About Rich Laburn

Rich Laburn

Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.


Latest Posts by Rich Laburn

A Deep Nose Dive Into South Africa’s Cape Winelands

April 3, 2015 by  

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Wine is my passion and I have an extreme thirst to know and learn as much as I can on this topic. I have never experienced the South African Cape Winelands during the harvest period and therefore decided to get my hands dirty and head down to the Cape during February to learn a bit more about how wine is made, to pick grapes, and of course, to taste some wine.

On my arrival in the Cape, I headed up the West Coast to a quaint and unique wine growing region called Darling, here I was hosted by Sandi Collins from the Marmalade Cat, Shaun and Debbie McLaughlin of Darling Tourism, and Charles Withington from the Darling Wine Shop.The people in this small town are extremely passionate about Darling and promoting tourism in the area.

The town was originally put on the map by Pieter Dirk Uys, better known as his drag queen alter ego Evita, but it is slowly becoming better known for the unique and delicious Sauvignon Blanc produced from this region. There are only six wineries in the direct vicinity but what was really interesting to learn is that the demand for Sauvignon Blanc grapes from this area is highly sought after and many wineries purchase grapes from the region each year for their wine.

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The rolling hills of Darling. Courtesy of Darling Tourism

Steenberg

After a day spent exploring the Darling Wine region, I began my first day assisting in the Steenberg Vineyards cellar in Constantia. Here I met with winemaker JD Pretorius (who won the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year award last year). I was assigned to help the cellar hands, Alex and Michael, check brix levels (sugar levels) on fermenting grape juice as well as fill wine barrels with their flagship Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc. The first thing I learnt here, and was reminded of throughout my trip, is that wine cellars are very wet areas during harvest time! The reason is that everything is kept as hygienic as possible so that no taint affects the wine in any way, thus there is always a constant stream of water cleaning utensils, barrels, tanks, floors, etc.

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Filling barrels at Steenberg

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Sauvignon Blanc grapes falling into the press

The Franschoek Wine Tram Experience

As I often get enquiries asking about the Franschhoek Wine Tram experience, I spent a day hopping on and off the tram to find out what it is all about. Based in Franschhoek, the tram was originally built in 1904 to serve as an alternative to ox drawn carts for farmers wanting to get their produce to market. There are two different routes one can choose, the Blue Line or the Red Line. Part of the tour is done with the tram and part on a converted tram-bus. Some of the wine farms along the route produce excellent wines while other farms sell your everyday easy drinking wine. It is a fantastic experience and a great one-day option for anyone who has a day to spend in the winelands. The scenery is superb, and I met a lot of lovely people who did the tour for the day.

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The Franschhoek Wine Tram

Graham Beck

My next cellar experience was at Graham Beck in Robertson. Here I met with winemakers Pierre de Klerk and Pieter Ferreira, South Africa’s King of Bubbles. First I got a tour through the cellar and saw how Methodé Cap Classique once riddled (via means of a gyro palate) entered a bottling line, was disgorged, had dosage added, and final cork inserted, from start to finish. I was then assigned to assist cellar hand Joan Munné Parera, a winemaker from Catalunya in Spain doing an internship in South Africa and learning how to make MCC.

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Barrel Cellar at Graham Beck

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Aerating Chardonay that had become stuck with ferment

Our first task was to aerate some Chardonnay which had become “stuck” during fermentation; we basically had to give the wine some CPR so that the yeast could thrive again and continue fermentation. After this we inoculated some Viognier tanks with yeast so that fermentation could start. The yeast first needs to be hydrated, slowly woken up, and fed before it can be added to the grape juice, a bit like looking after a baby. We then racked some Pinot Noir off the lees and pumped the juice into clean tanks. An important tip I learnt: be extremely careful when opening up a tank from which wine has just been pumped, when wine ferments one of the by-products released is carbon dioxide, this remains in the tank as it hasn’t been able to escape – and it gives quite a knock! I was granted the opportunity to taste various base wines after fermentation. These are wines which had just finished fermentation and have had nothing done to them yet in terms of maturation options or blending. It was extremely interesting to learn from Pieter Ferreira how various terroir and growing conditions have massive effects on various base wines.

