Glaciers and Gorges in New Zealand

After drinking our weight in wine in Marlborough, New Zealand, we stopped off in Kaikoura for whale watching. Conditions were a bit spotty, rain was expected and they warned us that high waves may cause sea sickness. In fact, they cancelled all whale excursions after ours but we were not deterred.

Whales Kaikoura

After all the hype of sea sickness warnings, the ride was not bad — none of us felt sick. More importantly, using sonar they found 2 whales that put on a show for us as they glided across the top of the water and gently dove to expose its tail fin.

Sperm whales tail with misty backdrop Location: Kaikoura, New Zealand

On our way back to the bay, we were joined by a group of Dusky Dolphins that put on an aerial display for us.  They were twisting, jumping and doing somersaults.

Dusky Dolphins

Christchurch

After whale watching, we made our way to Christchurch, a city that’s steadily rising from the ruins of the 2011 earthquake.

Christchurch New Zealand

Here we had one of the best meals we experienced in New Zealand at a funky, yet intimate restaurant called Twenty Seven Steps — aptly named because you must walk 27 stair steps to get to the dining area. I had Grouper that rivaled any I’ve ever eaten. If you make it to Christchurch — I highly recommend this restaurant.

Twenty Seven Steps

Christchurch Sofa

TranzAlpine Train

The next day, we boarded the TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth.

Kiwi Rail

The train takes you on a scenic journey from East to West, ending in Greymouth.

TranzAlpine

Along this journey, we caught epic vistas, traveled the edges of the ice-fed Waimakariri River, traversed the Southern Alps, and saw miles of native beech forest.

Kiwi Rail

The TranzAlpine is one of the world’s great train journeys covering 139 miles one-way, taking just under 5 hours.

Kiwi Rail

Hokitika Gorge

In Greymonth, we rented a car and headed towards Franz Josef Glacier. Along the way, we stopped off at Hokitika Gorge. Starting at a swinging bridge, the walk down to the gorge is really short and well maintained.

Hokitika Gorge Swinging Bridge

Once you cross the bridge, it’s a short walk before you are rewarded with incredible views of spectacular Hokitika Gorge.

Hokitika Gorge Water

Franz Josef Glacier

The next day we drove to Franz Josef Glacier, a 7.5 mile long glacier. Since 2008, the glacier has been retreating at a rapid rate. Due to global warning, scientists expect that Franz Josef Glacier will lose 38% of its mass by the year 2100.

Franz Josef Glacier

On our way up, we saw beautiful glacier ponds sporting beautiful hues of blue and emerald.

Franz Josef Glacier Water

Franz Josef Glacier Water

Wanaka

After Franz Josef, we headed towards Queenstown, stopping off for lunch and shopping in Wanaka. A popular ski and summer resort town, Wanaka is built around beautiful Wanaka Lake. It was a short stop, I wish we had spent more time there — it was a cool town.

Wanaka City

Lake Wanaka

Wanaka

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to Queenstown — one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand. Here we took an exhilarating jet boat ride that took us at speeds of 50 mph within inches of massive rock cliffs. We also enjoyed beautiful Milford Sound by boat and took a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier — it was one of the highlights of our trip!

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I’ll leave you with a picture of some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. It was during our stop over in Wanaka — the ice cream shop was Black Peak — be sure to stop in there if you get to this area.

Wanaka Ice Cream

 

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New Zealand’s Premier Wine Country

After being introduced to the Maori, exploring Glow Worms, and visiting the home of The Hobbits, it was time to leave the North Island of New Zealand for the South Island.  To get to the South Island, you take a ferry across the beautiful fjords of Cook Strait.

Cook Strait

Cook Strait

The ferry ride is about 3 hours and has been described as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. We can attest to that. You are rewarded with spectacular views of the Kaikoura Ranges, crystal clear waters, and secluded bays.

Cook Strait

We spent our time gazing at the views, playing cards, and enjoying each other’s company.

Cook Strait

Kathy and Joey found time to clown around with their sunglasses.

Cook Strait

Our disembarkation was at Picton, New Zealand in the South Island.

Cook Strait

Malborough Wine Country

We began our journey of the South Island in Malborough, New Zealand’s premier wine country. The Marlborough region is all about world-famous Sauvignon Blanc.

Marlborough Wineries

Malborough is responsible for producing 77% of all New Zealand wines. We were fortunate to stay in an incredible hotel called The Marlborough Vinters Hotel that’s flanked by fields of grape vines.

