Our Journey – Out of Africa

Riverside Cottage – La Bourgonne – The Grapevine
We arrived, half awake, half asleep. Happy to find a place to rest after the long trip from Dublin to South Africa. The cottage was basic but suited us just fine. Admittedly we had some concerns about the lack of quality of the toilet paper! There was a little bit of noise from the nearby road but it didn’t stop us from sleeping – day or night or both!
We settled in with a lovely chilled bottle of white wine offered by the good people of La Bourgonne. Sitting out on our little patio, we were totally content. More sleep followed and later we headed to Franschhoek for dinner. Discovered Dieu Donné – a lovely winery and restaurant overlooking the valley. A perfect start to our trip. Happy days ahead as we slept, ate and drank together. Marc had organised some winery visits and they were immensely interesting and enjoyable. (Wine blog to follow).

 

Porcupine Hills – Rondavel
Hidden in the hills, this wee round shaped cottage was ours for three glorious days – private and wonderfully quiet. Just the two of us together and our private river. This time we added reading to our sleeping, eating and drinking habits. The best bit was when the lights went out and we dined in candlelight – how romantic! This was self-catering at its best.

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La Petit Ferme – Franschhoek
If ‘heaven’ did restaurants, their flagship would be La Petit Ferme. There is something about the light as the sun cascades its rays over the mountains and throughout the valley. This light changes by the minute and never ceases to enthrall. Aside from the light fantastic, La Petit Ferme has the finest food and wine and the loveliest of staff. It really is an experience to enjoy as a couple or with family or friends. Having been before, we knew that this is a special place and we were lucky to secure a booking for a night in one of their delightful suites, complete with private plunge pool and inspiring views.

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Hermanus
Having been before on two occasions, this was a trip down memory lane and we enjoyed our two days soaking up the touristy traps. Dinner at the Fisherman’s Cottage was lovely and pretending to be travel bloggers, we got to meet the chef in all his good-looking glory.

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Botlierskop – pronounced Botleerskop
This private game reserve was also a repeat visit and well worth returning to. This is a place where you feel really at one with nature as wild animals are strolling around your front garden – all in harmony with each other. We stayed in a deluxe tent overlooking the river and at the foot of the mountain. The tent had every luxury including air conditioning, mini bar, oval bath and even posh toilet roll! Marc and I had a lovely routine over our four days which was sitting out on our veranda sipping a drink while listening to the theme tune from ‘Out of Africa’. Robert Redford didn’t actually turn up to wash my hair but that’s ok. I was more than happy to share these special moments with the love of my life, Marc. We laughed and chatted and enjoyed a really romantic time in each others company.

We did a game drive which was most interesting. On the second night, I awoke to the sound of heavy footsteps and grass being loudly munched by the rhinos who were just outside our tent. Then it seemed that one of them was scratching his big behind on the wood of our patio. I woke Marc and me being the typical woman, told him to ‘do something’ to which he sleepily replied ‘nothing to worry about’ (typical man). Despite having ’nothing to worry about’, my anxiety rose to the level that I thought we were going to be a midnight feast for the rhinos (even though I know they are herbivores) – I still rang the night porter and he drove over in his jeep and moved them along to another part of the estate. Drama over and sleep resumed.

The next day we did a horseback safari which was amazing. Our guide was a true horseman and the ride was fast paced and fun. To ease our aching limbs, we shared a spa hour by having a massage. Best of all was the elephant ride on the final day of our stay. Personally this was for me a most uplifting and magical experience. These magnificent creatures have a power above and beyond the physical. When the ride was over, I looked closely into ‘my’ elephant’s eye and he seemed to look into my soul. At that moment, I was mesmerised and felt deeply touched.

We then said goodbye to Botlierskop and made a firm promise to return someday with our kids. As we drove off on the dusty road, neither of us could speak for a while as the tears began to form and fall silently – tears of joy at having shared a special experience together and memories which will last forever.

