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Archive for the ‘South Africa Adventures’ Category

Planning the South Africa Trip

JL and I have always longed for an exotic holiday. The idea begins to crystalise when I was given an assignment in South Africa! Like other travels, we have many itneraries to cover within a short time. As this is our first trip to this part of the world, the logistics for each leg of the journey is painstakingly looked into to ensure it goes well. But broadly, our 10-day journey is something like this:

  • 13 – 14 Jan: Fly to the Kruger National Park and stayed 2 days at the Skukuza Camp
  • 15-16 Jan: Spend 2 days in Johannesburg
  • 17-21 Jan: I work on an assignment while JL explores Durban
  • 22-23 Jan: Fly to Cape Town to spend our weekends
  • 24 Jan: JL flies back to S’pore while I continue my assignments in Durban

13 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (I)

JL and I took the “red-eye” flight to Johannesburg. At 1 am, we checked in at Changi Airport Terminal 2 and by purely testing our luck, I requested for JL to be upgraded to business class. The counter staff frankly told us that several passengers had already asked for such upgrades, but readily agreed to take in our request. Thanks to my PPS status, SIA surprisingly upgraded JL to a business class seat. It was a 10-hours flight of good food and service; most of all, we had enough comfort to catch some rest.

At 6.30 am, we arrived at Johannesburg  Airport. To our amazement, this is a pretty decent airport with clean facility and clear signage. We transited to the domestic airport to board South African Airways for Kruger Mpumalanga (or commonly known as “Nelspruit”).  Our first stop was the Kruger National Park, the largest game reserve in South Africa. I guessed the adventure really started after realising that we were taking a propeller-driven aircraft. This airplane had only 3 seats per row and the engine noise drowned most of our conversations. Fortunately, it was only an hour flight.

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kruger airport (nelpruit)

Skukuza Restcamp

I had reserved a 2-nights accommodation in a bungalow at the Skukuza Restcamp. Skukuza Restcamp is the Kruger National Park’s largest rest camp, situated on the southern banks of the Sabie River. Unfortunately, there were no public transport from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to Skukuza Restcamp. We had to hire a car at the airport and paid the exorbitant fare of 1,000 rands (or almost S$300) for the one-hour journey. After some bargains, the driver promised to drive us back to the airport at 800 rands.

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The bungalow in Skukuza is a round-walled, single-room African style units with thatched roofs. Each unit is equipped with 2 beds and a shower room. We kickstarted our Safari adventure with an evening game drive.

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game drive truck

Skukuza Restcamp is one of the camps that are situated in the midst of Big 5 territory, which means the chances of seeing the Big 5 (namely Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo & Rhino) in the vicinity of the camp are very high. The trained field guide drove the jeep-looking truck into the wild, hunting down the tracks of these animals. Lady luck was on our side and we managed to see four of the Big 5 on that trips. We were told that it is most difficult to see the leopards as they are nocturnal and well camouflaged animals. Tourist can spend days or even weeks in the camp before encountering all the Big 5.

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This was the first time we had such close encounter with the wild animals. Just imagine our excitement as the jeep moved so near to a lion and she did not even take any notice of us. We were told that the wild animal never attack a human being as long as he remains on the jeep. However if he gets off the jeep, the lion will almost certain to pounce on him for dinner. I am not sure whether there is a logical explanation for this phenomenal but it seems that the lions have accepted jeeps as an object out of sphere of their interests.

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 It was a fruitful drive. On the way, we sighted a few more giraffes

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… deers and kudus…

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and even a laughing hyena, who seemed to have lost his way…

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 After a quick dinner at the cafe, we tucked into the bed early. As the night fell, we were swallowed in absolute darkness. While dozing off, we would hear the insects and animals outside the bungalow, blasting the silence liked a concerted orchestra…Zzz…

14 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (II)

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. JL and I decided to relax and explore the camp site. We saw a few interesting botany like this cactus-like tree, commonly planted in the compound.

