Animal Spotting at Giraffe House in Stellenbosch (2017-09-30) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 02 SEP 2018

The Giraffe House Wildlife Awareness Centre (better known as the Giraffe House) sits on the outskirts of Stellenbosch on your way to Paarl. Their focus is on providing easy access to some of Africa’s wonderful wildlife and bird species, a place for people to enjoy being outdoors whilst experiencing and learning all about the animals – but most important of all is the fact that they are home to Gerry the hand reared giraffe.

Actually that isn’t all that accurate any more. These days the Giraffe House is home to a handful of giraffes, joining the rest of the stable that includes the likes of monkeys, meerkats, eland, bontebok, grysbok, duikers, springbok, zebra, caracal, cape fox and a black backed jackal!

In addition to the wildlife, Giraffe House also has a couple of farmyard enclosures set up, filled with goats, sheep and geese, perfect recipients for kids eager to feed the animals. (Of course this does then mean with every kid wanting to feed an animal, a lot of kids walk away slightly disappointed when the now obviously not so hungry/quite full goats refuse to take even a nibble! :D)

The center also has a collection of snakes, Nile crocodiles and tortoises on site, with the bird complement being filled by the likes of ostriches, blue crane, storks, lovebirds, parrots, ducks and even a couple of starlings.

Given the open space, the venue also makes for a great locale for kids’ birthday parties, and they have a little snack vendor and small kids play area to ensure that the kids don’t moan too much once they tire of walking about watching the animals.

My favourite part of visiting Giraffe House is however the interactive reptile show with their extremely affable host, who is guaranteed to pretty much always pull a good coupe of laughs out from the crowd.

At least this time around I didn’t end up with a tarantula on my face!

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Pro-Tip: Avoid going in the middle of the day when it is too hot – there isn’t a lot of shade, it is a lot of open ground to cover, and quite frankly neither you, your kids or the animals aren’t going to be even bothered with one another if all are miserable and drenched in sweat.

Related Link: The Giraffe House | Stellenbosch

Fishing and Picnics at Majik Forest in Bellville (2017-12-22) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 30 AUG 2018

The Durbanville/Bellville area is home to a couple of nice greenbelt areas, not necessarily as lush green as those found in Constantia and the like, but certainly nice wide open spaces with lots of grass and loads of good picnic spots. One of the better known ones is Majik Forest, a strip on the edge of Welgemoed that encompasses two dams (Fynbos Dam and Amandel Dam) and of course the titular small forest.

Naturally this then means that you are bound to encounter quite a few families spending some quality time down on the grass together, either enjoying a picnic, trying their hand at a bit of fishing or going for long walks. (The forest on the other hand is the perfect spot for teenagers looking for a bit of privacy – or at least that is how it was back when I was growing up!)

Mountain bikers have laid some serious claim to Majik Forest, with the Tygerberg MTB Club setting up shop and laying out various trails over the area. The park is also adjacent to Vink’s Arboretum, another great public space that is home to over 500 different indigenous trees!

So, a great option to keep in mind if you find yourself in the Northern Suburbs and want to get the kids off the couch and away from the tablet/TV!

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Side Note: Although security used to be somewhat of an issue in the area, following the fencing off of the entire public space, things have gotten much better, thus seeing an influx of families returning to relax in the park.

Related Link: Majik Forest | Bellville

Freedom Day at the Green Point Urban Park in Cape Town (2017-04-27) Family Attractions | Photo Gallery 27 AUG 2018

The expensive whirlwind of hosting the FIFA World Cup back in 2010 brought a lot of welcome development and renewal to the Cape Town suburb of Green Point, ultimately transforming the road network, Green Point Common and of course stadium all for the better. One of my personal favourite legacies stemming from the hosting of the tournament is the establishment of the Green Point Urban Park, otherwise simply referred to now as Green Point Park.

