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6 can’t miss spots in Asbury Park

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6 can’t miss spots in Asbury Park

The once scruffy Jersey beach town of Asbury Park is ready for its next act.
  The sun is shining again on Asbury Park, the seaside enclave made famous by the Bard of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen. I grew up nearby, and the memories of my youth are marked by its gritty streets and underground venues, then a stomping ground for  mostly locals. In recent years, the city’s historic music haunts and iconic  boardwalk have gotten a much needed sprucing up, and now attract visitors from far beyond the tristate area. Hip bars and first rate restaurants, along with hotelslike the three year old Asbury and the just opened Asbury Ocean Club, are transforming this town from a summer getaway into a year round destination. Here are six can’t miss spots in Jersey’s most dynamic music town.
1. Situated in a gleaming 17 story beachfront tower, the hotel at ASBURY OCEAN CLUB is luxe but laid back, with 54 loftstyle guest rooms and glossy communal spaces overlooking a pool deck and the ocean.
2. Beloved bowling alley ASBURY LANES, reborn in 2004 as a music club, has gotten a third life, with six refinished lanes, a retro diner, and an upgraded stage with shows curated by New York City based promoters the Bowery Presents.
3. DANNY CLINCH TRANSPARENT GALLERY is an immersive art and music venue selling largeformat prints, T-shirts, and books of rock portraits by the music photographer and Jersey native, along with Midcentury Modern furniture and a diverse collection of vinyl records.
4. Airy boutique PATRIÆ offers vintage objects and home goods,  along with clothing made from sustainable materials. Stock up on owner Barbara Pisch’s tote bags and pillows, all handmade from hemp and linen sourced on her trips to Eastern Europe.
5. PASCAL & SABINE nods to the brasseries of France with its  candlelit leather banquettes, marble bar, and menu of classic dishes like coq au vin and panroasted sole meunière.
6. Sample the aptly named Perfect Gin and Tonic at ASBURY PARK DISTILLING CO., a sleek tasting room that makes artisanal spirits and bitters on site.

China’s Guizhou Province

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China’s Guizhou Province

In China’s Guizhou province, a tech forward culture rubs shoulders with ancient traditions.
  Guizhou, in rugged southwestern China, has long been one of the nation’s least developed provinces. That has allowed minority groups such as the Miao, the Dong, and the Yi to live much asthey have for centuries. But recently, the government has been promoting Guizhou’s capital, Guiyang, as a tech hub, and companies such as Alibaba, Microsoft, and Huawei are opening offices in town. That’s  led to better infrastructure, more flights, and expanded high speed rail service from Guangzhou and Chongqing.
  For travelers, Guizhou has become an ideal weekend detour to combine with popular destinations such as Hong Kong or Chengdu,  both an easy flight from Guiyang. Even asthe region modernizes, it remains a showcase of southern China’s centuries old culture and cuisine. Make the Hyatt Regency    Guiyang (hyatt.com; doubles from $130) your base in the capital; in the mountainous countryside, bed down at the humble but comfortable and, most importantly, Englishspeaking Perenc Hotel (Huangguoshu Ave.; 86-851-3351-7777; doubles from $75) in Anshun. T+L A List travel advisor Stan Godwyn (stan.g@ travelstore.com; 916-830-5511) can book a China itinerary with a visit to Guizhou.
  My first stop was the village of Upper Langde, home to the Miao (known elsewhere as the  Hmong), one of Guizhou’s most prominent ethnic minorities.Bearded men played folk songs on bamboo lusheng as women wearing hornshaped silver headpieces offered me rice wine. In Guizhou, groupslike these give visitors a glimpse of traditions that can’t be found in China’s urban centers.
  One misty morning, I visited the Meitan Tea Ocean (519 Chahai Rd.; 86-180-8966-6064), the largest expanse of contiguous tea plantations in China, with bushes that extend to the horizon in a patchwork of green velvet. After a tea ceremony, I took in the landscape from my perch high in a pagoda and sipped an earthy brew made with deep red leaves. Later, I drove past rice terraces and limestone karst formations to Huangguoshu Waterfall, the biggest in China, and walked along a winding corridor behind the cascade that’s known as the Water Curtain Cave.
  An hour and a half’s drive southwest, near the town of Qinglong, is the 24 Zig Road, China’s answer to San Francisco’s Lombard Street. True to its name, the road slaloms in 24 dramatic bends cut into a mountainside. At the top, I stopped to watch a traveling chorus ofsingers from a local  Yi village, clad in richly embroidered clothing, as they serenaded a small crowd that had gathered.
  Back in Guiyang, a notoriously late night town, I went to karaoke at Happy World (7 Dushi Rd.;  86-851-8588-0598) with a Guizhou born, California raised friend, whose cousins belted out Mandarin hits as we downed shots of local  baijiu.Having worked up an appetite, we hit Shaanxi Road, a lively drag where food carts sold regional specialtieslike skewers of fried chicken dipped in sesame oil. As we slurped suan tang yu, Guizhou’s famoussour fish soup, the tables filled with other revelers.They’d all make it to work by morning, they assured us, and raised their glasses with an enthusiastic “Gan!”If this was China’s true soul, I wanted to be a part of it.

