various rocks and even parts of the same rocks is unbelievable.  It is way more than just a bunch of holes water worn into rocks.

After Bourke’s Luck it’s on the Blyde River Canyon.  “Blyde” from the Dutch word for happy and obviously the first white people to have seen the Blyde River Canyon would have been the Voortrekkers who had moved that far north.  The ‘happy river’ was thus named in 1844, when Hendrik Potgieter and others returned safely from Delagoa Bay to the rest of their party of trekkers who had considered them dead. While still under this misapprehension they had named the nearby river where they had been encamped, Treurrivier, or ‘mourning river’.

The local people from the area would have been aware of the canyon very possibly hundreds of years before.  From the view point you see deep down into the canyon and a rest just to spend time soaking in the sheer beauty of it is certainly worth your while. Possibly the best view in the whole of the Blyde River Canyon is of the “Three Rondavels“, huge, round rocks, thought to be reminiscent of the houses or huts of the indigenous people. Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it may be the largest ‘green canyon’ due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, after the Fish River Canyon, and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent.

                        ImageBlyde River Canyon. The Three Rondavels are seen to the right of the centre of this view

If you left Nelspruit early enough to have taken all that in, in one day, it is probably time to turn for home and the relaxation of that guesthouse in the province’s capital.  Tomorrow we set off to see more and I will tell you more about his fascinating and beautiful part of South Africa next week.

ROUTE 62 – by Dave Jack

Route 62 actually starts in the Eastern Cape but it is the stretch between Oudtshoorn and Montagu that is best known.

Both Oudtshoorn and Montagu have plenty of accommodation and I would choose one of the very nice guesthouses in both the towns. Oudtshoorn is a good place to start and to spend a day or two. Not far from the town of Oudtshoorn itself are the Cango Caves and certainly worth a visit. A trip into the main chamber is amazing and there are guides who will explain all the formations of stalacmites and stalactites. For the more adventurous and less claustrophobic you can go further into the caves but this means crawling through very narrow passages.

Also on the road between the Cango Caves and Oudtshoorn you can find various ostrich farms that offer such things as ostrich riding.

In the area plenty of eating places offering a wide variety of ostrich meals from steaks to burgers and biltong. They say that one should eat an ostrich steak as one would a normal steak but for me the best way is medium rare and with a mild mustard sauce. Now that is very yummy!

Let’s leave Oudtshoorn and head onto Route 62 towards Montagu.  The countryside for most of the way is the Karoo and for me it is one of the most serene parts of South Africa. Some people would have you believe that the Karoo is boring but if you look carefully at the vegetation that changes all the time and the rock formations, it is anything but boring.

The first town you get to from Oudtshoorn is Calitzdorp and the next one is Ladismith. Both small towns mainly serving the farming community in the area and most of the farms are sheep farms. It’s the stretch of road between Calitzdorp and Ladismith that is really spectacular. On that stretch of road is the Huisrivier Pass.  It’s one of those places that you never tire of seeing with the red looking mountains reaching high into the sky and dropping far below the road.  There are brick paved parking areas where you can stop for photo opportunities and you have to virtually force yourself back into your car and drag yourself away from the raw and magnificent beauty of it all.

After Ladismith you drive through the Karoo I spoke about until you get to Barrydale but it’s a short distance before Barrydale that must be your next stop and that is the famous Ronnies Sex Shop. A pub in the middle of nowhere that has become a favourite stopping place for visitors.  When you walk into Ronnies the first thing you see are hundreds if not thousands of names of visitors written on the walls and ceilings and if you ask the person behind the bar, and that is often Ronnie himself,  for a pen and if you can find space you can add your name to those already there.

Leaving Ronnies Sex Shop, Barrydale is your next little town with a couple of places to stop for lunch.  When you leave Barrydale you have two choices. You can continue along Route 62 to Montagu or you can turn off and travel down the Tradoux Pass. Very different from our earlier Huisrivier Pass but equally stunning. At the bottom of the pass the tiny village of Suurbrak and it sits alongside the N2 from Cape Town.  Turn towards Swellendam and if you didn’t stop for lunch in Barrydale,  Swellendam has plenty of good eating places.

After leaving Swellendam it’s over yet another pass and down through the mountains to the absolutely charming town of Montagu.

The route I have spoken about is just a little under 400Km so plenty of time to stop at the places I have mentioned.

Enjoy Route 62. It’s certainly worth the trip.

Where to Go in South Africa – by Dave Jack

The biggest problem we face when we decide to Holiday at Home is where do we go? South Africa, quite frankly has it all. The world in one country.  Some of the most spectacular mountains you can hope to see. Fantastic coastlines that are different depending on where you are.  The Kwa Zulu Natal coastline differs between the north coast and the south coast.  They in turn differ from the Zululand coast that attracts the diving fraternity. You move to the Cape and the West Coast is where you find tranquility and beauty. But let’s move away from the coast and to the mountains. Different in different parts of the country. If hiking is your thing then you should probably choose the the Drakensberg in the central berg that is quite magnificent or you may be interested in the big five then it’s a different part of the country altogether. So what do we do?  Where do we go when we want to Holiday at Home? I think that we have three basic options, purely and simply because we have a vast world in one country. I think there are three basic options (and there may be more I haven’t thought about) and the three are a destination of the type of holiday you want. Secondly a touring holiday that will take in some of the things you want or thirdly,  a combination of the two. Tour and spend less time at your destination of choice. Accommodation is not expensive if you use guesthouses, and virtually every town in the country has those so to Holiday at Home gives you lots to see at reasonable prices. My choice is the touring holiday at home but that not appeal to us all. Only you know that. The choice is yours. Ask Dr Google for help on what to see

Aside

HOLIDAY AT HOME – by Dave Jack

You can be forgiven for asking why on earth anyone would want to talk about taking a holiday at home.  We all know that to have a really good holiday we need go overseas, even if that “overseas” is a beach holiday on one of the islands not that far from our coast.
We seldom ask ourselves what it is that the German, Dutch, British, Indian and tourists from dozens more countries can see in South Africa that we can’t see and that so many of us don’t even know exist. Speak to many South Africans and ask them if they have seen “the flowers” or Augrabies Falls or dozens more places and they will look at you blankly.Right now with the exchange rate there has been no better time than to holiday at home.

“But if I drive, petrol is so expensive”. I had an email this week from a major airline offering “specials” to London at under R9000 return.  You can buy a lot of petrol for that money and with the other R9000 you are not going to spend on the London flight for your partner will take care of your accommodation for at least 10 days for your holiday at home.

What I am hoping to do with this blog is to introduce you to South Africa and some of the places I have been able to visit in this country. I have just returned from a Harley Davidson trip that took a group of us from Jozi to Montagu on a long route. I have been telling people about some of the things we saw. The reaction from most is that they have never heard of most of the places I was talking about.

I would like to take you to some of these places and I hope you enjoy travelling around South Africa with me.

HUISRIVIER PASS

HUISRIVIER PASS

MEIRINGS POORT

MEIRINGS POORT

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