Grande Provence

Leaving Robertson, I returned to Franschhoek to meet up with winemaker and General Manager Karl Lambour at Grande Provence. It was fascinating to see how winemakers are constantly experimenting with new technology to make the best wine possible and at the same time improving on old techniques. Karl is experimenting with flexcubes which are plastic containers which have various levels of porousness, thus simulating a wine barrel by allowing controlled amounts of oxygen to mature the wine.

Another interesting project Karl is working on is an orange wine made from 32-year-old Chenin Blanc wines. Orange wine is white wine that is fermented on the skin to pick up some extra tannin, flavour and colour. Now a few people in South Africa have started doing this but what makes this one rather special is that he has fermented and is now ageing them in terracotta amphorae from Tuscany. It is going to be very interesting to see how this wine turns out when it is a finished product.

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Terracotta amphorae from Tuscany.

Waterford Estate

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Vineyards at Waterford

After Franschhoek I headed to Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch, this was my first harvest experience. We had to harvest Shiraz grapes. This is one of the most intense experiences I have ever had. The harvest team split themselves into two groups. They then “raced” each other through the vineyard to see who could finish the harvest first but at the same time ensuring that the grapes they were picking were of good quality and that no leaves, insects or other items were ending up in the grape baskets.

It was extremely fast paced, running up and down the vines, clipping grapes off and trying not to have my fingers clipped off at the same time, diving under vines to get to the next row.

Once I was sufficiently out of breath, I went down to the cellar where I got to watch Sauvignon Blanc coming in to the cellar, de-stemmed and pumped into tanks with winemakers Mark le Roux and Kevin Arnold. Chris Faure did a wonderful wine drive through the beautiful property of Waterford Estate, this was a very educational drive in terms of learning about the flora and fauna of the area. The wine and snacks which were beautifully presented at various stops on the drive were also a great treat.

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Shiraz grapes falling into the de-stemmer

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Harvesting at Waterford

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Barrel cellar – Waterford

Hemel-en-Aarde

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley was my next stop where I attended the Bosman Vine Garden Tasting. The Bosman family, in collaboration with Vititec, established The Vine Garden at De Bos in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 2006 and the 22-hectare vineyard boasts 47 different cultivars. Here I got the opportunity to walk through the nursery – a chance to taste various cultivars and clones and listen to where the industry is headed. Apparently the next big thing to be planted in South Africa will be Nero d’Avola, a varietal grown in the South of Italy. It was amazing to experience how various clones of one varietal varied and how typical notes expected of varietals could be identified in the grape before the juice had undergone fermentation.

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Tempanillo grapes

Rustenberg Wines

My next stop was Rustenberg Wines in Stellenbosch where I was hosted by the Barlow family. Rustenberg has always been one of the most beautiful wine estates for me and it did not disappoint. I learnt a lot about various disease and pests which affect the vines from Murray Barlow. I harvested a bit of Sauvignon Blanc with the harvest team, the pace was slightly slower than earlier in the week at Waterford, but the harvest team had already harvested over 200 tons of grapes that week so they were slightly worn out.

Nick van Zyl showed me the ropes in the cellar and we inoculated some grape juice with yeast and then “fed” nutrients to the fermenting flagship Rustenberg 5 Soldiers Chardonnay to keep the yeast healthy.

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Murray Barlow from Rustenberg

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Sauvignon Blanc vineyards at Rustenberg

During my trip I visited many fabulous wine farms, tasted delicious wines, and met some great people. The above is definitely the highlights package and if I don’t stop here I may begin writing a novel… Thanks to all the wine farms that hosted me and let me play around in your cellars, I hope I didn’t cause too much havoc!

On a final note, although harvest arrived two to three weeks earlier than normal across the board, due to earlier fruit set and a slightly warmer year, every farm I visited was extremely excited about the 2015 harvest, the fruit quality is excellent and we can expect some fabulous wines from this vintage, something to look forward to!

Written and Photographed by: Kim Drake.

What is the Best Drink to Sip While on African Safari?

April 1, 2015 by  

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What would your day be without an extra touch that says, ‘relax, you’re on holiday’? One of the ways we do this is through a little something special whether it is a coffee in the morning, or a gin and tonic at sundowners or the world-loved creamy textures of Amarula that so perfectly compliments the tones of a sunset. You don’t need to worry as there is always someone on hand whether it is your guide or camp manager who will bring you enough of the good drinks. Swivel the ice in your glass, sit back, and enjoy the best of Africa’s safari drinks.

