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Journeys in Africa

Shark Diving

September 3rd, 2015 for

White Shark Projects (WSP) was an experience that has been on my bucket list since I was a child.  Although we had a very early departure, 5:00am, it was well worth the sacrifice of a few hours of sleep.  The transfer to Gansbaai was about 2 hours after leaving The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa.  Once at the White Shark Projects shop, we were given a breakfast and a briefing by the marine biologist.  The briefing was great; he explained the sharks’ behavior and gave tons of information from migration to eating habits.  


When we left the harbor, it was about a 30 minute ride to the dive site.  The crew threw the hook in the water, they then put the shark cage in the water and tied it off to the side of the boat.  The cage was about 8’ tall and 3’ deep and 12’ wide.  It was about 10-15 minutes until the sharks showed up.  Once the sharks showed up, 6 people at a time went into the cage. 


WSP provided wet suits with hoods, booties and a mask, so all you needed was a swimsuit.  Once in the cage, they shut the top and the cage sat 2’ above the water. We stood in the cage on bars and when the sharks swam by we would hold our breath and go under water to watch the sharks swim by. 

This was an experience that everyone should have if they are at all interested in the ocean and its animals.  I learned so much about the Aquatic Big Five of South Africa, (whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and penguins) on this trip.  We saw over ten sharks ranging from 10’-16’. 


There are two-three trips a day one at 8am, one at noon and one later in the afternoon.  I would definitely do the morning run as seas are more likely to be calmer because the winds haven’t started to blow and the sharks were very active

Cape Grace Hotel Whiskey tasting at the Bascule Bar

September 3rd, 2015 for

Not since Whiskey tasting in Ireland have I enjoyed tasting fine whiskey from around the world spreading the gamut from Kentucky Bourbon to Single Malt Scotch whisky.  We learned so much about world class whiskeys and how to pick up the hints of oak, peat or fruit and how to properly taste fine whiskey be it neat or straight up.  There was also great thought and preparation in the food parings that they provided explaining how food will actually change the taste of the whiskey.


John’s Experiences in South Africa

September 3rd, 2015 for

We have arrived in Cape Town and it was too windy for Table Mountain visit upon arrival so we rescheduled for later in the week. 

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa is a South Africa favorite of mine. After a long international flight we hiked up the mountain trails and picnic sites which are located in Table Mountain National Park, directly behind the hotel. With views of Camps Bay, Lion Head Peak and Robbin Island in the background, the views can’t be beat. I woudl highly recommend this hike no matter how fit, as you can go as far as you want and still have great panoramic views. Getting outside was refreshing and just want i needed after the 16 hour flight. 

After a hike or a long flight, a trip to the Twelve Apostles spa is in order with a soak in their Salt Water Floatation Pool. Offering a liquid, reduced gravity experience, floating in the salty water eases jetlag and results in maximum relaxation – research has shown that just 20 minutes is equivalent to a full two hours of sleep.

The Spa at The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town

A must do activity while at the Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa is watching the sunset with a scrumptious drink from the Leopard Bar. This un-obstructed view of the sunset over the Atlantic can’t be beat with views of Camps Bay and Lion’s head. 

John at Leopard BarWhen I heard that we were having dinner at the Azure restaurant, I was ecstatic as I have dinned there before and the meal was exquisite. I love their Seafood Platter. This is the dish that has to be shared, and even with the three of us sharing we couldn’t finish it! This was a perfect finale to my first day in South Africa. 


Koeksister – a South African delicacy

August 30th, 2015 for


As a child growing up in southern Africa a weekly treat was a koeksister. Every Saturday my mother would park on the main square right in front of Bamfords Bakery. As we got out of the car the aroma of fresh bread and baked goods would assault the senses – I remember it like it was yesterday.

However there were errands to run and first was always the supermarket. Mother was an avid bargain shopper and with three supermarkets in the main street and list in hand, we would visit all three comparing prices of each item on the list. We then returned to each to secure the items they were featuring at the lowest price. Tedious it may sound but the Dairy Den was located between market two and three and served the most delicious soft serve ice cream in a cone. And on special days there was a chocolate flake added making it a Choc 99 – what a delight!

But I digress. With groceries in hand there was the occasional visit to Holdsworths the Chemist (pharmacy) and perhaps the Hobby Shop (my older brother was an avid airplane modeler) and then on to what had been anticipated all week…..the bakery.

As you walked in the overwhelming aroma of sweetness of the freshly made koeksisters prevailed. They were always fresh, dunked in the most glorious of syrups and ready to explode in your mouth. Of course they were purchased and sat like the bait of temptation in the box until we got home and all sat down to lunch as a family. Finally the moment arrived. There were no microwaves in those days so we ate them at room temperature. I can’t imagine that warming them up would have improved them…they were already perfection.


