Be Snow my Heart in Bulwer KZN

 

 

 

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Bulwer Mountain (1840m)

Snow is fairly common on the Southern Drakensberg mountains April to July. In 2017 we saw snow as late as November on Sani Pass (2873m above sea level), and most recently, Black Mountain (3240m) in neighbouring country Lesotho had snow on 10 December 2018!

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Bulwer Mountain at sunrise on the road to Cottage Imvana

But, snow is not-so-common at ground level in Bulwer, and occasional atop Bulwer mountain (1840m).

 

Bedtime on this Saturday night was as normal  any other; my parents comfortably settled in at Cottage Imvana on a 7 day visit from Cape Town to KwaZulu-Natal, the furkids and I just up the way.

I keep a firm and fascinated eye on the weather, and tonight seemed an ordinary winter’s night in sleepy little Bulwer: temperatures dropping close to zero degrees and no snow news. When I awoke, it was around 6:30 am on Sunday 09.09.18. In mandatory fashion, I headed for the kettle, taking an also mandatory glance through the un-curtained patio door and the always-open-curtains of the balcony window (a luxury of country life).

I didn’t make it to the kettle, or the pitstop to the bathroom. Instead I threw on a jacket and my trusty gumboots and dashed to Cottage Imvana, puppies in tow. The lounge light was on in the cottage, as usual mom had been praying from the early hours.

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Later, Mom said that she in turn could hear that I was not panicked but rather excited and she knew I was not in danger, but did not know why the urgency of my tone.

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Wintery view from the front door of Cottage Imvana

 

We woke Dad and for the next while there a was chorus of happy exclamation, “wow, amazing, incredible God” were some of repetitive lyrics. We then all danced around the garden with various forms of camera, then furious finger dance began, snowy joy being texted to family and friends across the world.

“Ma look, look” I tried not to scream as I hurled past the kitchen window and to the front door. “I’m coming, what, what?!” mom replied as she unlocked the door. I could hear the confusion in her voice, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

 

Later, Mom said that she in turn could hear that I was not panicked but rather excited and she knew I was not in danger, but did not know why the urgency of my tone.

We woke Dad and for the next while there a was chorus of happy exclamation, “wow, amazing, incredible God” were some of repetitive lyrics. We then all danced around the garden with various forms of camera, then furious finger dance began, snowy joy being texted to family and friends across the world.

 

Before the parents arrived, I had said many a prayer for snow to fall during their visit, and God heard me. and what a gift it was! That look of completely happy surprise and joy on Mother’s face will stay with me forever, captured not by dslr or phone, but in the deeper place of my heart’s eye.

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Cottage Imvana

But perhaps more than that, it was the feeling of this shared wonder, a connection beyond normal experience that will forever be snow my heart.

Sani Pass snow squealing, Southern Drakensberg

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I’m sure I say the same thing every time I do Sani Pass; I vow to never to never scare myself mercilessly out of my wits by slipping and sliding up a mountain to 2873m above-sea-level.

And on this trip 18.8.18, I squealed the same words at one of the final corners on ascent. Myself, Wolfie and Craig (experienced Monique & 4×4 driver), were the first car going up the Pass on this snowy Saturday morning. The Southern Drakensberg peaks were already all dressed in white and it was snowing heavily most of the way.

You really need to experience big snowflakes tumbling from the sky and settling on your windscreen…with a backdrop of the Kwa Zulu Natal Drakensberg Mountains, of course.

Soon, the road up to the South African border control will be tarred the entire way (see below link for more), but on this day we navigated through wonderfully muddy road, skidding to the border at 08:30am. About 2 minutes later, we were through into the “no-man’s land” of Sani Pass, a stretch of about 8 kilometres ending at the Lesotho border. We were the first vehicle to go up the Pass and saw 2 vehicles descending, the whole time it snowed heavily.

The benefit of being early ascenders is the snow is not yet turned to mud, BUT you also cannot see a mapped out “safe way” to proceed.  Just note that at such an altitude (at this point we were roughly 2700m above sea-level) engines don’t function normally, so 4×4 driving experience is essential here.

After passing a herd of snow cows and a dog (much to my continued delight, I’ve been waiting for snow cows for 2 years in KZN), we began to ascend the very steep and twisted section of Sani Pass.

Near the top we came to halt on a particularly steep corner, wheels spinning in new snow and water-soaked sand, making a thick mush. We had to roll back a few times to re-attempt the corner in low range.

