Art & Opulence in Gumboots at The Chocolate Box

“I didn’t think it would be this high up, the view is going be incredible; and from what I’ve seen online, its sheer opulence!” I said as I considered my leopard-print gumboots, inspecting them for any farm dirt that might have joined me on my trip from Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) to Cape Town.

I had decided against wearing my trademark gumboots when arriving at the 5-star Chocolate Box in Gordons Bay, opting for beige heels with a graceful below-the-knee chocolate brown dress. And I was grateful for it on arrival, the ample front door whispered of the bespoke luxury behind it.

After a warm welcome by owners Brad & Olaf, it was seconds before my shutter and I were making the usual sounds of capture and delight. I was immediately drawn outside (as per usual) to a sprawling deck looking over a sparkling False Bay, Table Mountain lurking far in the Westerly distance, and the looming Helderberg Mountains in the East.

I explored the outdoor dining area set afore a charming indigenous garden, sky-blue pool, and elegant chairs and not-chairs, all of which seemed to call my name. Brad then introduced me to the other Chocolate Box family members…wait for it…a pair of resident blue-headed lizards (Agamas) – of which the female was pregnant. Bees buzzed around the lavender, and I around them and their neighbourly reptile friends as we all enjoyed some Western Cape sunshine.

Our suite was directly off this rooftop paradise, the clever use of space and king size bed made it feel as voluptuous as the deck. Opulent in furnishing and décor, it really is as pearfectly 5 star as the outdoors 😉 . The spacious bathroom is a chique sanctuary in itself, and the hotel is also green-equipped with a grey water system.

Brad then gave us a tour of the Chocolate Box, to which I tried my best to pay attention while focussed on subjects of his informative and knowledgeable chatter. My main point of interest was the exceptional Capetonian artwork appropriately placed around the hotel; and rightly so as Brad himself runs Cape Culture, custom art tours in and around Cape Town. A particular work caught my eye, a piece by artist Ryan Hewett hailing from my area, the KZN Midlands, clap clap.

Both evenings offered fierce and fabulous False Bay sea sunsets and mornings exquisite Helderberg mountain sunrises. We spent our days exploring Gordons Bay and found it loveably quirky. Thanks to the weather we were able to take full advantage of delicious breakfasts on the deck, surrounded by shades of blue and flecks of indigenous colour.

It was on the final morning that a sharp wind called for gumboots at breakfast, by now I felt at home enough not to tread so lightly. And so I boot-liciously captured my final memories of Chocolate Box, mountainside luxury mixed with seaside opulence, and a 5-star stay, for shore 😉

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!”

Wagon-loads of Goodness at Midlands Kitchen

The Midlands Kitchen branch in Nottingham Road, KwaZulu Natal, is exactly what South Africa needs in terms of road-side dining – and its in the right spot for it too, on the Midlands Meander right off the N3 highway at exit 132.

The SETUP: Indoor food market and restaurant put together. You can either order direct from each outlet or make use of restaurant section, with an all-inclusive menu of each outlet, plus gracious and sharp service. I visited on a Sunday for lunch, and the flow of people and cars was constant; they also all had seemed to have one thing in common: happy faces.

The hours are 06:00 – 16:00; there is a large outdoor area with antique wagon & some sort of steam engine, making popular for tired parents and stiff-legged travellers. There is also a completely separate Midlands Kitchen shop at the service station for a stop-and-go experience.

The FOOD: If I had to use two words: fresh and variety. Variety of food is fantastic, from Mexican to artisan coffee and woodfired pizza, gelato to burgers and Durban curry; and my favourite, the Vegan outlet.

I had the Wular Casserole (chickpea, coriander & lentil casserole with coconut milk & red pepper) – so so yum! And my partner had a Lamb Shwarma, he couldn’t stop remarking how flavourful & fresh it was. The value for money is also another attribute of the Midlands Kitchen, the casserole R50 and the shwarma R65 – and we were so full we wondered if we would need that wagon to get to our car.

Also, in the nature of my love for everything cow, I adore the names of the coffee sizes: Bull, Cow, Calf!

The SERVICE: You can tell many of the staff are invested in what they are doing, you can almost smell the enthusiasm. What also stood out was the speed in which the meals arrived, so fast and yet so tasty!

The CSI: The Midlands Kitchen employs local from the KwaZulu Natal Midlands area. From the beginning the owners decided their ingredients would be supplied by local farmers, even though it sometimes take 3 or 4 to meet demand which means more work. But the management team is as dedicated as the owners to uplifting the community and take the extra planning in their stride.

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The OVERALL: One of my favourite anonymous quotes is “Time is precious, he who wastes the least has the most,” and this is why I enjoyed the Midlands Kitchen. We were able to get in and out within 45  minutes but have an experience as full and delicate as a 2 hour lunch; and this my friends is exactly what many travellers are after.

Be still my Heart – Boston Bulwer Beat

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A lesser-known part of the Kwazulu Natal Midlands (KZN) is the Boston Bulwer Beat, perfectly positioned at the feet of the mighty Drakensberg mountains. I live in the farming village of Bulwer and +-40kms east is her twin-sister town of Boston.

In my typical Durban winter attire (socks & slops) or my usual leopard print gumboots, it takes me 2.5 hrs to get from Durban North to Bulwer because I stop for photos. Dad took 3 hrs to get from King Shaka Airport on his first self-drive trip. Remove stopping & traffic and you’re in for about 1.5 hrs to Bulwer and just over 1 hour to the start of the Boston Bulwer Beat.

Just a note: Boston currently has the most pleasant fuel stop and place to stretch your legs en route to the Southern Drakensberg. The owners are fifth generation farmers, and a few years ago they, like myself, kicked corporate to the curb. I smile when I pass at the far more generous offering that is now Boston Garage. Image Stewardship and Health, Safety, Environment recon trips where part of my corporate days in the fuel industry, so take my word for it.

The Boston Bulwer Beat is the ultimate and most splendid outdoor playground – hiking, biking, river rafting, paragliding, motocross, birding, wildlife & landscape photography, and pure off-road satisfaction.

Being my first winter in the area, I was dreading the ambiguous loss of eloquent summer vibrancy. But winter has stolen my heart with her rich earthy shades and is just as enrapturing in her stark beauty.

Every path calls you ’round the bend to complete serenity, with many an added thrill of high verges, cliff faces and powerful rivers. You can’t help but be endlessly 🚜atractored to the Boston Bulwer Beat, and surrender your heart to the Southern Kwazulu Natal Midlands.

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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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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 

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

 

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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