Thursday, January 29, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 3

This article starts - on this link.

I said at the beginning of this feature that I had NO idea how much SAN Parks is investing back into
A must-do is this lady's talk about the tip of Africa
South Africa and its people. It's not only what they do but also the associations they form within areas to preserve environments and create opportunities.

The next part of our day was spent visiting Nuwejaars Wetland SMA, which is a Special Management Area. SAN Parks are engaging with 25 local farmers who own 45 600 ha of
Lunch at the Black Oyster catcher restaurant
land near Agulhas. The goal is to manage the environment with a social and sustainable approach and contain or limit damage. They help fund alien vegetation removal and reintroduce indigenous plants. Alien vegetation is a huge threat to local fynbos and unless tackled will wipe out plants than only exist in this region. There is also a program whereby farmers allocate land to breed the almost extinct
Black Oyster Catcher wine
kwagga as well as buffalo and hippo. Read more about this initiative on the Flower Valley Conservation Trust website.

Lunch was hosted at the Black Oyster Catcher restaurant. We were treated to a sumptuous lunch with bottles of Black Oyster Catcher wines which are produced from locally grown grapes in Elim. Read more about them on their
SAN Parks Junior Rangers arrive on a bus
website - www.blackoystercatcher.co.za. Our lunch was a leisurely affair and we took a rain-check on a planned boat trip to Struis Baai (Ostrich Bay). The weather also conspired against us as it had been blustery since the morning. We all took advantage of the gap in the programme and once back at Agulhas National Park either went for a walk or had a rest.

Other activities to consider in the area are: -

  • hiking
  • whale watching
  • birdwatching
  • wine tasting
  • museums - Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp,Heritage Centre in Elim and Lighthouse Museum in L'Agulhas

By supper time we had eaten plenty good food. Most of us had smaller portions and ended up talking
Buffalo breeding initiative
about our country and it's history. More interesting conversation and an early night.

Our last morning we were collected by our trusty bus driver and taken to the actual tip of Africa. We all took snaps of ourselves at the actual spot which marks the tip, and then made
Southern-most tip of Africa
our way to a restaurant in Agulhas where we had a full breakfast. Bellies full and much wiser we made our way back home.

My husband and I travel a fair amount in Europe but we are always bragging about our beautiful home country. I could never refuse an opportunity to enjoy our local spaces, particularly the chance to spend time a wild natural environment. This particular weekend made a big impression on me.

Apart from being able to enjoy an area of such beauty, I left feeling inspired by the genuine desire of the people at SAN Parks to make a
Greenie and husband at the land mark spot
difference. And the love of fellow travelers and journos for South Africa. We shared special places to visit and travel ideas and tips.

To read about other places we have visited, open the Holidays and Trips gallery at the top of this page.

More travel stories soon,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 2

Go back to the start of this blog - on this link.

Sunset from Lagoon House
We had a light lunch after the opening ceremony, then headed back to our chalets for some down-time. My husband and I were allocated a single chalet which was brand spanking new. I had to give the soap dispenser a good few pumps to get it going. The ethos of sustainability is again reflected in the chalets. They are beautifully decorated in natural materials and neutral colours. I absolutely love
Lagoon House
the smell of a thatch roof and wooden decking. Our bed was enormous with  pristine white linen. The chalets are self-catering which is particularly great for us as we are aspirant vegans. However, SAN Parks provided all our meals for this weekend.

SAN Parks charge a room rate which is typically around R900 to R1000 for two people sharing. The rates vary depending on which park you are staying. They charge a nominal rate for extra people or children. If you work out the cost per head, it's affordable. Google -
Inside Lagoon House
www.sanparks.org - and browse their site to see all the parks, check tariffs and availability. You might want to consider a Wild Card, which allows unlimited access to over 80 parks around South Africa, special offers and discounts as well as their newspaper and on-line newsletters.

You might also want to consider subscribing to the SAN
Jean Daneel Wines
Parks Times, a newspaper packed full of beautiful photos and news relating to conservation and  environmental issues. Contact -SANParkstimes@RNAD.co.za for more info.