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

The rooms were spacious with a large living area, kitchen and a king size bed. Most importantly, you could walk or cycle to several wineries from the hotel.

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

Malborugh Vinters Hotel

We took this opportunity to cycle to several wineries in the morning and took a wine tour (by bus) in the afternoon. In hindsight, I would probably have just cycled the entire day to different wineries because it they had plenty of bike paths that made it easy to do.

Marlborough Wineries

Marlborough Wineries

Marlborough Wineries

During our stay in Marlborough, it was Lynn’s birthday so Kathy and the gang surprised Lynn with a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the wine country. It was a small restaurant (with only a few tables), a roaring fire, great food and fantastic wine.

Marlborough Wineries

We capped off our time in Marlborough by visiting a boutique chocolate factory named Makana Confections – yummy chocolates!

Mankana Chocolates

Mankana Chocolates

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us on a whale watching excursion, a scenic train ride, and time at a glacier.

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I’ll leave you with a picture of one of the wineries (Hunters Wines) that we visited while in Marlborough.

Marlborough Wineries

 

In a Hole in the Ground there Lived a Hobbit

If you enjoy trilogies, I’m sure you’ve seen The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Both trilogies were filmed in New Zealand and opening scenes of the trilogies start in the home of the Hobbits, at The Shire in Hobbiton.

When director Peter Jackson was scouting for a location to film Hobbiton, he flew a helicopter over New Zealand. Down below he saw a land of green pasture, rolling hills, and endless sheep and knew it would become the home of the hobbits.

Hobbiton

Hobbits are a small people, averaging 3 feet 6 inches in height, have hairy feet, an abundant appetite and sport a good-natured face.

The Hobbit

A people of such small stature don’t require large houses so they built small houses just under the surface of rolling hills.

Hobbiton

Hobbiton, New Zealand

During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, they created a movie set to show where the Hobbits lived. The town was named Hobbiton and the Hobbits lived in small houses built into the hills with grass roofs. They created this movie set on a sheep farm in the North Island of New Zealand. Once the trilogy was fully filmed, they dismounted the movie set.

The Hobbit Movie

Nine years later, they created The Hobbit trilogy and had to reassemble the movie set.  After reassembling the second time, they decided to keep the movie set and make it a tourist attraction so now you can walk around the movie set just as the Hobbits did in the movies!

Hobbiton

As we began exploring Hobbiton, we were surprised that there were actually 44 Hobbit houses and the village is quite large.

Hobbiton Hobbit Houses

You will also see Hobbit clothes dangling from clotheslines.

Hobbit Movie

Since Hobbits are only 3 feet 6 inches tall, most of the Hobbit houses have small circular doorways. However, since they filmed some of the shots with actors of average height, some of the houses actually have regular sized doors.

Hobbit House

The Hobbit movie

You will find all kinds of Hobbit houses here that represent the work that each Hobbit does (fishermen, etc.).

Hobbiton The Shire

Peter Jackson filmed the series and went through painstaking detail to ensure that Hobbiton was true to the original books. All of the surroundings are real (hills, trees, etc.) with the exception of one tree, it is the tree in the picture below. This is actually a fake tree that Jackson had created to ensure it was true to the books. In person, you can’t tell it is a fake tree.

Hobbiton

The village has a pond with beautiful surroundings.

Hobbiton Lake

Hobbiton

Beautiful Hobbiton

So you may be wondering what the interior of the Hobbit houses looks like? Well, sorry to fill you in on this but if you open the door, it is simply a cave of dirt, nothing behind the facade.

Hobbiton

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Just outside of Rotorua is Wai-o-Tapu thermal wonderland. If you haven’t visited Yellowstone National Park, you will be impressed with the thermal pools and geysers. However, if you’ve visited Yellowstone, it’s not so special.

Due to dramatic geothermal conditions beneath the earth, the area has many hot springs noted for their colorful appearance. This area has been named in the “20 Most Surreal Places you need to see to believe” by Trip Advisor.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal

One of the main attractions is a geyser named Lady Knox Geyser that supposedly erupts every day at 10:15 a.m. We were wondering how it could be that consistent. Once there, we found out that if laundry detergent is placed inside of the geyser, it will erupt within minutes. So each day at 10:15, a ranger dumps a cup of laundry detergent into the geyser and it does its thing.

