Friday, 24 April 2015

The Day I walked with Cheetahs


On the day that we left Tsala, the weather report promised blue skies and sunshine....

Sod's law, eh? Anyway I'd been really keen to visit the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness centre, so the hotel booked us in early before we left. And it was very early...before sunrise!


Just outside Plettenberg Bay, Tenikwa is a sanctuary and rehabilitation centre for wild cats and other injured animals. The centre is funded by the various programs and tours offered to the public that allows them to get close to the indigenous wild cats of South Africa.


We were limited in time, so Mr S and I had opted to do the Sunrise Cheetah Walk though with more time we could have visited some of the other wild cats housed in the centre. As soon as we arrived we were given a safety briefing and we were instructed to hold the leash loosely as the cheetah could bolt, don't look him directly in the eyes and walk behind him at all times. Eek!


We stowed our bags and we were lead out to meet the cheetahs who were playing in their large enclosure. The cheetahs were male and female but we were told they were not mates and treated each other more like brother and sister. There wasn't much in terms of differentiation between the two of them apart from the fact the female was slightly smaller. 


Now you're probably wondering, was I scared? Fear is a funny thing isn't it? While I was terrified of the spider that I saw in our room and getting into the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, I wasn't actually scared of this potentially very dangerous animal. These cheetahs are captive-bred and very used to humans, I felt pretty reassured that it would be fine.



Actually, really the cheetah is walking you! Cheetahs are the fastest animals on land so if he decided to run, there was clearly no keeping up with him, even if I was Usain Bolt! Actually, I looked this up Usain Bolt can run at 28 miles per hour whereas the cheetah runs at 70 miles per hour! Though cheetah's are fast and powerful they are becoming endangered owing to poaching, loss of habitat and the high mortality rate of cheetah cubs. They are currently one of the most vulnerable species in Africa, numbering only around 12,000.

Every now and then he'd stop for a lie down...


or a sniff!




As we strolled through the beautiful Tsitsikamma Forest and Cape Floral Fynbos...


We were told that Chester, the male cheetah, is actually type 1 diabetic and is dependant on daily shots of insulin. He is of course, well looked after at Tenikwa, his sugar levels are monitored closely and his fitness and daily walks help improve his health and ability to deal with the diabetes. 


The wildlife hospital at Tenikwa admits around 300 animals per year, no animal is ever turned away and every case is overseen by a specialist veterinarian and the caring staff of the centre. Each animal has a rehabilitation plan and release back into the wild is organised with the utmost care. Of course, these sick animals are not exhibited to the public and they are kept in specialised enclosures and treatment rooms. 

You may wander whether it's cruel to keep cheetahs in an enclosure but the animals that we were walking are not releasable into the wild. They were incredibly well-looked after and used for public awareness. The animal is at the forefront and Tenikwa is non-profit organisation that has strong community involvement and educational programs. 



It was an incredible experience to be up close to such beautiful animals, and there really is no need to be afraid. 




Though we didn't get to see much of Plettenbrg Bay and the Garden Route, I'm so glad that we got to visit Tenikwa. Walking the cheetah was a truly once-in-lifetime experience.

Tenikwa
Forest Hall Road
The Crags
Plettenberg Bay
South Africa

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Best Laid Plans: Driving the Garden Route and Tsala Treetop Lodge


Isn't it funny that however well you plan something, circumstances can cause all you plans to go awry...the best laid plans of mice and men and all that...

No amount of excel spreadsheets can account for everything and even the most well planned adventure can turn into a misadventure....


Mr S and I love a road trip; cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway with the wind in our hair, facing the elements on the Great Ocean Road and admiring the view whilst negotiating the hair pin bends around the Italian lakes.

The plan was to drive along the Garden Route, a scenic coastal stretch of about 150 km from Mossel Bay and finish at Plettenberg Bay where we would be staying.

We left Franschhoek later than we anticipated (Mr S's fault), jumping into our hire car we headed up the mountains taking a few last photos of the beautiful Winelands before we were well on our way.


After a bit of confusion we got our selves on the right road; the N2, a highway stretching for about 800 km from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth including the fabled Garden Route. After about two hours on the road, and still about an hour away from Mossel Bay, Mr S wanted to stop for lunch. To be fair, we'd left late and it was already 3pm.

