As has now become an annual tradition, each year, I trace the memories of new destinations I’ve discovered and those I have explored anew, through my photographs. In 2018, I did not travel as much as I would have liked (certainly when compared to my travels in 2016 and 2017). This was due to work commitments for some of my corporate clients. Yes, besides my editorial work I sometimes (read: ‘often’) have to do ‘serious’ work, such as writing press release and speeches, scripting videos and editing film subtitles. Then I throw in a good measure of copywriting, sub-editing and research into the mix. But it’s thanks to this kind of work, and the flexibility freelancing offers, that I have the opportunity to travel as much as I do.
The beginning of the year saw the establishment of Victoria Yards. This rejuvenated urban complex in Johannesburg’s inner city showcases artists’ studios and galleries, Impi Brewery Co (try their Warrior Pilsner), restaurants, as well as an urban farming initiative. The best time to visit is on the first Sunday of the month between 10:00-15:00 for the
farmer’s market. Here you can meet over 35 artists and artisans, enjoy a breakfast from the many food stalls and wander wide-eyed through art galleries.
Read about other things to do in Johannesburg.
Returning to De Hoop Nature Reserve
I was lucky enough to revisit De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is part of Cape Nature, in February. De Hoop is famed for whale watching. Hundreds of Southern Right Whales call these waters home between June and November each year. Their experiential marine walk, particularly when it is guided by Delfrenzo Laing, is something to write home about. But this time I visited De Hoop to see the Guided Vulture experience. We watched endangered Cape Vultures swoop along the thermals between the cliffs of Potberg Mountain. The brief hike to the wooden look-out platform was followed by a gourmet picnic lunch of homemade bread, local cheeses, salad jars and pates.
Read about whale watching at De Hoop.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram
The Franschhoek Wine Tram visits 22 wine estates in the Franschhoek valley, along eight coloured routes. Each route has been designed to showcase a selection of wine estates that produce a wide array of wines. You can choose between a hop-on, hop-off or a curated experience.
The hop-on, hop-off experience takes passengers on a loop of stops that allows them to hop-off at each stop and experience the activities on offer, whether be it wine tasting, a cellar tour, lunch, exploring an on-site art gallery or a stroll through the vineyards.
The curated experience is a day-long excursion that offers an in-depth look at the region’s wine-growing history and culture. Guests walk through vineyards, learn about viticulture, do a cellar tour, taste wine straight from the barrel and indulge in a three-course meal that’s paired with wine.
Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is the world’s largest museum of contemporary African art. It showcases over one hundred galleries with artworks in various media, such as photography, installation, sculpture and visual arts. The museum covers nine floors across forty-two 33-metre-high refurbished grain silos. While you are here, eat or treat yourself to a drink at Zeitz MOCAA Food on the sixth floor. It offers spectacular view of the V&A Waterfront and is where the photograph below was taken.
African citizens receive free entry to the museum every Wednesday, between 10:00 – 13:00 on the presentation of ID, driver’s licence or passport. And South Africans can enjoy half-price admission (R95) between 16:00-21:00 on every first Friday of the month.
Read about how to spend 48 hours in Cape Town.
Clarens Craft Beer Festival and Golden Gate National Park
The Clarens Craft Beer Festival has become a sort of annual tradition among my friends. Over 20 craft brewers from across the country converge on the Free State town in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. All that tipple is accompanied by live music and food stalls. We always plan a short excursion to the nearby Golden Gate National Park. It is one of my favourite places to hike in South Africa. I returned three months later to do the overnight 28km Ribbok Trail.
Read How to survive the Clarens Beer Festival.
Celebrating Mauritian independence
I returned to the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius for a second time, so as to celebrate the island-nation’s 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain. The palm-lined streets were wrapped in Mauritian flags, locals came out to the beaches to watch the regatta and larger-than-life dodos ambled down the streets. I was privileged to be part of the official celebrations. The jovial week-long festivities were only magnified by tasting the local rum and exploring the island’s popular sights.
Read about my Mauritian adventures.
