Fall-ing in love with Nova Scotia …

Not having had the pleasure of living in North America, coupled with my hobby as an amateur photographer, I’ve been longing to witness the splendour that is Autumn – the ‘changing of the leaves’ as it is fondly called. Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I expect this to be one of my most gratifying bucket-list adventures.

A big thank you to family and friends who willingly took the time to show us (my husband and I) around the sites of Nova Scotia – from the coastal views to the highland mountains of Cape Breton. From hiking trails in Minas Bay – Bay of Fundy, where we ventured off the beaten path to hidden beaches and feasted on wild blackberries, to cycling in St. Margaret’s Bay through paths shrouded in Maple and Pine trees, covered in Autumn leaves. Stopping at my whim and fancy to capture what I can only describe as Mother Nature at her very best. I am eternally grateful to their generosity of heart and spirit, time and friendship and, of course, love of adventure.

I’ve been summoned to return in the summer to experience another facet of Mother Nature’s exquisite artwork, but I know deep down in my heart that she has shown me her best. It can never be the same – hmmm… or can it …

See for yourself…

Enjoying the beauty that is Cape Town…

Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. Like Sydney (which captured my heart a few years ago), its location on the coast affords the city amazing views, great opportunities for outdoor activities, and, as you can imagine breath-taking sunsets. Both night and day its seafront restaurants and commercial centre are bustling with activity, and at night the local budding artistes serenade you with sounds of African music, reminding you that you are indeed in South Africa. In stark contrast to Johannesburg, Cape Town isn’t typical of what you would imagine to be South Africa.

We explored the city and its surroundings in just three short days, revelling in the first instance in the scenic drive to Cape Point. Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park. And as you drive along the western coast from Cape Town, you are greeted time and time again with beautiful valleys, bays and beaches. You find yourself stopping more frequently than planned just to gasp for a moment at the beauty of the rugged coastline and the flora and fauna that surrounds.

On the return drive up the eastern coast, the coastline and small, busy villages, tempted us to stop and relax at one of the seafront restaurants, to enjoy the local cuisine, with the sun setting at your back and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore line.

Up next – our visit to Table Mountain, possibly the world’s oldest mountain, which was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011. Looking up at the mountain from the town below, you would never imagine the scope of walking and jogging trails, viewing points, wild flowers. Table Mountain is many things to many people. To Capetonians, in particular, it is the geological and spiritual heart of the city, and it’s easy to see why.

The vistas from atop are mind boggling and probably some of the most captured views in the world. We witnessed many a form and fashion of picture-taking. From selfies, to dare devil stunts at the edge of rocks, all trying to create the most exciting pose on what seemed like the top of the world.

And, my favourite part – the end of any given day in Cape Town. We drove to a vantage point on Signal Hill and sat quietly as we watched couples, friends, families arrive one by one, with their picnic baskets, to witness one of Cape Town’s most spectacular events – their daily sunset.

We were entertained by the para-gliders who carefully attached their victims and ran off the mountain sailing, peacefully to the beach below. Not more than a 10-minute flight, but one which provided a wonderful thrill for all who sat there waiting for the day to end in all its glory.

And glory it was. Wine glasses clinked, birthday cakes were cut, hugs and kisses exchanged, selfies galore – all in celebration of one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.

Yup. Cape Town. A beautiful city. Not to be missed.

Meeting Her Majesty…

And there she stood – elegant, poised, sensitive to my presence. Maybe a bit wary of my intentions. Nonetheless, she always maintained her composure and, turning away ever so gently, would walk slowly at first and then gallop away with her young ones to a more secluded spot where she could continue to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this, her nature reserve.

Her majesty, the Giraffe. I encountered her several times while cycling through the Mkhaya and Mbuluzi nature reserves. Sometimes in the distance. Sometimes on our path. At all times, her majestic presence left me in awe of this wonderful creature.

