Tag Archives: South Africa

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart

Ndumo from the lookout tower.

In the far north of Natal, right on the Mozambican border and miles away from, well, anything really, lies one of Africa’s oldest parks. Spanning just a little over 10 000ha, this tiny reserve boasts the highest number of bird species in all of South Africa – a staggering 430+ species and counting. Not only does Ndumo encompass the confluence of the Usutu and Pongola rivers with it’s floodplains and reed beds, but broadleaved and acacia woodland, swamp forest, fig forest, grasslands, riverines, pans and sand forest and thickets all contribute to a highly diverse range of habitats, most of which are accessible to visitors in some form or another.

The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.

The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.

Both black- and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, crocodile, hippo, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, leopard, hyena (only realised this when we came across their spoor on the last day, thank goodness, or I would’ve been lying in my tent holding in a pee every night) and other antelope species including red duiker and suni occur in the reserve. But the reason people flock (ho ho ho!) to Ndumo is for the avifauna. Many tropical East African bird species are found here at the Southern limit of their range. There are few places where you can chalk up Pink-throated Twinspot and Palmnut Vultures within half an hour of arriving and without even leaving the comfort of your car. Specials abound. African  Broadbill, Pel’s FIshing Owl, Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Pygmy Goose, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Rudd’s Apalis can all be found if you time your visit right.

Sunset at Ndumo.Sunset over Nyamithi.

The Pongola flood plain walk.

Activities:

Guests can go on guided walks with extraordinarily knowledgeable rangers who will identify the plainest LBJ at a glance or mimic the call of just about any bird. Of the four full time rangers at Ndumo, two have been there for over twenty years and the third for over thirty! Gold watches all around I say! Morning and evening game drives are also available and are highly recommended. The sunset over Nyamithi pan with the Fever Trees bathed in rosy fire and the Fish Eagles calling was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Two bird hides situated on opposite sides of the Nyamithi pan provide a bird’s eye view (I’m just churning them out here!) of the cornucopia of waterfowl to be found in and around the water. Storks, pelicans, herons, duck, geese, warblers, swallows, jacana and more can be seen whilst you sip a cuppa, finish off last night’s cold braai broodtjies and just sit, look and listen. The first hide is a 450m walk through the bush and leads to a breathtaking view of the pan, the stork and pelican colony on the opposite side and the towering yellow Fever Trees lining the water. The second is an easy, but hair raising (if you’re a wuss) 650m walk through the reed beds to the other side of the pan. (You will cross hippo spoor here, but don’t panic. Unless you are the slowest person in the group. But seriously, be aware of what’s going on around you and never, ever, ever get between a hippo and its water). This hide is situated above a reed bed with water lilies floating about, so it’s a good spot for crakes and the smaller, reed dwelling herons. The lookout tower near the main Read the rest of this entry

Bernice’s lamb chops

Bernice’s lamb chops

This is one of those recipes that you’ll probably either love or hate. Personally, I love it! It is the meal I would choose when I finally snap in Telkom one day, wipe out the lot of them, and have to pick something to eat before they eventually flip the switch and fry me. It is a quintessential part of some of my earliest food memories. Monday night was not only Knight Rider night (back before he became The Hoff and crushing on him was no longer cool), but it was also the night my brother and I stayed with my dad and Bernice, our nanny, made her famous chops and chips. Bernice might not have been the creator of the dish, but it is a testament to how important she was in our lives that we chose to name this dish after her, despite her tendency to chase us around the house with a wet rag when she was displeased about something. And now, more than twenty years later, my dad still makes it for us whenever we go and visit there. So I’m quite aware that the love I feel for this particular dish is heavily influenced by the memories it evokes and is not based solely on its gastronomic merit. I do, however, still believe it is simply delicious in the truest sense of the word. All the flavour comes from just two ingredients – lamb and onions. But don’t let the simplicity of the components fool you – preparing this dish requires patience and a good, uninterrupted, 2 hour chunk out of your day. It is best served with the type of shoestring fries that are so crispy that trying to impale them on a fork results in little bits of golden potato flying across the room and hitting the wall with a satisfyingly crunchy thunk. This necessitates really getting your hands in there to pull the chops apart bite by bite, scoop up a few chips and shove the whole lot in your mouth with your fingers, which is just messily wonderful! I would also strongly recommend having it with a good tomato sauce. I don’t believe in dousing meals in condiments that could potentially detract from the flavour, but in this instance the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes contrasts beautifully with the salty sweetness of the caramelised onions.

