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Mariette du Toit-Helmbold

Short bio: Chief executive of Cape Town Tourism

I grew up on a nature reserve just outside Hermanus, the heart of the Cape Whale Coast. This is where my love for the environment and its people inspired me to make tourism my life. Matriculated at Hermanus High School in 1993.
Studied at Stellenbosch University and graduated in 1996 with majors in English and Political Science. At school and university I was involved in various conservation projects and became involved in tourism route development and product development along the Cape Coast in conjunction with local guesthouses and private farmers.
Completed tourism courses in Marine Tourism, Specialist Whale Guiding, Fynbos and Cultural Tourism.

I do not see Tourism as a career or just a job - it is a way of life; it thrills me, motivates me and enthuses me. I know that most people want to experience something real, something of meaning, while contributing to local communities within a framework of respect for indigenous people and the environment. The benefits from Tourism must be distributed fairly with the central goal to protect, preserve and uplift local communities and its environment.

Cape Town is a "mengelmoes" of people, cultures, sounds, smells, tastes and places - this is what makes her so unique, so authentic, so beloved and our favourite Mother City. The best part of living in Cape Town is that you can escape to a million incredible places right here in our backyard. Here are a few of my favourite places and the people that make them so remarkable.

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The Fynbos House, Pringle Bay
Our cottage, nestled in fynbos, on the edge of the mountain with wrap around views of the Kogelberg Mountains across False Bay to Table Mountain, is my bolt hole. Pringle Bay is where I go to recharge my batteries, breath, sleep, walk among the fynbos and sit in silence for hours...just an hour and a bit from Cape Town, but a world away. Part of the Kogelberg Biosphere, it lies in the heart of a UNESCO Nature Reserve and on one of the world's most spectacular coastal mountain passes (voted by Reader's Digest as One of the World's 10 Most Scenic Routes).

Oudrif Farm - Clanwilliam, Cederberg Mountains
Oudrif Farm is one of those places that you do not want to tell too many people about...
Bill Mitchell is Oudrif and he and Jeanine are the perfect hosts, quietly making sure that everything is just perfect without you even noticing them cooking up a storm in the kitchen, topping up your wine or throwing more wood on the fires. Oudrif accommodates a max of 10 people in the 5 very private and beautifully designed strawbale cottages perched on the edge of the Doring River.

It is quiet, remote, a mission to reach, but worth every god-awful kilometre of the winding dirt road. You can lose yourself here for a few days - explore the beautiful surrounding ridges with its rock art galleries, hundreds of plant and bird species and just drink in the silence and simplicity of stars.

This place ranks under my personal top 3 in the world! And once you have been, I guarantee that you too will guard this secret jealously, only telling those few special people that will appreciate this piece of heaven.

Hunter's Log Cabin - Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve
The Hunter's Log Cabin is situated on the edge of the Grootvadersbosch Wilderness Reserve, part of the Honeywood Cottages owned and run by the Moodey Family. John Moodey makes the Cape's best honey and this is one lucky family that gets to live in this amazing piece of paradise.

I have been going to Grootvadersbosch since Varsity years when we started the Stellenbosch University Bird Watchers Club - we went for the birdwatching, but more for the excuse to have a good old "dirty weekend"!

Whenever I recommend the best honeymoon or dirty weekend getaway spots, Hunter's Log Cabin features high on the list. It is not much more than a double bed, huge fireplace, wrap-around wooden deck and views, views, views of the amazing Grootvadersbosch, one of South Africa's last and most beautiful and unspoilt indigenous forests.

The best Road Trip - De Bergkant & Red Mountain Reserve, Prince Albert & surrounds

Charles Roux is one of those people who makes his dreams come true, no matter what - he has also renovated and runs two of the most amazing places in South Africa, tirelessly and passionately promotes the Karoo life, lovingly restores old jails and fire engines and in between all of this he is still determined to go to Oxford.
{slider=Read more} Just past Calitzdorp is a sign for the Red Stone Mountains...turn left to the Red Mountain Nature Reserve and some of the most incredible settings you'll ever come across.

It's worth splashing out on a night or two at this retreat - pack comfortable shoes and go explore the red ridges and feast your eyes on the luxury of space. The region within which the nature reserve lies has the largest diversity of succulent plants in the world.