Travel Japan

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Travel Japan

 Come September, Japan will reverberate to the roar of crowds  and the shrill of referees’ whistles. In the run up to the Rugby World Cup, we visited the island nation to hike its back roads. Once an ancient highway through the Japanese Alps from Kyoto to Tokyo, the Nakasendo Way is today a forgotten byway  made for slackpacking holidays.
  Had always wanted to visit pan in cherry  blossom season. the chance eventually came when I was put in touch with  walk Japan, a company that offers  tours ranging from easy city walks to tough alpine treks. I chose their  Nakasendo Way, a route that follows a  feudal highway through Honshu Island. After 27 hours of flying and transit via  Joburg and Hong Kong, I arrived in Kyoto,  Japan’s ancient capital. shattered and  jetlagged, but still determined to see the city’s essential sights.    Fortunately, there was a day to spare before the hike. Armed with a map, rudimentary instructions and  Google Translate, I climbed on a bus and  set off.
  First up was the Zen Buddhist temple of Kinkaku ji, an ethereal pavilion seemingly suspended above a pond. The building functions as a shariden, supposedly housing the Buddha’s ashes, and its top two storeys are coated with gold leaf creating a surreal effect.
  Next was the temple of Tenryū ji. Founded in 1339, this complex has a gorgeous bamboo forest, a place of clacking stems and luminous green light. By now, the jetlag was catching up with me, but I wanted to visit one last spot and made my way across town to Fushimi Inari Taisha. This Shinto shrine has hundreds of torii (gates) that thread their way up Inari Mountain. Set against dark forest and grey sky, the bright orange torii and hordes of young worshippers in colourful kimonos had the photographer in me hopping around in delight.
  I returned to the hotel just in time for the 6pm meeting with my 10 hiking companions (Australian, American and Taiwanese) and our Japanese guide. Shima Enomoto made the introductions and gave  us the lowdown on the trek ahead. She also told us how she’d left her highpowered banking job in the USA to follow her passion for walking and Japanese history. She’s done the Nakasendo more than 20 times and proved a wealth of insider knowledge.
  Briefing us on etiquette, Shima explained that we’d be staying in country inns where the customs around food, dress, bathing and sleeping (never lay your futon down facing north, as it implies death) would be quite different to what we were used to. Dinner that night was a 12 course affair that gave us ample chance to practise our  chopstick technique and sample local dishes.The coming days were a culinary eye opener with everything from horse carpaccio and blowfish to eel and caramelised crickets. Fortunately there was rich plum wine and sake to ease some of these foreign bodies down my conservative gullet.
  Strolling back after dinner, we stopped beside Sanjo ohashi Bridge at a sculpture of two baggage toting men.That would soon be us. ‘These are typical Edo period travellers and this spot marks the end of the Nakasendo Way,’ said Shima. ‘From here, we’ll be heading east for the next nine days, bound for the corresponding bridge  in Tokyo.’
  The Nakasendo dates back to the seventh century and was a well maintained route with carefully spaced post towns offering shops, inns, stables and porter services. The tree lined highway featured distance markers, stone lanterns to light the way at night, barrier stations (checkpoints) to prevent unauthorised transit and teahouses for refreshment.There were also shrines, temples and statues of deities for the protection of travellers.
  The Nakasendo found its greatest importance during the Edo period (1603  1868) when shoguns of the Tokugawa family ruled Japan. Regional daimyo (feudal  lords) and their vast entourages had to report to the shogun in Edo (Tokyo) every second year. As a consequence, Japan’s five main highways boomed. They also became important pilgrimage and trade routes. Control of these arteries gave the shogun effective control of the nation.
  Long since bypassed by motorways, trains and political change, the Nakasendo fell into disuse at the end of the 19th century. But  thanks to a revival of interest and tourism, many sections have been restored and offer tantalising glimpses of old-world Japan. The next afternoon found us walking through open fields north east of Kyoto.  ‘This is Sekigahara, the setting of perhaps the greatest battle in our history,’ said  Shima. ‘The forces of eastern and western Japan clashed here in the autumn of 1600. Shogun Tokugawa’s victory bringing to an end centuries of conflict helped usher in the Edo period, two and a half centuries of peace.’
  We crisscrossed the battlefield, visiting the sites of the generals’ camps, their hillside positions marked by flags bearing family crests, and the valley floor where more than 150 000 soldiers fought.    I tried to picture the scene on that fateful morning when the mist lifted to reveal the armies in place, banners fluttering, cavalry preparing to attack. Great samurai in their colourful armour, bowmen  ready to unleash their rain of arrows. A battle to change the course of history.
  That evening, we arrived at our first ryokan.These traditional inns typically feature tatami matted floors, sliding doors, paper walls and futons.The interiors are sparsely furnished and elegant.The gardens  feature moss, topiary and stone bridges.
  Our hostess, Mrs Hibi, told us that Masuya Inn had been in her family for more than 800 years, and she had the certificate to prove it. Under her breath, Shima gently reminded us of our etiquette. There were, for instance, three different sets of slippers for various parts of the house. I took careful note the catastrophic mistake of arriving  at dinner in my toilet slippers was a thought too ghastly to contemplate.