Around early evening we walked to the
Jean Daneel Wine
Lagoon House for a wine tasting. Lagoon House is a historical Cape Dutch farm house that has been kept intact but refurbished. It's now an 8 sleeper unit a stone's throw from the sea. Because these chalets are in a national park you're not surrounded by concrete and noise. You have nothing more than yourself, plus a few fellow visitors, and the environment as God intended. Peace. Bliss.

A vintner from nearby Napier was given an opportunity to present his wines with cheese and biscuits. We were able to ask questions and sample 5 wines including a 5-star
Turquoise lagoon
wooded Chenin Blanc. Apparently it takes around 1kg grapes for him to make a 750ml bottle of wine. Grapes vary in size, wine grapes are usually smaller than eating grapes. The alcohol content of a wine is largely affected by the region it grows - hotter weather increases the alcohol percentage. Find his wines at www.jdwines.co.za.

Breakfast fruit pancakes
I was impressed that SAN Parks are forging relationships with locals. Not only was the vintner given a chance to showcase his handiwork, but another local lady made our meals for the weekend. We ate well. Very well. After a lovely supper and chatting to other media folk and SAN Parks staff, my other half and I left to walk along a white gravel road - under a full moon - back to our chalet. With no development for miles around the Agulhas National Park, the moon was brighter than I have ever seen her before. We slept like babies in the big bed with the sound of the waves rolling softly in the background.

The following morning we walked back to
Fruit piled onto home made pancakes
Lagoon House for breakfast taking in a few snaps of the turquoise blue lagoon en-route. Brekka was another sumptuous affair. Fruit  piled high on delicious pancakes. My husband and I got a special veggie breakfast with yummy mushrooms. I'm not sure if it was the common interests of the group or if we just had a great group of people. The conversation was always interesting and everyone had something to say - that was worth hearing.

After breakfast we all piled into the bus and drove to the landmark L'Agulhas lighthouse. I regret to say I didn't climb the 71 steps to the
L'Agulhas lighthouse
top and gaze out at the dividing line - 20'E meridian -  where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. I'm scared of heights but my husband ventured up. A delightful local lady gave a talk on when the lighthouse was completed - 1848 - and more about shipwrecks, past occupants, and to quote our lady guide when she ran out of words - blah, blah, blah. I loved how she captured the gist of L'Agulhas as the very tip of Africa. Behind is the rest of Africa, ahead is Antarctica.

We saw a bus which had brought Junior Rangers to the area. This is yet another SAN Parks initiative whereby teenagers visit various national parks. They are taught about local flora and fauna as well orienteering skills. A bit like girl guides or boy scouts. They have regular meetings and graduation programmes.

Part 3 - next week.

More on other travels on - Holidays and Trips - which you find at the top of this page.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 1

My decision to start a travel blog in 2010 has landed us a few perks. The most recent, was an invite
Our bus
by SANParks to stay at the brand new chalets at Agulhas National Park which is the southern-most tip of Africa. The meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

I am unashamedly boastful of our beautiful country and have stayed in various Parks Board accommodations going back to my childhood. South Africa has such diverse countryside. Kwa-Zulu Natal has lush tropical terrain, the Karoo is beautifully bleak and
New chalets Agulhas National Park
silent, the Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and white soft sandy beaches and The Drakensberg (Dragons Mountains) has snow-capped mountain peaks. SAN Parks have affordable places to stay all over South Africa. I could go on and on but this post is about our weekend break at Agulhas.

My laptop accompanies us whenever we travel and I try to write as quickly as possible at the end of a day so I can capture pertinent aspects of a place and key things like prices or distances while they are still fresh in my mind. I'm used to writing about a place as a visitor. This trip was very different as not only was I
Agulhas now has 51 eco chalets
privy to background info but I also got to meet an incredible group of people who work hard to create an awareness of what SAN Parks are trying to achieve. I was more than impressed.

