Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 10: Gariep Dam

Our final stop on this epic adventure took us to De Stijl Hotel, high up in the mountains overlooking Gariep Dam, the water levels of which were heartbreakingly low. Being on the cusp of the Free State and the Northern Cape, this trip allowed us to tick off two more provinces on our crusade to visit all nine before the year is out.

The hotel is lovely – if somewhat out of place. You find yourself looking around for the water park that ought to be adjoined, but no, it’s just a hotel. As it was the last stop, we splashed out on the honeymoon suite, which had some very… interesting décor choices. And no bathroom door. Yes, we may be married now. Yes, we may have moulded our lives together. But YES, I would still like bathroom privacy.

The most wonderful calling card of staying in this particular part of the country can be found some 90km away, just outside the small town of Philippolis: Tiger Canyons; a tiger sanctuary operated by renowned South African conservationist and filmmaker, John Varty, who is on a personal mission to create a wild tiger population outside Asia. It is a remarkable undertaking, and even more remarkable, is that it’s working. During a three-hour game drive with Varty himself, we were lucky enough to see three of the sanctuary’s fourteen tigers, including Ti-Bo, the last remaining white tiger living in the wild.

Make no mistake, this is not a zoo with big cages. These tigers are 100% wild. They hunt, they claim territories and they fight, often resulting in death. If anyone is any doubt about their wildness just read about Varty’s too close encounter with male cub Corbett in March 2012, an attack that almost cost him his life. As well as the tiger viewing we were also given a chance to interact with two cheetahs that JV has hand-raised. I was very skeptical and anxious to get out of the truck, but was comforted by the fact that they had just eaten. What a special and rare opportunity to view these beautiful cats in their natural habitat.

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This experience must be added to any wildlife lover’s bucket list. It was an experience beyond compare. And my advice would be to go as soon as possible! This place is just a few investment opportunities away from being turned into a five-star resort that would alienate locals like us. I am so grateful we got to experience it in these early stages. My second piece of advice would be – make sure you’re in a 4 x 4, that your spare tyre is in good shape and that you drive slowly. The roads were beyond shocking and we ended up with a puncture.

After the awesomeness of Tiger Canyons there was nothing much else to do except dunch about the hotel, catching up on some reading by the swimming pool and taking in the last few moments of this heavenly adventure before normal life would resume.

Distance Travelled: 479.8km

Defining Soundtrack: “Big Machine” the Goo Goo Dolls

Items Purchased: A 1GB WiFi voucher so I could watch the Seahawks game.

Next Stop: Home

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Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 9: Nieu Bethesda

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Today we saw a crab. After fourteen days of travel, ten of which were spent, at least in some part, in coastal regions, we saw a crab for the first time today; in the middle of the desert. I’m quite sure there’s a simple explanation for it; he was probably a fresh water crab who wandered off from the one and only stream in the near vicinity. But still, I thought it was pretty funny.

That really does sum up our latest stop – Nieu Bethesda: a town in the middle of the desert, where weird things happen. There are no street lights, no petrol station, no ATMs, no supermarket. Shops, restaurants and accommodation establishments only accept cash. You need to come prepared. We stopped off on the way in nearby Graaff-Rieneit to prepare ourselves, loading the trolley with food, drinks, and most importantly: fire wood. Because if there’s one thing Hubby and I enjoy above all else it’s a good fire. And there is no better place to sit by the fire than under the Karoo night sky.

Words are not worthy of describing the Karoo night sky; no amount of them would be adequate anyway, even if I tried. Hubby even tried taking photos of it with his fancy new camera, but it refused to be captured. It needs to be seen, by everyone everywhere, at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list right now. I have seen night skies in the Kruger and Zimbabwe, away from the city lights and pollution that usually block our view. But I am telling you there are some stars that only shine for the Karoo.

It’s like a blanket of sparkle, as though glitter has been poured from the planets. When you look up there is more star than sky. The milkyness of the Milky Way is clearly identifiable. In contrast, Orion’s belt, usually so obvious in the night sky is much harder to identify as it’s surrounded by so many other stars, rather than shining solo as it appears to do in the city’s night sky. And it’s not just what you see, it’s what it makes you feel. It captures your soul and mind. I sat there for hours, lost in the stars and lost in my own thoughts; thoughts about the big things, the things that really matter. Remembering people I’ve lost and wondering if this is where they’ve come.

…This is why you shouldn’t try to describe the Karoo night sky. Because you end up sounding like an idiot! Hahaha!

So moving on… Hubby and I have been to Nieu Bethesda once before, to see in the beginning of 2014 with mum in tow. It was my most memorable new year celebration and one of my favourite ever holidays. The town is just so special and unique, full of little gems like an honesty store selling everything imaginable from books to trinkets to bubble bath. The Karoo Women arts and crafts empowering women in impoverished areas to support themselves and their families through their beautiful creations. And restaurants with a different menu every day decided by what’s available and what they feel like making. Apparently though, this only describes Nieu Bethesda in season.

Out of season, Nieu Bethesda is a dusty ghost town full of “Sorry – Closed” signs. And we were here on a weekend! Fair enough, we only saw about a dozen other tourists on our strolls though the town, but this opens up an interesting chicken and egg debate. Are all of the stores and restaurants closed because no one comes or does no one come because all of the stores and restaurants are closed? Although this gave us a well overdue day of down time it was disappointing not to be able to revisit the splendors of our first visit.

