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Monthly Archives: June 2013

When Arts and Lifestyle are celebrated

It’s the winter in Southern Africa… And then ? There is no reason to stay at home.

Why not to go and enjoy two of the most popular festivals during the winter season in South Africa which start this weekend ?

The first one is called the National Arts Festival. It takes place at the university town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, at 130 km from Port Elizabeth. The National Arts Festival is an important cultural event because it is one of the largest South African annual celebrations dedicated to the arts.

All kind of arts are actually present: theater (classical, street, physical …), dance, comedy, music (opera, jazz, etc.), movies and even crafts. Beyond the festival itself, don’t miss this great opportunity to visit the city and the historic monuments which are a stone away. The festival, which runs from June 27 to July 7 2013, is likely to be a vibrant forum for new artists to express their ideas and a platform about the future trends. If you are nearby and keen on arts, let’s pop in.

Website: http://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/

South_Africa_Knysna_Festival_Article

The second event is the famous Knysna Oyster Festival which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The festival offers more than 100 events about sports (running, cycling, rowing, paddle ..), family (concerts, workshops for children) and food with wine tasting, whisky and cooking competitions. These latter are referring to the famous oysters which make this festival so popular.

Thus, like every year, festive goers will be invited to take part in the shucking oysters, enjoy different varieties of oysters (cultivated or wild). Nothing friendlier in my opinion. The festival will take place from 28 June to 7 July 2013 in Knysna, known as” the” Pearl of the Garden Route thanks to its amazing lagoon.

Website: http://www.oysterfestival.co.za/

The choice is yours!

Amélie Fages

3 nights in the Okavango Delta

Comprised of 3 nights at different locales in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, the Khwai Mobile Camp is the perfect way to absorb every bit of majesty that this section of Africa has to offer.

Not only is the wildlife abundant here, but the water ways ensure that the landscape is mesmerizing.

Undertaking this kind of adventure is perfect for those who want to see as much as they can without the big price tag of doing so. Plus, with accommodation provided by separate camps along the way, each day starts off with something new to experience.

Khwai Tented Camp blog xo

Game viewing does form a major part of your itinerary here and is comprised of walks or day/night drives. The area is so rich in wildlife that my camera got quite the workout on virtually every trip. As the name of the camp suggests, the Khwai River is a major draw card and it’s here that your trip will culminate. A beautiful ending, if ever there was one.

Wildlife encounters include lion, cheetah, leopard, wild dog, elephant and a multitude of plains game including buffalo, zebra, giraffe and impala.

Mobile tented safaris are for true nature enthusiasts who want to enjoy the more authentic experience or to walk in footsteps of the Africa’s first explorers. Around you a team of professionals that do all the catering for you, allowing you time to soak up and enjoy the natural world without breaking any sweat performing camp duties.

Mobile tented safaris allow you to explore nature at its closeness, while camping in the pristine areas away from the madding crowds.

South Africa, an unique floral kingdom

South Africa is a country rich in natural heritage. There are parks where nature is queen and beautiful as well as stunning reserves.

So many places, most of the time very well preserved, which are ideal for observing the local wildlife and get to know the endemic plant species. It is precisely this aspect of the country that I will share with you. South Africa is so blessed with a unique blooming.

With its different climates, the South African flora counts almost 25,000 species, some native, other common to five continents. 5 major types of vegetation have been identified according to the climate.

South Africa - Protea - Floral Kingdom

The famous African savannah with its giant baobab trees is located in the north-east of the country, notably the Kruger Park.

Along the coast of the Indian Ocean, you’ll discover a completely different landscape in terms of flora. Here flourishes a subtropical vegetation rich in palm trees, wild banana trees, reeds, mangroves….

Another sign of incredible diversity is the arid region of the Kalahari, a semi-desert area which is formed essentially of succulents. As for the Drakensberg mountain range, you will hike through an amazing diversity of mountain flowers.

But if you are interested in flowers, by driving up the West Coast from Cape Town you will enter the Namaqualand and witness one of the largest flower shows in the world.