The point is: simply being in the bush is enough, even if you don’t come across a lion or leopard. To have great sightings is a bonus, and as you’ll come to realize, a sundowner on drive can add the final highlight to your day.

What would your choice be? My choice is Amarula on ice, made from the plum-like fruit of the marula tree, a popular choice that has become synonymous with safari lifestyle.

I stand outside our vehicle. The heat of the day has evaporated and a cool breeze runs along my arms. The time of day has come to reflect on what has been, to reminisce about the experiences shared and to simply be. Insect sounds vertebrate through the bush, and as a blanket of darkness descends on another day, frogs begin their nightly chorus. It is time to indulge…

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A honeymoon couple enjoy a sunset drink. Here are some fun safari choices.

The Classic:

Gin and Tonic:

This is the ultimate classic safari drink to have at the end of your day while you’re in the bush experiencing the golden hues of a sunset.

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Directions: A shot of gin topped with ice and filled with tonic. Add a wedge of lemon.

The Spirit of Africa:

Amarula: ‘One of the world’s most favourite cream liqueurs.’

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Amarula: simply delicious

The drink is best enjoyed on game drive. An early morning cup of coffee with a shot of Amarula is a good way to kick start your day. Add in and enjoy the delicious flavours. At night, gather around a fire and have as a nightcap.

Directions: Delicious poured over heaps of ice.

Crafted in Nature:

Local Craft Beers

South Africa has a thriving microbrewery industry that has taken the country by storm with a fantastic range of craft beers. Today the country boasts over 40 different microbreweries. The names of the beer are inspired by endangered or misunderstood wildlife. Some craft beers in southern Africa include: Darling Brew, Brewers & Union, Cape Brewing Company, Everson’s, Devil’s Peak and Citizens Alliance.

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The Darling Brew range. Courtesy of Darling Brew

Unwind from a day in the bush by cracking open one of these refreshing beers.

The Celebratory Drink

Champagne

“I only drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.  When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty” – Lilly Bollinger

There’s always a reason to celebrate and therefore to drink champagne! Bubbles represent sophistication, glamour, elegance, luxury and happiness…

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To be enjoyed on a special occasion

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Directions: Best served chilled.

The Refreshment

Rock Shandy with or without a twist

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A wonderfully refreshing drink. Amanda Ritchie

A rock shandy is a wonderfully refreshing drink to quench your thirst on a hot day. The low alcohol content of a shandy makes this drink a popular choice for those wanting something a little more on the tame side! Shandy can however be made to your preference. Why not add a shot of Vodka to give it a twist!

What is your favourite Safari drink? Share your favourite in the comments below.

3 Useful & Must Have Gadgets for the Travel Photographer

March 30, 2015 by  

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Traveling in nature and being out in the wilderness is a life changing experience for most. But, for photographers, it can be the experience of a lifetime, especially if they’re in the middle of untamed territory or shooting wildlife on a safari. Photographic subjects are plentiful – as are the vistas and landscapes that fill each view. Wild animals, which many people have only seen on wildlife documentaries, walk past mere meters from you, often stopping to stare back at you, providing an image, and a memory, that many would turn green for. The same goes for fast moving objects in a city you’re trying to capture.

One of the most challenging things for photographers is to keep the camera steady in order to produce a crystal clear shot. There is nothing more frustrating, or heartbreaking, than composing the perfect shot, with the perfect light, only for it to come out blurred because of camera shake.

Luckily there are a few great pieces of gear available that will greatly decrease the frustration and heartbreak of a shaky shot.

The Sturdy Monopod

The monopod fits somewhere in between the versatile beanbag and the steady tripod. Using a monopod (which is quite literally an adjustable arm that attaches to the camera or lens as a tripod would) allows you to steady your shot on the ground or floor of the vehicle, while still giving you the freedom and room to move with the animals as they move.

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Using a ball head mounted to the foot of your telephoto lens will give you that much more freedom to move around. Monopods are easy to transport and very quick to set up, positioning it as a great alternative to a heavy tripod when looking for a steady shot.

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Pros of the monopod: Lighter than a tripod, quicker to set up in a hurry and easy to transport

Cons of the monopod: Not as sturdy as a tripod for those more intricate shots, can be difficult on a game vehicle to position if there are lots of fellow guests aboard. The monopod is lighter than a tripod and easier to carry around

Quick Tip: Mounting your monopod to the foot on your lens, and then positioning the ball head on the side of the monopod will allow plenty of flexibility to take portrait and landscape shots in quick succession with minimal fuss or adjustments.