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We took our brunch at the cafeteria, next to the Sabie river. I had the BBQ chicken with South African pap, a somewhat-like “crumbly porridge” made by cooking rice with very little water, giving it a dry and crumbly texture. Half-way through the meal, I happened to look up at the shelter’s ceiling and got a shock of my life. Hanging precariously on the roof (and above our heads) were dozens and dozens of bat! Yaks!!!

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Skukuza is home to a large variety of bird life. There is a lookout terrace in front of the camp’s restaurant. As we walked along the Sabie river, we caught sight of a tawny eagle on a bald tree.

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In the camp itself, there are populations of Warthog and Vervet monkeys. The monkeys seemed to be a lot more comfortable with us, while in contrast, the warthog was shy and scrambled into the bush before I could click on the camera. Somehow, it stopped among the bushes and turned back to stare back at us!

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For the afternoon, we signed up for a guided walk. Yes, we are exploring the bush on foot in search of the Big 5…well, accompanied by two, well qualified armed field guides. Hiking in a single file, the experience is like National Geographic channel coming alive. The best scene we had was watching in awe as a herd of zebras galloped across the wilderness, leaving behind a visible trail of yellow dust.

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 It was also an enriching botany lesson … for example, the poison wood below looked totally harmless but can easily cause skin irritation to passer-by.

 timble trees (poisonous)

After the afternoon hiking, we were famished at dinner. To pamper our stomach, we ventured out from our usual cafeteria to have a decent dinner at a dine-in restaurant. At dinner, we met Marcus and Ginnie with their 3 beautiful daughters. We joined our newly-founded friends and excitedly exchanged our adventures during the game drives. Ginnie strongly recommended that we had Rooibos tea after the meal. This South African red tea ,made from a herbal plant, is very refreshing and pleasant. No wonder it has gained very popular in Southern Africa.

While leaving the restaurant, we realised that the campsite was badly lit after dark (probably for wildlife and nature protection and reservation) and it was almost impossible for JL and I to find the way back to our bungalow. Fortunately, Marcus was kind enough to give us a ride back.

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15 Jan 2005: Kruger National Park (III)

It was barely 3 .30 am. JL and I were already out of bed to join the morning game drive! The meeting point was a distance away from our bungalow and we did not have a torch to light the way. Relying on the dim beam from my mobile phone, we almost crawled our way to the meeting area. JL was clinging on to me tightly and it was literally ” the blind leading the blind”!

The morning drive was done almost before dusk. The truck was armed with powerful spotlight to track the animal trails. The drive was not as fruitful as before but we did manage to see the White Rhino and a couple of small animals. After 6 am, the sun broke the darkness and we witnessed an amazingly beautiful sunrise.

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 Finally, we saw a few hippo while crossing a river …before we ended the morning drive at 7.30 am.

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 At 9 am, our driver picked us up from the bungalow. He was driving an older car with a lady friend in traditional costume. JL and I suspected that the driver borrowed the car from this lady friend to earn the extra cash for the weekend. That’s probably the reason why he could give us a fare discount.  JL was pretty fascinated with the lady’s friend’s dress (why on earth would she wear this attire under the hot weather) and grabbed an opportunity to snap a picture with her.

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 At 11.30 am, we boarded the plane and headed back to Johannesburg.

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15 Jan 2005: Jo’burg

Not traditionally known as a top tourist destination, Johannesburg is usually regarded as a transit point for connecting flights to Cape Town, Durban, and the Kruger National Park. This largest city in South Africa housed 6 million people and is notorious for its high crime rates. In densely populated area like Hillbrow, many landlords actually abandoned their buildings and moved to safe areas in the suburbs. The top three safe areas in Johanesburg are: Sandton City, East Gate and Rosebank. We chose to stay at Rosebank as there is a weekend flea market at Rose bank roof-top every week.