  We took turns in the communal bath (first  a shower, then a 10 minute wallow for each hiker, followed by a bathe for the host  family) after which we donned a yukata (robe), sash and fur jacket, before enjoying a traditional hotpot served by the innkeepers.  
  It was a finger numbing, sub zero start the next morning for our first full day of walking. The route led through rice paddies and forests with soft leaves silencing our  footfall. The hills were covered in cypress, oak and cedar. Plum and cherry trees lined our path. Daffodils announced the spring in  splashes of audacious yellow.
  By the third day, our limbs were getting into the hiking groove.The route grew more mountainous as we entered the Kiso Range, also known as the Japanese Alps. When Shima said we’d be going ‘mostly downhill’ we now knew the opposite to be true. Forest signs warned of bear and wild boar. We carried bells to scare off the bears,  but I thought the tinkling sound might just as well attract them to our lunch packs.
  On lovely Biwa Pass, we encountered the  longest section of original, moss covered  pavestones. We hiked up the meandering path listening to the call of nightingales, gentle light filtering through the trees. At  the bottom of the pass stood a Buddhist temple and adjacent shrine where a 1300 year old cedar tree is worshipped as a kami or Shinto god.
  All along the route, we came upon reproductions of woodblock prints from the Edo period. These depict various Nakasendo scenes, often with Mount Fuji in the background, and feature all manner of  travellers.The most famous artist was Hiroshige, a master of the woodblock form during the 19th century.
  A print museum in Ena, a small town on the route that celebrates his work, had a practical section where we tried our hand at basic printmaking before visiting the main exhibit. One long wall depicted Hiroshige’s Nakasendo images: inns, pack animals, bridges, post towns and mountain roads. Here a pilgrim travelling on his own, there a daimyo with full entourage.
  Each night we stayed in a different ryokan. Our hosts were invariably kind, humble and generous to a fault. By now, we’d mastered the slippers bathing yukata drill. Some of the larger establishments had their own, single sex onsen (hot springs) where naked guests could wallow in steaming ponds and spa baths.
  Each meal comprised ingredients sourced  locally or foraged from surrounding forests. There was amago fish (eaten with head and  tail), sea urchins, wild boar (shot by the  innkeeper), bamboo shoots, daikon radish, rape flowers, lily bulbs, seaweed, somen noodles, dashi broth and so much more. Most of it was tasty, all of it unusual.
  Each town had a unique character. Postcard perfect Magome ticked all the boxes with it’s waterwheels, cobbled lanes, koi ponds and museums but was packed with tourists. Prettiest of all was Tsumago. This post town was the first to be restored back in the 1970s to revive a dying heritage in Japan’s headlong technological rush.
  Tsumago’s main street was lined with  dark wood and latticed facades (telephone  polls and electricity wires have been removed), the hills beyond dissolved in dreamy mist. There were bright flower pots, boughs laden with cherry blossoms and sliding doors that led to immaculate, minimalist interiors.
  Our days of walking unfolded in an easy refrain. The weather warmed and the landscape grew increasingly colourful as trees exploded into blossom. Peaks remained white capped, the streams and waterfalls boisterous with snowmelt. Occasionally we’d spot deer, macaque or  pheasant. We were distracted by shrines and manicured gardens; teahouses and bento box meals provided refreshment.    At one lunch stop high on a mountain pass, the owners served homemade pizza and entertained us with a harmonica and shamisen guitar before  cajoling us into a lively sing along.
  Some days were short and easy, an amble of 10 kilometres or less.  Others were of the harder core, 25 kilometre variety and involved stiff  mountain passes that included Jusan, Nenoue and Torii. ‘Mostly down’ became decidedly up.The path was icecovered in places, the wind freezing.Usui Pass was our last big hurdle and we topped out at an alpine lookout point that offered the serrated peaks of Mount Myogi to the east, Mount Asama’s snow dipped volcano to the west and, faraway to the south east, the grail of Tokyo.
  Our descent was long, slow and slippery. The wind roared through the maple trees and it began to snow. There were sore limbs, there was grumpiness,there were blisters. Epithets were muttered.At last, thankfully, we reached a tiny station surrounded by plum blossoms where a train waited to speed us to the capital.
  Our tired, happy band stepped from the train in downtown Tokyo during rush hour and was swept along in a tide of humanity. Wide eyed, we stared at the shining buildings. We felt like centuries old country yokels amid the city’s slickness and sophistication, the skyscrapers and suited throng.
  Shima drew us to a halt and pointed at Nihonbashi Bridge. ‘Finally, the end of our journey,’ she said. ‘This, then, is the eastern terminus of the Nakasendo. We call it “kilometre zero”, the point from which  all distances in Japan are measured.’ I thought of Sanjoohashi Bridge back in Kyoto and the 533 kilometres we had covered, 150 of them on foot. Our long walk had given us a window on rural Japan, thrusting us into a remarkably intimate engagement with  the land, people and culture.And it had opened our eyes to vastly different ways of  living, eating, thinking and being … which is what all the best journeys should do.

