SA winter hideaways in the country

Lingering mists, crisp walks, bike rides, log fires, coffee, books and blankets – winter is definitely a good time to leave the city smog and hibernate in the country. Here are a couple of fabulous winter weekend getaways in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Penhill Farm –Toontjiesrivier

IMG_3240Winters in the Cape tend to offer lashing rain and heavy skies, interspersed with mild blue-sky days, where the countryside washed clean, glows verdant green. Tucked into the beautiful Nuy Valley outside Worcester, with its views of the Riviersonderend and Langeberg mountain ranges, with its whitewashed Cape homesteads and indigenous gardens, Penhill Manor completes this picture of pastoral bliss.

The farm is a great weekend retreat for families, couples or groups of friends. Originally built as a replenishment station, the Penhill manor house and adjacent four cottages are lovingly restored for guests. Early historical elements have been preserved, including “buite-kamer” doors, “stoep kamers”, gables and sash windows. The interiors have been modernized and include wi-fi, air-conditioning and sound systems. A great deal of thought has gone into the mix of old and new in furnishings with natural fabrics and woods defining the space as carriage lamps complementing downlighters, highlight simple objects d’art.  As tempting as it might be, don’t just spend your days lazing on the stoep here. You can choose to go trail running or hiking, ride mountain bikes, play tennis, or relax at the dam. Otherwise, enjoy an olive and wine tasting, then cozy up around a fire with a book or spend the afternoon playing boardgames and toasting marshmallows. And there’s the option of your own private Jacuzzi to ease your aching muscles after all the effort.

Koningsfontein – Stilbaai

k2Overlooking the GouKou river just outside Stilbaai, the cape thatch Koningsfontein homestead blends into a countryside of small farms, fynbos and sheep pastures.

Bring your friends and family because the house sleeps 12. Make use of the private river frontage to kayak, boat. Or simply go fishing. Head downstream, to visit the local fynbos gin distillery. Winters are best spent lazing in front of the fire on one of the deep leather sofas or cooking up a foodie fest in the well-fitted out kitchen.

Bloomsbury Cottage – Stanford

Situated in heart of the charming village of Stanford, Bloomsbury Cottage, with its vintage shabby chic decor offers a treasure trove of quirky collectibles.

IMG_9337Stroll down to the river or through the town, or simply relax on the vine covered veranda.  The house sleeps six and has a gorgeous kitchen, perfect for family meals. And if you don’t feel like cooking there are lovely restaurants and cafes within walking distance of the house.

 

Greens Camp – Dinokeng (Bobbejaansberg Valley)

Only 100km from Johannesburg, Greens Camp is a bushveld retreat that will make you feel as though you’ve been far far away for a very long time, and will rejuvenate you for weeks.

The rolling burnt umber and raw ochre veld, big winter skies, clean air and total stillness, except for the birdsong, will charm you. Enjoy the services of the property caretaker, Amon, who specializes in making bread and biscuits, and will fire up the pizza oven for an al fresco lunch on the patio, or light a fire for a braai as you watch the sun sink red between the Acacias. Otherwise, take a sundowner drive to one of the viewing spots to spot Giraffe, Wildebeest and Zebra from the hilltops. Greens offers colonial meets Africa luxury, with big sofas and lamps for relaxed reading and an open thatch boma with 360 views over the countryside. The perfect weekend chill space for friends to gather and retreat around wine, stories, games and books.

for more information contact Perfect Hideaways: www.perfecthideaways.co.za

Finding Synergy in Scarborough

Synergy Treehouse, a beach house high on the hillside of Scarborough, Cape Town, fuses nature and design perfectly.

IMG_0954Kitesurfers fly over foam-flecked breaks, surfers bob like seals waiting for waves in the storm surf. Hippie houses and contemporary designer homes sit side by side watching from the hillside.

Synergy Treehouse welcomes us in – a glass, wood, stone, inside-out house that wants to play. A waterfall splashes through the house and down into an indigo blue swimming pool, glass steps spiral up from the bedroom into the living area; magically managed downlights, uplights and blinds, switch on and slide back to open the house onto Balau decks. Smeg appliances brew coffee exactly-as-you-like-it. Fires crackle in the bedroom and the lounge, inviting us to enjoy the cold weather in comfort.

Owner Craig, who is passionate about the house he’s created, shares details of solid cypress walls, rain showers, smart house technology, his love of building and his vision for ‘Scandi’ houses designed around living and being.