I remember searching through the trails looking for her, taking little notice of the herds of nyalas and warthogs and pods of hippos. I gasped. She just stood there, as if to say “Me? Looking for me?” I smiled. And almost with a gentle bow, I replied, “Yes. I’m looking for you.”

She never disappointed. Was always gracious. And each time I stumbled upon her, I gasped silently. Always happy to see her. Always honoured to have made her acquaintance.

My game reserve experience…

Excited. Anxious. Cautious. Just a few of my emotions as we boarded the open truck and ventured through the wild tracks of my very first game reserve experience.

We will see hippos, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests, lions, elephants, zebras – what’s your preference? – announced our guide. Well, all……

And as we ambled through the rocky terrain, the animals seemed to appear one by one, as if on queue. Some close by, others in the distance. Some lazing in their favourite waterhole, others scampering away as we approached. Few staring curiously, others not even phased by our existence.

 

At all times however, our guide taking us carefully through the reserve, stopping at certain vantage points, allowing us time to experience the closeness of these wild animals.

At times we understood that we were not very welcome. An uncanny feeling when you venture on foot towards a mother and baby rhino and discover that you are now surrounded by three large female rhinos whose instinct is to protect their young. So what do you do? Carefully, slowly retreat. Retreat. Retreat. And there and then you understand fully that you are not in charge. You understand the power of the ‘village raising the child’ and wonder when we humans lost this instinct to protect each other so fiercely. Or have we?

It was encouraging to see other families of giraffes, warthogs, nyalas, impalas – an indication that these reserves are indeed successful in keeping these species alive.

Cycling through the Nature Reserves…

Cycling through the stony trails of the Milwanee, Mikaya and Mbuluzi Nature Reserves, gives you not only an exhilarating work-out manoeuvring the undulating terrain, but a closer look at the wild animals living there. Hmmmm… I keep saying ‘wild’, but in essence these ‘wild’ animals exuded nothing but peace. They went about their business as if we were not there – for the most part anyway.

They allowed us to traverse their territory once we respected their space, respected their needs. And that’s fair enough. At no time did we feel threatened. Quite the opposite. We felt grateful that we could get a glimpse of their daily lifestyle. And to be honest, it seemed to be pretty much one of leisure. Grazing, laying in the shade, glancing at us only briefly just to acknowledge our existence, I imagine – then continuing on as if we were not there.

Before I left on this vacation, my eldest brother, out of concern for my safety of course, mentioned simply that I didn’t need to be the fastest cyclist, just not the slowest on the trail. At no time however did I feel threatened cycling through the vast open spaces, or sometimes scary single-track paths.

The journey was exhilarating and challenging to say the least. All the while though, giving me a great sense of accomplishment, peace and oneness with nature.

The future of Soweto

I wanted by all means to visit Soweto. Apart from the saga that was Apartheid, Soweto (South Western Township) was one of the few other identifiable historical aspects that piqued my interest when we decided to visit South Africa.

What I learned during our visit to the Apartheid Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum, prior to driving through Soweto, prepared me only slightly for the emotions that would haunt me in the days to follow. The images of wealth vs poverty, and the sheer delight, wonder and innocence in the eyes of the children, continue to flash across my mind.

Soweto in itself is a world full of opposites and surprises – where different classes survive as neighbours with the rich neighbourhood seamlessly transitioning to the middle class neighbourhood. Yet the high level of poorer inhabitants dispels your hope for a better Soweto. A world where you smile at the progress and at the same time are saddened by the fact that not all persons have benefitted from the efforts at rehabilitation.

A world where you can only imagine the inhabitants to be depressed and hopeless at the apparent lack of support from the outside world to ensure their bright future. Yet the people are full of pride. They are a people with a vision. They are gracious, grateful, warm and hopeful. They are a people whose positivity you hold onto as this can only augur well for the fulfilment of their own bright future.

