South African guyfood expert has the best advice if you’re planning a summer break

Justin Bonello doesn’t have time to talk. At all. He is wholly focused on Ultimate Braaimaster – not his moniker, but rather the title of his masterchef-esque new show about, well, braaiing – and now is not a good time.

Shooting and editing a TV show can make working days stretch to 18 hours and beyond, and that’s not counting the travelling to the out-of-the-way locations. This is a man in serious need of a holiday. But when your work is your passion and it takes you to what would ordinarily be a holiday destination, how do you get away from it all?
“Honestly, I have a massive problem with that. Over the last couple of years it’s gone from shooting one show a year to two shows a year to six to eight shows a year,” he explains. “I suppose that when I’m in the city my relax time is playing with my one-year-old son and working in my garden.”

There should be a personality disorder associated with people like Bonello, who see domestic labour as relaxation. But with further Facebook stalking, we discover a man with a near perfect work/rest balance.

This was a boy who used to spend every free moment down at the family holiday house on the banks of the Breede River, attached to his ouma’s apron. A boy who’d camp on the water’s edge and live off the land. You probably read books about boys like this in high school English class.

Justin Bonello makes us very jealous. And when he describes his annual vacation spot – “My secret spot on the Wild Coast… There’s something about driving over that last hill, just before I hit the coast when I drive into the open bay with the cottages spread out beneath it that kicks my goose. There’s no cellphone reception, only generators for power (if you want it). The ocean and sitting with a fishing rod in my hand, thinking of nothing else other than trying to outsmart a fish…” – we kind of want to punch him.

Our envious rage comes from hours of commuting and soul-crushing CBD traffic. The Wild Coast is pretty sweet place to go to when you’re and office slave, not when you’re showing off exotic Africa to an international market. But his idyllic day-job comes at a price. While Bonello is exploring his beloved country for the benefit of couch-bound tourists and fulfilling his life’s work, his well-packaged travels leave little room for personal exploration when he is off the clock.

“I feel really privileged to spend about six months of the year travelling around southern Africa, filming our series, but my biggest regret is that often I don’t have enough time to enjoy the places. So it’s always work, work, work in that space, without the joy of putting up our feet and taking it all in.”

Still, he believes it beats the hell out of city life. “The way we live our lives in cities nowadays means that we’re constantly surrounded by noise pollution… It’s a complete overload,” he tells us. “The benefits of going off the grid? You’ve got none of those issues to deal with.”

Early results of the 2012 British Wellbeing Index reveal that happiness and life satisfaction is found in the remote Scottish Isles. To quote Prime Minister David Cameron: “Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships.”

Explorers like Justin Bonello are at the coalface of the travel industry within Southern Africa, tasked with finding the next big thing to do when you’ve done all the touristy things. We look to his shows to fuel our desire for the great outdoors that exist within a day’s drive from our front door. But there don’t seem to be many diamonds left in the mine.

Getting away for a weekend in South Africa isn’t the adventure, or even the Aventura, it used to be. For one, there are tarred roads and horrifically opulent Five-star lodges in every conceivable sleepy hollow. Is there still an unspoiled frontier for the weekend warrior to escape the trappings of modern life – and maybe treat his Hilux to something more challenging than the pavements around Coca Cola Park?
“Hundreds and thousands of them,” says Bonello. “I just did a trip up to Upington, went through Pofadder (yes, really) down to the Namibian border. I’ve just discovered a whole different part of the country that I have to go back to. Most of my road trips that I do nowadays, I try to take the road less travelled. This is when you open yourself up to the true joys of travel.”

Again, travelling is fun, but even better when done with people you love. A conference or launch will take you to a great location, and you’ll take your lady back there months later, and it won’t feel the same. Bonello has a great counter to that. “I let myself relive the experience through her. I’ve seen and done it all most of the time, so her experience is a way for me to enjoy it all over again.”

The key to a successful holiday is keeping things exciting. “When you pre-plan a route, you often close yourself off to the unexpected surprises that are just around the corner. It’s much better for me to just get in my car and drive.”

Besides for getting off your couch and getting out there, it seem the other important thing to do when you want to relax is switch off your phone. If you have your loved ones by your side for a few carefree days, who’s tweet or call is important enough to interrupt that?

Relax, just do it

Justin Bonello has a trick for every holiday obstacle

When you have an important project waiting at work…

“Generally into my second or third week away, I start to think about work again, and begin teasing it back into my holiday in small doses. This way, I don’t have a big chunk to deal with when I get back.”

If you really can’t get away from the city…

“It’s funny, the braai culture in South Africa is hard-wired into us… when a group of people get together around the African TV (fire), it always turns into a holiday.”

When you don’t know what to cook…

“On the coast the menu will include mussels, oysters and any fish unlucky enough to take my bait. I’ve learned to travel with a small box of stuff and find local ingredients.”