December 2015 - February 2016
  • Day24

    The Drakensberg Mountains

    January 23, 2016 in Lesotho ⋅ 8 °C

    South Cape DC, Western Cape, South Africa
    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    We collected another car this morning and headed north, passing Pietermaritzburg and turning off the motorway at Howick to take the scenic meandering Midlands route through the most beautiful countryside. If you had been told you were in England you might almost have taken it on board. The landscape is bigger and more majestic, but one can certainly see how 'The Midlands' came to be. Everything is very green and undulating with plentiful trees. This is mixed farming country. Geraldine and Reg, you would love it! The road twists and turns and there are small villages to explore and a variety of crafts on offer. The flowers were a particular joy to me, wild longiflorum lilies, eremurus, rare pink gladioli, stylosis lily, arum lilies and evening primrose to name but a few.
    The one stop we did make was at Howick Falls, the spot where Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962. It is such a beautiful area and in a split second his life was changed forever. A new museum is in the process of being built and at the moment an exhibition is set up in a glorified shed! It was so impressive. We lingered for an hour taking it all in and came away with the the reinforced feeling that here was an exceptional man whose life somehow seemed to be guided by a hand that was not his own. His beginnings were humble as the youngest son of a tribal chief in the Transkei. A friend persuaded his very traditional principled father to allow his son to attend the local English Methodist Mission School. It was here that he was given the English name Nelson, his birth name being Rolihlahla, which means ' pulling the branch of a tree, or, the one who disturbs the established order'. Prophetic or what? There began a process that he would negotiate all the days of his life, bridging the gap between his traditional tribal roots and the modern world.
    Our continuing journey took us to a smaller more twisty road. We climbed up and up and there were potholes in the potholes. It had now started to rain hard and we began to wonder where on earth we would end up. Finally we spied the long awaited signpost 'Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse' and we turned on to a dirt track. Thank God for the 4x4. We climbed steadily for another 5kms, when incongruously there suddenly appeared a gateway set in a concrete wall and we had arrived. What a surprise awaited us. As we drew down the drive and parked in the covered cartshed a man materialised bearing a tray. He came to the car and opened my door. "Welcome, my name is Amen, would you like a drink of homemade lemonade?" proffering the tray and so began one of the most extraordinary evenings of our trip so far.
    The rain continued to fall and quickly we and the luggage were whisked to our Wild West themed cabin. There are 11 cabins/ suites here and they are all differently themed. We were thunderstruck, plus once more the view out on to the mountains had to be seen to be believed.
    "Come over to the house when you are ready for some refreshment" said our hostess, so we duly did as we were bid. We are surrounded by a beautiful garden, dripping at the moment to be sure, but lovely none the less, with the added bonus of the Drakensberg Mountains as a backdrop. We followed the directions to this amazing modern house set on a dammed lake. Weaver birds were flitting about, feeding their young in their nests hanging from the trees. Bulrushes fringed the edge and the whole effect was like something out of a film set. My eyes nearly popped out of my head and that was before we had seen the inside, which was equally mind blowing. Suitably refreshed, the dinner arrangements were explained. Here you eat in, as there is literally nowhere else to go. I would describe this establishment as a mountain gourmet's retreat. The dinner consists of five courses and you are taken through them one by one beforehand whilst sipping a pre dinner drinky. Masterchef eat your heart out, this is serious cheffing. The wine cellar is underground and you descend to select your preferred wine from a large selection. We ate this fabulous meal at a table overlooking the floodlit lake and it was a night to remember to say the least. As we left to return to the cabin, Phillippa, mine host said, " breakfast is relaxed, but culinarily serious. Arrive any time after 9 for a three course start to your day" (!!!!!!?) I'll fill you in tomorrow.