There is almost nothing more terrifying than looking behind you to a sheer drop, and rolling slowly towards it on slippery terrain (you can imagine the squealing and whimpering). I couldn’t look and had to fight the urge to spring from the vehicle with my Wolfie and leave Craig, with his calm disposition to his manly adventures.

Having freed ourselves from the sludge corner (yay for Toyota Fortuna once again), we proceeded up the pass reaching the Lesotho Border control at about 10am. We passed an abandoned bakkie, leaning dangerously over the edge, only saved by solidly wedged between some rocks (insert spine-chill).

As we arrived at the border crossing, a descending driver enquired as to the conditions of Sani Pass. He had the unfortunate job of assessing &/ retrieving a stuck vehicle near the top of the pass. Behind him on foot, the shrewd Basotho fellows rather take their chances walking behind the vehicle, instead of drive the treacherously steep & newly snowed section of the Southern Drakensberg Pass.

At the top, the best views down the pass are from Sani Mountain Lodge “The highest Pub (and accom) in Africa”. Wolfie’s joy at the thick blanket of untouched snow was only matched by my own excitement.

From the top we saw the predicted flow of snow-chasers ascending the pass, it was time to head down. In such situations, the ascending vehicles have right of way; simply put, because it is more difficult (if not impossible) to get started again once you are stopped on ascent. Therefore it often takes longer to get down a mountain pass than up. The current dirt road section of Sani Pass is about 22 kilometres (from Premier Resort Sani Pass to Sani Mountain Lodge); this took us 3.5 hrs to drive in the thick, newly settled snow. As time and fellow travellers pass, so does the stability of the newly fallen snow. Travellers reaching the top look more like muddy hippos and less like 4×4 vehicles.

I’ve only done it 3 times, 2015, 2017, 2018 and each time I do this Drakensberg mountain drive, I’m once again like a child, in every way. Each time I am more joyous yet more vulnerable, happier in my weakness and insignificance…and you can see it on my face.

Book a Sani Pass Tour: Roof of Africa Tours, Sani Pass Tours, Major Adventures

Some places to Stay on Sani Pass: Premier Resort Sani Pass, Sani Lodge Backpackers (4 star & Fair Trade Tourism Certified, Mkomazana Mountain Cottages, Seaforth Country Lodge, Sani Valley Lodge, Dieu Donne Cottage, Glencairn Farm. See additional places to stay near Sani Pass on SA Venues…and of course my Cottage Imvana (35 kms from Underberg)

Road development & more about Sani Pass from Umzimkulu River Lodge

Mountain Pass Driving from Arrive Alive

 

 

 

 

Seaing & Believing at On the Bay Retreat

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“Oh my, look at this décor, oooh that loft, two of them, oh wow…that view!” I was like a kid in a candy store trying not to be a bull in a china shop, darting around On the Bay Retreat still heavily laden with tech luggage & oversized handbag.

After a 2hr flight from Durban, we arrived in Cape Town, travelled east for just over half an hour, to the coastal village called Gordons Bay in the False Bay area. The town reminds me of me fishing village island paradise; a small ocean bay, complete with palm trees, and towering mountains not far behind the shoreline.

I continued to explore the 3bed, 2bath vacation home, sounding like a stuck record with my constant exclamations of delight. After “building my nest” in the main bedroom, with en-suite and walk-in closet, I ventured into the lounge and out onto the balcony.

According to Google Maps the Indian Ocean is 85 meters from On The Bay Retreat; close enough to so richly entertain your senses of smell, taste, sight, and sound, you feel like you could reach out and touch it. Looking at Table Mountain across the bay, I pondered the sunset over the sea, imagining I could see further to left and look upon Cape Point and Cape Agulhas, where Atlantic meets Indian Ocean.

I was awoken from my tropical island day-dream by my techie/geek other half, it was his turn for impressed ramblings. “The wifi is impressive, 40 mb line, can only be fibre.” He then informed me of upload download speeds in comparison to other network connections, apps on the home entertainment system (Netflix, Showmax and powerful Bluetooth speaker), and lastly the alarm system.

I only half listened to him, captured by the views, both indoors and outside at On the Bay Retreat. And retreat is the key word; the living area has such high ceilings (and open rooftop lofts), you feel spirited away to a faraway beach house.  The furnishings are incredibly comfortable, the decor an excellent combination of modern & classic seaside style, infused with cultural, local and artistic pieces.

The also spacious kitchen is kitted-out with the latest top-of-the-range green appliances and kitchen-ware, and includes a separate laundry, pantry & washing area. Doesn’t get any more fully-functional than this. And for people like me, the outside / built-in braai area is an absolute winner!