Enjoy the spacious suites with Charles' state of the art Victorian bathrooms and early morning swims in the 25 metre salt water swimming pool. They serve traditional dinners beneath the brilliant Karoo night skies or in the gracious dining room on chilly evenings.

The last leg of this journey should take you over my favourite mountain pass in the world, and one that all people should drive at least once, preferably a few times - 27 km of untarred road that winds to the summit 1 583 metres above sea level in steep zig-zags and sudden switchbacks, with breath-taking views at every turn before the Karoo falls open before you on the other side.

It is no small wonder that the Swartberg Pass is considered as the most spectacular and breathtaking pass in Africa - a tribute to Thomas Bain, who built it with his motto: "Good hat and good boots".

The road to Gamkaskloof, "The Hell", is accessed from the peak of the Swartberg Pass. Gamkaskloof was for more than a century the home of a self-sufficient farming community, but now visitors can experience its unique cultural heritage protected within the Swartberg Nature Reserve while they overnight in one of the restored houses.

Prins Albert, lying at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains in a fertile valley, is described as the Oasis of the Karoo. If Prins Albert is the oasis then De Bergkant Lodge is the paradise of the Karoo.

The Guest Lodge is a prime example of the beautifully preserved Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings - 13 of which are national monuments. Prins Albert is an absolute gem - it is no wonder that so many people from all over the world has chosen to sacrifice the rat race and settle in Prins Albert where life is slow, "salig" and stars shine at their brightest.

The town also boasts some of the Western Cape's best restaurants - Prince Albert is fast becoming a worthy contender on the gourmet map, best known for its sun-ripened fresh and dried fruit, especially figs and apricots. In the Prince Albert Valley, to the south of the village, farmers are restoring vineyards last farmed in the 19th century and now producing award winning wines. Karoo lamb, olives, olive oil and cheese are local delicacies - make sure you get hold of the Kudu Salami made by the local butcher for your "samies" for the trip back home. {/slider}

Jan Harmsgat Country House - Swellendam

This is one of my favourite places in the world and Brin and Judie Rebstein are two of my favourite people in the world. Situated on an historic farm, (established in 1723) in the beautiful Klein Karoo between the towns of Swellendam on the N2 and Ashton on the R62, Jan Harmsgat is a very special place. 
{slider=Read more} One of only a few places that boasts the sought after "Fair Trade in Tourism" stamp of excellence, they are dedicated to fair labour practises, community upliftment and generally operating in an ethical way. Judie and Brin offer an experience in hospitality, great food and warm country ambience that is tough to beat.

Named after the original farmer, Jan Harman, the farm was called Jan Harmans Schat - Jan Harman's Treasure, which later became Jan Harmsgat. Owners Brin and Judi bought the farm on a whim fifteen years ago and have patiently and lovingly restored the farm and original buildings. A two hour scenic drive from Cape Town, the Country House accommodates guests in understated elegance and comfort in the farm's beautifully restored original slave quarters.

I love the interior. They have really managed to capture and present to the visitor a unique and authentic country ambience and history. Whilst every luxury and comfort have been catered for, Judie's creative flair and the good old "Overberg Country" style are wonderfully displayed in the small details. My favourite place in the Country House is the large kitchen with its racks of preserves, big Dover Stove and wooden table where guests can savour some of the great food, fresh fruit and home-made breads and preserves.

Fine dining in the formal dining room is also a treat and Brin matches the delicious food perfectly with some of their fine local wines from the cellar. Brin also revived the dairy farm, which now produces the first-class cheeses that are served after dinner and at breakfast. From classic Leiden to mature Cheddars and Boeren Kaas, the cheeses are complemented by a wonderful array of homemade preserves.

The Rebsteins have managed to put the word "treasure" back in Jan Harmsgat!{/slider}

The Cape Town Jazz Safari - Coffee Beans Routes

One of the best tours for both visitors and locals to take is the Cape Town Jazz Safari as hosted by the Coffee Beans crew. They offer a variety of musical and cultural tours of Cape Town, not your standard, boring, touristy tours, but wonderfully unique tours about people and people's stories; platforms for people to come together and share life experiences and cross social divides.
{slider=Read more} Their hosts on these tours include poets, musicians and entrepreneurs... all of them excited about the city, its people and its opportunities. According to Ian Harris a music producer and journalist and co-founder of the Cape Town Jazz Safari, there are 20 guitar players per square kilometer and saxophonists behind every bush.