The beach is cold and invigorating, windswept unspoilt, decorated with kelp, oyster catchers and gulls. The village is quiet, dreamcatchers and driftwood sculptures peer out of hidden gardens and dogs race the wind down the shore.

The house is a warm sanctuary, the glass walls keeping the weather out and inviting the view in. Yellowtail, herbed and buttered sizzles in the fire pit. In the evening, the house and decks glow with subtle lighting, looking out towards an invisible roaring rushing sea. It feels wild and far away.

For more information about Synergy Treehouse in Scarborough or to book, contact Perfect Hideaways www.perfecthideaways.co.za

Relax and replenish at Penhill Farm

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Penhill Farm

On a dirt road, deep into the Nuy Valley, outside Worcester in the Western Cape, lies a farm between the Langeberg Mountains and the open scrub of the Klein Karoo. Once a replenishment station for weary travellers into the hinterland, Penhill Farm has been restored into a luxurious getaway.

The white gabled accommodation includes the Manor, the East and West Granges, the Fruit Barn and Peppertree Cottage, all beautifully renovated and comfortably fitted out with top quality furnishings, technology and appliances.

On hot days, the different houses offer various options of private swimming pools or Jacuzzis for a dip, or the farm dam complete with ducks for the more adventurous.

In winter, the fireplaces are stacked with wood, thick walls and thatch insulate you from the cold. The farm is often misty on cooler mornings, birds thronging in the manicured gardens, and clearing to brilliant blue skies over the Karoo. So sleep in, and emerge with coffee as the sun warms the valley.

Although the houses can be rented separately, the farm sleeps 24 in total, making it a perfect venue for groups.

The Cellars is a wonderful inside-outside living and dining area with a full chef’s kitchen, that can be used for celebratory dinners and group socializing.

Sporty types can choose between hiking, trail running, mountain biking or tennis. Bikes and raquets are supplied. Otherwise, lie back under a tree, read a book and snooze away the afternoon.

Venture down the road, and you can sample Penhill and Conradie wines or visit Saggy Stone Brewery, which offers spring water based craft beer on tap.

Mostly, Penhill is about slowing down, breathing the crisp clean air, indulging in good food, watching the stars and sitting back and relaxing completely with family and friends.

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To find out more contact: Perfect Hideaways www.perfecthideaways.co.za

Karoo Gems – Gordonville and the “Kliphuis”

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Gracious white walled gates and enthusiastic barking, herald our arrival at Gordonville, a 15,000 hectare Karoo farm, high in the Sneeuberg between Graaf Reinet and Middelberg.

Owner Charlotte Daneel welcomes us into her home – A farmhouse that is a blend of her iconic style, luxurious comfort and pared down simplicity. Her decorating flair has transformed a colonial building into an experience, with extraordinary touches like a stock shed that has been turned into a heated poolhouse, complete with billiard table, bar and lounge overlooking the Karoo plains.

But Charlotte’s real treasure is the “Kliphuis”, a cottage situated on a remote part of the farm.  Resurrected from a ramshackle ruin and now the last word in rustic luxury, the Kliphuis is authentic and simple, but offers plenty of creature comforts.

IMG_0334The three king-size bedrooms are all en-suite with fine linen, down duvets, angora throws and underfloor heating throughout. A chef’s kitchen complemented by fine crockery and cutlery, prepares one for long sociable lunches and starlit dinners, either inside or on the expansive patio. In the lounge, an enormous fireplace dominates, surrounded by a soft sheepskin rug and deep sofas. This is a place to escape from the rat race, write, read, take long walks or simply relax.

The farm is part of the Sneeuberg Nature Reserve conservancy project, which is being developed in order to recreate the pristine environment found in the North East Karoo over 200 years ago by early settlers.

All the fences on the farm have been taken down, because Charlotte doesn’t want to partition off the landscape or create artificial boundaries for the wildlife. The aim is to create an environment where the indigenous fauna and flora will flourish. Already substantial numbers of buck, wildebeest, mountain zebra and other indigenous animals can be found on the land.

The reserve has been located in an area of rugged beauty and its vast terrain ranges from Karoo grassland to riverine gorges and dramatic mountain peaks. Water is abundant in the area – The Sneeuberg mountain range forms a watershed between the Sundays River in the south and the Great Fish River in the east.