West Coast Fossil Park

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West Coast Fossil Park

must see places in South Africa that Which raises curiosity and imagination.
  There is bewildering clamour about climate change these days. Spoiler alert it’s true and it’s accelerating, but it’s complicated.Take the Cape West Coast, for example.
  There is bewildering clamou about climate change these days. Spoiler alert: it’s true and it’s accelerating, but it’s complicated. Take the Cape West Coast, for example.
  Around 10 million years ago it was covered by subtropical lowland forest. Then things started to cool down: the main cause of that was the final separation of South America and Antarctica, which set up  a powerful gyre around the southern hemisphere and led to the general cooling of Earth.
  By around five million yeears ago, the Cape West Coast was  a grassland woodland mosaic with the forerunners of fynbos just emerging. Scientists can tell this from microscopic pollen grain fossils found there (even if Donald Trump wouldn’t believe it). Pollens and their receptors are like keys and locks: each kind is unique and fits only into its own kind.
  In 1958, local bone doctors got wind of something unusual going on at a phosphate mine in a place called Langebaanweg, about an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Professor Ronald Singer from UCT’s medical school visited the place and  was shown some of the old  bones: one turned out to be the fossilised tooth fragment from some sort of elephant; another an ankle bone of a giraffe like creature.
  When the ‘ologists’ got stuck in with their buckets and spades, the site known as E Quarry yielded fossil bones of many mammals, birds and marine animals virtually all of them now extinct.The vast  majority were frog bones tiny leg bones, scapulas and vertebrae each the size of a lentil.The assemblage suggested it had once been  the estuary of a large river.
  Those first two inauspicious looking fossil fragments were just the tip of a palaeontological iceberg that eventually proved to be the largest compilation of fossils from any one site in South Africa, and one of the largest of its kind in the world.
  It is also one of only a very few fossil sites on our planet where you can see the bones of animals that died and were turned to stone right before your eyes (so to speak).
  Old teeth can reveal an awful lot about who they belonged to and what they did. From a single tooth you can determine how big the creature was, how old it was, what it ate, which in turn informs you about its natural environment (or sometimes who murdered it). The tooth identified by singer turned out to be from a protoelephant with four tusks.This gomphothere was named Anacus and was the forerunner of all modern elephants, including the mammoths.
  The ankle bone came from a sivathere, a giant, short necked, long horned giaffe.The remains of 517 individual  sivatheres identified from E Quarry tell us they were  probably the most numerous  of the large mammals.
  One third of all mammal remains found were carnivores, most notably two species of sabre tooths.They in turn opened a big niche for scavengers, including five species of now extinct hyenas that fed off the fat o the land.
  While the sivatheres were impressive enough, the largest grazers were ancestors of our white rhinos. And then there was the African bear, Agriotherium africanum, significantly larger than today's polar bears; the only bear or remains of one ever found in Africa.
  But few people came to see them, until the Lotto donated a big pot of cash.An impressive and wonderfully modern and whimsical in parts exhibition and interpretive centre was completed late last year.
  The life size sculptures were rendered from waste wood by sculptor Egon Tania using mainly a chainsaw.There’s an underground cavern where you’ll feel like a miniaturised Alice in Gondwanaland who has fallen into a wire and rubber termitarium where everything is magnified 150 times.

