Experience the Garden Route on Foot – The picturesque Otter Trail

The Otter Trail is considered to be one of the most beautiful multi-day tours worldwide and is very popular among tourist and the locals. The 42km hiking trail is situated in the Tsitsikamma National Park and is regarded to be quite challenging, but definitely worth it! You need to apply for permits well in advance, as entrance to this area is highly governed in order to conserve the area; this also reflects the exclusivity of this experience.

Otter Trail Skilderkrans

The trail starts at the mouth of Storms River and ends in Nature’s Valley. You will walk along the beautiful coast of the Indian Ocean and Garden Route, cross several rivers and pass the tropical rainforest of the Tsitsikamma National Park. The nights are spent in simple huts which completes the experience of an authentic nature adventure.

For those looking only for a single day route, do not despair! You can take the Waterfall Trail which is about 2.8km long. This part of the trail doesn’t require a permit and is also definitely worth it. Remember to bring your swimming gear, as you can enjoy bathing in the basin of the waterfall at the end of the trail.

Here is the breakdown of the 5-day Route:

Otter Trail map

Day 1: Storms River – Ngubu (4.8km)

The first part of the trail is 4.8kms long and normally takes about 3 hours to accomplish. Highlights of the first day are a large cave, where it is worth taking a break here to explore this natural feature, and the majestic waterfall.

Day 2: (7.9km) Ngubu – Scott Hut

The second day of the Otter trail is probably the most varied and beautiful walk of the whole trail. In Skilderkrans you might even be able to see Dolphins or Whales from a scenic vantage point. Later the trail descends to cross the beautiful Kleinbos River before reaching the sandy shores of Blue Bay which is an ideal place for lunch).

Hut

Day 3: (7.7km) Scott Hut – Oakhurst Huts

The third day of the trail starts with the crossing of the Geelhoutbos River and follows the rocky coastline. The trail continues along the shore until the Lottering River comes into view with the Oakhurst huts situated on the far bank.

Day 4: (13.8km) Oakhurst Huts – Andre Huts

The fourth day of the Otter trail is also the longest. The need to reach and cross the Bloukrans River at low tide makes this day probably the most difficult depending on the time of the low tide.

Otter Trail Coast

Day 5: (6.8km) Andre Huts – Nature’s Valley

The last day is a relatively easy hike and leads along the edge of the cliffs before crossing the Helpmekaar River. The trail ends with a beautiful walk across a sandy beach towards Nature’s Valley.

Important notes:

  • Plan ahead to avoid disappointment! The application period is about 1 year before due to high popularity and volume restrictions.
  • Only individuals between the ages of 12 and 65 years are allowed to walk the trail
  • Tides: It is important to be aware of the dates and the times of the high and low tides prior to hiking the Otter Trail.
  • In the odd case of need, there are several emergency exits, leading directly to the main road, N2.

Waterfall

What to pack:

  • Small First Aid kit
  • Survival Bag
  • Thermal blanket, water filter,  pots, adequate clothing
  • Map of Trail
  • Cellphone
  • Rope
  • Sun protection

ATC African Travel Concept is your expert travel partner for tailor-made experiences. We have various hiking tours on offer, and our consultants are available to offer you the best programs for soft adventure. Please contact us if you have any enquiries, or would like to make a booking.

Getting a New Perspective on Life: Soweto Township Tour

A township tour in Soweto is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a must-do when visiting South Africa. This journey through history and culture will touch your heart and show you hidden treasures about township life.

The Soweto Towers

Known worldwide for its role in the struggle for democracy, Soweto is a hub of ultra-modern life depicted by luxury cars, large mansions and ever expanding boundaries starkly contrasted by poor areas where primitive life is found, livestock graze along the roads and ancient African traditions are still practiced.

What to see

Your dedicated tour guide will show you what living in a township is like and bring you in contact with the locals to experience their culture and share some interesting stories. Drinking a beer in one of the Shebeens (typical local bar) or having some local cuisine is ideal opportunities to get in contact with the locals. By talking to the people, you will get to know the other side of the world and see life from a different point of view. This can sometimes be a life changing experience!

