Safari at Phinda

Our next stop would be the most exciting: Mountain Lodge in the Phinda Private Game Reserve. The Lodge is a lux grouping of rondovals located on a private, 56,000 acre animal reserve with an abundance of wildlife near Hluhluwe. Our huts were decadent, with giant bathrooms, glassed showers, and stand-alone bathtubs with views of the bush. Nyala and Impala would come right up to our private plunge pool while we would sun ourselves between game drives. The service was divine and the staff were warm and hospitable. You can read my TripAdvisor review here.

Many of us dream of an African Safari. Perhaps it stems from our childhood fantasies of having a pet monkey, riding an elephant or taming a lion. Travelling with our 14 year old son J made the excitement all the more real. Before we had even made it to the lodge we had past herds of wildebeests, long necked giraffes, and many surprisingly cute warthogs. The smells of the savannah were intoxicating and the earth baked in the bright sun.

Waking early in the morning, just before day break, we would head up to the lodge in the predawn light to sip cups of tea and coffee before heading out on a 2 or 3 hour game drive. We would explore the reserve coming upon herds of zebras, buffalo, impala and wildebeest.  We would watch elephants knocking down the tall trees and giraffe towering above them. Monkeys would chatter loudly warning the valley below of the cheetahs on the prowl. Later in the day we would head out in the truck – driving into the brush in search of white and black rinos, hippos and lions. We would stop for tea along side one of the many beautiful watering-holes, careful not to get too close to the waters edge, and sip tea and afternoon amarula in the warm sun. With the long shadows of late afternoon we would explore more of the reserve well into the darkness – with the stars burning in the heavens we would make our way through the brush spotting the animals of the night: an owl, a giant porcupine and the leopard. During our 4 days at Phinda we participated in 8 game drives. Our tracker John, who had been with Phinda for 16 years, was simply superb at tracking animals – a fact that was proved to us late night looking for a leopard.  Our ranger Felicity was everything you could have wanted. Not only was she incredibly knowledgeable and an excellent tracker herself, she was also friendly, inviting, and a true joy to spend the hours with.

After an exhilarating, bundu-bashing ride through the forest, or an afternoon spent quietly watching the cheetah slinking through the tall grass, we would head back to the lodge in our trusty Land Cruiser where there would be fresh drinks and cool towels waiting. Breakfast and lunch were served in the pavilion overlooking the southern part of the reserve and dinner was either there or in the boma or gathering place where we would dine on barbecued springbok, ostrich, chicken or fish. The food was delicious and they were always ready to cook you up something off menu at any time.

I wish I could go every year.

The Dolphin Coast

After exploring Cape Town for a few days we travelled eastward to KwaZulu-Natal where M was born. After landing in Durban’s King Shaka Airport we took our rented E Class and drove a further 20 minutes up the coast to Ballito, an oceanside vacation town on South Africa’s Dolphin coast.  In Ballito we stayed at the swanky Coco de Mer Boutique Hotel only steps from the warm waves of the Indian Ocean. Our rooms were luxurious, with beautiful bathrooms; they looked out on a tropical forest complete with blue-balled monkeys screaming in the trees, and lizards basking in the sun. You can read my TripAdvisor review here. Though M was raised in Queensborough, a suburb of Durban, we decided to stay in Ballito because of safety issues in the city and because it’s perfect for a relaxing time away. In the morning we would watch a herd of 30 dolphins travelling along the coastline, frolicking in the waves, as if to great the morning’s visitors to the beach. We spent countless hours in the sand, enjoying the sun and surf, eating at little oceanside restaurants and generally enjoying the local sights and sounds. Hopping into our rented car, we went to explore where M had grown up – his old houses, school, and scout hall. It was interesting to see the things that had changed, and the things that hadn’t. Incidentally the woman that run the tuck shop when mark was in elementary school was still there 25 years later – and recognised him!

Only a few short days in Ballito before the main event – our safari next.

Aside

A Few Days in Cape Town

We touched down in Cape Town in darkness. Table Mountain loomed in the distance as our car left the airport and sped along the 2, through the dimly lit townships towards the jewel of Africa. Our driver weaved down the city’s main thoroughfare, Strand Street, past shiny cars and shimmering towers. People flooded the sidewalks coming from bars and restaurants, loud and boisterous – a far cry from the slums we encountered on our way in. I had decided on the beautiful Romney Park Hotel in the upscale neighbourhood of Green Point just a short (and safe) walk to the shops and restaurants of Green Point and Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area after strolling the city streets through Google’s Street View, reading countless reviews of the city’s many hotels, looking at restaurant menus and reviews, and generally researching as much information on different areas as I could. Our spacious and nicely finished two bedroom suite overlooked the garden and pool with sparkling ocean views in the distance. You can read my TripAdvisor review here.