Birthday celebrations at Walkersons Hotel and Spa
I was spoiled during my birthday getaway to the countryside Walkersons Hotel and Spa in Dullstroom. My day started with a sunrise hike that overlooked the estate, followed by a lesson in fly fishing. I only managed to hook some grass. A full-body-massage and session in the sauna preceded our gourmet four-course dinner at the Flying Scotsman. Even if you don’t stay at Walkersons, I’d suggest eating here, just be warned that the portions are very generous. During our stay we also cycled around the estate, indulged in a catered picnic in the shade of pine trees by the waterfall, drank sundowners from the balcony of our free-standing cottage and enjoyed the warmth of our fireplace. We also took the short drive into town to do a craft beer tasting at the Anvil Ale Brewery.
Here’s what what to do in Dullstroom in 48 hours.
Showcasing South Africa
A dear friend from Australia, who I met on a three-week tour of India with GAdventures, came to visit me in late August and early September. While in Gauteng – and before embarking on her three-week journey across South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho – she wanted to venture beyond Johannesburg. We explored Pretoria from the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park to the Union Buildings (check out the views from the Sheraton Pretoria on Stanza Bopape Street). We also walked the 7.2km trail around Tswaing Crater, which is the result of a meteorite impact around 220 000 years ago.
Avocado shopping in Limpopo
My four-day trip to Limpopo was eventful to say the least. If we ever meet in person, be sure to ask me for the details. I’d love to return again to get a true taste of the province’s hospitality and cultural sites, such as Mapungubwe and sacred rock art. My highlight was visiting the Tshivhase Tea Estate pictured below. And buying a huge bag of Venda avocados for next to nothing.
My Personal Polish history
In September, I travelled to Oudtshoorn on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of 500 Polish children in South Africa. They were among the estimated 1.7 million Poles who were forcefully removed to labour camps in Siberia by The Red Army during WWII. Today, these children are the foundation of the Polish-South African community of second, third and fourth generation Siberian deportees. They call themselves Oudtshoorniacy in honour of their new home.
My maternal grandfather, Władysław Ciaciura, is also a Siberian deportee (though he returned to Poland after the war). This experience has largely shaped his, my mother’s and in turn my identity. This was a deeply personal story for me, which I penned for Mail and Guardian. Furthermore, Poland celebrated her centenary of independence in November.
Read my M&G article: SA’s Poles recall a bitter journey.
Cheetah spotting at Samara Private Game Reserve
I took my father (as part of a belated birthday experience) along on my trip to Samara Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, right at the time when spring swept across the Groot Karoo. This Big Five game reserve is just out of reach of The Valley Desolation. This region is Mohair Country. Samara was once a patchwork of 11 angora goat and sheep farms. Today after more than two decades of conservation and rehabilitation efforts indigenous vegetation has been reintroduced, alongside cheetahs and lions. We arrived soon after the birth of five cheetah cubs. Were tracked them on foot, as part of Samara’s signature walking safaris.
Marvel at the splendour of this Graaff-Reinet panorama.
The Garden Route’s Otter Trail
But the best thing I did in 2018, by far, was to accept a last-minute offer to do the 45km, five-day Otter Trail along South Africa’s Garden Route. I had tried to book it several times in previous months but never managed to get availability. The thing about walking long distances and repeating the same motion with a heavy pack on your back is that you turn inwards and begin to think about all those things, big and small, that are disguised from thought by everyday deadlines and urgent to-do lists. And being surrounded by nature just added another element of contemplation. We spotted the eponymous Cape Clawless Otter fishing between the rocks at Blue Bay beach on day two.
If you ever receive a similar offer, don’t give it a second thought, grasp it with both hands. No matter if you haven’t trained – as long as you are somewhat fit and take it at your own comfortable pace, you’ll persevere. And the reward is undoubtedly the most spectacular landscapes South Africa has to offer.
How to live (and travel) in 2019
Welcoming 2019 was difficult for many due to the passing of a dear friend in our South African travel community. Meruschka Govender, known by her pen name Mzansi Girl, was one of the continent’s foremost travel bloggers and influencers. Farewell, Meru. I know you’ve hopped abroad your full moon ship and that you are passionately exploring undiscovered places, as you always have – befriending the locals and keenly listening to their stories. Travel safely my friend, until we board stuffy Vilankulo-bound buses again and wallow in warm waters while sipping beer and dance ’till morning to the sounds of African beats at Bushfire. Please send postcards, you have my address. I will always think of you on our shared birthday and celebrate in your honour. Rest peacefully our African advocate! xoxo