My journeys in Africa

My journeys in Africa
Le Paradis, Mauritius

Friday, 20 May 2016


Having grown up in Durban, it always feels like I’m returning home when driving down the highway into the rolling green hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal which, as you approach the coast, give way to miles of sugar cane plantations and thick lush coastal forests laced with the intoxicating smell of the warm Indian Ocean.

The seaside city of Durban, and its coast north and south, is the new hip place to holiday - with its views of endless azure sea, stunning long beaches (the warm Indian Ocean allowing long swimming sessions in the waves), ‘amped’ surfers of every age lined up for the next big one, colourful trendy bistros and bars, long beachside promenades filled with people jogging or taking an afternoon stroll, grand old plantation style homes on the ridge, lush frangipani scented gardens, the strong smell of Indian curry spices and of course - an iconic red and white lighthouse…below it standing a very grand and gracious hotel – The Oyster Box.

Situated just north of Durban in the resort haven of Umhlanga, The Oyster Box first opened as a hotel in the 1950s. My first memory of it in the 1990s was of its food.  The curry was always legendary and everyone in Durban knew that but the hotel itself felt out of date and a bit drab. Things changed when the Founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels, Stanley and Bea Tollman, purchased the property in 2006. 
To sit comfortably within Red Carnation’s stable of luxurious hotels around the world, they were determined to restore it to its former glory.  Keeping a few iconic pieces in place and an atmosphere authentic to grand and gracious days gone by, the Oyster Box had a complete overhaul and the result is quite simply exquisite.  The new luxurious hotel that has emerged is in perfect balance retaining the best of the traditional yesteryear and mixing it seamlessly with the new, updated and modern world and therefore establishing it securely for the future.

The moment you arrive you are treated like royalty.  You hand over your car keys at the grand hotel entrance and, with warm welcoming smiles, you are ushered through the hotel’s original revolving doors into another world.  You are now in a gracious colonial plantation home – complete with black and white terrazzo floor tiles, grand staircase, whirling bamboo ceiling fans, palms at every corner, pith helmeted helpers, turbaned waiters in starched white and long wooden shutters opening up to the iconic view of ocean and lighthouse.  Something I also notice immediately is the artwork with some paintings being striking and modern although blending perfectly into this environment.

High Tea is being served as we are shown about and I have to pull my sons away from the view of a large table bursting with cakes, pastries and every other delectable snack you may feel like during the hazy lazy afternoon.  A piano tinkers in the background - glasses and teacups are "clinking".  There is a comforting peace about the place although it is humming with people; perhaps a group of girlfriends celebrating a birthday tea, a wedding anniversary couple in the corner, a burnt out executive reading a book on the lounger gazing over the ocean or a family with young children, their little faces smeared with rich chocolate cake.

Our accommodation is as lavish and sumptuous as I expect it to be.  We are in a Garden Suite – enough space for the family.  Great excitement as we discover we have our own plunge pool, children downstairs and parents upstairs and every luxury and attention to detail we can imagine.  The best part of all is to find two menus on my bed – one for a choice of luxury pillows from soft down to foam and the other, a menu of luxury soaps – from magnolia to frangipani.  Oh the extravagance!  I can’t wait to phone housekeeping and order fragrant magnolia for my bath.  

  The Oyster Box is especially famous for its outstanding cuisine.  On our first evening, my husband and I are treated to a dinner at the Grill Room (a formal restaurant offering fine dining) while our children enjoy the hotel’s well-loved pizzas on the terrace with other families.  In the Grill Room, we meet a wonderful older Indian gentleman who tells us he has been serving at the Oyster Box for over 30 years and it is touching to hear him talk so endearingly of his “Oyster Box” family and the wonderful things he had experienced over the years.  I especially enjoy the hors d’oeuvres trolley and allowed to sample a bit of it all.  Then follows a meal fit for royalty; delicately flavoured prawns and Duck A L’Orange, finishing off with Crepes Suzette flambĂ©ed at our table.  Talking about cuisine, no visit to the Oyster Box is complete without experiencing their curry buffet and it is exceptionally good as expected and certainly applauded for a reason.  The breakfasts are a particular ‘hit’ with my family.  How could they not be with large platters of salmon, Parma ham, oysters, pastries and tropical fruits – and that is before you have even got to the usual English breakfast buffet.