    I was up early for me (I know, shock horror). The morning was crystal clear and the views even more spectacular. Cleopatra herself was now clearly visible. She is a rock formation named by an English soldier far from home and missing his young wife. The farm has always been known as Cleopatra's farm ever since. I wanted to take a quiet walk around the property whilst all was ....well...quiet! The bird life is fantastic. I spent quite a while watching the weaver birds noisily feeding their chicks, when a flash of blue caught my eye. Perched to my right peering into the water was a kingfisher! He spied a fish, dived down and caught it and returned to eat it on his perch, right in front of me. What about that?! I can't get over it.
    Breakfast was yet again a culinary tour de force. Three small courses of pure heaven and the trouser waistband situation is becoming desperate. In one way we are disappointed that we are only here one night and in another relieved! This is the perfect spot for the wine group away weekend. Places to visit, walks galore, scenery to die for, plus food and wine to tempt an Egyptian mummy. Anyone up for it?
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  • Day23

    Durban

    January 22, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    South Cape DC, Western Cape, South Africa
    Friday, January 22, 2016

    It is a short flight from George to Durban, in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Natal was named by Vasco da Gama when he landed here on Christmas Eve 1497, calling it Terro do Natal - Christmas Country. Rolling hills are immediately evident on emerging from King Shaka Airport, but now clothed in grasses as opposed to fynbos. This area is known as The Midlands and we could instantly see how it acquired its English regional name.
    We are staying at The Oyster Box at Umhlanga, some twenty kilometres north of the city on the Indian Ocean. The hotel is old and full of tradition and when we arrived, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had stepped back into the days of the Raj! The bellhops are dressed from head to toe in Indian dress complete with turban, there are belted jackets and pith helmets galore, the receptionists are in salwar kameez and there is a permanent curry buffet for lunch and dinner set up on the ocean terrace! True to it's name, on the immense breakfast buffet laid out in the Palm Court was a large silver salver of prepared oysters to help yourself to. It was a novel start to the day, but not to be missed. However, I did pass on the offer of a glass of champagne to go with it, This is of course a beautiful hotel and the opportunity for people watching is just fabulous. Take Mr Fox for instance, who we encountered at lunch, dinner and breakfast this morning, sometimes accompanied by a young thing, sometimes alone, but on every occasion by a bottle of wine and an ice bucket!! There are the usual young ladies of interesting dress sense, with a phone stitched to their ear and conducting their business at full volume, usually in a flat piercing monotone. Oh, I could go on and on! However, this morning we were to take a guided tour with Cyril, who is of Zulu ancestry and a mine of information. The City of Durban is the third largest in South Africa, and it's biggest sea port. Ships are anchored off shore, literally awaiting the green light from the control tower to enter the harbour. Pilots are ferried backwards and forwards by helicopter! Durban was named after a Cape Governor, one Benjamin D'Urban and began life slowly, fought over by the Zulu, Voortrekkers and the British and from the mid 1800s developed as the most important port in the British Empire, mainly for the huge export of sugar cane, that was and is grown in abundance in its hinterland. The Zulu refused to work in the fields and as a consequence Indians were imported for the task, hence the large Indian population in the city and the sub-continental influence. British soldiers poured through the city during the Zulu and Boer Wars, to fight their final campaign in their famous redcoats and to wage the first campaign in khaki, then a controversial move. Durban was also the home of Mahatma Ghandi at this time, when both he and Winston Churchill were involved with the Boer War. This is clearly a city of the British Empire, as can be seen from the many public buildings dating back to the 1800s. As is often the case, our ancestors erected buildings in the London classical style to remind them of home and to make the statement that the British were in charge. We drove the Golden Mile, which bears little resemblance to Blackpool, as it is a stunningly beautiful golden beach that stretches for mile after mile and is now available to all. In the days of apartheid, only one small section was open to Africans. Victoria Market was a shopping stop. It is a massive bazaar housed in a turn of the century building. The spice stalls were particularly interesting and we had a long chat with a young lady stall holder, tasting the spices and finding out about mixes favoured by the various ethnic groups. The Botanic Gardens were, as ever, a joy and we spent a lovely half hour wandering around with an iced coffee in hand. Approaching the tea garden we encountered a troupe of monkeys who took a distinct interest in our drinks. We knew not to encourage them, but before we could work out what to do, a large lady with an even larger water pistol came charging out of the undergrowth to the rescue and they scattered. "They are naughty boys" she announced " I chase them away for you!" Not too many would have stood their ground I can tell you! We finished in the high end residential district with its beautifully manicured properties and the Greyville Racecourse, Durban Golf Club and various Sporting Stadia. Cyril made a very telling statement regarding a very young democratic South Africa winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995.
    South Africa were the definite underdogs against New Zealand in the final and It was only a year after the first democratic elections. As you may recall, President Mandela, dressed in a South African rugby shirt, presented the trophy to Francois Pienaar, which they held aloft together. "Like everyone else, I was watching the game wherever I could and with friends. In my case it was with my boss and his family and our working family. When South Africa won everyone was overjoyed, we really felt the country had become one. My boss's wife threw her arms around me and gave me a hug. I was overcome. It was the first time a white woman had touched me, let alone hugged me!"
    As I said, a first class morning in every respect.
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  • Day19