Tugela

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Tugela

  The Tugela is considered To be souTh africa’s wildesT river.Getaway wenT rough and remoTe while Tracking The course of ‘The sTarTling one’ from source To sea.
  I found the source of the Tugela River on the slopes of Mont aux Sources on a misty day. A three hour hike from the Sentinel car park  via the chain ladders brought me to the top of the Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre, where a tiny trickle springs from the Earth. Wild grass  covered the narrow, gentle sloping valley leading to the source.The air smelled of wet earth and animal dung. The heavy clouds absorbed sound and all I could hear was the tinkle of a goat bell on a ridge above me. I sat down, savouring the stillness and thrill of anticipation for the journey ahead that would take me to the Indian Ocean.
  Following the stream down the valley I came upon a herd of donkeys. As I approached, a vicious dog so big I originally thought it was part  of the herd leapt to its feet. Its barking alerted another dog on the other side of the valley and I found myself caught between the two. The protector of the donkeys rushed at me, clearing the stream in a single bound, covering a hundred yards in a blink and skidded to a stop a metre short, spraying saliva and mud in my direction. Two herdsmen in gumboots, blankets and balaclavas appeared out of the mist to subdue the dog and allow me on my way. It was a fitting way to kick things off.
  Forming the border between Zululand and Natal, the Tugela was long considered a frontier, beyond which lay promises of gold and game,  of novelty and fortune. Famous battles were fought, and ultimatums imposed, along its banks. Archaeologists believe that a thousand  years ago people on the Tugela were trading with the Arab world. The area is rich in legends of cannibals and hermits and a mountain that  swallows people, their cries forever echoing in its caverns.
  The river itself is known as the ‘The Startling One’ in Zulu, a name derived from its tendency to rise incredibly quickly, often placing locals in peril. On the right day, it arguably has SA’s best white water rafting.Those familiar with the Tugela all agree; this is a wild, wild river.
  The river’s initial meandering course took me to the lip of the Amphitheatre and the top of the world’s second highest waterfall. At 948  metres, the Tugela Falls is nearly nine times  higher than Victoria Falls, although it descends in five distinct stages. Only Angel Falls in Venezuela is taller, by 31 metres. I peered over the edge, but the waterfall disappeared into clouds, plummeting to a different world far below. From here, the Tugela carves a route through the  Midlands before swelling in Zululand and finally meeting the ocean 500 kilometres to the east.
  The mist had cleared the next day when I explored the waterfall’s base in the Royal Natal National Park.The Amphitheatre shimmered in an ocean like haze as I reached the conventional end of the popular Tugela Gorge Hike.The base of the falls, however, is still further on.I left other hikers resting in the shade and pushed on.The  trail disappeared.Cairns guided me as I boulderhopped my way up the river’s course, disturbing dassies along the way. The trees grew bigger, the trail steeper.          Eventually, I glimpsed a long, thin trail of water, what I took to be the Tugela’s first of many tributaries.That would have to do as the main falls are almost impossible to see from  below unless there’s been heavy rain.
  Leaving Royal Natal, the Tugela’s cIear mountain waters become muddied in the  Woodstock Dam, slither through the farmlands  around Bergville and enter Spioenkop Dam, an  hour’s drive away. The adjoining nature reserve is home to giraffe and zebra and attracts  fishermen like Ram Pandoy to its shores. Visiting  from Ladysmith for the day, Ram told me how big the fish used to be here, the classic fisherman’s lament. ‘We also try our luck at Colenso but it’s  a bit frightening because of the crocs,’ Ram said. ‘They catch sheep, you know!’
  Beyond the dam, we had a good view of Spioenkop, the sight of one of the bloodiest battles in the Anglo Boer War where three future  statesmen were present. Louis Botha led the Boers, Winston Churchill, usually a war correspondent, acted as a courier and Mohandas Gandhi was a stretcher  bearer.
  The river continued its journey to the sea and so did I. Just past Colenso I took an unsigned dirt road into the Tugela River Valley. This was a drier, harsher landscape compared to the fertile fields of the Midlands. Aloes grew in clumps beside the road where scraggly goats stood on their hind legs munching the leaves of squat trees. Only a 4x4 can handle the 37 kilometres to Zingela Safari & River Company, and many still struggle. The diabolical road is a convenient deterrent to passers-by. I switched my Subaru Forester to X-Mode, intent to be one of the cars that made  it ... and reached the lodge an hour later.
