It had been over four months since we began the next adventure. What more thrilling way than to meet each other in another country – this time Hendrik’s birthplace, South Africa. After a few staggered messages in Hong Kong, Frankfurt and finally in Johannesburg I saw his face light up the airport lounge and it was like we’d never been apart. Grinning from ear to ear we were excited, and the anticipation of our amazing trip we had ahead of us was almost too much. What better to get us in the mood than a typical South African drink of choice? a nice brandy and coke – the ice stirred with our fingertips, I felt every inch of my body relax.
Already thrilled by the different culture and the new money to negotiate, as we waited to board our flight to Cape Town I patiently restrained myself from buying lush colourful African souvenirs – I hadn’t seen ANYTHING yet!
Sleepy but too excited to doze within a short time we arrived in Cape Town, the incoming views from the plane reminding Hendrik of his last trip there. It was of course beautifully sunny as we touched down, ready to collect the rental car for our first two days. The comparisons to New Zealand’s capital Wellington soon became clear as we snaked our way up and down the coastline. We found our way to our first Air BNB with the clearest views of the nearby imposing Table Mountain and deep blue sea for miles. I soon realised how far money will go in comparison to home, I also realised the endless amount of security on the houses, barbed wire, laser beams, fences climbing up much higher than me (no comment). One of the main attractions for us was to see the beauty of Table Mountain in this buzzy city, sadly for us the wind was blowing strongly so we saved our trip for the morning and headed to the waterfront. It didn’t take much arm twisting before we were treating ourselves to a gorgeous posh seafood dinner, trying everything we fancied, drinking chardonnay and relishing togetherness again.
We’d comfortably found the South African equivalent to Rick Steins restaurant.
Weather against us, and the chairlift not operating we wouldn’t reach the top of the mountain, personally though I was delighted at the views already and our driving around meant we could explore sights we both hadn’t seen before. We escaped the crowds and Hendrik got his token fridge magnet (!) it would be one of many amazing viewpoints on this trip. An even better way to enjoy an already beautiful viewpoint is with wine (see what I did there?) a winery road trip prevailed and I had a discovery, I LOVE wine tasting, Yes the wine is mostly lovely but it’s the setting, the story and taster boards are usually lush for when you get that cheeky peckish feeling come along. One more night in Cape Town and we enjoyed an inspiring hill top garden with views of the mountain watching the sun going down.
Time to fly back to Jo’burg mostly as a stopover, another rental car awaited us and it was my turn to drive. This time past countless Golf GTIs, white and silver cars only too – this became a bit of an ongoing joke. I was starting to see a different side to the country, the rich red mud, the willow trees dotting the landscape, their roots relishing the water source, this was a strange sight in such a dry landscape. When I think of willow trees I think of the branches reaching into the likes of the River Avon, a vastly green landscape… not in Africa. We’d been driving through shanty towns for quite a while now, the road lined with people, poverty outside the window with no sign of let up, to say I was uneasy was an understatement, I wasn’t expecting it to shock me as much as it did. We landed up in an uncomfortable area ready for another Air BNB for the night, this time, arriving in pitch black with little food and signs of comfort, we sat awkwardly waiting for our host to open the security gate for our room for the night. Looking behind to check we hadn’t been followed I felt unease and locked each door securely for the night, believe me, it did not help the power kept tripping when running a much needed bath due to the extreme water shortage in Cape Town. Hendrik was his usual cool and comforting self but we were both glad to head out the next morning. We had a short trip to Bokburg Market where I scored a pair of stunning old tribal masks with another thrown in by the kind owner as a blessing, Hendrik scored a much loved Samosa snack or Samoosa as they’re known there.We had a long drive to Durban ahead of us, the varying landscape and strange encounters keeping us occupied all the way. This night we lucked out, the BNB was heavenly, it was set down overlooking the beach where whale and dolphin sightings were common and as we settled into our beautiful room, we felt instant peace. It wasn’t long before our stomachs began to rumble and Hendrik had his heart set on a ‘bunnychow’ since planning the whole trip. We drove