Marvelous Magoebaskloof

2018 was a tad tough and when December rolled around once again we woke up too late, knowing that we needed to get away for a few days to recharge, but had not booked to go anywhere. We realised we’d have to wait until early January. We live in a house with extended family and a bit of down time is necessary every now and then.

Chris grovelled around on the internet and came up with a couple of places. He called me to come and look when I was busy hefting rocks in the garden. I sighed. Really. Now?

They all seemed very attractive and we settled on The Birders’ Cottages in Magoebaskloof for two days. To be honest, I’d only looked with half an eye and was later somewhat horrified when Chris proudly announced that he’d booked the highest cottage on that bit of the mountain and forwarded me the instructions of how to get there.

Aaaargh! I hate high mountain roads. I’m not a 4×4 fan and my last experience of the rolling , lush Limpopo hills was just nasty. Nico and I got lost on the way to Penge during the roll-out phase of the heat-stress mining game and we ended up on a teensy back road with spiders and baboons.

To my credit, I said not a word to my lovely husband. Thought I’d pull up my big girl broekies and deal with it all in an adult manner when the time arrived.

We left bright an early on Sunday morning. Chris had wanted to take the byways instead of the highways, but we ended up taking the N4 anyway. Fortunately for us, the other side of the road was filled with end-of-holiday cars and our side was mostly open, apart from plenty of big ass trucks.

We stopped for breakfast in Haenertsburg, thinking we might also find a deli and stock up on some interesting goodies—sadly not, although Chris did find a little gem in the book store – a genealogy dictionary!

We drove past the turn off and decided to continue on to Tzaneen to fill up with petrol. We still had an hour to kill before the two o’clock check-in time. I peered through the driver’s window trying to get an idea of where we were going to be staying and gasped when I noticed some cottages perched precariously on the mountainside.

“Holy crap! Is that where we’re going?” I screeched in alarm.

“Um… no… I don’t think so,” responded my lovely husband calmly, negotiating the twisty turny bends of the twentieth steepest pass in South Africa.

“Hope we don’t bump into Lynne and Neil—they’d kill us if they knew we were in their dorpie and didn’t let them know,” I said to Chris as we filled up, shiftily eyeing out the people in the petrol station. I had no clue where my long-time friend stayed but Tzaneen did not look like a very big place. We had made plans to visit them for a night after our stay in Magoebaskloof.

We did our business in Tzaneen, laughed hysterically at the ‘Beware of Hippo’ sign on the outskirts and trekked back up the mountain, stopping here and there because we’d realised we only had one very tiny loaf of bread, since the deli thing had not panned out. Turned out none of the farm stalls along the road had interesting bread, but there was a place right opposite the turn off that we needed to take and we thought we’d try that.

We parked and climbed out of the car. The sound of two million six hundred and ninety seven cicada’s echoed around the farm stall, assaulting our ears. It was like hearing crickets on crack.

The place was more or less closed due to a power outage, but we did check out the most delightful little nursery attached to the farm stall. I longingly eyed out a carnation pot, but realised it was not the time to be buying plants.

“Come back and have the best coffee on the mountain!” were the dude’s parting words.

Chris sped across the highway and turned into the road leading to The Birders’ Cottages. It was nicely tarred and I heaved a huge sigh of relief—a tad prematurely. It quickly turned into a winding, twisty, grass-verged dirt road, not quite a track, but close. Gulping, as I checked out the steep inclines on the passenger’s side, I quickly fumbled in my bag for my cell phone and glued my eyes firmly to the screen.

Panoramic view that does not do this wonderful place justice!

But the scenery was so incredibly beautiful I had to look anyway.

It had been raining and the road was a bit squishy. There were some steepish inclines and once Chris misjudged and had to roll back down and start again. We’d been warned not to go anywhere near the owner of A45.3 as they had absolutely nothing to do with The Birders’ Cottages.

Chris was a bit confused. He’d originally worked out that it was around two and a half kilometres from the main road to the cottages, but we saw a sign for 4.5 km quite early on and my heart sank further into the foot well.

The road…

The cottages were well signposted and eventually we crept our way to Narina’s parking spot.  It was all green and lush, freshly washed with rain. We weren’t entirely sure how the whole key thing worked, but it turned out to be pretty simple, the sliding door slid open; the keys were on the table. We raced around the cottage like big kids, delighting in everything we saw.

River walk

Must confess I had delusions that because it was high up in the mountains it would have scary bits of woodwork with spiders lurking in crevices, waiting to pounce. Not a single one of either. There were platoons of mozzies, armed and ready to bite, but the excellent cottage owners had that one covered—tins of Peaceful Sleep stood sentry, waiting to annihilate those pesky little critters.