Lady Knox Geyser

Huka Falls

As we began making our way towards the ferry that takes you to the South Island, we stumbled on to Huka Falls. Huka Falls is a section of the Waikato River that narrows from over 300 feet wide to 50 feet wide. This narrowing causes a huge volume of water to collide and funnel through the rocky gorge, forming an incredibly powerful set of rapids.

Huka Falls

Huka Falls passes enough water through to fill up an Olympic sized pool every 11 seconds, amazing! If you’re traveling south and want to stretch your legs or take a hike, Huka Falls is a good spot to stop.

Huka Falls

Taupo

Close to Huka Falls is Taupo, a city flanked by mountains and a beautiful lake. It is also a good spot to stop for lunch, they have an amazing selection of restaurants.

Taupo

Taupo

#LoveTaupo

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to the south Island of New Zealand as we cruise the fjords from north to south. We will also visit the Marlborough, the premier wine country of New Zealand.

I’ll leave you with a picture of our beautiful wives and great travel partners. How lucky are we?

Our Wives

What Glows Brightly in New Zealand?

After visiting Auckland and meeting Maori council members, we continued our journey through the north island of New Zealand. We jump started our adrenalin by zip lining over a rainforest in Rotorua, enjoyed a dinner and stage show from a Māori tribe, and visited a cave that is over 30 million years old. In the cave, we were introduced to something that glows brightly, has a short lifespan, and sometimes eats its siblings. More about that later.

Zip Lining in Rotorua

Rotorua is an adrenaline junkie’s dream. In Rotorua, you can zip line, white-water raft, off-road in a 4 wheeler, ride jet boats or roll down a mountain in a Zorb (clear plastic ball).  In hindsight, I wish we had more time to spend here — you could easily spend a week and enjoy some great activities. Since we only had 1 full day here, we chose to zip line.

Zipline Rotorua

We chose Rotorua Canopy Tours — guided by 2 young Kiwis with great personalities who took time to explain the flora, animals, and history of the rainforest. Here’s a video from their website that gives you a sense of what we experienced: https://youtu.be/BmPGLkUdQMY.

To get to some of the zip line stations, you had to walk across swinging bridges.

Zipline Rotorua

Towards the end of the zip line adventure, they asked us to pose for a picture, here’s a couple of us striking a pose.

Zipline Rotorua

Zipline Rotorua

Māori Village

In Rotorua, you can visit a Māori Village and experience a typical ceremonial dinner where chicken, pork, and fish are cooked to perfection. Cooked in a hole in the ground covered by palm leaves, the meat soaks up the juices resulting in a deliciously tender treat.

Maori Villages

After dinner, local Māori stage a ceremonial dance. They arrive via canoe and make their way to the stage chanting along the way. Although very theatrical, you begin to learn more about the yesteryear of Māori tribes.

Maori Village

To confuse and intimidate their enemy, they approach warfare with wide bulging eyes, loud screams and tongues extended.  They were also known to be cannibals. They didn’t eat humans from sheer love of flesh, instead, it was to gratify a revenge. It’s been told that Captain Cook lost 10 men to Maori cannibalism at Queen Charlotte Sound in Wharehunga Bay in 1777.

Maori Village

The Māori are a proud people and have done a great job of keeping their heritage alive in New Zealand.  Kiwis respect, understand and appreciate the history of the Māori – the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Maori Village

What Glows Brightly in New Zealand?

Tucked away in Waitomo New Zealand is a cave that’s over 30 million years old. Found by local Māori Chief Tane Tinorau in 1887 (and accompanied by an English surveyor Fred Mace), they built a raft of flax stems and with candles as their only lighting, floated into the cave where the stream goes underground.  To their surprise, the ceiling of the cave glowed in a way that resembled stars in the Milky Way.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

After closer inspection, they found stringy mucous-like larvae lining the cave ceiling.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The larvae are commonly referred to as glow worms. They are actually fungus gnats that are bioluminescent in their larval stage. They produce a blue-green light and the larvae spin sticky webs to catch food. They are found in caves, overhangs, rock cavities, and other sheltered, wet areas.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves continue to be managed and run by Chief Tane Tinorau’s descendants and they receive about 400,000 visitors annually.

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to the movie set of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, in Hobbiton. We will also explore Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland and visit Huka Falls.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with an image I snapped of beautiful New Zealand when traveling the north island.

Beautiful New Zealand

In Search of Face Tattoos in New Zealand

After months of planning, we embarked on a 3 week trip to New Zealand and Australia. Joined by great friends, Joey/Mala Steffen and Greg/Kathy Tawes – it was an adrenalin pumping trip we won’t soon forget. We zip-lined, rode jet boats, climbed the Sydney bridge, took a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier, cruised fjords, petted snakes/kangaroo/koalas and visited over a dozen wineries.