The Numble Bean Bag

This is probably my favourite piece of gear when it comes to stabilizing my camera on the vehicle, purely because of its versatility. The beanbag is, quite literally, a material bag filled with beans. It can be quite heavy to lug around, but comes into its own when in a precarious position on the vehicle when trying to capture nature as it happens.

Perch the beanbag on the seat in front of you for great eye-level shots, or simply place it on your lap, or knees for an interesting angle that you may not get when shooting hand-held. A beanbag is also really handy when you have jumped off the vehicle for a sundowner, where you can rest the bag on the bonnet of the game vehicle to capture one of the incredible landscapes or sunsets.

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The bean bag can be shaped into the best position for getting the shot you desire

Pros of the beanbag: It’s versatile, easy to transport and store, and a quick solution that will really guarantee shake-free shots.

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The easy to use bean bag is also light to carry with you and on your vehicle

Cons of the beanbag: It can be heavy to travel with and will never be able to take the place of a tripod when you really need that height, or don’t have something to rest the bag on.

Quick tip: If you haven’t got access to a beanbag, make your own by filling a Ziploc bag with pistachio nuts. The beanbag will work well to stabilize your camera, and the nuts will take the form of a healthy snack. Pistachios work best, as the bag will remain full of shells even after all the nuts are gone. Once all your shooting is done, simply throw the Ziploc bag away, and continue on your travels.

The Trusty Tripod

The tripod is probably the first piece of gear photographers think of when wanting a clear shot. They come in all shapes and sizes, and definitely hold their place when it comes to stabilizing a camera with a lens on the larger side.

For me, the tripod comes into its own when I want to make 100% sure that the shot I am about to take is set up correctly. There is something about using a tripod that slows you down, and makes you consider the shot, composition and lighting more deliberately. There is also no substitute for the tripod when you want to get a little bit more creative with your shots, whether it be capturing a star-trail, emphasising the flow of water by leaving your exposure open or capturing a dramatic bushveld storm ­– lighting and all.

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A tripod allows you to think more carefully about the composition of your shot

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Using a tripod is imperative for capturing night scenes and stars like this. Photograph: Rich Laburn

Pros of the Tripod: The ultimate steadying tool, it allows you to create the perfect shot, both in composition and in creative flare by taking full control of the body and lens, leaving just the light for you to control.

Cons of the Tripod: Impractical when you need to move with the rhythm of nature, can be bulky and heavy to transport

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A handy tip: hang a bag onto your tripod to give it more weight to counterbalance a bigger lens

Quick Tip: If your tripod is on the lighter side, hang a bag filled with equipment (or stones) from the tripod to give it more weight to counterbalance a bigger lens.

Written and Photographed by: Amanda Ritchie 

3 Sunsets That Exemplify the Spirit of the South African Bush

February 11, 2015 by  

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Three sunset images in the South African bush that will make you want to visit again….and again and….again.  It’s called the “spirit of the bush.” Enjoy!

The setting sun drenches the sky in gold, drawing the curtains on another day at Londolozi.

A pair of impala enjoy the sunset together on Fluffies Clearing. Their abundance at Londolozi can lead to them being overlooked, but spending time with them can lead to some beautiful scenes.

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The South African Travel Guide: From the Bush to the Ocean

February 6, 2015 by  

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South Africa is a land of  ‘beauty and splendour’. When you open one destination and look within you’ll discover another  – there is something unique and worth seeing in every ‘pocket’ of this this country we call home.

Choosing just one destination to explore is sometimes the only option when there is a time limit on your holiday. However, if you plan to dig deep into the magic of this country you’ll discover just how rewarding it can be. We have a number of bucket list suggestions that we believe would make you fall in love with the southern tip of Africa – whether you a first timer, a resident or a regular visitor, there is always something new that awaits.

The Call of Whales

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The giants of the sea hold a certain magic for the viewer – there is an enormous thrill that comes from spotting a whale and watching it frolicking in the surf. The Western Cape is a prime spot for seeing whales that have migrated from the icy waters of the Antarctica to the warmer feeding grounds of the Cape Coast. The best time for whale watching is from June to November along the Cape south coast but whales can be seen through to September and October.