We had a leisurely first full day in Cape Town, enjoying a short stroll to the nearby restaurants and shops of the waterfront where we soaked up the warm African sun and the jovial atmosphere of this little pocket of activity in the city. We dined on wild game kebabs at Belthazar and enjoyed beautiful views of the harbour and Table Mountain from the ferris wheel. After a quick walk back to the hotel, we spend the remainder of the day basking by the pool.

We had arranged a private tour of the Cape Peninsula and our car and guide picked us up early after a delicious breakfast at the hotel’s The George restaurant.  Leaving Green Point we meandered along the M6 through the posh neighbourhoods of Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay. Each home guarded by increasingly high fencing topped with razor wire. Escaping the urban landscape of Cape Town we continue through the historic town of Hout Bay, and up the steep drive to the southern side of the bay where we were treated to amazing views of the granite cliffs and shining blue sea. Making our way southward through Table Mountain National Park we stumbled upon baboon troupes, centuries old farms, forested vistas, and the wide open views of the Atlantic Ocean.

As the four of us moved even further south, the landscape changes, ostrich farms and forests gave way to scrub and open plains. We had arrived at Cape Point, a Natural World Heritage Site within Table Mountain National Park.  After parking the car we climbed the stairs to the upper lighthouse and marvelled at the 360° view from Cape Peninsula’s southernmost lighthouse. Riding the Flying Dutchman Funicular back to the entrance we get back into the car to travel just a bit further south to the Cape of Good Hope. There is a slight breeze, the sun is shining, and it couldn’t be a nicer day to enjoy the sites and sounds of southern Africa, and we were not alone. The parking lot was full, with visitors from around the world taking photos and videos of this historical site. Joining us in festivities were two wild ostrich and we watched in amazement as tourists tried getting close to them in order to have their photos taken alongside these finicky giants. We didn’t need to be reminded to give these animals a wide berth.

As we could travel no further south, we turned the car around and headed northward along the eastern side of the peninsula to Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. Boulders Beach is famous for its huge colony of Jackass Penguins that settled there in 1985. To see thousands of these fascinating creatures on the white sand beaches of Africa is simply amazing. After exploring the colony on the elevated wooden walkways we had a great seafood lunch at Boulders Beach Lodge and Restaurant which has views out to the False Bay, white sandy beaches, and, of course, the penguin colony.

After our relaxing lunch, and a short stop at a local street-side market (little j got a slingshot), we climbed back into the merc and continued our journey northward towards Cape Town. Our next, and final, stop on our day long exploration of the Cape would be the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The weather had taken a turn for the dreary as we began our exploration of this stunning garden nestled up beside the mist shrouded Table Mountain but it was still hard not to be impressed with the large collection of mostly native plants, flowers and trees in this national treasure. After several hours exploring the many acres of the gardens we took the last leg of our journey back to our hotel for some rest.

We would be leaving for the dolphin coast early the next morning.

may garden

for those that like the newness and vigour that spring brings, vancouver might just be your place.  at times spring seems almost never-ending here.  with the micro climates in the city and the relative chill in the higher elevations it is easy to take a half hour drive and find budding tulips weeks after mine have lost their last petals or banana plants that have unfurled their first full leaves well before have shed their sad winter cloak.  despite our mild winter it has been a relatively cool may and while there are some plants that aren’t happy with the chilly night-time temperatures, like my canna, there are others, like my chusan palms, that thrive in the temperate climate we have been enjoying this year.

here are a few shots that i have taken of the garden this week.  i noticed my calla lilies are ready to bloom, i will be sure to post some pictures of that soon.

Attack of the Hanging Basket

Bike in the Garden

Purple Haze

Spring Tulips

Fuffled Parrot
Standard Orange
Tiny Buds
Heritage Bloom

it’s sometimes hard to remember in the misery of november (or even december!) when i’m wrist deep in soggy dirt planting bulbs for spring just how worth the discomfort is.  yesterday i finally removed the last of a few remaining petals from these dreamy tulips that graced my tiny garden this year.  i was amazed at how long they lasted – i credit it to the cool weather of our never ending spring – which seemed to start in november and is only now beginning to fade to summer.  as i’ve mentioned before, our townhouses sit on the landscaped roof of a low-rise building in downtown vancouver.  after taking the elevator up, visitors walk out into the park like setting, complete with magnolia trees, hedges, rosebushes, lawn, children’s playhouse and walkways , with our townhouses surrounding it.  this year i have begun working on this garden, which is still rather ‘builder issue,’ and part of my plan is to include some drifts of tulips and other bulbs.  so in the sunless, rainy cold afternoons of november when i am planting spring bulbs for 2011, my hands red and chapped and the rain streaming down my face – i will think of a few of this year’s successes – and have hot tea waiting inside.

