Life | Photos | Travel

A trip to Sutherland

Ever since sleeping under the milky way on the banks of the Orange River (this sounds like the start of a Wilbur Smith novel), I have wanted to visit Sutherland to see the stars. Unexpectedly, just before leaving South Africa, the chance arrived to drive from Cape Town to Sutherland. At 4h45 mins it’s not a long drive along the N1 (shorter than the 6 hour stretch to Plett) but fill up with petrol before you leave! We took the drive slowly so we could appreciate the small towns, the dramatic shift from the lush Western Cape fields to the desolate Northern Cape veld and in the hope of  finding an accessible yet photogenic windmill. Show me a person who hasn’t stopped in the Northern Cape to photograph a windmill and I will show you a liar.

wine padstal store N1

Veldskoen Padstal, Hex River Valley

There is an awesome padstal on the N1, just outside the gorgeous Hex River Valey, called Veldskoen Padstal which has everything you would expect including wine, dried fruits, Ouma’s soetkoekies and a very cute coffee shop. The Hex River Valley is definitely a highlight of the route and is breathtaking to look at, especially when the surrounding mountains are playing home to a light dusting of snow. I’ve been working a lot with a South African travel client lately – can you tell?

lord milner cape roadtrip

Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein

Matjiesfontein is the last quaint town you’ll stumble upon on the drive up and it was by far my favourite. It’s tiny, has a great coffee shop, aptly named The Coffee House, and is home to a relatively accessible windmill. If overnighting there, I recommend staying at The Lord Milner hotel – it looks exquisite and despite never staying there, I have only heard good things. I may have taken the windmill quest to the limit when we stopped in Matjiesfontein, as I insisted walking across a veld, along some train tracks (ignoring all warning signs) and clambering over a barbed wire fence to the amusement of boyfriend and two nearby donkeys, in an attempt to find a photogenic angle.

matjiesfontein northern cape

An accessible windmill in the Northern Cape!

After Matjiesfontein, the last stretch of the drive is full of Northern Cape farms, lonely windmills and one beautiful rocky pass dotted with sheep. If you didn’t fill up before you left and now need petrol en-route, you can stop at the Petroport where the N1 passes Touws River. This is the last place you’ll be able to get petrol.We soon spotted SALT and the other telescopes in the distance and realised we were close. For those who don’t know, Sutherland is home to some pretty high-powered telescopes, including SALT, which rather creatively stands for South African Large Telescope. On driving into the town, the first thing I noticed was how close the clouds were. On getting out of the car, the second thing I noticed was how cold it was. Dress warm – they’re not lying when they say it’s the coldest place in South Africa.

It is.

sutherland trip travel blog south africa

Sutherland Church

We had 2 days in the town and in order to avoid boring you with the details – I’ll give you the highlights package. After checking in at Primrose Cottage – a cute little BnB with lovely hosts Denise and David, who helped us with suggestions of places to eat and things to do – we explored the little town. I can’t put into words how quiet this town it. It is so quiet in Sutherland, that if you whisper on the east side of town, someone will hear you on the west side. It’s even quieter than Oranjemund. There were no cars, no people, most of the shops were shut and all you could hear was the occasional creak of a garden windmill. It was a Saturday and the only shop (to our knowledge) that is open on a Saturday is the shoprite – which was a lifesaver. Another important thing is that everything shuts down on a Sunday – even the petrol garage is only open for an hour.

sutherland trip travel blog

Perlman House – great for dinner!

Our host Denise, recommended Perlman House (pictured above) for dinner and it was perfect. It’s on the main road and you can’t miss the red roof. Warm country soups, right by the fire with a glass of red – you can’t go wrong! We had booked a telescope tour that night, but as the weather was very poor, it was cancelled. You need to book your spot on the tour in advance and you can do so by calling SAAO or booking online. You can find all the details here.

stargazing sutherland travel blog

The Moon – taken with telescope and iPhone

 

Lucky enough we were able to get a spot on the Sterland Stargazing session the following night. Thanks Denise!  The stargazing is an amazing experience led by Jurg Wagener with the help of his telescopes. Jurg is scarily knowledgeable and by the end of the 2 hour session, you’ll be able to find South using the stars, identify Scorpio and wax lyrical on Alpha Centauri. He’ll also help you take a photo of the moon with your smartphone. Listen, before you go anywhere after nightfall – dress yourself in every item of clothing you own. Bring your beanies, your gloves and your thermal underwear because after two hours standing outside in the Northern Cape, parts of you will start falling off. Sigh, I miss that baby toe.