The southern right whales make the journey to our waters to mate, calve and rear their young. Excellent sightings of whales can be seen in the coastal town of Hermanus in Walker Bay but they can also be seen along the West Coast and all around the Cape Peninsula. The well-loved hiking route known as the Whale Trail offers an incredible five day experience in the scenic De Hoop Nature Reserve and like its name sake,whales are often spotted in abundance along the route, making this trail a one of a kind experience.

The Lure of Wild Flowers

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There are two months of the year where South Africa’s floral wonderland puts on a spectacular show for anyone who is lucky enough to view it! During August and September, dependent on rains, the Cape West Coast through to the drier Namaqualand region, comes alive with carpets of blooming beauties (flowers painted in every shade of colour you can imagine).  You could easily spend a whole day or more dedicated to viewing the many flowers and seeing just how striking nature’s artworks can be.  The best places for seeing flowers is in the Namaqua and West Coast National Park.

The Sensational Highveld

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The city of Johannesburg may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a bucket list but it is a place that holds many attractions for those willing to look. The one undeniable lure of this city is most definitely its weather, warm and predictable with the most dramatic summer thunderstorms, which are something to behold! It is the economic hub and the largest city in the country –people from all walks of life reside here…

There is also no shortage of parties for those who like to razzle and dazzle at night. When you fly into Johannesburg you can’t help but notice how green it is – the sheer number of trees has placed the city as the largest ‘man-made’ forest in the world and it is estimated that there are around six million trees in Johannesburg from pavements and sidewalks to trees in private homes.

About three hours (by car) from the city, lies another beautiful destination, that of the Free State and its most well-known National Park – Golden Gate. There are a many number of reasons why you should visit the park, one of the main reasons is that the park is a great family destination and wonderful for game viewing and activities from horse riding in the mountains to cultural education programmes. It’s also a park that is so varied in it seasonal changes that it is worth visiting all year round to discover how different it can be from one season to the next. There are magnificent panoramas, great bird watching opportunities and it is a wonderful escape for deep relaxation.

Live your adventure, Live Safari

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A visit to the country is not complete without going on safari.

The Mighty Orange River

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The Orange River is the lifeblood of the Richtersveld, a personal favourite because of its dramatic and somewhat other worldly rock formations (a geologist and mountain lovers dream).

The river winds through mountain ranges on either side and paddling on the river is highly recommended for anyone visiting these parts. Book the four-day river rafting adventure (there are many companies that run rafting trips and all of them have a great reputation for the fun they provide). Soak up in the sun, enjoy the rapids and then the quieter parts when you simply paddle in your inflatable boat along the less ‘wild’ sections. It is a whole lot of fun especially with friends and a great way to enjoy the unique flora and fauna that this area provides in abundance.

Feasting on Flavours of Wine 

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Cape Town and its surrounds are usually placed high on a South African bucket list. This is due to the city’s undeniable beauty from mountain scenery to the ocean, food, city life and of course the wines! The winelands of the Cape region are spectacular and it is worth visiting wine farms to discover the many delicious varieties on offer – a true South African experience. There are many wine farms, some are more well-known than others and these should definitely be visited.

The Stellenbosch region and Franschoek are the most popular wine regions of the Cape but we would also recommend visiting some of the smaller towns of the Cape such as the Robertson Wine Valley that produces excellent wines – an easy 90 minute drive from Cape Town along the R62. 

The Luxury of the Blue Train or the Rovos Rail

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The Blue Train:

The Blue Train arose from a fantasy of travelling from Africa’s southern to northern most tips and came to being in the 1920s. When the train became modernised in the 90s from steam to electric and diesel, the Blue Train had a refurbishment completed in each of its carriages and to this day is defined as  ‘an unmatched experience of luxurious modern travel’.  It is the ultimate in luxury trains and one of the most interesting ways of exploring the country. The routes include Cape Town to Pretoria. There is also a route from Pretoria to Durban (going both ways). This five-star experience is romantic, stylish and, ‘offers a window to the soul of Africa.’

Rovos Rail:

Experience the opulent elegance of rail travel on the most luxurious train in the world on one of Rovos Rail’s exceptional safaris through the heart of Africa.  Combining some of the most magnificent scenery with the glamour and excitement of the golden age of rail travel, Rovos Rail will delight the most discerning traveller. Trains depart regularly from Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria for Cape Town, Durban and Victoria Falls with longer journeys operated on an annual basis.  These include two golf itineraries, of nine days, each with delightful programmes for non-golfers.  There is another nine-day safari to Namibia as well as the two-week adventure to Dar es Salaam.

