canvas tote bag on the beach surrounded by flying seagulls. It is evening time and the sea is calm and the sand is full of footprints.

Letters to Florence

LETTER 1.                              

24th April 2022

 

Dearest Florence

 I am leaving for Africa tomorrow. South Africa, to be precise. I will be away from Australia for six months, and plan to do some wonderful safaris, a lot of hiking and having fun, as well as visiting family and friends.

 At the moment I am enjoying my last sundowner on Busselton beach. It is a warm and balmy evening, and there are plenty of hungry seagulls about, hoping for morsels of food.  I often see people sitting around on the sand eating fish and chips and tossing bits of their dinner to the birds. It is a pity as they are spoilt now, and expect everyone, including me to do the same.

 I brought a bottle of wine, a couple of glasses, snacks and a thermos of ice with me. It is all gone now, and it’s probably time to wander off home. The sun has set and and it’s bound to get chilly soon.

 I shall carry on with my packing. I am so worried that I may leave something important behind. The fact that I am actually going for so long has not hit home yet. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the time to reflect on my good fortune. I expect that once I am on the plane, I will be hopping up and down with excitement.

 I shall miss you my dear. Do give my best to Phoebe and Helena at the next ladies luncheon. I shall miss those get-togethers too, but I am sure there will be many opportunities to have fun in Africa. 

 Keep well and stay wild.

 Yours

 Bernadette.

 

LETTER 2

25th April 2022

 

Dear Florence

 The journey has begun. I am sitting at Perth domestic airport waiting for my flight to Sydney. I know this is a roundabout route - flying east and then west again to Johannesburg, but there are no direct flights from Perth to South Africa.

   

 It is going to be a very long journey with about four and a half hours to Sydney, a layover of three hours and then a long fourteen hour stint to our destination. It is late already, our flight leaves close to midnight. The flight is full. I expect everyone is so happy to be able to travel again with Covid, that they are all rushing to go somewhere.

 I am carrying two cameras and a heavy canon camera lens, as well as an iPad, two phones (one for South Africa and my Australian one), four pairs of reading glasses - you know how I’m always losing my specs, two pairs of sunglasses, a scarf and my wallet. I do of course have hand sanitiser and a couple of spare masks and my bag of jewellery as well as my box of  medicine, which i need to take twice daily. One can’t be too careful these days and all precious items should be part of carry-on luggage and not put into the hold where they could be stolen.

 

25th April 6.30pm

 

I am now sitting in Sydney airport lounge. There are a lot of people around for four in the morning. We flew forwards in time, so three and a half hours became only one and a half hours on the clock. Soon we will be flying backwards in time by six hours, so we have lost our gain and then some. 

Everyone seems happy and excited, and I must say - I am too. 

 There is a lovely lady who keeps staring wistfully at me. I think I have a fan. I am flattered as there are some very lovely stores in this airport with designer bags galore; tote bags, travel bags, gym bags and even some baby bags. You name any kind of bag, and it is here. This lady has a lot of choice. I have decided that she is my perfect owner avatar; chic in a fun way, a lover of life and a little bit wild.

 I don’t mean to brag, well, maybe a little bit, but I suppose my quality craftsmanship, versatility and beautiful design are shining through.

 It’s almost time to go now, they have called the Johannesburg flight, so I bid you farewell for a while. I am already missing you and the rest of the Wild Things Lifestyle ladies.

 Goodbye for now and keep well.

 Bernadette.

 

LETTER 3.

26th April 2020

 

My dear Florence

 I just had to write again to tell you about my journey from Perth to Johannesburg.

 

 On boarding, I was placed into an overhead locker, which was the  perfect space for my bulky load. Being full to the brim, I did wonder for a bit, if I would fit in. Ha ha … I needn’t have worried as I was designed to meet carry-on luggage specifications.

 The fourteen hour flight was restful and very comfortable, and I was only disturbed once, in order to give up a pair of multifocal reading glasses out of my internal zipped pocket. It was obviously film-watching time in the cabin.

We arrived mid-afternoon at Oliver Tambo Airport, between the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, with a smooth touchdown, I’m happy to say - this being my very first trip on an aeroplane. Disembarking through a tunnel which was attached to the aircraft door, we then proceeded for a long way through corridors and down escalators to customs where I was instrumental in providing the necessary documentation from my outside zipped pocket this time. 