Sutherland streets

Sutherland streets

There are quite a few things to do in and around Sutherland if stars and telescopes aren’t your thing. There are some beautiful nearby drives and hikes, as well as a riding centre and wherever you stay will be able to recommend them all. There are also some great photo walks you can take around the tiny town – the cemetery is a great starting point . I went to see the stars, satellites and planets and they were everything I expected and more. This town is peace and quiet personified and the stars are so close that you can almost pluck them out the sky. Primrose Cottage was the perfect spot to stay, but if you’re after something a little bigger, give Skitterland a try.

If you’ve always wanted to take the trip, just go already – it’s worth it!

And rest assured, if you’ve never seen a falling star in your life, you will see one in Sutherland!

sutherland picnic travel blog

Picnic Spot on the scenic drive

Read more →

Oranjemund, Namibia – the Diamond Town

After a police inspection, a border crossing over the narrowest bridge in existence and killing time at Namibian immigration reading posters advising against bat consumption (TIA) – we were in Oranjemund. It had been a long, albeit beautiful drive from Cape Town to Namibia and Dad and I were happy to finally see the Orange River. If you haven’t paddled the Orange River, you need to add a trip to your lifetime bucket list – it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

 

Gemsbok run this town

Gemsbok run this town

 

This was my first time in Oranjemund –  a town that exists purely to serve the diamond industry. I’d been told to expect a small, lush oasis where gemsbok roamed the streets, the golf course and caused general mayhem if they got into your garden. Driving along the river and past the salt flats, we spied the fertile patch of green trees and manicured lawns in the middle of the Namibian desert, that is Oranjemund. I had laughed off the gemsbok talk, so you can imagine the surprise when we turned into town and found the above welcoming committee. The tales were true, around every street corner and upon every grassy patch, you could expect to find a sleepy-eyed gemsbok dozing in the sunshine. Apparently they pop into the Spar from time to time to check out the specials, or so the locals said.

oranjemund streets namibia

Small town streets, Oranjemund, Namibia

We spent 3 days in Oranjemund and it was absolute bliss. It’s so quiet in that town,  that you can hear a pin drop in Zimbabwe. The air is so pure and you find yourself so relaxed that you’re climbing into bed at 8.30pm and having some of the best sleep of your life. Days are made up of morning tea, walks on the giant sand dune, watching a family of gemsbok frolic in the desert, tracking jackals on the golf course (found one) and laughingly looking for diamonds on the beach.

 

oranjemund sand dune

Hiking to the giant sand dune

 

We had several days and it is a tiny town, so I was able to take in most of the Oranjemund tourist attractions. These include the sand dune (a quick hike, but take water), the golf course (home to Oranjemund’s wildlife), the lake, the town museum (great exhibits on the history of the town and the diamond trade) and the beach.

 

oranjemund namibia

On the way to the river mouth

 

The town is also home to stories about hopeful diamond prospectors like the man who moved in and started digging up his garage floor in an effort to find the next Cullinan. I admit, walking along the beach, even I got a touch of diamond fever – especially on hearing that the diamond boats weren’t able to process diamonds over a certain size, so unceremoniously threw them back into the ocean. Naturally I imagined tons of giant diamonds floating around the ocean with nowhere to call home. Halfway along the beach however, we realised we had no idea what a rough, uncut diamond looked like and abandoned the hunt.

oranjemund namibia beach

Scenes from the beach. Sadly no diamonds, only trees

I loved visiting this small, sleepy diamond town and it was the perfect way to end off a crazy 12 months of work. The people are friendly, the gemsbok are like the local town watch and it’s incredibly peaceful. The diamond history is interesting and everyone has a story to tell about the quaint mining town. The security in that area is understandably tight, which means you need an invitation from a town resident in order to visit.