Bernice's chops & chips

Serves 4

Ingredients Read the rest of this entry

St. Blaize hiking trail

St. Blaize hiking trail

Saint Blaize hiking trail

South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline. From mangrove lined estuaries in the north east to the stark beauty of the west coast and endless stretches of white sandy beaches or striking rock formations in between, it is a favourite playground for outdoor enthusiasts and sun-worshippers from around the world. But, like a mousy English lit student working her way through college by donning a dominatrix outfit at night and beating Japanese business men into submission, it also has a darker side. The seas off the South African coast are littered with the carcasses of ships that have met a wet and salty end here and too many families have an empty seat at Christmas because someone turned their back to the ocean at the wrong time. Strong currents, rolling waves and dramatic, jagged rocks make this a coastline you should take seriously. It also means that it is spectacularly beautiful. And, fortunately for us, vast stretches of it have been protected and made accessible to those nature lovers who prefer donning boots and a backpack and exploring our natural heritage on foot.

Saint Blaize

St. Blaize Pinnacle PointOne such route is the Saint Blaize hiking trail in the Southern Cape. Starting at The Point in Mossel Bay in the east, this 13.5km hiking trail winds its way west along the cliffs, through the Pinnacle Point golf estate to Danabaai in the west and can also be hiked in the opposite direction. Parking is available on both ends. You should either leave a car at the end or arrange for a shuttle service to return you to the starting point (check the web for details). On The Point side, the hike starts in the parking area below the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse and Khoi San cave – if you’re tripping over begging rock dassies you’re probably in the right place. Please do them a favour, respect that wild animals should remain wild animals and don’t feed them. A fed dassie is a flattened by a Fortuner dassie. On the Danabaai side there is a small parking area on the shoulder of the road next to a St. Blaize trail information board. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. To get there, just keep left on Malva road after entering the town until you find the spot. White oystercatchers (painted on the rocks, not standing there with bibs and pointers) mark the route along the way.

St. Blaize

Dramatic cliffs, seas in shades from turquoise to indigo, a wealth of flora and rock formations in every autumnal shade imaginable make this an extremely worthwhile way of spending the 6 hours required by the average person to complete the hike. The route can be mildly challenging in places and therefore a moderate level of fitness is required. What is moderate? Well, I am currently at an all time fitness low. After three minutes (I am not kidding) on a stepper I need copious amounts of water, a few pulls on my inhaler and a little lie down on the couch. I could finish the trail without actually throwing a complete frothy by the twentieth uphill, but it would’ve been considerably easier if I’d spent more time exercising and less time eating this past December.

St. Blaize dassieSaint Blaize snake

There is a lot to see on the way. The waters off the Southern Cape are one of the best places in the world to whale watch and pods of dolphins often make a splashy appearance. Also keep a look out for seals and, if you’re lucky, the menacing dark outline of a great white shark – there are plenty here. On land, look out for dassies, bushbuck, steenbuck, geckos and lizards, mongoose, porcupines, tortoises, snakes and a wealth of different bird species – many endemic. The flora here is predominantly fynbos. What makes this particular floral kingdom such a joy is that it is not just pretty to look at, but gives you a full sensory experience, even when it isn’t high flower season. Brush the leaves of plants as you go and let the scents of wild rosemary, buchu and other medicinal plants envelope you as you walk.

St. Blaize to Danabaai

Although the route is very well maintained and feels akin to strolling down a lovely, level, sandy garden path at times, it isn’t all smooth going. There are areas where the trail Read the rest of this entry

The Common Room

The Common Room

The Common Room tapas

If food is your thing and you don’t normally spend months on end looking for it under a rock, then you probably know who Margot Janse is. This multi award winning gourmet has been named Chef of the Year in the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards for the second time and – as executive chef at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek – she has led the The Tasting Room to the number two spot on the list of top restaurants in South Africa – the 11th time that this epicurean institution has ranked among the top 10 under her guidance. One day when I’m all grown up, have put the kids through college and have the kind of settled lifestyle where I can plan my eating experiences months in advance, I too will make it to The Tasting Room. But until then, it’s good to know that we can sample a small part of this phenomenal woman’s genius at The Common Room, Le Quartier Français’s slightly more accessible, but no less remarkable eatery. Don’t let the name fool you – The Common Room is far from plebeian. The decor is lush and rich in plums and reds with quirky chandeliers lighting the vibrant interior. For those who love to people watch there is cafè style seating on Huguenot Street’s ample sidewalk and the back of the restaurant opens up to cool gardens and mountain vistas with comfy couches and a fireplace for the chillier days.

