The Secret of Bulwer – In My Opinion

MoniquevanderWalt_travelchatsa_bulwer_kwazulunatal(61)

Interview originally published via #TravelChatSA

  1. Please introduce yourself.

Monique van der Walt – In the smallest of nutshells: From corporate PR to Purpose Driven Life.  Less than a year ago I resigned my corporate PR position to seek my true purpose. I currently find myself living and loving Social Media Tourism, PR & Photography.

  1. Where do you live – and where is the town located?

Bulwer is a small farming town in KwazuluNatal (KZN) about 2.5 hours drive from Durban in the Southern KZN Midlands, right at the start of the Southern Drakensberg region.

  1. What is Bulwer “famous” for / or what should one know about the town?

The town itself is pretty old, and is named after the Lieutenant Governor of then Natal from 1875-1880, Sir Henry Bulwer, and is home to one of the oldest yellow-wood churches in SA. The village rests in the shadows of Magwaqa Mountain, boasting a biosphere, fantastic forestry & a world-famous Paragliding site.

The R617 is the only road that will take you to the village, but don’t blink, you could miss it completely. Little Bulwer has a Library, Police Station Station, Fuel Station, grocer / odds ‘n ends store, a few trade stores and couple of funeral establishments. There is a new Municipality under construction which is expected to bring great development to the town and possibly even a Shoprite/Checkers. As it is now, the nearest retail chain store is Spar, 35 kms away in Underberg; but the produce from the local farms is readily available at the smiling street vendors.

Marutswa Forest is one of the most active clouds forest in SA and draws international visitors. The forest is a sanctuary for the Cape Parrot and has a boardwalk with viewing platforms for a chance to spot the many rare and odd birds calling Marutswa Forest home; some say there could be unknown species living deep inside the thick bush.

The vehicle registration for Bulwer is NIP, and the standing local joke is it means Nowhere In Particular. But in particular, look out for the Nguni cows and jolly goats that wander the highway and pepper the byways throughout the area.

Bulwer is also the hometown of the 2017 Comrades Marathon male winner, Bongmusa Mthembu.

  1. What are the top things to do in Bulwer?

Being such an off-the-grid town, the list of things to do suits the nature lover to a T, with vast forests and serene nature reserves all around Bulwer Village.  Bulwer is known for her off-road trails that provide the perfect terrain for hiking, horse riding, cycling, motocross, 4×4 or even just a slow nature and birdwatching meander.  Fishing, tubing, and swimming the nearby rivers is on Bulwer’s summer agenda. There is even a place called “Bulwer Beach”, natural pools hidden deep in the forests, and you’ll only ever hear about it or go there with a seasoned local.

But there is a wildcard thrown in for the adrenaline Junkie. Bulwer Mountain is known as one of the best paragliding sites in South Africa, so much so that there is a resident paragliding school on her slopes (Wildsky Paragliding – with onsite log cabin accommodation).

moniquevanderwalt_bulwer_drakensberg_kwazulunatal_bnb_ardlui_tourism_socialmedia_pr_canon_photography (5)-2

Ard Lui B&B

  1. Any dining places you’d recommend?

My favourite way to “eat Bulwer” is the numerous fruit and veg stalls, packed with fresh and delicious local produce. This is sufficient for me as I have a plant-based and raw-food diet, but for everyone else, there are a few places to eat in Bulwer:

On the west side of Bulwer is Nip Inn, Pub & Grub – the favourite local hangout; the kids area is fantastic and the food is wholesome and hearty.

On the east side is Mountain Park Hotel with its old-world charm pub and restaurant.

The Shisa Nyama in central Bulwer is an authentic experience for the any traveller and an up-and-coming function venue. In the spirit of small town living combined with welcoming Zulu culture, you will find that almost anyone can join the festivities.

I must add that being a country town, things are delightfully informal. Not a restaurant per se, Loretta of Ard Lui B&B said she could rustle up a good meal or high tea, to be enjoyed with a view of fantastic gardens and Bulwer mountain.

  1. Recommended places to stay in Bulwer?

Ashtonvale Guest Farm is a working four-generation farm, family owned and operated. Beautiful hillside rondavels, three waterfalls on site, animal farm, tennis court, swimming pool, entertainment lounge pony rides (and more), it’s a fantastic & reasonably priced family getaway.

Nip Inn boats lovely log cabins with DSTV, campsite, caravan park and onsite pub and restaurant and is the meeting place for many a rural activity.

Established in the 1940s, Mountain Park Hotel is a your landmark for arriving in Bulwer. The garden cottages are a pleasant and serene budget stay, and once the hotel rooms are upgraded they will surely provide the same. The restaurant and pub fireplace provide tasty and cosy country comfort.