If you can wangle an invite, or the chance ever comes to visit Oranjemund, take a roadtrip up and go for it!

Read more →

The Cape Namibia Route

In September, I took a drive on the N7 to Namibia’s diamond town, Oranjemund. It was a brilliant route and I’ve been meaning to share it, but a crazy travel schedule has complicated things. I left Cape Town on the 30th September and October saw me in Germany, Luxembourg, France and Greece, November saw me in England and Scotland, and now things have finally calmed down. Also it’s snowing outside, so today seemed like a good day for a cup of tea and a bit of a blog. On the 15th September, armed with a fresh flask of tea from my roommate, I got an early start and hit the N7 round about 6am. It was a gloomy day and the first 3 hours of the drive took place in complete fog. Clearly the weather hadn’t got my memo about the intended photo stops. However, as I climbed higher and higher up Piekeniers Kloof Pass, the fog finally lifted and I was greeted with the most spectacular view.

N7 Northern Cape Namibia Route   On through Citrusdal (stopping for pockets of oranges), past the orange farms and alongside the Olifantsrivier I drove. There were tons of stop and gos from Citrusdal onwards, so I got to truly appreciate that river. Roadworks aside, it’s a beautiful part of the country and with a naartjie in one hand and a camera in the other, there are worse places to be stuck. On through the roadworks and past the little citrus valleys I went, round the magnificent Clanwilliam dam to finally arrive in Vanrhynsdorp to meet up with my Dad. vanrhynsdorp guest house

If ever you need accommodation in Vanrhynsdorp, take a look at The Vanrhynsdorp Guesthouse. The hosts are lovely, the bath tubs are huge and it’s surrounded by poppies and desert daisies. Vanrhynsdorp is a great stayover point if you’re driving from Cape Town to Namibia. If you’re in Vanrhynsdorp for dinner, I’d recommend a bite to eat at the Zuid Afrikaanse Restaurant (ZAR) which you can find in the local caravan park (do not let this put you off).

namkwa west coast flowers namibia route

Leaving Vanrhynsdorp and crossing the Northern Cape border, we started getting into flower territory. The Namakwa flowers are on show from July to September and August is the so-called best month to visit. Despite driving through on the very last day of Namakwa flower season (our timing is truly superb), we were able to catch some beautiful vistas. Violent purple, orange, yellow and red hues decorated the roadside and the surrounding desert landscape. It’s an incredibly dramatic contrast to see the bright desert flowers, against the dry, barren plains of the Northern Cape.  I hope to one day go back and experience the flowers in full bloom. Garries Northern Cape Town

There are a host of small towns dotted along the N7 and we chose to visit Garies, Kamieskroon and Springbok – as we drove upwards through the Northern Cape, so did the temperature gauge. There is something special about hot Karoo days. Those days where you climb out the car and immediately feel the heat dancing on your skin, hear the murmur of the beetles in a nearby tree and the smell of the desert lingers in the air.

namakwa towns garies nothern cape

The gift shop at Garies, an unexpected treasure trove of crazy cat paraphernalia and neon knitted cardies, offers up tasty toasted sandwiches and a newly-installed, coin-activated lock on the toilet that proves to be a lot harder to operate than one might think. Kamieskroon, easily the tiniest town in Southern Africa, consists of a street, a right turn, a petrol pump and a tourist office board that pointed towards the hills. These towns are tranquil gems tucked away from the noise of city living – they offer a taste of small town life and often a cellphone-reception  free existence. cape namibia route driveUp through O’Kiep and then a right turn at Steinkopf onto the R382 and we left the flowers behind. There is a beautiful pass along this route that looks out over miles of desert, but apart from the pass, it’s one long stretch of straight road up to Port Nolloth. It’s a blur of telephone wires, crows nests, desertscapes and the odd windmill. Once you hit Port Nolloth, you catch your first glimpse of the sea and then it’s another long straight road and a haze of diamond mines, sandy coastline and exhausted sand mounds up to the Orange River – the natural border separating South Africa and Namibia.