Our trip was so action-packed, I will chronicle our travels over 9 blogs so stay tuned each week to continue following our journey. You may have found this post from the title “In search of face tattoos in New Zealand“. What’s that about? We met a group of people whose social status is elevated upon getting a face tattoo. More about that later.

Auckland New Zealand

We visited both the north and south islands of New Zealand but started in the north in Auckland. A waterfront city, Auckland has about 1.5 million residents — the largest city in New Zealand.

Auckland New Zealand

Auckland illuminates at night with a vibrant vibe beckoning to be explored. As we walked the waterfront, we saw huge yachts and sailboats moored in the harbor.

Aukland New Zealand at Night

Just a short boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island — ranked as the fourth best island in the world by Condé Nast.  Although the island has lots of scenic beaches, our focus was wine. Showcasing more than 25 wineries, we spent the day sampling their coveted sauvignon blanc.

Stony Ridge Winery

Stony Ridge Winery

Bay of Islands

A couple of hours north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands — an island that is world renowned for big-game fishing.

New Zealand

From Bay of Islands, we cruised to Piercy Island to witness the “Hole in the Rock“. Piercy Island was named by Captain Cook in honor of one of the Lords of the Admiralty.

Piercy Island

Hole in the Rock

Waipoua Forest

After visiting Bay of Islands, we explored more of the north island of New Zealand stumbling on the Waipoua Forest — the home of the oldest and largest Kauri tree known to stand today. Estimated to be 2,500 years old, the tree is named Tāne Mahuta, a Māori name that means “Lord of the Forest”.

Tāne Mahuta

3 Amigos

In Search of Face Tattoos

As we began exploring New Zealand, we heard about the indigenous people — the Māori.  New Zealand was not inhabited until around 1250 when a Polynesian tribe came to the island via canoe. The Māori formed tribal groups with their own unique culture and language — a language that is still spoken today by over 600,000 tribe members that still occupy New Zealand.  We heard rumors that some Māori sported face tattoos, but we had yet to see it.

As we drove the north island, we stumbled on a beautiful spot that flanked the Tasman Sea. We stopped to check out this beautiful pier that jets into the bay.

Maori Pier

Maori Pier

As we were leaving the pier, Greg noticed a little cafe a short walk away so we decided to explore. To our surprise, it was a hotel and cafe that was hosting a Māori council meeting. When we arrived, we were greeted by a Māori woman who was one of the leaders. She welcomed us, kissed each of us on the cheek and we had a cocktail. Soon after, another Māori gentleman approached us and began to explain more about their traditions and the reason for the face tattoos.

Maori Tattoos

The Māori tattoo is an important aspect of this native society, linked with ancestry and rank within the tribe. Originally, the tattooing instrument was a bone uhi (chisel) with an extremely sharp straight edge which caused deep cuts into the skin. Once finished, the skin had grooves.

Liquid food and water were drained into a pipe made of wood to ensure that nothing dirty came into contact with the swollen skin. The full faced tattoo was very time consuming and a good tattoo craftsman would carefully study a person’s bone structure before starting the procedure.

Maori Tattoo

Today, tattoos are not performed with bone but with needles (as we are accustomed to). The gentleman above explained that the forehead part of the tattoo is the wing of a bird, the nose is the beak, the chin is the mouth of a bird and the left cheek represents the person’s father and the right cheek their mother.

As we continue our New Zealand journey, you will learn more about the Māori people.

What’s Next?

Our next blog will take us to a Māori village, a glow worm cave and zip-lining over a rainforest.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of our beautiful friend Kathy Tawes, as she enjoyed the little cafe we stumbled on when we met the Māori council members that were so nice to us.

Kathy Tawes

 

Annual Skip Trip – Breckenridge Colorado

Last year a few friends and I started an annual ski trip tradition, beginning in Lake Tahoe. This year we decided on Breckenridge, Colorado and it did not disappoint.  If you haven’t been to Breckenridge before, it is one of the coolest mountain towns around. It has a quaint yet hip vibe and incredible slopes.

This year one of our buddies brought along a GO PRO so we captured video of the trip. We were lucky to get about 8 to 10 inches of fresh powder the first night we arrived.

We stayed in a ski-in / ski-out home we found on AirBnB. It was well appointed and very convenient. We would wake up, have breakfast, put our skis on and hit the slopes without carrying skis to lifts — it was awesome.

