Awesome local find – Durban’s Haunted House

When visiting a place for the first time, it’s always nice to get some local recommendations. But I have never had a recommendation this awesome before. I was on a trip to Umhlanga when a local lady in the form of Mzansigirl showed me to the haunted house. The nature of this place is so ‘local’, that I can’t find it on Google and I can’t remember how to get there.

This massive house was built on the beach and abandoned decades ago. There’s nothing left but an empty shell of a building with sea sand washed onto the floors. Over the years, teenagers and young people have come here to hang out and gradually, all the walls have become covered in graffiti. There is not an inch of bricks left bare.

I joined in Instawalk to capture this epic site at sunset.

How to get there: If you can find Beach Bums in Durban, then you just have to walk onto the grassy area next to it and you’ll see the haunted house. That’s as far as my directions go.

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This was the best start I could wish for on my first visit to Umhlanga, and for that matter, KwaZulu-Natal’s coast. It’s a great place, especially when Cape Town can’t shake off her wettest winter in a long, long time.

Visit Umhlanga without breaking the bank, easily. Just have a look here: Umhlanga – vibrant and affordable


Sometimes you shouldn’t know what you’re getting yourself in for

– This is my entry for the Travelstart Blogger Experience Contest – 

It all happened quite fast. One moment I was in my room doing a hypothetical search for ways to spend a few weeks overseas and the next I was applying for my grownup passport’s first visa, I was buying things I’d never needed before like a tent and a backpack and I was waving goodbye to my mom through the airport glass that separates the ones left home from the ones leaving.

I was young, fearless and off on what I could only imagine was going to be a grand adventure.

Yet I still didn’t quite know where I was going. I’d only heard of the island of Crete two weeks before when the headline ‘Sea turtle volunteering in Greece’ grabbed my attention on the millionth Google search page. I knew I was going to the outskirts of a small town on the coast of the island and I knew I was going to spend a month camping in a public campsite with people from all over the world. I knew there were two planes, one ferry, three buses and a bit of walking to do to get there but I didn’t know how these places looked and I hadn’t checked the names of the routes and the streets. I just went.

Thankfully I made it to the campsite okay. It was early morning when I arrived and there was no movement around the tents and caravans. I wandered slowly in between the trees, understandably tired after 48 hours spent travelling, and I found a sandy path that seemed to lead to a beach. The next moment I found myself surrounded by deserted white sand that didn’t seem to have an end, whichever way you looked. The Mediterranean sprawled out in front of me, and except for the gently rippling morning tide, there was complete silence. I was alone in a place I’d never even imagined and I couldn’t be happier.

I won’t share the details of the rest of the trip. Just know that there was early morning beach monitoring followed by freshly baked bread from the local bakery, there were seven different languages sharing tents and stories and a life lived in denim shorts and bikinis, all the while working to protect the endangered Loggerhead sea turtles. Just know that it was a trip of a lifetime.

It’s sometimes better not knowing what you’re getting yourself in for. I would never have had experienced that exact moment on the beach – and the many inspired moments to follow – if I’d planned everything down to the street names and I still think that there is no better way to travel. Too much planning causes too many frowns and too little fascination. It reveals all the breathtaking secrets of your destination before you even board the plane.

It’s four years later and whenever I find myself worrying about the logistical aspects of a trip – like where I’ll find my next taxi – I remember how I dived headfirst into that first trip and how everything wowed me. For now, just go, you can sort out the details when you get there.



Tales from Kruger | 04 | always on the road

If you’ve never been to the Kruger National Park – or any game reserve for that matter – then there’s one specific quality that you have to have to be able to enjoy it. you need to be okay with spending hours in the car. The only way to see the animals is to drive to where they are, and the only way to do that is to spend lots of time in the car. The fact that you’re limited to 40km/h most of the time and the fact that you’re generally not allowed to get out of the car makes being content with hours in a car even more important.

Now, being in this amazing place for three weeks on end means quite a lot of hours logged behind the wheel. And I can tell you that the moments where you get to photograph some awesome animals are exactly that, just moments. Moments compared to hours spent in the car. I’m not complaining though. I managed to make the most of the car experience, bonding with the windmills, including the car window in my shots and staring at the deserted road in front of me through my lens every now and then.