march in vancouver




Keefer Entrance

Originally uploaded by shawn cornell

despite hosting the winter olympics, vancouver has had one of the warmest winters on record. this has given an early start to the garden on all fronts. banana leaves are unfurling, bulbs are blooming and everywhere there are new green shoots. i have started planting more containers and planning the summer additions to the garden. more photos to come soon.

boki road, hawai

Great Room

with all the travelling i have been fortunate to experience, i had never had the opportunity to visit the hawaiian islands.  all that changed a few weeks ago when my aunt sent me a harmless email telling me she had this crazy idea and i might just be crazy enough to do it.  they had just purchased a vacation property on the lush south west coast of the big island in a small community called kona paradise, 26 miles south of kailua-kona town.  after we talked over various scenarios, it was decided that i would head to hawaii with my 13 y/o son j and get this place together as a family vacation destination as well as a vacation rental – all with the outside dream that my aunt and uncle might eventually be able to spend more and more time there.

Great RoomGreat Room

as i pushed my rented wrangler south down the winding hawaii belt road at times hitting elevations of 3,000 feet above sea level, i could see what drew people to the island.  waves crashing against the hard lava coastlines gave way to small coves lined with almost personal sized beaches; bougainvillea dripped onto the roadway alongside giant agave americana and cactus.  closer to kona paradise sat a hillside cemetery under a grove of tropical trees with huge trunks each supporting a sprawling canopy that covered the roadway.  in my 10 days here i would learn every twist and bend of  this 26 mile stretch of winding road intimately as i scoured the small hamlet of kailua-kona town for everything needed to make this house a tropical home and schlepping it back.

Dining

upon arriving at the house, you can’t help but be impressed.  built 900 feet above sea level, on stilts, the glass fronted home rises out of the it’s lush, deeply sloped lot surrounded by coconut palms swaying in the trade winds, avocado and mango trees bearing fruit and a complete array of foliage and flowers filling in every nook and cranny available.  geckos scurry up the tree trunks almost racing you as you climb the stairs up to the lanai where you are immediately struck by a sunset view of the mighty pacific ocean, with only a coconut palm or two to ground you.  i spend many an evening watching the sun dip into the water colouring the sky with every tone of red, orange and tangerine available to mother nature.

LanaiLanai

now the work began.  the previous tenants left an array of issues to be dealt with including a enormous tv armoire, complete with a non-functioning tv, old mattresses (remember, the house is on stilts!) and a carpet looking like perhaps they were mud wrestlers in their spare time.  the beautiful garden was overgrown, and the coconuts a hazard!  i was gonna need some muscle – luckily the aloha spirit is alive and well in kona paradise and in a matter of a few days john agreed to provide the muscle that would be needed over the next few weeks to bring this diamond in the rough back to her rightful place on the street.  mealani, john is her ‘sweetie’, had already agreed to clean the house between visitors.  i felt fortunate to meet these two friends early in the trip, they put my mind at ease and provided me with some information that i would need to complete the project.

Great RoomGreat Room

delivery to kona paradise seemed to be more difficult than i had imagined but luckily i started to build a relationship with greg, the sales person at gray’s furniture in kailua-kona town, and he was able to find someone that wasn’t afraid of a little hard work and only a few days after i arrived he delivered several mattresses, their box springs, along with several pieces of furniture i had picked out.  the place was starting to come together.

LoftLoftLoftCorner Room

when it comes to putting a house together, speed is not something i strive for.  making decisions on design in hurry and choosing furniture that will remain with you for years to come needs without time to think things through leads to mistakes being made.  working from scratch on an incredibly short time frame was going to challenge me.  not only did i have to worry about big things, i had to worry about all the little things that one would need on vacation away from home.  dishes needed to be bought, towels chosen – what about a knife set?  for these things, i chose target.  i was there so much that the cashiers knew me by name and would comment on my choices, even remembering what i had previously purchased.  now, if we could only get a target here in vancouver.