Common Room CamembertOpen for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Common Room offers a menu brimming with extraordinarily original small plates designed to be enjoyed as a snack with a glass of bubbly or wine or to accompany one of their witty cocktails (try the passion fruit based Bow Chicka Wow Wow), or to feature as part of a motley cast of plates that make up the perfect ensemble meal. The menu reflects Margot’s ability to zhush up the most humble of South African flavours with humour, imagination and a touch of the exotic. You won’t find a meatball here – instead tuck into succulent lamb frikadelletjies served with flatkoek and raïta. Battered fish takes the form of pops with chakalaka ketchup and the bitterballen (a nod to Margot’s Dutch heritage and one of my favourite things on the planet ever) is made with wildebeest and served with apple mustard. And who can resist something as simple as French toast when it is paired with Spanish cured ham, preserved lime and a summer tomato party? The chicken & duck liver parfait with salted pear simply melts in your mouth and is the closest thing you’ll get to foie gras without the ethical dilemma you normally face picturing all those fluffy, overfed geese. The quail rillettes with mebos chutney is served in a happy little jar and bursts with flavours of the Cape. (I feel like I’m rambling here, but let me continue!). Organic lamb tongue is given the bacon crumble treatment and will warm your heart on the dreariest of days and the wood baked Dalewood camembert (although not exactly original) is simply perfect in its oozy, creamy, rich simplicity. The only dish I didn’t enjoy was the satay spiced squid, but that’s only because it was meltingly tender and as a middle class South African I’m used to the cheap and chewy variety of calamari we have to settle for while the rest of the world munches on our good stuff. Lastly, hand cut chips are served playfully in paper cones and, amongst other sides, you can also tuck into wood roasted sweetcorn with smoked butter or tempura fine beans with a soya dip.

Peanut parfaitWhen you’re ready for something sweet, try a jar of brownies or the dainty pear & almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel (it’ll make you forget your manners and you’ll be licking the plate before you’re done). My absolute favourite dish of the day though was the peanut butter parfait with gooseberry gel. The cold, creamy moreish ice cream is paired perfectly with a crunchy, salty, peanut crumb that hits every spot a dessert should and some you Read the rest of this entry

Lemon meringue ice cream

Lemon meringue ice cream

Let me preface this post by saying that I really suck at making meringues. This is mildly embarrassing as I have an aunt whose meringues would put Nigella to shame. So if you’ve landed here in the hopes of finding a fool proof way of making light and airy meringues, then you better move along. These meringues are strictly for fools and were sort of stumbled upon when the very first thing I baked in my new and unknown little toaster oven was a dish that required precision temperatures. Clever. So I was toggling between bake and grill and 210º and 100º to try and reach the magic 120º for the sustained period required when making meringues the way they should be when I thought buggr’it, they’re going in at 150 for half an hour. This is higher than you’d normally bake meringues. The result of a lower temperature is an airier but drier meringue because the whole thing is baked through slowly and the air bubbles are trapped in a permanent state of sugary suspension. Fortunately, I like my meringues a bit on the gooey side when I bite into them. (Which also explains why mine are rather ugly… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that looks are less important than personality anyway.) So the higher, shorter temperature worked a treat to get them golden on the outside but still uncooked enough on the inside that when I opened the door and they cooled down too quickly, the entire lot collapsed into a cracked heap of toasty, marshmallowy goodness.

If I lost you at “toggling”, then I suggest you completely ignore the entire section on meringues below and try Nigella’s cappucino pavlova instead. Needless to say, omit the espresso. The ice cream recipe is a fantastic vanilla standby as, unlike most homemade ice creams, it doesn’t require you to break up ice crystals every now and then like some sort of demented, commando going character from Basic Instinct. Make a batch and then add whatever flavours you want to zhush it up a bit. Here lemon did the trick.

Lemon meringue ice cream

Use 8 individual tart tins or one large one.

Serves 8 Read the rest of this entry

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

Biltong & Blue Cheese Dip

The silly season is in full swing. Time to overeat, fight the masses to get your last minute shopping done and exercise your rage control as drivers everywhere forget the basic rules of the road. I say rather stock up your freezer and spend your precious time catching up with friends and family over glasses of chilled wine (or mulled, should it be winter where you find yourself) and tables full of good things to eat. If you need something quick and easy to serve as a snack when people are getting peckish, try this spread-slash-dip to serve with crackers or melba toast. I got the idea after trying a so-so-ish biltong spread bought at the shops. Upon inspecting the label I realised that there was, in fact, absolutely no biltong in it whatsoever. I was sure that adding biltong to a biltong dip would be the natural first step to improving it. Genius right? But please don’t entertain the idea of using that horrible powdered biltong instead of the good stuff. That’s only good when it’s dusted by a little grey-haired lady on to marmite slathered bread cubes and served on a paper doily with a nice cup of tea at the NG church’s bazaar where, let’s be honest, it is damn awesome. Adding blue cheese to anything, of course, makes it better. It also means that this dip packs a serious flavour punch. If Ye Old Ranch is the party dip equivalent of the mousy girl who sits timidly in the corner, looking a little lost and only spoken to when asked where the toilet is, then this dip is the loud guy adjusting his crotch, hocking one back and drawling “Are you talking to ME?”.

Biltong and blue cheese spread

Ingredients Read the rest of this entry