 My detachable cross-body strap came in handy for this part of the trip, and I was whisked along effortlessly, in hands-free mode, and finally placed into the top basket of a large trolley, the base of which was soon filled up with suitcases and diving bags from a nearby carousel.

 On the way out of the airport I met up with the statue of the famous O.R. Tambo himself, and just had to pose for a photo. 

 I am so happy to be here Florence. This is going to be a wonderful vacation, a return to my roots, a celebration of my heritage. I know I am now part of the global family that is Wild Things Lifestyle, but I feel it is very important to take time out to ‘come home.’

 Send my best to Phoebe and Helena and do write when you get a moment. I have the last photograph we took of us all together, tucked into one of my pockets, and this keeps you all close to my heart.

 Fondest regards

 Bernadette.

 

LETTER 4.

2nd May 2022

 

Dear Florence

What adventures I am having! I have just travelled by car from Johannesburg to the Western Cape of South Africa, and am now in Hermanus enjoying some early winter sunshine.

The trip through the Karoo was amazing. Semi-desert, with the strangest looking mountains called ‘koppies.’ They are large pyramid shaped hills topped with a ridge of solid dolomite, which looks like a little hat.  The days there were hot, and the nights, very cold. We stayed in a tented camp in Camdeboo game reserve for the first night, and drove way up a mountain the following morning to look at some dramatic rock formations.

   

After that, it was onwards to the little town of Montagu for the night. This town is completely surrounded by huge folded mountain ranges, one can just imagine the forces of nature millions of years ago, that created these incredible waves of rock. We stayed on a lovely farm and walked in the fynbos (native bush land), finding a few early winter proteas and a few other flowers here and there. The town is full of quaint architecture, lovely little houses, mostly painted white in the old Dutch style. I met your cousin at one of the local cafes and she posed in an old ox-wagon for a photograph.

       

 The trip a few days later to Hermanus, a coastal town in the Western Cape, was good. At one stage, I sat on the edge of the road and a whole flock of sheep came rushing up to me, baa-ing and carrying on. I can only suspect that they thought I was full of food for them.

 After a stop at the Napier Farm Stall, we continued, armed with gifts of melktert (a local sweet tart made with milk) for our Hermanus hosts, to our destination for a couple of days.

 Wish you were here, you would have especially loved the milk tart. 

 Keep well and have fun.

 Yours

 Bernadette

 

LETTER 5.

 6th May 2022

 

My dearest Florence

I am at last in the beautiful city of Cape Town. I am very privileged to have a view of Table Mountain from my hotel room - what a spectacle to wake up to every morning.

 

 The last few days were spent in Hermanus with family. It was good to catch up after years apart. On leaving, we drove around the coast past Pringle Bay where we had spectacular ocean views - and then on towards the city to old friends near Muizenberg. One morning we went for breakfast in Constantia and I was very pleased to see that one of the dishes (a berry bowl),  incorporated all my favourite colours. I felt that I had finally met my match in beauty and elegance, ha ha!

                   

We are staying at the Waterfront for a couple of days and catching up with more friends and relatives, which is always fun, and will be going to see a brothers yacht moored close by, and a nieces house in the colourful Bo Kaap today, both of which I am looking forward to immensely.

       

I am proving very useful on this trip, carting around shopping, computers, articles of clothing and the odd picnic. We are hiking, having lovely brunches and spending our short time here doing as much as we can possibly fit in. The Waterfront is a fun place full of talented buskers and huge steel sculptures.

    

 We will be leaving tomorrow and heading north. I will most definitely update you on the next leg of our journey soon. In the meantime - do look after yourself and check up on our two dear friends, Helena and Phoebe. I worry about them, needlessly I expect, as I am sure you would get word to me if all was not well in these times of Covid.

 Until next time

 Best regards

 Bernadette.

 

 LETTER 6

9th May 2022

 

Dear Florence

Thank you for your letter. I am thrilled to hear you are all well. I must say, I am missing you girls more and more as my journey continues.

From Cape Town, we traveled north through the Karoo. The early settlers described this region as a frightening place of great heat, great frosts, great droughts and great floods. A place of great extremes to be precise.  I found it to be quite beautiful, with lovely bush veld, fat sheep and large koppies, which are those strange pyramid shaped mountains I mentioned in a previous letter. We drove through quaint towns and visited a few charming farm stalls - one of which sold ketties, the local name for catapults, presumably used for slinging stones at unwary animals.

