The Vaal Experience

The Vaal River starts in the Drakensburg Mountains and forms the border between Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the North West Province on its north bank, and the Free State to the south before joining the Orange River near Kimberley. The Vaal Dam is one of South Africas largest dams and has a wide variety of bird life. Gauteng visitors will be pleased to know that they can rent a car and drive 77km from the airport to a holiday destination next to the river or the dam.

Heaven on Vaal is one of the holiday destinations that offer accommodation, a wedding venue, golf tours, fishing and boat cruises on the river. They are situated in Vanderbijlpark. The fun thing about the river is that its wide enough to do river rafting; game drives can by taken near the river banks and its not isolated from creature comforts like many other outdoor adventures. The Emerald Casino is 30min away from Heaven on Vaal and the quaint town of Parys is nearby for shopping in the Artists Walk on the main road. A stay near the Vaal River promises something for everyone.

If the idea of a houseboat appeals to you, take the scenic route and admire the banks of the Vaal River from a Liquid Lounge houseboat. You can sleep and dine in style with a one- or two-night stay on one of the boats, which is perfect for a weekend away with the family, a luxury birthday party or a company trip.

Deneysville is the largest town near the Vaal Dam, but its still relatively small as the population is less than 2000 people. It is a popular weekend destination which attracts bikers for traditional breakfast runs at the restaurants. It also boasts four yacht clubs which often hold sailing races on weekends. Apart from boating fun, visitors can stay at the cottages overlooking the water and have a peek at the castle which is now a wedding and function venue.

(Image by Tim can Rooyen, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)


Backpacking is hard work, but now theres slackpacking

Slackpacking is like backpacking without the mountain of food, sleeping and camping equipment that you carry on your back. You follow the trail and enjoy the scenery with only your camera, water and lunch to carry with you. A slackpacking service takes your clothes and other belongings to your destination where you can have a nice dinner and a comfortable nights rest.

Theres no bother with setting up tent, taking forever to cook on a miniature stove or trying to get a fire going, as you stay at their accommodation and are served home-cooked meals accompanied by a selection of drinks.

Slackpacking services in SA offer tour guides to show you interesting sights and places you might miss on your own and to ensure that you dont get lost on you way to your destination for the night. You can choose from a variety of trails ranging from one day trails up Table Mountain or a wine tour through the farms and cellars to a 63km and five-day Garden Route trail and everything in between.

The Wilderness to Brenton-on-Sea trail is relaxed and takes hikers through the Garden Route with its diverse fauna and flora. There are also two canoe stages in this five-day trail. Hikers can experience the Afromontane and Milkwood dune forests, walk along beaches and see rock pools, wetlands and lagoons.

For a more relaxed trail, enquire about the Wellington Valley trail. Wellington is only 70km from Cape Town International and hikers can rent a car and drive to the town to take the three to four-day trail. The slackpacker service also manages all travel arrangements, including your itinerary, accommodation, visits to interesting places and the like. This is perfect for those who want to get the most out of their visit to South Africa.

Come and see what the Western Cape has to offer by travelling comfortably, getting close to nature and experiencing the interesting sights and people.

(Image by mallix, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)

Discover Cape Towns Nightlife

Published by in Cape Town on March 17th, 2012

We dont all have the same idea of what a fun night out is, so this guide will touch on something for a variety of moods and scenes. Lets start with the cocktail bars as this is a fun way to kick off if you want to have a more relaxed night out somewhere you can actually hear what your friends are saying.

Start slow

Expect amazing scenery and cocktail menus to die for at these venues. Obz Caf in Lower Main Road Observatory has a mean list of sandwiches and snacks to choose from and they are famous for their live acts, too. If flagging down a Cape Town taxi is not your cup of tea (which reminds me, Obz Caf is famous for its Long Island Ice Tea), rent a car and have the designated driver enjoy what they call mocktails. So they can still get the taste of Cape Town nightlife and be responsible. If youre in the Table View area, visit News Caf. Its specialties, besides cocktails, are coffee and breakfast.

Pick up some speed

Also with a magnificent ocean view is Blakes Bar & Lounge, a three story affair with a cocktail and dining floor, a VIP floor and a dance floor for the late night party vibes. Find this city central based venue on Facebook for specials and more information. In Camps Bay there is the esteemed St Yves Beach Club. Its are a cocktail lounge and club overlooking the famous Camps Bay beach and features some of the coolest DJs so watch their page to see whats happening and when.