But as I reminded Hubby, we didn’t come for the shopping, we came for the sky.

Distance Travelled: 289.5km

Defining Soundtrack: “Stars” by Skillet – no surprise that was in my head every night.

Items Purchased: Lavender linen spray (been hunting this down for ages, of all the places to find it!?!), ball of 100% wool in a pinky-maroon sort of colour to make a scarf (needles and pattern included), a funky long sleeved shirt (pictured as it too defies description).

Next Stop: Gariep Dam, Free State

The Newlyweds Do Christmas!

Throughout my childhood and well into my adult life my family had two Christmases. One on the 16th of December (a public holiday in South Africa, celebrating reconciliation) and one on the 25th. The 16th was for friends – the type of friends who are more like family – and was probably my most favourite day of the year. Nothing but laughter and joy, delicious food and hysterical games. It was an honour to be invited and some years people ended up having to bring their own chairs to sit on, we were that packed to capacity. However many people were coming, my mum always managed to find the perfect turkey – one that was both big enough to feed everyone, yet would still fit in our oven. She roasted potatoes and various other vegetables, she made stuffing and gravy from scratch and she baked mince pies and proper Christmas pudding that you could set alight and everything. All of this in our very small kitchen in the thirty-degree summer heat of Johannesburg in December.

And then on the 25th she did it all again for just the four of us.

I like to think I have always appreciated my mum and recognised her brilliance – particularly in the kitchen. But this festive season my admiration has reached new heights. For this festive season Hubby and I hosted for the first time ever and I have never worked so hard in all my life – even though Hubby did most of it! If it’s edible we had it there to be eaten. If it has walked, swum or flown over this earth of ours, it was on the table ready to be eaten. We had smoked salmon and Parma ham entrees. We had bacon encrusted turkey and a citrus glazed gammon, with help from Hubby’s brother we had beef fillet and roast lamb, we had potatoes, parsnips, roast veg, salad, gravy, two types of stuffing and we had trifle.

But let’s bring the focus to my contribution… most importantly, we had a tidy house. Anyone who knows us and has ever visited us will understand that this was quite a feat in itself. We had a very festive looking dining room table. And we had pie-caken – the most wondrous invention of someone on Facebook of baking a pie inside a cake. I decided to do mini cherry pies baked inside chocolate cake. Most importantly, it worked. Secondly, it tasted pretty damn good. And as my final contribution, we had clean dishes come Boxing Day evening.

It was a wonderful Christmas. Happy memories were made and new traditions were set down. But it was exhausting. How mum did it twice in ten days for over twenty years I will never know. But I am so, so glad she did, and I know others are too. I would happily host again in 2017, because the juice is worth the squeeze in this case. But if mum happens to be free and feels like doing a spot of cooking I’m not going to deny her. That would be rude.

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 8: Beaufort West

Beaufort West was only ever intended to be a stopover point. We knew we’d leave Cape Town relatively late and didn’t want to do the full journey to our main stop in the Karoo in one go. It was just as well we were taking a leisurely drive as there was some magnificent scenery to ogle. We were also able to make a sho’t left and stop in the town of Matjiesfontein where I swear they have the coldest Coca Cola Light in the world.

To us, this little town was the perfect introduction to the Karoo. A mixture of quaint, small town charm and ‘holy crap did I slip through a worm hole into 1792’. We explored the grounds of the Lord Millner Hotel, chatted to some very friendly staff and enjoyed a most refreshing beverage in the pub – the Laird’s Arms. The décor – including an old school till and framed menus dating back to 1902 – had me all giddy. It was only about a week later, when we were standing around my dad’s bar, now firmly established back in Joburg that we found out there is a whole lot more to Matjiesfontein. Apparently it is a village with a “history richly spiced with tales of murder, mayhem and magic”. The hotel was once voted the most haunted building in South Africa, although I’m still trying to find out why. No wonder the staff were so friendly…

Our accommodation in Beaufort West was situated on the outskirts of town, so much so that I found myself praying to a god I only sometimes believe in that we hadn’t been duped into paying everything up front to sleep in someone’s back room. But around the corner we came and there it was: Cape Karoo Guesthouse. What a truly beautiful spot with the most outstanding hostess of the trip thus far. She had gone to the trouble of decorating our room to be a honeymoon suite, rose petals and all and made us feel extremely welcome. She also showed us to the deck where we could view the beautiful sunset over a mountain just as flat as that Table one.

For dinner we went to the Four Sheeps Restaurant, where they serve lamb. You only need to choose what part of the lamb you want, how you want it prepared and what it should be served with. We both went for a relatively simple lamb burger. Absolutely delicious and a welcome introduction to Karoo lamb – with an informative explanation of how lamb is categorized as such provided.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the farmhouse which is absolutely stunning. Open plan everything with tasteful and creative décor – I have borrowed a few ideas to try at home. I would strongly recommend the Cape Karoo Guesthouse to anyone needing to split up their journey on the N1, a fantastic place to stay.

Distance Travelled: 470.6km

Defining Soundtrack: James Bay

Items Purchased: I tried, but the only thing going was bottled water. I have kept the bottle.

Next Stop: Nieu Bethesda