   

 We spent the night on the banks of the mighty Orange river in a lovely little chalet, and set off the next morning via Bloemfontein to Golden Gate Highlands Park, stopping en route for a speedy breakfast at one of those iconic South African roadside restaurants - the Wimpy. One might ask, ’why the roundabout trip.’ Well, the answer is, ‘to visit a long-ago seen sister who lives on the Orange river.’

We arrived at our evenings destination in time for a two hour hike into spectacular gorges, before settling down for a chilly night in a rondawel (round African hut, often with a thatched roof.) This was my first time here and I must say, it is mighty impressive, with soaring cliffs all around, in ochre colours, hence the name.

    

 We left Golden Gate early this morning in heavy fog. It was quite a challenge avoiding potholes under those conditions. A lot of the South African roads have deteriorated immensely since my last visit, which is a huge pity as it tends to add hours on to each part of the journey. The early morning temperature was one degree Celsius, a bit cold for my liking.

We are at present descending a high mountain pass into Barberton, famed for its daisies and gold. This is where the first South Africa gold was found. From here we will proceed to Malelane in the lowveld where we will do a bit of shopping and then enter into the Kruger National Park, where we will be spending the next month.

 Oh. Florence. I am so looking forward to being on safari. I am afraid that you may not hear from me for a good while, as the wifi signal in the park is notoriously poor. Be certain, - I will write when I can as I am sure you will find this part of my trip very entertaining.  Be sure to share my letters with the other ladies. This should be very nostalgic for Helena, being of South African origin and Phoebe, like yourself should find everything quite fascinating.

 Until next time.

 Yours

Bernadette.

 

LETTER 7.

1st June 2022

 

Florence my dear,

 I cannot express in words, what a marvelous time I am having on safari. The animals are magnificent, and the scenery - just as awe-inspiring. We have traveled through wooded areas in the south, thornveld and savannah grasslands in the centre, mopani trees further north, and right up to magnificent forested areas at the top of the park, in the Pafuri area.

   

 Here, the baobabs are enormous and quite elephant-ravaged. Those huge beasts are partial to nibbling on the juicy bark. Luckily the trees are vastly greater than the elephants so manage to survive these onslaughts. Gleaming yellow/green fever trees stand out in the morning sun, and birds of every shape and colour flit about with not a worry in the world.

      

 We have stayed in some lovely camps, most of which have charming, round huts, which I mentioned in my last letter. It is so lovely to lie on the bed at night and look up at the intricate patterns of the thatch-work ceilings. 

  

 I have sat on a large animal skull, met some lovely park employees and encountered a huge bronze elephant. I was also fortunate enough to sit on top of the Crooks Corner beacon which was considered no-man's-land in the old days as it is on the border of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. If the long arm of the law started to catch up with an  ivory-poacher, all the crook needed to do was run behind the beacon where the law couldn’t reach him for fear of violating an international boundary. If three officers from three countries approached the crook at once, he could jump up and sit on top of the beacon and be safe from all of them.

    

 My favourite camp so far is the Pafuri Border camp which is situated on a high hill above the border post between South Africa and Mozambique. This is the old recruitment station for the South African mines. Mozambicans who applied, were given a medical examination and if they passed, they were sent off to various mines. There are only three dwellings, Mockford House, Mockford Cottage and the Doctors House, all beautifully renovated and nestled amongst enormous trees. I am happy to say that there are no monkeys there, as they are a real problem at other camps and in most of the picnic areas. They steal food from right under one's nose whilst preparing lunch. They are clever enough to open cupboards and boxes, and everything containing edible delights needs to be battened down or locked away.

  

 Another very beautiful camp was Shimuwini, where we stayed in a rather nice house which looked onto a river. We were awakened by elephants roaring at each other, I hear it's the young bulls trying to assert themselves. We had a big old bull buffalo come and graze in front of our house every evening and one morning we woke to find a giraffe, all but sleeping on our front lawn.  There was a big electric fence in-between us, luckily. Herds of elephants, including tiny babies, traipsed past every day and many different types of antelope cavorted around, keeping us well entertained.