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Soweto

We landed in Jo’burg International Airport at 1 pm and was picked-up by a tour guide from TK Tours. We had joined a 3-hrs sightseeing tour to see Soweto. Soweto is an acronym for “South Western Township”, a home to 2 -3 millions people living in squatters with no electricity and toilets. In 1880, gold was discovered in mineral-rich Witwatersrand hills and triggered a “gold rush”. Soweto was then formed from a collection of settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg,  populated mostly by these native African workers working in the gold mining industry.

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When we  reached the slum, we were first welcomed with a local “hand shake” and shown the facility within the compound.

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For instance, this worn-down blue house was actually a kindergarten!

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Life in the squatters is very basic and we had an opportunity to visit one house. As a city dweller, it is unimaginable to live in a home without electricity, refrigerator, TV or computer. Yet, I could see that they are probably much happy than many Singaporeans that I knew, who possessed a lot more monies and material indulgences. Perhaps, this is what they meant by “less is more”.

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Hector Peterson Museum

Our next stop is at the Hector Peterson Museum, which was set up to commemorates the 566 people who died in the student uprising that followed the events of 16 June 1976.  The museum is named for Hector Peterson, a 12-year-old boy who was the first person shot dead by police on that day. A memorial is set up at the place where he was shot to his death.

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16 June 1976 was a historical turning point for many Africans. The students staged a protest on 16 June 1976 against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium to be taught in the Black school. At that time, South Africa was under the firm grip of apartheid. The protest initially started off peacefully in Soweto but turned into a chaos when the police opened fire at unarmed protesting children.

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Khotso Seatlholo, one of the pioneers of the 1976 student who died during the clash, summed it up in these few powerful words: Liberation is a noble cause without which I have no reason to live if I cannot fight to attain it.

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Vilakazi Street – The “Nobel” Street

Following this, our guide drove us around the Soweto area.  Vilakazi Street is the most famous street in Soweto for this is the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners lived: Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu.

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Nelson Mandela’shouse has been converted into a museum and the house has been preserved in exactly the same state was it was when the Mandelas lived in it in the 1960s. This former President of South Africa was an anti-apartheid activist and was made a political convict for 27 years, spending many of these years on Robben Island. If time permits, I plan to visit Robben Island while I am in Cape Town. 

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Across the street from the Mandelas’ is the Tutu’s house, which is still used as a normal home by the Tutu family. Desmond Tutu is a South African cleric and activist who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid.  He is the second South African to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

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Soweto is a self-contained community and a colourful melting pot. Here were some other interesting shots taken in Soweto:

Goats put up for sale…

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Street barbers waiting for customer…

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And street artist displaying his vibrant works to us…

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This Soweto tour really opened our eyes, but most of all, it was our hearts. We were filled with gratitude that we are blessed with a nice and comfortable home to live in, and a safe and democratic country that we can be proud of.

Rosebank

After the tour, we checked into the Courtyard Rosebank. The Courtyard Rosebank is a gracious and elegant hotel, situated in the heart of the upmarket suburb of Rosebank. Major shopping centres, restaurants, as well as the famed Sunday Rosebank Flea Market, are all within walking distance. We were delighted with the clean and spacious room, which came with a kitchen and cook area.

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A relatively unbelievable fact: The water in South Africa are safe for drinking, straight from the tap!

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16 Jan 2005: Jo’burg

Rosebank Weekend Market

Today is a Sunday and there is a high profile Rooftop Market (opened from 9 am to 5 pm) with over 600 stalls offering quality clothing, ceramics, arts and crafts, handcrafted items from all over Africa; furniture and jewellery, plus a wide array of culinary delights in the International Food Court and Deli section. Established in 1993, this premier market is a paradise for shopping and leisure for local and tourists alike.  JL and I spent a couple of hours here and even had a head & shoulder massage by two Chinese physicians!

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For two days in a row, we had grilled chicken wings at Nando’s. This Portuguese-themed, casual dine-in restaurant originated from Johannesburg in 1987 and now operates in more than 25 countries.  Nando’s specializes in chicken with lemon and herbs, complimented with its famed spicy peri-peri marinades. Commonly known as African red devil, peri-peri is a small and extremely spicy member of the capsicum. In plain words, this is the “chillie padi” of South Africa. JL and I enjoyed the spicy kicks so much that we brought a few bottles home.