Hmmm...Ok I'll allow it, even though that wasn't my plan. We ended up stopping at a bakery in Swellendam, which is actually the third oldest town in South Africa and was made up of pretty green fields and fringed with mountains.


Mr S was hungry and insisted on ordering a starter and main course...I frequently looked at my watch.

By the time we had finished lunch it was nearly 4pm and we got back in the car and on to the N2. We drove straight through Mossel Bay and didn't get to look at it's beautiful beaches or try the renowned seafood restaurants. By the time we reached Wilderness, the next stop on the Garden Route, it was already quite dark and we had no chance of seeing the small town with it's long sandy beaches, forests and lagoons. A quick loo break and we were back on the road. We drove straight through Knysna, the unofficial capital of the route and by the time we arrived at our hotel in Plettenberg Bay, it was night time...this was all Mr S's fault for leaving late and his silly long lunch...sigh...

Bronwen, the general manager at Tsala Treetop Lodge greeted us at the door.

'Welcome' She said 'You must have had a long journey...would you like a glass of wine.'


 YES!!!

I gave Mr S the evil eye as I drank my wine and he sipped his beer. It had been a five hour drive (not including the stops) and we'd basically seen very little of the actual Garden Route.

Having said that, my annoyance somewhat evaporated as we were led into our gorgeous treetop suite, elevated above the forest.


The room was huge with a beautiful big bedroom...



Leading on to an equally spacious sitting room.



In the middle stood a huge wood burning fireplace and in the colder months you can request to have your fireplace lit so that you can snuggle up around it after dinner. The interior of the room was made up of stone, wood and glass it all felt very earthy and natural and reminded me Post Ranch Inn, one of my favourite hotels ever. The beige, tones, neutral green and soft brown colour pallet provided a calming environment and this paired with the bottle of sparkling wine that they provided us with soon meant my annoyance with Mr S subsided. 



The bathroom was incredible with a free-standing stone bath, twin stone sinks and an indoor and outdoor shower. It really was the perfect tree house for two. It was pretty dark and so we ran down for dinner, grabbing the huge umbrella's provided as it had begun to spit with rain. 

That night I lay in our very comfortable bed and I could hear a storm raging outside. We woke up early as we had an excursion that morning...I flung back the curtain keen to see the gorgeous view I'd been promised. 


Leading out from our sitting room area we had a balcony looking out on to the stunning forest canopy. But the deck was slippery from the rain and water clung to the balcony and furniture. I wondered whether our excursion would be cancelled. 

Keen to make it for breakfast before we had to leave, I started getting ready for the day ahead but as I rifled through my suitcase I looked up...there was a MAHOOSIVE spider on the wall. I screamed and ran into the sitting room...Mr S dashed in worried I been hurt....

'Huge...spider...in there...' I pointed shakily...

Mr S bravely faced the spider, scooping it ito a bag and throwing it off the balcony...Mr S is my hero...

With all the kerfuffle of the spider, we were running late for breakfast and our lift to our excursion. 


With a keen eye on the look out for spiders, we made our way along the pretty forest walkway to the main hotel building for our breakfast. We had to be quick as we had our lift waiting for us. 

I had booked us on the Featherbed Nature Tour in Knysna which included a trip along the Knysna lagoon and an exploration on the coastal forest and sea caves. The morning would end with an idyllic sounding lunch in an outdoor restaurant under milkwood trees. However, this beautiful morning communing with nature started to seem rather less appealing as it started raining cats and dogs. 

When we got to the Featherbed office, a good half hour from our hotel, we were informed the trip had just been cancelled...so we turned around and got back in the car. Now this misadventure I couldn't blame Mr S for, and he had been my hero that morning too. By the time we got back to the hotel, the rain was actually clearing and I had high hopes that our afternoon plans would still be going ahead. 

The public area of the hotel were beautiful and with the weather clearing up and time on our hands, it was time to take some photos. 




There is one main public area in lodge, made out of stone and surrounded by water features.



The lounge with it's rustic brick work was furnished with comfortable tan leather sofas and shelves of books and felt incredibly homely whilst still be stylish. 


And was full with hand carved artefacts... 


Leading out from the lounge was the hotel's main dining area which serves the residents of the ten suites and two villas that make up the hotel. It was late morning and with hopes that our afternoon activity would still go ahead we headed back to the room to wait it out. 

