Mum on Tour – Clarens

My mum works in London. I say works in London and not lives in London, because she doesn’t really live anywhere. That’s not to say she’s a nomad, but she does live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. She is usually at her cousin’s place in South West London in a room so small the door just about sneaks closed between the bed and the book case. But then sometimes she’s visiting my Granny in her hometown where she grew up, on the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland. Or she’s staying with her sister in law in her beautiful 16th century country home in Surrey. Or she’s housesitting for some friends in a tower block in East London. Or she’s making sure her employer makes it safely to his chateaux in Nice. She gets around. (But not in the prostitute sense, as Hugh Grant would say).

Anyway, last month we were blessed with her presence for two whole weeks as she managed to make her way to sunny South Africa, just as Spring had sprung. Hubby and I had decided to take her on a mini-break (as that’s all our leave days would allow) and settled on Clarens in the Free State. Even though my mum lived in South Africa for over 25 years she had never been to Clarens. She was under the impression she was the only member of her peer group to never have been, but after being here only a few days she soon discovered it was one of those places that everyone has always wanted to go to, but has never quite made it to.

I know why mum never made it to Clarens before. My dad would hate it. It is a small town, with dusty roads, and nothing but little arty farty shops selling random, over-priced crafts and art works. Over the years it has only gotten trendier. They now have their own craft beer; and a restaurant that only sells cheese. There really is absolutely nothing to do. Except walk around, look around and just be somewhere different. Our ideal holiday.

For Hubby and I, it was our second trip, having visited it at the end of winter two years ago. Situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, it often gets snow in winter and is very close to the Lesotho border and popular Afriski resort. We stayed at a B&B, Millpond House, which offered beautifully appointed rooms, with simple self-catering facilities. Although not needed for our weekend there, there was underfloor heating, electric blankets and a beautiful open fireplace in the lounge area. Mum’s room had lovely double doors opening out onto a patio that she made good use of in the mornings while we had a lie in.

Having learned from our previous trip that small town means limited availability in restaurants, we phoned ahead a few days before our arrival and made a booking at Clementine’s for our first night – voted Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant in the Free State. Not that I have much experience with restaurants in the Free State, but this would take a lot to beat. The food was absolutely amazing! Although looking on Trip Advisor I’d be scared to say anything less as the owner seems to have a real go at anyone who gives them less than five out of five. We also visited the German restaurant, Roter Hahn, which has a fantastic selection of cheese cakes and beautiful views across the mountains, if you can put up with the absolutely awful music.

Day 2 saw us looking around the shops and me almost having my credit card confiscated by Hubby. I could have bought everything in sight. I had to of course put up with a healthy amount of my mum chipping in “you could make that yourself, you know,” but I did buy a fair amount of raw materials to make things myself too, as did hubby. For now though, please see below for new additions to house décor.

Purchases 1Purchases 2Purchases 3

I do love a good inspirational quote. Or several. As for the gaping hole between the two frames, Hubby is going to make a photo frame much like one I saw in one of the stores, but carried a ridiculous price tag. We’ll see what happens. Thank goodness we were hosting book club that week or they probably wouldn’t even have made it up onto the wall yet… lol.

Clarens is a special place, although I would recommend visiting it in winter. Even at the beginning of September, the nights were still cold, but not quite cold enough. When Hubby and I visited in true winter we got to experience the truly magical phenomenon of warm air pockets. At night, you would be walking along in the freezing cold and suddenly there would be a warm pocket of air. We thought we were going nuts until a local explained to us that all the warm air from everyone’s fires collects in the dips and hollows to form these pockets of warm air. It is a wonder to behold. Although we could feel them now in September, the temperature difference wasn’t enough to make them quite so special.

Anyway, the most important thing is, we got to spend two weeks with mum and she can finally say “Clarens: tick!”.

*If there’s one thing I love it’s a humerous sign and Clarens certainly did not disappoint in this department! Some intentional… others… perhaps less so…

Advertisements

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

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 7: Cape Town

Ah Cape Town; the Mother City; the place with the big mountain.

img_20161027_175647

We received a warm welcome when checking into our room at Parker Cottage B&B. Drinks offered on arrival, and then a sit down chat with the hostess to discuss what we wanted from our time in this wonderful city. I mentioned Boulders Beach for the Penguins and Cape Point – neither of which she could offer packaged tours for, and suddenly the welcome became a lot less warm. We were bundled off to our room, half-finished beverages and all. And unfortunately, this about sums up our experience of Cape Town: beautiful scenery, sucky people.