Once a year in spring (from late August until late October) the fields are covered with a carpet of 1200 species of endemic and colourful flowers. This ephemeral and wonderful phenomenon reveals the richness and variety of the Western Cape flora. Photographers, get ready!

flowers desert

The Cape Floral Region offers a rare botanical diversity. Spreading on 90 000 km2, 9600 species are listed among which 80% are indigenous. Most of the vegetation consists mainly of shrubs belonging to the families of protea, orchids, heaths, etc. The Dutch gave it the name of fijnbosh that Afrikaners transformed into “fynbos”, meaning “fine bush”.

If you want to enjoy as many floral species as you can, bear in mind that the best season to come is spring (late August to late October). At that time, the vegetation will be marvellous, especially on the slopes of Table Mountain, which gathers 80 % of the species in the area.

Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, we invite you to walk through this floral diversity in the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The park (528 hectares) illustrates the world of flora. Thanks to many different footpaths, you can walk your own way through the gardens and learn about plants and trees which are all labelled.

The perfect place to relax and revive your senses.

Bo-Kaap, a district rich in colors

Today let’s talk a bit of culture.

Have you ever heard of the Bo-Kaap district?

Recognizable by its houses with facades of flashy colors, Bo-Kaap is a district classified as a historic site and which dates from the seventeenth century. It is located on the lower slopes Signal Hill, a hill which overlooks Cape Town, and its name Bo-Kaap means “above the Cape.”

bo-kaap-cape-town-south-africa-blog-xo-africa

Pink, orange, lime green, blue, turquoise … These the colors of the houses which have been restored and colourfully painted in Bo-Kaap. We invite you during your stay in Cape Town to stroll in the streets, sometimes paved, and to admire the small houses that go along Signal Hill.

The disctrict is also well known for its mosques whose architecture is reminiscent of southeast Asia.
Bo-Kaap is originally the place of a South African ethnic group who descends from slaves brought from Indonesia to South Africa in 1667, but also political exiles from Indonesia and Malaysia. They are nicknamed the Cape Malays and 90% of them are Muslims.

This cultural diversity has deeply marked the on food which combines fruits, spices, vegetables and meat.

During your walk, we recomend you to stop at the Bo-Kaap Museum. It’s worth the trip! Set in a Cape Dutch style house dating from 1760, you will find objects and photographs related to the lives of Cape Malays during the nineteenth century.

Amélie Fages

Our 7 natural wonders in Southern Africa

Southern Africa abounds with unique landscapes, but XO Africa has selected 7 not to be missed, just for you!

1. Victoria falls – Zimbabwe / Zambia

The Victoria Falls, one of the most spectacular locations on the planet, are for us an African paradise. With over 100 m high, 1.7 km long and 550 millions liters of water poured per minute, the Victoria Falls are really impressive to see. In addition, you will contemplate the surrounding nature which, with its fauna and flora, its rainforests and the Zambezi River, offers an authentic and beautiful scenery. Many activities are also there to take your sensations to another level and feel the natural force of the falls: rafting, helicopter tours, safaris or cruise on the mighty Zambezi River… And last but not the least, did you know that the Victoria Falls are part of the UNESCO’s World Heritage.

Victoria Falls Zambia

Victoria Falls

2. Quirimbas Archipelago – Mozambique

The Quirimbas Archipelago has a dozen islands and numerous islets scattered along the coast between Pemba and the Rio Rovuma. I let you imagine the turquoise water surrounding the archipelago. A white sand paradise where you’ll imagine yourself like being in Pirate of the Caribbean. Tranquility and remoteness are guaranteed! Also you can discover the submarine jewels of the archipelago thanks to the various activities such as diving, big-game fishing, and walks around islands. In family, with a group of friends or with your loved one, this destination is for you!

The pristine waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago

The pristine waters of the Quirimbas Archipelago

3. The Drakensberg Mountains – South Africa

We have ticked on our bucket list the Drakensberg Mountain also known as Dragon Mountain by Afrikaans as one of Southern Africa’s natural wonders. These gigantic mountains are a challenge for the adventure amateurs and a paradise for wildlife lovers. Extending from the northeast to the southwest for about 1125 km, the landscape stretches as far as the eye can see. Here you can explore the two highest peaks located both in Lesotho, the ThabanaNtlenyana (3482 m) and the Makheka (3461 m). Between us, one of the most famous views of the Drakensberg National Park is located in the northern part in the Royal Natal Park and is called the Amphitheater.