Forever 21

The young or young at heart should head over to De Villiers Road, Zonnebloem. Mercury and The Shack sit side-by-side and students frequent these hang outs. Mercury is a popular venue for local bands and DJs and it has mean drink specials. The Shack is perfect for playing pool or just sitting around and enjoying the scenery and the interesting clientele. A few blocks away is The Assembly where well-known artists frequently perform. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming events.

(Image by Christoph Lenz, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr)

Fall in love with the Pool of the Fallen: the Chinhoyi Caves

Published by in Travel, Zimbabwe on March 16th, 2012

Chinhoyi is a large provincial town in Zimbabwe where you can find the Chinhoyi Caves National Park, which is a major tourist attraction. Here visitors can explore the limestone caves, picnic and take photos. The park is 137km from Harare International Airport, which is the closest airport.

You can rent a car and take the longer road (at 176km) to Chinhoyi that goes past the Lake Manyame Recreational Park. This is an area reserved for game such as sable, warthog, kudu, bush pig, baboon, vervet monkey and water buck. Visitors can buy firewood at the main office if they want to cook food. Water skiing, yachting and boating are also options for fun activities. Guests can stay in one of the two lodges and there are camping facilities.

The Chinhoyi Caves is the largest cave system in Zimbabwe that is open to the public. The main feature of the caves is the Wonder Hole, which is in fact a large cavern with a collapsed roof. Around the Wonder Hole the walls drop down 45 meters to the Sleeping Pool. The Sleeping Pool is crystal clear and you can easily see 50m deep. Divers frequent these caves as they are between 22C and 24C year round with zero thermocline and great visibility. The caves are more than 120m deep at some spots.

The Sleeping Pool is sunlit, but the Dark Cave, as it name suggests, is not. There is artificial lighting, though, and visitors can access this Sleeping Pool from the main entrance with an inclined passage or via the Dark Cave. The latter is much more of a challenge as visitors have to navigate steep and narrow steps.

Another name for the Sleeping Pool is Chirorodzira, or Pool of the Fallen because the Angoni Tribe apparently flung people into the pool in the 1830s when they travelled past the caves.

The caves are very cold in winter (middle of May to July) and hot in summer. Visitors can stay at one of the hotels in Chinhoyi. The town is about 8km from the Chinhoyi Caves. The facilities are very basic, but clean and tourist friendly. Visitors can also stay at the Chinhoyi University Hotel which has luxury suites, satellite TV, a restaurant and a bar.

(Image by Roger, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr)

The ultimate girls day out in Joburg

Published by in Johannesburg on March 15th, 2012

This is the perfect trip for relaxing, shopping, eating and seeing the best Johannesburg has to offer for ladies in need of some R&R or just a day of looking at pretty things and getting in touch with themselves or their favourite girls. This trip is perfect for a day in the week or a weekend.

The destinations are diverse, giving you a taste of Asia, and Africa and relaxing with South African fauna and flora and all within 30-40 minutes from each other. Rent a car and enjoy the ride. So lets see the plan!

The Mangwanani African Spa marries the West with African rituals that incorporate local herbs, flowers and spices to give guests a unique spa experience. The spa is committed to responsible tourism and empowering the local community by giving their employees opportunities for family and self empowerment. Bookings can be made through their website for individuals, couples or groups. Make your booking at Mangwanis Indaba branch and plan the rest of your day trip around it as the other two venues are open until later in the day.

For a lunch and shopping experience that is truly Chinese, visit Derrick Street and wander through the array of shops and restaurants. This street in Cyrildene is considered the New China Town. Dont be put off by the kitschy dcor. There are fun finds around every corner. The Fishermans Plate restaurant offers the best food in this interesting town. Lucky Pony travel site tells you what to expect.

You wont have any space left after all that amazing food. Get your dessert as a take away and lie under a tree in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. This has been voted the best picnic spot in Gauteng for the last five years. When you are able to move again, take a stroll along the waters edge and see if you can spot the birds and small wildlife in the park.

This trip is sure to revive any tired, uninspired mind and body. Take your mom, sister, best friend or girlfriend and enjoy the diversity that Joburg has to offer.

(Image by Pan Pacific, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)

Come and see the extraordinary at Matobo National Park

Published by in Travel, Zimbabwe on March 14th, 2012

The first wildlife park in Zimbabwe was the Rhodes Matopos National Park, named after Cecil John Rhodes who stipulated in his will that the land be made a national park. The park got smaller as land was allocated to the local people; a compromise with the colonial authorities. Later the park grew again as it acquired a couple of farms to the north. Today it is known as the Matobo National Park and the Matobo Hills are an UNESCO world heritage site.