Ard Lui B&B is an enrapturing and historic place to stay, with exquisite grounds and interior décor that seamlessly blends of classic and modern design. Little touches like the nightcap tray give you a timeless feeling in a room that is modern in design and flow.

  1. What is your favourite thing to do in Bulwer?

Bulwer’s complete country immersion is perfect for me; as the saying goes, early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy (check) wealthy (I am in soul) and wise (continual WIP). So, my top activity would be simply exploring the acres of forest surrounding the area, and capturing Bulwer’s beauty. I also enjoy “cow-spotting” – finding and photographing roaming cows in random places.

moniquevanderwalt_bulwer_kwazulunatal_southafrica_photography_travel_tourism_ (6)

  1. Why should one visit Bulwer?

It’s a place where KZN Midlands Serenity meets Drakensberg adrenaline, and almost everyone can find their perfect balance of the two in Bulwer, South Africa.

Frosted grass Salute from a Weather Nerd

moniquevanderwalt_southafrica_kwazulunatal_drakensberg_bulwer_travel_tourism_weather_nerd_photography_frosted_grass (2)

I’m a bit of a weather nerd, as well as many other types of nerds – tech, cats, puns, language – perhaps just an all around nerd. So I’m delighted to tell you that, as expected, yesterday morning’s pink skies were indeed a warning of fierce winter weather!

Our predawn real-feel in nearby Underberg, Southern Drakensberg was a cool -6° Celsius (21° Fahrenheit) and Bulwer certainly felt like it too.

moniquevanderwalt_southafrica_kwazulunatal_drakensberg_bulwer_travel_tourism_weather_nerd_photography_frosted_grass (6)

My easiest way to get going in the mornings is to have a quick coffee (wait a bit), then a brain-freezing teeth-brush and mouthwash, followed by vigorous online workout. After this I am warm enough to brave whatever degree temperature to capture the winter weather.

On with my leopard-print gumboots and into the garden I trot, the grass and frost crunching beneath my feet. Within a few minutes my hands are like ice, I grasp my Canon tightly and drop to my knees to get the shots.

With a positive leap of the poetic imagination (and frozen fingertips) I try to put words into pictures, undeterred by the lack of feeling in my fingers.

So, with my hands-on approach, I (and photobombing cat) salute you with frosted grass from the Southern KwazuluNatal Midlands.

 

 

 

Colourful KZN weather Wonderings

Every once in a while I climb on my rooftop to capture the KwazuluNatal (KZN) mountain sunrise. She rises beyond the KZN Midlands and igniting Durban‘s golden shores from her Indian Ocean horizon.

Today it seems the KZN Midlands is having her Sunday morning lie-in under a thick blanket of  mist; I brave the cold to capture her sleeping beauty.

Again the old wise saying rings true; our red sky this morning sure is a shepherds warning. A cold, wet and snowy spell has hit South Africa, predicted to arrive in Bulwer this evening. The Southern Drakensberg is expected to see temperatures of around -3° Celsius (27° Fahrenheit) during the night, with possible snow.

Something interesting is that this morning was completely devoid of birds; even the sturdy Hadedas were nowhere in sight, as if they’re aware of approaching weather.

Climbing to and from the rooftop is a little more tricky at this time of year, a thin layer of ice coats its surface. About a week ago got brain freeze from my mouthwash, and its now a daily occurrence. But there is still no place I’d rather be.

Drakensberg Snow Road Trip: Sani Pass

Moniquevanderwalt_SaniPass_Kwazulunatal_southafrica_snow (16)

“Do you think we’ll get up?” I asked Craig nervously as the 4×4 wheels of our Toyota Fortuna skidded confidently the in thick mud.

He didn’t bat an eyelid at the sliding vehicle and said, “We’ll get close! Good thing we got in early before the rest of the world coming to see the Sani Pass snow, the more the cars pass through, the more messy the road becomes with melting snow.”

Two days ago, the first proper snowfall of the season had blanketed the Southern Drakensberg, just in time to turn our road-trip into a snow-trip. Saturday 13 May 2017 we left Bulwer before 9am wearing 3 pairs of socks, gloves, beanies, thermals and our cold faces. The trip from Bulwer up to Sani Pass is <70km, passing through the KwaZuluNatal towns of Underberg and Himeville, then over the South Africa/Lesotho border, and finally the steep climb up the Southern Drakensberg mountains.

“Here, ask this family coming past what’s happening further up the pass!” I urged as the second of 4 vehicles gingerly made its way down towards us.