One of the features that had appealed to Chris in the first place, apart from the obvious attraction of remoteness and the lovely hiking opportunities, was the outside bath. My husband is a fan of baths. He can wallow for hours in our shitty little bathroom.

We both stood at the door and gaped; lying grandly in a bed of frothy greenery, open to the skies, yet surrounded by an unobtrusive wooden fence for total privacy, was a magnificently huge bath. There were bottles of Radox perched on the side and the whole thing looked like it had escaped from a magazine page.

Looks like Radox advert

We had bite to eat, then decided to go for an exploratory walk. Chris had looked at the map, but you know what it’s like with a new place, it does not always make too much sense when you don’t quite have the lay of the land. We headed off to the Waterfalls. That took two seconds (unless we took the wrong path) and so we turned tail and headed off towards the river walk. It’s like a tropical rain forest walk (not that I’ve been on one of those—but I imagine that must be similar).

We gaily traipsed up hill and down dale, delighting in the waterfall and hopping back and forth over the river. We discovered, to our mirth, when we got back to the cottage sweaty and gasping an hour later, that we had pretty much done the longest walk! A dip in the splash pool restored our body temperatures and we decided to have an early braai to avoid yours truly falling asleep at the table like I did the last time we went away.

Waterfall on the River Walk

We had a choice of braaing in the little rondavel attached to the cottage, but opted to have our fire outside. True, the mozzies did try to make off with our ankles, but I discovered some citronella incense sticks stashed in the kitchen that kept them at bay. The attention to detail in the cottages is truly amazing.

We spent most of that evening ogling the most enormous pine tree.  Okay, it’s not so big but it is immensely tall. We wondered how old it was. Chris hauled his physics brain out and dusted off the holiday cobwebs. He paced around a bit and decided it was probably not more than sixty or seventy years old. But sneakily we both figured it was really a hundred years or more.

By the time we’d eaten it was thinking about raining again.

We didn’t wait for total darkness; we ran that bath and hopped in, giggling like children at the sheer luxury of being all warm and toasty under the water, whilst it drizzled on our faces. The steam kept the mosquitoes away, although we could see clouds of pesky creatures hovering, they did not bother us in the slightest. We could see the same tall tree and resumed our pondering, accompanied by waterfall music and other night sounds. Eventually the water cooled down and it started to rain in earnest. Reluctantly we went inside.

It rained all night. I can vouch for that because I’m a terrible sleeper and despite the fact we’d had a long day, a bracing hike, good food and a fabulous relaxing bath—sleep eluded me. Chris, on the other hand, slept like a log.

It was still raining the next morning, but that did not deter the birdy choir from serenading us. I leapt up, yanked open all the blinds and generally made a fair bit of noise thinking it was time to get up. Chis blearily asked what time it was.

I snorted out laughing when I discovered it was only 05h15. We went back to sleep for an hour.

 I’m not a good gas person, so Chris figured out how the stove worked and boiled the kettle, although I pointed out later that we were a bit stupid because there was indeed an electric kettle.

“Nope!” exclaimed Chris. “They are trying to get these cottages off the grid as much as possible and we’ll go along with that.”  Apart from using the lights and one power point to charge our cell phones and Chris’s lap top we did exactly that.

Chris figured out how to get the wood-burning fire inside going and we hung around the cottage all morning, congratulating ourselves on having done the river walk the day before, just in case it never stopped raining. It wasn’t really cold but the fire added atmosphere.  We’d decided, if it stopped, that we’d walk to the main road and have some of that ‘best-on-the-mountain-coffee’ that the dude had boasted about. Plus maybe he’d have some bread. 

The drizzle finally abated around midday and we took off, fully expecting that the road would be a five kilometer hike. The air was crisp and the scenery simply majestic.  I soon realised that the road was not half as scary as I’d imagined the day before. We also gathered that it definitely was a lot less than five kilometers, more like the original two and a half.  We figured those signs were for something else, the Warrior camp maybe?

Some monkeys and a lone buck entertained us along the way.

It turned out the farm stall was closed on a Monday, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed our walk and were not the least bit disappointed—there was plenty of coffee at the cottage. Chris fried up some chops for a late lunch and we sat outside enjoying the bird life.

They are not called The Birders’ Cottages for nothing. There are literally hundreds of birds flitting around.

I had a nap. The rain held off and we had another braai for dinner

The next morning I giggled wildly when I saw all the paraphernalia on the sink in the bathroom. Ice-cube tray, the whisk and a wooden spatula!

“Sheesh Chris, if anybody saw this they’d think we’d had some kinky session last night.”