The hills are extraordinary because of the way they formed as the earth splitting and the granite mountains eroded. The most famous of the hills is called the Mother and Child Kopje. The word motopos, as the park was first called, means bald heads in Ndebele.

San people lived in this area some 3000 years ago and the rock art they left behind can be found in the many crevices and caves in the park. The Thuli, Mtshelele, Maleme and Mpopomo river valleys promise impressive views to those who wander along their shores. Hiking is a must when you visit Matobo and there are a variety of short trials to choose from. Horse riding is also an option.

The park is stocked full with wildlife, including rhinos as the park is seen as an Intensive Protection Zone for these interesting giants that are under threat of extinction. Other wild animals that can be spotted include, but arent limited to, giraffe, leopard, impala, wildebeest, zebra and ostrich. In fact, the park is home to 175 recorded bird species and has the densest concentration of black eagle breeding pairs in the world.

The Matobo National Park is just over 30 kilometres from the city of Bulawayo, so rent a car and visit the smaller Tshabalala National Park on your way to Matobo. The roads on your way to Matobo are tarred; further into the park there are earth and gravel, but still suitable for most vehicles. Accommodation is available from various establishments at the Matobo Hills and range from the basic (and inexpensive) to luxury suites.

(Image by Katie Hunt, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)

Swellendam: SAs charming third oldest town

Published by in Cape Town, Travel on March 13th, 2012

Swellendam is almost in the middle of nowhere and that is why its such an old town. After Cape Town and Stellenbosch, this little town was the next stop for travellers heading east. While Stellenbosch and Cape Town are very well known tourist destinations in South Africa, Swellendam quietly rests and waits for tourists to find her.

Swellendam has a population of 28 000 which, to put this into perspective, is not a lot more than the amount of students that go to Stellenbosch University. The town is perfect for those who like to take things easy on holiday, enjoy walks in the country, appreciate great food and enjoy smaller towns with more personality.

Take the 220km drive from Cape Town by renting a car and enjoy everything that this historical town has to offer. The drive will get more scenic as you head up the mountain on your way to Grabouw, where it almost feel like youre looking down from a low plane, as the road goes high up and around the mountains.

The restaurants in Swellendam are a must-visit. Order the banana, caramel and ice cream Waffles at Oppie Stoep (on the verandah) caf on Main Road. Its practically guaranteed to be the best waffle youve ever had. Old Goal in Swellengrebel Road is an old jail that was converted into a restaurant where they serve traditional South African food. Koornlans Restaurant has more of a South Africa/European feel to it, as is popular with most restaurants in South Africa, but people remember it because the service, food and wine are so good.

Herberg Roosje van de Kaap is an acclaimed guest house and restaurant that has repeatedly been awarded a spot in the top 10 restaurants in the Garden Route by SAs Eat Out Magazine and is rated as one of Getaways top 10 Bed & Breakfasts. You can find them on Voortrekker Street.

At the Two Feathers Horse Trails you can get in touch with your inner wild child. This is Ronnie, one of the horses that can take you through the forests, over foothills and across rivers. It does not matter if you dont have any horse riding experience, as they have trails to suit everyone.

Close to Swellendam is the Buffeljags River and Buffeljags Watersport. They offer breakfast and sunset cruises, fuffi-slides and canoeing. Just 6km out of Swellendam is the Bontebok National Park where these multi-coloured bucks and other animals can be found grazing between the mountains and the river.

(Images by:

Old Water Mill by Danie van der Merwe, CC BY-NC-SA, via Flickr)

Ronnie by mallix, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)



Visit the Great Zimbabwe Ruins: the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara

Published by in Travel, Zimbabwe on March 12th, 2012

The Great Zimbabwe ruins are one of Zimbabwes biggest attractions. Early colonialists speculated that the stone cities were constructed by the Queen of Sheba, but archaeologists have confirmed the main city was built by the Shona people between 1100 and 1400 AD.

Zimbabwe, translated, means house of stone and the country got its name from these ruins that are now a World Heritage Site. The Great distinguishes this city from the smaller ruins around it, which are called Zimbabwes. The Great Enclosure is the biggest ancient structure south of the Sahara, with the walls being up to 11m high and spanning 250m. Even more impressive is that these walls were built entirely of stone using no mortar, yet they have stood the test of time.

You can rent a car and drive only 30km from the town of Masvingo (where theres an airport) to these extraordinary constructions. Visitors can visit the museum, stay in the Great Zimbabwe Hotel and go on tours with the friendly tour guides who have a wealth of knowledge to share about the site. Near the hotel, guests can play volleyball, tennis and swim. There is also the Sunset Bar which is a favourite with locals and guests.

