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The last time I was tickled pink by the thrill of a train trip was many years ago while waiting at New York’s bustling Penn Station to board the super-fast Amtrak to Washington. This time, departure was from the private Capital Park Station in Pretoria, with the fairest Cape Town our destination. A slow journey, not only to our destination but into the bygone golden era of railroad travel. The air was laden with the scent of jasmine as the porter swept away our luggage and we were ushered into the colonial-style building, where owner of Rovos Rail, Rohan Vos, welcomed his guests and gave us info about travelling on his impeccably renovated train, The Pride of Africa. As guests enjoyed canapés and champagne, excitement erupted with the arrival of the Locomotive 3360 on the platform.



Northwards in Kruger

Our adventure began one late afternoon on the bridge over the Olifants River – in many ways a watershed between south and north. With a booking at the Olifants Rest Camp some eleven kilometres away, we had time to linger, all the while keeping an eye on the clock so as not to miss the gate closing time. It was that hushed hour at day’s end, and we were the only people on the bridge. The potato bush was sending its distinctive aroma into the burnt orange sky while a lone elephant splashed in the slowflowing water.

The camp’s cliff-hanging location affords it an eagle’s view over the wide bend of river and the bushveld beyond. A good pair of binoculars and some picnic goodies was all we needed to spend an hour or two on the lookout deck, spotting elephant, hippo, crocodile and antelope.



Mapungubwe Uncovered

IT WAS NOT AN ORDINARY DAY. In fact all the days that followed were extraordinary. Long before the first birds signalled dawn, a pride of lions audibly made their presence felt. Around the campfire the previous night, we had lamented that the tent’s lapa was fully enclosed, but in the small hours of the morning, the architectural arrangement made a lot of sense. With such an early wake-up call, the 4X4 was packed by first light and we were ready to explore the western section of Mapungubwe National Park in the far northern region of Limpopo. The road from Forest Camp to Maloutswa Hide took us through a terrain that had changed drastically since my previous visit in 2004. Where once was mopani woodland and giant leadwoods, acacias and apple leaf trees, was now large tracts of skeletal landscape.


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Tembe's Painted Dogs

Tembe was verdant and lush when the ‘Painted Dogs’ were released into the wild. It was a day long awaited and nature joined in the celebration by sprinkling the scene with soft rain. For the first time in many years, these predators again ran free in this part of Zululand. 

The African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) became extinct in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1930s, following the pattern of diminution that was happening all over Africa. Because wild dogs roam over very large territories, there are only a small number of national parks in Africa large enough to contain them. With an ever decreasing habitat due to human population growth, the dogs became hunted, eventually endangered, and presently are the rarest carnivore in Southern Africa.



Fishing in the Ugab

The ma in purpose of our expedition into Namibia was to catch fish. Or should I say, to let the men do some serious angling. Fishing is big along the Namibian desert shores. From the coastal town of Swakopmund, with its German architecture and history, the C34 cuts a straight line northwards to Henties Bay, then Cape Cross, and eventually into the desolation of the Skeleton Coast. Our fishing destination was Cape Cross, and the road – constructed of sand and salt – took us through monochrome plains brought to life by floating mirages.



Doing the Elephant Walk

The November rains had revived a drought-stricken Zululand. A constant low rumble of thunder animated nature with electrifying energy, and as the gamedrive vehicle navigated the slippery hill, the rain came down in straight jets. At the pinnacle a lone elephant stood. “It’s Mabula,” Siya said from the tracker seat. “He’s in musth”.



Sossusvlei for a Day

The Namibian coastal expanse skirts the Atlantic Ocean and for more than 50 million years the forces of nature collaborated to create the Namib Desert – a fascinating wilderness of contrasts and austere beauty. The cold air rising from the Benguela current turns to rolling mist as it meets the rising heat of the desert, bringing vital moisture to the plants and animals that have evolved to survive the searing heat of this parched terrain.



