Terrific bushveld breakaway

I went with a friend to Mabalingwe Nature Reserve for the weekend and what a fabulous getaway. We took leave on Friday and drove the easy, just over two hour drive to Mabalingwe in Limpopo Province, 32km west of Bela-Bela. We arrived in Bela-Bela and stopped at the Pick n Pay for some groceries and at the Biltong Inn for biltong where I also interestingly got rose pedal jam. We had lunch at the Strawberry Khaya which is on the way to Mabalingwe. It is the cutest tea garden where you can sit outside and the tables have games such as Monopoly, 30 seconds, Scrabble, etc if you are in the mood. I had a mince and cheese vetkoek and the food is not great but it is such a cute place that you are willing to forgive them.

We stayed at a chalet at the Ingwe camp that can sleep six people with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a loft. It has a fabulous big stoep with build-in braai where you can sit and watch some of the animals walk right by. On Friday evening we experienced the longest electrical storm where the sky would just light up with lightning. After probably four to five hours there was some rain but the electricity went out intermittently until there was none and with only a crescent moon it was pitch black. It was very late when there was suddenly a lot of commotion with bakkies with their hazards on flying past. It was only the next day that we learned that the veld was set alight, probably by the lightning and people were trying to get the fire under control which they only managed to fully extinguish by late Sunday afternoon.

Although the reserve hosts the big five, we only saw the buffalo but we had such beautiful days with special and fun moments filled with stunning sunrises and sunsets that it didn’t matter. We saw a few different buck species, hippo, birds and even a snake crossing the road. On Saturday morning we had fun car rally moments while skidding through the mud due to the rain from the previous evening and us driving in a normal car and not a 4×4. In the evening we decided to have dinner at the pub only to find out the pub stops serving food at five and the restaurant had venison on their menu which we don’t eat. By the time we decided to have a braai and buy meat and charcoal from the farm stall it was closed as well and we had to settle on the buffet at the restaurant or yet another samie at home. The specialty dish for the evening was crocodile with head and feet on display. We could barely eat the few chicken pieces from a very dreadful chicken dish after sawing that. The restaurant’s buffet was horribly overpriced and really appalling but the pub lunch on Sunday was good. It was a fabulous weekend and I could have done with a few extra days but after my USA trip in August I have almost no leave left and it is always good to end a holiday on a high note. What a great weekend!

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Adventure at Harties/Hartbeespoort dam

I had a great day today. My friend and I decided to go to Harties for the day. We started at Jasmyn which is a big farm stall that sells fresh local produce from the farmers. There was a flea market outside with things sold by the locals. We had lunch at the Windmill Restaurant which is a great restaurant inside a big Dutch style windmill building. We sat outside and what was great was that they had a buzzer to either call your waiter, ask for the bill or call the manager so all the waiters walk around with watches that vibrate and let them know when service is required and at which table – not that it was necessary. The service was great and even the manager came around a few times.

The Windmill Restaurant at Jasmyn

Jasmyn is a treat. I don’t know who came first, them or The Food lovers Market but both are great in terms of the variety of fresh produce they sell. Jasmyn has a bookstore inside on the second floor. The gardens outside are beautiful and especially colourful after the first spring rains with the flowers in bloom. There are little trails to walk around in the garden or have a picnic.

When we left we decided to go around the dam as we wanted to go through the tunnel – a must every time one goes to the dam. On our way, we drove past the Harties cableway and decided that we would probably get a beautiful view from on top so it was time for us to explore the world from up high.I am not particularly fond of heights and I don’t think my friend realised quite how uncomfortable I was with them until she saw me all sweaty and pale but we made it without incident and it is so worth it.

Harties cableway

The view is spectacular! There is a restaurant, shop, Lookout Bar and lots of different trails to go for a walk around. There was a guy singing and some people were dancing on the lookout deck – just fabulous. They fail to warn you of the little drop going down so I don’t know who screamed the loudest, me or some other (also scared) guy in the cart but we had a great laugh after that. We drove through the tunnel and crossed the dam wall where they had the sluices open.

It was a beautiful and memorable day which ended with some rain when we got home followed by the most beautiful rainbow and vivid colours.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

My friend and I decided to have lunch at Die Ou Pastorie in Skeerpoort, Magaliesberg and what a wonderful, relaxing day it turned out to be. Die Ou Pastorie (Afrikaans for The Old Parsonage or pastor house) serves a fabulous Sunday buffet consisting of traditional Italian and South African cuisine. You can sit inside the old house dating back to the 1880s, outside on the stoep or in the magnificent garden. We arrived early and had coffee in the garden under beautiful big trees. Lunch was a flavoursome and beautiful meal where some of the highlights for me were the pumpkin brulee with crunchy dark brown sugar crystals on top and the golabki (mince and rice cabbage rolls). After lunch we walked in the gardens before heading off to Tangaroa farm not far from there for some strawberry picking.

