Bali Daze – Drop of Faith

Words and photographs by Gero Lilleike (unless otherwise stated)

Bali Daze

My phone rings to the tune of Rancid’s Time Bomb and I can’t help but turn the volume up full blast and let it ring, leaving Ross hanging on the other end. As the song reaches its climax, I answer. We exchange pleasantries and the conversation quickly shifts to surf and travel. Out of nowhere, Ross drops the Bali bomb on me.

“Dude, let’s go to Bali” he says.

Neurons fire in my brain as images of warm, hollow and perfectly peeling waves consume me. Surfers standing tall in gaping barrels, bronze flesh, cold Bintangs, golden sunsets, palm trees, paradise — the dream.

The Bukit Peninsula offers consistent swell with warm, perfect waves on offer. Photo - Gero Lilleike
The dream – perfect waves that roll in endlessly from the deep. Photo: Gero Lilleike

A surf trip to Bali crosses every surfer’s path at some point and out of pure desperation to escape the daily grind, I submit to the inevitable.

“I’m in, let’s do it”, I respond. Days later and with more research under the belt, common sense and doubt started gnawing away at the dream.

Uluwatu offers up another dream ride. Photo - Gero Lilleike
Bali has some of the best surf breaks in the world. The waves are fast and the reef is sharp, beware! Photo: Gero Lilleike

‘We can’t surf these waves. Our surfing is not on that level yet, we aren’t good enough,’ I think to myself.

How on earth will two average and occasionally kooky Joburg-bred surfers cope at breaks such as Padang Padang, Impossibles, Bingin, or heaven forbid, the legendary walls of Uluwatu or Keramas for that matter? These are some of the best breaks on the planet, right? It felt like we were way in over our heads on this one.

With flights and accommodation booked, there was no turning back. The Island of the Gods had us firmly in its grasp.

My wife, Maree, joined us for the adventure while our friend and colleague, Andrew, decided to come along at the last minute. Our crew was complete

Gero Lilleike strikes a pose in a rural village on Nusa Lembongan. Photo - Ross McIlroy
Things to do in Bali? Explore, surf, love and ride old rusty bicycles… Photo: Ross McIlroy

We set off with the goal of exploring the now popularised, wave-rich Bukit Peninsula, using Bingin as our base for 5 days before heading up Bali’s east coast to surf the renowned right-hander at Keramas for the remainder of our 10-day surf bonanza.

The stifling heat and sticky humidity hit us square as we stepped off the plane at Ngurah Rai International Airport. Balinese security thought Andrew to be a fine African drug mule and proceeded to search every nook and cranny of his body and luggage. They even caressed his hair in awe, they’d probably never seen a pale drug mule from Africa before.  

Bingin lights up at sunrise. Photo - Gero Lilleike

Andrew survived the rubber glove and soon we found ourselves in the throngs of Bali traffic with trucks and scooters expertly weaving through the congested streets. We arrived at our private villa in Bingin later that afternoon, frothing for a surf. With skegs in and wax on, we made our way down the steep steps to the beach where countless warungs and guesthouses lie tucked against the plush hillside, providing stunning views of the glistening incoming surf.

Bingin at sunset. Photo - Andrew Crawford
First surf in Bali with the sun setting at Bingin Beach. Epic… Photo: Andrew Crawford

It was mid-tide and the waves were small. Further south, larger clean lines groomed by offshore wind rifled in at Padang Padang before offloading the last of their might at Impossibles. Further still, we could see larger sets pummeling the famed Uluwatu. The scene was magical and what was once a dream was now our reality. This heavenly place was our playground.

We shared waves in the golden glow and as the sun set over this watery wonderland, Bali welcomed us into her bosom and with a few Bintangs down the hatch, we were right as rain!

Scooters are great for exploring the Bukit, just drive carefully. Photo - Andrew Crawford
The Bukit’s numerous surf breaks are best explored on an iron horse. Photo: Andrew Crawford

Scooters are a wonderful way to explore the Bukit and from the hilltop above Bingin, we set our sights on nearby Dreamland, which appeared to be picking up a sizable chunk of swell.

We scooted over for a closer look and arrived to find heaving swell filling the lineup. The short paddle-out ended with a beating as solid 6-footers bore down on us from the deep.

Ross scratched into a screamer and raced it all the way to the beach while I got hammered into oblivion by walls of whitewater. He returned to backline with a smile brimming from ear-to-ear and shouted, “That was one of the best waves of my life!”

My turn came soon after and I found myself drawing lines on a large, fast face that took me right to the beach where I got drilled into the sand in front of wide-eyed Chinese tourists. Our stoke pots were overflowing but we were hungry for more and as our confidence levels started surging we soon ticked off more rides at Bingin, Padang Padang Right and Impossibles.  

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Uluwatu is one of Bali’s most revered surf spots and it can be daunting when it’s breaking big. Photo: Gero Lilleike 

Then, Ross pulled up a surf report and all our attention shifted to the possibility of surfing Uluwatu for the first time. Prior to coming to Bali, we had written Ulu’s off purely based on our skill level and we were well aware that the complexity of the break was perhaps beyond our ability.

We’d gathered that Uluwatu was a break best left to those with the skill and nerve to navigate its often large and powerful barrels that break with bone-crunching force on shallow reef. It’s not a wave to be trifled with, that we knew, but after some consternation, we decided to go see it for ourselves.

Surfers walk out to the waves at low tide at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike
The lineup at Uluwatu is accessed via this cave, shown here at low tide. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Situated on the southern tip of the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is perfectly positioned to receive the biggest swells the Indian Ocean can muster. More so, massive limestone cliffs and an expansive lineup makes Uluwatu even more intimidating.

We arrived on the high tide and the surf was pumping with 8-10 foot waves detonating on the outer reefs and breaking unpredictably across the lineup. The intensity of the rip on the high tide was vicious. The cave at Uluwatu is where you enter and exit the lineup and from above we watched as surfers were being swept from the cave and dragged far down the point in no time at all. It looked sketchy and the paddle was going to be monumental.

Dream ride at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike
An unknown surfer rides a wave at Uluwatu. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We observed the lineup in silence for a long time, grappling with our fear and contemplating consequences. Ross was fighting a ferocious internal battle. The grandeur of what lay before him was tearing his conscience apart. He clearly wasn’t comfortable and truth be told, nor was I. We were simply out of our depth and eventually Ross suggested that we give the surf a miss. We stared on blankly in silence as the surf exploded on the reef below.

In an effort to find some solace, I tried to imagine how Gerry Lopez would have mentally approached his first surf at Uluwatu in 1974, but comfort was lost to me. Gerry paddled out and pulled into a barrel on his first wave, but that’s Gerry for you… what a legend!