A while ago Ian met Michael Wolf, who owns a small tour company called Andulela and the two started the Cape Town Jazz Safari, a kind of expedition through the city's musical habitat. Led by Wolf and Harris, the guided tour lasts between three and four hours, offering an eclectic and original mix of intimate recitals, backyard braai's and jam sessions.

This is a music tour that takes the visitor right into the fabric of the city's music, offering intimate Monday evenings in the homes of a variety of Cape Town musicians: high tea with a musical storyteller, if you like. They like to keep the offering varied - sometimes starting at the Distrix Cafe at the foot of District Six, where the legendary jazz pioneer Abdullah Ibrahim teaches.

The crew like to begin the Jazz Safari with an introduction, to frame the reason for doing this tour, and to give a little taste of the history that makes Cape Town's music what it is. Then they move to a home, where guests can meet a musician over dinner, meeting their families, listening to their music, hearing their stories.

The evening ends with a nightcap, sometimes at a jazz club, sometimes at the home of another musician. Guests are also often lucky enough to visit a music storyteller, like Joe Mthimka, who has a collection of South African recordings on LP going back to the very first recorded South African music. Some of the jazz safari musicians and legends that regularly feature include Mac McKenzie, Hilton Schilder, Jonathon Rubain and Kyle Shepherd.

I came across this extract of a revue published in The New York Times a while ago: "The Goema King (or Mac, as everyone calls him) will greet you at the door himself, wearing his signature white button-down shirt and jaunty beige hat. His mother (Ma Mac) cheerfully attends to the grill out back, cooking up a tasty feast of snoek, a barracuda-like fish, for her guests. After popping open a few Black Label beers, Mac picks up his guitar and plays covers of jazz classics like Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," and his own compositions, but with a South African twist.

The scene suggests a dorm room, with friends poking their heads in throughout the night. Mac keeps strumming during dinner, as he regales visitors with funny and heartfelt stories about his band, the Goema Captains of Cape Town, and his dreams of opening a studio in his stamp-sized backyard.

The last stop is the township of Lansdowne, at the Capetonians Are Swingers Restaurant. The air is filled with smoke, laughter and the sweet sounds of homegrown groups like the Alvin Dyers Quartet. Although the touristy V & A Waterfront Complex can now claim places like Manenberg's Jazz Cafe, they are empty of this gritty authenticity. By midnight, after four hours of great jazz and a few drinks, the line between safarigoers and local music fans has blurred."

The Cape Town Jazz safari is probably one of the best ways to come face to face and heart to heart with the real Cape Town.{/slider}

Mosaic Farm, Stanford

I grew up in paradise - on the Stanford side of the Klein River lagoon, 15 km on a hectic gravel road from Stanford or 5 km over the dunes from Hermanus (when 4x4's were still legal). See-Eike was part of a farm bought almost 40 years ago by my grandfather and two friends.

We lived like family Robinson Crusoe for many years, first in tents and then in our new rock fortress, built from sandstone and wood on the water's edge under 2 000 year old giant milk-wood trees. Getting to school was a mission - we crossed the lagoon by boat, caught the Stanford bus at the Yacht Club or went by Landrover over the dunes until the road was closed a few years later.

This is where I fell in love with life, with the environment and became obsessed with tourism.
{slider=Read more} The Spookhuis was just a fence away from See-Eike and I remember being dared by my brothers to walk around the beautiful old house at night with just a torch. Today the Spookhuis is part of the Mosaic Farm, lovingly restored by the new owners into a magnificent chapel for weddings and a small conference centre.

For over a century, people have sailed across the lagoon or travelled the old ox-wagon route to visit the abandoned "Spookhuis". Some camped on the grassy shore by the old stone homestead, and told scary stories in the moonlit nights. Evidence of their passage is seen engraved throughout the plaster walls, one of which comments on the reputation of the house by asserting "This place ain't haunted".

Mosaic Farm has a very strong conservation focus - working hard to eradicate the alien vegetation and restore the indigenous plants, animals and birds. They are active members in the non-profit conservancy in the Western Cape; the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy and guests can participate in some of the many conservation programmes and see the positive results achieved by a group of conservation-focused farmers.