The Falls and Desert

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Augrabies in the Northern Cape, situated 120 km from Upington, is known as the place of ‘Great Noise’. It is so named because of its one of a kind wonder, the mighty Augrabies Falls protected by the South African National Parks. The destination sees visitors from around the world visit to admire the sheer volume of water that flows from the falls into the Orange River. It is also a place of interesting rock formations, animals and a diversity of birdlife. Standing on the wooden platforms and looking over at the falls and river is exhilarating especially when seen in flood. Around you rock hyraxes or ‘dassies’ scurry about the rocks and can be seen sunning themselves. There are a number of interesting attractions and you could easily spend a few days exploring the park.  To get an indication as to the power of these falls, just take a look at this video below…

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, much like the Kruger National Park, is an iconic wildlife destination. The park is unique due to its desert terrain, a place of red undulating sand dunes and dry riverbeds. The key attraction apart from the landscape and interesting climate is the animals that have made the park home, from gemsbok commonly seen on drives to the sight of a pale chanting goshawk, there is an abundance of animals and photographic opportunities to be experienced.

Route 62: A journey to the Unexpected

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The Cape Route 62 is easily one of South Africa’s most scenic drives stretching from the Western to the Eastern Cape, through the Klein (Small) Karoo and through many of the country’s famous vineyards. It is a drive of towering cliffs, crystal streams, trees, orchards and majestic mountains. It is worth taking slowly to enjoy all it has to offer. Stop along the way and meet the colourful characters of small towns, dine at  restaurants and enjoy the scenic changes from lush grasses to the defining rugged mountain passes of the Karoo.

The Jewels of the Garden Route

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There are an endless amount of attractions to be found along the Garden Route of South Africa. The route comprises a stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. The Garden Route is most famous for its beautiful beaches many found in protected areas such as the Tsitsikamma National Park and Nature’s Valley. The Otter Hiking Trail (43 km from Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley) is one of the country’s most popular trails. The five-day hike transverses incredible scenery that will leave you in awe.

The Scenic Panorama Route

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Situated conveniently close to the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the Kruger Park, the Panorama Route is a favourite of all who visit.  The route includes the scenic landmarks: God’s Window, the Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Three Rondavels as well as many waterfalls, historical monuments and more. As Londolozi Staff members who have been treated to a trip on the route, we have all been left in amazement at the experience of the waters, forests, and most impressively, the view over the Three Rondavels that lies within the Blyde River Canon Reserve.

The Magic of the Drakensberg

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If there is a place where magic can be found than it must be in the Drakensberg.  The Northern and Central Drakensberg is place for romance and adventure alike, where cottages tucked under mountain peaks provide a cozy winter escape and where adventure activities are plentiful. There’s game viewing parks, 4×4 routes, mountain biking passes, canoeing, horse-riding and many fascinating historical tours. It is a place to visit and because it offers so much, it is a place you’ll want to revisit to continue exploring.

The City with a Mountain

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Cape Town, it does not need any introduction but again if you have not visited this city, it is a place to add to your bucket list. It is the city with Table Mountain, where hikes and a cable car take you to the top for a view across the entire city and its perimeters, where you literally feel on top of the word. There’s the many incredible white sand beaches, top restaurants where dining is taken to another level, and a vibrant night life. There are many places to visit while here but we suggest the following: Cape Point Nature Reserve, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Camps Bay and Clifton beach, Robben Island, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Table Mountain by cable car, the V&A Waterfront and the seaside towns of the Cape Peninsula.

Written by: Kate Collins.

 

The South African Rolling Hills of Elgin, a Young Wine Route

January 30, 2015 by  

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South Africa in summer. Bliss. Just over an hour East of Cape Town lie the rolling hills of Elgin, a young wine route, just over 20 years old. Traditionally an area known for world-class apples and pears, grape-growing in this area started in the 1980s with the first commercial bottling of wine only in the 1990s.

Elgin is geographically and geologically a clearly defined mountain basin called the Hottentots Holland range which sits at a high elevation of between 200 & 300m, it is one of the coolest wine growing areas in South Africa which makes it perfect for cool-climate varietals such as Pinot Noir. The Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir is a gem.