Visit the Great Zimbabwe ruins for a glimpse back in time and see what tales these mysterious cities have to share.

(Image by Richard Pluck, CC BY-NC-ND – 2.0, via Flickr)

Lesedi: an African village like no other

If South Africa reminds you too much of everything Western and you want a true African experience of living in a hut, sharing stories over camp fire and eating things you may or may not know the origins of, Lesedi is such a place. They call it Lesedi Cultural Village, but cultural mash-up would have been more appropriate as five African cultures live next to each other in this village, which is normally unheard of. Tourists can decide in which camp they want to stay: Ndebele, Sotho, Xulu, Nguni, Xhosa or Pedi. There are 30 rooms altogether.

The village is in The Cradle of Humankind and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rent a car and drive 45 minutes from Johannesburg to learn about the history of South Africa while living with the friendly people. The villagers raise livestock and take care of tourists for an income.

To make this experience more tourist-friendly, the accommodation is traditional with added comforts like full-on bathrooms and cosy beds. When you arrive at Lesedi, you are shown to the homestead where you are staying and the head of the house is your guide for the rest of your stay. Guests visit the Ndebele homestead before embarking on a tour of the four other traditional houses they could have chosen. Here is a craft market with traditional Ndebele crafts. Ndebele houses are famous for their colourful patterns and thatch roofs.

There are two three-hour tours every day, of which the afternoon tour is best because you can then see the traditional dancing. The restaurant in the village is called Nyama Choma and it serves a Pan African buffet and you can drink some mamba juice. The Lesedi Marimba Band entertains guests at the restaurant. Afterwards, you can have a few drinks at the bar before joining in the fun and dancing around the fire to traditional music.

The Sotho people wear cone-shaped hats and colourful blankets. They refer to themselves as the mountain people and their kingdom is The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

The Zulu and Nguni people were once one tribe, but the Nguni people started their own tribe after the war in 1849. They are so-called because the white people gave them the name as they always kept Nguni cows. The Zulu people come from an area in Kwa-Zulu Natal bordered by the Drakensburg, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape. They are famous for their high-kick dancing. The Xhosa people are proud of Nelson Mandela, one of their tribesmen. The Pedi peoples traditional villages of thatched rondavels can run in to hundreds of homes each characterised by the stylised low walled courtyards attached to each home.

Lesedi is a cultural experience of Africa and her people like no other.


Ndebele Homestead: asco, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)

Zulu Dancers: Kwang Cho, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)

Get in touch with nature from a houseboat on the tranquil Lake Kariba

Published by in Travel on February 29th, 2012

Lake Kariba is one of the lesser-known beauties of Zimbabwe and boasts an array of wildlife, unforgettable sunrises and sunsets and the calm only a lake can bring. This is the largest manmade lake in the world, at over 220 kilometers long and up to 40 kilometers wide. Elephants often swim from the shores to one of the 11 islands that can be found on the lake. Quite a number of fish species were introduced and they thrive here, making fishing a big attraction. Swimming is not an option as hippos and crocodiles also call Lake Kariba home.

Hiring a houseboat is the best way to see the lake and all it has to offer in comfort. The boats come with a crew and a tender boat towed behind that is driven by a crew member to fish or view game. Sunset cruises are also done with a tender boat as the houseboat cannot travel at night. Its hard to imagine a more relaxing way to experience African nature than from your own private boat.

Guests can even combine a houseboat holiday with a traditional walking safari. You can be dropped off at one of the Lakeside Safari camps and stay at the lodges there if you so choose. If you just want to explore on foot before continuing your trip, you can take a guided walk or drive with the Gache Gache Safari Lodge.

The Lake Kariba houseboat charters have a few boats to choose from. Pontoon boats can house the most guests and look like a floating house. These are better for children to run around on. Cruiser boats carry fewer people and they are faster; perfect for smaller groups and corporate conferences. The cruises vary between two and four days, depending on how far on the lake the boat travels. The boats can travel from Kariba to Binga. It is advisable to take the four day trip so you can see the Matusadona Game Reserve and even go on a guided tour to learn more about the animals.

For tourists, getting to the Binga side of the lake is easiest. You can hire a car and take the three hour drive from the Victoria Falls Airport to Binga and find the harbor from where the houseboats leave. The Lake Kariba houseboat charters will be more than happy to help you with your travel plans. If you enjoy a laid-back holiday, being catered to and getting away from the hustle and bustle, Lake Kariba is the perfect destination.


Kariba Houseboat at Dawn: jacashgone, CC By-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr

Hippos on Lake Kariba: De Paula FJ, CC By-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr)

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