Another dream wave at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike
The wave at Uluwatu viewed from above. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Recent events in Uluwatu had cast a darker shadow over our endeavour. Just 3 weeks before our arrival in Uluwatu, Jae Haydon, an Australian surfer and musician perished in these waters after suffering a wipeout in massive surf that reportedly knocked him unconscious. Despite efforts by other surfers to rescue him, Haydon drowned and his body was discovered some 12 hours later in the region of Impossibles near Padang Padang.

Yet, here we were, faced with a critical decision – paddle out, or merely observe. The thought of missing my only opportunity to attempt surfing Uluwatu was crushing me. Time was ticking and our window of opportunity was slipping away fast. I knew I had to push Ross harder to commit.

“Am I paddling out alone?” I asked Ross, nervously.

Ross looked at me and smiled, “Don’t worry G, you’re not paddling out there alone”. It was on!

Gero Lilleike makes a drop of faith at Uluwatu. Photo - Andrew Crawford
Gero drops in at Uluwatu. Photo: Maree Lilleike

I kissed Maree goodbye and told her I love her, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I saw her. Minutes later we were in the cave with my heart pounding hard and fast in my chest. Neither of us had ever felt this tense before a surf.

“Have faith in your ability, we can do this”, Ross suddenly said reassuringly. Fear was replaced by calm as we stepped into the turbulent waters of the cave. Adrenalin surged through our veins. We paddled into the sunlight and into the unknown.

The cave at Uluwatu. Photo - Gero Lilleike
Uluwatu cave at high tide, the starting and ending point of every surf.  Photo: Gero Lilleike

Beyond the chaos of the cave, the rip swept us quickly around the point and we spent the next 15 minutes paddling into position at ‘The Peak’ which was breaking at about 6 foot with bigger sets occasionally catching us off guard. We watched in wonderment as more experienced surfers dropped into the bowels of thick pits that only Uluwatu could conjure up. The power and perfection of these waves was incredible to witness.

I looked around at the pulsing surf and jagged cliffs. I couldn’t believe we were sitting in the lineup at Uluwatu! It was a surreal moment. My heart was happy, content but also filled with fear. We sat in the swell for a while, waiting. The size and power of the surf became overwhelming and with the tide dropping, we decided to hustle a wave and head for dry land.

Gero Lilleike drops in at Uluwatu. Photo - Maree Lilleike
One good wave is all you need… Photo: Maree Lilleike

All we needed was one good wave. Ross eventually paddled for his first wave but flogged it after the drop but then quickly scavenged a rare mid-break right which he almost rode back into the cave. He was safely back on land.

A while later, the Gods of Uluwatu spawned a solid left for me. It was my time to go! I stuck the drop sweetly and rode the wave out onto the shoulder and paddled hard to make it back into the cave before being swept back around the point. A Balinese woman conducted a Hindu prayer ritual in the cave and the smell of incense filled the air. We were blessed, we were alive, and we had endured one of the most intensely special surfs of our lives. Stoke palpably radiated from us for the rest of the day.

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There’s is much to see and do if the surf is off. Tegenungan Waterfall is a must-see attraction near Ubud. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We left the Bukit buzzing after surfing Uluwatu, but we still had high hopes for Keramas. We booked into the chic Komune Resort in front of the famous right-hander. The waves were sizey when we arrived, but onshore wind made conditions choppy. We surfed anyway and caught some great waves but we would never see Keramas in its full glory.

That evening, we congregated at the Komune Beach Club for dinner and a few Bintangs to celebrate our arrival in Keramas. I ordered the ‘Chicken Schnitty’ which sounded like a marvellous way to replenish my waning energy reserves. The meal arrived and it was delicious up to the point that I discovered what looked like toilet paper under my schnitzel. I called the waiter over to find out more, thinking that perhaps it was a Balinese custom of sorts.

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The Komune Beach Club in Keramas is a great place to socialise and eat. Photo: Gero Lilleike 

The waiter was utterly horrified and genuinely apologetic about this diabolical discovery and quickly removed it from the table. The chef arrived in shame soon after to apologise and we shared a few laughs with no harm done. I would recommend the ‘Chicken Shitty’ to anyone visiting Komune Resort, it really was delicious.

Sadly, the surf report for Keramas wasn’t looking good for the remainder of our stay. The wind was skunking us and we needed another plan.

With a bleak surf outlook, we decided to take some time to explore the region of Ubud, the cultural epicentre of Bali. Bred, a local tour guide and surfer took us to beautiful attractions such as the nearby Tegenungan Waterfall and the famous Tegallalang Rice Terrace on the outskirts of Ubud, both of which are in easy reach of Keramas and well-worth the effort.

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Tegallalang Rice Terrace viewed from above. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Armed with local surf knowledge, Bred suggested that we catch a ferry to the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan to surf a break called Shipwrecks which would be offshore in the prevailing wind. We took his advice and boated across the Badung Strait from Sanur the following day, reaching Lembongan in time for the tide. Shipwrecks was crowded and we were advised to surf the nearby Nomans reef instead. It turned out to be the best call.

A surf trip isn't complete without a boat ride out to the reef. Photo - Andrew Crawford
A boat affords you the opportunity to explore waves that are typically out of reach. Photo: Andrew Crawford

We chartered a boat and headed for Nomans. Our captain couldn’t speak English but he knew exactly what we were after. Crystal clear water and a fun, consistent right lay before us and we had it all to ourselves — what a pleasure! An empty lineup is a rare treat in Bali and it’s days like these that make surf travel so gloriously wonderful.

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Nomans reef delivered the waves and we had to ourselves. Bliss… Photo: Ross McIlroy

We couldn’t ask for more, this was Bali magic! After conquering Nomans, we squeaked another quick surf at a nearby break called Lacerations to top off the day before catching the ferry back to Sanur.

Bali left us in a daze and its warm waves and friendly people made this trip truly memorable. More importantly, this surf trip also taught us that with a drop of faith, a dash of hope and a splash courage, your impossible can become your destiny. Your dream is there for the riding, so just paddle in and enjoy the ride…

Watch my Bali Daze video here!

Ross McIlroy stoked after his surf at Nomans. Photo - Andrew Crawford
A surf trip to remember… Photo: Andrew Crawford

 

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Fly Fishing in the Mist

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Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

I stumble to my feet in the dark, my senses fixed on the faint hint of day. A thick mist hangs, shifting in all directions on a glassy lake. The morning rise beckons me into action. Is today the day that Lake Naverone reveals the fish that lurk in her waters? Perhaps, maybe not… I grab my fly rod and head for the boat and stroke off into the calm. The hunt is on as I cast my line out into the mist. Silence, peace and mountains surround me as I work my fly.

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It’s no secret that the Drakensberg holds some of the most exquisite fly fishing waters in South Africa. Lake Naverone, situated in the Southern Drakensberg near Underberg, is but one such place.  It’s more than that though, it’s a wonderfully scenic place.

