Hey gang, it’s been almost a full week since my birthday and boy 30 feels meh. I generally look forward to getting older every year and hence my birthdays have always been my favourite day of the year. Only one birthday has left me feeling super meh before and that was my 19th. 19 was such a wack age to turn that I officially renamed it my 12 months to 20 birthday. So why do I feel this way about 30? Shucks, I don’t know yet yal. I will think about it some more and maybe tell you in my next post. Anyway, for now, let’s continue my list of:
30 best travel memories from a wandering soul!
17) Ballito – girls trip
As many times as I’ve been to the coast (Durban and surrounds), I’d never been there with people outside of my family. So when one of my best friends suggested we go to Ballito for her birthday, I was stoked. When we were younger, my brother used to tell us about the time he went there with his rugby team on tour. I think it is one of his favourite memories because every so often he will tell us about the trip again. Despite all these stories, I didn’t know much about Ballito and what type of beach town it was. I always assumed it was just an extension of Durban and would have the same vibe as the other Indian ocean beaches that I already knew and loved.
Curious to finally see it for ourselves, that March we packed our bags and set off for Ballito. We decided to drive down so the trip took us around 6 hours including stops. For some reason, we included a stop in Durban too (whoever cursed me with this city is probably long dead by now). I remember my friends turning up the music, rolling down the windows and jamming out as we drove into town with palm trees flanking us on either side. I was driving at that stage and I remember feeling slightly embarrassed at all the attention that my friends attracted towards us. In hindsight, I wish I’d chosen to enjoy the moment.
We eventually arrived at the apartment we’d booked in a beach housing estate called Santorini Kalisti. All I can say is that this place made a great first impression on me. It was beautiful. I’ve never been to Greece but the place gave me Greek vibes with its white buildings strewn across the mountainside. Our house was further up the mountain which was cool in terms of driving in but not so cool when it came to getting to the beach. There was a bit of a steep path down to the beach for residents that passed a pool and a small forest clearing. It was fun on the way down but after a long morning of flopping around in the waves of the sea, it kind of sucked having to walk back up to our apartment.
Our beach was conveniently located near a picturesque spot called The hole in the wall. My friends and I spent our first morning in our pyjamas on the rocks trying to catch snaps of how the sun shined on our melanin. Don’t ask me why we were still in our jammies. All I know is that we still looked cute. Unfortunately, later on, when we went back to that beach, it wasn’t as kind to us as it had been in the morning. While we were having fun in the rock pool, my friend accidentally stepped on a sea urchin. A few more of these unfortunate events happened during the trip but the prevailing memory that I have of Ballito is that of beach paradise. Hopefully one day I will visit again.
18) Cape Town (part 2)
Why is Cape Town appearing on this list again? You already told us about this one! Why are you recycling material! Well… As I said, the first time I went to Cape Town I didn’t go as a tourist, and to be honest I was in no rush to go back because of how meh it was that time. But I was now working at my new job at the bank, keen to spend time with the friends I had gained in advertising again so we put together a plan to spend our December in Cape Town. Everything was going great too, with accommodation booked and itinerary planned, it was down to us just showing up and having some fun together. But then November happened. One of my friends announced that she could no longer go on the trip for reasons. Our bestie also announced that because of her new job she hadn’t accumulated enough leave days so she couldn’t come along anymore either. It was a mess. So with flight tickets already booked my other bestie and I were left with no choice but to make the best of the situation.
I’m so glad we didn’t cancel. Cape Town was such a jump that I finally understand why so many people love to rave about it as a holiday destination. We met so many cool people along our trip that I appreciated the benefits of travelling with a smaller party. Taking an Uber was super easy. Deciding on plans was easier. Everything tends to go faster when there are less people needing to agree to the plan. We also managed to get around much faster too. We went on a cruise, we toured the city on foot, we went wine tasting, we hit up the beach, twice, and we even went up that mountain.
As generic as it may sound, one of my favourite memories is walking around the top of Table Mountain. We went up the mountain via cable car around sunset that day having been disappointed by the wind the previous day. It was magical. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things in this world but I think to this day I can confidently say that watching the sunset from there is the most beautiful thing my eyes have ever seen. Even the pictures came out stunning.
Mpumalanga was good the first time around so we decided to go back to round two. This time we booked a place in Hazyview. Hazyview is a farming town that is best known for its bananas and macadamias apparently (contributing 20% and 30% respectively, to South Africa’s output). I didn’t know this about Hazeyview until I Googled it because honestly when I think of this town, I think of holiday destinations. East of Hazyview, there are many game parks and holiday resorts in the area. If you go to the Kruger National Park coming from the direction of Johannesburg, you’ll usually pass this town on your way.