The first day of skiing was fresh powder, I really enjoy that. The next day they groomed the slopes so we were able to play in both environments — how cool is that?

We skied all day both days only taking a small break for lunch.

As mentioned earlier, Breckenridge is a really cool mountain town. We found a great breakfast place and an incredible Italian restaurant. We also stumbled onto this shop that had precious gems — they had the largest selection of gems and fossils I’ve ever seen!

I’ll leave you with one last picture — of people taking pictures of people taking pictures…

 

 

Fall in New England

After a hot Florida summer, we headed north for a month to enjoy the change of seasons: Fall in New England is spectacular.  We spent most of our time in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

New England Map

Portsmouth New Hampshire

Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in America, incorporated in 1653. This area is the cradle of the American Revolution. We’ve all heard the story of Paul Revere riding into town shouting “The British are coming” or “The Red Coats are coming” — to warn the Revolutionists that the British were on their way to attack. Portsmouth is where this took place in 1774.

Portsmouth is a coastal city and was an important trade route for the early Europeans and a fishing mecca.

Portsmouth shoreline

There are lots to do in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a funky city with small cafes, coffee shops, and breweries but its much more. Portsmouth has done a great job of preserving its rich history by restoring and renovating its pre-revolutionary homes and the visitors center is a great place to sign up for walking and biking tours. Portsmouth’s oldest house (Jackson House) dates back to 1664 and is currently being restored.

Jackson House

We toured several houses as well as the iconic Strawbery Banke – a separate neighborhood of Portsmouth featuring over a dozen restored historic homes in Colonial, Georgian and Federal styles of architecture.

Strawbery Banke

Moffatt House

One of the best ways to soak in the history of Portsmouth is on a bicycle tour. In about 3 hours and 13 miles, you take in the best of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour 03

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

If you are a leaf peeper, a 1-hour trip north to the White Mountains rewards you with beautiful fall foliage.

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

If you travel north of New Hampshire into Maine, you will find the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, where the Bush family spends a lot of vacation time. On the way to Kennebunk is a home that’s referred to as the “wedding cake house”. Can you tell why?

Wedding Cake House

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport sport some of the nicest beaches in New England.

Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport

Kennebunk is a short drive from Old Orchard Beach, a quaint beach town where a lot of New Englanders spend their weekends and summers. Friends of ours (Derek and Susan Langone) own a place here and we were able to have dinner with them in their Danvers home during our stay.

Old Orchard Beach

Since we were so close to Boston, we spent a couple of weekends in Boston. A fun way to explore Boston is through a Duck tour. This is an amphibious vehicle that first takes you through a tour of Boston on land then pops into the bay to show you Boston from the water.

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

I also took some time to golf in New England. The courses here are a bit easier than ours in Florida but offer incredible views of the fall foliage.

Golfing New England

Golfing New England

Our final stop was in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National park. It was off season and a bit sleepy but offered beautiful scenery.

Bar Harbor 1

Bar Harbor 2

Bar Harbor 3

Bar Harbor 5

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to New England.  If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Thunder Hole, a coastal area of Arcadia National Park that thunders loudly as waves come in from the sea.

Bar Harbor 6

What lives in Africa that’s Sharply Dressed Yet Endangered?

If you visit Cape Town South Africa, be sure to spend at least a day traveling around its southern peninsula. This is where you’ll find Cape of Good Hope, the tip of the peninsula, and you will be rewarded with incredible views of the Atlantic ocean.

Cape Peninsula


Cape Peninsula

As we began our journey around Cape Peninsula, we stopped for a quick photo opp where you can see the outline of the shore.

Cape Town Peninsula

One of our first stops on Cape Peninsula was Seal Island. You embark from a scenic marina at Hout Bay and make your way out to an area that is densely populated with seals.

Seal Island Marina

Seal Island looks like a sea of brown debris but closer inspection illuminates dog-like animals barking at each other, stretching, and clumsily making their way along the rocks into the ocean for their next meal.

Seal Island Cape Town SA

As we made our way to Cape of Good Hope, we found spots that give you a better view of False Bay.

False Bay

Views of False Bay

The southern most part of the peninsula is Cape of Good Hope. Along the way, you get panoramic views of False Bay.

Cape of Good Hope entry

Arriving at Cape Good Hope, you can grab a bit of exercise by climbing the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. They also offer a lift to the top if you prefer less exertion.