And yet, I left with a heavy heart, even more aware of the inequality that surrounds us, but with a strong admiration for the strength and perseverance of the Sowetans.

Africa – the birthplace of humankind

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site is an area of outstanding universal value. Its complex of fossil-bearing caves contains an amazing record of the stages in the evolution of humankind over the past 4-million years. It is rich in research – its visual and engaging exhibitions expose you to the world’s most prolific displays of our lineage.

It puts perspective on your ancestry. You wonder no more where you came from, how you evolved, the why’s regarding the physical differences from one part of the world to another. It makes you ashamed of the way we ostracise and treat one another with very little regard.

It also leaves you questioning the modern human’s contribution to the future of the world and to its own preservation. And, quite naturally, you ask yourself – ‘When will we stop, think and consciously make a positive impact on the world in which we live, a world which we will commit to preserving for many generations to come. For it seems that the more we explore and create, the more we destroy.

Pics taken in and around the cradle of Humankind

 

Jo’burg – and off we go…

No sooner did we land – after 2 days of travel (ok with a 6-hour time lapse – so maybe a day and a half) but still after a 15-hour flight from Atlanta, I was given a brief night’s sleep and hauled off at early o’clock to hike the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve.

Note to self, this is a vacation, not a holiday – there is a difference. Nonetheless, time is too short to complain – and when next will I be back in South Africa? Unless my last single son decides to marry there – maybe never. So just do it!

But what a lovely way to start a holiday, sorry vacation – fraternising with the natives, learning how to enjoy Jo’burg, sweating off the stresses of life (in a lovely temperature of 24 degrees C), traversing the rugged terrain of the famous Melville Koppies Nature Reserve.

Melville Koppies is a Nature Reserve and a Johannesburg City Heritage Site. It is the last conserved remnant of Johannesburg’s ridges as they were before the discovery of gold in 1886. Its geology goes back three billion years. Stone tools show that Early Stone Age man camped here as long as 500,000 years ago. Within the last 1,000 years Iron Age immigrants arrived, and remains of their kraal walls can be found on the northern slopes.

The vegetation of the Koppies is entirely indigenous and is a remarkable example of the richness of highveld grasses, flowers, and trees so close to a city centre. These ridges have looked like this for hundreds of years. Unfortunately (or not) for us, we encountered this terrain at the end of winter… still an impressive site in the middle of the vast, modern city of Johannesburg.

And life goes on …

When you are on holiday, you tend to dismiss the fact that people actually live in the places you visit. And when you do notice that these idyllic places are inhabited, you then wonder what their lives must be like. Where do they live? What do they do in their spare time?

Wondering through Rogoznica it was clear that life was being lived. Meeting up with friends for a drink. Taking the kids to the beach. Fishing on the rocks. Singing to your heart’s content, without a care in world – as I stumbled upon this little boy serenading his dad. Such a pleasure, indeed, to be reminded that people are the same everywhere, well all things being equal at least.

And as I ended my visit to the northern Dalmatian coast of Croatia, the island of Rogoznica, its simplicity, its serenity and its beauty remain imprinted indelibly on my mind.
(another Saddle Skeddadle journey)

And finally a rest day …

From cycling that is. The beauty and relaxation still full on.

The KrKa National Park is characterized by exceptionally rich and varied flora and fauna. It is home to an amazing waterfall, beautiful walk paths and peaceful views. While we took the ferry up to the waterfall, we decided to return to the town of Skradin on foot – just to keep up the exercise I suppose. But it also gave us the opportunity to enjoy the views missed on the way up.

We ended our day on the beautiful island of Sibenik. Unlike other cities along the Adriatic coast, which were established by Greeks, Illyrians and Romans, Šibenik was founded by Croats and as such has been fiercely defended by them during the many wars that ensued.

Its reconstruction after the final battle in August 1995 is testament to a people proud of their island, proud of their achievements, proud of their history.

(another Saddle Skeddadly journey)