It is spring time and strawberry season so this has been on my To Do List for some time. We arrived after 16:00 and they were actually closed already but we asked if we could have 20 minutes seeing that we were there already and not likely to just drive out for the day again. I can’t remember the last time I picked strawberries but I think it was in Knysna in the Western Cape. I was expecting beautiful, juicy big red strawberries that you get at Woolworths or that I once bought in Soho, London. We didn’t quite get that. In fact I think you needed a strawberry detector, if ever there was such a thing, as there were very few small ones left. We were warned that we should probably walk to the end and look at the outskirts but even there you could only find some small ones. We just had a fat laugh and walked the field, enjoying nature. You can eat as much as you want but as you walked the fields you got the smell of fertiliser and I wasn’t going to put anything in my mouth that wasn’t properly washed first so I cannot tell you what they taste like. The farm is still beautiful and has a stunning dam where you can have a picnic so it may still be worth it to have a picnic there but the strawberries, well maybe your money is better spent buying some from Woolworths 🙂

Clarens, Free State, Day 3

We got up early as we planned to go to Fouriesburg at 8:00 (about ½ hour from Clarens) and maybe just across the border to Butha-Buthe in Lesotho having packed our passports. In the end we thought it may be too much of a push as we did not want to arrive home after dark so we decided to rather spend the morning in Clarens and save the rest for another visit. We had breakfast at XLNT and sat outside on the deck overlooking extreme sport activities such as paint ball, rock climbing, archery and zip line (which is like old school foefie slide but with two lines). We were tempted to do paint ball as we have never done it but were chicken in the end – eish!

I did some more shopping and we drove around town taking pictures before leaving just before 13:00. We thought we would go explore Bethlehem but that was a very disappointing town that didn’t really have anything to offer and all the shops were closed due to it being a Sunday so we could not even get some coffee at a coffee shop so we decided to just go home. We got back to Joburg just before 17:00 but what a great weekend. It was just too short. Clarens is really a very charming town that has something to offer everyone.

 

Clarens, Free State, Day 2

Yesterday started with breakfast at The Artist’s Café. They have a great variety of things to choose for breakfast and serve traditional breakfast like mealie pap with milk, sugar and butter or coffee with rusks, a boere breakfast consisting of pap and gravy, boerewors, bacon, eggs and toast or muesli, yogurt and fresh fruit.

The picturesque town of Clarens is in the Free State and has about 7000 people. The town is surrounded by the beautiful Rooiberge (mountain range) consisting of sandstone with rock formations such as The Titanic and Mushroom. It was founded in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank.

It has a lively artist community and most of the attractions are located down Main Street or around the town square. There are various art galleries, shops, restaurants and even a brewery. Clarens is also famous for trout fishing and adventure or outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, cycling, horse riding, white river rafting and game drives to name a few. The Golden Gate National Park is also nearby and offers beautiful scenic drives.

We spent the day exploring the many shops and art galleries. We had beer tasting at the brewery and then each tried one of the micro brewery beers. In the afternoon we drove out to visit the Clarens Castle which is a self-catering guesthouse transformed into the fantasy story of Rapunzel, tower and all. There were guests so we could not get a close view. We drove up the Maluti Mountain to Bokpoort and stopped at De Ark mountain lodge for a drink. It seems the owners were out for the afternoon so they left the bar open to the residents based on an honouring system. There were some of the people sitting by the pool and they offered us some drinks. We sat enjoying the spectacular view which was so peaceful and quiet before heading off in search of The Titanic and we managed to find the Mushroom as well.

 

We watched sunset from the balcony of our unit and decided to have a little rest before dinner at The Crouse and Claret where I had a very tasty but extremely hot beef curry with poppadom and yellow rice. I had to have a milkshake to ensure I did not self-combust but it was still delicious. That was the end of a beautiful day!

Clarens, Free State, Day 1

We left Johannesburg at 15:00 on Friday and were ready for a fun packed impulsive weekend at Clarens. We got on the highway and saw the toll sign (totally forgotten about toll fees) and realised we had no garage card and didn’t think either of us had any cash. I almost never carry any cash on me and although I usually have R50 in the car for an emergency, I took everything out in the morning as I needed to take my car to the dealership to fix the ABS sensor before we left. By chance we found a single R100 note in my purse – sigh!

We had a quick stop in Frankfort to stretch legs and explore the main street. We bought some goodies and cooldrinks from Ouma Maggi’s home industry store and took a few photos of the Voortrekker Garden and old church before setting off to Clarens. I never know how to greet Afrikaans people in small towns. Having lived in one when I was very young it was okay to address anyone as oom (uncle) or tannie (aunty) but living in a very English Johannesburg this is reserved for family, close friends and maybe their family but before I could help it, it was “Middag tannie” (ie. good afternoon aunty). It seems she didn’t mind.

 

We needed to pick up the key to our accommodation at a restaurant because we arrived after hours, but we couldn’t remember the name and as it turns out we never printed the email confirmation nor could we find the email on the iPad.  Luckily we remembered it was on the Square and started with a V. We arrived just after 19:00 and collected the key at Vito’s restaurant where we enjoyed dinner before going to find the place we booked.

 

We arrived at our unit which was way up on the mountain and surrounded in darkness. You park the car at the top and then walk down the stairs to the door but the outside light was broken so we only had the light of the iPad guiding us which was dismal. I saw something jump in front of us and the next moment I saw the iPad flying which gave me a fright and I screamed like a teenage girl only to find out my friend accidentally dropped the iPad having not seen the jumping frog (it turns out) which nearly gets killed in the ordeal. It was the beginning of a fun weekend.

Rooi granaat, Loxton

I was totally shocked yesterday when my cousin sent me a message from Rooi granaat (Red pomegranate)  and I had to ask her what she was on about. It is a restaurant in Loxton and what surprised me even more was that I didn’t know where it was. I have toured SA extensively and have been trough most towns, even the one horse towns. Loxton is in the Upper-Karoo and even scarier is that I lived in the Karoo for several years growing up so how I missed it is a mystery. I Googled it and decided to put it on my list of things to see in SA.