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.

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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…

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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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