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With self-catering cottages nestled along its banks, Lake Naverone is a near-perfect hideaway for fly fisherman and if your fishing luck happens to run out, head for the hills. These wilds will tame you…

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A must-do hike in the area is the Three Pools Hike, but make sure you have a permit and a map. Our map-reading skills were lacking somewhat, but we went in search anyway. We set off at noon with a cloudless sky overhead and autumn leaves underfoot. High on a ridge, Eland were grazing in the sun.

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We walked a bit further and suddenly a distinct bark echoed through the valley. Baboon. We spotted the troop cavorting on the hillside, while a large male locked his eyes on the two trespassers below. We never found the Three Pools that day…

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Back in the boat, the mist was rising in the fresh morning glow. Trout were gnawing at my conscious, breaking me down. My fly kissed the water with grace, my mind willing a take with each retrieve. Hours passed. Then came the nibble, the first sign of life. The tip of my rod twitched vigorously, but my strike was futile. The mountains watched over me as I cast and cast some more, for days, and then some more until darkness blinded my sight. It was not to be and for now, the trout swim free.

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If you wish to experience Lake Naverone for yourself, check out their website here!

Also read:

Gone Fishing the Breede River
On the fly at Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway
Gavin Erwin Fish Art in South Africa

Namibia Through My Lens

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

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With sand stretching as far as your imagination can wonder, the Namib Desert’s allure is difficult to resist. It’s the oldest desert in the world, eerily desolate and immeasurably beautiful. I recently spent six days in Namibia, exploring the coast, the dunes and the desert and the experience was hugely enjoyable.

Namibia, the land of open spaces, is so large and diverse and I have attempted to capture the magnitude of what Namibia has to offer those who visit it. I hope these images will inspire and motivate you to pack your bags and travel into the unknown. Enjoy!

1. The Namib Desert

The allure of the Namib Desert is one of the main reasons why so many people love Namibia. It’s a humbling and grounding place that forces you to reflect on your life. It’s a special place.

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This photograph was taken in the late afternoon in the dune belt in the vicinity of the well-known Dune 7 near Walvis Bay. The dune belts in this area are home to massive sand dunes. However, much larger sand dunes are to be found in southern Namibia at Sossusvlei, where you will find a dune aptly named ‘Big Daddy’, standing at least 325 metres high. Good luck climbing that one!

2. Swakopmund 

If it’s fine German cuisine and beer you’re after, then Swakopmund is definitely the place to fill your belly and quench your thirst after a long day in the desert. Swakopmund is situated on the Atlantic coast some 280 km west of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city.

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Nearly 45 000 people call Swakopmund home and the German colonial town was founded in 1892 as the main harbour for what was known as the German South-West Africa (1884-1915), now called Namibia. The German translation for Swakopmund is “Mouth of the Swakop”, which refers to the Swakop River mouth found south of the town. Many of the buildings showcase fine German architecture and there’s lots to see and do in town. But first, have a beer!

3. Willys Jeep in the Desert

Somewhere in the Namib Desert, in a dune belt known as Rooibank, lies a fascinating piece of steel. Don’t ask me exactly where it is because I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but it’s out there, somewhere.

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This is a photograph of what’s believed to be an iconic Willys Jeep, or what’s left of it, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. From what I was told by a local guide, the vehicle broke down in the desert decades ago and was never recovered. What intrigues me about this photograph is how the desert reduces and reclaims what was, whether it be a living being or even a car. I love how the steering wheel trim is hanging on for dear life. I can’t help but question how this car could be reduced to this? The answer still eludes me. Many, many years in the desert I suppose…

4. Shipwreck Zeila, Skeleton Coast

Between Swakopmund and Henties Bay on the Skeleton Coast is another fine example of nature reclaiming a man-made object. In this case, the victim was a fishing trawler named Zeila that got stranded on August 25, 2008. It’s one of many shipwrecks to be found on the Skeleton Coast.

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As the story goes, Zeila was a scrap vessel bound for Bombay, India, but it came loose from its towing line near Walvis Bay and drifted north to its final resting place. I was told by locals that it took several hours for authorities to locate the missing vessel as the incident happened under the cover of night and it was only discovered once it finally ran aground. The Zeila is now home to hundreds of seabirds that use its decaying shell as a nesting site. Notice the barreling wave in the foreground…

5. Goanikontes Oasis, Namib-Naukluft National Park

The Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. Within the park, and some 40 km east of Swakopmund, is an area known as the ‘Moon Landscape’. The darker tones of this Damara Granite landscape gives it its name and it formed some 460-500 million years ago. Goanikontes Oasis is tucked away in the ‘Moon Valley’ and is found alongside the now dry Swakop riverbed.

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The name Goanikontes is of Nama origin, meaning ‘The place where you can remove your fur coat’. Historically, Goanikontes was a rest stop for people travelling from Walvis bay and Swakopmund to Windhoek.  In the 1750’s the Swakop River served as an oasis for the Herero and Nama tribes and it was the perfect place to raise and feed cattle. Later on, in 1849, the first white settlers arrived and proceeded to trade cattle with the local tribes. The fertile soil on the banks of the Swakop River also made for good crop farming, with the produce sold in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.

My family has history in Goanikontes Oasis and the area has particular relevance to me since my late grandmother lived and farmed the land there. But, alas, that’s a story for another day.

Goanikontes is a great place to visit if you happen to be in the area. The historical farmhouse was built in 1903 and is now a restaurant, serving cold beer and delicious meals. It’s well worth a look-see, and another beer.

6. Surfing in Namibia

I like to leave the best for last.

Apart from sand, Namibia also has waves in abundance and if you’re a surfer, with an adventurous spirit, then there’s a wave in Namibia with your name on it. Namibia was, and still is, a largely unexplored surfing destination and with the discovery of the now-famous Donkey Bay a few years back, surfers regularly flock to Namibia to experience the magical wave that is the Donkey.

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Many surfers consider Donkey Bay to be the most perfect wave in the world, and if you consider the ridiculously long tube rides surfers have scored there, they can only be right. There is no other wave on the planet that gives a surfer so much time behind the curtain. Sure, Donkey Bay is awesome when it’s cranking and looking at the photograph above, it’s enough to make any surfer’s knees buckle with stoke. Or is it?

This photograph was taken at my ‘secret spot’ in Namibia and no, you can’t find it on Google Maps!

Go find your own wave…

Also read:

Namibia in Pictures
The Leatherfoot Fish Project – Building a Wood Surfboard
Winter Surfing in Cape Town
Surfing in Elands Bay
Surfing in Muizenberg
Choosing the right surfboard with Dutchie Surf Designs

 

Bliss in Mozambique

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Gero Lilleike about to explore the sea bed. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Mozambique is one of those countries I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s close to home and I have only heard good things about the waves, people and the food. Wait no more little boy, luck is on your side. Working as a motoring journalist (Cars.co.za) often takes you to places that you would never have visited and the White Pearl Resort at Ponta Mamoli is one of those places.