Informal Settlements in Soweto Township

Apart from experiencing the interesting culture and lifestyle, you can also learn about South Africa’s history by visiting sites such as The Hector Pietersen Museum or the Mandela Family Museum in Vilakazi Street. This street is the only place in the world to have raised two Nobel Prize winners! Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to live there.

Soweto Mural of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu

Highlights include:

  • Credo Mutwa Village
  • Hector Pietersen Musuem
  • Mandela Family Musuem
  • Walk through Baragwanath Taxi rank area
  • Visit a Shebeen

Do:

  1. Take photos! But don’t forget to ask the people in the photo for permission to take it, and show it to them – they will be happy to see themselves!
  2. Eat local food! It might be simple food, but it is quite tasty and it will show that you are interested in their culture
  3. Buy hand-crafted goods at the local markets, many people here make a living alone by making and selling curios for tourists.

Soweto Children Playing Football

Do not:

  1. Be shy. Try to have a laugh with them and then you will get a better insight of their life.
  2. Stay in your vehicle at all times. The local people are very embracing and you could miss a great opportunity for interaction.
  3. Tell them about your great life in the first world or seem condescending. The locals are still sensitive to recent history of apartheid and do not appreciate negative comments or gestures.

ATC recommends:

A tour to Soweto should always be done with an experienced tour guide, ensuring you do not get lost and encounter the best this bustling area of Johannesburg has to offer. ATC is your expert travel partner, offering you the best guides and experiences in Soweto. Contact us for more details or enquiries.

ATC Photography Tips: Getting the best results when photographing flowers

Photographing flowers

Spring is officially here in Southern Africa, and with it comes an abundance of flowers. The most famous attraction of this kind is the wild flowers on the South African West Coast and Namaqua region. In this month’s photography section, we will discuss flowers, of course.

When photographing flowers, the photos only have a visual impact and therefore need to be of such a quality that our other senses are also stimulated, such as the thought of the lovely fragrance of flowers and the awe of being surrounded by such a beautiful setting.  We strive to depict the various colours, the details of the petals and other aspects of the flowers including the leaves.

The biggest challenge when photographing flowers is the ability to display both colour and detail simultaneously, therefore we explore these two topics separately.

Colours

When photographing wild flowers, you will often find the subject spread out over a large area, creating a sea of colour.  In this instance, it is a good idea to take photos that will create the image of vastness with a symphony of colour.  A good example are the wild flowers of Namaqualand.

West Coast Wild Flowers in South Africa

Detail

When photographing the intricate detail and texture of a flower it is necessary to move close to the flower, until the detail that you want to photograph fills the whole frame of the lens. This is known as macro photography. Be mindful of the movement of the flower caused by wind, otherwise the photo may be out of focus.  Take a look at this example of the highly defined protea and tiny ants.

Protea with Ants

Explore the underside of flowers for unusual detail and photographic opportunity. Look at this photo of the flowers against the blue sky which creates a different type of background, and fantastic visual impact.

Namaqua Daisies - Bottom View

Work for the shot

One of the biggest mistakes that we as photographers make is that we only “see” the photo from a standing position; we do not make the extra effort of bending our knees to get a lower shot and a better angle.  This alters the perspective of the photo dramatically, often with pleasing results.  In the photo below, the photographer was close to the flowers, lying low to get the right angle of the flowers and the sea.  Note the intricate detail and texture of the flowers.

Wild Flowers with Ocean in Background

Sometimes it can help to stand on an elevated platform, such as a rock, to get extra height for added perspective – be careful not to fall!

Dead/burnt flower

In every field of glorious flowers brimming with lively colours, we may find flowers past their prime. This can make an interesting subject such as the burnt protea, detailed below.

Burnt Protea

Things to look for:

Insects

Look at the photo of the flower with a bee preparing for flight, laden with pollen.

Wild flower with Bee

Light falling/shining through the petals

The sunflower with the sunlight shining through the petals is an interesting subject.

Sunflowers with light shining through petals

 Light reflecting on rain/dew drops

After rain or dew, drops of water hang down from petals and the stems of flowers.  The photo below was taken directly into the light.