    Plettenberg Bay

    January 18, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ ☁️ 0 °C

    South Cape DC, Western Cape, South Africa
    Monday, January 18, 2016

    It was a wrench to leave the fabulous Kanonkop Guest House in Knysna this morning, where we had been so beautifully looked after. We ate breakfast eyeing that amazing view over Knysna Lagoon and took a final walk around the stunning garden before setting off.
    It was a short journey to Plettenberg Bay, however, we stopped in the town to get haircuts - all this sun, good food and wine has resulted in luxuriant, unruly locks! Normal service is now resumed.
    The journey anywhere along the garden route is like travelling through .....well......a garden!
    Everything is lush and green and even now there are flowering plants everywhere. As you can imagine it is right up my alley. The background is always the coastal mountains clothed in natural forest, which is apparently wonderful to explore also, but perhaps another time.
    Our new abode is The Emily Moon boutique hotel, situated just out of Plettenberg Bay town, built on an elevated site above the meandering Bitou river. It is a river valley to warm the heart of any physical geographer! Oxbow lakes abound. We were shown to our River Lodge and yet again there was an indrawn breath at the view. Very different from Knysna, but equally beautiful in it's own way. In every direction is the glorious river valley, classic wetlands with accompanying bird life and all Is quiet apart from the birds themselves. Best of all there is a verandah to settle on and soak it all up. The decor is eclectic and a shabby chic fusion of touches from all over the continent of Africa.
    Dinner was taken at Emily's restaurant and it was heaving. Apparently, it is fully booked every night, as it is very popular locally and having tasted the food, we could see why. We do of course feel quite at home with 'Emily' as our hostess!
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  • Day17

    Knysna

    January 16, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 1 °C

    Knysna, Western Cape, South Africa
    Saturday, January 16, 2016

    It is a two hour drive from Oudtshoorn in the semi desert Little Karoo to Knysna on the garden route coast and what a difference that relatively short drive brings. I suspect we left Oudtshoorn in the nick of time as the temperature was due to be in the mid nineties today. It was a fantastic drive in that one started in semi desert and about half way to the coast the scenery suddenly changed and became greener the closer to the sea one travelled. The hillsides were now clothed in flowering fynbos of yet a different mix to before. We stopped for coffee quite by chance at a Rose Nursery and restaurant strangely enough called Rosenkof, which was the name of our hotel in Oudtshoorn. One could have been forgiven for thinking that this one was in a sub tropical alpine region, so different was the landscape. It was charming, there were roses, lavender and a beautiful garden. Stepping out of the car you were immediately aware that the air was fresher and perfumed. The views were stupendous and the restaurant and coffee pretty good too. They also did a nice line in quotations of which I'll give you a sight of later.
    The closer to the coast we travelled the more lush and green the countryside became, as we descended from the Little Karoo plateau down to the coastal plain. We joined the N2 just outside of George and the National Route hugs the coastline all the way to Knysna. It is very beautiful. Knysna itself is set on a lagoon. This is strictly an estuary, which flows out to sea between two craggy headlands called rather originally 'The Heads'! A long low bridge spans the Lagoon and all of at sudden you are in Knysna itself, a small town which was founded in1876 with a gold rush. This was short lived; logging and the timber industry took over, due to the proximity of thick woodland clothing the coastal mountainsides. Today, it is one of the most popular spots to visit in South Africa and the views from our bedroom windows will tell you why. Kanonkop Guest House is like no Guest House I have ever seen and is set high on a hill above the town. One wall of our enormous room is completely glass and I think I could sit and drink in the jaw dropping views of the lagoon for the duration of our visit.
    However, we are booked on a tour of the Featherbed Nature Reserve tomorrow so move I must!