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Kynsa – Wild Iris Cottage
It was fun to return to Knysna, one of the truly great places of the Garden Route of South Africa. We just had to go back to to our favourite dining place in Knysna – Restaurant 34 Degrees South. A feast of Oysters – wild natural, tempura & garlic. Then we checked into Wild Iris Cottage – a pretty cottage perched high in the hills overlooking a massive forest with a beautiful backdrop of mountains. Back to cheap toilet roll but also back to nature again. Peace comes dropping slow as we take in the view and sip a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Marc did a balancing act on the hammock while I caught up on my book – Michael Mc Intyre – biography. Fabulous. Marc and I are big fans of his. Here we spent two days of being lazy and always slightly intoxicated. No access to WiFi which is a blessing as we are both addicted to the ‘unsocial’ network.

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Phantom Forest Eco Reserve
Named as the most eco friendly place in South Africa, this is a private nature reserve which is tucked away amidst the trees of Knysna. Our luxury ‘tree-suite’ was our charming home for three days. It rained for the first time in three weeks but we were cosy and cuddled in without a care in the world. The highlight of Phantom Forest is their famous six course tasting menu, inspired by African and modern cuisine. This was where we celebrated St Valentines Day and our wedding anniversary. Romance doesn’t come better than this!

Following our guilty pleasures of eating and drinking so much, the next day, we did an 11km hike called the Elephant Trail through the Kynsna Forest. We didn’t meet any elephants along the way but the sounds and smells of the forest were wonderful. As a reward to ourselves, we booked another six course dinner for that evening!

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The Dolphin Trail – Tsitsikamma
Here we were introduced to a super concept called ‘Slack-packing’. This is a type of trail which is tailor-made for the nature lover who wants to go hiking in a group, not minding ‘dirty boots’ but preferring a little bit of comfort and luxury. We spent two glorious days walking along this magnificent coastline with breathtaking views. The entire trail covers a distance of 17km starting in the unrivalled beauty of Tsitsikamma National Park. It winds its way through the natural fynbos and pristine indigenous forest, over rugged rocks at the waters edge, to end on the banks of the Sandrift River.

Our guide Marius was exceptional in his knowledge of flora, fauna and wild animals. He showed us wild garlic, sage, wild asparagus and mint not to mention many herbs we had never heard of that have been used for medicinal purposes over the centuries. As it happens, we didn’t spot any dolphins and when asked about this, our guide said ‘you always see them on the second visit’! We had a near miss with a poisonous ‘puff adder’ snake that jumped out in front of us but no harm done. For me, the best part was swimming in the rock pools. The cool but not cold water of the Indian ocean was so refreshing after hours walking in the sun. Our group had such fun together and dinner times were filled with laughter and stories.

Watch this space – ‘slack-packing’ might just be coming to a hotel near you soon!

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Tsala
In the build-up to Marc’s big birthday, we just had to choose somewhere extra special for the actual celebrations. Our good friend Pierre from Golf Safari used his influences to get us a booking. The drive up to the property was in itself an experience – just like in the house of my dreams – a long winding tree-lined road that seemed to go on forever. No sooner had we parked our car, an elegant lady welcomed us and brought us refreshments while we filled in the paperwork. All so relaxed and yet professional.

When we entered the suite, it was like ‘tree-house heaven’ – a high tech building on stilts with every luxury you could imagine inside, not to mention the private pool and outside deck overlooking the forest.

There are three restaurants on the property and we dined in each one of them. Our favourite was ‘Zinzi’s’ – an impressive, vibrant restaurant with distinctive international flavours in an incredible forest setting – a great blend of funky, fun and traditional food.

The views are breathtaking, whether from the exotic dining room, intimate glassed-in lounge, or large open decks high above the forest floor. Tsala is a magical place, encircled by lush forests extending across rolling valleys, towards the distant hills. What I loved most about Tsala is that there is a great story in terms of how it all started by a couple with a dream who worked tirelessly over twenty five years to develop Tsala into the internationally acclaimed family run brand called Hunters Hotels. It all sounded vaguely familiar 🙂

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And so our holiday came to an end. Perhaps Marc and I ate and drank too much but that’s ok because we also chatted and laughed so much together. We picked up lots of new ideas for Harvey’s Point. We were ready to go home with happy hearts and maybe bigger bellies. It was great to see our kids, Carl, James and Christina again and also to get back to our exceptional, dedicated and loyal Harvey’s Point Family.

 

Deirdre & Marc
February 2015

 

 

 

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