For our first night I had asked for a recommendation for a seafood restaurant – preferably one that did good platters. In all our coastal travel we had yet to really sample seafood and I wanted something that could be a real treat. One of the other staffers at Parker Cottage booked us a table at The Deck House and Crab Shack on Kloof Street. We received yet another warm welcome, this one remaining warm throughout, if a bit pushy at times. I ordered a cocktail – a real treat as I rarely drink – and then the manager brought us complimentary champagne as he knew we were on our honeymoon. It seemed rude not to drink it (as disgusting as it was) but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and soon became quite tipsy – for literally the first time in my life. This was quite amusing for both Hubby and I.

We had prawn popcorn to start – really delicious, followed by a platter of crayfish, calamari and ribs (half price surf and turf on Wednesdays for the win!) It was a really unique dining experience, donning a bib and all, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The waitress did put pressure on us to order more nibbles and wine, but we had already anticipated that so it wasn’t too annoying. I loved the novelty of being able to walk home at night, through city streets. Although there are certainly some streets you can walk safely at night in Joburg, they’re not areas we frequent, so this made me feel quite nostalgic for the London way of life.

Parker Cottage does a smashing breakfast so this set us up well for a busy day ahead. First we headed to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach to see the penguins. A bit underwhelming, I had envisioned seeing dozens of them, but I know it can depend what time of day you go. We did see a few up close and some in the water, so overall a worthwhile trip.

Then began the epic adventure of Cape Point vs. Cape of Good Hope – with no one being quite sure which is which. We were after the one where the two Oceans meet (turns out that’s actually Cape Aghulas, but they try and keep it quiet). From a tourism standpoint, the signage and information available in The Cape of Good Hope National Park is appalling! You really are left to your own devices. In the end we opted for Cape Point as there is a tram that takes you most of the way up. We made it just in time as minutes after we had taken some shots of the view we were completely engulfed in a cloud.

We took the coastal route back to base which took us up Chapman’s Peak. Wow. The views and scenery are absolutely breathtaking. Although Hubby didn’t get to enjoy it as much as he had to keep his eyes on the very windy road, we could both agree that the short stretch of road beat the trip to Cape Point and was well-worth the small toll fee you pay to drive it.

Back in the city it was off to the Honest Chocolate Café to taste their famous Banana Bread Bunny Chow that I had been looking forward to since reading about it in an article on things to do in Cape Town for under R50 (It was a very short article). At R48 the hollowed out mini banana bread loaf filled with ice-cream and melted dark chocolate, is worth every penny.

img_20161027_165507

After that we walked the streets (in the non-prostitute sense) traversing different sections of Bree, Long and Kloof Streets. This turned into an interesting introduction to the Capetonian driver who seems significantly more angry and aggressive than even the Gilooly’s Interchange on a Friday afternoon Joburg driver. I don’t think I’ve ever been sworn at more times, had rude hand gestures waved at me or been on the receiving end of glares of such contempt as when crossing the road when the green man is clearly telling me to in Cape Town.

Overall Cape Town was thoroughly enjoyable. Our B&B was beautiful, very centrally located and served excellent breakfasts. The scenery is magnificent, beyond compare in some places. But the people… It’s not something you can really explain, it’s more of a feeling. A feeling that you really, really are not welcome. Especially if you are from Johannesburg.

Did we enjoy it? Yes.

Will we be back? No.

Distance Travelled: 206.3km

Defining Soundtrack: “Home Sweet Home” by Forever Ends Here. I love a bit of irony.

Items Purchased: Food. Couldn’t afford anything else.

Next Stop: Beaufort West

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 5: Oudtshoorn

img_20161024_165528

We travelled through some truly beautiful scenery on this route, specifically in crossing over a few towering bridges that I really wish we could have stopped at on the Tsitsikamma Toll Route. Storms River in particular looked spectacular. I know the name and have some sketchy memories of people discussing it around me in the past. On a return trip I would definitely make a plan to spend some more time in this region.

To partner the impressive scenery we had some very underwhelming towns. I went on an epic holiday to the Knysna area with my mum in 2008 and together we discovered the grand anti-climax that is Plettenburg Bay. We only passed through it briefly today but I didn’t see anything that caused us to pull the car over. Sadly Knysna was much the same. We had a delicious lunch at 34 Degrees on the Waterfront and some wonderful gelato from a nearby stall, but the place was overwhelmingly swarming with foreign tourists; and the facilities seemed to pander to their needs at the expense of us lowly locals. However, we were just passing through and I concede that it may be a different experience entirely if we had the time to stop and properly take in the sights.