Ponta Mamoli is situated on Mozambique’s southern coast, only 25 km from the South African border post at Kosi Bay. That’s not far, but getting there can be tricky if you aren’t in a 4×4 and familiar with the route. That said, you need a capable car and the new Toyota Hilux was our chariot to paradise.

As soon as we crossed the border, tar turned to sand and after about 40 minutes of bouncing around in the dirt, we arrived. The White Pearl Resort is a luxury beach resort, so all you have to do is show up and relax. It’s spectacular! Private units are nestled amongst the lush subtropical vegetation, all with dream views of the ocean. Needless to say, each unit has its own private pool, an outdoor shower and if you need anything at all, your personal butler is never too far away. What more could you want?

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The units at the White Pearl Resort are luxurious. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We only had two nights at the White Pearl and there was nothing else to do but make the most of it. There’s a diving centre on site if diving is your thing, and there are other activities too such as ocean safaris, horse riding, kayaking, snorkelling and surfing. We did all of them, almost…

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Sea kayaking is a must-do activity at the White Pearl Resort. Photo: MM

One thing you can be sure of is that the food is divine, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Expect familiar dishes such as delicious Eggs Benedict or indulge in succulent Mozambican-style piri piri chicken. The White Pearl also has a well-stocked beach bar to take the edge off the humid weather and to keep you liquored up all day long. When at the White Pearl, call the barmen over and order an R&R, a refreshing fusion of locally made Rhum Tipo Tinto and Sparberry soda. Obrigado!

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The fruits of the White Pearl Resort. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The coastline at Ponta Mamoli is rich in ocean wildlife. Between the months of November and February each year, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. These creatures of the deep are under constant threat from humans and both species are listed as endangered. As a result, the White Pearl Resort, along with the Southern Mozambique Marine Turtle Nesting Monitoring, Tagging and Conservation Programme, are actively involved in conservation efforts to ensure the future of these peaceful sea creatures. The White Pearl offers guided Turtle Walks along the coastline to educate people about the plight of turtles and it’s highly recommended. If you are lucky, you might just witness a turtle laying its eggs, something that’s increasingly rare.

 

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The locals are super friendly, support them! Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

The one thing that struck me about Mozambique, apart from the gorgeous locations and the food, is the people. Every local I spoke to and interacted with had a big smile on their face and friendliness was the order of the day. That’s pretty rare too by South African standards. Many of the locals are poor but choose to be happy and friendly. That’s refreshing and there’s a lesson in that for all of us.

I will return…

For more information about the the White Pearl Resort, visit their website at www.whitepearlresorts.com/

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The beach at White Pearl Resort. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

 

 

A Day at Vindoux Guest Farm

 

Vindoux welcomes you. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Vindoux welcomes you. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

A warm and welcome winter sun breaks the peaks of the Witzenberg mountains and the Tulbagh Valley comes to life. This is wine country, home to countless wine farms and the birthplace of the good-old hangover. In search of charm and wine, we followed the road to Vindoux with the surrounding vineyards lying bear in the morning glow.

Charming country cottages are on offer at Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Charming country cottages are on offer at Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Only a 90-minute drive from Cape Town and with the splendid Saronsberg mountains as a backdrop, Vindoux Guest Farm & Spa greeted us with a smile. Accommodation varies according to your taste and although Vindoux is very much geared for couples looking for a romantic getaway, there’s something here for everyone. Vindoux Guest Farm is well-known for its romantic luxury tree house units which offer perfect views of the farm and mountains. A large and well-sorted tree lodge is ideal for family and friends and there are also country cottages to choose from. If you’re like me and you enjoy having your pet around, then it’s pleasing to know that Vindoux is pet-friendly, but only on request. That said, pets are only allowed if you reside in a cottage. The self-catering country cottages have a certain simplistic charm about them, which I liked very much, and the cottages are fitted with everything you could possibly need for your stay, including a cozy fireplace.

Mark Walton takes aim at a wildebeest. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Mark Walton takes aim at a wildebeest. Photo: Gero Lilleike

A lovely viewing deck revealed zebra, wildebeest and springbok grazing quietly in the sun. We were told that a female wildebeest was to be darted and relocated to a nearby farm. A few moments later and with dart gun in hand, Mark Walton, the local veterinarian arrived and invited us in on the action. Mark waited patiently for the perfect shot and finally his moment came and he took careful aim. He pulled the trigger and the wildebeest bucked high into the air before bolting off, it was a good shot. Minutes later, legs buckled and the beast dropped, sleeping soundly in the soft grass. Mark and his team got to work quickly and moved the animal to its new home.

The wildebeest sleeps. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The wildebeest sleeps. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Wine Tasting by Bike

With the action over, we decided to get stuck into some wine action. Vindoux offers ‘Wine by Bike’ which is a very fun way to experience the countryside and taste some wine while you at it. With a map in hand and the scent of wine on the wind, we set off to a nearby wine farm. Our first stop was Montpellier and we didn’t hesitate on sampling some wine. Our taste buds were working hard. As a beer drinker, the wine-tasting experience was surprisingly pleasant, and I wanted more. I don’t regard myself as a sophisticated wine drinker, but I can certainly appreciate the way wine makes me feel.

Wine by Bike at Vindoux Guest Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Wine by Bike at Vindoux Guest Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Eager to get a second wine farm under the belt, we mounted our bikes and headed towards Saronsberg wine farm for round two. The wine was flowing at Saronsberg and we spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and scenery, eventually returning to Vindoux for a much needed and well deserved braai. A day of drinking wine and peddling the sunny countryside takes its toll on the body and there is nothing more welcoming than a comfy bed after a long day on the bottle.

Wine Tasting at Saronsberg Wine Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Wine Tasting at Saronsberg Wine Farm. Photo: Gero Lilleike

We awoke at sunrise to go fishing at a nearby dam in the hope of hooking into some bass. The bass were leaping from the water in the early morning light but we didn’t catch any and were left to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings instead. On our return to Vindoux, we paid a visit to Vindoux Day Spa for a relaxing treatment which successfully expelled the lingering aftermath of our wine tasting forays the day before. Unfortunately our stay had come to an abrupt end and the friendly staff at Vindoux Guest Farm bid us farewell.

Early morning fishing near Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Early morning fishing near Vindoux. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

Exploring Tulbagh

The nearby town of Tulbagh is interesting and we parked in famous Church Street for a bite to eat. Tulbagh was rocked by a 6.5 earthquake in 1969 which left the town mostly in ruins. The buildings in Church Street, with their distinct Cape-Dutch architecture, were restored and today Church Street has the largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street in South Africa.

We checked our map and decided to visit the local waterfall on our way out. A 15-minute walk takes you to the top of the waterfall where you get a different perspective of the mountains and the Tulbagh Valley, a must-see for anyone visiting the area. With a boot full of wine, we put the Tulbagh Valley behind us and headed back to Cape Town, well-rested and ready to conquer the world.

For more information visit www.vindoux.com or call +27 (0) 23 2300 635 to make a reservation.