    The Featherbed Nature Reserve is privately owned and a South African Heritage site. It captures the essence of Knysna as somewhere special and clothes the flanks of the Western Heads. The only access is by ferry. Numbers are limited and you must join a guided tour. The morning was warm and sunny as we boarded the ferry and we had a very informative journey, care of Andre our guide, as we crossed the lagoon. It is certainly the way to see the Knysna region, from the water and we had a birds eye view of ...well...birds (!) including the rare black oyster catcher. There are some glorious homes dotted amidst the vegetation of the hillsides lining the lagoon, at a price of course. On arrival at the Featherbed Centre you are transported on a 4x4 train to the top of the headland through the indigenous forest catching glimpses of the fabulous estuary from all directions. Once reaching the top the views are even better and it is difficult to know which way to look. The entrance to the lagoon through a very narrow channel through the heads is treacherous and graded as the most difficult entrance for shipping by the Royal Navy and uninsurable by Lloyds, so that tells you something! We then were taken on a 2.2 km bush walk almost all downhill, which as most of you will know was going to be a test for me. A year ago, I certainly couldn't have done it, but managed it with care today to my joy. We arrived on the beautiful shoreline to marvel at Mother Nature all over again, before walking the coastal path back to the centre to lunch in the shade of the milkwood trees. It has been a marvellous day and we would recommend it to anyone in this neck of the woods.
    We owe a great deal to Prof Smith; a chemist with a special interest in fish and the man responsible for the origin of this reserve. In 1938 he was called in to identify a strange looking fish trawled by a local fisherman. He was excited to realise that this was a living coelacanth, thought to be extinct for 70million years and to predate the dinosaurs. He eventually found another living specimen in 1952 and together with his wife devoted the rest of his life to not only their study, but fish in general. He wrote a very famous book and with the proceeds purchased the land that was to become The Featherbed Nature Reserve.
    As for the name; where on earth did it come from I hear you ask? This port, despite its access problems, was once the third busiest in South Africa and crews had an uncomfortable and dangerous journey to get here, buffeted by huge seas and storms. On arrival and after running the gauntlet of the harbour entrance they had their best nights sleep in many a long month and it was said to be "like sleeping in a featherbed!" On early naval charts the bay was called Featherbed Bay and so the tradition began and has stuck over the years.
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  • Day16

    Oudtshoorn

    January 15, 2016 in South Africa

    Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa
    Friday, January 15, 2016