We did take a detour to Buffels Bay which I remember from my 2008 trip as being a breathtakingly undisturbed stretch of beach with beautiful rock formations. Fortunately it has remained untouched and it was good to take some last deep breaths of calming sea air before heading inland.

In a 100km stretch we went from beautiful beaches and breathtaking drops into tropical gorges, to mingling with the clouds in intense mountain passes, and finally to sparse, ostrich populated dirt with the occasional shrub here and there. At least five different countries’ calling cards covering one patch of our beautiful country.

At last we arrived at our bed for the night, Earthbound B&B, Oudtshoorn, with the most overly enthusiastic hostess I have ever encountered. Everything was described to us in excessive detail, including what was and wasn’t included in the breakfast. The accommodation was lovely though with a beautiful outdoor patio. So with no cooking facilities but not wanting to waste our patio, we opted for take-aways.

We woke up early and ate our inclusive breakfast and then attempted to visit the Cango Caves, but with the earliest time slot available being 12pm we had to move on. The place was packed with tour buses full of foreign visitors – excellent for tourism, not so good for us. However, it worked out for the best as it allowed us to make our way to stop 6 at a leisurely pace, taking in some real treats – but I will save that for the next post.

Distance Travelled: 396.3km

Defining Soundtrack: Hozier – who was switched off for being too depressing.

Items Purchased: A keyring adorned with purple ostrich feathers.

Next Stop: Franschhoek, Western Cape

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 4: African Perfection, Jeffreys Bay

img_20161022_183600

Our accommodation in Jeffrey’s Bay, at the end of the Pepper Street cul-de-sac at the heart of the area known as Supertubes, is called African Perfection – a name that could not have been more fitting. If Umhlanga was amazeballs, African Perfection is super duper amazeballs. We were lucky enough to be staying in the penthouse suite, which no doubt added to the magic, but was definitely not solely responsible for it. The whole establishment is immaculate with superb attention to detail; lots of small touches that may seem insignificant but added together really do go the extra mile to making you feel like a valued guest.

Accommodation sorted, now to discuss location. In what I would generously describe as vast experience in staying in beachside hotels, I have never stayed anywhere quite this close to the beach. Our balcony was in fact practically overhanging the boardwalk. From the day bed (yes, they had a day bed) I could see nothing but ocean. The crashing waves were a solid soundtrack. It was truly magnificent.

The main reason we stayed in Jeffrey’s Bay was that I insisted on it. On previous trips to visit the in-laws in nearby PE we had always made a turn to JBay – to scour the clothing factory outlets for bargains. Once we made it onto the beach too. The water was so blue, so calm, so crystal clear, I knew I needed to be around this little gem of the ocean for more than just an afternoon. So when the idea of a honeymoon road trip came about, it’s fair to say I planned the east coast route around JBay.

And it did not disappointment.

The Sunday morning scouring session of the shops was fruitful and I got good deals on things I probably don’t need but they’re pretty and I’m on honeymoon so bleh! Plus, I promised to buy something at every stop we make, no matter how small, and I think two t-shirts, a hoodie, three pairs of shorts and one pair of tracksuit bottoms adequately ticks that box, don’t you? Lunchtime brought a new scouring challenge, as surprisingly, Jeffreys doesn’t have as many restaurants as you might think. We settled on McTasty’s Diner. It was colourful and fresh and the waitress was enthusiastic where others had been lackluster.

We got superb milkshakes (mine had actual real life candy floss on it) and burgers with delightfully misshapen patties that you know can only be home made. Our waitress was a complete ditz; she delivered our milkshakes to the wrong table – a couple who already had milkshakes sitting in front of them, we had to ask twice for our Coke Lights in A Can. With anyone else it may have been frustrating, but there was something genuine and endearing about it that everyone could just laugh at (good naturedly of course). Overall it was a wonderful afternoon out. We discovered that the restaurant has had a complete brand overhaul as recently as two weeks ago, I really hope it’s one of the ones that makes it!

We then spent some time on the main beach where the sand is soft and the waves are gentle and predictable, before heading back to base for the United vs Chelsea match. The less said about that the better. I’m just glad we went for a walk at half time, got preoccupied collecting shells and ended up returning with only two minutes left of the match!

Distance Travelled: 394.1km

Defining Soundtrack: A playlist of all my favourite “noughties” music from the 2000s, compiled in Chintsa, featuring Nine Days, LFO, Jimmy Eat World, New Radicals and Matchbox Twenty, among others.