This large, bright green lawn slathered slice of family outing heaven is the perfect venue for families to enjoy some outdoor life, or for people wishing to get some fresh air and a stretch of the legs in without having to leave the city or climb the mountain.

There are expansive lawns for picnics, a dedicated stage for performances, a delightful little restaurant perfect for a tea and light lunch stop (which naturally we make use of because planning ahead for something like a picnic is something seemingly beyond us), multiple play areas for the kids, outdoor gym equipment for those of us who never rest in bettering our bodies, and curved walkways perfect for both walkers and young cyclists alike.

The park is also home to a carefully curated Biodiversity Showcase Garden, whose sculpted pathways reveal some 25 000 indigenous plants, trees, shrubs, bulbs and ground-covers, all in all representing about 300 different plant species!

Also scattered about is a multitude of wonderfully quirky little nature sculptures and other exhibits, with all the important bits covered with some wonderfully informative signage.

So in summary, romantic fynbos strolls aside, the park is thus perfect for family get-togethers, picnics, birthday parties, and outdoor exercise. Also, don’t forget the scenic views either. In other words, the perfect place for Chantelle, the girls and I to spend a lazy Freedom Day public holiday together then!

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Side Note: The kids play areas are amazing. Split into two, one for the older kids and one for the smaller tots, the equipment is very much unlike the standard stuff (i.e. way more exciting) that you would find in our older municipal parks. Explains perhaps why then the girls seem to absolutely love visiting there!

Related Link: Green Point Park | Cape Town

Cable Cars and Signal Hill Sightseeing in Cape Town (2017-05-11) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 AUG 2018

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has for many years now offered a free adult ticket up the mountain on a South African citizen’s birthday – a deal which I’ve seldom made good on, but not necessarily for the lack of trying. It has far more to do with the fact that my birthday falls in the Cape Town winter season, meaning that weather conditions are almost never in my favour.

After a rare success in 2016, I once again tried my luck in 2017, however the strangely quiet cable car station should have been enough of a hint that the operation was shut for the morning, thanks to adverse conditions at the top of the mountain.

Not too daunted though, I instead altered my trip to that of even more of a local tourist, opting to go on a scenic drive (filled with photo stops) past the nearby kramat up on the ridge, even further up to Signal Hill, over Kloof Nek and down into Camps Bay, round the coast to Seapoint, lunch in the V&A Waterfront, and then ending it all off with a tour of the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum. Certainly a more than adequate replacement plan then.

Talking about the kramat, Cape Town is actually surrounded by a ‘holy circle’ of kramats – shrines of great Muslim spiritual leaders. There are about 20 recognised sites scattered throughout the peninsula, with two of these sites actually situated on Signal Hill – that of Tuan Kaape-ti-low at the Army Camp, and that of Sheikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah on the ridge (the one that I pulled over at).

Continuing further up the road you will eventually reach Signal Hill, a great (car-accessible) location for viewing Table Mountain, Cape Town, its surrounds and the last vestiges of Peninsula Shale Renosterveld – particularly useful if you don’t feel like the strenuous walk that accompanies going up the likes of nearby Lion’s Head.

Driving down from Signal Hill towards Camps Bay, you’ll spot a couple of cannons overlooking Camps Bay along Kloof Nek road, originally placed there by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to defend the castle from attack via the wagon track which led from Camps Bay to the Castle via Kloof Nek. Yes, I did pull over and take a few photos. I can only imagine that Chantelle was very happy not to be tagging along with me for the day!

As for Camps Bay itself, as always it is breathtakingly beautiful (when not overrun with sun-seeking beach goers), and the public art installations along the beach makes for a nice distraction while stretching one’s legs.

The remainder of the drive takes you around the rest of the rich, beautiful (seemingly always under construction) Atlantic Seaboard towards Green Point, and because I like stopping to take pictures, I inevitably stopped along the Seapoint promenade to get my first ever glimpse of the once relatively controversial Michael Elion’s “Perceiving Freedom” public sculpture/Ray-Ban advert.