To find more about the Kliphuis, or to book your stay contact: www.perfecthideaways.co.za.

Ambling onto The Boland Trail

One of the  easy overnight hikes in the Cape Mountains, within a 100km of Cape Town.

You could go hunting for toadstools in the pine forests of the 70 000 ha Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, or you could heft a pack onto your back and head up through the Fynbos onto the mountains for the night.

I chose the latter and armed with essentials like camembert and wine, joined Tim Lundy’s small hiking group on the trail up towards the peaks, climbing above the morning mist and leaving the dams glinting far below in the valleys.

We’d chosen to hike from the Nuweberg base to Landdroskop / Shamrock Hut (12km, about 3hrs of moderate hiking, staying over and hiking 7km back down to the start the next morning).

DSC01903Clear streams spilled into hidden valleys, and we stopped to fill our bottles, abandoning city H2O for brackish spring water.

We soon reached the overnight huts, which offered basic dorm accommodation with bunk beds, woodburning stoves and outside “eco” toilets. Two decks and a ‘braai lapa’ (barbecue area) gave us the option of cosying up and ‘braaiing’ (barbecuing), or stretching out on the deck and watching the sun go down.

From the deck of Sham­rock Lodge hut we had massive views over the mountains to the Boland valleys and farms. The next morning we offered oats and honey to the sunrise, stretched and ambled down into the valley for Springbok Pies and coffee at Peregrine Farm Store.

For more information on the Hottentots Holland Reserve and its hikes visit: www.capenature.co.za

Running Mapungubwe – South Africa

The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun® – A three-day trail running safari adventure through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South African game reserves.

Day 3 – South Africa

Unexpected rain overnight, splattered the dust and cooled the morning. We stood, takkies in hand, ready to splash from the Maramani Community Base Camp in Zimbabwe, across the Limpopo River into South Africa, for the last leg of our trail run into the wild places of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Park.

Elephant dung cooled and pools of urine marked the path, lion spoor lay fresh over the large lilypad steps of the pachyderms. The rangers paused and held us back, checking the dense riverine undergrowth, before waving us forward.

An old SADF vehicle and barbed wire fenceposts, slowly rusted away the history of old border wars, reminding us that these Parks were once the last bastion against communism and the “gevaar” Africa represented to the Nationalists.

We jogged on, vigilant for far more present danger. The confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, was marked by a deep pool and a Fever Tree. Beyond, Zimbabwe and Botswana loomed, no more than a stroll over a dry river bed.

Across the veld, against a backdrop of sandstone and conglomerate ridges, elephants stretched their trunks up into the trees. We stopped in the valley, watching them ambling silently through the Mopane scrub, as we munched baby potatoes and sourworms, sipping our morning tea. A pair of black eagles swooped above us, hunting the dassies scurrying over the rocks.

We ran on timelessly through the land, our bodies synching into the rhythm of the herd.

Three bodies buried in massive clay pots, with a wealth of beads and bangles, led archeologists to Mapungubwe’s Lost City of Gold, where communities an aeon ago, lived and played and worshipped their king.

We climbed the 147 steep steps up to the summit, guarded by scores of Baobabs on the surrounding hills. We stepped onto sacred ground, foundations of huts and shards of pottery and beads still evident, transported into an era of early trade with the Arabs, and a peaceful community living off a fertile land. Sadly, the community suffered a period of great drought and disease, and moved away – possibly to Greater Zimbabwe.

Many of the local runners, rangers and officials, who had joined us on the tour of the site, found the experience profound, never having had the privilege of experiencing the place, but realising that their ancestors could have lived there.

10km to go, we raced over rocky tracks, through fine red silt and down to the Limpopo for our last race crossing back into Zimbabwe and the Maramani Community Base Camp. Although we had previously seen crocodiles in the river, we abandoned all fear, splashing and playing  in the water to the finish of our 90km three-day journey.

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A final night around the campfire. Eland steaks, mielie pap and sauce topping an extraordinary day, the stories unfolded and the stars came out to play.

Massive thanks to the team that successfully pulled off the World’s first Transfrontier Wildrun. Three outstanding and mind blowing days of cruising the game trails of this ancient landscape. Thanks to the phlethora of immigration and customs officials from all three countries who worked with Wildrun to unlock this iconic primal running experience. Special thanks must go to: Owen and Tamaryn Middleton of WildrunRoland Vorwerk of Boundless Southern Africa, Marion and Fran Siebrits and their crew for the delicious catering, the Wildrun team and the SANParks Honorary Rangers for working so hard to look after the participants and make this event exceptional. Then of course to all the landowners, Sentinel Ranch, Shalimpo & the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Peace Parks Foundation, the team from Mapungubwe National Park and others who helped to make this event a reality.