  This is a remote stretch of the Tugela, with the nearest neighbours 20 kilometres downstream and 50 kilometres upstream.The riverside camp is set among tambotis and Tugela milkwoods in a region of dry valley bushveld. I arrived at sunset and met Mark Caverleigh who, with a booming voice, pioneer’s spirit and thick white beard, seems like a rogue Santa Claus.That night, while rain pelted down,I chatted to him about the river.He grew up on a tributary of the Tugela and has lived at Zingela, mostly in a tent, since 1983.
  ‘We have a sense of oneness with the river. It’s how we make our living, with rafting and a lot of fishing. The river provides for us.’
  Mark also knows the Zambezi well, but thinks the Tugela is more fascinating, more untamed. ‘On multi day trips, there are times when we paddle for two or three days and don’t see another living soul,’ he tells me with a brandy in hand. ‘Just look where all the battles took place you’ll see there’s a big chunk where nothing happened  because it’s such tough country.’ We looked out into the darkness as a massive bolt of lightning lit up the river.
  The rain continued through the night and by morning the river had swollen to twice the size of the day before. Just perfect for a bachelor’s party group and me to go rafting. A short drive past shepherd trees and blue flowered bankrotbos took us to the start, where the river was a churning, swirling, bubbling torrent of mud that  looked as though it would suck us under and never release us It was moving so quickly we wouldn’t need to paddle but staying in the raft would be a challenge. The guys took bets on who’d be swimming.
  We pushed our seven man raft out into the marauding river as debris shot past us. A trio of two man rafts followed. Our first rapid knocked us airborne and we barely clung on, regrouping in an eddy amid howls of delight. The next rapid claimed its first victims ironically the only two guys doing the Dusi next year.They’ll probably never  live that down. We continued our rollicking ride through the rapids until we finally reached Zingela Camp wet, exhilarated and ready to go again.
  Back roads led me into the town of Tugela Ferry the next day, encountering a jaywalking leguaan and the occasional hut on the way. Near Greytown, I popped out onto a main road beside neat plantations, which seemed so unnatural after the rugged terrain I had just come from, like a feral child in a school uniform.
  I made two discoveries in the clubhouse of St Cathryn’s Golf Estate that night. The first was Shu Shu Hot Springs. Near Kranskop, bubbling up in the middle of the Tugela, is a natural anomaly a hot spring  that’s only noticeable and accessible during low water. Glenn and Stienie Buss told me how their families have camped on an island next to the spring every year since 1904. ‘Everything we need for camping is carried across,’ said Stienie. ‘We build pools around the springs, make mud ovens and  dig long drops.’ For three weeks they bathe  in the hot baths, visit friends at their campsites and have potjiekos competitions.
  The second discovery was that Sipho Mchunu lives in the area. Sipho grew up here before going on to form the band Juluka with Johnny Clegg. Piet Nel, the golf estate owner, gave me the famous  musician’s phone number and I arranged to meet him the next day.
  Sipho met me outside his kraal, on a rise above the Tugela, and welcomed me in with a smile. We sat on the stoep sipping Windhoek Lagers while goats and ducks pecked next to us.‘I used to take cattle down to the river every day when I was a boy,’ he said. ‘It was there that I taught myself maskandi music on a guitar made from a Castrol oil can and some fishing line.’  He told me about meeting Johnny in the streets of  Joburg, their gigs in the early days  and life on the road. However, he always came back to the Tugela. ‘I’ve been  everywhere overseas but I prefer it here. This is where I feel free.
  I was not far from Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla complex and considered dropping in to ask if Tugela water is used to fill the firepool, but decided to keep moving. Nearing the ocean I passed the site of the Battle of Ndondakusuka what many historians consider the bloodiest battle in Zulu history. It was the culmination of a succession struggle between half brothers Cetshwayo and Mbuyazi that came to a head on 2 December 1856.The death toll is estimated at 15?000 to 20?000. So many were killed where a tributary meets the Tugela that to this day it’s known as Mathambo, ‘the place of bones’.