Although I was given an itinerary, I still wasn't entirely sure what to expect. We were offered a lift to the park - about 2.5 hours from Cape Town which we happily accepted. My other half and I took the MyCiti bus from our home in Green Point to the Kloof Nek bus stop
Mayor, park manager and SAN Parks GM cutting the ribbon
near Table Mountain and walked a short distance to the SAN Parks Visitor Centre. We joined SAN Parks staff as well as other media folk and traveled to the Agulhas National Park.

Our group arrived for the launch of the new chalets. We listened to speeches from Reynold Thakhuli the SANParks Media, Events and Stakeholders Relations person, Bulelwa Msengi the park manager as well as the local mayor and Antoinette Van Wyk the GM of Infrastructure and Special Projects. After the talks we watched the mayor and park manager perform a ribbon cutting ceremony. It was interesting to learn that the park has grown from a meagre 4 ha to over 20 000 ha of now
Bathroom
unspoilt land. The project to develop this area is ongoing and SAN Parks have their own projects as well as co-operative ones such as the Flower Valley Conservation Trust.

Agulhas National Park is home to around 2000 plant species as well as now recovering Southern Right Whales, rare birds such as the Black Oyster Catcher, insects and a rich variety of indigenous marine and terrestrial life. SAN Parks focus is to improve tourism, create job opportunities and ensure there are protected areas of natural beauty for indigenous plants and wildlife. They buy land, return it to its
Bedroom
natural state and reintroduce local plants and wildlife. They skill up local residents when building camp sites and create long term employment via tourism. Agulhas received an allocation of R90 million of which they have already spent R45 million. It's wonderful to hear of a government department that works well in South Africa.

And the good news continued. We heard of plans to create more accommodation in the perpetually full Kruger National Park. A person has to book way in advance to get in - but it's worth the wait. Kruger is a magnificent place. I was able to chat about how they are tackling the rhino poaching problem. We only ever hear the huge numbers of rhino that have
Living area
been lost and the situation feels hopeless. But the war is on and SAN Parks are committed to getting on top of the the poaching no matter what it takes. SAN Parks now have recently trained sniffer dogs to accompany soldiers who spend up to 3 days at a time staking out the bush.

Read part 2 - by clicking here.

Read about our travels in various parts of the world by scrolling to the top of this page and finding - Holidays and Trips.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boating in Holland - Final + Boating Tips

Boating in Holland - Final + Boating Tips

Guest cabin
Our goal is to see as much as we can of the inland waterways of Europe. We've been boating in The Netherlands for the last 2 and a 1/2 years. Not the whole time obviously. In winter the canals freeze over, the smaller canals shut down and there are limited bridge opening times.

Also, as a South African, I am limited to a maximum of 90 days per annum.

We planned to explore Holland first since we bought the boat there. My husband and I originally thought we would be in and out of The Netherlands. It's not such a big country after all. How wrong were we? We fell in love with the Dutch people. It's possible we may fall in love with other countries? It's not hard to when a person explores a place from the waterways. You get up close and personal with the people and go to areas other visitors would never see.
Large working barges have right of way

However, if we are ever going to see Belgium, Germany, France, Poland, Denmark, United Kingdom and all the other countries linked to the European waterways - we have to move on.

Hopefully more family, friends and acquaintances will join us. Will we be able to share more of our experiences?

Meanwhile, I thought I would share my boating tips. Hope you find them useful.

Make sure to pack the following: -
  • weatherproof/windproof/waterproof/warm jacket
  • peak hat/sun hat
  • non-slip light coloured sole shoes
  • slip slops for the communal showers 
  • running shoes
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • biodegradable shower gel/shampoo
  • scarfs that double as sarongs
  • cheap gloves for handling the ropes
  • heavy duty bags that double up as laundry bags, toiletry bags, shopping bags etc
  • cash - cards are not accepted in all countries - Netherlands is one of them
  • small change for the showers and water and electricity supply - usually 50c
  • plug adaptors for any gadgets - think mobile phones or tablets
  • comfortable clothes for climbing on and off the boat
  • phrase book or app with the local language
  • consider loading maps.me or similar app on your phone
And for boaters: -
  • maps of the waterways in the area either on-line or hard copies
  • required waterway books
  • your local flag and any other required flags
  • mini binoculars to read signs/buoys/boats on the waterways 
My Top Boating Tips are: -

Traditional Dutch boat under sail
1.    Take gloves. I use cheap gloves from the hardware store. Even if your hands aren't tender. Thick course ropes can shred your skin when you tie up for the night or secure your boat in the locks.