The waterfall at Tulbagh. Photo: Gero Lilleike
The waterfall at Tulbagh. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Namibia in Pictures

Namib desert namibia
The Namib Desert of Namibia. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

Namibia holds a special place in my heart, not only because my late father was born there, but also because there is no other place like it on this planet. It’s a truly amazing place. I vaguely remember visiting Namibia as a child but I was just too young to comprehend where I actually was and to be honest, I still struggle to wrap my mind around the beauty that resides there.

I returned to Namibia recently, along with my family, to pay tribute to my dad’s life, to bring him home and to say goodbye. This was a remarkably special trip for me and I have chosen several photographs of my journey that showcases some of the beauty of Namibia, but they also have particular relevance and represent something more to me that simply can’t be expressed. I hope you enjoy them.

Exploring Swakopmund

Swakopmund Namibia
Sand meets the sea at Swakopmund in Namibia. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Swakopmund is situated 360 km west of Windhoek and is a popular coastal holiday destination for local Namibians. This German colonial town is also a tourist hot-spot and  khaki-clad Germans are as common as the sand on which the town is built and they can be found marching in the streets and drinking beer in every restaurant and pub in town. Swakopmund is the gateway to the vast Namib Desert and it also happens to be where my Dad grew up, which makes it significant, to me at least. Compared to similar towns in South Africa, Swakopmund is remarkably clean and the people here are really friendly. The architecture of the buildings in Swakopmund point to its German heritage and many of its residents are actually German.

namib desert namibia
Exploring the Namib Desert on a Quad Bike. Photo: Gero Lilleike

The Namib Desert is the oldest desert on earth with an estimated age of 55-80 million years and is largely uninhabited. Just beyond the town of Swakopmund, sand dunes unfold into the distance and the landscape here is nothing short of spectacular. We had some time on our hands and decided to take a two-hour quad bike tour of this sandy abyss. Our guide, Gideon, was a friendly Namibian chap who knew his way around the dunes and ensured that we didn’t get lost in the bowels of this vast landscape. Exploring the Namib Desert on the back of a quad bike is a great way to have some fun and experience the desert up close and personal. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

The Search for Welwitschia Mirabilis

Our main reason for coming to Namibia was to search for Welwitschia Mirabilis, an extraordinary plant that is perfectly adapted to life in the desert.  A few kilometers out of Swakopmund, we entered the  Namib-Naukluft Park which is home to the famous Welwitschia plains. Along the way, we stumbled onto what is known as the ‘Moon Landscape’, a barren and eerie looking Damara Granite landscape that formed some 460-million years ago. As barren and devoid of life as it is, the ‘Moon Landscape’ is strangely appealing to the eye and serves as a reminder of how harsh and unforgiving this place can be.

Moon Landscape Namibia
The ‘Moon Landscape’ in Namibia is an eerily lonely place. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

We pushed on towards the Welwitschia plains some 80km from Swakopmund and eventually crossed the dry Swakop River bed. With our petrol running low, we decided to pull over and take a closer look at the strange but intriguing Welwitschia Mirabilis. The plant is endemic to Namibia and southern Angola and is only found in what is known as the ‘fog belt’ stretching roughly 1000km along the west coast from the Kuiseb River south of Walvis Bay to the Nicolau River in Angola.

Most Welwitschia Mirabilis specimens are found within 80-100km of the coast and consist of a large tap root and a short hardy stem which produces only two strap-like leaves that grow continuously to lengths that can exceed three meters or more. Apart from groundwater, the plant survives largely on fog condensation which is captured by the leaves and channeled into the ground which is then absorbed by the tap root.

The Welwitschia Mirabilis is commonly referred to as a ‘living fossil’ because this ancient plant can live for hundreds if not thousands of years. The Welwitschia Mirabilis is undoubtedly the ultimate survivor of the desert and is plentiful in this region, but treat them with respect, they are considered to be endangered and are reasonably well protected in Namibia.

Welwitschia Mirabilis Namibia
The Welwitschia Mirabilis is the ultimate survivor of the Namib Desert. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Game Viewing in Erindi Private Game Reserve

With our mission accomplished and only one day left in Namibia we headed to Erindi Private Game Reserve some 175 km’s from Windhoek. Erindi is massive and is home to just about all the animals you would expect to see in Southern Africa. The accommodation was stunning, with a big waterhole on our doorstep and crocodiles basking on its banks, it couldn’t get any better than this. Lucky for us, we arrived just in time for the evening game drive, the perfect opportunity experience the bush and photograph some animals.

Lioness at Erindi Private Game Reserve
A lioness giving me the eye. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Ully, our Herero guide, guaranteed some good sightings and he certainly lived up to his promise. It was only five minutes into the game drive when Ully’s radio came to life. There were lions nearby. We made our way to the sighting and sat for a couple of minutes watching  the lions lounging in the grass. A particular lioness, shown above, unsettled me. Her wild stare pierced right through me and I couldn’t help but think that she wanted to eat me. As more vehicles arrived on the scene, we decided to head off in search of tamer game.

African Wild Dogs Namibia
A pack of African Wild Dogs scout the bush in Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

About 30 minutes later, the radio informed us of African Wild Dog in the area and Ully put his foot down in hot pursuit. We found the pack along a boundary fence and I was happy to lay eyes on them, for I had never seen them in the wild before. The game drive was turning out to be a treat it seemed. It was great to see them purely because the African Wild Dog is the most endangered carnivore on the continent  and are rarely seen in the wild. I never imagined them to be so slender, almost to the point of looking under-fed, but Ully explained that they will run their prey ‘dead’ and are fierce and highly intelligent hunters.

african wild dog namibia
The matriarch of the pack poses for a photograph. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Erindi only has one family of African Wild Dog with 14 individuals. The picture above shows the alpha female of the pack posing beautifully for the camera. Shortly after this photo was taken, the radio alerted us to elephant in our vicinity and we left the African Wild Dogs to their business. A while later, Ully stopped the vehicle and showed us fresh elephant tracks on the road accompanied by liquid spatter in the sand. “An elephant in musth” said Ully, apparently not something you want to encounter face-to-face. We drove on for a while and spotted two White Rhino grazing peacefully in the bush. Ully switched the vehicle off and we watched them intently. Then, the unexpected happened. About 100m ahead of us, a herd of elephants crossed the road and out of the bush, Stompie appeared.

Stompie prepares to show us his dark side. Photo: Gero Lilleike
Stompie prepares to show us his dark side. Photo: Gero Lilleike

Stompie is a large bull elephant and the dark temporin secretion on the side of his head confirmed that he was in musth. Elephants become highly aggressive when in musth and Ully told us that Stompie was notorious for causing trouble in the reserve. Unbeknownst to us, Stompie was about to show us his dark side. Upon spotting the rhino’s, Stompie charged at them and drove them away into the bush. Ully started the vehicle and moved slowly forward to get a better view. Then, Stompie turned his attention on us and chaos ensued.