St Helena Land and Sea

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St Helena Land and Sea

This remote island is a great place to swim with whale sharks and see other curious creatures.
  Out of the planktonic gloom, an alarmingly large, wide mouthed  creature appeared. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and there are few things that will take your breath away quite like your first encounter with one.They may have teeth like sandpaper and a gullet the size of a cricket ball, but your adrenaline kicks in regardless when you see one of these ‘sea monsters’ heading your way.
  I spent a lot of time ‘back peddling’, as the shark’s curiosity got the better of her. She seemed to be following me in a slow motion game of tag.Remora suckerfish clung to her sides and pilot fish led her through the ocean like a tug boat towing a cruise liner.
  While whale sharks can often be found around St Helena in groups of up to 30, we  were content with our lone female … at 18 metres long and weighing around 20 tons, one is quite enough to keep your eye on!
  Whale shark encounters are strictly snorkelling only, but there’s much more to see in this ocean.having not scuba dived for over a year, I felt more than a little like a ‘fish out of water’.Balancing on the edge of the boat, I fidgeted with my gear, but the moment I entered the water and saw the wonderland around me, I knew I’d be fine.
  Clouds of endemic St Helena butterfly fish surrounded me, a mesmerising swirl of confetti in the gin clear water. Everywhere I looked there were fish of every shape, colour and size, from parrotfish, cowfish and soldierfish to beautiful turquoise green St Helena wrasse.
  It’s easy to love diving in St Helena visibility is up to 30 metres and water temperatures range from 19 to 26˚C. Numerous wrecks, reefs, islands and caves are all within a short boat ride of Jamestown.
The island is part of a small chain of submarine volcanoes in the mid Atlantic, though it’s the only one that breaks the surface.Its remoteness has given rise to a rich ecosystem of unique flora and fauna.
  Taking a break from the water, we went in search of the national (and only surviving endemic) bird, the small St Helena plover or ‘wirebird’. We found a nest really just a shallow scrape in the soil with a few  dried up grass stems for lining, and arrived just in time for ‘changing of the guard’ on the eggs.The female returned to take over nest sitting duty from her partner, and as we watched they performed a little shuffle and dance.The male then scurried off, with barely a backward glance,like it was opening time at the pub.
  We finished off our afternoon at South West Point, watching the sun go down on an endless silvery ocean.Driving back to town, mist came sliding in over peaks and buttresses, shrouding the island in secrecy.
  Morning dawned bright and sunny,  perfect for hiking to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds. We trekked through a surreal, barren  a vast sun baked amphitheatre of ridges, striped purple and brown, with  outcrops of lava. We passed breeding colonies of masked boobies before reaching a rope, strung casually down the side of a cliff … our way down to the enticing rock pools below. Reaching the bottom, we  flopped into the water, instantly surrounded by curious fish. Greenfish, parrotfish and endemic ‘five fingers’ circled our bodies;  octopus, sea urchins and starfish hid among the rocks below.
  Inland, the severe coastal cliffs give way to gentle rolling hills ringed with dramatic ridges and valleys.The centre of the island rises to a crescent shaped ridge, where you’ll find Diana’s Peak, the highest point at 820 metres. We climbed through tree fern thickets,saw endangered whitewoods, dogwoods and black cabbage trees, as well as rare golden sail spiders and blushing snails.This cloud forest is the only remaining densely vegetated area of  St Helena, and we had stunning views.
  Our final morning dawned and we decided on a quick snorkel in Jamestown harbour before our flight. I swam through clouds of butterfly fish and found, just metres from the harbour wall, a shipwreck. The SS Papanui exploded and sank in 1911; rudder, boilers, bits of engine lay below me, while a green turtle glided past. Why had I left it to the last morning to discover what had been waiting just a few metres from my hotel?

