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.

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)

Can it get any more beautiful …

An early morning cruise to Preko took us cycling through to Tkon. An easy cruising ride leaving the port of Preko, serenaded by the sound of what seemed like local opera, made you want to stay just for a while and enjoy a cup of coffee with the locals.

The views were once again magnificent as you crossed from one island to the other. Our coffee stop gave us the opportunity to explore the nearby church – what seems to be a prominent fixture in almost every town we visit. Croats are a deeply religious people and suffered terrible under Tito’s rule when he discouraged outward displays of religion as part of his effort to meld the ethnic identities – no surprise therefore that they lost no time publicly celebrating their Catholic faith when the country declared independence. Amazingly all the churches have a very similar design. It’s almost like ‘Ground Hog Day’ every time I take a photo.

Back on the cruising trail we stopped off in the middle of nowhere to enjoy the cool waters of the Adriatic Sea. Always so refreshing. And then on to explore the simple quiet island of Zlarin. A much quieter town, we strolled through to the top, picking fruit along the way – figs and grapes – the sweetest I’ve tasted in a long time.

To end off the day, we joined the locals in watching the sun set, with the now expected cool breeze to set the mood.

Waking to another beautiful day …

There’s nothing like waking up to the soft movement of water, a cool gentle breeze and the vision of boats sleeping on the water. What a delight this morning. I took the opportunity to explore a bit more of the trails, in the quiet moments of the early morning. Peace, peace and more peace.

The cycle course today took us through the undulating hills from Sali to Savar. Beautiful vistas of the mesmerizing blue sea, a glimpse of the fish farming industry and the early turn of leaves announcing the beginning of Autumn.

Savar was a delight – the peace and quiet of this small quaint town, very welcoming, allowing us a swim in its very cool waters, leaving us to our whim and fancy.

By contrast, we sailed to Zadar to rest for the night, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Croatia. Filled with wanderers, all making their way to the sea front to share the delight that is their sunset. The story goes that, to facilitate the improvement to the reconstruction done to repair the sea front after its devastation during the Second World War, a competition amongst architects for the most original design was created. This resulted in the construction of sea organs, concealed tubes and a resonating cavity that turns the site into a large musical instrument. The waves interact with the organ to create ramdom harmonic sounds.

That coupled with the sunset, proved to be a peaceful relaxing end to another perfect day.

Sailing the Croatian islands

What a busy, beautiful day. Cycling from Vodice to Murter, through small villages filled with sunbathers of all ages enjoying the warm rays of the sun, while others braved the very crispy waters of the Adriatic Sea. Campers, locals visiting for the day and the adventurers – like us – cycling through slowly and intently, observing, smiling, enjoying the ride.

Back on the boat for lunch, we sailed through the archipelago of Kornati National Park – a stark contrast to the opposing islands that were covered with trees. The Kornati National Park comprises 109 islands of which 76 are less than 1 hectare in size. It is believed that the islands were once covered with lush Mediterranean forests but were plundered for their wood to construct much needed ships for war. And to this day they have not recovered.

We anchored on the peaceful island of Dugi Otok, one of the safest natural bays in the Adriatic – just a couple of sailing boats resting across the bay. This island is home to the Telascica Nature Park which houses the Salt Lake ‘Mir’, home to the endemic specie of eel call the ‘Kajman’.

We hiked the mountain to take in the views of the cliffs ‘Stene’ rising up 200m over the sea and ended the day with a swim and quiet evening meal.


Excitement …

First Cruise, first bike and cruise. First visit to eastern Europe, first visit to C R O A T I A. Enough firsts to warrant excitement, I would reckon.

Another first – we made no major prior investigations as to what to expect, which islands we were visiting, local beverage, which wine to drink, what food to make sure we eat, not even trying to learn how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’ – which by the way is “Koala” and “Bok” (spelling?)

Still excited, we arrived in Split, at night, immediately making our way to the old city of Trogir after checking into our very posh Apartmani – ‘Hmm”, we nodded “not bad at all”. After all, not much thought went into any preparations – not even accommodation.

Trogir, whose culture was created under the influence of the ancient Greeks and afterwards the Romans and Venetians, was named by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1997. It has survived nicely through the different architectural inputs and if you close your eyes you can easily be transported back to ancient times.

Now however, it was buzzing with activity. People everywhere. Restaurants full. Bars even fuller. Glasses clinking, laughter, chatter. Excitement building. The narrow streets teeming with people of all ages and nationalities, meandering, peering into each shop, heading to any where. Enjoying the moment.

We joined the movement. Scouring every corner, every building, unwittingly following the rhythmic music in the background and soon, without warning, stumbled upon pure merriment. People dancing, a live band playing – and, naturally, we joined in.

Traveling to the middle of nowhere…

Leaving Pucon by bus and traveling to the outskirts of Melipeuco, a small town and commune located at the foot of the Andes, in the Araucaria region, we cycled through the beautiful countryside lined with pine trees, small farms with sheep and cattle and enjoyed our lunch shaded from the hot midday sun.

Moving on to our final destination through the Parque Nacional Conguillio, we traversed the corrugated gravel roads, lined with lava rocks, remnants of the last eruption of volcano Llaima in 1927, where nothing has grown since, a distinct contrast to the lush green of the vegetation before. Aided by the gentle breeze we endured the long uphill climb always with a view of the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance and the Rio Verde on our right, giving hope of life, colour and always that sense of tranquility.

Finally arriving at our accommodation for the night situated in the middle of the Araucaria forest.The Araucaria (affectionately called the monkey puzzle tree) is an evergreen tree growing to 1.5m in diameter and 40m high and because of the longevity of this species – approximately 1000 years – it is described as a living fossil. It is naturally the national tree of Chile.

Quite simply then, our log cabins, located in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, afforded us an eco style environment – peaceful, enchanting, surrounded by these wonderful trees. We spent the evening basking in the silence and beauty of one of the most renowned national parks in Chile.

Exploring Ruka Pillan…

The story is told that when the spirits in the Ruka Pillan become angry anything from spewing lava, to massive rumblings and even a volcanic eruption can take place. None the less, we donned our winter gear and hiking boots, packed my camera and marched up that snow capped mountain – zig zagging, stopping only to refresh ourselves with small rations of food and water – slowly, step by step, breathing heavily as we reached the top – 2847m. At this point our fearless leader instructed us to drop our back packs and tools – “You’ll need only your camera and gas mask”, he warned.

Quite an ominous instruction. We obeyed in silence, and eagerly, but cautiously, climbed the last remaining steps to the most amazing view of the still active Villarrica Volcano in Pucon, Chile. Villarrica, is one of a small number of volcanoes worldwide, known to have an active lava lake within its crater.

Perched on top of the volcano we surveyed the views. We congratulated ourselves on our triumphant ascent as we reviewed the steep and treacherous trek. We had climbed and conquered the Ruka Pillan.

Then the concern set in – our impending descent. Once again we received an instruction to put on all our gear and follow our leader. Hesitantly we followed him to the edge of the mountain, fearful of what was to happen next. We sat in position and slid down on our plastic bib as instructed.

And oh my what an experience. Like children we screamed in delight as we descended luge style, swerving through the snow, crashing into each other at the end of the man made snow tracks – getting up and starting again. Smiles on our faces, glee in our hearts.

A most exhilarating experience and one I’d recommend to the strong of heart and the child at heart.