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Stompie charging and showing us who’s boss. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

I’ve never been charged by an elephant, but let it be known, there are few things scarier than a bull elephant in musth bearing down on you. This was a pure, adrenalin infused moment. Ully put his foot on the gas and my family were in a flat panic screaming ‘GO!! GO!! GO!!’ while Stompie charged us at full speed. In the chaos, I managed to maintain some composure to capture this amazing image of Stompie doing what he does best, being the boss of the bush. This was by far the most intense experience I’ve ever had in the bush so far and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

elephants Erindi
Young elephants having a sundowner in Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

We kept a safe distance from Stompie and set off to find the breeding herd nearby. Ully told us that the reason why these elephants have such short tusks, unlike the elephants from the Kruger National Park in South Africa, is because they lack the necessary calcium in their diet, an interesting fact I wasn’t fully aware of.

We watched the elephants for a while, keeping a keen eye-out for Stompie feeding nearby, before moving on for sundowners in the bush. With gin and tonic in hand, we watched the sun set over Erindi, the perfect way to end a perfect trip. Somehow I knew I would return again, someday.

Sunset erindi
Sunset at Erindi. Photo: Gero Lilleike

 

The Splendour of Plettenberg Bay

Words & Photographs by Gero Lilleike

Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo, a Portuguese navigator, called Plettenberg Bay ‘Baia Formosa’ or ‘Bay Beautiful’ and if you have witnessed its beauty, you would confirm this truth. One of the beautiful splendours of Plettenberg Bay lies tucked away in the bosom of ‘Ponta Delgada’ or Robberg Peninsula, a golden beach, called Wreck.   

I am certain that out of the thousands of people visiting Wreck every year, few are probably aware of the events that took place on that very beach 382 years ago. It’s an intriguing thought, but would knowing change the experience of being on that beach?
 

Wreck Beach, Plettenberg Bay

I have pondered many things while surfing in this beautiful bay and when I’m blissfully floating in the waves at Wreck, revelling in the splendour of this place, my mind calmly drifts out to sea into the vast expanse of the past. The sweet smell of history hangs thick in the air, for with every breaking wave, history is made and a tale is told. In my mind I scratch deeper into the ocean of the past and for a solitary moment in time, I imagine…

The history of Plettenberg Bay is as lengthy as it is remarkable and has been sufficiently portrayed by the late Patricia Storrar in her book Plettenberg Bay, and the Paradise Coast, a must read for anyone vaguely interested in Plettenberg Bay and the surrounding coastline. 

Plettenberg Bay with 'Ponta Delgada' on the horizon

   
In the name of history, it was Baron Joachim van Plettenberg, a Dutchman and Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, who gave Plettenberg Bay its name in 1778. Nearly 300 years before van Plettenberg set eyes on this beautiful bay, a fearless Portuguese sea farer, Bartholomew Diaz, set sail aboard the São Cristóvão from Lisbon in August 1487. Embarking into the unknown in search of a safe trade route to India via the Cape of Good Hope, Diaz made his first landing in the cape at ‘Aguada de São Bras’ in February 1488, at what is today known as Mossel Bay.

It was here that the local Hottentots or Khoikhoi first encountered the ‘pale men from the sea’. The Portuguese came bearing foreign gifts, hoping to trade cloth, trinkets, bells, caps and necklaces in return for water, food and local knowledge of this new found land.  The locals perceived Diaz’s goods unfit for trade and the communication barrier proved overwhelming, ultimately leading to conflict with Diaz spilling the first blood, killing a local with his crossbow.

Wreck viewed from Robberg Peninsula

Diaz moved eastwards, discovering a hidden lake which was most likely the Knysna Lagoon viewed through the now famous Knysna Heads. Further up the coast, Diaz discovered Robberg Peninsula which he named Cabo Talhado and ‘Baia das Alagoas’ or ‘bay of the lagoons’, known today as Plettenberg Bay. Diaz and his entourage kept pushing east, discovering Algoa Bay and finally reaching the farthest point of their voyage, the Fish River in the Eastern Cape, where Diaz turned around and sailed back to Portugal.

The route to India had now been realised and it was 10 years later that Vasco De Gama also set sail from Lisbon on the São Gabriel, to accomplish what Diaz could not, landing in Calicut, India, in 1498. Like Diaz, De Gama landed in Mossel Bay in 1497 and although De Gama had better luck trading with the locals, he too couldn’t resist conflict and proceeded to fire two bombards at the locals as well as taking aim at the helpless seals of Seal Island. This event marked the first sound of cannon fire to be heard along South Africa’s virgin coast. Many more ships would endure this ‘Great Trek’ to the east in years to come.

Wreck, Plettenberg Bay

 
One particular Portuguese ship, the São Gonçalo, is forever bound to the history of Plettenberg Bay. Within the pages of Drama at Ponta Delgada, also authored by Patricia Storrar, the tale of this Portuguese merchant ship is well documented, revealing a fascinating story.  

The São Gonçalo arrived in India in the year 1629. In 1630, along with two other vessels and captained by Fernao Lobo de Menezes, the São Gonçalo set sail from Goa, India, homeward bound for Portugal. Later that year, somewhere off the southern coast of South Africa, the São Gonçalo began taking on water and was eventually forced to abandon the convoy and seek refuge in the calmer waters of Plettenberg Bay.

Approximately 100 men are believed to have set up camp in the dunes of Wreck, the armpit of Robberg, leaving close to 400 men onboard the São Gonçalo to conduct repairs to the stricken vessel. Some fifty days after dropping anchor in Plettenberg Bay, disaster struck, and the São Gonçalo was tragically ripped to pieces in a storm somewhere in the bay with fellow countrymen looking on from the beach in horror as those on board perished, their dying screams fading away into the deep, dark depths of the sea. To this day, no evidence of the whereabouts of the São Gonçalo has been found.

Plettenberg Bay

Over the next few months, the castaways set about the task of building two boats in which they hoped to escape this unforgiving paradise. They eventually succeeded and split into two parties, both sailing out of Plettenberg Bay in 1631. One boat set sail for India, the other for Portugal. The boat heading for India reached Mozambique safely while the other was rescued by the Portuguese vessel Santo Ignacio de Loyola on its return voyage from India. Almost a year after being rescued near Plettenberg Bay, the men onboard the Santo Ignacio de Loyola were almost home, but at the mouth of the Tagus River, near Lisbon, the ship sank, drowning all on board.  

On the horizon I see a wave of time steadily making its way towards me. This is my ride home. I paddle onto the wave and stand to attention as it carries me gently to the shore. Somewhere beyond these peeling waves, a dark shadow looms, forever enshrouded in the mystery that is the sea, in peace, a wreck lives here.

A wave breaks in Plettenberg Bay


Historical sources: Patricia Storrar, Plettenberg Bay, and the Paradise Coast and Drama at Ponta Delgada.