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Developed Pinot Noit vineyards shine bright green under the classic Cape mountains

Elgin Vintners is a partnership of six farming families from the Elgin Valley. These families have been very clever in their wine-making practice in that they have combined their resources to cultivate, produce and market their range of wines. The families all have farms spread out of a 12km radius, which allows for a spectrum of terroir, soils, aspects, altitudes and meso-climates. Different winemakers are utilized for different wines, each specializing in the cultivar they work with. All these elements allow for Elgin Vintners to be as their slogan states “publishers of fine wine”.

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Harvested Pinot Noit grapes on their way to the cellar

The grapes for the Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir are harvested from Elgin Orchards, currently owned by Dr Max Hahn. A homestead was built on the farm Ridgelands by Edward Syfret in 1924, he was a wealthy man and close friend of Cecil John Rhodes who later purchased the neighbouring farm Oudebrug (one of the first farms to export apples and pears from the Elgin Valley) and renamed the entire farm to Elgin Orchards.

Syfret’s daughter, Gladys, married Dolf Denniston. They owned and managed the farm and had two daughters, Trish and Ann. Trish married very late in life and never had children. Ann married a Naval Commander, Andrew Brown. They eventually sold the farm to a UK based company, Westminster Produce, for a record price in the South African fruit industry.

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A close-up of a bunch of Pinot Noir grapes

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Farm workers meticulously prune Pinot Noir vines

After the 2nd World War, the Ridgelands homestead was opened to wounded troops returning home to re-cooperate. Max’s farther was stationed here when he returned from the war after being wounded and became close friends with Dolf Denniston and later the Brown family. He spent many weekends and childhood holidays on the farm as he was in boarding school at Bishops, in Cape Town. In 2001 he purchased the farm from Westminster Produce. Today the farm is planted with 220ha apples & pears, 7ha kiwi fruit and 30ha vineyards and also boasts approximately 250ha of pristine fynbos. The farm is also home to 70 families working on it.

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The original homestead on the farm Ridgelands

This Pinot Noir has been crafted by winemaker Gavin Patterson and has aromas of confected red berry fruits, a touch of truffle and fine dry herbal notes. On the palate once can expect well ripened tannins with a savoury, spicy mid-palate and refreshing acidity. It pairs wonderfully with Chef Anna’s signature seared Scottish Salmon served with Salsa Verde.

Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir

A beautifully crafted bottle of Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir

 

Have you tried this delicious varietal?

Written by Kim Drake

 

Summer Skies with Drama in the South African Bush

January 29, 2015 by  

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The first rains are now a distant memory in southern Africa as we are in the height of summer, but the rejuvenation is unmistakable. Green as far as the eye can see, rich nutrients freely available, a far cry from the dry cold winter months. Clouds build and disperse occasionally offering life that gives water to the ever thirsty bush.

It is these pockets of condensation that excite me, the rare opportunity for the sun to sneak through a small gap to illuminate a scene with the backdrop of a Lowveld storm. Incredible texture and shape that develop and change due to the constant sculpting winds, winds that have the potential to open up a gap for this special light to burst through and add definition to an otherwise flat scene, my favourite natural lighting situation.

Here are a few occasions where the summer skies have provided great natural lighting. I look forward to what the rest of summer holds and to hopefully capture more of these breathtaking windows.

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Two of the Tsalala lionesses quench their thirst after the sun broke out to dramatically increase the temperature.

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Baby wildebeest abound as the day breaks under a dark blue blanket of cloud.

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A storm that drenched the bush within minutes. Beauty and power.

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A massive herd of buffalo warm up after a cold and wet start to the day.

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A tree skeleton.

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An isolated acacia adds character to the sea of grass.

What do these scenes stir in you?

Written and photographed by Simon Smit

 

Learning the Nuances & Body Language of Elephants

January 11, 2015 by  

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I used to be terrified of elephants — the terrible, debilitating kind. Before I started guiding I felt like every time we saw elephants we would get charged and at the mere mention of their name I would drop to the floor of the car and find a safe space under the seat while every one else enjoyed the looming elephant.

Seeing elephants was never an enjoyable experience and no matter what anyone said to me I just knew it was going to end badly because it pretty much did, every time.

Having guided and been in control of the vehicle and the distance at which I can view elephants has completely transformed how I feel about them and they are now one of my absolute favorite animals to watch. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that elephants are honest with their body language and if you read these easy steps for how to understand them, you will be able to enjoy elephants both safely and without fear too.