Drakensberg Mountains

The Drakensberg Mountains

4. Okavango Delta – Botswana

If you are looking for total remoteness, the Okavango Delta is the perfect place! Located in northern part of Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a vast maze of lagoons and numerous islands extending on over 15,000 km2. Supplied by several rivers from the north, these waters attract each year, flocks of birds and a large diversity of animals like hippos, crocodiles, antelopes, zebras or elephants… It is one of the biggest migration spot of the animal kingdom in the world. Welcome in the heart of authentic nature! For a true and closer contact with this fabulous wildlife, we strongly advise you to go on a mokoro (traditional canoe) safari with a local guide. A unique way of navigating through the meanders of the delta.

The Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta

5. Sossusvlei– Namibia

A sea of sand stretching for 300 km long and 150 km wide in the heart of the Namib Desert in Namibia, Sossusvlei is a marvel. Nobody is insensitive to the infinite sequence of waves of soft and plump sands. It is the most stable Namib dunes. And with its range of colors between yellow, orange to ocher, two words come through my mind: unique and beautiful! From a hot air balloon or a plane, you can explore the vastness of the desert like a bird unless you choose the quad bike or 4×4 options to feel the curves of these wonderful desert dunes.

Namib Desert

Namib Desert

6. Blyde River Canyon – South Africa

Offering beautiful and spectacular views, the Blyde River Canyon is located in the province of Mpumalanga in South Africa in the east of the historic region of Transvaal. This canyon, 26 kms long and 800 meters deep, is crossed by the Blyde River and ranks third largest canyon in the world. A rich flora, this place exhibits a rare and sublime nature, which attracts many animals such as baboons, crocodiles, hippos…

Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon

7. Table Mountain – South Africa

The famous Table Mountain! You cannot miss it if you come to Cape Town. Recently named of the new 7 natural wonders of the world, it offers a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding suburbs as well as a breathtaking view on the Atlantic Ocean. Reach the summit by cable car, or by foot for the most adventurous, using the different hiking trails that will take you to the top while admiring the scenery.

Table Mountain from Harbour

Table Mountain from Harbour

Hoping you have been traveling, a few minutes time!

See you soon in Southern Africa! 😉

Amélie Fages

Robin Rhode, the visual artist

Do you know Robin Rhode?

I hope you’re going to say yes because this South African (born in Cape Town) has a real talent.

He graduated in Fine Arts at Technikon Witwatersrand in Johannesburg followed by a postgraduate program at the South African School of Film, Television and Dramatic Art Production.

Robin Rhode has created his own style.

robin rhode blog xo africa

Multidisciplinary artist, Robin Rhode brings together a variety of visual languages such as photography, performance, drawing and sculpture to tell stories related to everyday life. Indeed, from a simple abstract form he succeeded to transform his art into narrative often emphasizing moments of conflict … to bring awareness.

All his works are made with simple materials such as soap, charcoal, chalk, paint. Which aredeveloped and refined, creating photographs and digital animations sequences.

His specialty: Transforming urban spaces intofantasy world!

Combining individual expressionism with major socio-economic concerns, Robin Rhode’s work reveals a master of illusion, a rich range of historical and contemporary references, and an innate talent for blending shapes.

His inspiration comes mostly from his home country, South Africa.

Thus, with such an innovative art, Robin Rhode got known rapidly. This allowed him to expose his work in museums and galleries around the world, such as the Hayward Gallery, London (2008), Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (2009), or Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California (2010).

robin rhode music

He has participated in group exhibitions as significant as the Sydney Biennale in 2012, MoMA in New York, and Museum of Art Indianapolis, Indiana (both 2011)….

His work can be found in many public collections, including the Castello di Rivoli in Turin,the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden based in Washington DC, the Johannesburg Art Gallery in South Africa….

I invite you to discover his last major exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York which is called “take your mind off the road.” Each artwork is composed of several image captures that represent a singular action, sequentially. A masterpiece!

More information : Robin Rhode

Amélie Fages

Durban, a kaleidoscope of images

Durban…

If you’ve heard of Durban, or even had the pleasure of visiting this city, it’s sure to evoke a kaleidoscope of images in your mind. This vibrant, bustling city is home to 3.5 million people and is a veritable treasure chest for any traveller seeking culture and adventure.