    This morning we set out to visit the Cango Caves system some 30 kms north of Oudtshoorn, just us and about 500 Frenchmen on Harley Davidsons, or so it seemed! Thankfully, the tour was in English. The caverns were gradually formed some 20million years ago in Pre Cambrian limestone under the Swartberg mountains and discovered by a Karoo farmer Jacobus van Zyll sliding down a rope with an oil lamp in 1780. It wasn't until the 1960/70s that the Caves were opened up to mass tourism and a careful balancing act has been struck to safeguard the amazing formations that they contain. You can only visit cavern one, which actually consists of several chambers and access to the other four are carefully controlled as the calcium carbonate formations are still active in various fantastic guises. One can see an interpretive film to fill in the gaps that are not covered by the tour. We were unsure quite what to expect, but it was certainly worth the visit and the caverns are indeed a wonder of nature.
    We followed this with a visit to the Cango Ostrich Farm conveniently placed on the return trip to town. Again, there was a degree of reluctance, but as I said to Peter, we cannot visit the Ostrich capital of the world without seeing an Ostrich! This is a show farm as opposed to a commercial enterprise and the birds live a full life of up to 70 years. These days they are farmed for their meat and leather, the feathers being a very incidental offshoot. Close too, they are intriguing creatures with a real character of their own. The males are the grander of the species with their beautiful black and white plumage, but as our guide stated, the smaller brown females are definitely the sharper of the two. This is of course relative, as their eyes are larger than their brains and her quote of the day was that 'the lights are on, but there is nobody at home!' The eggs are enormous and extremely strong. It takes the chick 10-12 days to break out of the shell and a fully grown man of 200lbs can stand on one without breaking it. We enjoyed the tour in the company of a young American honeymoon couple from Chicago and a family with two young daughters from Cape Town. We made a jolly group and it was both fun and illuminating. Ostriches were fed, kissed and ridden and a lot learned in between!
    I must be strong and try the meat this evening. It is on the menu here and there will be no better time to break my duck, or ostrich, if you get my drift!
    This afternoon seemed the right time to visit one of the feather palaces built during the boom period with money made from 'ostrich gold'. The Le Roux Town House was built in 1908 as a weekend retreat for the farming family. All these homes were constructed of sandstone, which was the local stone of abundance and no expense was spared by these feather millionaires to proclaim their wealth to the world. All the furniture and fixtures and fittings were ordered from catalogues and the contents of the entire house shipped from England to Mossel Bay, the nearest port and brought overland by Ox Cart. The family changed nothing over the years and continued to use it as their weekend retreat from their even larger home on the farm until the early 60s, when the Oudtshoorn Museum Trust purchased it. The furniture on show now is not original as the family obviously kept it, but the wallpapers curtains and carpets are all still there in a fabulous state of preservation, including an amazing bordered Wilton carpet specially woven to exactly fit the unusually shaped parlour. I suspect the fact that it was only used at weekends, plus the warm dry climate, has helped here. All the wooden doors, architraves and built in furniture are painted to resemble top quality wood in trompe l'oeil tradition. It was very much the fashion with the very wealthy to do so, as it required a master craftsman at great expense, to achieve such an effect. Art Nouveau stained glass is on show throughout the house, edged in copper as opposed to lead, again as it was a more expensive medium. Trying to outdo the 'Joneses' has been going on from time immemorial!
    However, the piece de resistance for Peter, was in the study (probably no surprise there!). A beautiful wooden filing cabinet stood in the corner, which he really coveted. Some like diamonds, others............ On enquiry of our guide, the piece was donated to the museum for use here in the house by a retired accountant. Well, would you ever!
    I am sitting tapping away to you on the verandah outside our room. The rooms here are situated round around a lovely lawned oblong courtyard, with trees to shade them and a central fountain tinkling away in the background. It is all very relaxing, warm and comfortable and we shall make the most of it all before moving on tomorrow to Knysna on the Indian Ocean and the Garden Route.
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  • Day14

    The Little Karoo

    January 13, 2016 in South Africa

    Swellendam, Western Cape, South Africa
    Thursday, January 14, 2016

    We awoke to a familiar sound this morning, the pit patter of rain on the patio! The locals are ecstatic, as the whole of South Africa is in the grip of a drought after the winter rains failed.
    It was a travelling day in any case, as we had 225kms to cover through the Little Karoo to Oudtshoorn the ostrich capital of the world. Rte 62 is the inland mountain equivalent of the garden route and tends to be overlooked as a consequence. It is takes you through dramatic passes and valleys, through small non tourist dorps (towns) and villages and gives one the opportunity to see South Africa behind closed doors. Our journey today did all of that, plus the chance to view the Little Karoo first hand. This is an area of arid semi desert, in contrast with oases of fertile green valleys. The landscape is majestic and awe inspiring as the road rises and falls through a series of badlands where the colours seem almost sepia like. It is clothed in low fynbos of yet a different mix. When you stop and look closely it is a different story, plants are beautifully adapted to their habitat and there are flowers, but subtle and often strange looking. In the spring this region is a riot of brilliant colour for a few weeks, when everything flowers at once with the spring rains.
    There were a couple of interesting places en route that will hold in the mind. Firstly, Barrydale, a small but charming town through Tradouw's Pass, with a character that makes you feel that it could be named after Barry on the Eggheads. We dropped into the best organised small supermarket I think I have ever come across and this was only reinforced by the fact that they sold oasis. I did a double take. You can scarcely buy it in the UK, let alone in the back end of South Africa! For those of you who have no clue what I am talking about - it is floral foam used for flower arranging. On advice we stopped at Diesel and Creamery, a converted garage and gas station whose decor is 1950s kitsch and quirky. They serve the best milk shakes in the world. There were Butterick sewing patterns framed on the back of the 'senhoritas' doors, a pair of stilettos in the corner as an adornment and a vintage bra hanging by the wash basin. I dread to think what artefacts were in the 'senhors' and as Peter didn't require the convenience, I didn't find out!
    Secondly, in the middle of nowhere, with no settlement in site, loomed a low white building by the side of the road. Plastered on the side in bold lettering were the words 'RONNIES SEX SHOP'. I kid you not. There is photographic evidence. Peter screamed to a halt; he claims to take a photo?! There were several cars parked outside and it was only later that we found out that it is in fact a pub and the unusual name is to attract the curious customer. Sheer genius!
    We arrived here in Oudtshoorn about 3pm and are staying at a small boutique hotel called The Rosenhof. Pure Victoriana, antique furniture and all. This is of course very much in keeping with the boom time of Oudtshoorn, when Victorian fashion was desperate for the very best ostrich feathers and the land and climate are perfect for their rearing. By the 1880s hundreds of thousands of kilograms of feathers were being exported for vast sums and serious fortunes were made. We will investigate this further tomorrow.
    As a postscript, Peter, on prowling the room, (as is his habit), has come across this curious plugged in device that appears to have no purpose. 'What do think this is?' says he? 'Do you think we are being spied on?'
    'Well' says I 'if that is the case they are going to be seriously disappointed!'
    And on that note I'll say Nite Nite!!
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  • Day14