2.    Do try and learn basic phrases in the local language. Most Europeans speak a lot more English than they let on. However you are in THEIR country where they have been speaking their mother tongue for eons. It's only polite to make an effort to speak the local language and not expect them to accommodate you. Besides you will need to buy provisions, read notices or maps and ask questions of the lock keepers and locals.

3.    Pack sun-hats and sunscreen. The sun does shine in Europe. It can get quite hot.

4.    And a warm windbreaker. It also needs to be weatherproof/waterproof. It rains a lot in Europe. It's usually colder on the water than on land.
Dutch cash card machines

5.    It would be wise to have some boat handling skills. And perhaps get to know a few boating terms like cleat, bollard, port, starboard or fender? No formal qualifications are required but a boat can be unpredictable in currents and wind. If the "captain" is speaking in boat-ese, it helps to know what s/he is saying.

6.    Pack light-coloured sole shoes so as not to mark the boat and make sure they are non-slip. Leaping on and off a boat for locks and moorings is required. Make sure your shoes won't be falling off.

Waiting for a bridge to open in Leiden
7.    Bring a cap, top or something to connect you to your home country.We have met expats and made new friends by flying our South African flag.  People greet their fellow countrymen with gusto abroad. And we have made friends when people recognised our flag and shared memories of a trip to South Africa. Or they enquired where we are from. But we have also met locals who love it that we are taking an interest in their country.

8.    Pack running shoes. A walk exploring the town or a run along the tow path is a great way to relax at the end of the day to stretch your legs. Besides you never know how far away the nearest supermarket will be?

9.    It is mostly older and retired people who do these trips and while they aren't strenuous they do require some effort. You will be jumping on and off boats and heaving ropes. You have to walk to the shops.
Bus service in Haarlem

10.     Go easy on the water when on a boat. Most boats come with about 200 litres tanks - which is not a lot. Get into the habit of re-using water for dishes. When showering use the spray to wet yourself. Switch off while you soap to conserve water. And only turn the tap on again when you need to rinse. Save shaving and shampooing for when you are in a marina where they have facilities. We try to use marinas when we have visitors on our boat.

Weather report Lelystad
11.    Learn a few basic knots. Fenders have to be moved up and down depending on the mooring. A Clove Hitch, Round Turn and Two Half Hitches are a good place to start. And it helps to know how to make a figure of 8 on a cleat to secure the boat so it doesn't float away.

12.    Boating is NOT glamorous. Pack comfortable clothes that you can move in and make sure you don't mind if they get a bit grubby. Your clothes will be washed in a communal facility. You are going to be using basic facilities in a communal ablution block.

Essential guide books



For more on other places we have visited, go to the top of this page and open - My Holidays and Trips.

I will be back soon.

Greenie.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Boating in Holland - Part 7

Boating in Holland

Haarlem
Click here - to go to the start of this journey.

The following day the weather improved slightly. Since we hadn't seen much of Haarlem we decided to stay on and do the walking tour together.

The walk is supposed to be 90 mins. We took a 30 minute lunch break and yet somehow managed to drag the walk out to 3 hours. Lunch was at a cute vintage style cafe called In Den Gevulde Broodmand Tea Salon.

We had belegde broodjies which are filled slices of bread. And coffees. Very, very nice. Our walk included historical old buildings but also streets where residents had planted lots of greenery. Our map got drenched with all the rain.
Lunch stop in Haarlem

Back at the boat we freshened up and ate supper, then walked back up to the main square to watch the Netherlands vs Argentina game in the Soccer World Cup quarter finals. I really, really wanted Holland to win. I so badly wanted to be part of the winning celebrations. The Dutch sure know how to party. We had been following the games and invested so much interest in this tournament.