Dew drops and rain

Factors to spoil your perfect photo:

Be mindful of distracting factors, such as:

  • People walking past the shot in the background
  • Twigs hanging down over the flower
  • Unwanted shadows on the flower
  • Discarded litter lying in the foreground or the background

Lucky shots

I was busy setting up to take a close up photo of a protea when this happened!

Protea Flower with sunbird

Remember, irrespective of what other people think of your photo, it is you who are ultimately the best judge/critic of your work. Photography is a subjective hobby!

Wind Farming in South Africa: Benefits, Facts and Job Creation

Like many South Africans, going green has become a part of everyday life. By implementing ways to promote sustainability and help the environment, the community in Jeffreys Bay is no exception to this trend.

In 2002 the Kouga Wind Farm was proposed on part of Sunnyside dairy farm, outside Jeffreys Bay.

The community and its municipality were very supportive and eager to develop one of the first commercial wind farms in South Africa. The Development Bank of South Africa, a representative on the Steering Committee, played a part in getting the first phase of what is now the larger Jeffreys Bay project off the ground. In March 2009, the proponents of wind farm, Genesis Eco Energy, received Environmental authorisation for a 16MW wind farm on that site.

The project has since expanded, into the 138MW Jeffreys Bay Wind farm when the joint venture, Mainstream SA was formed.

Wind farm starts its work on the ground

Wind energy is a free fuel source of energy. This means it costs nothing (except to convert it to electrical power) and is not subject to the same unpredictable nature like fossil fuels. We can predict the price of wind now, in 10 years and in a 100 years – it will always be a free fuel source. Not so with oil, gas, coal and uranium, whose prices are constantly increasing…

For every kilowatt hour of free fuel clean electricity we put into the grid it means that is one less kilowatt hour of dirty, polluting, expensive electricity that we have to pay the price for: It means less water consumption, in an already water stressed country; less carbon emissions and less risk of carbon fines by our trading partners; less health problems in the Mpumalanga region; less transmission losses; less reliance on fuel imports; less waste to deal with and less plants to decommission. This proves to be a good deal all around.

There are benefits for local communities such as landowners receive rental income; there is more water for agricultural purposes and for public consumption; jobs are created during all phases of the development and continue through the life of the plant – these include direct and indirect jobs through various support services provided by local entrepreneurs and SMME’s; grants are also made available by the wind farm company to fund local development initiatives in energy, education, health and enterprise development.

Make no mistake, wind turbines are big machines. Modern wind turbines generally range from 1.5 to 3.5 Mega Watts in output capacity. The rotor weighs in at 60 tones, the nacelle 82 tones and the tubular steel tower at 162 tones.

Wind farm outcome

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow? Wind differs and, by its very nature, does not blow consistently all the time but the Modern turbines are built to generate energy at a range of wind speeds and take advantage of consistent winds and provide wind energy to the grid about 90% of the time. That means that 90% of the time, some wind is blowing and energy is being generated by the turbines.

Fast Fact: Wind turbines are not noisy

Many farm owners have asked how having a wind farm will be of a benefit to them. A wind farm will provide you with a guaranteed source of extra income for a certain period. Wind Farming is highly compatible with agriculture, requiring less than 8% of land usage and has a greater impact on the on-going farming activities. Turbines do not disturb livestock who continue to roam through the wind farm and graze. In fact, some animals enjoy lying beside the base of the turbine as it provides shade for them! Wind farms also bring benefits to the local communities through job creation, energy security and money contributed back to the community generally through our Community Fund.

There are many rural economic benefits attributed to the development of a wind farm

  • Landowners bear no financial risk in the project: At no stage during the development and construction does the landowner bear any financial risk or liability associated with the project.  Once the wind farm is operational, the landowner receives a yearly rental payment for the lifetime of the project.
  • Community benefits: Mainstream SA intends to develop a Community Trust Fund with local decision makers for every successfully built project. The purpose of this fund will be to support sustainable development in the surrounding area.
  • Other local community benefits include an increased demand for local goods and services during the feasibility and construction phases of development, the creation of temporary jobs during the construction phase and a small number of permanent positions during the wind farm’s operational life
  • The wind farm site has several segments of vegetation that are threatened as so much has been destroyed, mainly by agriculture. However, the way the turbines are laid out, they will avoid the sensitive vegetation.