This location is one of the things that makes this little town great. Because you are in holiday territory there is just so much to do. My friends and I took advantage of this by going to the Sudwala caves, God’s window (again – in Zulu we say “Into emnandi iyaphindwa” meaning a good thing should be repeated), Kruger Park and Burke’s Luck Potholes. I hadn’t heard about the Potholes until we went on this trip and I am so glad we went. It’s a beautiful marvel of nature to behold. If you are thinking of adding Hazeyview to your list, I’d recommend Waterberry Hill. The accommodation there really made our trip extra fun.
20) Modimolle – Birdsong cottages
I’m not sure if I can call this place a holiday destination anymore because much like Hluhluwe, it has become a second home for us when it comes to local travels with my friends. My friend Lu found this place for her birthday one time and I, unfortunately, couldn’t tag along that time. Since then we’ve been on a few different occasions and each time there’s a new story to tell.
I remember the first time I went there, I was coming from work and had to pick up my friend in Pretoria on the way to Modimolle. This meant most of our trip was taken under the darkness of night. Because of post-work traffic, the drive was about 4 hours for me. We reached Birdsong around 9 pm which meant there wasn’t much movement around the resort by that time. A horrible thing considering that my car managed to get stuck in the sand while we were making our way to the resort’s gate. My friend and I jumped out and tried pushing the car forward. I tried to get in and turn the steering wheel this way and that to dislodge us from the pit. Nothing worked. This is when I remembered the extensive useless information that Buzzfeed has taught me. I watched a YouTube video from them once, about survival tips for a road trip. One of the tips had to do with getting stuck in the sand with your car. In that video, I learnt that you should let some air out of your tyres if you get stuck in this way. We decided to try it and hey presto, the car lurched forward with such vuma it was as if we were never stuck.
For my final trip before moving to Japan, we returned to Birdsong to make more memories. I really enjoyed it. The best part of being up in the mountains at a secluded lodge during off-peak season is that you get to enjoy most of the facilities without having to worry about running into anyone else. And that’s exactly what we did. We hiked around the property on our last morning just chatting and taking selfies and snaps of the grounds.
21) Emerald casino
I’ve never been big on casino’s but for some reason, the casino’s in South Africa always manage to pack so much into what they have to offer for gamblers and non-gamblers alike. Emerald casino is one such place. My sister and I were looking for a place to take our parents for a birthday slash father’s day outing when we came across this place. I’d probably heard hundreds of ads for the casino at this stage but to be honest I didn’t know much about what it had to offer.
When I did my research I found out that they had a mini-game drive that you could do and a lovely lunchtime buffet. So we made our reservations and headed out. It was such a nice day trip in the middle of winter. The sky was a beautiful clear blue so we really enjoyed exploring the park grounds before hopping in the game ranger cars to start the mini-game drive. This is the drive that’s made me want to do one when I go back to Hluhluwe. You learn so much more from the guides on these drives versus when you are just observing from your own car. At some point towards the end of the drive, we even got to feed some deer, which was pretty cool too.
For food, we went to their buffet restaurant which is called Ubuntu. The restaurant area needed us to drive closer to the area where the main casino is. Next to that building, there is also a water world area for kids to enjoy. We didn’t have any kids with us that day though so we just decided to walk around and take pictures in the gardens in between the restaurants. What I loved about coming here is the fact that it was a perfectly packaged excursion for a day trip.
22) Johannesburg and surrounds
Next on my list isn’t an actual destination but rather a commentary on the place I call home. For 10 years before moving to Japan, I have lived in Pretoria, doing mostly Pretorian things with the occasional excursion down south to the Joburg area to visit my folks (lol, and to work, obvs). Before this, even though I lived in a city south of Joburg, I never really had many leisurely interactions with Joburg itself as a city. When I started my job at the bank, this started to change because I was hanging out with people who lived in the city.
As strange as it sounds, this time was like an awakening for me. I had always had this image of Joburg being this grunge dangerous place that people where crazy to hang out in. And yes, maybe it’s true, there’s a crime issue, but that doesn’t mean Joburg isn’t a whole vibe.
Places like Maboneng, Victoria Yards, 44 Stanely, Braamfontein, Newtown, Sandton and the Parks were being introduced to me and I loved it. The food, the vibe, the aesthetics. I miss it so much.
23) Japan – Tokyo
Last for this week I’ll touch on Japan. This is probably the furthest away from home, in both distance and cultural difference, I’ve been in my whole life. As someone who lives here now though, it’s not often I get to view my surroundings through the eyes of a visitor. Luckily, when I first got here, this wasn’t the case. Tokyo was a stopover before getting to my current new home. We had 3 nights booked in Tokyo thanks to the JET programme. During the day we spent most of the day locked up in conference rooms, learning about our new lives and jobs, but at lunchtime and in the evenings we were pretty much free to explore.
And that’s the end of this weeks list. This week has been a bit of a drag because I’ve started teaching at a new school but even though I’m exhausted, it’s the long weekend! I might still go out and do something. It’s never to early to start on my 40 for 40 list right?