The Oyster Box is an institution with a settled comfortable soul – there is no doubt about that.  Some hotels just have the ‘wow’ factor and this one certainly does.  For some, it is the five star luxury, the attention to every detail, the discreet but attentive service, the grand olde-worlde experience, sumptuous accommodation, the lush gardens – for others, perhaps it is the comfortable at-home atmosphere for families, the ideal grand wedding or other celebration venue, a classy meeting place in one of their popular elegant bars, a world class spa or a perfect place to unwind taking a walk down the beach promenade and enjoying the hotel’s world famous cuisine.    For me, it is about sitting on their fabulous red and white Ocean Terrace overlooking the Lighthouse and the vast Indian Ocean, listening to the ‘clink’ of glasses and the idle chitchat of content people around me – counting the cargo ships on the horizon waiting to enter the port just as I did as a young girl – and thinking, “Wow… life feels jolly darn good!”

Oyster Box …the legend continues

Sunday, 3 April 2016


This blog is for you if you need one of those “get me off the treadmill” weekends away with mobile phone, work deadlines and demanding children out of sight and out of mind.   If you are screaming ‘give me time away where the pace is lanquid and soothing for my battered spirit’ and want no more of the concrete jungle and crazy pace…oh yes…I know you are with me on this! 

With Autumn slowly knocking on the door here in Southern Africa, it’s time to book that  “getaway from it all” wintry weekend in a quaint guesthouse surrounded by rivers, mountains and farmlands - perhaps curled up in front of a glowing fire with a good book and glass of red wine in hand.  I have found just the place for you.

Last winter we escaped the pounding city of Joburg to a small village in the Overberg area in the Western Cape, a peaceful little hamlet called Greyton, just an hour and a half drive from Cape Town.  It is the perfect “get me out this crazy madhouse” weekend escape. 

Greyton feels like it has been lost in time and this is the very charm of it.  With its oak lined streets, old thatched roof cottages, donkey carts causing traffic jams in the main street, antique and craft markets galore, a chatty parrot in every residence and rather eccentric locals, you can’t help relaxing and getting into the rythym of village life.   Many descendants of the original settlers in 1846 still live in the town to this day and the charming essence of the village remains essentially intact with only a few changes over the years.  Water furrows crisscross the village and traditional Cape Vernacular style cottages sit close to the street originally built in order to leave large pieces of land for growing fruit and vegetables behind them.  One such charming building that has survived is The Posthouse which was built in the 1860s and since been converted into a quaint country inn.    

After a scenic drive from Cape Town, the world’s woes were slowly slipping from our shoulders but when we arrived at The Posthouse our woes were no-where to be found.  Our country inn room was so inviting (rooms being endearingly named after Beatrix Potter characters) that it took me no time at all to kick off my shoes, have a long soak in the ‘ball and claw’ bath and head off to the Posthouse Pub with book in hand to find a cosy armchair by a warm fire.  

The small Posthouse Pub is just how you would imagine a country pub to be  - and also famously used in the Bells Whiskey television advert here in South Africa.  Therefore, in this vein, a whiskey had to start the evening off and then off to some delicious homemade fare in the inn’s restaurant.  This was just what the doctor ordered.

Having recovered most of our equilibrium by the next morning, we decided to do some exploring of the village and found ourselves in time for Greyton’s famous Saturday Morning Market - what a treat!  The market had to be the highlight of our time in Greyton and something not to be missed.  Something rather good for us burnt out city dwellers used to queuing at the supermarket till to buy a sad ‘poison by pesticides’ carrot or two.  Here we were amongst ‘salt of
the earth’ people who very proudly grow their own organic food and make their own crafts. Even after our hearty breakfast at The Posthouse we still managed to find space for deliciously hot pancakes together with very strong brewed coffee.  We must have sampled goodies at every stall of fresh local produce, chatted up a storm with all the genial local folk at the same time as filling our arms up with 100% organic food and delightful village-made crafts, including jars of olives, pickles, delicious smelling loaves and all types of cheeses and salami.  I was so caught up in the moment; I nearly bought each of my boys a thick chunky homemade jersey from the dear sweet lady knitting furiously in a quiet corner.   We were laden down as we headed back to our “Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” room at The Posthouse to relax on our verandah overlooking the gardens and enjoy our wares for a late lazy lunch. 