Really looking forward to what will most certainly be a capacity event in 2017.

‪#‎wildrun‬‪#‎ExploringWildplaces‬ @wildrunnerza#Wildrun #ExploringWildplacesSee: www.wildrun.com

 

 

Mapungubwe Dreaming – Botswana

The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun®  – A three day trail running safari adventure through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South African game reserves.

Day 2 – Crossing the Shashe.

Coffee, rusks, curried eggs and Maltabella porridge cooked over an open fire, fuel the second day of our trail running adventure through the wilderness of the Mapungubwe Transfrontier Park.

We start out through the cracked, swampy fever forests, stumbling over loose stones ducking  acacias,  thorns raking our arms and legs, as Golden Orb spiders lie in ambush for us.

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Over the first hill, the dry Shashe river bed and Botswana’s plains stretch out ahead.

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We scramble and jump down onto the sand, aiming for an island in the river bed.  Signing in through immigration, listing our mode of transport  as “Feet”,  we are rewarded by tea, biscuits and Niknaks, laid out by the ever present, knitting, SANParks honorary ranger stalwarts.

DSC01764Elephants slip in and out of sight, giraffe gape and we increase our pace, kicking up dust across the flat expanses, breathing the bush as the sun bakes the land. Time warps and becomes irrelevant, we are here.

Back across the mighty Shashe plain, our feet sink into soft deep sand, the flood plain glare is broken by  a fleet footed jackal, a donkey and a herd of elephant lazing in a far off pool.

Back into Zimbabwe and the Maramani community land,  we pass huts in immaculately swept empty dirt yards, fringed by staked fences to ward off elephants and other marauders. Ilala palms, acacias and shepherd trees offer scant shade to goats and donkeys. Afternoon heat crystallises salt onto our skins and saps our energy. Maroela scrub and Baobabs fringe the road back into the reserve.

Finally into the Maramani Community Base Camp, cold showers, lunch and improvised loungers sporting beers on the beach, call us to watch the late afternoon. Day 2 is done and dusted, we celebrate.

That night we go down to the river with torches,  gloating eyes float back at us from the bank, elephants cross and hyena prowl, the stars burst across the night sky.

#wildrun #‎ExploringWildPlaces‬

For more information visit: www.wildrun.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mapungubwe Magic-Zimbabwe

The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun®  – A three day trail running safari adventure through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South African game reserves of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area.

Day One – Running in Zimbabwe.

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As Kipling once said,”Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.”

I stood, barefoot, mud slurping through my toes, with my Wildrun kit bag heavy on my shoulder, as I contemplated the crocodiles and the knee-deep crossing from South Africa into Zimbabwe. On the other side, a table of crisply epauletted officials waited to welcome me.

It was the start of a great adventure – three days of trail running over 90km through the great wilderness areas of three countries. The Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun® was a world-first, allowing a group of runners to traverse the Big 5 territories of the Mapungubwe National Park in South Africa, Sentinel Ranch in Zimbabwe and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana. Months of negotiations and diplomatic bureaucracy by event organisers Boundless Southern Africa and Wildrunner, had paid off and we had the privilege of skipping the formal border posts and literally wading or running from one country to the next.

Camped under the massive Mashatu trees chattering with vervet monkeys, in the Maramani Community Base Camp on the banks of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe, I watched the sun stretch over the horizon, as the the community cattle clattered up the beach for the night. The campfire drew us in and runners and crew settled into the crackle and smoke of evening banter.

“Run as a herd, stick together, keep your eyes open, the rangers will be at the front and the back – listen to their instructions.”

Day One saw development runners from local villages, immigration officials, and kitted out eager trail runners, lined up at the start, forming an egalitarian group, united by the thrill of running in the wilderness of Zimbabwe’s Sentinel Ranch.

We gathered to the drums and ululations of the kitchen and camp staff, clapping and gyrating as we set off across the veld. Acacia thorns, red dust, cattle dung, elephant dung, grass seeds catching our socks, we soon found animal paths and bounded out, adrenalin rushing, aware of the openness and our vulnerability.