Great RoomDesk

despite being called the big island, there is nothing big about it.  most of the furniture purchases ended up coming from two dealers in kailua-kona town;  fine bamboo and teak furniture and gray’s furniture located just down the road from each other.  i felt like i was haunting the stores by the time i left the island.  every day coming in, measuring, pairing things up – collecting furniture.  then every day loading up the jeep and making the drive back down the island where j and i would lug our finds up the stairs and carefully arrange them to take full advantage off the views and space.

as our time on the island came to end, i was thrilled with what i accomplished in the short time i was there.  to turn an empty (and dirty!) shell into a d 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom vacation dream home for under $10K, so a family could just show up with there suitcases was pretty good too!  there would always be more things to do, more things to add and more ideas to come and with a long rainy vancouver monsoon season on the horizon, perhaps i will just have to pop over there and work on some more things!

welcome back!

cracked pot
i know it has been while since i have written anything or posted any pictures of the garden.  i do apologise, and really i have no excuse other than the usual.  as many of you know, vancouver didn’t have a stellar winter, and even now there are remnants of the destruction (how dramatic) it caused on our gardens.  i still have not replaced the giant cordyline at the front door, and i still see mouldy flax in many people’s yards.  it’s not coming back people, time to move on.  but besides the ugly winter and the spring which just cannot move on – my garden is coming along just fine.  i have created a new wire basket for succulents that i am now searching for.  it will hang over the edge of the concrete in the front garden and will get sun all afternoon.  in the winter i will be able to move the whole enchilada to the greenhouse more easily i was able to move the succulents last fall.  i already have more plants than places to put them and it only may, so there will more ingenuity  on my part to come.

leafy greensmoss on shell

close uphidden mask

winter garden

Hellebore Sparkle

one of the surefire signs that spring is just around the corner is the very early blooming hellebores like these double bloomed pink oriental cultivars in my front garden.  i snapped this picture last night using my tripod.  the twinkle in the background are the white lights that i wrap the trunks of the potted trachycarpus palms in the winter to add a little sparkle to a gray vancouver day.  i have started playing in my greenhouse this month and have planted some seeds, re-potted some tender plants and won my first battle of the year with aphids – and it will not be the last!  in the garden there are more signs of life other than the ultra hardy hellebore blooms – other plants that died out with the december frosts are already peeking their heads out of the ground again.  we shall see if they are punished for their exuberance.

Hellebore at Night

a few days in bangkok

Bells
after a week in saigon (minus a few days in hoi an to which i did not bring a camera battery – so you will see no pictures), i travelled to bangkok to meet up with b, who had never been to asia before, for a week of vacation silliness in a city still known for its wild side.  if i had to choose only one country to vacation to, it would be thailand.  having been twice before, this third trip to the kingdom would be my shortest, and the first time i would not leave bangkok for the duration of my trip.  there are plenty of hotels to choose from in bangkok; from the top-of-the-line to backpacker-chique.  i am partial to the sheraton royal orchid on the chayo praya river, besides i can stay on points.  all rooms in the hotel have been (or are being) renovated and have river views.  the ferry, a free luxury that all river hotels have, takes you to saphin thaksin bts (skytrain) station and you can ride the modern convenience throughout the central area of bangkok and up to the jj market.  even though taxis are inexpensive, using the skytrain system sometimes can prove easier near the main shopping area.  in the evenings taxis (or when you are up for a thrill, a tuk-tuk) can take you directly to your destination for very little.

Royal Orchid Sheraton

River LifeRiver SideAlong the River

as i have mentioned before, i do enjoy relaxing by the pool, eating and shopping on a vacation and bangkok offers exactly what i was looking for.  siam centre, still my favourite place to shop, is located along side the downright luxurious siam paragon centre, mbk centre – the place for leather goods and various quality levels of knock-offs and another dud mall, siam discovery, that i usually avoid.  for a bit of culture thrown in, jim thompson house is located a short walk from this corner as is worth seeing, if only to see a traditional thai style house, right in the middle of this bustling metropolis.

Temple DetailTemple Detail 2Wat PhoOfferings to Buddha

of course i have a favourite restaurant in bangkok – eat me, located on convent road a few blocks from sala dang bts station, has had me coming back several times each time i am in town.  the intimately scaled, yet open style of this tropical restaurant is a favourite haunt for travelers in the know, expats from the world over and hi-so thais not only because of its delectable internationally flavoured menu but also the informative longtime owner darren hausler, who can often be seen chatting-up other guests and the headwaiter, who’s seductive voice could at easily talk you into a second dessert.  the city of angels is also known for its street food as bangkokians spend much of their evenings and time off out, on the street.  this way of life has lead to some of the most diverse street food that i have seen in my travels.  the smells and sights will excite the true foodie, and anyone with a sense of adventure will want to try a snippet from many a cart.  as a good rule of thumb with any restaurant, if it’s not busy, don’t eat there!

Mother of Pearl DetailReclining Buddha

i have an every increasing list of things to do when in bangkok.  i have never made it through.