I didn’t really mind it all that much to be honest.

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As for the rest of my day NOT walking about on top of Table Mountain? It was pretty pleasant.

Related Link: Table Mountain Aerial Cableway | Signal Hill | Camps Bay

99 Steps and a Forest Walk on Helderberg Farm in Raithby (2017-06-17) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 21 AUG 2018

Raithby is essentially a completely ignored/forgotten small farming community that lies more or less between Somerset West and Stellenbosch. While not a lot of public-facing places call this little piece of the Helderberg home, it is home to The Helderberg Farm, an old farm with a long history – some of the buildings still standing are marked as having been built in 1692!

These days the farm (literally on the secluded outskirts of Somerset West) primarily produces wine grapes, but is also responsible for a number of other small crops, including the ever popular strawberry. The grounds are open to the public, and they have an old, Cape Dutch style tea garden which is great for a cup of coffee and small treat.

Of course, that isn’t really a big enough reason to visit – instead, the Helderberg Farm hosts a number of other activities on its grounds, from mountain bike trails to 4×4 trail riding. There are running trails, hiking routes, picnic and braai facilities, a farmyard with goats, bunnies and geese for the kids, and a sprinkling of play areas for the little ones. For those seeking a bit more action, there is also clay pigeon shooting, paintball games, and gravel karts.

Oh, and strawberry picking during season as well.

The forest area can be hired out as a venue (the wide open spaces means that the Helderberg Farm is perfect for kids’ parties), and also makes for a great walking experience with the little ones (who might not feel comfortable doing one of the full hikes).

Not that you would think that mind you, listening to how my girls complain every time I try and get them to walk with me. Surprisingly enough though, the last visit saw them being game enough to attempt the steep 99 Steps path up the hill with me – and even more surprising is the fact that we all three actually made it to the top.

That said, I suspect that they were just as amazed that I actually got up there myself! :D

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Side Note: Unfortunately, the biggest problem for the Helderberg Farm is the fact that it feels to be constantly in disrepair, which in turn discourages visitors, which in turn means less money making opportunities for the farm, which then ultimately contributes to the dilapidation that the farm seems to slowly be accruing as the years go by.

It’s a pity really because I love the lush green tranquility of the place, and really want for it to be doing a lot better.

Related Link: Helderberg Farm | Raithby

Beer, Fries and Play at Deer Park Cafe in Vredehoek, Cape Town (2017-08-20) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 18 AUG 2018

If you are out and about exploring in Cape Town with the kids, and now find yourself in need of something to eat but don’t necessarily really feel like being in the more bustling, touristy parts of the city, then take note – Deer Park Cafe in Vredehoek is an absolute gem.

Situated on the upper slopes of Vredehoek, overlooking the city whilst guarded by the mountain above, Deer Park Cafe is a wonderfully relaxed city bowl eatery that is super popular with families thanks to it bordering on the fenced, welcoming Rocklands Road Park, a well maintained public park lined with trees and filled with loads of swings, jungle gyms and plenty of picnic worthy grass.

The food is artisan, delicious and well priced, the craft beer and wine selection good (I thought the Kings Craft Brewing Co’s LionHeart Lager particularly excellent) – so basically the perfect combination for a great casual dining experience then. The view, the relaxed ambiance, the public park – no wonder our girls (following a day out at the Company’s Garden, the Iziko South African Museum, and the Iziko Planetarium) enjoyed this unplanned stop as much as what they did.

Pro-tip: Go early on a weekend – these guys get pretty busy, pretty fast.

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Oh, and apparently the cakes are pretty damn good as well.

Related Link: Deer Park Cafe | Vredehoek | Cape Town

USA 2016 – 29 Travelling Home to Cape Town from Los Angeles via Dubai (2016-07-20) Photo Gallery 15 AUG 2018

And then it was time to go home. A Los Angeles departure via the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, a seemingly endless long flight aboard the comfortable Airbus of Emirates, an overnight stay in the hotel at Dubai International Airport, another long flight down to Cape Town, and being welcomed home by Chantelle and the girls.