around pleasant and not so pleasant streets before we found a back door bunnychow provider (what was going to be in this food bag I did wonder). A warming spicy curry in a loaf of bread! Shared between us back in our beachside retreat, I salivate as I reminisce on this moment. Breakfast was arranged at our hosts other property, a lovely posh beachside hotel retreat, with those stunning views and a fry up with an added banana for a bit of African quirk, very nice too.Very well rested we began the next leg of our journey to Kwa-Zulu Natal region to Gwahumbe Reserve Game & Spa. Around an hour’s drive from Durban, Gwahumbe spa day was booked in advance by Hendrik (he’s a good one eh) and was our opportunity to have a lush massage. A spa like no other I’d been to, we sipped our Hendrick’s gin in the beautiful surroundings and glorious sunshine awaiting an afternoon game safari. This was picture postcard Africa, Zebras came into view, Springboks and Wilderbeast roaming happily as our safari truck chucked us around in amusing fashion. It reminded us of a funny time at Alton Towers where we had shared a ride together and well, the safety body bar kept Hendrik still, whereas I could fit another 3 Carly’s in front of me 🙂We saw our first glimpses of the stunning birdlife with their iridescent feathers, we were however slightly distracted when we passed a sign for a cave…I gently.. internally.. wept..why weren’t we going there.. It was ok though, caves were kept for another day. A few hours of fun, we had a night booked in the ‘misty mountains’ how very Lord of the Rings you may think, it certainly was quite the adventure, driving through cotton fields, back tracking, causing red dust trails, getting stuck, we eventually arrived at our cob house for the night. The neighbour (pretty sure it was Robert Plant’s South African brother) showed us around an off grid lovingly made home. As was becoming clear on this trip, we just wanted a little longer in each destination to enjoy it some more. We had a late night braai, a brandy, and a bath overlooking rolling farmland – it did the trick and also confirmed our love of being back to nature.We had a long drive ahead of us, so another early start and around 5 hours of driving before we’d arrive in the Drakensburg mountains. We’d decided we wanted to see as much diversity as possible without killing ourselves with exhaustion – this day I was feeling tired. The landscapes were changing yet again, green and brown mountain peaks surrounding us as we snaked our way toward Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge Resort part of Royal Natal National Park Drakensburg.It was an emotional morning, we were glad to arrive in the mountains. We were in need of stretching our legs, so shortly after arriving and before we got too comfortable in our bed for the night we packed our bags ready for a hike. It wasn’t long before we experienced instant feel good from the views, fresh air and exercise, colourful mountain flowers and mysterious quartz like crystal in the rocks we happened to stumble upon. The tranquillity and escapism was what we both needed. The view did not disappoint, craggy earth coloured towering rocks surrounding us as far as we could see, we began to feel a sense of achievement as we looked far across the peaks towards our room at the lodge. We reached a natural space to sit and observe the amphitheatre of stone in front of us. It became quiet all of a sudden, no real need for conversation I took myself off to my bag for some water, before I was called back…
There he was, down on one knee with a stunning gold and opal ring in his hand asking me to be his wife! Such overwhelming, pure joy filled every part of me…I was lost for words. Everything fell into place, and as like every moment we spend together it was immensely special. With the sun starting to set, the long cast shadows and softening colours of the sky reflected the moment. The moon shone upon us as we ventured ‘home’. We were feeling an incredible buzz and unreal connection at making this important commitment to each other. We celebrated with a brandy that night! And a lovely romantic meal with the beautiful ring taking pride of place on my wedding finger.We awoke to the mountains as our view from the bedroom, still and sunny we took a beautiful drive through so much green and unanticipated landscape, incredible rock formations reminding me of my time in Waitomo, New Zealand. Today we had the search for rock art in the back of our minds. Given a few tip offs, we found a site amongst a holiday park(!) that had sacred rock art – a small donation later and we wandered toward a stony grotto, hiding in the shadows were outlines of people and animals, becoming clearer the longer we spent looking at it. It felt humbling to be in the same space as they had been when creating this special artwork, we were grinning at our finds.