It wasn’t good news; we were told the road was very bad ahead and a few of the early-bird explorers had turned back. But fortunately, Craig is a seasoned Sani Pass tripper, having done it plenty times, and he reassured me we would be fine to press on.

A few times we had to stop and wait; either at a safe following distance behind an ascending car, or far enough over for a descending car to pass.  The die-hard explorers without 4x4s had long since disappeared and the majority of 4x4s were proudly Toyota, their passengers of all ages. I was stirred by the intense feeling of comraderie between us travellers; the sheer epic of the Sani Pass experience formed a common bond. Almost every person you make eye contact with smiles, and there is a knowing in their eyes.

After a 4 minute stop at border control and a stamp in our passports, we were back on the muddy road and could see the thick snow on the Drakensberg peaks. As we climbed, the dark green landscape became more and speckled with white, until all around us was winter wonderland and sparkling snowflakes were falling from the sky.

About 80% of the way up and before the zigzag section, there were at least 15 cars creeping down the slope and we could see a queue up ahead. The the road was barely wide enough for 2 vehicles side by side, but fortunately just up the way there was a verge.

We pulled over and I lurched from the van and began to frolic in the 30-60cm snow in my leopard print gumboots, throwing snowballs and feeling like a kid – completely forgetting my frozen fingers in the fun of it all.

On the verge, there was a solo traveller that made the trip annually to stay in the mountains for a few days. He told us that up ahead a vehicle has lost its cargo and this had caused a traffic jam on both sides, with at least 18 cars waiting to ascend.

It was now around 11am and the snow was falling rapidly, dramatically reducing visibility. So reluctantly I said “Let’s go back, it’s a pity we will not get to Sani Mountain Lodge for lunch though. But we’ll will do Sani Pass again, on a sunny day, so we can get the most of the views from the top.” And at that we began our hair-raising descent, slipping and sliding down the pass.

moniquevanderwalt_tourism_kwazulunatal_drakensberg_durban_travel_photography (14)

Back down where there was more mud than snow, we saw one of the few non-4×4 vehicles on the road. A MiniBus Taxi, fully loaded with commuters and luggage appeared to be helplessly stuck in the mud, like a wildebeest about to be taken by a mountain of a crocodile. We were at the top of a hill they were trying to ascend, so we stopped and waited. But this was no problem at all for these locals! Out the vehicle they jumped, some unloading and carrying baggage up the hill, while the rest began to push and within I minutes the taxi was back on its way.

 

I was quite astounded, but Craig gave me the insider’s perspective “These are the Basotho people, they grew up in these mountains and have travelled this road many times. This must be a regular thing on the drive to and from work in and around Underberg. They know what they are doing.”

A couple of slippery and sludgey kilometres later, we were back through the border and onto tar road, on an absolute high! We came, we saw, and the way my heart felt, I could conquer the world.

moniquevanderwalt_tourism_kwazulunatal_drakensberg_durban_travel_photography (13)

Timeless KZN Travels: Bulwer – Ard Lui BnB

Moniuevanderwalt_bulwer_drakensberg_kwazulunatal_tourism_socialmedia_canon_photography (54)

I’m writing a feature article on my new hometown of Bulwer for Travel Chat SA. So while I dash around the KwazuluNatal (KZN) countryside compiling content, I will share what I find with you.

In my last post via Tourism Guide Africa I shared top things to do in Bulwer‘s area, now I will share a series of posts specifically focused on the town itself, where to sleep, eat and play. So when you head this this way, be sure to keep your eyes open for this magical place to stay.

Bulwer is at the end of the KwazuluNatal Midlands, and the start of the Southern Drakensberg region, also called the Southern Midlands (yes, it confuses me a little too).

On the west side of the village is Ard Lui B&B, a haven of tranquility, tinged by a personal touch that puts it in a class of its own. The designer, owner & operator is Loretta, who having come to Bulwer in 1959 returned to retire 13 years ago. But retire is far from what she has been doing!

‘Ard Lui is just my hobby’ Loretta humbly describes the historic Victorian stone farmhouse that has clearly had years of attention, making it the inviting Bed & Breakfast that is today.

The gardens are breathtaking in beauty, a seamless blend of  experience and a natural eye for flow & functionality. Twice Loretta has allowed her arm to be twisted into hosting  ‘I Do’ ceremonies on the lawns nestled below Bulwer Mountain.

The dining room and lounge area is decorated tastefully with old and new pieces. The overall feel is homely, welcoming and really just calls you to linger, perhaps take a look through the guestbook.