“Watch out for the Baobabs.” Scratched and scarred by elephants, these upside down trees defined the landscape. We hugged and played  and climbed around them measuring their girth with arms outstretched hands clasped to each other.

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Zebra, antelope, giraffe, wildebeest, impala  and troops of baboons startled and stared.  Leopard and lion spoor marked the previous night. We raced laughing up hills, clambering to rocky viewpoints, striking yoga poses and pulling faces for selfies.

An oasis of 4×4 khaki clad SANParks Honorary Rangers appeared on the next hill, tables laid to serve us tea, coffee and rusks, with a buffet of snacks and water,  all managed with military precision.

As we sipped tea, we learnt the legacy and ancient history of Sentinel Ranch. The sand and mudstones of Sentinel were laid down by geographical forces over 200 million years ago -a time of dinosaurs and fanged crocodiles predating the continental shifts. Fossils of the late Triassic prosaurapod, Massospondylus (210-190 million years old) lie curled up and resting  in the stones from the time of Gondwana.  Hunter gathers later marked their rituals on rocks, and cattle ranchers tried and failed to conquer the wilderness, eventually capitulating and allowing the reserve to become a conservancy.

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The heat settled into the afternoon, and we ran on, down into riverine forest, stalling at the sounds of cracking branches and elephant stomach rumbles, we stepped cautiously through thick undergrowth, thrilled and pumping.

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Finally through a swamp of cracked mud, Fever trees and deep elephant footprints, we scrambled up a sandstone hill and slid down over rocks back onto the edge of the great river, to complete the loop into camp.

Cold showers, lunch, massages, Zimbabwe beer and the sunset gin bar beckoned, as we whooped sweat encrusted dirty happy to the finish of Day One.

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#‎Wildrun‬ ‪#‎ExploringWildPlaces‬

www.wildrun.com

 

 

AfrikaBurn – a journey into the interior

Once a year, millenials, hipsters, ageing hippies and middle class urbanites abandon their mundane existences and head into the parched hinterland of South Africa to experience a burst of freedom and self-expression in the desert at AfrikaBurn. Transforming the Tankwa Karoo into a fantasy village of theme camps, art, costumes, music and play for a week, AfrikaBurn gives, shares and liberates.

IMG_2798As the Burn begins, the vast space fills with thousands of Burners camped in the desert shale like refugees pimped to party in the dust.

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SUV’s are parked, masks and costumes clamber onto mutant trucks blaring beats, fur covered Vespa’s and dayglo bicycles, to follow the fire, music and play.

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AfrikaBurn culminates in a series of primitive ritual burns of massive artworks built for the event – crowds clamour, sparks shower and tribal nudists cartwheel around the fiery pyres.

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Regrouping through the night around nothing and everything, trails of LED lights follow the moon and the music.

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Until the sunrise gong signals a new day, giant bubbles catch the breeze, yoga mantras float on the morning and coffee percolates tired souls.

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Jack Kerouac grafitti scrawled above the Chinese barrister in the coffee tent, sums up the experience: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

IMG_2942Dusty, partygoers revive and pull on tangled fishnets, corsets, and monster faces. Dancing aliens relentlessly follow the trance and Elvis dances to disco, masked bodies spin on hula hoops.

BurnersHeat forges mirages of vessels sailing across the plain, towards supernatural towers, welded steel beaks and eyes glare across the Binnekring (Inner circle).

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The sun reluctantly sinks, tribes gather and disperse and press in again as fires flicker and the burn continues.

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Find out more: http://afrikaburn.com/

 

Leopards and hyena – toying with life in Kruger National Park

While staying at Little Bush Camp in Sabi Sabi, I had one of the most exciting sightings I’ve had viewing game in Kruger National Park.

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We watched as, growling out, the leopard called her cub to the small duiker kill she had hauled up into the tree. We had been on a game drive in the Sabi Sabi conservancy of Kruger National Park, in South Africa, when we saw a leopard and her cub on a kill, with hyena waiting in the bush nearby.

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The cub was about 10 months old, playful and learning; It took the kill and toyed with it, dragging the carcass to the top of the tree and back down, then throwing the inert remains around.

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Until, inevitably, the dead duiker fell out of the tree.

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In an instant, a sloping hyena appeared lurking and sniffing – the carcass was lost in the long grass but the hyena was hoping the cub would come down to find it.

The mother leopard waited and watched the hyena intently, determined to retrieve…

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