I chose a desk with a view to catch up on some bloggy business...


Mr S relaxed in one of the comfy sofas to check the football scores. 

And it started to rain again....

Soon the front desk called to inform us that our afternoon plans had been cancelled. I was very disappointed as we'd arrange to visit a wild cat rehabilitation where we'd get a chance to walk with cheetahs. 

'Oh well, shall we go for a long lunch instead?' 

Just as we headed out for lunch, with weather started to clear again and we took a little walk around the grounds. Tsala is own by Hunter Hotels who also own the adjacent property, Hunter's Country House. We had a little look around the grounds of the Country House with it's pretty gardens, swimming pool and outdoor chill out area. 



Guests of Tsala are welcome to use the facilities and to dine at the house. 

Hunter also own Zinzi, a gorgeous restaurant with an African inspired interior serving European, Asian and African food. 



We ate at Zinzi for our rainy day lunch and also one night for dinner. The food was delicious and the restaurant is busy and lively as it is open to members of the public, not just hotel guests. Here are some of our highlights from the meals there: 


The North African platter containing grape charmoula, harissa, babaganoush, chicken peri peri, dolmades and injera pancakes. 



Grilled Patagonian calamari.


Tempura prawns served with a papaya salad. 



Garden Route mussels served with country-style bread. 


Decadent chocolate with homemade brownie, Amarula hot chocolate shot and Italian Ice cream. 

We also tried lunch and dinner at the Tsala main dining room; the lunch menu was tasty though a little limited but we loved the food at dinner. The power was turned off (load-shedding again) during our dinner so the light was very dim and the pictures didn't come out well but these traditional South Africa bobotie spring rolls were one of our favourite things that we tried. 


When we woke the next day, we had high hopes of the day ahead but once again it was pouring with rain, circumstances not even the most detailed spreadsheet could plan for. Also it wasn't a light drizzly rain, it was the type of rain that if you set foot outside of you house, you'll be totally drenched. 

So we sat in our room...all the activities on The Garden Route were very outdoorsy and we couldn't even go for a drive cos the roads were flooded and visibility was poor. 

We'd chosen to stay in Plettenberg for three nights as there seemed so much to do shark-cage diving, bungee jumping and high-speed boating for the adventurous (not me) and animal sanctuaries, nature reserves, gorgeous beaches and sailing for the unadventurous (me). The plan that night was to go out on a sunset cruise on a yacht around Knysna lagoon while we enjoyed sparkling wine and a seafood platter. 

But it got cancelled... feeling slightly stir crazy I suggested we head into town for dinner, I'd heard of a gorgeous, romantic restaurant called Emily Moon, but of course, it was fully booked. Instead Bronwen booked us into The Fat Fish, a lovely restaurant in the centre of Plettenberg Bay serving fresh fish, sushi and ceviche. 


Bronwen had been fantastic in keeping us informed on what was going on with our excursions, trying to rebook things and helping us with reservations. She rescheduled our cheetah walk on the day that we were due to leave, and that morning we woke up bright and early, before sunrise. And headed off on our excursion (blog post to come). We arrived back at the hotel, the sun beaming and the skies blue...

So now it's sunny...


The bad weather had also meant we couldn't use our room's private pool. 



However, rather than enjoying our final few hours basking in the long-awaited sunshine...I fell alseep...well, we'd had to get up at dawn. 

And I slept for so long that once again we left the hotel late, not getting on the road until 1pm. However, this time we did take some time for lunch in the town of Wilderness and ate a delicious seafood platter whilst taking in views of the unspoilt beach. 



Then it was back in the car and a four and half hour journey down to Hermanus, just outside Cape Town.

So that was our misadventure, a 10 hour round trip, to basically sit in the room all day and not see any of the local area. Now, I have to say although I was sad to miss the excursions it was actually really nice to have a couple of days just to chill in our room and spend time together. And it wasn't just any room, I got to stay in my own tree house for three nights (and I only saw one spider)!

In Cape Town we'd been busy rushing about all over the place and the down time was actually rather welcomed...well it would have been for one day!

I'm sorry I won't be able to give you many recommendations for what to do whilst staying in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay but if you've been yourself I'd love to hear about your experiences. 

Tsala Treetop Lodge
Plettenberg Bay
6600
South Africa
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