Tag Archives: South Africa

Adventures with Meerkats

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Ostriches aren’t the only animal to visit in Oudtshoorn. Turns out this town, just north of South Africa’s Garden Route, is also a pretty sweet place visit meerkats too.

If you need a refresher, meerkats are cute little mongooses that live in the deserts and grasslands of Africa. Think Timon in “The Lion King.”

Better than the Disney cartoon, Meerkat Adventures takes small groups to see meerkats in their natural habitats. But the trip is not for those who like to sleep in. Watching these critters requires arriving at the site before dawn, when they arise.

After making the booking, tour guide and researcher Devey Glinister provides all guests coordinates and a pre-dawn meeting time from where he will guide the group via car to the viewing spot, which changes daily. He and his team study the meerkat families and know which hills they sleep in and where they move to.

Upon arrival, Devey and his team provide tea, coffee and a light snack (like delicious homemade rusks for dipping!) before settling around the hill and viewing the sunrise. From there, everyone watches with baited breath for the first meerkat to pop his head out, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more.

My 4 a.m.-awoken, barely-functioning self fell asleep about three times in the waiting process, and I honestly don’t remember how long it took us to see our first meerkat, but I’ll guess somewhere around the 30-minute range. During the waiting time and after, Devey shares with you all kinds of information about meerkats, including the different family roles and survival habits. At some point, you watch the sentry, the first guard meerkat, pop out of his hill to check for predators, eventually followed by the rest of the family and the alpha at the very end. Together, the family grooms, basks in the sun and continues to watch for predators before moving on to start their day and the tour ends.

The whole process takes 2-3 hours and costs R 550 ($38.15). Great experience for wildlife lovers and those who wants to do something a little different on their trip. Vehicle required. For more info visit  http://meerkatadventures.co.za/home.html.

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What It’s Like to Eat an Ostrich

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I’m not a big meat person. I’m not even an adventurous food person. But I decided to take advantage of my time at the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm in Oudtshoorn to try ostrich during my visit and was pleasantly surprised.

Fun fact: ostrich meat is really good for you! Despite coming from a bird, it’s actually a red meat, but one that is leaner than beef with fewer calories and fat than even chicken. It’s also rich in protein and iron, making it a pretty good choice, meat-wise. As for taste, you’ll have to check out the video!

 

How to Awkwardly Ride an Ostrich

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Weather-permitting, many of the ostrich show farms in Oudtshoorn will allow visitors ride an ostrich as part of the tour.

If you want to see how to do this awkwardly, check out the video below:

 

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches

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Long necks, funny faces, pretty feathers, really, who doesn’t love a good ostrich?

In South Africa, you can get your fill of them in more ways than one. Native to the continent, ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn are a popular traveler site where you can pet ostriches, ride ostriches, eat ostriches and learn WAAAY more things about these fascinating creatures than you ever thought you needed to.

My friend Sara and I paid a visit to Highgate Ostrich Show Farm, where for 140 rand ($9) and an hour and a half, we took part in all of the aforementioned activities. Our charismatic guide Danian packed tons of information into our tour. Based on this, please find…

Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Ostriches:

  • Ostriches are used for many things with multiple uses for their leather, eggs, meat and feathers.

  • One ostrich egg is the equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs.

Ostrich Egg

  • Male ostriches have naturally blue skin, female ostriches have pink skin.

Ostrich Blue Skin

  • Ostriches typically have one mate for life.

  • Sometimes a male ostrich will take up with two female ostriches, then the farm has to incubate the eggs themselves to prevent fighting.

Ostrich Trio

  • Ostrich eggs are very strong.

Strong Ostrich Eggs

  • Ostriches are fast and have strong legs, they can break your back and kill you.

  • If an ostrich runs at you, play dead.

  • When you play dead, an ostrich may come and sit on you for awhile. That’s cool, wait it out.

  • Ostriches are extremely fast, and can run up to 43 miles per hour.

  • Male ostrich feathers are the pretty ones, used for costumes and decorating.

  • Female ostrich feathers are better used for cleaning, like in feather dusters (no comment). Ostrich feather duster

Hope you learned something :).

 

 

 

Hemel en Aarde, tasting South Africa’s “Heaven on Earth”

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When people think of South African wine country, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Constantia are the first places to come to mind. But wineries actually exist throughout South Africa, including in the Hemel en Aarde Valley next to Hermanus, my favorite mistake by the sea.