In actual fact, I’d used the spatula to mix the hot water with the cold in the bath—the wood-burning geyser is extremely effective. Chris had whisked up the water to make bubbles, and we’d thrown ice-cubes into the bath to try and cool it down enough to get in. This time we’d also taken a bottle of ice-cold wine, instead of the red wine from the night before.

We’d lain there scheming how we could possibly have such a thing at home. Eventually the prognosis was not bloody likely—if the family didn’t spot us, the neighbours would, or the birds would poop on us for sure.

I’d posted a pic of the outside bath on Instagram the day before, an author friend, Julia Blake, had commented “That is something I’ve never ever done and I’m so British I’m not sure I ever could bath outside. Or is it just I know my luck. I’d be lying there and some tourist will blunder in who took a wrong turn back down the road, oh, and they’ll also know my mother.” I tried to explain that was not very likely in this particular place. By the way, her latest novel, The Forest, would be the perfect book to read in such a place.

It was one of those clear crisp gorgeous days, and for the first time, we saw the sun. We decided to go for a pre-breakfast walk and took the Valley View path first, a steepish hike through a majestic Yellow Wood forest, but doable for a city dweller like myself. The view was totally worth it.  Chris and I are not big selfie takers—as you can see —but we did have a go at taking one up there.

Then we trekked along the Yellowwood path. It was wet, squishy and a tad spooky in places with sun glinting on mossy boughs and spider webs. As a keen amateur gardener I kept pointing out plants to Chris that we have in our garden, but they are about a tenth of the size. The lushness of the vegetation has to be seen to be believed.

On our way back to the cottage for breakfast and a shower, we were treated to the brilliant sight of a Knysna Loerie pecking away at the top of a tree.  I must add, my lovely husband has since downloaded the Roberts Birds multimedia app for android and is becoming a bit of a birder in our own tree-filled garden!

We left our lovely cottage on Dragonswyck Farm just before 10h00 and had an interesting episode on the drive to the R71. Coming around a bend we encountered a dude in a smallish truck—probably on his way to stock up with avocados, seeing as it is avo country. Chris hugged the side as much as possible. The dude kept on driving, making ‘get-out-of-the-way’ motions with his finger, indicating that we should climb further up the side of the road. Chris tried, he really did, but it a steep bank and we only have a Tucson not a freaking tractor. With not a glimmer of a smile, the dude inched his way past us, so close that Chris had to twist the side mirror in to avoid it being snapped off. Not the friendliest of locals—we assumed he belonged to A46.3.

On our way down to Tzaneen we took a slight detour to the Debageni Falls and dunked our feet in the crystal clear pools. There were very few people around, but there was evidence that the place had been heavily populated over the holiday season. I damn near had a heart attack when I stood on a long green water snake on the way in, and thereafter kept a wary eye out on everything in case it wiggled. We later found out that they are not very common little critters and we were lucky to see it.

A lovely relaxing afternoon and evening was spent with our long-time friends, Lynne and Neil, in Tzaneen. They were most impressed that we had finally managed to visit, after empty promises for more than five years. They live on a beautiful smallholding and their litchi trees were dripping with fat juicy litchis. We did not hold back—they’re my favourite fruit in the whole world and I’d never eaten them straight off the tree before. Our timing was perfect because the fruit pickers came the next day and stripped every last dangly bit of fruit from the trees.

Funny how small the world is, we discovered that one of their sons was friends with the owners of The Birders’ Cottages and he had just made a charming video for them.

After plundering Lynne’s stunning garden—snippets of exotic stuff like air plants, bromeliads, ferns and lilies—early the next morning we hit the road and took the long way home via the Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window. Three provinces in one day: Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng!

We left home early Sunday morning and returned at sunset on Wednesday, only three days away, but our souls and spirits were restored, ready to tackle a new year.

Must say I was a tad disappointed when Chris sent me an email a few days later with info pilfered from his new bird detection app. I’d been envisioning that Trogon and Narina were dragony names, seeing as the farm’s name is Dragonswyck. Being a writer with way too much imagination, was busy plotting and planning a story based on the farm involving fiery beasties.

Turns out that a Narina Trogon is a very pretty bird!

Fuel for my dragon imagination!

Dirt roads, spiders and heat stress

When I’m not writing books, keeping track of the science centres in South Africa or doing a bit of creative meddling, I develop and design board games.

I don’t even like playing games, but I’ve discovered it’s a great way to learn.  It’s interactive, promotes team work, gets kids (and adults) to read and problem solve.

I’ve developed quite a few to date.