The last hour can get a bit monotonous, but it’s a beautiful route through the Northern and Western Cape. Driving at night can be a bit tricky as there are no roadside lights, so be prepared for this. I’d recommend taking the trip over two days (if not more) and aim for flower season if you can.

Read more →

1 year. 1 start up. 10 learnings

At the start there was nothing. No name, no client base, nor any concrete clue as how to build a business. There was simply an internet connection coupled with the blind belief that if you work hard, things happen.

Now there’s  Coyle Street -  a digital PR agency. I must admit, I never ever thought I’d get into PR. It’s been quite a journey and within no time we passed our first half a mill. To some people this may seem a paltry sum, but to us, as a start up it is a big deal. We failed to celebrate our first logo iteration, our first retainer, and even our first birthday -  so we wanted  to make a big deal about this one.

Having worked closely with the founders in a tech startup, I had an idea of the challenges and pitfalls that could arise. Being an entrepreneur is physically and mentally demanding. Service based businesses require more tolerance, patience and relationship building than their product-based counterparts.  Clients are prone to distrust – the industry is littered with charlatans and fly-by-night agencies who sell them ineffective, poorly executed solutions for exorbitant rates.

Any entrepreneur will tell you that the journey is a rocky one, punctuated by mistakes, lessons, small wins, bigger wins, missed milestones and the humbling realisation that there’s a lot to learn when building a business.

Here are ten lessons from the first year of my first start up.

1. Just quote

The simple truth is, the more you quote, the better you get.

It’s daunting starting out as you have no experience, are unsure of your value and have little to benchmark against,. You need to put a stick in the sand and work from that. You’ll mess up your quotes more than once, but take this as a sign that  you’re learning. After a few stings and subsequent nonexistent profit margins, you’ll get the hang of it. If you have nothing to go on, it  helps to give yourself an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly rate and work from there. I was called an extortionist,  squeezed for discounts, made a loss on projects and unknowingly undervalued my work and sent price signals that placed me out of the credibility zone.

Accept that you won’t get it right first time and that it takes time to learn. Just quote.

2. Focus on the work

Distractions can be the entrepreneurs downfall – wasting precious time, energy and financials, and shifting focus away from the things that need doing.

It’s sexy to have a branding bible, a website and an awesome office space, but these luxuries can get in the way of doing the actual work.  I wanted it all from the get go. However, I quickly realised that my time was better spent focusing on the work than picking out carpet designs, and coffee machines. We all want to go in guns blazing and make an impression, but these luxuries can’t be priorities right now. A plushy carpet does not a resilient cash flow make.

I keep telling myself that great things take time and the day will come when we can pick the view, the wall decals and the welcome mat designs. Coyle Street still doesn’t have a website (which admittedly is bloody irritating) and the team works out of my front lounge, but that hasn’t stopped the work walking through the door.

3. Curb Cash flow Crisis

When it comes to billing, dot your i’s, cross you t’s and don’t give them an excuse not to pay you. We all know why so many business fail in their first year and it’s reduced me to tears several times. While you can’t escape the reality of cash flow, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Take a deposit, give them 30 days to pay and start following up on day 31, put your banking details and SWFT number on your invoices, request ALL the supplier forms from the agency upfront , follow up once they’ve been submitted and confirm that they’re processed, and put that job number everywhere. Submit your invoices and confirm which payment run they will fall into.

During our first year retainer clients had their budgets slashed and dropped us without any warning, clients took months to pay and some clients never paid. Agencies found every excuse in the book to stall processing our invoices including unprocessed supplier forms, missing job numbers, and sent invoices that magically never made it to their inbox.

4. No Free Work

Never give away your time for free. Don’t work on the lofty promise of future work, for the lure of free cappuccinos – they don’t pay the bills. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve learned to cut to the chase and ask about the budget. I used to dance round the issue as being that direct felt foreign and uncomfortable. Now, unless it’s a passion project, the moment it becomes apparent that there’s no budget on the table, is the moment I book out.  Obviously where passion projects are concerned, budget isn’t a prerequisite, however the project still needs to be worth the time. Everyone will have unique parameters for passion projects, but they should either inspire, open valuable doors, have a charitable focus or a combination of all three.