Watch out for the following body language when you next come across elephants:

Tails: Just like a dog, when an elephant’s tail is swishing from side to side swatting away flies, it is happy. As soon as the tail goes stiff, normally held out to one side, it means that the elephant is anxious. At this point it may even start to run from you, normally swivelling over its shoulder to keep an eye on you as it tries to get away.

Eyes: An elephant’s eyes can tell you an incredible amount. Just think of humans, when we are stressed, excited or scared our eyes open wider. This is part of the reaction to the release of adrenaline in our bodies and better enables us to handle the perceived threat. This is exactly the same for elephants. If an elephant approaches you with lazy, almost half closed eyes and its tailing swishing slowly from side to side, it is a good sign this animal is very relaxed.

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An elephant bull demonstrates how ‘dozy’ their eyes can get when they are relaxed and feeding. It seems this bull was even struggling to keep them open at all.

Ears: I have also often experienced guests begin to stress as an elephant approaches us with its ears flapping. Please don’t stress. The elephant is merely cooling itself down. It has huge, fat veins that run beneath the thin skin of the ear and as they flap their ears against the wind, they cool the blood and therefore their overall body temperature. The time to be weary is when an elephant turns and faces you head on, with its ears extended and held out at its sides (normally with its head held high and trunk and tusks raised). The elephant is trying to make itself look bigger and intimidate you.

Trunk: I have also often heard the theory that if an elephant runs at you with its trunk out, it’s a ‘mock’ charge and if it tucks it in, then it means business. To be totally honest I have seen an elephant run at us trumpeting, with her trunk extended, for about a kilometre. That elephant meant business. I think the general rule should rather be that if an elephant is running at you, just back down and get away. They are bigger than you and its best to treat them with the respect they are asking for. Having said this, try not to race away from a juvenile elephant who is just showing off. This only teaches them bad manners and nasty habits for when they turn into big elephants.

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A young elephant attempts to make itself look bigger. Sadly for it, this will only be intimidating in another decade or two.

Rumbling: This has to be one of my favourite noises in the bush. Most of the noises elephants emit are at frequencies we can’t even hear. However, this comforting, low rumbling sound we are lucky enough to hear is the elephants communicating with each other, so sit quietly and enjoy it.

Trumpet: This is generally not a good sign and usually signals distress. Even if it is just a youngster trumpeting, who doesn’t pose a threat to you, the trumpet will usually summon its mother in a matter of seconds who will more than likely blame you for its child’s temper tantrum.

Head shake: This is when an elephant picks its head up high and throws it back down in an arc, creating a big noise as its ears slap against its body and a billow of dust pours off its head. It is intimidating and that’s exactly why the elephant does it. If the elephants does this and moves off, then you are safe to continue watching the herd, however if it does this in conjunction with wide eyes, turns to approach you with ears extended, back arched and tusks held high then it is in your best interest to heed that elephant’s warning.

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The ever intimidating head shake and resultant dust cloud. Photo courtesy of Google Images

Temporal dribble: This is the dribble that you sometimes see on the temples of the elephant and many of the fallacies state that an elephant showing this is in musth, a heightened state of testosterone the males go into, which makes them unreasonable and highly aggressive. It is true that a male in musth exhibits this but so do other elephants, including little calves. People are unsure as to exactly why this sweating occurs but most say it’s due to stress or excitement.

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A secretion from the temporal gland, which can be seen on both males in musth as well as females and youngsters. Photo courtesy of: www.elephantsforafrica.org

Urine dribble: The really important sign to look out for with big males is a constant dribble of a foul smelling urine down the back of their legs. This is a sure sign that the elephant is in musth and should be treated with space and respect because during this time they can be highly aggressive and unreliable.

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Have a look at the back right leg and you’ll spot the dark stain of the urine dribble that gives these males their distinctive foul smell. Photograph courtesy of Google Images.

Watch your guide: Lastly watch your guide. If they look totally relaxed and are enjoying the elephants, then this is a good sign that you should too.

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An elephant bull approaches a vehicle, getting rather close, but based on its body language you can tell that it is totally unfazed by the presence of the vehicle.

With all of this, as with anything in the wild, I think the most important thing to remember is respect. Respect that elephants are bigger than you, respect that they can change their minds and respect that they are wild animals. Remembering this I’m sure you will have no more problems with one of Africa’s greatest giants.

Written by: Amy Attenborough

 

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