Development process - Wind Farms

During the construction period an average of 200 jobs are expected to be created. The number of jobs will vary from month to month, depending on the stage of the construction work on site. More indirect jobs will be created or sustained at local manufacturers and suppliers.  The contractors responsible for building the wind farm are committed to employing as many people from the local community as possible and procuring goods and services from the local community where feasible.  During the twenty year operation of the wind farm, approximately 11 long term jobs will be created to operate and maintain the wind farm.

Apart from Jeffrey’s Bay, other farms in South Africa are in the process to put up wind turbines.

German turbine maker Nordex has won the order to supply the 134.4MW South African wind farm projects being developed by Cennergi in the Eastern Cape. The production by Nordex is set to commence in the third quarter of 2014. Also a farm of 30 turbines, each between 90m and 110m high, is proposed for the Breede River Valley between Wolseley and Worcester.

If the turbines outcome is what it should be, it will save more than 300 000 tons of carbon-dioxide that coal-fired power stations produce and in turn change the climate of the region.

South Africa only has one company that can build these turbines. Something rare that has the greatest impact on the environment.

The projects are valued at R28bn and are set to create 7,441 local jobs.

Farmers - Wind Farming

Many farmers are contemplating putting up wind farms so I would not be surprised if in a few years there are wind farms everywhere. Going green might literally be blowing us away with its innovative ideas.

Introducing Hotel Verde – Africa’s Greenest Hotel

The Bon Hotel group, which is headed up by CEO Guy Stehlik, is going green by building “Africa’s greenest hotel.” Hotel Verde (Verde meaning green in Italian) is committed to complete sustainability and by putting only the best measures into place, they are doing their utmost best to ensure that.

I certainly had my suspicions when I first heard about the Hotel Verde being built just outside Cape Town International Airport. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s become a little wary of the word “green”, as what began as a genuine movement to protect our planet is now, in many cases, no more than a marketing tool.

Mario and Annemarie Delicio of Dematech are the owners behind Hotel Verde – Africa’s greenest hotel. Dedicated and passionate about sustainability, they have transformed what was initially just a sensible business proposition, into a showcase for some of the most advanced environmentally conscious technological installations, as well as construction and operation practices in the world.

An artists impression of what Hotel Verde will look like

The hotel is situated only a stone’s throw away from the Cape Town International Airport making this the ideal place for frequent flyers or red-eye travellers.

The Hotel Verde will be using electricity, but only the bare minimum. Many plans will be implemented to prevent the use of unnecessary electricity. When you leave your room and you remove your key-card, all the lights will automatically switch off.

Other measures include:

• Geothermal-heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems that makes use of a constant ground temperature of 19°C to heat up the building in winter and keep it cool in summer.

• Three 17m-high wind turbines will assist with the generation of renewable power.

• For guests there will be free electric shuttles to and from the airport terminal building.

• Dishwasher and washing machines with the lowest available energy and water-usage consumption rates will be carefully chosen. Water will be recycled, making laundry facilities extremely efficient.

• Public areas such as lifts, toilets and passages will be equipped with movement-sensor-controlled lighting.

• A jogging trail will be set among a fynbos garden for hotel guests.

The 145 room hotel also has conference rooms, a bar area, secure parking, a natural rock pool, business centre and a gym with an interesting twist. Equipment in the gym generates a portion of the energy that will power surrounding and smaller equipment. You will really work for that cocktail and your meals!

A room mock-up at Hotel VerdeGrey water will also play a role in helping with sustainability. Water from the guestroom showers will be fed into a grey water recycling system, which will couple positive bacteria rather than chemicals. The recycled water will then be used to feed all toilets and urinals in the building.

As part of the concept of going green, Hotel Verde will have an earth hour every day in which all power will be shut down. Candles will be used and all foods will be cooked with gas or the wood fired oven.