Check out these five recommended roads to drive to spot animals in the Kruger

Lonely windmill

Probably the loneliest road I've driven so far.

Hyenas on the H6

Sometimes, just sometimes, the cars are in the way a little. But it’s always nice when the animals decide to some to you rather than you trying to crop that bush out of the shot.

Zebra on S1/Doispane Road

Baboon love

Stomp stomp stomp

At this particular instance, I made the stupid mistake of driving by a herd of elephants that were busy munching just off the side of the road. So just as I drove on, they all decided to cross the road en mass. Pity.


How a rental car looks after two weeks in the bush. I dubbed her June.

Impala on the S114

Life from my window

Biyamiti private road/S139

Life through the other window

A Cape Tonian in Umhlanga

Not having been to Durban before is not uncommon in Cape Town. I don’t know whether it’s because we already have a whole heap of beaches or whether we just think that there’s no better seaside city in South Africa and therefore we won’t visit any of the others, but there really are a lot of Cape Tonians who have never been to Durban. Me included.

Until today.

Thanks to work and a press trip to San Lameer I’ll finally be able to see the Sunshine Coast. Although I won’t be spending that much time in Durban itself, I’ll be seeing quite a lot of Umhlanga Rocks. I hear it’s quite the holiday destination and, even if it’s not, it’ll be nice to soak in the sun for a few days.

So what does the Cape Tonian plan to entertain herself with while she’s in Umhlanga? Here are a few of the things I’m looking forward to.

The beach

umhlanga beach

It may look a little crowded here, but I’m hoping that the winter months bring with them fewer crowds. I love the idea that I’ll be able to swim in warm water in the middle of winter while the sun is shining. You don’t get that in Cape Town. 

The curry buffet

oyster box

From what I’ve gathered, you can’t visit Umhlanga without burying your face in the smart buffet of curries at The Oyster Box Hotel. This really is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most and I’m thinking it’s definitely going to be worth the R240.

A touch of Argentina

bar ba coa

A strange thing to look forward to in a South African seaside town, but this seems like a warm and friendly place. Also, everyone seems to love Bar Ba Coa‘s steaks, and what better way to balance out a night of curry than with a good steak?

A nature reserve and a forest


So apparently the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve is quite the treat. With pretty walkways and lots of reeds in which to loose yourself. Sounds like a good way to walk off above mentioned steak and curries. There’s also this indigenous forest called Hawaan Forest, sort of next to the nature reserve, that I’m quite amped to explore.

A shark dissection


I’m still deciding if I’m really excited about witnessing this particular experiment, but I hear it’s something the kids enjoy, so I might as well check it out. Right? This is going down at the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board.

Getting pampered

san lameer

Not that I’m really a pamper-loving sort of girl, and not that San Lameer is anywhere close to Umhlanga, but getting a free massage has never been a bad thing.

Please post comments on the things you think I should do (or whether you think I’m being completely insane and Umhlanga is actually a horrid place where no one should set foot – which I highly doubt). I’m amped to finally see this side of my country though.

Free wifi in the Company’s Gardens

Now here’s something exciting. The City of Cape Town has announced that they are implementing free wifi in the Company’s Gardens. Bringing the historic treasure up to speed with modern times, or something like that. The project is run in conjunction with Cape Town Partnership, Iziko Museums and Connected Space (wifi service providers) and you can read the full press release here.

This is the pilot project in which will hopefully be a larger plan to bring free wifi to other parts of Cape Town’s CBD as well. It also goes hand-in-hand with another nifty project in the gardens – one of tree-labelling. Some of the ancient and historical trees in the Company’s Gardens will receive labels and QR codes that you can scan on your smartphone to learn more about the tree in question.

The wifi will cover the Company Gardens restaurant as well as the area outside of the aviary and you’ll get 100mb free per day.

Now we have wifi in public spaces, we have an awesome bus system and trees that are connected to the internet. It seems like Cape Town is just getting better and better. Dig it.


Images courtesy of Richard Mortel and Robert Cutts.

Read local: Passing Visions by Martin John Stokes

With brand new publishing houses, usually come brand new books. An obvious assumption, but a very exciting one if you find out about said brand new publishers while they’re still, well, brand new.