Honestly, I have no idea why I put off sorting through and posting all the content from my USA work trip for over two years now, but I think that I was simply overwhelmed by just how much content I had managed to generate over the course of ten short days. This was after all a work trip, but somehow ended up being the most fantastic tourist adventure as well (which I can only thank my two US colleagues Johann and Carl ever so much for).

Anaheim, Disneyland, NACUFS ’16, Angel Stadium, The Queen Mary, Venice Beach, Disney California Adventure Park, San Diego, Sabre Springs, La Jolla, The Torrey Pines Gliderport, Del Mar, Cabrillo National Monument, USS Midway, Embarcadero, Shogun Kobe, Old Town Trolley Tours, Old Town San Diego, Hotel Del Coronado, Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo – I mean, what more could one ask for?

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All in all USA #2016 was an absolute personal delight, and I hope that maybe some of all this personal record keeping might just be a spark of travel inspiration for you in the future. Happy travels.

Related Link: Los Angeles International Airport | Dubai International Airport | Cape Town International Airport#USA2016

USA 2016 – 28 Exploring the iconic San Diego Zoo (2016-07-19) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 12 AUG 2018

The San Diego Zoo is an iconic, award-winning, world famous zoo. Established in 1916, situated in the mesmerizing Balboa Park and home to over 3,700 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies, the zoo is also known for having one of the largest zoological membership associations in the world – almost a half million people! It was also the primary pioneer in the concept of open-air, cageless zoo exhibits (that simulate natural animal habitats) – much like you would find in our very own National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, aka Pretoria Zoo.

Having originally grown out of the abandoned exotic animal exhibitions of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, these days the San Diego Zoo sprawls across an area covering 40 hectares (about half of Pretoria Zoo’s size) of Balboa Park, and is jam packed with the  most remarkable, carefully crafted and maintained enclosures, exhibits, walkways and gardens.

As an addition to exploring the park on foot, the zoo also offers a pretty neat, open air guided bus tour that traverses about 75% of the park, as well the Skyfari – an overhead gondola lift that gives you an aerial view of the park down below.

The exhibits are all designed around particular habitats, which then groups together animals that tend to be found side-by-side in the wild, usually alongside with that habitat’s native plant life. For example, there were the gorillas in an African rain forest, polar bears in the Arctic taiga and tundra, and elephants and giraffes on dusty African plains.

Massive free-flight aviaries are littered about, and on top of all that, the zoo also maintains its grounds as an arboretum, with a botanical collection that includes more than 700,000 exotic plants!

The animals, the crafted environment, all of it just comes together to form an absolutely breathtaking zoo experience, a place where you can happily spend pretty much an entire day (which essentially I did) moving through the various habitats and exploring all the nooks and crannies of this wondrous zoo.

So a quick rundown of the current exhibits then: Monkey Trails and Forest Tales (monkeys and other animals from the rainforests of Asia and Africa), Owens Aviary and Scripps Aviary (tropical and local birdlife), Panda Canyon (pandas, takins and snow leopards from China), Urban Jungle (giraffes, gazelles, cheetahs and Indian rhinos), Polar Bear Plunge (polar bears, reindeer and foxes of the Arctic), Discovery Output (lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs), Ituri Forest (okapi, duikers and hippos from the rainforests of central Africa), Elephant Odyssey (elephants, lions and jaguars), Gorilla Tropics (gorillas!), Absolutely Apes (orangutans and siamangs), Sun Bear Forest (Bornean sun bears, macaques and silvery lutung monkeys), Tiger Rivers (tigers and gharials of Malaysia), Outback (koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils), and the newly opened African Rocks – which unfortunately was still being built when I was there but which is a massive new addition to the zoo, featuring a variety of distinct African biospheres and the animals that they contain.

