For today’s wandering we are back in beautiful Aotearoa/New Zealand remembering another “travels with mom” adventure in search of Middle Earth.
New Zealand’s North Island. State Highway 3 takes you through the King Country west of the Waikato River. The landscape here is mystical and intriguing – limestone and sandstone bluffs surrounded by ancient Podocarp forest.
Take State Highway 3 and wind your way through the Awakino gorge till you hit the west coast and its black sand beaches.
Stay at Struan Farm if you like a green country garden setting with the sheep wandering by.
And then definitely adventure into the hills near Piopio to find the Hairy Feet tour – a perfect Middle Earth location. On this farm they filmed part of the first Hobbit movie – An Unexpected Journey.
The day mom and I were there it was pouring rain. It was just us and the guide…. and it was magical. Not just because I am such a Middle Earth fan but also the karst landscape. I am a bit of a geology geek too!
Still on the same “travels with mom” adventure that brought us to Queenstown, New Zealand’s South Island.
We took a side trip – a bus ride from Queenstown to Fiordland National Park. Then onto a boat for an overnight stay on Milford Sound.
More of Middle Earth to discover. Here we glimpsed the River Anduin, the Dead Marshes and Fangorn Forest.
If I put my ecologist hat on for a moment. Here is a raw, pure Aotearoa/New Zealand environment. Magnificent in scale. Teeming with biodiversity. Truly showcasing the power and awesomeness of Mother Nature. A pure space.
A pure space – this paradox of serenity in harsh, isolated spaces keeps coming up for me as I wander these travel memories. Something that speaks to my soul, I suppose.
Today’s wandering takes us to the other side of South Africa. To Mpumalanga.
Near Ohrigstad there’s a pass that winds up towards the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment – Robbers Pass. At the top of this pass there is a forestry track off to the left, hard to spot unless you’ve been there before. Bump along this track through the pine plantation for a short way until you turn a bend and the whole valley stretches before you. You have arrived at Themeda Hills Mountain Camp.
Now I don’t know if it still operates anymore, but this spot has to be one of Mpumalanga’s best kept secrets. My family have been visiting for years. I can’t remember who found it first, but I definitely associate trips to Themeda with my Grandad Jim.
Eight little stone rondavels perch on the edge of the world here with simply spectacular views. At a fairly decent altitude there is a distinct alpine tinge to the air and vegetation and the sometimes moody cloud. Rondavel 8 is the best. I saw my first African Crowned Eagle here.
Words and photos do not do the magic of this pure space justice.
After losing yourself on top of the world for a little while, time to join reality again. Down the other side of Robbers Pass you will come to Pilgrims Rest. Two options from here.
First, the road less travelled. A dirt road the follows the Blyde River from its source near Pilgrims Rest as it ambles and meanders its way toward Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
The second option is the more popular R533 to Graskop. A stop at Harrie’s Pancakes before finding the R532 which will start you on the Panorama Route through the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve with lots of scenic stops like God’s Window, Lisbon and Berlin Falls along the way.
Choosing today’s pics was a tough task… a year’s worth of Kalahari wildlife encounters limited to 10!
Of course, there are the iconic Kalahari predators like lion and leopard. Then there is the majestic gemsbok (oryx) with their sabre horns.
The bird life astounds – raptors, owls, vultures…. I chose ostrich and a kori bustard to share today.
Then there are the cuties like the meerkats and ground squirrels… the mischief makers like the ratel (honey badger).
Cheetah were an added bonus. A little taste of true wildlife conservation research by accompanying Dr Gus Mills on a cheetah radio collaring project. We followed this sibling group most a of day through the dunes. The next day we changed tack and found a new female to collar. Elena had recently become independent. After I left the Kalahari Gus and Margie sent me photos of her with her first litter. There she was looking healthy, a gorgeous first time mum still sporting the collar I had helped to fit…
Longing to experience the real, authentic Mama Africa in all her grit and glory? Love a good road trip? What about great banter around a campfire, sipping a gin and tonic, pausing every now and then to listen to the soundscape that only a night under the African sky can bring? How about magical sunrises and sunsets? Or an impromptu coffee stop in the middle of somewhere intrepid? Want your African experience to include some boots on the ground time for wildlife conservation and community empowerment?
Then you need to meet my gorgeous friend, Carla Geyser. Her Journeys with Purpose are all of the above and then some!
I first came across Carla’s story in 2016 when she embarked on her epic Elephant Ignite Expedition – travelling 16 000km across 10 countries. Carla and her team visited 37 conservation organisations, engaging with communities along the way and distributing 20 000 educational booklets. The idea for this expedition was sparked by the plight of elephants across Africa – their plummeting numbers due to poaching and human wildlife conflict.
Then in 2018 I followed Carla’s next adventure, The Rise of the Matriarch, on social media. This time an international all women crew set out with Carla for a 50 day, 11 000km journey through 4 countries. This expedition raised global awareness for the plight of African wildlife, raising funds for conservation groups and empowering local youth, especially girls.
I still have the diary from that time and scribbled in a
margin is “Blue Sky Society Trust – next time”.
In May of this year I got to meet Carla in person. She picked me to be part of her crew for a
2019 Journey with Purpose. I have
recorded this incredible adventure in previous posts:
Carla is a great expedition leader – the perfect blend of happy-go-lucky and down to earth pragmatism. She knows Africa well and understands how to travel wisely. Able to go with the flow while at the same time being uber prepared for every eventuality – a real skill in this environment!
I love Carla’s attitude to life which is incorporated into
the name of her not-for-profit – The Blue Sky Society. Read here how the name came about. She is a kindred spirit… we share a passion
for Mama Africa, our birthplace. Yet
Carla’s personality is such that anyone from anywhere could not help but enjoy
her company and be swept away in her enthusiasm for life and her work.
I consider it one of the greatest experiences of my life, that May Journey with Purpose. I also consider it an honour and privilege to have shared the road with Carla Geyser and her fabulous landy, Dora. And I cannot wait to go again and be a part of another Blue Sky Society Journey with Purpose!
Carla is an ordinary woman just like me. But her big dreams, her belief in the infinite possibilities of life and her “just do it” attitude make her voice extraordinary….
Four incredible Journeys with Purpose are planned for 2020 (click on the links to find out more):