The Otter Trail

Rock Jumping on the Otter Trail

 

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

 There’s nothing quite like rounding up a bunch of good friends and planning a trip into the wild, it’s one of the best travel moves in the book.  When my long-time friend, Gavin, invited me to join his hiking party on the Otter Trail, I simply couldn’t decline, this was an opportunity of a lifetime, right down my alley. 

The Otter Trail

With a bit of research, I soon realised that the Otter Trail was going to be something special, unlike anything I have ever done before. The Otter Trail is a five day, 42.5 km trail situated in the Tsitsikamma National Park, forming part of the Garden Route from the Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley. If you’re like me and don’t have significant hiking experience, planning and preparing for a five day hike can be tricky business and should be done thoroughly and thoughtfully.

In the days leading up to our big adventure, I had to decide how to fill my backpack, a task all on its own. A checklist goes a long way in ensuring that all the essential items, such as whisky, are not forgotten. Planning is a fine balance between taking what is needed and leaving out what’s not. The saying ‘if in doubt, leave it out’ applies as well as ‘you pack it, you carry it’. I failed to heed these warnings and the result was hellishly painful.

Hiking Party at the Waterfall

Our hiking party arrived at reception, faces beaming with excitement, itching to get this adventure underway when a large man with a heavy Afrikaans accent says, “the first part of the trail is closed due to rough sea conditions. We can get a ranger to give you a lift to the first camp”. Excitement instantly mutated into bitter disappointment and bleakness ensued. After a quiet word outside we decided to do what every self-respecting Otter hiker would do, go hike anyway, but not before placing a beer order for our fourth day, a wise move indeed.

View of Ngubu

Ngubu Huts, the first of four overnight huts was 4.8 km away. One by one, we disappeared into the wild and were soon surrounded by ancient Tsitsikamma forest, making a steady decent to the thundering sea below. From the rocky seashore we witnessed an angry sea lashing out all along the coast. After clambering over rocks for an hour we stumbled upon a surreal waterfall and the guys had an absolute blast jumping off the rocks into the cold water below. Well refreshed, we got back on the trail towards Ngubu. We arrived to find quaint huts tucked away in lush vegetation overlooking a magical sea view. Soon a fire was burning and we spent the afternoon sipping on fine whisky and watching 15ft surf bombard the coastline. The scenery was wondrous. We were in paradise and we couldn’t believe it.

View from the Skilderkrans Quartzite outcrop

The next morning I awoke to a throbbing whisky headache that disappeared fast at the thought of hiking another 7.9 km to Scott Huts. We set off in the blazing sun hiking through forest for most of the day, encountering two Puff Adders, Seagulls, Oystercatchers and a few clumsy Knysna Loeries along the way. This particular section of the Otter Trail is gruelling, with many steep inclines and declines for most of the way. It’s on these hills where planning counts. My backpack was insanely heavy and I felt more like a dying pack mule than a hiker, with sweat pouring off my chin, I hoofed it to Blue Bay where we stopped for a well deserved lunch on an isolated beach. The hills continued to wreak havoc on my body for the rest of the day, eventually arriving at Scott Huts completely bushed. Just beyond our doorstep, in all its glory, lay the Geelhoutbos River Mouth, a view that replenishes the weariest of bones.  After a solid meal of two minute noodles and biltong, I turned in early to rest for the next day in the hills.

Scott Huts at the Geelhoutbos River Mouth
 

My eyes opened to the smell of fresh coffee on the fire and after breakfast I was ready to face up to the 7.7 km ahead of me. Thankfully my backpack was getting progressively lighter and walking became easier. Gavin and Craig decided to do some snorkelling, a nice way to have a break and enjoy the sea life flourishing in the clear rock pools.  We harvested a few mussels and cooked them for lunch on the beach at the Elandsbos River Mouth, a prime spot to relax, swim and recharge. Two hours later, we crested a hill and stumbled upon Oakhurst Huts, nestled alongside the Lottering River Mouth, another spectacular view to lull us to sleep as we keenly anticipated the 13.8 km hike waiting for us on our fourth day.

Lunch at the Elandsbos River

With stiff legs and tender feet, we set off early to make it to the Bloukrans River on time for low tide. The even terrain allowed us to cover larger distances faster and by midday we reached the 10km mark at the Bloukrans River Mouth, the most dangerous river crossing on the Otter Trail. Crossing the Bloukrans River was easy and we settled for lunch on the rocks. We spent another two hours on the trail before reaching Andre Huts at the Klip River Mouth. 

The Bloukrans River Mouth

It wasn’t long before our camp erupted into pure elation as we spotted our beer runner swiftly making his way down the mountainside towards us. Within minutes we were sipping on the sweetest nectar in this neck of the woods with smiles beaming from ear to ear. We proceeded to construct a bonfire on the pebble beach and watched the sun set slowly over Plettenberg Bay in the distance, a beautiful ending to our last night in this amazing place.

Andre Huts Viewpoint

 
The final stretch of the Otter Trail from Andre Huts to Nature’s Valley is only 6.8 km, winding through Fynbos, the trail is mostly level making it a reasonably easy hike. We arrived in Natures Valley in high spirit and decided to visit the only restaurant in town, The Nature’s Valley Restaurant & Pub for a tasty meal, some more beer and many more laughs.

Natures Valley

The Otter Trail is considered one of the best trails in the world but due to its overwhelming popularity, the waiting list can be up to a year or more but is certainly well worth the wait. Our epic adventure was over and at least we would go home knowing that what we experienced was unfathomable. The magnificent scenery along this stretch of coast is simply unreal and makes you appreciate every second of your life. Do yourself a favour and book now, you won’t regret it.

Hiking at its best

 For more information on the Otter Trail visit:  http://sanparks.org.za/parks/garden_route/camps/storms_river/tourism/otter.php

The view before Andre Huts

Rocky Road to Heaven

   Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike 
 
Over the years I’ve learnt that the beauty in travelling lies in the mystery of adventure.  Finding a rare gem is rare but so is taking the road less taken and when it happens, it feels great. No matter where you are in the world, an extraordinary and unique experience is never too far away, just waiting to be discovered.  
The Rocky Road View

 

With adventure sitting on my shoulder and a pirate map in hand, I set out to find that gem. The road led to me to Natures Valley, the ‘Jewel’ of the Garden Route, where nature boasts her undisputable beauty, a remarkable place indeed. With the sun setting fast, I pressed on through the magnificent Groot River Pass towards The Crags, Plettenberg Bay.

 I soon reached The Crags and saw a sign, ‘Rocky Road’. Adventure tapped me on the shoulder and I hit a left onto a long, rocky ‘stofpad’ road. I arrived, taken aback by the astounding beauty of this place. Eureka, I found the gem and checked in. Rocky Reeder, the owner and legend, showed me to my luxury tent set in a beautiful garden with green pastures, forests and mountains painting a perfect country scene.

