Frosted grass Salute from a Weather Nerd

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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.

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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

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“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.

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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.

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Timeless KZN Travels: Bulwer – Ard Lui BnB

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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 

The Castle & The Christmas Shop

 

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

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The Haut-Koenigsbourg castle located above the village of Orschwiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This was my favourite town of the trip

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

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

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

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Banana Sorbet !

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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

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

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

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

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

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Ha, and finally, the famous Christmas Shop

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

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 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

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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.













Pictographic – Masevaux

From Paris we journeyed aboard a train to Mulhouse, and from there hired a car and traveled to our home for 10 days, Bourbach-le-Haut

One of the nearby towns, the perfectly picturesque Masevaux

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The entire town is like a movie set, small quaint houses, shops and cobbled streets

In the town centre, is the Hostellerie Alsacienne.

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Everything about the place is fabulous; from the Star of David chairs, to silver cutlery, and mouth-watering meals; fantastic enough to warrant a second visit before leaving the region

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The above is the Trout Amande

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And the Duo de Poisson

The whole town is like a movie set

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The silence of the midday break shattered by our touristic presence

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The town hosts a variety of  activities, from flower contests and organ festivals,  to The Passion Play

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The flowers are not yet in full bloom, but still breathtaking.

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The midday day break is from 12:00 – 14:00 daily.

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You will find all shops closed, with only restaurants welcoming customers.

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We found this affected particularly the smaller towns.

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The spring flowers creep from behind the wood pile

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Almost everything one sees it photo-worthy

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Citizens are rewarded for beautiful gardens – Concours maisons fleuries

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A couple of weeks later and we would have seen even more glorious colours

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But all in all, Masevaux is easily one of the prettiest towns

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Adding to its appeal, is the surprising small number of tourists about town

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Opulence – The Palace of Versaille

From April 29th to May 12 myself, mother and two sisters traveled to France.

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This is the first of my posts, Opulence, fitting, as on the morning of this day, 3o April 2014, we journeyed to see the (in)famous Chateau de Versaille

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Fortunately, we went with a tour, so we were able to skip the dreaded queues, which were horrendous, even out of season.

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Versaille was home to Louis XIV, also know as the Sun King.

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This is because he was so self centered. He even had all the rooms in the palace built centrally around his own room

The short little beds of the French are most odd. I heard, which I cannot verify, that back in the old days, the French were so fat, that sleeping lying down posed a danger to their health.

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They therefore used to sleep sitting up, or as upright as possible, shortening the beds so they could not be completely horizontal.

Like I said, I cannot substantiate this, nor find another viable explanation

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When the castle was built for Louis, the required fountains were not The Gardens are incredible and by far the most worthwhile of all the viewing.

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The gardens stretched for miles, and I would have walked or ran them all if not for our shuttle back to our Parisienne apartment

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What fascinates me is that men and women, dressed in appropriate 17h century garb, walked the same halls  wherein I moved and breathed

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I found the inside of the palace almost stiflingly opulent.

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Honestly, I could not wait to burst free into the gardens.

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The decadence is shown in magnificent paintings on the ceiling, causing many a tourist collision.

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Once outside, I could breath easy again

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God made beauty, outshines man’s feeble attempt to harness and manipulate it.

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The town of Versaille is one of the more well to do areas of Paris, about 30 minutes (depending on traffic) from the Champs-Elysee 

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When the fountains of Versaille were first built, to run them constantly was impractical due to the sheer volume required, and impossible with the limited engineering knowledge.

So, the estate merely hired enough staff to turn on each fountain as King Louis passed by until they figured out a more viable solution.

**Look Out for the next French Adventure**

*For detailed history of the Palace of Versaille, please visit their homepage

*Unfortunate many of the fountains were under construction at the time. April/May seems to be the time of year for construction in France, as we encountered at least 5 significant places with unsightly scaffolding enshrouding the fabulous architecture.

 

Sunrise over Sea – Another Fantastic Durban Sunrise

 Yes, another fabulous Durban Sunrise session this  yesterday morning.

Let me clarify about the title of my last post Durban Autumn Sunrise. I know it is not yet autumn in the southern hemisphere, but the crisp chill in the mornings  gives the impression of an early autumn.

THIS SUNRISE SESSION:

In the  hazy confusion of the predawn light, my focus falters, my lens afraid of the dark

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All is eerily quiet, the rays seem to be taking an eternity to break the horizon and flood the world with glory.

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Finally, the beginning of the end of the hazy, uncertain pre-dawn

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The break of a new day, all creation in its glory on display

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Silver lining, stalks, its the birth of a new day filled with promise

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The Woolly Neck Stalks and the cat are used are also out and about to watch His majesty grace this earth again, simply for us to enjoy

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No matter what circumstances occur, there will always be a sunrise.

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Something amazing and beautiful always emerges from even the darkest hour

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Something first dark, then serene and beautiful, turns into a powerful force

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The light of that power now touches everything it encounters

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All fear and confusion are conquered, all things working together for good, for beauty and for a new day

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Durban Beachfront Autumn Sunrise

I am fortunate enough to be blessed almost every morning by witnessing the amazing sunrise created for you and I.

Breathtaking sunrise

Blessed

The Surf next to the pier at Umgeni River Mouth

The Surf next to the pier at Umgeni River Mouth

Durban’s beautifully engineered, and fairly new, promenade sets the stage for this amazing grace.

From Blue Lagoon (umgenie River Mouth) looking South towards Durban Harbour

Durban Sunrise

Lonely Ship lurks out at sea

The two companies (of which I am aware) involved with phase 1 and phase 2 of the beachfront rehabilitation, namely Fountain Civil Engineering (phase 1) and Vumani Civils (phase 2) have done a fantastic job.

Moses Mabida Stadium

Phase two, Umgeni River Mouth side

The Umgeni River Mouth

The Umgeni River Mouth

Comparing the promenade to photos dating back to 1930, the difference is phenomenal.

South towards Durban City

South towards Durban City

Shore Sand Dunes

Shore Sand Dunes

The White Elephant, Moses Mabida Stadium, sits majestically keeping watch over Durban City

Malaga, Malgrove, Malpark Residential flats

Malaga, Malgrove, Malpark Residential flats

Jetski in the surf

Jetski in the surf

The sun peeped out from the horizon, only to disappear again behind the cloud bank

Now you see it

Now you see it

Now you dont

Now you Don’t

Yet another majestic morning from our creator