We were heading towards Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and the scenery was stunning. I felt so at home – we were staying in the Glen Reenen Rest Camp – a much hotter Cheddar Gorge. A horse trek awaited us, our love for horses increasing with each time we rode. Our bed for the night was in a fairly typical round mud/cob house with outside braai area (of course!) but beware baboons!! I didn’t think we’d actually see them, but towards the end of the afternoon we hiked the Holkrans trail. This hike was one of the highlights for me, we climed up the edges of sandstone formations to a good height, thin shaky wooden ladders provided some help along the way. The trail had shallow caves throughout, some with enough space to sit in and others to climb right into and peer out. The mixture of adventure and slight fear (heights and baboons drawing closer) we were more excited with each step. The brandy and braai was well deserved that day. The following morning it was time to head to Hendrik’s hometown in preparation his mate’s wedding – the reason we were in SA in the first place. I could sense Hendrik’s thoughts shifting and excitement growing as he was about to see all his friends again. I was feeling shyness come over me but was excited for him. We saw the chimneys on the horizon from the coal mine town of Kriel and knew we were nearby. We were staying with Hendrik’s friend Garreth (the groom) for a night before the wedding, so many meet and greets were in order with a good amount of booze and well.. meat actually (I’ve never seen/eaten so much meat, it was overwhelming).
The next three days of the wedding were hot hot hot! The venue itself was out in the sticks and deep red dusty mud throughout but beautiful and earthy with a truly African feel. Meeting more family and friends it struck me just how little Afrikaans language I knew and how isolating this was going to be! After being informed of the risk of snakes at camp and my pasty British body suffering in the sun I felt a little sorry for myself. I needn’t have worried as everyone was super welcoming and tried their best with including me in the banter (drink is helpful too) and Hendrik was very understanding.
It was great to hang out with the people he’d grown up with and to get a better idea of the cultural differences (everyone could dance for a start!) we’d come full circle, New Zealand, England and now South Africa. The day was gorgeous, the now married couple Nolene and Garreth were so in love, it made us so excited about the next step we were taking in our lives together.
The Kruger National Park is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest game parks and has a rich natural and cultural history that can be traced back to early mankind. We were booked in for 3 days for a self-drive safari – to explore this incredible park at our own pace, capturing sightings of the ‘Big 5’ and sooo many more.
Heavy security met us at the Crocodile Bridge(!) entrance gates (this was becoming a common occurrence everywhere we ventured, I still wasn’t used to it). Hendrik had visited with his family when he was a boy and stayed in the same bush camps we were booked in this time around, he was so excited to show me and to see what we could spot together. Well, it was roughly 20 minutes before we had elephants walking and feeding beside our rental car and blocking the road, wow!! I was already so impressed. After arriving at our bush camp Satara, we were booked in for a night time safari, it just got more exciting! We spotted lions, just you know, walking beside us, it was incredible as we shone our torches out into the land stopping the truck with each find to get a better look. The next morning we were so anxious to get in the car again to see what we’d spot: giraffes, hyenas, wilderbeasts, springboks, baboons, eagles, cheetah! You name it, we saw it – we couldn’t believe our luck. There were also the incredible iconic Baobab trees and we had found a beauty, we rushed back into the car soon after this photo was taken…We had bought the park guide which had an eye-spy section (you remember those Michelin Man eye-spy books, like that) and we could tick so many of them off. Luckily we were lacking finds in the snakes/spiders section. As our holiday was beginning to draw to a close we couldn’t have had a better few days to wind down and explore Kruger, it’s an absolute must see. Leaving the park with sadness, little did I realise quite my speed and before I knew it was talking to an ‘officer’ at the side of the road who asked me for money.
I’ve only got 400
That’ll do. I want you to work for me, to clean for me…
Ummm OK, bye.’
Safe to say we took it easy heading out towards Pretoria. It was another special day -Hendriks Birthday! Sadly it was our last night in South Africa but we were headed to a stunning AirBNB near the airport that would be everything we needed for a restful night. We had little time and energy to explore Pretoria by the time we arrived but we saw the purple hues of the Jacaranda trees lining the streets towards our bed for the night.
We arrived at the peaceful lodge, which had quirky touches, the garden was filled with every flower and cacti we dreamt of having in ours, art was everywhere and cute squidgy cats to cuddle. We bought in some of our favourite foods to enjoy in the arboretum area and as Hendrik cooked at the braai with brandy in hand his face said it all.
Life was exciting, we were living the dream and finally making it real, together.