    Swellendam

    January 13, 2016 in South Africa

    Swellendam, Western Cape, South Africa
    Wednesday, January 13, 2016

    Today has been a moving day so not too much to report.
    'Martin' was in full cry at breakfast, minus 'Ann', who was not feeling too well apparently. Probably just couldn't stand the thought of a few more tales, which she has no doubt heard countless times before. He is great sportsman, as you might expect and has over the years become friendly and played with a number of international players (unnamed of course, as were the sports). He has been having a little trouble at work though, as one of his co workers hasn't spoken to him for 3 months (hardly surprising) and so he requested a meeting with said worker and their line manager to thrash it out. Various nebulous reasons were put forward, but as Martin said " such nonsense is not going to get me down, having been with Special Branch in Islamabad being stoned and spat on !!!” After a slice of Sheila's excellent carrot cake, we were almost sorry to move on and couldn't decide whether he has led a very full life or is something of a Walter Mitty character. I leave you to work that out for yourselves!
    The scenery on the journey to Swellendam was different once more. We were travelling away from the coast to the base of the Overberg Mountains. The countryside is majestic and agricultural, with wide open fields as far as the eye can see, backed by craggy peaks in the distance. There were some livestock and rather like New Zealand, farms are isolated and vast. We saw cranes and birds of prey enroute, arriving in Swellendam mid afternoon. It is small, unspoiled and a bit of a one horse town and was originally an administration centre and stopping off point logistically for the Dutch East India Co. It is surrounded by beautiful countryside however, although we will probably have little time to see too much, as it is a one night stop.
    However, the surprise package was our Guest House, Rothman Manor. A pure Cape Dutch Manor House complete with thatched roof and a garden to die for. I will include some pics. The suite is superbly appointed even to having a modern four poster bed. Nina, who showed us to our room, suggested we have a look round and discover the surprise at the bottom of the garden. No, not fairies, but zebra and springbok! There is a very deep haha separating the garden from the wild patch (plus an electric fence I should add) and there they were cropping the grass quietly. Now I believe we are in Africa.
    Just out of interest the second surprise package came in the shape of a restaurant named Field & Fork this evening. A very old old building lit by candlelight ( a big help at our age of course!) It was fabulous and by far the best meal we have had. The chef is a 24yr old young lady who could hold her head up anywhere and we were still nowhere near the £40 mark.
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  • Day13