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In the evening, we flew out from Johannesburg and headed toward the next destination, Duban.

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  17 -21 Jan 2005: Durban

Durban is the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal. The modern history of Durban started in 1824 when British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell and an adventurer Henry Fynn arrived. Henry Fynn helped Zulu King Shaka to recover from a stab wound he suffered in battle. As a token of Shaka’s gratitude, he authorised them to establish a trading station. In 1835, the town was named “Durban” after the Cape Governor of the time, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. Most Durban residents speak Zulu at home and we were quick to pick a couple of useful phrases, such as Ngiyabonga (pronounced “Lee-a-bon-ga”), which means “thank you” in Zulu.

Umgeni River Bird Park

As we arrived here very late in the evening yesterday, we decided to relax our pace today. The first stop was at the Umgeni River Bird Park.

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This park has many walk-through aviaries with birds out on perches, where you can get up close and personal with the hornbills, macaws, kookaburra and toucans. There is a free bird show featuring endangered species like the Wattled Crane and Cape Vulture to emphasize  on wildlife conservation.

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Although this is a far cry compared to the Kruger National Park, we still enjoyed it…

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 Durban South Beach

Located along the warm Indian Ocean coastline, Durban is famous as Africa’s busiest port. But more importantly, it is a mecca for all beach lovers. Warm subtropical climate, white sands, fantastic waves and plenty of warm sun makes Durban a popular South African beach destination. 

On the return trip, we stopped by the South Beach. The South Beach is part of Durban’s world famous ‘Golden Mile’. It is purely an enjoyment to just relax in the powerful westerly winds and watch the large waves covering the shore.

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Seafood

A relatively big community of Indians live in Durban. Therefore, two things are naturally great here – Seafood and Indian cuisine. The local recommended a superb seafood restaurant located at the Point Waterfront, called The Famous Fish Company. Situated at the entrance to the harbour, the restaurant provides a wonderful view of the ocean liners and the passing ships. If you are lucky enough, you might even see a school of dolphins frolicking in the sunset. JL and I shared the famous fish platter. The shell seafood and linefish were very fresh and the service was excellent. It was a good recommendation.

Another interesting eatery is the marine-themed The Cargo Hold @ uShaka Marine World. This restaurant is unique because it is located in a ship that stands at Ushaka. There is a huge shark tank in the centre of the restaurant. So if you book early, you can get a table right next to shark tank! I had a grilled kingklip fillet, napped with mussels poached in a passion fruit and Bourbon cream sauce accompanied by crushed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. YUMMY!

Durban Ricksha Bus Tour

Initially, JL had some reservations about venturing out alone in Durban. After all, here is South Africa and there is an overpour of fear from Jo’burg crime rate. But after two days of imprisonment at the Hilton Durban, she quited the mandane life to join the Durban Risksha Bus tour in exploring Durban Central.

The Town Hall is the most prominent building and this was the second town hall to be built in Durban. This 1910 Edwardian neo-Baroque architecture was deigned by Stanley G. Hudson, who was inspired by the City Hall of Belfast in Northern Ireland and replicated it. 

 

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The original town hall has become the Durban Post Office

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The Emmanuel Cathedral has just celebrated its centenary establishment. This Roman Catholic Church opened its door in 1904 and has made it through the South African Apartheid Era. A beautiful architectural feature of this church is its cross, carved out of Carrara marble from Italy and was a gift from the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III of France.

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Another fascinating architecture is the Juma Mosque. Built in 1904, it is the largest mosque in the Southern hemisphere. It strangely dominates Durban’s central Indian district, especially with its two gilt-domed minarets towers. Around the mosque is Grey Street where there are many Indian food outlets offering Durban’s unique “Bunny Chow”  (half a loaf of bread scooped out and filled with curry).  On Victoria Street Market, there is a huge bazaar selling incense, henna tattoos and spices.