With an important South African rugby game on the tellie that evening, we were recommended to have dinner at Searle’s Trading Post.  Apart from the promise of great country fare, they would be showing the rugby.  What a fun late afternoon we had with a whole crowd of people we had never met before – clinking glasses over every rugby try scored  - we were literally family by the end of the afternoon!  It felt really good to be South African again.   True to its trading post theme, Searle’s provides all kinds of memorabilia for sale from old tins and enamel kitchenware to porcelain dolls and vintage clothing.  It was great fun browsing as you waited for your meal, listening to live music and the animated chatter of people around various fireplaces in the courtyard, ‘stoep’ and other cosy nooks and crannies.   
Making new friends outside Searle's...
On our final morning we hired bikes to ride about the village and surrounding countryside.  By this stage, we were healing nicely from the craziness of normal life.    The air felt beautifully clean and crisp and we breathed it in deeply.  For the more active, hikes and horse trails are also on offer.  However, determined to continue in our slow leisurely pace,  we certainly wouldn’t have given Chris Froome any competition and took our time enjoying the glorious mountains and rolling wheat fields.

Sometimes we all need ‘time out’ and I cannot recommend the tranquil and rather special village of Greyton more highly for this.    Think of me when you enjoy your Beatrix Potter room at The Posthouse,   a whiskey at their quaint pub (with a ‘hello, how do you do?’ to their chatty parrot’), a dinner at Searle’s and of course…especially when you pass that dear old granny knitting her thick chunky jerseys at the Saturday market.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016



Great excitement as we head onto our final Northern Tanzania destination.  Our great guide, Hash, takes us through to Manyara Airport and waves us off on our Regional Air charter.  Although in great hands, I am not known for bravery in small planes, so there are a few wobbly nerves as we fly over the edge of the mountainous terrain of Manyara and into the skies above the vast endless plains of a remarkable grassland ecosystem – the Serengeti.  
It is beyond magnificent.  After the rains, it looks like a great green grass sea and the pools of rainwater shine like diamonds in the African sun as we fly over.   Here and there are small homesteads with their distinguishable cattle kraals and we see animals galloping across the plains.  I disembark and take a deep breath – this is MY ‘BUCKET LIST’ MOMENT – I can hardly believe I am here!!

We will be staying with Singita Grumeti for four days and staying at three of their incredible lodges. We are whisked off through the private Grumeti Game Reserve adjoining the Serengeti National Park and arrive at our first lodge - Faru Faru - for lunch.   

I realize immediately, that even with Singita’s impressive marketing material and stunning videos, the real thing is so much more breath taking and impressive than any marketing material can ever achieve.  Inspired by a botanist camp, Faru Faru is exquisitely designed by integrating an organic theme together with quirky and contemporary elements incorporating stone, canvas and glass.   The overall effect is exquisite. 

My suite has a large glass window overlooking a private plunge pool and the savannah beyond where I spot a few black and white Colobus Monkeys scrutinizing me from the safety of their treetop perch.  One can just lie on your sumptuous bed, press a remote and the wall-to-wall glass windows glide open and shut.  I start to feel like my nine-year old son in a “Toys R Us” store.  This is so exciting.  After I have sampled every delicious thing in the stocked fridge, had a cup of tea out of an exquisite tea cup, a G&T out of a crystal glass, explored every interesting decorative item and devoured each fascinating book set out for my interest (of course including opening and closing the windows a few times with my remote whilst lying on the bed) we are called for our afternoon game drive – I am SO SAD to leave my rather amazing accommodation.

When people think of the Serengeti, the first thing that comes to mind is the Great Annual Migration made up of thousands upon thousands of wildebeest, accompanied by zebra and a smattering of Thomson’s gazelle.  Rain is the engine that drives this spectacle and dictates where the herds will be at different times of the year.  However, rain is not reliable and therefore it is not easy to book a migration trip too early.  Our visit did not coincide with the migration passing through – apparently we were a few weeks early.  Even though the annual migration must be the most incredible sight to witness, I wasn’t slightly disappointed because our game viewing was beyond spectacular (and trust me – I have been on many game drives).  

There is always so much game in the Serengeti.  You always see large herds of every antelope, elephant, prides of lion (even climbing trees), cheetahs hunting – that just visiting the Serengeti is “spectacle” enough.  It is a place that touches your soul at any time of the year and it is not possible to be disappointed.   It is your perfect African Safari dream come true.    