What struck me most about the bedrooms was the Nightcap tray on the dresser; so beautifully old-fashioned I felt like I was in an Audrey Hepburn movie. But yet the room’s decor is funky and fresh, the bathroom fitted with modern design.

After coffee and red velvet cupcakes we viewed yet another piece of history found at Ard Lui. The shell of an old vehicle, most likely from the ’40s, that was discovered on the property buried under years of underbrush.

What was barely a 2hr visit at Ard Lui B&B left me with a timeless feeling, I had traveled on a tarred road through history’s dusty byways. I saw through another’s minds eye; and like all trips in KwazuluNatal, the scenery was exquisite!

 

Top things To Do in Southern Drakensberg

Ever wondered what there is to do in the Southern Drakensberg? Well, let me point you in the right direction to find your perfect blend of country serenity and outdoor adrenaline.

Written & pictured by Monique van der Walt

The Drakensberg (Dutch – Dragon Mountains) is the largest and highest mountain range in South Africa, described best by her Zulu name “uKhahlamba” which means ‘barrier of spears’. The mountains majestically span…read more 

My Father, Our Father

wp-1490687306676.jpg

“You cannot change the past for, I dare say, you might learn something from it” -Alice Through the Looking Glass

This is a post that is kind of an extension of my What I’m About page. I’m always tweeting about “Never forget your WHY”. Afterall, your Why, in my opinion, is what makes or breaks your brand. This post includes a little of my Why, as well as my a bit of How & Who.

My earthly father is my biggest role model other than Jesus. It is from him I have learnt my ambition and entrepreneurship. Without completing school my dad started his own business, manufacturing and selling safes, strong room doors, gun safes etc.  He set a goal to provide each of his children a fully paid for home upon his death. He drove our beautiful South Africa,  selling door-to-door in the 70’s-80’s. Many a story he tells of travelling long distances through the rural Eastern Cape (then Transkei) and Kwazulu-Natal (Then Natal); I think he passed on his love for roadtrips to me also.

In 1980 he bought a plot on Chapman’s Peak Mountain in Hout Bay, Cape Town for R8000 and built our family home bit-by-bit, selling it near 20 years later, around the same time as his business. Now he “flips properties”, buying, fixing himself, selling; along with everything else, he is an efficient and versatile handyman and  the ever-consistent entrepreneur.

wp-1490684556158.jpg

Perhaps one day I will live this dream too, only the Father knows the plan

Over the years I lived in many places. I have lived on the breadline and in the heart of townships & ganglands. I have earned excellent commission and squandered my riches. I have worked for minimum wage and lived beyond my means. I have studied to earn better and climbed to corporate ladder. I think all these experiences have taught me so much about real people, real culture, real wonderful South Africa.

And so this brings me to my new home, the place I have found freedom and complete peace, in Bulwer, KwazuluNatal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I have such a love for this province., even as I type this I tear up (odd I know). So yes, my dad paid for this “fixer-upper” home, I am so privileged, blessed, loved.

However, I am not and never have been a spoilt-rich-kid. My dad taught us to work for our pocket money from a very young age. Over the years he offered incentives for jobs at home and his office, which increased with inflation.

wp-1490683877824.jpg

Forgiven so that I can Forgive. Unashamed because of Mercy

Unlocking and opening his work gate 5 times  week while on school holiday earned R5.00. Washing his VW panel van (the commercial kind with only front windows) paid R20 – R40. Adding up his work ledger was sometimes a paying job, other times I did it for fun, I love numbers.

And one on my favourite jobs was eradicating house flies, at R0.50 – R2 a fly. The budding entrepreneur in me defrosted meat on the windowsill or in the microwave to draw every fly in the neighbourhood (I am proud to say that I have retained my skills, swatting: level expert). How many afternoons were a flurry of anticipation at my father’s homecoming. I would wait for him to finish supper before proudly presenting him with haul for payment.

wp-1490683846286.jpg

Focus on the good things

The entrepreneur in me has continued to evolve, studying, working, studying while working. But it has never been about money. I am the kind of person that becomes my brand; I commit wholeheartedly to the care of that brand, hence my progression to corporate Public Relations and subsequent study.

And it is also from that part of my character that this journey began. I realised that I could never maintain giving 100% to someone else’s brand, the personal cost was too great.

wp-1490684541832.jpg

The Father’s Freedom

There are many uncertainties in this journey of faith; limited reserve fund, facing my past, and of course self doubt. But despite all this, I know in my heart I’m on the right track.

I recently learned that my father has told my new Bulwer community that this is my house, and I have made my own money in my life. When I heard this I was in awe of the humility of this man. He has come from nothing and has given everything to provide for his family, achieving and surpassing his initial goal. He is true role model and indeed a precious gift from my Heavenly Father.