Literally meaning “Heaven on Earth,” Hemel en Aarde wineries specialize in pinot grigio and chardonnay. While I’m not particularly wine savvy, I had a great time exploring the best Hemel en Aarde had to offer on my wine tour with Hermanus Wine Hoppers. True to the name, the tour is run in a hop-on, hop-off style, with a circulating safari vehicle that travels among nine different vineyards in the valley. In the interest of saving time (and my liver), I opted for three: La Vierge, Newton Johnson and Creation, where I enjoyed a delicious three-course meal at their award-winning restaurant.

Regardless of whether or not you drink, a tour through Hermanus’ beautiful countryside was well worth the visit.

Below are some photos of the experience:

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A Visit to Zwelihle – An Inside Look at a South African Slum

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I knew a little about the slums or “townships” of South Africa. Remnants of the apartheid era, townships were the segregated, underdeveloped settlements created for non-whites to live in, usually on the periphery of the cities. Through movies and general apartheid knowledge, visions of tin shacks on dirty streets filled my mind and something I wanted to understand first-hand on my trip.

Since my shark-driven tour of Hermanus proved fruitless, I signed up for a tour of Zwelihle, a township within Hermanus of about 22,000 Xhosa people.

I did the tour with my new friend Sara I’d made at the hostel. Neither one of us was sure what to expect and wanted to be sensitive not to treat this community as a tourist attraction, but our guide Willie made us feel right at home. Short, round and jolly, Willie’s ebullience was infectious. With a bright smile on his face, he walked us through Zwelihle, proud to show us anything and everything.

To me, the township looked basically how I thought it would from what I’d seen in the movies. Away from the charming seaside of downtown Hermanus, Zwelihle lay flat in the middle of field, surrounded by an occasional hill in the distance. The roads, some paved, some dirt, were lined with tin shacks built within feet of one another. The houses stood on dry, dusty grounds on which lay sparse patches of grass and litter. Some of the homes had fences, even barbed wire. Others had brightly-colored laundry airing. Many had satellite dishes.

Most corners had a Spaza Shop, a Coke-themed tin shack which Willie explained meant “unregistered,” essentially a convenience store where people could buy food, drinks and general household items. Men gathered at these Spaza Shops to chat and laugh, women did chores outside the homes, kids played on the street. Willie smiled and greeted them all.

Willie explained there were different types of homes within the township. Many people, such as himself, rented the shacks for 200 rand a month (about $12.40). Those houses had running water and electricity, he said. Further within the township were flimsier shacks with no running water or electricity and public shared toilets. Willie told us these were free but available only to the disabled or elderly, or single mothers who qualified.

Though apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, the income discrepancy between white people and non-white people was clear, and the demographics of the township I saw appeared to be the same as it did when the township was formed.

Willie said finding work was difficult in the township, especially, he said, because of an influx of immigrants from poorer, surrounding African countries taking many of the jobs and keeping wages low. He also said the government was building better quality public housing on the land directly across from the township.

For me, I am grateful for the opportunity for the glimpse into a world so entirely different from mine and the warm hospitality in which it was experienced. I don’t know the future of South Africa, but I am curious to see the developments ahead.

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An Ode to Hermanus – My Favorite Mistake

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I’m a planner. The minute I confirmed my South Africa trip, I immediately purchased a guide book to research and get organized. But one of the best things about travel is that you can’t plan everything. And oftentimes, it’s the unexpected which makes for the most memorable experiences.

Like Hermanus. Hermanus is a small coastal town outside of Cape Town, on the way to, but not quite on the Garden Route. I had stumbled upon it in my reading as the South African destination to whale watch. Unfortunate for my whale-loving heart, I was several months off-season. On the other hand – there was one other sea-related aspect of Hermanus that caught my attention: shark cage diving.

Shark cage diving is fairly unique experience limited to only a handful of locations throughout the world. The excursion involves taking a boat out into the ocean, being lowered in a cage a few feet under water and watching as sharks attempt to eat the chum located just outside the cage. You know, a few feet from your head.

Now, aside from the random bungee-jump excursion, adventure tourism is really not my thing. And while I liked the idea of being able to have said “I was sort of almost eaten by a shark,” my fish-phobic self didn’t know if this was something I’d actually have the courage to do. Additionally, time was limited, and my friends wanted to head straight to the Garden Route. It was looking like I’d have to give it a miss.

But somehow after a couple days in Cape Town, this voice in the back of my head saying “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” got louder. The morning of our scheduled departure date I made a snap decision: I was going to Hermanus. And as my companions didn’t share my adventurous sentiments, I was going to approach these sea predators alone.

I said goodbye to my friends, rented a car and headed east to the Hermanus Backpackers Hostel to await my sea fate. Nervous, I went to check in and book my excursion. I had come all this way, damn it, this was going to happen. I knew not to expect whales, but it didn’t dawn on me that the sharks would be anything but excited to meet me as well.