Asking about budget is not offensive, rude, or illegal – it’s basic business sense and it saves you wasting time.

5. Fire bad clients

Be selective about who you work with and send bad clients packing – they’re bad for your business and mindset. In the beginning, I scrambled a bit and failed to be selective and picked up several clients who would now set off giant, clanging warning bells. The best kind of client is one that trusts you and has budget. The worst kind is heavily emotionally attached to their business, with little budget and a major reluctance to relinquish any control. Avoid them. They become a cancer that rots away at your sanity and the team morale. It took one client eroding our morale right down to the bone, before I finally realised that they needed to be culled. Team morale outweighs the cash, so cut away the deadbeat clients and make room for new ones.

6. A meeting is an opportunity

Every meeting is an opportunity and networking is a prized and inexpensive tool. Go to conferences, go to expos, go to meet ups and everywhere you go, make sure to network your little ass off. If I look back, all the dinners, networking events and conferences stood me in such good stead. At the time, I had no idea the powerful network I was building up, that would prove to be so invaluable in years to come. Networking is something that comes naturally and this is my mantra:

Go out and meet people, because when you need a relationship, it’ll be too late to go out and build one.

Don’t dismiss the meet up in favour of an email, or shrug off a seemingly insignificant calendar invite to another networking dinner. You never know who you might bump into and a face to face conversation will always be more effective than a cold-call or an e-mail.

7. Your work speaks, so should you

Share your insights and produce outstanding work, because there’s zero marketing budget and your marketing arsenal is just  you, your knowledge and your body of work. If you’re hitting a dry sales patch,  get out there and do talks. After each event, you’ll see a flood of potential leads.Talk to schools, businesses, universities – just get in front of a group and knowledge share. Be prepared, know your material and make it relevant to the group you’re talking to. Make time to follow up on all those leads – each one you forget to follow up is a missed opportunity.

This isn’t rocket science – the best way to get more work, is to simply do good work. Your quality of work and professionalism speaks volumes about your brand and every project finished is an opportunity for more work to walk through the door. We’ve benefitted greatly from positive WOM and referrals. In fact, bar Coyle Street’s twitter account and a personal blog post or two, we’ve never done any real marketing, yet have been blessed with referrals. Be professional, produce great work, always go the extra mile and keep your clients happy – they’re your greatest source of positive WOM.

8. Respect their business

Each industry has it’s own nuances and traditions and it’s important to respect how your clients do business. In our industry, we’re quick to forget that the majority of the SME’s out there aren’t digitally savvy. They don’t know what Twitter is and they’re not keen on getting Linkedin to anything. They rely on familiar, tried and trusted methods, such as the humble business card. I could kick myself at how many times people have asked for a business card and I’ve feebly offered up a URL and a twitter account. You may as well recite a Greek menu to a Chinese tourist looking for Table Mountain.

Aside from the above, we often tend to dismiss respected businesses practices in favour of the convenience that digital offers. For example, one particular client was horrified at the idea of an auto-responder, he said he’d built his business by building personal relationships and that it was well worth the time he took to write all those personal responses. So we found a solution that saved him time, but still allowed for a personal touch that his customers had come to know and love.

Digital should compliment not cull the reasons customers came to love the brand.

9. Value your clients

A client who feels valued is one who a) you’re more likely to keep and b) who will result in referrals so it’s worth taking the time to make them feel special. Don’t write-off small talk and view it as annoyance or an obstacle for getting the job done, rather reframe it as a critical piece of the client relationship kit. Use the few minutes at the beginning of each meeting to get to know your client. Ask after their kids, their hobbies, or what they did on the weekend. Are they pregnant? Find out when they’re due and send them something to celebrate their joy.

These small tokens of thought and taking an interest in their lives are not only common courtesies, but will serve you well in the long run.