Like Brisbane, San Diego, Valencia and Naples, Durban is often considered a secondary destination, but this unworthy label is probably due to a lack of knowledge, because Durban’s dynamic mix of cultures and intriguing history make it a truly worthy destination!

So whatever misconceptions you may have, allow me to dispel them and paint a beautiful picture for you of this sub-tropical city, bordered by the Indian Ocean: Standing sentry in the background and soaring 3000m into the sky, the majestic Drakensberg Mountains; To the east, the battlefields that once bore witness to bloody conflicts between the Zulus, Boers and British; Endless stretches of sugar cane fields that saw the arrival of the first Indian slaves and later, the defender of these slaves, Ghandi; And then the Indian Ocean with its invitingly warm waters which entice surfers and swimmers alike, surrounded by beautiful sandy beaches.

Durban

Ensconced in all this natural beauty is the city itself and Durban’s mixed history is evidenced in its architecture, stunning botanical garden, love for golf, rugby and tea. The Indians brought their sense of commerce, spices, curry and the much-loved game of cricket! The Boer influence is noticeable in the farming, while the Zulu traditions run strong and proud throughout the city.

Durban’s climate is perfect for holiday makers as it is sunny all year round, with the summer months being very hot and humid.

If the beaches and city life don’t lure you to this city, then surely the wildlife parks of northern Kwazulu-Natal featured in this newsletter will.

Packed your bags yet?­­

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Durban’s ‘Big 5’ golf courses

There are just short of 40 golf courses within a 200 km of Durban city. Each one of them has their own special attributes and will provide you a unique experience.

This is XO Africa’s BIG 5 of must-play golf courses!

1. DURBAN COUNTRY CLUB:
In its 91 years of history, this course has hosted many tournaments and many golf legends like Gary Player and Ernie Els have dared to tackle its rolling fairways. This long, prestigious history puts DCC in the Top 100 of the world’smust-play golf courses. Its 3rd hole, a 468 meters par 5 is very narrow, naturally uneven and surrounded by bushes and has been elected Best 3rd Hole in the world for its harmonious mix ofbeauty and technical difficulty.Before you take your tee shot from the highest point of the golf course, take a few moments to enjoy the stunning view of the Indian Ocean and Durban Stadium. Oh… One more thing… if you manage to have flat lie on the 17th fairway, you could celebrate early and bring out the champagne!

Durban-Country-Club-Golf

2. WILD COAST GOLF COURSE:
One of the most visually spectacular golf courses you will ever play! Each hole has its own challenges and unique views.The first hole will get you into the swing of things with its stunning ocean view, the 6th, a downhill par 3 with a beautiful bridge in the background; the 13thtests your resolve as you prepare to hit over a ravine and the 18th hole inspires a sensational drive over the lake! Possibly the best way to enjoy this golf course would be to take a wedge only and make the most of each beautiful setting – especially as the Wild Coast has 6 par 3 holes in its 5329 meter-long course. You can always work on improving your handicap on a less beautiful course.

Wild Coast 13th Hole Tee View Golf Durban

3. COTSWOLD DOWNS GOLF CLUB:
Your technique and skill will be put to the test on this beautifully maintained course, which is why Cotswold Downs comes third in our BIG 5. Its greensare its strongest assetand certainly the best in the region and among the best in the entire country. With the superb pace on these greens, you’ll have nothing but yourself to blame if you play badly – your ball will respond precisely to the way you putt it! Any frustration you may experience with you game will be soothed by the beautifulviews on the signature holes though. The first hole is a 90 degrees par 5 with a magnificent tree in the middle of the fairway that will make your second shot crucial. Your 5th tee shot, a 173 meters par 3, will take you to new heights as it’s situated at least 60 meters above the green. A 9 iron should do the job!Peter Matkovich did a superb job creating a course that is a pleasure to play on.