To my dismay, I learned that not only were there no whales, but there no sharks. In fact, there had been no sharks for weeks, despite it being a year-round occurrence and “why didn’t you call ahead?”. Since the trip cost about $100 and was only exchangeable for another trip if there were no shark sightings, the hostel recommended I explore something else in Hermanus.

No whales, no sharks and no time to catch up with my friends, I looked at my options: a visit to the local township and a wine tour. While not my original plan, I signed up anyway for the next day and headed to town for dinner.

Despite being in a coastal town, the hostel was not actually located on the coast or even visibly close to it. Nestled in a quiet residential street, the same was true for its visible proximity to the downtown. As I followed their map to the city, I really had no idea what I was in for.

And then I saw it.

Straight ahead, green and blue ocean that stretched for miles with white waves crashing against faded orange cliffs all along the shore. To my left a sleepy yet charming seaside town full of restaurants and shops. A small green mountain guarded over everything.

I was in love.

Hermanus 20

The day was fading, so I quickly found a lovely seaside restaurant featuring fresh seafood, local wine and stunning views. The restaurant itself was mostly full, so I opted to dine alone outside and enjoy the view in the cold. As I sat down, I was greeted with a complimentary glass of local sherry and a blanket and immediately began to relax. I ordered the shrimp meal and a glass of pinot grigio, something Hermanus is famous for, and enjoyed one of the most beautiful, delicious and relaxing meals I’d ever had.

Hermanus 6

The next day proved to be equally as incredible as my first impression to the city, with the disjointing experience of a South African slum on the one end, followed by an afternoon of wine tasting and fine dining on the other, a fascinating experience showing both ends of life in South Africa. (Stay tuned for more on that).

As I returned to the hostel, relaxed, slightly tipsy and ready to leave for the Garden Route in the morning, I heard the morning sea report from the staff: they had seen sharks after all.

While I didn’t have the time to wait another day, I decided I didn’t care. Stunning views, incredible food and an eye-opening look at South African life, my spontaneous trip to Hermanus ended up being one of the best mistakes I ever made.

For the sea life, I’ll just have to return :).

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Cape Town – Cape of Good Hope

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A trip to South Africa would not be complete without a visit to the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Point – the most southwestern point of all of Africa. More than just a point on a map, what people may not realize is how beautiful the Cape actually is! As part of Table Mountain National Park, people can spend days there, taking in its stunning views of mountain, sea and cliffs. I combined it with a trip to Boulders Beach (about 30 minutes away), but I would have loved to have spent more time.

Fun fact about the Cape of Good Hope – it is NOT the most southern point of Africa, but it is the most SOUTHWESTERN point of Africa. The southern most point of Africa is Cape Agulhas, about 93 miles away.

If you really want to experience the Cape, plan ahead and take your time. Keep in mind, the park is open from roughly dawn until dusk and is about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town. I managed to see a lot in an hour and a half but would have much preferred to have had more time to enjoy more of the walks.

For more information visit http://capepoint.co.za.

 

 

 

 

Cape Town – Boulders Beach

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By far my favorite thing to do in Cape Town was visiting Boulders Beach – a small beach near Simon’s Town famous for its colony of African penguins. It gets its name from the large boulders in the sand and water, but really, no one cares about the damn boulders.

What people care about are the penguins, because:

  • They live on the beach not in the arctic
  • They sound like braying donkeys
  • Penguins!

Basics on what you need to know:

  • Boulders is located about an hour outside of the main city near Simon’s Town – accessible by car or MetroRail train (walk from Simon’s Town)
  • Costs R65 – about $4
  • Penguins are viewed from the boardwalk – you get close but not *that* close
  • It is recommended to pair with the Cape of Good Hope – about a 30-minute drive away

Photos below!

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South Africa

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Me

 

I’ve recently returned from South Africa, a truly incredible country. The mountains and coastline in the south offer one amazing view after another. The sheer number of and proximity to wildlife on safari at Kruger National Park created one of the most amazing travel experiences in my life. And Johannesburg is a fascinating city offering a raw, real perspective of a country that has been through a lot and continues to move forward.

Some of my favorite experiences included:

  • Visiting the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Cape Town
  • Walking along the cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope
  • Stumbling upon Hermanus, the charming whale town along the coast
  • Getting up close and personal with ostriches in Oudtshoorn
  • Watching a pride of lions devour a kudu on safari
  • Learning about the fascinating history of South Africa on a six-hour walking tour of Johannesburg

Below is a short slideshow of the highlights from the country. Lots more (including lots of video) to come!

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