Items Purchased: A few clothing items as mentioned above. Just a few…

Next Stop: Oudtshoorn

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 3: Chintsa

img_20161021_083829

Things we have discovered thus far: 1. The N2 sucks. It has speed bumps, robots, roundabouts and it goes through every small town imaginable with their speed bumps, robots and roundabouts. 2. Every town in South Africa, no matter how small or how oddly named, has a Standard Bank branch, a Spar and at least two KFCs. 3. While we do own lovely backpacks we are definitely NOT backpackers. 4. Chintsa is breathtakingly beautiful and I hope no one ever finds out about it!

Thursday was a rather treacherous day of travel. We got an early start but the trucks and weather were not working in our favour and we soon fell behind schedule. Hubby was also not feeling too well (a Wimpy milkshake didn’t help so you know it must have been serious). But even still, while stuck in our third “stop-and-go” of the day, while Transing the Kei, we both agreed that it still beat a day at work! Parts of the route were also absolutely amazing – at several points we were driving up mountain passes mingling with the clouds. And I can’t tell you how cool it is to know that now when people talk about places like Port Shepstone, Qumba and Mthatha, I can actually say I’ve been there, even if I was only passing through.

It was dark by the time we arrived at Buccaneers, which left me completely disorientated but excited to wake up the next morning and discover the view. (We arrived late on our first trip to Clarens last year and were very pleasantly surprised to find out in the morning that our B&B was completely surrounded by towering mountains and fragrant rose gardens). We were shown to a well-appointed room named Walter (after Sisulu I suspect, as our neighbours were Albertina). Opening the sliding doors to let in some cool night air, we were welcomed by the sound of crashing waves in the distance. I had high hopes for the morning’s view.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for just how spectacular the view would be though. Buccaneers sits high on the hills between the ocean and the lagoon and our veranda gave us an incredible view of the lot. The previous day’s persistent rain had brought out the flying ants and the sun caught their wings as they fluttered about trying to survive longer than two minutes and do whatever it is flying ants are born to do (any takers, I really do actually want to know). The high vantage point means it is inevitably quite a trek to the beach, but it is well worth it. The untouched beauty of this wild coast beach makes Wilderness look like Durban in December. The sand is soft, the water is clear, the waves are predictable (and not violent as Hubby has tagged KZN’s seas). We walked a good distance before the wind picked up and covered my sunscreen slick skin head to toe in sand. Still, totally worth it!

For lunch we chose The Barefoot Café, mostly because it sounded cool. And cool it was; with its quirky decor it was every bit as laid back as you’d expect a spot in this region to be. We had delicious burgers, I even indulged in a refreshing cocktail that involved cherry something, and we ordered take-away pizzas to serve as dinner – a very enjoyable afternoon out. Back at HQ it was time for an afternoon nap – that rare luxury that truly makes you feel like you’re on holiday!

I would highly recommend Buccaneers – it caters to all ends of the budget spectrum, is well-maintained and easy to navigate. We stayed in an en-suite sea-view cabin, but the dorms seem to be extremely popular with foreign tourists, which bodes well. The people are friendly but not intrusive, there is a fridge to keep your Coke Light in a Can cold… what more could you want really?

Chintsa is somewhere I would very much love to come back to, if only it wasn’t so completely in the middle of nowhere. But then again, I guess that’s the whole reason it’s so special.

Distance Travelled: 565.3km

Defining Soundtrack: Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind; there’s nothing like a good sing along!

Next stop: JBay

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 2: Umzumbe

img_20161019_144755

Eight months ago, during the planning stages of this trip, sleeping in a glass tree house in a tropical forest on the edge of the sea seemed like a magical adventure. Now that I’m sitting in said tree house, I’m struggling to remember what the initial appeal had been. Also, the bathroom is downstairs. And it’s raining. This is the price we must pay for our indulgence on a five star start to the honeymoon. The Mantis and Moon definitely has character, but I would rank clean bed sheets and separation from the elements above character every day of the week!

I guess backpackers resorts are notoriously social experiences and Hubby and I are notoriously selectively sociable – another flaw in my planning. They want you to drink in the bar and make friends all night, not sit in your glass tree house typing blog posts. At least it’s only one night. The room doesn’t even have a door.

We arrived shortly after 1pm. I fell asleep en route again. This needs to stop or Hubby will have divorce papers drawn up before the ink on the marriage certificate is dry. I feel strongly about this. A road trip is a team effort. He may be doing all the driving and while I don’t expect us to talk non-stop, I do think it’s only fair I stay awake while he’s awake. Any thoughts on this? Seriously, I would welcome any logic that will make me feel less guilty.