The game was yet another goal-less draw. And yet another round of play either way. Again no result. At penalty shoot out the Dutch goalie let in two balls. That was it for the Dutch team! I wanted to cry. Everyone filed out of the pub and walked silently. I saw people crying. It was so, so sad.

The weather had now turned hot. Amazing how we can be in winter woolies one day, and dying of heat the next. Our destination was Amsterdam. A busy port and a bustling city. With two extra folk on board I could relax a bit. It's nice to
Six Haven Amsterdam
have other people enjoy this experience with us. We see things through their eyes and share what we have learned about the Netherlands. We went via Noorszee Kanal through Spaarndam Sluis. Lots of big barges and marine traffic on this route.

Amsterdam has a couple of marinas but the one everyone mentioned was Six Haven. So we went there. It's right opposite Amsterdam Centraal Station. Crossing over the channel with so much big boat activity was a bit nerve wracking but we have a great captain. Six Haven has box berths. A
Box style berths
really tight squeeze. The extra hands on deck were most welcome. Access on and off the boat was over bow - which requires some dexterity. After lunch we had a relaxing afternoon. Some of us slept off the late night before.

We decided to go into Amsterdam and have a drink in Damrak. We donned our glad rags and took the free ferry across. We've seen so much of The Netherlands now that we can make comparisons. Damrak is at the very heart of Amsterdam's tourist area. It's heaving with humans and to be honest, not a true reflection of how people live in The Netherlands.

If only visitors knew that a mere 20 minutes from where they are, it's much quieter, friendlier and way more authentic. My advice
Sunset on the River Ij Amsterdam
after all this time in Holland is get out of Amsterdam and go to Haarlem, Edam, Gouda or Delft. Public transport in Holland is excellent.

After our drinks we stopped at the supermarket - Albert Heijn - and bought items to make a BBQ (or braai as South Africans call it). Back on the boat we got the BBQ fired up and had a very late meal. And wine.

We left all the portholes and hatches open to allow cool air to flow in as it was hot - but also humid. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with water falling on my face. A massive thunderstorm had come up and rain was pouring in via the hatch above our bed. My other
Broek aan de Waterland
half scrambled to close all the porthole windows and the hatches in the dark. He came back inside dripping wet. Bold flashes of lightning and thunder ensued and then as quickly as it started, it was over.

Edam was our next port of call. The amenities at Six Haven were OK. We all spruced up, got ourselves dressed and ready to make an early start. Breakfast was an en-route affair. We decided to travel along the scenic inland route to Edam as opposed to going via the Markemeer. Our boat passed through Broek aan de Waterland
Broek aan de Waterland
where I could easily live. It's a narrow waterway with lilies and loads of boho homes.

A person has to be wide awake and know to look out for wire operated ferries. The last thing a person wants is to get tangled in the personal wire operated boats. We expected the route to Monnickendam would narrow and shallow. But not THAT shallow. At times the echo sounder showed NO space beneath us. We heard the boat touch the bottom of the canal a good few times. We also lost time as we had to wait for dredging vessels to move so we could pass them.

We got to Grafelijkheid Sluis. Have I mentioned
All navigation gear and awnings down
my partner is a planner de luxe? He had planned this trip - months in advance. The mandatory Dutch charts showed the lock first and THEN the bridge at 3.9m. Our boat is 4.8m at full height. Minus the radar arch we get to 3.65 which should have been fine.

What we discovered as we got there is the bridge is right over the lock. And the lock goes up! I guess I thought a lock keeper would be around to manage the situation. Or even check all was OK before going ahead. But no.

The lock closed behind us. The water level started rising. Right under the bridge! We only had 30cm to spare. Our boat was about to get crushed. The awnings had to be dropped in seconds.
Connecting to shore power in Haarlem
Oh, and we had to also hold onto the ropes to stop the boat crashing as the water rushed into the lock. Mega stress! But we got it right.

Thank God we had extra people on board helping. I could not have done it alone with Patrick.

For more on other places we have visited, go to the top of this page and open - My Holidays and Trips.

I will be back soon.

Greenie.