Our next stay was my favourite camp of all because I am a bit of a Karen Blixen wannabe.  Sabora Tented Camp is nestled right in the middle of the Serengeti Plains and is a stunningly decorated 1920s style explorers’ camp with a treasure trove of lavish antiques and artifacts, heavy wood, rich Persian rugs and an abundance of crystal, silverware and glass.  Being out on the plains, you really do feel anchored in with the Serengeti wildlife.  

Cozied up in my lavish tent in the middle of the still night, two large magnificent male lions decided to walk right through the camp.  Just passing my rather thin canvas protection, they roared the ‘Lion King of all Roars’ just metres from me…there was absolutely no doubt that the earth shook with this spine-chilling sound.  I was certainly shaken to my bones quite literally- in fact I think I still trembled for days afterwards.  Those that have heard a wild lion roar at close range will know exactly what I mean.  The roar of a lion packs a power punch that completely unnerves you and is part of the thread that binds your soul forever to this wild and unpredictable continent.    Sabora Tented Camp is not for the faint hearted. 

Our last night was spent at Sasakwa Lodge – a stately Edwardian Manor House offering guests a sense of refined comfort, luxury and olde world grandeur.  Being on a high vantage point, it offers amazing
panoramic views of the endless plains.  The walls are crammed with beautiful old paintings, maps and other interesting bits and pieces that make you want to just wander around the Manor House for hours analysing each one, just taking it all in.  A game of chess is set out and whilst we were enjoying an after dinner drink, someone was tinkering on the piano and that sound in itself took me straight back to grand and elegant days gone by – just required me to bring out a silk dress laced with antique embroidery and elegant jewellery.  Karen Blixen eat your heart out!

Although completely taken by all the Singita lodges up in East Africa, the mobile Singita Explorer Camp that we had a quick look at, pulled at my heartstrings especially.  I dream that if I ever win the Lucky Lotto, this is where I would take a group of my closest friends – some time spent in tune with nature for the more adventurous.  These mobile camps, although luxurious in every way, offer a more olde world “camping” feel and are set up according to climate and movement of animals. 

What really stayed on my mind after this visit was that Singita, having won many awards and accolades for it’s eco-luxury lodges, low impact conservation and outstanding community work, is really about it’s people.  The people that work for Singita make Singita.  From the ever smiling and thoughtful Francis (our host and ranger) to the managers and their friendly staff at each lodge and camp, were outstanding.  I will always remember the surprise on our last night when we stopped for the usual sundowners.  

We turned the corner to a path of candle lights lit up, and at the end, chairs decked with Maasai blankets, snacks and our favourite drinks all beautifully set up - an amazing end to our Tanzanian adventure.  I still sing the song that the Maasai  guards sang with us as they walked us back to our rooms at night…. A bit like the thunderous roar of a lion, it just stays in your soul forever. 

Thank you Singita Grumeti  for a trip of a lifetime…. an experience I will, quite simply, never ever forget!


MY "OUT OF AFRICA" TRIP A tribute to the people I met at Singita Grumeti

Saturday, 27 June 2015

With a heavy heart, we left the sanctuary of ChemChem heading towards Karatu and the Tanzanian Highlands.  As we wound our way through villages we noticed a monthly Maasai market - a hive of colour and activity as they bartered their goods and enjoyed the monthly get-together.  It then started to get colder as we climbed up over the Great Rift Escarpment, and it was raining when we found ourselves in the Highlands – a lush emerald green farming area dotted with banana trees and towering acacias.   We eventually arrived at Gibbs Farm – a working coffee farm at the foot of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.  

I was captivated.   

How does one even begin to describe this place? It was so different to anything I had visited before. If we were to continue on the movie theme – I had definitely left the open plains of 'Out of Africa' and entered the dream-like world of Pandora’s Planet in the movie 'Avatar'.  (I loved that movie)

The first thing I noticed were the enormous trees that seemed to form a canopy over it all and the lush wet jungle-like gardens below with moss dripping off trees and “Lobster Claw” plants in abundance.  I had entered a botanical garden with sweeping views over dark green coffee plantations.
 Well known for its organic fresh “farm to table” cuisine, the centre of it all is its extensive “kitchen garden” which spreads out into the forest. Gibbs boasts acres of coffee, fruit, vegetables and various other gardens including a herb garden and a medicine garden, as well as a working dairy and pig farm.  The earth is fertile and dark reddish brown – you could smell the earth mingling with the many herbs and vegetables growing and the smell of roasting coffee together with the sweet pungence of a rain forest.  