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city notorious area

The Old Station Building was built in 1892 as the main railway station house in the city centre. The most peculiar feature of this station is its roof which was designed to support 5m of snow. The design was from an English architect, who sent the Toronto Station roof plan to Durban in error. Toronto got the Durban plans and their station collapsed during the first bad winter. Another person linked to this station is Gandhi, who bought a first-class train ticket to Johannesburg in June 1893. On the way to Pietermaritzburg, someone on the train complained that there was a non-white in the first class section. Gandhi was thrown out of the train at Pietermaritzburg. He got separated from his luggage and spent a very cold night in a shed. It is said that this is where he formulated his philosophies on Satyagraha or passive resistance.

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JL related her “hair-raising” experience while she was on the way from the hotel to the near-by supermarket. As she crossed a park filled with Africans, she felt they stopped doing what they were doing and “stared” at her (” Of course lah, it is not common to see an Asian lady here mah,” I assured her).  Besides,  the park was fully used by the local for trading and retails. There was even a household telephone (not a booth) set up for use at a charge. But the panick button was turned on when an African lady suddenly appeared in front of JL, asking for something. She totally forgotten what the lady said and quickly took to her heels, hurrying back to the hotel. To be frank, I was also uncomfortable walking alone through that park.

Gateway Shopping Mall

When JL and I discovered Gateway, we were very elated to see this “Theatre of Shopping”. It is situated at Umhlanga Ridge New Town Centre, which was 30-45 min drive from Hilton Durban. This complex is 150,000m² big with more than 280 stores! It has a Surf and Extreme Sports Centre Wavehouse, which you can surf inside the shopping mall. For the adrenaline junkies, it has the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall standing at 24m high!

Strangely, we picked our dinner at the Cape Town Fish Market (which we are going to spend the weekend in Cape Town). The decor predominately makes use of stainless steel throughout the restaurant, which give an emphasis on cleanliness. Here we had some sushi and sakae sashimi (the salmon belly and seared tuna sashimi were one of the best that I had tasted!).

After dinner, we went to the IMAX  theatre. We enjoyed the first show Everest so much that we continued with the second show, which talked about Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk.

Although our stay in Durban was 5-days long, we did not explore much as, most of the time, I was occupied by my work assignment here. The biggest regret was missing a trip to Drakensberg to see the Giant’s Castle World Heritage Site and its Bushmen rock art in the ancient caves.  Nonetheless, we looked forward to the weekend stay in Cape Town.

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22 – 24 Jan 2005 : Cape Town

Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

It is easy to comprehend why Cape Town remains as the most popular tourist spot in South Africa. Afterall, it has the combined winning recipe of warm weather, good security and offer great sightseeing options and food.

We arrived in Cape Town on Friday late evening and stayed at a business hotel called City Lodge. This is an affordable and centrally located hotel at the gateway to the vibrant and dynamic Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront. Set against a backdrop of magnificant sea and mountain views, Cape Town really reminded us of San Francisco. Both cities are located on peninsulas with habours and majestic coastlines. San Francisco has an infamous Alcatraz Island while Cape Town boasted its Robben Island.  They have common fair-temperatured climate and a  rich blend of diverse cultures.

V&A Waterfont is a cozy place which can be explored on foot in little more than an hour – exciting shopping and entertainment venues, inter-mingled with sprinkle of live, work, shop and play.

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We were very fortunate to enjoy Abie Thomas’ live performance here. Abie and his band have been entertaining the people in Cape Town for over 20 years. This self-taught trumpeter started street busking for tourists at the waterfront more than 10 years ago and his band has become a main entertainment attraction here.

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The Wine Route

Although JL and I are not wine fanatic, the thought of joining the Stellenbosch wine route sounds like a refreshing thing to do.  Located about 50km north-east of Cape Town, Anura Vineyards is situated between Paarl and Stellenbosch in the foothills of the Simonsberg mountains. The name is derived from the Latin classification of frog to commemorate an area on the farm fondly known as Padda Bult or Frog Hill. Natually, Anura anmed its ultra-premium labels “Frog Hill” and“Padda Bult”.