    Hermanus

    January 12, 2016 in South Africa

    Hermanus, Hermanus, South Africa
    Tuesday, January 12, 2016

    We arrived here yesterday afternoon after another beautiful drive from Franschoek, which we were sorry to leave. Hermanus sits on rocky cliffs to the northern end of Walker Bay, with the Overberg Mountains behind. This area is known as the whale coast, as during the winter months ie June to December large numbers of whales congregate to calve and raise their young in the sheltered waters here. They are so plentiful and come in so close to shore that they can be observed from the cliffs and thousands gather to watch the spectacle. There are also many trips out to view them from a boat and even now off season you can take a trip to see the sea life around Dyer Island. Here are large numbers of seals and penguins, plus large white sharks which prey on them. The stretch of sea between Dyer Island and the mainland in known as shark alley. Interesting .........but I think we'll pass!
    We are staying at a Guest House called Oceans Eleven, which is very comfortable and our room looks out right over the Bay. If it were the right time of year one could theoretically lay in bed and whale watch from there! Guest houses are interesting places, usually for the abundant opportunity to people watch and the little gems they produce. We hadn't been here 5 mins before a Martin Bryce character strode into view and we have been avid observers ever since. (Richard Briers played Martin in 'Ever Decreasing Circles' for those of you who have no idea what I am talking about). 'Martin' is English of course and felt it necessary to give those of us unfortunate enough to be in reception at the time a blow by blow account of his day. This mornings breakfast produced another couple of bon mots. He had to tell all of the run he and 'Angela' (make that Ann) had had first thing this morning, which he had let her win. 'It's a question of the tortoise and the snail!'......Bless him! He was quiet only when eating and the classic was ......'let me tell you I have a very valuable collection of vinyls!' Right....and moving swiftly on....Can't wait for the next encounter, but a cliff walk awaits and we had better get going.
    The coastal cliff path is approximately 5kms long and is a lovely walk, however much of it you tackle. The views of the rocky coastline and Walker Bay are unsurpassed. As you will see from the photos the specially adapted coastal fynbos is fascinating. There are so many different species clinging to the salt laden cliff top, a habitat you would think any plant would struggle with. Because of the conditions and the wind the vegetation tends to be low and some sections are more like a natural rock garden. Our hotel sits about half way along the path, so we decided to walk one half to the New Harbour and back again. Yet again we were in luck and saw two hyraxes; one basking in a rock and the other hopped across our path.
    This is all part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve and after lunch we visited the mountain section which is just out of town. Here are larger plant specimens more suited to a mountainside. There were the proteas of all types, larger Ericas and many more plants I couldn't name. It has been a fascinating flora orientated day and the knee has held up to its longest walk to date, with the brace of course. We are heading back to the New Harbour this evening for a seafood supper, hopefully on some of the enormous crayfish we saw landed this morning.
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  • Day11

    The Wine Tram

    January 10, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ 23 °C

    Cape Winelands, Western Cape, South Africa
    Sunday, January 10, 2016

    We awoke feeing slightly punch drunk this morning after our marathon effort yesterday. No, we were not hungover as you only take little sips on the tastings! Mind you, that's more than can be said for a couple of guys at breakfast who looked decidedly seedy and struggled to eat anything to the clear annoyance of their wives! Sympathy was not obvious.
    At 11.30 we joined the wine tram that visits a variety of wineries around Franschoek. It's rather like a hop on hop off bus, with the advantage that you can indulge in yet more tastings without worrying about driving. We felt tasted out in truth after yesterday and so stopped only twice. Firstly, at La Brie, a small boutique winery. This was one of the original nine farms granted to the Huguenots in the 1650s and the wine maker was a lady. The wines were lovely; soft and elegant and it was really interesting to witness a small production farm as opposed to a huge multimillion rand operation.
    We rejoined the tram and were instantly caught up with a wedding party who were in high spirits and likely to be higher before the day was over I suspect! The bride was Australian and the groom South African and we were seriously impressed that they were all up for the wine tram today. They were great fun and had had a marvellous wedding at one of the wineries yesterday. This is extremely popular and a lot less costly than England, Australia and the USA apparently.
    Our second port of call was at Dieu Donne, a winery set high above the valley and the highest altitude for growing vines in the area. We were booked at their renowned restaurant Roca for lunch. We were shown to our table on a wide shady terrace with commanding views over the surrounding countryside. It was stunning. The wind has dropped a little today and the temperature has risen accordingly. It was 41 degrees in the shade, exceptional even for here apparently. Lunch was very good, accompanied by even more of the grape! I hardened my heart and had the Springbok. Well, you have to try the local specialities. It was delicious. I had hovered over ostrich, but kept seeing those long eyelashes and couldn't do it. I'm determined to try it before we leave, when I can pluck up the courage! Yet another wine tasting followed and a couple of cracking wines emerged. By then, we had had enough and decamped back to Mont Rochelle to chill out and enjoy the facilities. I think we have earned a break. All this wine tasting is mentally and physically exhausting! Peter thinks he is in danger of getting repetitive wine glass lifting strain injury!!
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  • Day10