After researching the Facebook and Twitter accounts for the Hotel Verde, I noticed that many people are excited, but still sceptical as to how the hotel with function. With electricity being the only thing people know, having an entirely new way of living introduced can be quite daunting… Rest assured, future guests, the owners are making sure that this will be fully functional and eco-friendly.

What about the noise right next to a busy airport? Sleeping in a place within any radius of the airport is never fun, but the Hotel Verde has purchased the best sound proof equipment to ensure that every night’s rest you get, will be in absolute silence – all you have to do is close your door.

You cannot book accommodation just yet. The hotel will only be opening its doors in August 2013. In another new thinking initiative, a webcam feed can be viewed at www.hotelverde.co.za – you can watch every step of the way. The website also includes a countdown, so you can be prepared down to the last hour before the opening.

The Hotel Verde name sign being installed

The Hotel Verde and the Bon Hotels group are on a mission to promote global care for the earth and this only the beginning.

Here’s looking forward to August to see just how sustainable and functional Hotel Verde is.

For more information or to express your interest to book accommodation at Hotel Verde, please click here to contact us.

The African wild dog: The dwindling population of the defenders of wildlife

These dogs are known by many names including the painted dog or the Cape hunting dog. These names are but a few to describe the relatives of the fox and jackal. To this day, only between 3000 and 5000 of their kind are still in existence.

The Lycaon pictus (another name, scientific this time) stands at a height of only 3ft and, unlike other canine species, has only four toes on each foot. The fur of these animals are somewhat of a patchwork consisting of colors like brown, red, black, white and yellow.  Their  ears are large, round and bat-like, and their tails are white and bushy, which acts as a talisman (steering and balance mechanism) or connection to the pack while they are hunting.

Each wild dog has its own stripes

A quick fact: No two African wild dogs are the same. Each has a distinct pattern on their fur!

The pack leader has a monogamous relationship while other males are in the pack for protection. These dogs are highly intelligent and all rally around when new pups are born and take turns in nurturing and caring for these newborns. Full-time babysitters if you will.

Wild dog pups

These animals are known to be social and highly intelligent. They communicate through touch and vocals which have been described as loud bell-like calls. These can be heard from distances to communicate with the rest of the pack. The pack also has unique greeting rituals.

Hunting is a big part of any animal and especially for those who live in the wild. The Mbwa Mwtu (Swahili name) is no exception to this and their prey can be anything from an antelope to the biggest wildebeest. They are known as the most efficient hunters with 80% being a kill. Their hunting rituals begin by forming a group circle, building up a team spirit until each animal is excited and ready to go. These foragers live a balanced life as they are not only carnivores, but enjoy an insect or two as well.

Wild dogs in pursuit of a zebra

With a life span of 12 years, these animals do what they can to try and survive. While when they hunt, they eliminate the aged and sick, these animals are immensely susceptible to disease unlike the domestic animal.

The species of the African Wild dog is one that is on the verge of extinction. In the hope of preventing this, conservations and organizations have been set up to try and preserve what is a dying breed.

To get involved and make a donation visit African Wild Dog Conservation, Zambia

Cape Town Hail Storm: Amazing Pictures of a Rare Natural Event

Cape Town has experienced the first real winter cold this past weekend, when two cold fronts followed in close time-frames, bringing with it heavy rain and strong winds.

Hail in Cape Town CBD

It was quite a surprise, though, when on Sunday afternoon parts of the Cape Town City Bowl and Atlantic Seaboard (Sea Point, Green Point and surrounds) was hit by a hail storm.

Hail in Sea Point, Main Road

Pictures quickly hit the internet as Cape Town being under snow, when in fact, it was confirmed as hail – small in size, but covering large parts of the city under a white blanket.

Hail in Mt Nelson Road, Sea Point, Cape Town

Weather reports indicate that this unusual event was caused by a severe low pressure system between the two cold fronts, which in turn resulted in unusually low temperatures, hence resulting in the large amount of hail.

Hail in Cape Town Lower CBD

A third, larger cold front is expected in Cape Town and surrounds on Monday, bringing in heavy rain and strong winds. No hail is expected.

(ATC would like to credit Bianca Haarhoff, Larry Soffer, Kevin Brown and Marcus Christiansen for the use of images in this blog post.)