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This vineyard is family-ran and its grapes are harvested by hand at optimum ripeness. They are hand-sorted to ensure that only the best bunches are brought to the crushing phase with careful attention paid to the crushing process, the type of yeast used, the fermentation method and temperature, as well as the wood used for fermentation and ageing. To compliment the wine, we were served with in-house quality soft-cheeses.

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Stellenbosch Town

Stellenbosch is a quiet town situated about 50 km east of Cape Town. It is also known as the City of Oaks as its founder governor planted a large number of oak trees to beautify the streets.

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 After the wine tour, we visited a cheetah sanctuary where you can get close and up personal with this fastest animal in the world. We learnt how to differentiate a cheetah from a leopard. Leopards have rosette-shaped spots, while cheetah have solid round or oval spots. Leopard hunt at night but the latter hunts during the day.

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 Cape Peninsula – Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserves & Cape Point

After an hour drive from Cape Town, we entered into the world of Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserves. As the van whirled along the spectacular winding paths, you feel that you are standing on razor’s edge of the earth. The cool, howling winds embraced our warm soul as we stood at the towering heights, admiring the mysterious deep blue sea, covered with fury white waves crashing against the precipitous cliffs . We had reached the most south-western point of Africa and the scenery is simply breath-taking!

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This is a piece of tranquil land with unsurpassed serenity. From a distance, we spotted a few ostriches pecking their food.

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Finally, we reached the end of the Cape Peninsula, the Cape Point.  To experience the full scenic view, we had to climb up the sea cliff that rises 238m above the sea, to the old lighthouse. Here, you can see the interection where the mighty Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It is said that if you swim across, you can experience the warm current on the East coast and the cold water from the West Coast. This was also the end of the Cape Peninsula trip.

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 Kirstenbosh National Botanical Garden

 Besides the Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is probably the next botanical garden that I enjoyed visiting. This world-heritage site displayed the beauty and diversity of the South Afican flora and plants. It is complimented by the magnificence backdrop of the Table Mountain.

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The garden featured a Medicinal Garden, which introduced the medicinal uses of South African plants. I took picture of this medicine plant called mother-in-law’s tongue, which I wondered how it got that name?

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Another special botany was the cycad, the living fossil which the “dinosaur saw” about 150 million years ago. Their leaves are tough and spiky to prevent the dinosaurs from eating them.

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The visit would be incomplete without seeing the Protea Garden, the South African national flower. The flower is named after the Greek God, Proteus, who (according to the legend) could change his appearance.

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It was a relaxing trip with lots of sunshine. We felt greener after an-hour soak in nature.

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Table Mountain National Park

The Table Mountain National Park  is the scenic coastline situated at the south-western tip of South Africa, stretching from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south. The park is widely recognised for its rich and diverse array of flora and fauna. As we approached the Table Mountain, we were greeted by the “Lion Head”, an elongated hillside sticking out from landscape, resembling a reclining lion.

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 As the cable car brought us up to Table Mountain, the national park appeared to be a child’s Lego playland. On the summit, you have a  spectacular panoramic views of the peninsula.

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The local told me this interesting fact: the Table Mountain is an accurate “weather forecast” for Cape Town. If the Table Mountain is covered with a “white table cloth” (i.e., white clouds), it is almost certain that it will be a cloudy or rainy weather tomorrow. Hmm… guess the weather outlook from this picture. 

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Boulders Penguin Colony & Simon Town

I was very surprised to learn that there was a growing colony of the African Penguins right here in the Cape Peninsular. The Boulders Penguin Colony is home to these vulnerable penguins. There were wooden walkway in the vicinity to allow us to see them in their natural habitat.

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On the way back to Cape Town, we passed by a village and naval base called Simon’s Town, located along the shore of False Bay. This was the last stop of our guided tour for Cape Peninsular.

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