    The Wine Tour

    January 9, 2016 in South Africa ⋅ 20 °C

    Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa
    Saturday, January 9, 2016

    I'm not quite sure where to begin today. It's been such a full day my mind is in something of a whirl. We have had the company of a wine expert by the name of Pietman Retief. An engaging, generous and knowledgeable personality, he has lived all his life in and around Stellenbosch and spent his working years in the wine industry. We have touched every possible aspect of life in South Africa, as well as wine and it has been fascinating.
    We began high above Franschoek looking down on the valley settled in the mid 1600s by his French Hugenot ancestors, some nine generations ago, when wild animals roamed the area and life was far tougher than it is now. Dutch settlers were already here and initially nine French families were granted land to make their own. Their farms were unsurprisingly named after their home areas ie Champagne, Versailles, Grand Provence etc. Dutch farms were interestingly named more for the families experiences and emotions ie Great Expectations, Hard Journey etc etc. The land was granted by the then Dutch governor, with the purpose of farmers producing food, to be supplied to the many visiting ships on their way to the East from Europe. Viewed from on high it is a beautiful valley surrounded by the Franschoek mountains in which at least two pairs of leopards still roam.
    Descending to the valley floor we viewed the elegant, marble, Hugenot monument in Franschoek whilst the history discussion continued. Having ascertained that we were interested in art and gardens, and politics, Pietman endeavoured to include lots of interesting asides as well as the study of the grape!
    We started at Haute Cabriere one of the best makers of South African bubbly. The brand name is Pierre Jourdan and the Belle Rose pink champagne was particularly fine. Grand Provence was next on our list, where the art work, in particular the sculpture, rivalled the bottle. There were lovely gardens set out with sculpture and ceramics, plus two stunning galleries. This was followed by Ricketty Bridge, more for the tremendous amount of restoration the current owners have put into the farm. I should add that these establishments are usually graced by the most superb thatched Cape Dutch Manor Houses, of the type you instantly think of in relation to the winelands of South Africa. La Motte was another huge property with the most fantastic artworks and the red wines were stupendous.
    We gradually made our way towards Stellenbosch and had lunch at the University Botanic Gardens, which were another find. On the way is a vintage motor car museum. Johannes Rupert of La Motte fame has over 350 vintage cars as an added interest and I can think of several friends who would be keen to stop here. Stellenbosch itself is the second oldest settlement in the cape and our guide was justifiably proud of his picturesque home town. It has retained most of its original buildings and even the village green. On the way out of town back towards Franschoek Pietman drove us through the Ida Valley to visit the Rustenberg winery, which he thought we would like to see, for the proprietor's wife's English garden as much as the farm. The garden was a revelation, with so many plants thronging the herbaceous borders, both English and South African natives. All around the area you will find oaks, not as strong or as large as their English cousins, due to the climate, but impressive never the less. Twelve thousand saplings were planted in these valleys in the 18th century, many of which are still growing. The Graf estate was next on the list and as Aly remarked to me, this is pure theatre. Over 30million pounds of Graf diamond money has been lavished on restoring this run down farm. What you see now is quite incredible, for its taste, scale and beauty and that's without the wine! Again, the artworks are out of this world and we were quite spellbound. Tokara was our last winery and once more the art was fantastic. The wine production section was state of the art and you might be interested to know that they have an annual competition for local artists to create a painting, simply using the contents of a bottle of red wine, The results had to be seen to be believed.
    Approaching Franschoek, we turned off the main road for a final time and tucked in the middle of the countryside is a small prison called Drakenstein. This was where Nelson Mandella was held for the final 18months of his imprisonment. It was from these gates that he made the last 100 yds of his long walk to freedom, greeted by thousands and watched by people on TV all over the world. It is one of the iconic images in time and I suspect we can all remember where we were when we saw it.
    What a day.
    There are some 80 wineries around Franschoek and approaching 200 in the Stellenbosch area. Millions of pounds have been poured into this area over the last 20 years, mainly by outside investors and this is continuing. The likes of Richard Branson and an Indian Multimillionaire called Singh are the new kids on the block. The investment is huge. One can only hope it will not be overdone.
    Our day finished back at La Motte, where we managed to have another shot at their wines accompanied by dinner. It was a tasting menu accompanied by the appropriate wines and it seemed a fitting end to a fabulous day.
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