While not a massive fan of zoos or aviaries in general, I do understand the need for zoos and enjoy zoos which are really well put together – and in that regard the well financed San Diego definitely does not disappoint. Everything is colourful, the grounds are immaculate, the animals are all well looked after, and as a bonus, I saw loads of creatures that I would almost assuredly never encounter back here in South Africa.

A thoroughly enjoyable visit then, and just as it had been with my visit to Disneyland, I kind of really wished that I had my girls with me in order to show them around this remarkable space!

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(Remember how I said that my phone was charging hence the distinct lack of photos of Balboa Park in general? Yeah well, I took a LOT of photos in the zoo!)

Related Link: San Diego Zoo | Wikipedia | Balboa Park | San Diego | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 27 Balboa Park in San Diego (2016-07-19) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 09 AUG 2018

San Diego’s Balboa Park is just an absolutely amazing attraction. Honestly, even if you had a month dedicated to exploring every nook and cranny of this world of wonder, it still wouldn’t be enough. Home to 16 museums, 17 recognized gardens, a host of theaters and other attractions, and of course 1 world famous zoo, Balboa Park stands tall as something that any other city in the world would proudly to lay claim to.

Spanning a massive 1,200 acres of land, the rectangular-shaped Balboa Park was established in 1868 (then sized at 1,400 acres and known as “City Park”), marking San Diego as having been the second city in the United States to dedicate such a large park for public use (following New York City’s 1858 establishment of Central Park).

Originally a scrub-filled mesa, Balboa Park sat for 20 years without any formal landscaping or development taking place – it was only once botanist, horticulturalist and landscape architect Kate Sessions became involved that the park’s real beautification started.

This was accelerated in 1903 and once a city tax was levied in 1905, water systems, paths, and roads started to make their appearance, and in 1910 (with the prestigious 1915 Panama-California Exposition looming large for surprise host city San Diego) City Park was renamed to the more memorable Balboa Park – chosen in honour of Spanish-born Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to cross Central America and see the Pacific Ocean.

The 1915-16 exposition itself (which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal), as well as the later 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition, provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Many of the cultural institutions as well as stunning Spanish-Renaissance style architecture were introduced as part of these expos.

In terms of museums, Balboa Park simply can’t be beat, housing the likes of the Mingei International Museum, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Art Institute, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, Timken Museum of Art, and keeping with San Diego’s strong ties to the U.S. Navy, the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center.

Then there is an as ridiculously long list of named gardens also to be found in Balboa Park, like the Alcazar Garden, Australian Garden, Botanical Building, Casa del Rey Moro Garden, Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve, Marston House Garden, Lily Pond, Palm Canyon, Trees for Health Garden, Veterans Memorial Garden, Zoro Garden, and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

As if that is already not enough natural beauty, history and culture to take in, Balboa Park further ups the ante with attractions like the vintage Balboa Park Carousel, Balboa Park Miniature Railroad, Balboa Stadium, Casa del Prado (home of San Diego Youth Symphony), House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Junior Theatre, San Diego Mineral and Gem Society, Spanish Village Art Center, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Starlight Bowl, and the WorldBeat Cultural Center.

Then there is of course the world famous San Diego Zoo. (Which I naturally spent WAY too much time wandering about in!)

Johann and I started and ended our tour of San Diego aboard the excellent Old Town Trolley Tours bus in Balboa Park, but due entirely to time constraints, I sadly only got the smallest of tastes of this remarkable wonderland. Also, my phone was busy charging, meaning that instead of the usual gigantic image gallery that I should be posting here, this is all I have in my photos folder:

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As I mentioned at the start of the post – you probably need at least a month to do this amazing creation justice in terms of exploring all of the cultural and historic riches on offer, and that said, honestly, it really isn’t that hard to understand just why Balboa Park is by far San Diego’s largest tourist attraction.

Related Link: Balboa Park | Wikipedia | San Diego | #USA2016