One of my more enjoyable projects was being asked to help create a game on the topic of thermal stress for mine workers. In South Africa we have many gold and platinum mines and they operate deep underground.  Heat stress is a killer and it is covered by about half a page in the manuals. Our brief was to create something interesting and innovative.

The team consisted of 4 academics and my own very un-academic, irreverent, creative wacky self. The academics had the experience in mines and social work. I had experience in creating and developing games. Things did not always run smoothly.

Fast forward two years….

We’d done all the work, visited mines, soul searched, tested and eventually created a fabulous game that everybody loved.

Then it mouldered for ages whilst the Mine Health and Safety Council decided whether they wanted to actually manufacture and invest in copies of the game that we had all worked so hard on.

Out of the blue they decided they did – we all sprang into action.

A video explaining how the Iyashisa Board Game worked was produced. I had a fine time (not) reproducing the art work – having changed graphics programmes in the interim.

Eventually 1000 games were produced and were ready to roll out to mines in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

One of our team members had decided she no longer wanted to be involved in the project (I think I pissed her off) and another one was sadly undergoing cancer treatment – so it was mostly down to Nico and myself to do the roll out.

A trip was planned to Limpopo.

We’d had one successful day of driving all over the place – demonstrating how the game was played to mine workers and were on our second day. We were in Nico’s bakkie, with a trailer full of games… on our way from Polokwane to a mine in Penge.

Being new to the area we were using Nico’s floozie – his cell phone’s sat nav.

We gaily left the main road and tootled through a township area. The road became a tad less traveled.

The tar gave out to dirt. The dirt got narrower and narrower and petered out into something barely better than a pathway.

Nico and I looked at each other… were we still on the right track?

But he consulted his trusty sat nav and determined that we had not gone wrong.

By this time the road, if you can call it such a thing, was littered with humps and rocks. A few goats regarded us curiously from the side of the hill. I was immensely grateful that Nico is experienced in the art of 4×4’ing.  I blocked the fact that dragging a trailer had not exactly featured in said experience before.

A large baboon appeared and sat on a rock watching at us.

We felt a bit like idiots, but the wet tracks on the road kept our spirits up and told us that a vehicle had ventured along the same path not too long before.

In any case, it was not possible to turn around, especially with the trailer, so our only option was to carry on.

The baboon kept us company along the way.

The scenery was magnificent – sweeping valleys of vegetation, rocky outcrops – all green and incredibly lush. Part of me was really enjoying the trip. The other part was stressing mightily  that my cell phone had long since lost contact with the outside world and we actually had no clue where exactly we were.

We were traversing down a particularly steep and rocky incline when I suddenly spotted the most disgusting, revolting, spine-chilling sight.

I gasped and screeched – causing Nico to almost chuck us all over a mini-cliff. He ground to a halt giving me an exasperated look.

Wordessly I pointed…

A huge tree was completely encased in spider webs.  I mean completely.  Clearly visible were huge tufts of spiders – a ruler length apart.

The tree was literally crawling with ginormous spiders. The stuff nightmares are made of.

I hate spiders. Give me a fat rat any day but I freaking hate spiders!

Nico saw what I was looking at and did his own gasping thing.

To this day I am a little miffed that I did not have the courage to get out of that bakkie and take a photo, but our baboon guard was a little intimidating and frankly – no way in hell was I leaving the safety of the car.

We carried on and a few metres from the first tree we spotted another web covered tree encrusted with enormous spiders.

The road deteriorated even further.

My heart sank. Was I ever going to see my husband and my lovely Fudgie again? We crawled on… humping and bumping over rocky outcrops and dongas.

Eventually the road started getting a fraction better and we spotted some civilization in the distance. We breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps we were not going to be lost in the depths of lush Limpopo after all.

The guys at the mine in Penge were horrified and amazed that we had not only taken but survived the back road over the mountain that is seldom used. It had taken us more than two hours when, had we stayed on the main road; we would have reached our destination in a mere half an hour.

Irritatingly we discovered the Penge is an open caste mine and they were not even very interested in our game.

Our adventure was for nothing.

I found out later that the spiders were Orbital Web Spiders – but nobody I’ve spoken to has ever seen a tree like that themselves.

Butts are a bit of a problem!

Celebrating World No Smoking Day today! (31st May)

Scientists have figured out (duh) that cigarette butts are one of the most abundant types of litter found around. That means there are plenty of butts out there. (Studies estimate that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts find their way into the environment each year.)


Worse, much much worse, it’s one of nastiest, deadliest forms of waste.

People who would not dream of pitching a cool drink tin out of the car window will happily chuck a burning butt out. Not particularly caring that it can set fire to something. And they do too – burning butts are often the cause of serious veldt fires.