    

There has been an inordinate amount of unseasonal rain here, resulting in water everywhere, as well as thick leafy vegetation. This reduces one's chances of seeing game, but we have been very lucky so far. We have seen many hyena, glimpsed lions, witnessed a leopard eating an impala and spent a good while watching two magnificent cheetah right next to the road. We even saw a huge python in a tree. I do love the zebra too, with their beautiful striped coats and rotund forms. Many of them have babies at the moment.

    

 It does get frightfully dusty at times as we are often travelling on dirt roads, but that does not worry me, as a quick wipe with a damp cloth and I am good as new. As you are aware, this is due to our canvas exteriors being treated for water resistance. I am fortunate enough to be sitting at the window in the back seat of the car, so have a good view of everything. Oh! The thrill of it all.

 I have enclosed some photographs to give you a sense of the place. I am sure you will enjoy them, and I sincerely hope to return with you and the girls one day, as this is an experience not to be missed by anyone. Sending lots of love and wishing you were all here.

 Your dearest friend

 Bernadette.

 

LETTER 8

9th June 2022

 

Dear Florence,

I must say I was total devastated when I heard that it was time to leave Kruger. I am getting to love this place, and the safari life. My disappointment was dissipated somewhat, by the fact that we will be returning for two weeks in October. I was even more thrilled to hear that we are visiting another game reserve, albeit only for 2 days, on the way to our winter abode in Kwazulu Natal.

The last week in Kruger was as amazing as the previous three weeks. We saw a lot more game, including crocodiles feeding on fish at an overflowing drift, stayed in other lovely huts and chalets and had many more picnics. The birds, as usual were a big part of the picture.

      

   On our very last day we happened on some lionesses on a kill right next to the road.  I had to crane out of the window to see them down below, they were that close. There were a couple of hyena standing by waiting for their turn at the spoils and even a small jackal was skulking in the bushes nearby.  Here in Africa, everyone gets their turn, ending with the vultures, who come later and pick the bones clean.  I must say, I did feel a little sorry for the wildebeest that provided this feast.

 Our next stop will be Mkhuze Game Reserve in northern KZN and I will update you once we have done with that part of our adventure.

 

13th June 2022

 Here we are in the little coastal town of Mtunzini, an hour and a half north of Durban by road.  You do know where Durban is, don’t you Florence? If unsure, ask Helena to show you on a map seeing that she has been here before. But first let me elaborate on Mkhuze where we spent the last two days.

  

This reserve is very different from Kruger.  It is hard to explain, but the light seems softer somehow and the bush is lusher and more tropical. Bright aloes were flowering in the camp. Great, towering fever trees abound as well as enormous fig trees. We were very privileged to be taken for a walk through the mighty fig forest by an armed guide called Patrick.  He warned us not to run if we happened on an elephant of buffalo. He did not seem too worried about lions and hippo, though I must say I was a bit wary, especially when we got close to the crocodile infested river. We walked over rope bridges and through thick mud and unfortunately never got to see the very rare Pel’s Fishing Owl which is a specialty of this place. We also spent a lot of time in hides, photographing birds and animals that came to drink in the waterholes.

           

There is a huge pan there, filled to the brim with water and teeming with waterfowl of every description. Hippos grunt continually and crocodiles lie around lazily in the sunshine. It is all quite marvelous.

      

 As I said before, we have reached our little rented cottage in Mtunzini where we will be staying for the coldest two months of winter.  It is warm here, much warmer than Perth so I am extremely happy about that.  The house is called Nkawu Cottage (Nkawu meaning monkey) and only yesterday while we were out, one of the pesky animals got in through a window that we accidentally left open, and ate half a loaf of bread and made a big mess of every single room. 

      

  There is a lovely nature reserve at the lagoon and here zebra roam freely and unfenced.  They are said to be found in the main street of the town every now and then. Tiny red antelope called Red Duiker, are plentiful and one can get very close to them before they scurry back into the dense dune forest. The beach is endless and oh! …I could wax lyrical for hours about this place, it is so magnificent.

I hear we will be doing quite a few day and overnight trips to various other spots using Mtunzini as our home base.  I will certainly come in very useful here, as I can carry a lot of clothing and all sorts of things in my roomy interior.

I will update you on further news as we progress from one exciting trip to the next.

As usual, send my love to Phoebe and Helena and of course love to you too.

Keep well

Yours

Bernadette.