So… a couple of months ago, Nick  realised that he had a gap in his work schedule.  For those of you who aren’t sure how this whole movie-making-thing works, Nick typically works on a film for about 3 or 4 months (if he’s editing only).

The locations  where he works depend largely on the films themselves.  As an exploring, semi-nomadic family… we’re always pretty chuffed when Nick’s film work takes us to interesting new places for weeks at a time.  Semi-Soet had us exploring the winelands of Franschoek.  Faan se Trein had us tucked away in a beautiful Karoo cottage for a couple of weeks.  Keeping up with the Kandasamys put us in Neville & Sharon’s creative home in Durban for about 2 months… and so on.

However, the two most recent films that Nick has been asked to edit… have both been Joburg-based.  And if you know our story, you’ll know that Joburg is – for us – like a metaphorical anchor that keeps dragging us back, kicking and screaming… to a suburb and a general way-of-life that no longer fits who we are, where we want to be and how we want to live.

The season is changing, though.  Our house is on the market and we are in the process untethering ourselves from the City of Gold.

But in the meantime… while we work through all the admin involved in selling up, packing up and setting sail… in Joburg we reluctantly remain.  But… make no mistake… whenever there’s the smallest gap or opportunity to escape… even if only for a week or a couple of days… we don’t even question.  We go!

In February – we escaped to the Southern Drakensberg for a few days (en route to the premiere of “Keeping up with the Kandasamys” in Durban).  Then in March, we realised that we had another opportunity to disappear:  a week-long gap in Nick’s schedule.  So the night before we were due to hit the road, we were trawling the usual online portals – searching for a place that ticked the following boxes:

  • Spacious, fully-furnished cottage, chalet or house
  • Somewhere beautiful… with beautiful views
  • Introvert-friendly… private.
  • Not too far from Joburg (no more than a 4 hour drive)
  • Not ridiculously expensive (preferably with a discounted rate for longer stays)
  • Internet

This, by the way, is fairly typical behaviour for us.  We’re not planners.  We prefer spontaneous trips… unexpected surprises (preferably of the pleasant variety)… and we love to explore!  So… late at night, we finally discovered Verlorenkloof… and thought:  “Sounds good – let’s go!”

The next day, we packed McGruntis (yes, the Jeep has a name)… and hit the N4 highway, listening to Snap Judgement on NPR as we drove.

A couple of hours later, we stopped to refuel (McGruntis and ourselves) at Alzu which is a petrol port with a difference.  Yes – they have the usual franchised restaurants and the usual Quick Shop selling the same-old-same-old.  BUT… if you ignore the main building with the Spur and you drive to the back to their newest building (where the Nandos is) – a lovely experience awaits!

There, you can sit on a shady deck which overlooks a watering hole… and you can watch a load of buffalo, eland, blesbok, ostrich, zebra and emu do their thing.  They even have 6 rhino (and sadly, a man with a big gun guarding them).  The ladies loos have the most epic view… the waffles from the Waffle Cafe are great (they serve a decent cappuccino too!).  It was a refreshing change from the usual horrible offerings that have become synonymous with the big petrol ports on South Africa’s most popular freeways.

Here’s some photos of the watering hole at Alzu:

Alzu also had some life-sized statues of rhino and a display with skulls, bones (and grim photos) emphasizing the need for conservation – especially when it comes to our precious rhino which are being slaughtered at an alarming rate so that ignorant, impotent men from the Vietnam and China can pay obscene amounts of money for rhino horn potion.  If I think about it too much, I get really cross… so… moving on…

About an hour later (and after navigating some really hectic roads)… we arrived at Verlorenkloof.  Here’s some photos:

Verlorenkloof is an sprawling estate situated in a secluded valley along the eastern escarpment of Mpumalanga.   They have 23 self-catering thatched, stone cottages… each nestled into secluded coves or forest clearings (giving us that much-loved privacy and alone-time).

From what I could tell, they operate mostly as a timeshare… (which is something I’ve never really understood or been interested in).  I think that some of the cottages are rented out in low season when the timeshare peeps aren’t occupying them.

Apart from a misunderstanding about the internet-thing… (they DO have internet – but it’s only offered in the reception building and it’s not free)… Velorenkloof ticked all of our boxes and then some.  Our 10-sleeper cottage was spacious, well stocked and serviced daily.  It had a huge, shady stoep where we could just sit and gaze at the view.  Our cottage (#23) also had a swimming pool (which the kids pretty-much lived in).

There’s also a dairy farm on the estate… so we were able to buy farm fresh milk, yoghurt, cream and butter (from their beautiful reception building / restaurant).  And every day – there were loaves of freshly baked farm bread (to smear with that yummy butter).  They also sold a wide variety of locally produced jams, preserves and baked yummies.

Oh – and (yay!)… we were able to order well-priced, home-cooked meals (very generous portions) from their menu.   So I didn’t need to cook if I didn’t feel like it.  We’d order in the morning… and by 4:30pm, a hot, freshly prepared lasagne or beef & guiness pie (with salad and veggies) would be waiting for us at reception.  Woot!

It was Joah’s 9th birthday on the 10th of March… and we decided to hike through the forest to the 2 waterfalls on the estate.  If you know me, you’ll know that I… uh… lack enthusiasm… for exercise (and especially when it involves anything repetitive or boring – like those horrible machines you find at the gym!).  But I don’t consider hikes as “exercise”… I love hikes because hikes are about exploring!  And I especially love shady forest hikes that end with waterfall swims!

This particular hike took us about 4 hours (at a very leisurely pace with lots of stops and swims).  Here’s some photos:

This is a photo of Nick consulting the map because at the beginning of the hike, it seemed as though we were hiking AWAY from the waterfalls instead of towards them…. (we were on the right track, as it turns out)…

They were trying to lure a crab out (from under a rock)…

Some of the fabulous fungi we discovered on our hike…

Another fabulous mushroom-thingy….!

Intricate spiders webs…

Joah…. after the hike (hehe!)

In a nutshell?  We really enjoyed our stay at Verlorenkloof.  I even left one of my books in the cottage bookshelf… kinda, I guess… as a way of saying “Hat was here…”

It’s now early September 2017.  We’ve just come back from a mini-trip to the Natal Midlands (where I was invited to speak at the Midlands Literary Festival).  It’s the first time I’ve been to a book festival – and I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to figure out that there actually are such things as book festivals!!  (more on that later)…

Anyhoo… apologies for the long absence, peeps.

There’s a fantastic quote by D.W. Winnicott which goes like this:

Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.

And I find that so true!  I tend to go through seasons.  Sometimes, those seasons involve lots of communicating, blogging, social-media’ing and connecting.  And sometimes (like the past couple of months) the season is just about… cocooning.

I think I’m moving away from cocooning season now…


PS:  Just so you know… I’m still not sure if I want to return to Facebook.  I haven’t darkened the door of my Facebook feed for many months… (although these blogs automatically post themselves on Facebook).  So – if you want to connect – please reply directly in the blog comments or e-mail me… (because if you add a comment on my Facebook page – I probably won’t see it).

PPS:  If you want to see some of the art & photography I’ve been busy with lately – here’s my Flickr page.