Cape of Good Hope Lighthouse

You’ll immediately be greeted by baboons that will happily accept any portions of food (feeding them is not recommended by the way).

Baboons in Cape of Good Hope SA

Cape of Good Hope Lighthouse

Once you make it to the top, you are rewarded with some really nice views.

Views from Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town Outskirts

As we left Cape of Good Hope, we saw an ostrich just hanging out by the coast, that’s not something you see every day.

Cape Town Ostrich


African Penguins

So what’s dressed to the nines but is on the extinction list? African Penguins!  As we made our way towards Simon’s Town, we came upon an interesting road sign. Not sure I’ve ever seen a sign like this before.

The Boulders Penguins

Nestled in a sheltered cove between Simon’s Town and Cape Point is a safe haven for African Penguins called The Boulders. It all started in 1982 when a pair of penguins made this area home and the population has catapulted to over 2,200 penguins.

The Boulders African Penguins

Here are a few facts about these penguins:

  1. They are on the endangered list.
  2. In 1910, there were over 1.5 million African Penguins but only 10% of that number by the year 2000.
  3. These penguins have an annoying braying call that sounds like a donkey. Some of the locals call them Jackass Penguins.
  4. They can swim about 5 miles an hour and can stay underwater for 2 minutes.

African Penguins

Our final stop around the peninsula was to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Not as impressive as Buschart Gardens in Canada, but if you like plants, trees and anything that flowers, it is worth a look.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens


Wine Country

The Cape Town wine country is worth an entire day of exploration. In fact, had we known ahead of time, we would probably have stayed a few days in Stellenbosch, the focal point of wine country.

The architecture is very Dutch, with white buildings set with beautiful mountains as a backdrop.

Stellenbosch SA

Stellenbosch

We live just off scenic 30-a, a coastal highway close to Panama City Beach, Florida. Only a mile into 30-a, you come to a beach community called Alys Beach. Below is a picture of houses from Alys.

Alys Beach FL

Here is a picture of a house in Stellenbosch. See any similarities?

Stellenbosch South Africa

During our wine tour, we visited several wineries including Waterford, Roca and Anura. We also stopped for lunch in Franschhoek at the Dieu Donne winery. If you are in the area, I highly suggest having lunch here, it is incredibly scenic, surrounded by colorful mountains.

This was also the first place I tried ostrich steak. You would think it would be white meat, similar to chicken but no so. It is red meat and tastes like a filet mignon. If you get the chance to try it, I highly recommend it.

Most wineries are set on sprawling lands of mountain valleys. As we drove up to our first winery visit (Waterford), this was our entry.

Waterford Winery

As we got closer, we could see our host awaiting us at the door.

Waterford Winery

We sipped on whites and reds and enjoyed the best of South African wines.

South African Wines

 


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. If you missed any of our other posts on Africa, you can see them here.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the menu we saw at a restaurant. You can choose from a list of wild game that they serve in South Africa. Would you be bold enough to order any of these?

South Africa Wild Game Meats

 

Cape Town South Africa: 5 Things You Probably Don’t Know

As your plane descends into Cape Town South Africa, you are immediately mesmerized by the scenery. A bay town situated at the edge of the ocean and flanked by grandiose mountains, Cape Town is a very special place. During our stay, we learned a lot that most don’t know about Cape Town — more about that later.

View of Cape Town South Africa from the plane

As you can see, Cape Town is the at the southern point of Africa and has been a pivotable trade route for Europe and India.

Map of Capetown South Africa

Cape Town  Waterfront

If you love cities flanked by water, you will really love Cape Town. It’s clean, easy to navigate, and relatively inexpensive for Americans.

Cape Town Water front

With Table Mountain as a backdrop, you will want to explore the city to appreciate its beauty from different angles.

Cape Town Beauty

As a bay city, it offers lots of great restaurants that specialize in seafood. We had some of the best fish and shrimp dishes in Cape Town.

The mountain you see in the background is called Table Mountain. Aptly named, it has a flat top that resembles a table. Each day you get a different look from the mountain. Some days it is flat with no low-hanging clouds. Other days, clouds tend to hover just over the table top and locals call this the tablecloth.

Cape Town Beauty

Table Mountain

Seeing Table Mountain from below is inspiring but catching the view from the top is simply spectacular. You can board a gondola for a 5-minute ride to the top.