4. CATHEDRAL PEAK GOLF COURSE:
The heart-stopper of the golfing Big 5 is Cathedral Peak Golf Course. This stunning 9-hole course offers alternate tees so it can be played like a normal 18 holes golf course and offers breathtakinglybeautiful views of the Drakensburg Mountains, from your first drive until the last putt. Most of the holes have elevated tee shots and if you choose to go back after 9 holes and play the alternates, the holes are so cleverly designed it feels like you’re playing them for the first time. Don’t let the views distract you too, or the Cathedral Peak course will make you pay! This golf course is no less technical than any other 18 holes golf course. 5542 meters for a par 70, you will need your driver and admire the carry of your ball in the beautiful landscape… even the hooked shots!

cathedral-peak-golf-course-durban

5. PRINCE’S GRANT GOLF COURSE:
The Prince’s Grant Golf course played host to last year’s World Amateur Golf Championship, which signifies how technical and challenging this golf course is. Your golf club choices will be crucial if you want to keep a tidy scorecard, because the numerous bunkers – more than 5 per hole – are very strategically placed. Don’t be fooled by appearances either, the fact they are small makes them no less challenging. Enjoy the best view in the region of the Indian Ocean from the signature 15th hole, known as Umvoti, which is a 506 meters par 5. If you’re lucky, you could see dolphins or whales in the waters below!

Enjoy!
Damien Boyer

Gandhi, a cultural heritage for Durban

The Indian people first arrived in Natal(now called KwaZulu Natal) as labourers who had left poverty-stricken Bengal in search of work on the ever-growing sugarcane fields of Natal.

As the demand for sugar grew, so did the need for Indian labour and a total of 152 000 Indians were brought to Natal. Durban now has one of the largest Indian communities in the world, second only to India itself!

Over the years, as white supremacy grew in South Africa, the plight of the Indians attracted the attention of Mohandes Ghandi, who arrived and settled in Natal in 1893.

gandhi culture durban

Repeatedly a victim of racism himself, Ghandi made it his mission to initiate Satyagraha – which is the philosophy of non-violent (or “passive”) resistance. He would later make this philosophy famous as the tool used to force the end of the British Raj – but it was first wielded against racial injustice in South Africa.

Having the biggest Indian community of South Africa, Durban releases a multicultural atmosphere with its numerous rites and Indian traditions which we find always today.

After several years of passive action and numerous arrests, Gandhi succeeded in improving the situation. 13 tax lawscompulsory for the Indian workers were abolished, marriages celebrated according to the Indian customs were legalised and the laws governing entrance to South Africa became simpler.

Ghandi was hugely instrumental in improving the plight of the Indian community in KwaZulu Natal and it’s now a thriving community with a rich history!

XO Africa advises you :

When organising your trip to Natal, make a point of planning it around one of the beautiful and authentic Indian festivals. My personal favourite is the Diwali festival, also called Festival of Lights, which symbolises “the quest for inner light”. Diwali falls on the one new moon night (Amavasya) between mid-October and mid-November. Diwali is celebrated for five days according to the lunisolar. During these 5 days, streets and houses are illuminated; people offer presents to each other and the skies are alight with fireworks. It’s beautiful and festive.

Amélie Fages

The distinctive charm in Durban

Situated alongside the historical and famous landmark, the Umhlanga Lighthouse, The Oyster Box Hotel is one of South Africa’s best-loved and most distinguished hotels.

Settled majestically on Umhlanga’s prestigious beachfront, the Oyster Box exudes colonial charm and offers sweeping views of the Indian Ocean. Lush, landscaped tropical gardens and direct beach access add to the old world hospitality and gracious elegance.

Oyster Box Hotel Durban swimming pool

State-of-the-art technology has been respectfully incorporated into the Oyster Box, bringing it into 21st century for the convenience of the most discerning travellers who visit for business or pleasure. The stylish décor is an elegant combination of natural stone and wood; complemented by the soothing, soft colours and shades of the hotel’s beautiful surroundings.

There are 3 superb restaurants to choose from, each with its own delicious offerings including fine dining, traditional curries and local favourites to cocktails and pub fare at the Grill Bar.

The Oyster Box offers a variety of entertainment, including illusionists, dancers, live and various stand-up comedy acts, making it an ideal night out for the whole family.

oyster box hotel, suite, durban

There is aplayroom for children, an in-house movie theatre, spa and gym to work off those delicious meals!

Come and bask in the distinctive charm of this grand hotel.