The Luxury Tent (Photo: Glen Murray)

 

As the setting sun fell behind the Tsitsikamma mountains, the cool, nippy air called for fire. Nothing beats a good old South African braai. Rocky and Marietjie, his partner, are master chefs and cook the tastiest, mouth-watering meals, much needed when the beast needs to feed.

The Fire

 

You are always bound to meet interesting folk at a backpackers, it’s the name of the game and Rocky Road Backpackers is no different. Kris ‘The Kiwi’ barman is a great guy, always making sure a cold beverage is sliding down the gullet. One of the highlights of Rocky Road Backpackers is the outdoor Hot Tub, driven by a wood fire furnace, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, especially in winter.

The Hot Tub

 

The Rocky Road Adventure Kitchen cooks up some great activity meals. The Garden Route offers a myriad of adventure options to satisfy any adrenalin junky. Some of the adrenalin charged activities include bungy jumping, skydiving, canopy tours, extreme hiking and many more. A hike into the Tsitsikamma forest is my cup of tea and the experience was simply surreal. It’s tough going but worth every step. Graceful streams make their journey to the sea and on the banks, forests rise to meet the bluest of skies, a truly splendid experience.

The Forest

 

 The accommodation at Rocky Road Backpackers is more than comfortable and makes for a peaceful nights sleep. Accommodation options include fully equipped luxury tents, dorm bed and bunk rooms and double rooms. Bathroom facilities are strategically placed in lush gardens and are uniquely and beautifully decorated, with a distinct natural outdoor fairy feel, a pleasure to behold.

The Fairy Bathroom

 

Rocky Road Backpackers is also home base for volunteers participating in active community development projects in nearby Kurland Village under the wings of Willing Workers in South Africa (WWISA). Rocky Road Backpackers is a special place. The warmth and friendliness that Rocky and Marietjie exude will make any traveller feel right at home.

The Cozy Rocky Road Lounge

If you are travelling on the Garden Route and find yourself in the vicinity of The Crags, Plettenburg Bay, find the Rocky Road to Heaven, it’s the place to be. For more information about Rocky Road Backpackers, visit http://www.rockyroadbackpackers.com

The Sunday Monkey Bird Walk

Words and pictures by Gero Lilleike

Squirell Monkey

It was mid morning and I had to force myself not to sleep anymore, hard work on a Sunday. I looked out my window and another great day lay before me. I had no plan for the day but plenty of time to think about it. A cup of coffee later and I was onto something. I felt like taking a walk, with shoes on. Another cup of coffee down the hatch and I decided to take a walk, with shoes on, to see some animals.

I thought it would be the perfect day to visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden in The Crags, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I arrived at the gates of Monkeyland where a friendly monkey ushered me to the reception area where I paid a very special price of R200 to visit both sites. A bargain some might say. The monkey behind the till gladly took my money and directed me to the waiting area where Neil, the monkey guide, was to start the monkey tour. In the near distance of the forest, I could hear my fellow primates swearing at each other, quite a freaky racket to bear witness to, but amusing nonetheless.

Within a few minutes, a troop of monkey tourists gathered and Neil, the monkey guide, arrived to start the hour-long monkey tour. Welcome to Monkeyland, the world’s first multi-species free roaming primate sanctuary. The main focus of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, is to rehabilitate and release previously caged monkeys, apes, lemurs and birds into a free-roaming environment, some of which originating from many parts of the world.

Monkey feeding

The monkey tour began and we soon reached the first feeding point, an elevated tray laden with fresh fruit. Within seconds all kinds of monkeys, apes and lemurs were making their way from the canopy above to feed on the fruit buffet below. It was a primate feeding frenzy like I have never seen before. I was very tempted to join in the feast but resisted for obvious reasons. In the distance, I could hear my primate friends swearing at each other again. I chuckled to myself as monkey chaos ensued around me. It was a remarkable moment in time and a remarkably sad one too.

We continued with the monkey tour, spotting the odd Vervet here and a Lemur there and then the forest fell quiet, not a sound to be heard. Neil, our monkey guide, was indecisive as to what route to take next. He then shared some interesting facts about monkeys, answered some monkey questions and soon we were back on the monkey trail. It wasn’t long before a bridge lay before us, suspended in the canopy, offering a scenic view of the beautiful forest surrounding us. We crossed it carefully and upon reaching the other side, the monkey tour ended and Monkeyland was but a fleeting monkey memory.

Birds of Eden

Birds of Eden was next on my hit list. I have never been an avid birder but I saw the value in the experience. In the car park, I looked upon this mammoth bird sanctuary before me and thoughts of Jurassic Park filled my monkey brain. I proceeded to enter Birds of Eden, but with caution, as a good monkey should. In the first five minutes, a big white Cockatoo flew straight towards my head, I ducked just in time and it perched right beside me to feed on some seed. That Cockatoo freaked me out.

Welcome to Birds of Eden, a beautiful place indeed. I decided to really proceed with caution now. There were birds flying everywhere, it felt like every bird was after me as I entered their maze. I had to watch my back, often. This was a birder’s paradise, a surreal experience, really amazing. About half an hour into my walk, a large Blue and Gold Mawcaw got sight of me and flew swiftly towards me and tried to perch on my shoulder, I quickly ducked, denying it the pleasure. These birds were really freaking me out now. I laughed out loud and taunted them to leave me alone.

I looked up and saw my friend, a large male Chacma Baboon patrolling the top of the sanctuary, it was defending me, obviously. I walked a little faster, with the end of my Jurassic Park experience almost in sight. With a sigh of relief, I made it, I was free again. Free?

I took a moment to ponder on my day. Although the experience of Monkeyland and Birds of Eden was fun and informative, a deeper concern was pecking at my monkey brain. Why are these sanctuaries here, I asked myself? I thought about it and soon my monkey brain came up with the answer. We live in a sick and twisted society. Humans cage wild animals as pets and these animals lose their ability to survive in the wild. So, we build sanctuaries for them, to save them from doom, where they spend the rest of their lives slowly re-learning what they already knew before they met us, how to be wild… For all these animals, these sanctuaries and all those around the world, at least provide a taste of the freedom they once knew. As human beings, it’s the least we can do for them, for we live in cages of our own and freedom we know not.

I got into my car and drove away and in a field nearby I saw my friends again, a troop of foraging baboons. I waved goodbye. They smiled and waved hello. Finally, it dawned on me. I’m just a monkey too and so are you.

If you ever happen to be driving through The Crags or if you are on holiday in Plettenberg Bay and are in need of some rehabilitation from the outside world, stop over at Monkeyland and Birds of Eden and support them, for they are doing a sterling job for the conservation of our beautiful wildlife. It’s a great experience your monkey brain won’t forget.

For more information, contact +27 (044) 534 8906 or visit their websites at http://www.monkeyland.co.za / http://www.birdsofeden.co.za