The publisher in question is Fox and Raven Publishing, an independent publishing house that recently entered Cape Town’s book scene. You can read my interview with them to see that they’re pretty fun and planning to bring a fresh, light-hearted feel to publishing.

That brings me to the brand new books and Fox and Raven’s very first published piece – Passing Visions by Martin John Stokes.
Scroll all the way down for a profile of Stokes.

fox and raven publishing

The book

You really have no reason not to read this little thriller, simply because it has only 25 pages. It all plays off inside the office of Indie Golding, a clinical psychologist, and the patient in question is sixteen-year-old James Riley, brought here by a rather disturbing experience.

Needless to say, if I were James, I would also fear the possibility that I have gone mad.

Now what I really liked about this story is that Stokes doesn’t try too hard to make James sound like a 16 year old. He simply tells the story in a normal way, with little slang and  words written out properly. I like that, it lets me decide for myself how the character sounds.

The other thing that I really liked was Stokes’ narrative flow. The story reads easily and he doesn’t cram too many adjectives into a sentence. He simply tells the story and you’re compelled to keep on reading because you’re not bombarded by unnecessary words. I had to look up two words though – lackadaisical and obsidian – but I guess I’m glad to be improving my vocabulary.

I say well done to Mr. Stokes.

Get Passing Visions on your Kindle here

Screen shot 2013-07-19 at 12.29.53 PMThe author


Well, generally my name is just shortened to Mart or I’m called Stokes by some of my friends. Prosaic, right? And I have the dubious pleasure of being called The Marinator by a select few. There’s a rather esoteric reason behind that name that I’d rather not go into.


I’m 21 but I’ll be turning 22 come December.

Your most prominent feature?

Oh wow, you’re asking for narcissism here. I’ve got a kind of broken-nose thing going on – kind of like Owen Wilson, but nowhere near as salient. Other than that I’ve got some pretty mean curls that start to show when my hair gets a bit longer.

How long have you been a writer?

I took an interest to writing when I was 16 or so, but I’ve loved books my entire life.

A published writer?

Kind of a funny story in a mirthless sort of way. I was 19 when I published my short story. Joe Vaz from Something Wicked picked it up. At the time it was the only print short-story magazine in South Africa (if my memory serves me correctly), but almost immediately after my story was accepted, the magazine went into a hiatus that spanned quite some time. During their break, they’d switched from a monthly magazine to a yearly anthology – worth the read, I might add, there are some fantastic local and international writers in there and the SW team do an amazing job putting the whole thing together. I had a story published last year and another two this year (the one you would have read, it’s the reason I’m typing this out, I guess) and in the middle of all of this, Joe Vaz and Vianne Venter from Something Wicked sent me an e-mail to say they’d like to put my story in one of their anthologies. So it actually took two years for the story to get to print, although it was accepted ages ago.

Who would you recommend Passing Visions to?

Anyone who’d read it! Horror aficionados, thriller-lovers and perhaps those with a strong gorge. But I think anyone who enjoys short fiction could deal with it.

Best book of your year so far?

At the moment I’m reading a novel by Stephen King; I’m about two-thirds through it and it’s gripped me like nothing has so far. So tentatively, I’d have to say 11/22/63.

Worst book of your year so far?

Tough question. I can’t think of a satisfactory answer, but I read a couple of pages of 50 Shades of Grey and was pretty horrified to realise that it actually made it print. If brevity counts, then most definitely 50 Shades.

Daylight writer or night time scribbler?

Writing is usually the third thing I do when I wake up. The first is stretch. The second is make a cup of coffee.

Real book or ebook?

I own a Kindle and love it to death but still find myself reading more paperbacks than anything else. eBooks do have merit, though. Who doesn’t like the idea of carrying around an entire library in the back-left pocket of their jeans?

Finish a bad book till the end or drop it and find something better?

I’m a firm believer in giving a book a chance. That being said. there’s only so much a person can struggle through. There are countless good books out there and a limited time to read as many as possible, so if the book really isn’t doing it for me, after I’ve given it a chance (and maybe a second one; I’m a believer in those, too), then I put it aside where it’ll most likely gather dust and progress onto what will hopefully be (and usually is) the next great novel.

*Featured image courtesy of Rosmary

How to spend a rainy Thursday afternoon in Cape Town

So it’s been raining the entire day and you were caught in a particularly strong downpour as you walked from the office to your car. Now you’re driving and all you want to be is home.