10. Celebrate the wins

There is a lot to be done and we run the risk of being consumed by the obstacles and forgetting to celebrate. We’re wearing multiple hats and juggling all the balls. We’re the HR department, the debt collectors, the accounts team, the project managers,the biz dev, the tea makers and, and … .

It’s incredibly easy to move from task to task on your mutating to-do list and forget, even belittle your small wins. Look at all the wins we missed celebrating! It feels like I’ve missed a lot in the last year and sometimes it has felt like one continuous, long-ass, uphill slog. I’ve made a promise to take time out to reflect, to acknowledge the milestones and to celebrate all the small wins.

11.Start Running

Hit the road or the trails.

Shrinks are expensive and alcohol is addictive.

Read more →

#TheShort – funding a dream

For several reasons, I’VE decided to fund and co-produce a short film. As one does. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at production and get in touch with my inner Jerry Bruckheimer, so thought, why not?

Whilst chatting about the lack of decent roles for women in Cape Town, a respected female producer gave me some of the best advice of my career. She said that if you as a woman, wanted a decent role, then you needed to get up off your ass and produce your own films. The advice really stuck. So, I’ve decided to fund a short film out of my back pocket, which  30SomethingFilms has come on board to produce. Greg Cattell is not only an award winning independent filmmaker, but is also a  close friend and I cannot think of anyone better to work with.

Help:

We’re shooting in Cape Town, at the end of August and need to crowdsource some Locations and Cast members. Take a look at the casting call here, as well as a location brief here. If you, or anyone you know of can help, please mail me at robs mjh @gmail . com.

Thanks and eternal gratitude to anyone and everyone who helps breathe life into this dream; #theshort.

Read more →

#TheShort | Location

Cape Town, we need your help! For the short film, we’re hunting down a few locations. As I’ve crowdsourced everything from freelancers to work with, to which dress to buy – I thought it couldn’t hurt to try the power of the crowd to help us. We’ve got a couple in the bag, but there’s a still a few crucial ones we need. We’d love any and all help with the ones listed below.

What’s in it for you:

We have limited budget, however I’m offering 2 hours of digital consultation time for any locations or brands who help us with the final film. I’ll look at your existing digital marketing efforts, where they can be improved and brainstorm a few innovative and strategic ideas to get you going.

This will be a quick, in and out shoot and your location won’t be needed for more than 4-6 hours. We won’t make a mess and the crew is under 5 people.

Can you help?

Are there any below you can help us out with? Take a look at the locations below and if you have access to something, or know someone who does, please get in touch with me robs mjh @ gmail . com and I’ll connect you with our producer.

Locations

We’re looking for the following locations to shoot parts of the short film, over the last two weeks of August.

library office

1. Library  / British Office

Ideally we need quite a spacious room, with wooden floors and high ceilings. The room needs to have quite an established and vintage and almost British feel to it. In other words we don’t want minimal offices with glass tables and white carpets. We originally thought a library would do, but realised a spacious office could work just as well.

french cafe

2. Coffee Shop / French Cafe

The coffee shop or cafe needs access to natural light and preferably a seat near the window. It doesn’t have to be French.

Know anyone who fits the bill?

british home ref

3. British Country House

This is our favourite location in the whole short and needs to have a few key elements. It needs to be as close to a period home (think Pride and Prejudice) as we can get and it needs a pond. Our first choice was the country house at Vergelegen (pictured above). Are there any houses in the surrounding Cape Town area like the above that you have access to? Or can introduce us to?

3250399-abandoned_warehouse_3_by_d10soad-d33dm78

4. Warehouse

We need a dirty, empty warehouse, abandoned home, empty factory or abandoned aircraft hangar. I know there are a couple of disused ones along the highway near N1 city.

Anyone know how to get in touch with them or have access to something similar we could use?

studio

5. Recording Studio

We’re looking for a recording studio.

That’s as simple as it needs to be.

If you can help with any of the above locations, please get in touch either here or at robs mjh @gmail . com.

You’ll have my eternal gratitude

 

Image Source

Read more →
css.php