Some people say a koeksister is the equivalent of a doughnut but trust me..doughnuts don’t hold a candle to these incredible pieces of culinary delight. All too often I see recipes that say ‘easy koeksisters’ or ‘koeksisters in a snap’ but despite the fact that I am fairly handy in the kitchen my attempts, thus far, to recapture this moment in time have ended in abject failure and so I regard the makers of these creations in the highest esteem.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that after more than thirty years I returned to South Africa and top of my list was securing a koeksister. The first night in the hotel, as a turn down notion, there, sitting on a ceramic tile beside my bed was a miniature koeksister. I thought I was going to weep at how quickly my desire had been fulfilled. I lifted it to my mouth, felt the sticky syrup, and took a bite. Total disappointment. This was not the koeksister of my childhood and I desperately hoped that my colleagues, who had been regaled with tales of my desperate need for a koeksister, were not similarly chomping on this imposter and thinking I was crazy!

The following day, after colluding with our guide, we decided that at some point during the next two days in Cape Town we would stop at a true local bakery and secure koeksisters. As it turned out the next two days were over the top, and more, with some of the most amazing repasts, snacks and delicacies ever to cross my lips and in a state of being continually full, the bakery stop simply never happened.

So just exactly what is this love of my life, this koeksister? The traditional braided version originates from the Afrikaners though there is a Cape Malay version which is spicy and has a sprinkling of coconut on top. While there is much to be treasured in Cape Malay cuisine, the Afrikaner version is, for me, what this is all about! The format is simple – dough deep fried in oil and immediately dipped into cold syrup (the magic moment) resulting in a crisp sticky outside and a melt in your mouth interior. You cannot possibly imagine how good they are until you have had one…..and having the real McCoy requires a trip to South Africa. Yes, you will love Cape Town, be thrilled by the great whites and enchanted by the wildlife – but your first real koeksister bring with it the promise of a life changing experience. Trust me!


Koeksister’s Dough
   2 Cups cake flour
   1/2 tsp. salt
   2 tbsp. baking powder
   4 tbsp. of butter
   1 egg
   1/2 cup of water
   Oil for frying

Syrup for the Koeksister
   1 kg of sugar
   1 and 1/2 cups of water
   1/2 tsp. ground ginger
   2 cinnamon sticks
   juice of one lemon

South Africa’s Wonder: Table Mountain

August 30th, 2015 for

When I first visited Cape Town, South Africa it was in early December 2008. Arriving at the airport I was met and transferred to my hotel by an African Travel sister company representative from Thompson’s Africa. It was nighttime and city was ablaze with holiday lights.
“You are lucky” the driver commented. “Table Mountain is illuminated for the holiday season and not too many people have a chance to see this.”

David Schwenk on Table Mountain

I stared in amazement. High intensity spotlights flooded mountainside with light. A sight to see.
Interestingly, the first time Table Mountain was illuminated was in 1947 during the British Royal Family’s visit. It was also a sight to see for English explorer Sir Frances Drake who gazed upon it around 1580. “The fairest Cape, the most stately thing we saw in the whole circumference of the globe.” Drake wrote in his ship’s log.

Now, I’ve seen other magnificent peaks in the world, namely, the Matterhorn in Zermatt and Sugar Loaf in Rio-De-Janeiro. These giants are taller but Table Mountain is one of the most recognizable mountains in the world. It stands 3,280 feet high, ending on a virtually flat top mesa. That’s about 3 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.

View from Table Mountain

Table Mountain also stands right in the middle of the smallest and richest floral kingdom in the world with 2250 different species of flora surrounding it. It also stands on the tip of the African Continent. No wonder Table Mountain was declared one of the new Seven National Wonders of the World in 2011. It also earned the prestigious title of one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in 2004.

Descending on the Rotair Cable Car

This past May, I had a chance to return to Cape Town and see Table Mountain once again. But unlike my first visit in 2008, I had a chance to go to the top of this magnificent peak. Ascending to the top was a thrill in itself. Unlike other gondola cable cars, Table Mountain has what’s called a “rotair” car. The floor of the cars rotate through 360 degrees during the ascent or descent, giving passengers a panoramic view.

Once on top of the peak the views are incredible. One could see the infamous Robbin Island the “Alcatraz” of South Africa. Here, Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, along with some 3000 other anti-apartheid activists, for two decades of a life sentence. In 1996, Robben Island was declared a National Monument and a World Heritage Site in 1999. Gazing down upon one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I felt so grateful that I finally succeeded in reaching the top of this incredible mountain. And, when you go to Cape Town, you must also take that cable car ride to the top of South Africa’s wonder – the Table Mountain.



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