Don’t go there though. Rainy Thursday afternoons have much more potential.

Drive directly to the Book Lounge in Roeland Street. If it’s after 5pm then you don’t have to pay for parking anymore and, if you’re lucky, the casual car guards haven’t showed up yet. Now you can browse books to your heart’s delight, drink a warm cup of coffee or tea downstairs and settle in one of the deep chairs for a bit of a read. Alternatively, wrap up your day, make your to-do list for tomorrow or (and this usually happens to me) collect arms full of books, spread them out on the table below and take your proper time to decide what you want to buy. In other bookshops I tend to make much more rash decisions because there’s never space to sit.

booklounge market

Now you can go and get some dinner. The Hope Street Market is literally just up the road, but you might want to drive there. It’s a particularly cosy spot, partly because of the warm food and live acoustic music, and partly because the hall is generally packed to the brim with people in scarfs, coats and hoods. The food is hearty, but also readily made. So no cooking, no dishes and no takeaways. Grab a glass of smooth red or a craft beer, try and find a seat (the most challenging part of the evening) and either  meet up with friends or make a run for it and eat your food at home. If you’re planning to sit though, the upstairs area is your best bet.

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Once home, there’s still an entire chunk of the evening left, but unlike the sluggish-series-and-microwave-meal-evening you would’ve had had you gone directly home, you now have proper food and proper books.

So much church, so pretty

Even if you’re not a religious or church-going person, it’s hard to ignore all the intricately detailed and beautiful churches spread out across Cape Town‘s city centre. Like this one, for example. It’s the methodist church on Greenmarket Square and, although it serves as a convenient meeting place on the square, it’s also rather beautiful to look at. It’s a little difficult getting a clear view of the entire church, what with all the stalls, shoppers and coffee-drinkers around, but if you stand right in front of the front doors and you look up, the view is quite something too.

greenmarket square church

Matroosberg – my every-winter place

It’s not often that I return to the same weekend-away spot over and over again. But I just can’t help making a weekend to  Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve an annual event. I’ll even go as far as to say that this is my favourite place to go away to during winter.

The obvious reason for my return is because this is the one place in the Western Cape where you’re most likely to experience actual snowfall and white mountains. I haven’t been lucky enough to make snow angels in my home province just yet, but I will keep on going back until I do. Still, although the chance of snow is a very strong drawcard, Matroosberg is about much more than just seeing snow. It’s simply an inspiring place to be.

As mentioned previously, this is a winter destination. I don’t think that it will be horrible here in summer, but I do think that if you can find a place that can make Cape Tonians enjoy winter then you’re on the winning end. Plus, it’s only 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town.

It’s one of the few places where we are happy that it’s below zero degrees and we wrap ourselves up without complaints to go out and find frosted grass and frozen puddles in the early hours of the morning. It’s our excuse to mass produce smoors and binge on red wine in front of the fireplace. It’s about finding yourself surrounded by the province’s highest mountains, in a hut crammed with mattresses for 20 people, where there’s no electricity but where none is needed and where you wake up to the most magnificently crisp and vibrant sunrises imaginable. It will make everyone love winter.

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Art and books unite – The Shining Girls art show

shining girls

Lauren Beukes is making serious waves. And although I’ve seen her books come out and I’ve seen loads of people reading them, I’ve never actually read any of her novels. Until about a week ago. I just couldn’t ignore the existence of such an influential local author any longer. I’m speedily making my from Moxy Land, through Zoo City and on to The Shining Girls (her latest offering) and I can’t wait to get there.

Not only is The Shining Girls doing incredibly well locally, it’s also leaving it’s imprint overseas. Just have a look here, reviewed it.

And now it’s turning into an art show. A whole cluster of local artists are going to work on an exhibition together, each ripping a page out of the novel and doing whatever they want with it. The proceeds will go to Rape CrisisNot much is yet finalised, but artists that have been confirmed include Conrad BotesKudzanai Chiurai,Faith47Joey Hi-Fi and DALEast. The exhibition will run from 6-11 September in collaboration with the Open Book Festival in Cape Town’s fringe district.

Read more on Lauren Beukes’s website.

the shining girls lauren beukes