The beautiful kitchen garden 
Birds called, pesty baboons chattered, the Maasai men bantered as they worked the coffee beans and the old women filled the baskets on their backs with vegetables and herbs for the kitchen.  Some young children could be heard playing a soccer match beyond the rhubarb hedge.  I believe the odd elephant has come to test out the various veggies – thankfully they do not make an appearance whilst we were there.

The 1929 farmhouse has hardly changed and has history that gives it a settled ‘soul’. A lodge can try as much as it likes but it cannot have ‘soul’ unless it has the quiet confidence of a rich history - a place settled into time nestled into the coffee plantations for generations.   
Ray hard at work
The atmosphere is relaxed, slow and peaceful and very much in rhythm to the farm.  When we caught our breath after catching up with our dear friend, Rachel, who is the Executive Chef here, it felt easy to settle into the inviting big old leather armchairs in front of the fire-place and surrounded by old rock clad walls (which I’m sure tell a story or two). Adorning the walls throughout the farmhouse are black and white prints of the farm many years gone by, photos of favourite characters that have worked here and been loved (many being grandparents of those working at the farm today) as well as local art of Maasai warriors and African wildlife.  It is not trying to be “African Chic” – it is not trying to be sophisticated at all - but then that’s its appeal. 
The kitchen team with Blev

The food here lived up to every expectation – fresh, full of flavor and absolutely delicious.  Our meals were fun and jovial affairs.  Apart from the happy friendly staff and our noisy banter, we also enjoyed chatting with a big sociable group of American doctors and nurses.  They had come over for a few weeks to assist in the local Karatu clinics providing further basic medical care to the local villagers. Gibbs is also closely associated with a school in the area and guests have the option of buying a desk and can sign it with a message and deliver it personally to the school.  This farm, like ChemChem, is very much part of the community.  As I travel in East Africa, I am getting a recurring theme.  There is a great deal of work being done together with the communities  – something quite special is going on here. 

A Maasai Warrior emerging from the mist
Gibbs Farm is also close to Ngorongoro Crater and we managed to do this as a day trip. Together with Hashim (our very enthusiastic and attentive guide with his Bill Clinton “don’t you worry about a thing” take on life) we headed into the misty dense forested mountains of the crater rim.  We could barely see in front of our vehicle as we edged along the ‘jungle’ roads.  At various points in the ghost-grey mist we noticed brightly clothed Maasai with their cattle and some beehive huts but other than that, I felt an eerie quietness.  I believe this is only because it was “quiet” season – during peak season the park apparently explodes with safari vehicles.  I don’t think hundreds of tourist vehicles jostling about like swarming African Army Ants could be any fun.

Crater View - with our great guide Hashim  

Our forest escapade then opened up to an incredible view of the crater – the world’s largest inactive unbroken caldera.  The steep sides of the crater have made it a natural enclosure for an extensive variety of wildlife.   Game viewing was spectacular – just like visiting London Zoo!  

In my sense of utter amazement, I took at least a thousand photos (my trusty camera battery even died on me).  Never had I seen such a concentration of African animals like this.  

Apart from every ungulate you can imagine, it also includes the rare black rhino and the densest known population of lion.  The flamingoes in the crater lake were a sight to behold.

What I found really interesting was that the crater provides multiple land use, with wildlife happily coexisting with semi-nomadicMaasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing.  We saw some of the Maasai bringing their cattle down from their homesteads on to the crater floor to graze, which they have done every day for many years.  We watched as they wandered past prides of lion without a care in the world – just like they were heading down Main Street for a spot of shopping.  The VERY true meaning of co-existence!

The following morning we said good-bye to 'Pandora’s Planet'.  The past few days in the Tanzanian Highlands had been fabulously magical and rather mythical actually.  Back to 'Out of Africa' we go, as our next stop is the Serengeti – I am beyond excited to see it at last.  To the local Maasai, it is known as Siringitu - "the place where the land moves on forever." 

See you there in the final stage of my East African adventure.