Cape Town Gondola

You are rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the city and seascape below.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Bo-Kapp

Originally settled by freed Muslim slaves, Bo-Kapp is an area of Cape Town formerly known as the Malay Quarter. Muslims wanted the houses to be as beautiful on the outside as they were on the inside, so they painted the exteriors in pastel colors. This attracts lots of visitors each year. As we cruised these streets, we saw Muslim children playing and enjoying the day.

Bo-Kaap Cape Town

Juxtaposition of Wealth

As beautiful as Cape Town is, it has a checkered past. As we were riding from the airport to the city center, we noticed a sprawling area of shacks and shanties.  Our driver told us that over 2 million people live in the townships that are primarily filled with shanties. Five minutes later in our drive, we were surrounded by opulent homes and outward signs of wealth.

The all-white (mostly Dutch) Nationalist Party took power in South Africa in 1948 and quickly instituted Apartheid, a social system instituted to segregate blacks from whites.  In 1960, the government stormed the township called District 6 and forced the black residents to leave their homes, then bulldozed the homes. They were then relocated to less desirable areas of Cape Town and surrounding areas and were stripped of basic human rights and this was the beginning of the shanty townships.

One of our tour guides was forced from his home in District 6 and he told us of his personal losses in property and dignity. He said he has forgiven South Africa for this but he vows to never forget. The government is starting to make amends and plans to rebuild District 6 and give the new homes back to the families there were driven out.

Although Apartheid ended in 1994 and all South Africans were granted equal rights, we were floored by how families still live this way today. We took a bicycle tour of the shanty towns and it was truly eye-opening.

As you can see below, the houses are right on top of each other and most are made of tin.

Cape Town Shanty

Many shanties lack running water and we saw residents getting water from community wells. However, we were always greeted with a smile and a quick hello.

Cape Town Shanty

Our tour guide was a well-known philanthropist that built a community center that specializes in empowering youth from the community to ride bikes and live a more healthy lifestyle. His after school program keeps youth off the street, offers computer access and provides a positive influence during the critical formative years.

You might think the interior of the shanties would have dirt floors. Surprisingly, we saw nice furniture, flat screen TVs, satellite dishes, and nice appliances.

Inside of Shanty

Robben Island

Just a 30-minute boat ride from Cape Town is Robben Island, a prison island where Nelson Mandella was enprisoned from 1964 to 1982.  Nelson Mandella was an anti-apartheid revolutionary jailed due to influence in the anti-apartheid movement. As you enter Robben Island, you can see it was heavily fortified.

Robbin Island

The tour guides for Robben Island were actual prisoners that were incarcerated at the same time as Nelson Mandella, so they have first-hand knowledge of how it was. They explained their plight and showed us the jail cell Nelson Mandella occupied during his stay.

Nelson Mandellas Cell

It was a small cramped room with nothing more than a pad to sleep on. No pillows or quilts. They also explained how black inmates were given small rations of food while white inmates were fed more food.

Robben Island 07

Nelson Mandella was freed from Robben Island after 27 years and became South Africa’s president in 1994.

5 Little-Known Facts of Cape Town

Although Cape Town and South Africa has a difficult past, there is a lot of beauty in this place — we highly recommend you visit.  While there, we learned a few facts we would like to share:

  1. The first heart transplant was performed here – Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first successful heart transplant here. However, the patient died 18 days later of pneumonia.
  2. There are 11 official languages in South Africa – While most South Africans speak English, their second most popular language is Afrikaans. As we spoke with people in the townships, we heard many people speaking a language that has “clicking or popping sounds” as part of the language – very interesting!
  3. The Castle of Good Hope had a sea view – The oldest colonial building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope. It is located about a mile or so inward of the ocean but when it was originally built, it was ocean front. Through the years, Cape Town’s landscape was extended out to allow expansion and the sea was replaced with land.
  4. Fountain of Youth – Over 43% of Cape Town residents are under 25 years old!
  5. Income Equality – Income wise, Cape Town has better income equality than all of it’s South African neighbors. Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Buffalo City are the worst regarding income equality.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Cape Town. We visited a lot more coastal areas surrounding Cape Town, I will be chronicling those visits in the coming weeks.

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I’ll leave you with a final picture of an interesting experience we had. We learned that a local delicacy of Cape Town (especially in the Shanty townships) is sheep’s head. Yep, you heard it right, sheep’s head. As we cycled through, we stopped and visited a place where you could buy sheep’s head. The lady in the picture below was using a hot wand scorches the hair off the sheep’s head. Once that’s done, they boil it, then serve it.

Would you eat it?

