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

 

 

 

 

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 😊

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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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.

 

 

 

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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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.

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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