The writing my autobiography has shifted slightly out of focus, like what often happens with plans, they evolve. I now find myself exploring yet another talent: photography. So much so that I’ve just made an investment in a Canon 80d camera body plus kit lense 18-135mm, and done a beginners workshop with My Photo School in Durban, KZN.

This ties in perfectly with my love of sharing beautiful our Father’s breath-taking creation and I am learning and loving “photography tourism/journalism”. Add this to my PR and Social Media knowledge and I realise (over and over) that I am I have been given so much.

wp-1490686665479.jpg

Changes a foot

Every single blessing, talent, ability and gift I have received: It has only been given to me to be used.  So use it I shall; for the love of my country, the honour of my earthly father’s dedication, and the fulfillment my Heavenly Father’s plan.

Writer’s Throwback

While unpacking my life at my new home in BulwerSouthern DrakensbergSouth Africa I came across this amazing throwback to my 12 year old writing self.

In 1998 my friend and I entered an Mnet KTV Write Stuff short story competition. 

Here’s the whole short story:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What a tender-hearted writer I was. We did not win the competition, and I can’t for the life of me remember if we came 2nd or 3rd.

There is an entire folder of my primary school life, projects, pics and precious memories!

Colmar & Countryside

Today we went to Colmar. The initial plan was to go to the Eco Musee, but unfortunately it was closed. The famous Alsacienne storks were everywhere to be seen on its rooftops.

 

SAM_0894

Eco-Musee Alsace

From there were went to Colmar, mainly to see the statue of liberty replica

SAM_0902

From there, we took a slow drive back through past Masevaux and on to Bourbache-le-Haut

SAM_0919

The baby pine trees

SAM_0917

We stopped at the top of the road down to Bourbach-le-Haut, and took a short walk to view one of the war monuments.

 

SAM_0916

“To Our Dead”


SAM_0913

The view over the valley was breath-taking, even though we only appreciated it for a couple of minutes, due to the icy wind.

SAM_0910

Below us us lies the sleepy Bourbach-le-Haut, a town of some 300 people.

SAM_0907

This is the road we took a good 6 times while staying here. The Tour de France travels along this route.

SAM_0905

Bourbach-le-Haut nestled below

SAM_0904

 

The Castle & The Christmas Shop

 

The next day of our adventure was to the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle and the Christmas Shop

SAM_0892

The Haut-Koenigsbourg castle located above the village of Orschwiller

SAM_0893

The town is another tiny village, nestled in-between endless winelands

IMG_0101

We wound our way through the town, up to the Castle

IMG_0179

IMG_0173

The Castle was built by Frédéric le Borgne, duke of Souabe and a member of the Hohenstaufens familyview more history

IMG_0181

It is cold and eerie inside the castle, you feel like you are back in the  12th Century, when the Castle was built.

IMG_0171

Throughout, small period windows allow you this astounding, breathtaking glimpse of what the duke saw on a daily basis

IMG_0104

After the Castle, we went down into Orshwiller for lunch, and ended up at The Hupsa Fannala

IMG_0114

It was a quaint place, the food slightly higher priced, but most delicious

IMG_0115

And from there, on to Riquewihr, in search of the Christmas Shop

IMG_0203

This was my favourite town of the trip

IMG_0125

The main street is only pedestrian (and delivery vehicle) access, the cobbled wonderland becomes from the start

IMG_0126

For those who prefer not to walk, the little tourist train will show and tell you around the fairy tale town

IMG_0124

Here, I found something I have never had before (and would not normally eat, should I not have been on holiday)

IMG_0138

Banana Sorbet !

IMG_0144

Made with real bananas, it was absolutely delicious, so much so that I hunted for it in every other place we went to, but did not find it

IMG_0137

We wandered through the village, taking in this surreal, movie-set like village

IMG_0135

The smell of mouth-watering treats, sweet & savoury capture every  sense

IMG_0131

Tourist and locals alike congregate in the the gorgeous winstubs (or wine rooms)

IMG_0147

Just one of of the boulangeries (bread-ery) / patissteries (bakery), its windows lined with multi-coloured macaroons

IMG_0153

Ha, and finally, the famous Christmas Shop

The Feerie de Noel is the main reason why this town holds the best memories for me.

IMG_0155

 The store is set up like many of the stores here, almost like a ride, one way in / out. And, as soon as you enter, it feels like you have climbed aboard the Polar Express

IMG_0157

As you venture further into the wonderland, you feel as if you have just woken up in the  Santa’s Factory, it really gives you that warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

No cameras inside – check it out here.