I love the family's vision: one of renewal and restoration: renewal for all who stay here; restoration of this magnificent creation back to its' indigenous state; and the restoration of livelihoods in the local community through job creation and education. It reminds me of my childhood and growing up in this incredible part of our country. My heart remains here.

Go and stay and experience paradise for yourself. You can choose between luxury tented accommodation or quaint cottages set on the water's edge.{/slider}

River Magic Cottages, Vermaaklikheid

Vermaaklikheid is a miniature old world village of thatch and white-wash along the tidal Duiwenhoks River - 10km from the sea and 30km off the N2, near Stilbaai. It seems forgotten, or maybe it is just miraculously undiscovered, by the madding crowds and the trendy country folk. If you are in desperate need for some soul time and good old fashioned living - there is no better place than Vermaaklikheid. {slider=Read more} River Magic offers three beautiful, fully equipped cottages - best of all dogs are welcome, that is if they are brave enough to get into a canoe and friendly with birds, sheep and all sorts of furry animals.

Glory Be, is my favourite! To get to the cottage requires a ferry across the river, your car, your Nokia and your worries are left behind on the other side. Apart from the odd boat chugging by, Glory Be is totally private. I love the simplicity of space, glass, thatch and wood - with a semi-covered patio with braai, benches and tables overlooking the brown river. Idyllic!

You can do absolutely nothing or enjoy the river - swim, canoe (each cottage has the use of a canoe or row boat) and fishing - or as I did, sat on the stoep with my feet up, armed with a glass of wine and my binoculars - River Magic is a birdwatcher's paradise. If it gets chilly, cuddle up in front of the big fire place.

Prices range from R100 - R150 per person. A minimum rate per cottage may apply over weekends in season (R500 - R800), so take a few friends if the budget is tight. Dogs pay R10 a night which can be left in the SPCA tin on the mantle, donated to Riversdale SPCA.{/slider}

Silverspray, Victoria Bay
Victoria, or Vic Bay is made up of a total of 15 houses all lined up in a row next to the beach, two campsites and a cafe. It is a surfer's paradise, no wonder then that it is my husband's favourite place in the world. I must say, it is a wonderful getaway. Just a few minutes out of George, Vic Bay is very different from all the other over-populated and developed coastal dorpies. We love staying in Silverspray, one of the original three houses in Vic Bay. It is literally a stone's throw from the water, a perfect place for me to chill while Tony surfs Vic Bay's famous waves. It is a great value for money, no fuss house. It sleeps 8 people and starts from R650 per day depending upon the time of the year.

Treasures along the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus

Delicious home-grown food and fine wines mixed with exquisite scenery, some quirky locals and an artist’s haven to rest your soul make The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley one of the most divinely escapes on earth, so take a drive out there and linger a little. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley nestles between two mountain ranges, Babilonstoring and the Klein River Mountains of Hermanus, with the Onrus River winding through the valley. It is easy to see why the earliest residents of the Valley, a leper colony established in the 1800’s, called it “Heaven on Earth”. Not only has the Valley produced some of South Africa’s most acclaimed wines, it also offers some wonderful other treasures. Here are my recommended stops en-route...
{slider=Read more} Drive over the scenic Rotary Way to Hamilton Russel Vineyards, it is a bit of a back-road that locals choose not to share with the madding crowd, but well worth trying to find. Stop for a romantic picnic in the olive groves ordered from Under the Willows washed down with a delicious Hamilton Russel Chardonnay or continue to Bouchard Finlayson to savour Peter Finlayson’s award winning Pinot Noir and the delicious French country-style food served at the new La Vierge. If heart warming comfort food is what you are after, continue along the Valley to Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, my all time favourite Hemel-en-Aarde institution. Jenny and Jozi have been treating explorers of roads less traveled with their delicious country fare for years – try the hearty chicken pie with sweet deserts and enjoy the farm setting complete with dam and geese.

The best find by far though is painter Gail Catlin’s home, The Artist’s House nestled in a private reserve – Stonehaven Farm. It has an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, the perfect and shamelessly romantic hide-away for those who got a little lost along the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and are just not ready to get back to earth. Rates are from R442 per person bed and breakfast. They passionately support the Slow Food philosophy, a movement dedicated to reviving the pleasures of the table, to slow down, to know where ones food comes from and to eat fresh and local. {/slider}