Sheeps Head

Zimbabwe Africa Safari: One Thing We Did That Takes Nerve

After tracking the Big 5 in South Africa, we set our sights on one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

This led to an interesting encounter that took a bit of nerve — more about that later.  This area of Africa is at the cross section of 4 countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

You’ve probably seen Niagra Falls – an enormous waterfall that borders the USA and Canada. Victoria Falls, bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia has been billed as the greatest falling curtain of water on this planet, making it one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Victoria Falls

It is enormous and awe-inspiring. There are some small pools of water at the edge of the falls and we saw people swimming right up to the edge of the falls, we did not have time to do that but it would have been incredible.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe


Zambezi River Sunset Cruise

The Zambezi River feeds Victoria Falls and we took a sunset cruise along the banks of the river. It’s all you-can-drink as you meander down the river. Arriving at the launch point, we saw warthogs grazing on the property.

Zambezi River Warthogs

It’s interesting that they take a kneeled posture to get closer to the ground as they graze. You can see that a lot of the grass has been cleared by their efforts.

Zambezi River Warthogs Kneeling

In South Africa, elephants eluded us until our last day and were the last of the Big 5 we spotted. On the sunset cruise, it took all of 5 minutes to spot an elephant drinking from the river.

We also saw a hippo family with a baby hippo following close behind.

Zambezi River Hippos

As we floated quietly down the river, we saw a tower of giraffes feeding. The guide said that it is not an everyday occasion to see a giraffe. As we cruised down the river, sipped on cocktails and took in the view, we discovered how unencumbered wildlife is in Africa.


Lion Encounter

Earlier, I mentioned that we did something that takes a bit of nerve. Just outside of Victoria Falls is an active conservation program called Lion Encounter. Here, you can get up close and personal with lions.

Lion Encounter Petting

These lions are actually cubs – 19 months old. They were born in this conservation park and will eventually be put into the wild. Lion Encounter was started to raise money to conserve lions and to prevent poaching.

Are these lions tame? No, they are wild animals and they hunt game right in the conservation park. The rangers told us that this pair recently killed a baboon and zebra. However, they’ve become accustomed to people and aren’t likely to attack. In our group, there was a ranger with a gun (just in case), nicknamed Rambo!

During your visit, you can walk with the lions. You must carry a stick because in the unlikely event they get unruly, it takes their mind off attacking you if you dangle the stick in front of them.

Lion Encounter Walk

It was a treat to spend time with these magnificent beasts and to learn about the conservation efforts to prevent them from becoming extinct.

Lion Encounter Cubs

Would you have the nerve to walk with them?


Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana

Just a 2-hour drive from Victoria Falls is a game reserve called Chobe.  It’s unique in that it offers a river and land safari so you get to see wildlife in their native habitat from boat and land cruiser. We started our adventure by boat and as we cruised out to the Zambezi River, you immediately appreciate the scenery.

Chobe Marine Island

Pictures don’t do justice to how pretty this place is. You see all kinds of wildlife, like the Cape Buffalo grazing below.

Chobe Marine Hippos

Crocodiles and hippos bask in the sun and you see more birds than you can easily recognize.

Chobe Crocadiles

Chobe Hippos

Chobe Birds

As we meandered down the river, we saw a heard of elephant crossing the river ahead. They don’t seem fazed by the depth of the water, they just swim until they reach the other side.

Chobe Elephants

The younger elephants stop on the other side to play in the mud, using their trunk to stream mud and water onto their back.

Chobe Elephants Playing

As you cruise down the river, you cross over from Botswana to Namibia. As you cruise the river, you see hard-to-reach villas lining the shore.

Namibia Villas

There is even a bar and restaurant called “The Raft” that is only accessible by boat.

Namibia Floating Bar

Many of the locals live along the shore and take a water taxi to get to the mainland each day.

Namibia Water Taxis

After the water safari, we boarded a land cruiser and continued our journey. Not as impressive as the water safari but it does offer a different view.

Chobe Land Cruiser

Along the way, we saw giraffe, monkeys, impala, and kudu.

Chobe Giraffe

Chobe Monkeys

Chobe Impala

Chobe Kudo

Giraffes are built to eat from the tree tops, it is funny to watch them try to graze on grass.

Chobe Giraffe Kneeling


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. We also visited Cape Town, South Africa, a beautiful port side city, we will chronicle that trip in a few weeks.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had from the Chobe Marine water safari, couldn’t you imagine hanging out here for a while?

Zambezi River View