Lekkerwater Beach Lodge

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Lekkerwater Beach Lodge

  As we drove over the rise, Lekkerwater looked just like a shipwreck on the shore. Its grey timber frame sat perched above the waves, dwarfed by a magnificent coastline. We’d arrived in a very special corner of the Cape’s Deep South.
  Lekkerwater started life as the holiday cottage of the Green family in 1939. Much of this coast was expropriated for an Armscor missile testing range in 1983. After part of the land  was given to De Hoop Nature  Reserve, Lekkerwater became President FW de Klerk’s ‘Camp  David’, where many discussions on the future of SA took place.
  After 1994, the house was returned to CapeNature and rented to the public. Then, in 2015, it burnt to the ground during a lightning storm.  Natural Selection (a new company co founded by Colin Bell, formally of Wilderness Safaris) submitted a successful proposal and the result is a 16 bed lodge in one of the most spellbinding locations on the Southern African coast.
  We’d arrived on a dreamy autumn day with light mist ghosting the shoreline. Managers Mariclaire and Burt Day showed us round.As part of the lease agreement, the lodge has stuck to the original  footprint of the old house. It’s entirely off grid with borehole water and solar power.The main building is elegantly done in natural woods and pale blues, with a plunge pool and wrap around deck.
  A stay at Lekkerwater is all about full immersion in nature. There are fynbos walks to learn about the flora (mesems, geophytes), fauna (eland, bontebok) and birds (Karoo prinia, black harrier and the  world’s biggest breeding colony of Cape vulture). At low tide, there are walks to rock pools to learn about the intertidal zone and search for octopus and fat fingered starfish.Guests don masks and snorkels to bob about in kaleidoscopic ponds. As this is a Marine Protected  Area, sea life is impossibly rich.
  In the evenings, you gather for drinks on the beach or the rocks, ringed by lanterns and the roar of surf. Dinners in the odge are communal affairs featuring local cuisine and Overberg wines. Conversation is sure to turn to the room’s large mural that depicts the history of Lekkerwater, from early hunter gatherers to the present  day. Then it’s back to your room, to slide open the doors and let the ocean inundate your dreams.
  Best feature its beguiling relationship with the shoreline. Bottlenose dolphins were so prevalent we surmised they might be receiving a share of  profits.There were hourly performances of sleek bodies etched in translucent green.The southern right whales had not yet arrived, but the double act is sure to keep guests entertained.
  Cost from R2 950 pp sharing, including all meals, activities, most drinks and transfers from a private parking lot in De Hoop. African residents can join the Natural Selection Explorers Club (R1 000) which entitles members to 20% off the rate.