After being shown around by one of the cast members of a surfer movie we decided to head straight for Oribi Gorge. Although, when you’re using Sat Nav, these things are never straight forward. After turning into a sugar plantation that was definitely a sugar plantation and definitely not Oribi Gorge we made some adjustments and finally ended up where we had intended to be. And boy am I glad we made the effort. Talk about breathtaking scenery. It’s like being on the edge of the world looking down into a great, green abyss. The entire lack of safety rails of any description was both amusing and unnerving. One look-out point had a bare tree branch lying across the ground like a “do not cross this point” indicator. Other viewing points simply had a sign reading “Beware of the edge”.

We got some amazing photos, Hubby got to test out the four-wheel-drive capabilities of Swifty and we visited Shelley Beach to find a Woolworths. Back at base camp we discovered that some beds are more uncomfortable than sleeping on the floor but that being in beautiful surroundings with crashing waves as your background music can more than make up for it.

Distance Travelled: 266.7km

Defining Soundtrack: To Close to Touch – who I thought were a Japanese band but are actually American. As Granny would say, there you are now.

Next Stop: Chintsa, Eastern Cape

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 1: The Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga

img_20161017_164100

One word: amazeballs. Two words: holy shit. Eleven words: I wish we could afford to stay here all the time. Starting our honeymoon in an environment of such opulence as The Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga was a splendid idea, if I say so myself. Everything is just so pretty. And clean. And it smells nice. Everyone says hello. Everything is complementary (as in, inclusive). There is a turn down service with different treats on different nights, and nothing is ever too much trouble. (Believe me, I overheard other guests complaining about things that should definitely have been too much trouble).

After a smooth journey – although I think I may have failed at the first hurdle of marriage as I fell asleep and left Hubby to drive on his own for a good hour and a half – we sailed into reception, were shown to our room (#13, next to the Presidential Suite) and had just enough time to change into something girly (me, not Hubby) to head back down for afternoon tea. Oh the extravagance! Every kind of sweet and savoury delight you could imagine, on offer buffet style. We slowly ate ourselves into a sugar coma.

The weather was a bit bleak but rain or no rain, we were walking on the beach dammit! However, in the end there was no rain and no walking on the beach as we sauntered into town instead. Bought some necessities – like Steers cheesy chips – and headed back to the hotel room for the United vs Liverpool match. A wonderful idea; I fell asleep 15 minutes in.

The Oyster Box breakfast buffet – worthy of a blog post all of its own – is something to behold. Imagine it and they have it. For breakfast. Champagne and oysters seemed a popular choice (when at the Oyster Box and all…) but we went a good old fashioned three rounds of continental to start, then full English, finished off with waffles and pastries. As one does – when they are on holiday and breakfast is included.

Then it was off to the spa. Holy crap. All other spa experiences pale in significance. The rooms were shinier, the robes were softer, the slippers actually fit and they gave me a choice of body butters. The masseuse knew exactly where to really work my muscles and where to go easy, without me even needing to tell her. The hour flew by. I would have spent all day there if I could afford it, but I can’t and so we headed back to the room to do some chilling. By this time the sun was out and so I optimistically went outside to read. I swiftly came back in for a hoodie. Then I came back in to escape the wind. Still, beats a day at the office.

By now it was time for lunch (also inclusive in our package) and suddenly the assault on the breakfast buffet didn’t seem like such a good idea after all. But the burgers were superb and would not be denied. We waddled down to the promenade afterwards with ambitions of working off some of what we’d eaten. The wind had picked up and was blowing us about all over the place. We managed a ten kilometre walk but didn’t make it onto the beach as the tide was out and the waves were rough. Day two and still no sand in my toes – my parents would be so disappointed.

To end off our Oyster Box experience we meandered down to their 24-seater cinema to watch Deadpool, with complimentary (inclusive) popcorn and sweeties. I fell asleep about an hour in, but fortunately we had seen it before so I didn’t lose too many points.

As an aside though, I need to do something about this falling asleep thing. I can only blame sea air for the first half of the trip!

Another night’s sleep in a million thread count sheets on a bed bigger than the floor space of our entire bedroom at home, followed by another buffet breakfast, and I left Umhlanga with only one thought: I never want to see food again. Of any kind. Ever.

Distance Travelled: 579.5km

Defining Soundtrack: Music from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

Next Stop: Umzumbe, KZN