To the gentle lull of the sea I had a sumptuous sleep on both night’s at On the Bay Retreat, awaking (as usual) before my favourite time of the day, sunrise. And a Gordon’s Bay sunrise is a sight to behold indeed. The sunlight filters quietly over the Helderberg Mountains, gradually nurturing the valley, before showering sparkles upon a turquoise ocean. Its an experience to add to your South African bucketlist, cos sometimes seaing is believing 😊

How did You Sleep at Brahman Hills?

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“How did you sleep” is a phrase you hear often at Brahman Hills, both in the real world and online. This was something different, it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, like they were close friends or even family.

Although this sentence spoken by the all these voices creates a homely atmosphere, the resort is bold and fashionable. The architecture is a beautiful integration between classic and modern design; like the clean lines of the wedding chapel and conference venue offset by the country manor house.

After exploring the wilderness side of the KwazuluNatal (KZN) Midlands Meander and lunch at The Midlands Kitchen, we arrived at Brahman Hills at about 3pm. We received a fond aloe from everyone, a warm welcome from team members Melusi and Ayanda. After signing in, Melusi took us on a short tour of the beautiful hotel and sprawling spotless grounds at Brahman Hills.

He pointed to the left of the wedding chapel and said, “Your cottage is just over that hill, less than 1km.” I didn’t see the faint smile that flashed to his lips as he added, “but watch out for the lions!” My eyes widened before I realised he was joking and I felt like a real tourist (face palm).

I didn’t wait long to see the real Brahman Hills wildlife; on the first drive to the cottage and less than 100m from the road, I hollered my partner to a halt when I saw zebra and buck. At the sound of the shutter they stopped bucking about and turned looked right at me, ears on alert; a wonderful welcome indeed.

And then, when I thought I had experienced the best of the wonderment at Brahman Hills, I arrived at my overnight dwelling: the eco-friendly Impala Cottage. Solar geysers power the dual showers and basins and an unobtrusive cast iron fireplace assist the environment; while the delicious and large bed and couch plus the fully functional kitchen assist the guest.

And the cherry on top: I knew there were jacuzzis at Brahman Hills but I wasn’t aware that each self-catering cottage comes with a private deck and hot tub with breath-taking views. I have never in my life woken up and got straight into a jacuzzi – this is a memory I shall cherish.

Having dinner underground at 89 on Copper in a converted cellar is what you call an experience. Without windows, the natural light is substituted by a stunning array of different level hanging lights, wall light-boxes (actually circles), and table candles. It’s incredibly cosy and copper figurines and trims give it an elegant finish. Copper piping was discovered in while building the restaurant, inspiring the name & theme. Now the conduits shine elegantly along the corridors, lighting the way to experience.

The attention to detail in the a la carte menu is phenomenal, both in taste and presentation. In a sentence: shooting stars on the palate and robust symphony of flavours.

Aperitif: seared tuna

Starter: butternut soup with bacon, beetroot & saffron butter

Main: Green Thai Chicken & Prawn curry

Dessert: Lemon Cheesecake with carrot & mixed berry

From my younger days of silver-service waitering, I was delighted that our waiter, Joshua, checked all the boxes, giving right amount of attention and conversation while executing prompt, beautifully delicate, and efficient service.

The breakfast menu at Brahman Café has a lovely array of hot and cold, sweet and savoury style meals, and I loved the many windows and high ceilings in the room. My muesli came with a wonderful homemade Bulgarian yogurt, and I have made a note to next time try the option of the yogurt plus a veg/fruit of the day. And of course, my partner enjoyed his manly breakfast with incredible vigour! And the large size coffee is just what I am used to – a boat for a cup!

Another highlight of my experience of Brahman Hills was my favourites: the cows! I did not capture the living specimens themselves, but the artwork and sculptures captured me. Their sweet faces made me smile, like I did when I read the closing remark on my welcoming email from Brahman Hills: “we look forward to welcoming you in the herd!”

The Secret of Bulwer – In My Opinion

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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).

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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.

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  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.

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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

Harding, KZN – Roadside Countryside

On Tuesday 11 February 2014, I was on the road again, the N2, this time Harding, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

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Besides the SA National Roads-works underway on the N2, the drive was most pleasant and beautiful.

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I took a couple minutes here and there to capture on camera the beauty of our Lords creation.

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The drive took about 2.5 hours there and 2.5 hours back to Durban.

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The coastal area here is know as Hibiscus Coast, contrasting sugar cane fields and rolling dark hills

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