Tembe's Tuskers

Africa’s allure lies in her feral nature. For centuries her wild animals captured man’s imagination and fervour, a passion that created some riveting stories and impressive images. One species stands out, Loxodonta africana, the world’s largest living terrestrial animal. Their crowning glory, the African elephant’s tusks brought this species to its knees during the era of the ‘Great White Hunter’ and ivory poaching in the first half of the 20th century.



The French Connection

The main reason people stay in South Africa is because they cannot stand boredom. They have become addicted to this cultural stew that simmers with bewildering pungency – piquant, spicy, tangy, zesty – never, ever bland. Those were my thoughts when I started gathering the details of a recent trip to the fairest Cape, so I could write a cohesive story. Under a family tree that stretches its branches from Zululand to Franschhoek, and even to Europe, were gathered a weird and wonderful collection of people, places, animals, facts and folklore. How many strands of this network can be woven into one narrative? Well, one can only try…



The Valley of Duiwenhoks

No GPS can ever capture the intrepid traveller’s imagination the way a road map can. The joy is the journey that begins with tracing undiscovered avenues and places on the paper landscape and continues with frequent roadside stops to reconsider, reroute and refresh. My MapStudio Road Atlas shows that the Bay of St Sebastian is flanked by Cape Infanta to the south and Cape Barracouta to the north – names that evoke the era of Portuguese exploration of more than 500 years ago.



Cameos of Kosi

The last glimmer of day had faded and there was no moon about. The sky turned to black velvet, pierced by a million stars. Guided by the lacy white curl of the waves, four pairs of eyes scanned the wet beach sand for tracks that would lead to one of nature’s most ancient biological rituals. The site was Bhanga Neck on the untouched Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. We had departed from the western shores of Nhlange, the third and largest of the four Kosi Bay lakes, at sunset.



A Walk along Ancestral Paths

It was September, winter was flirting with spring and the Tulbagh Valley – enclosed by the Witsenberg and Winterhoek Mountains to the east and north – was at its most enchanting. Meandering through Impressionist landscapes painted yellow with canola fields, we were on a roundabout trip to the West Coast with a stopover in the historical town of Tulbagh. The three of us were not only enjoying a happy reunion but a walk along ancestral paths as, for us – a Theron, a Le Roux and a De Villiers – life on the African continent could be traced back to the arrival of the French Huguenots at the Cape in the 1680s.



A Fine Faraway Farm: Vergelegen

One would have to travel far and wide to find a place more enchanting than Vergelegen. Throughout its chequered history this verdant stretch of land at the foot of the Helderberg Mountains on the fringe of Somerset West has captivated all who set eyes on it. The farm’s history dates back to the early 1700s when the Cape was governed by the Dutch East India Company. It is written that Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel ‘lost his heart and reason’ and became obsessed by this place, which he called Vergelegen.



Treasure of the West Coast

The water and sky form an almost seamless aqua cocoon as our sleek white vessel sails out of the harbour in Saldanha Bay. The term ‘yachtie’ is bandied about by the jolly crew. Ignoramus is moi, arriving with too much luggage for the compact cabin and asking my host, Ernst Hugo, what a yachtie is. “Well, it’s someone who knows his way around yachts. Ahhhh, no it’s more – it’s sort of a way of life.” “Do you get women yachties too?” “Ohhhh, I suppose so – yes – it depends . . .” Depends on what, I wonder, hoping over the next two days to get some clues, as this is certainly a lifestyle to covet.



Cherry on Top

the emb roidery on the cushion of the most lived-in chair in the cavernous drawing room of Kersefontein manor house said ‘Julian’s chair’. Grand piano, fireplace, antique furniture, books stacked high on a central table, glass vases holding giant proteas – all are bathed in the broken light filtering through the old glass panes of the high sash windows. Julian Melck, the master of the chair, has gone in a search of tea and I, the intimidated journalist, sit Alice‑like, waiting for the Wonderland of this historic home to reveal itself.



Editorial's by Anita de Villiers.

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