People also drop them on pavements or into gutters, where the wind will blow them into storm waters and all sorts of other places.

Beaches are ideal for putting out butts. One huge ashtray – right? Wrong.

Or… they flick butts casually into water – dams, the sea and rivers.

But you probably wouldn’t flick a cigarette butt into your swimming pool – would you? Why not? Because you or your family might swallow it whilst swimming and that would be nasty and dangerous.

So why not care if a fish, bird or animal chomps it instead?

Cigarette butts are tiny little bundles of toxins. In other words… poisonous. They get into our marine ecosystems and cause havoc with the wildlife and the quality of the water.

And we all know that water is extremely precious – right?

Due to the fact that cigarette filters are specifically designed to accumulate toxins, each cigarette butt can contain up to 60 known human carcinogens including… arsenic, formaldehyde, chromium and lead. (In fact, there are around 1,400 potential chemical additives.)

Toxicological data has shown that these chemicals from discarded butts are capable of leaching into surrounding water where they can hurt aquatic life. Nicotine has been shown to be lethal to species of fish, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other aquatic organisms, as well as being a known insecticide.

On top of leeching toxins, cigarette butts present an ingestion, choking and poisoning hazard to wildlife who mistake them for dinner!

Cigarette filters are also composed of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic that can hang around in the environment for long periods of time. Plastics of this sort have been found in the stomachs of sea turtles, fish, birds, whales and other marine creatures.

And yet you know what is also really scary – even those people who put their cigarettes out in the designated places have no guarantee that their butts won’t also end up in the water. The bins get emptied. Butts are chucked onto rubbish dumps. Here they are blown around and it’s highly likely that they end up where they shouldn’t as well.

So what is the answer?

Whilst scientists are trying to find a practical use for cigarette butts maybe people should consider stopping or cutting down smoking… or at least disposing of their butts in a responsible way.


Sibo becomes a TV Star

In 2011 Lets Look Publishers decided to jazz up their marketing of the Sibo Series (books written by Ginny Stone) and employed Amaiye Productions to get creative. The producer of Amaiye thought that bringing little Sibo to life
with a series of cartoons based on the books might just do the trick.
Now we all know, sadly, that most kids would much rather watch TV than
read a book – but reckoned that this was a good “mass-produced” way of
introducing Sibo to children. It was hoped that they might then be
inspired to not only consider recycling their cool drink cans, start
conserving water and generally think more about saving the earth, but
also think about dashing off to their local bookstore to check out Sibo’s

Of course, “dashing off to your local bookstore” is also funny hah hah because it’s actually not so easy to get books into bookstores unless you are a famous author – which Ginny certainly is not. It would appear that joe public has to ask (repeatedly in many cases) for the books – before they would dream of stocking them on their own. Otherwise, one has to work through distributors who demand such large discounts that you might as well hand over body parts. It gets worse… the “big” bookstores then happily send back a significant portion of the books supplied saying that they are soiled goods and nobody wants to buy them. A bit ironic when the goods actually got soiled in their very own outlets.

So… creating a “Sibo and Friends” TV show seemed like a great idea.

Based on the Sibo Series books, a 13 part, 2D animated cartoon series was created. Each episode a snappy 3 minutes short with a powerful “lets help save the earth” message embedded. The series was sponsored, and in return for their generosity the sponsors were looking forward to a “tag” at the end
of each episode.

Of course, nothing is ever simple … whilst the TV stations were more than willing to flight the series free of charge they were not willing to give the sponsor free advertising. And… in some cases, there were dodgy conversations around who Sibo belonged to from then on and for how long?
In the end – after Amaiye Productions had done some serious haggling with eTV, along with several postponed going on-air dates – a compromise was finally reached.

“Sibo and Friends” aired for the first time on 7th February 2011 at 14h30 on eTV. There are 13 episodes therefore this series will run for 13 weeks.

If you have young children… make a note, set your recorder, put a knot in your hankie, set your alarm clock… but whatever you do – don’t let them miss it. Blink and it’s gone, it’s only 3 minutes long! (Mondays at 14h30 on eTV.)

When you’ve finished watching – dash off to your local bookstore and demand that they stock the Sibo Series – all 9 of them! Failing that – go and visit Sibo’s website – where you’ll find a direct link to Lets Look Publishers and you can buy the books on-line. And… you can also
download the cool “Sibo and Friends” song – written by Karen Zoid – for free! 

Remember – if your children have handy tips on earth saving habits, or draw cute pictures of anything relating to the books or cartoon series – feel free to email (or post) them to Ginny and she’ll put them on the website.

We only have one earth. Sibo wants to join hands with all the children in South Africa and help save it. She cannot do it alone.