One of the biggest surprises during our year of exploring South Africa was discovering the stark beauty of the Cederberg. And now we have been invited back to this incredible landscape - a place that ranks amongst the best places we have traveled.
It’s an easy, scenic drive from Cape Town up the west coast to Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve in the Cederberg mountains. The tar road gives up and we find ourselves winding slowly along a gravel road past jagged rocky outcrops and wide open vistas, before finally arriving to a royal welcome.
“Hello, I'm James the lodge manager, and this is Cecile the front office manager and Christiaan, your guide.”
Scented facecloths, welcome drinks and an orientation tour of the magnificent lodge complete our introduction to the resort.
There is something I’ve noticed at all the Red Carnation hotels we’ve visited so far - incredible service. You get beautiful hotels all over the world, but few deliver incredible service - a level beyond what you expect. Where the staff exude passion for what they’re doing and pleasure from making your stay exceptional. It’s not just incredible service…its incredible hospitality.
“There are four pools!” I exclaim.
“Yes,” Cecile replies, “and one is heated.”
And that's just the start. Luxurious lounge areas, secret gardens, a cozy pub, an inviting outdoor dining area, walking trails, archery, hiking, cycling…We are already excited by the time we reach our room where we are welcomed by a melding of home comfort with tasteful style. We take a few minutes to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and let the tranquility and beauty of Bushman's Kloof wash over us.
After a swim we get ready for the afternoon activities. These commence with high tea at 4pm, with the emphasis on high. From quiches to tarts to cakes and coffee, all enjoyed under the large outdoor thatched area overlooking soft green grass, alive with birds, stretching out towards an infinity pool that drops off into the stark, rugged terrain of the rocky outcrops beyond.
With tummies content we jump into our Landcruiser.
“Are there many animals around here?” I ask as Christiaan deftly navigates his way along the winding roads. Before long the answer is abundantly clear, as we see eland, springbok, bontebok, ostrich, zebra, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, and oryx. This harsh, rugged terrain is teeming with wildlife.
“Eland are the biggest antelope,” Christiaan says as we stop and watch a herd grazing alongside some springbok. “And springbok are the fastest.”
“Look at that one,” he says pointing at a lone bontebok. “ It's a unicorn!”
With only one horn it looks amazingly like a unicorn from some fantasy place. I’m beginning the believe we may be in a fantasy place.
After toasting the sunset in regal style overlooking the beautiful Biedouw valley below, and watching the sun paint the sky and rocks with splashes of red and orange, we head back to the lodge. If we thought the nature drive was amazing, what’s planned for tonight is going to be incredible.
As a dark veil is silently drawn across the sky revealing a sparkling treasure trove of stars, we head out into the inky darkness to a secret dinner location. Rounding a corner we are suddenly welcomed by twinkling lights and a roaring log fire causing shadows to dance on the lone stone cottage atop the hill, as if in celebration of our arrival.
Sitting around a crackling log fire on a cold autumn evening, sipping smooth red wine, and chatting while sparks dance towards the diamond studded sky is what fantasies are made of. Maybe the unicorn was real. As we move inside the fantasy continues, as we are seated at a table illuminated by the flickering light of 88 candles set atop candlesticks with long wax rivers frozen below them, as though reminders of a place where laughter, food and celebration have existed for aeons. “You can't capture this,” someone says. And they’re right. How do you describe magical.
And so begins the next adventure. A culinary journey. The chef describes each course before we our tongues are allowed to follow the tastes our minds have already conjured.
“Wow,” we gush, “after having just enjoyed the unique flavour of a deboned Karoo lamb shank pie. "That was delicious!”
“The lamb was slow roasted for 6 hours,” the chef says revealing some of his culinary secrets.
“Would you like to see the stars before dessert?” Christiaan asks as we recline in our chairs letting the wonder of the moment carry us away. We follow him outside into the inky darkness. The wind has magically stopped completely, and a sparkling necklace of diamonds has been tossed haphazardly across the sky. It's truly incredible. Stars like I have seldom seen before. Christiaan points out Mars, Venus, Orion, and Scorpio.
“And look there," he says, as we stare through binoculars at the regal display, “It's the moons of Jupiter.”
As I finally lie back in the soft warm comfort of my bed back at the lodge, slowly succumbing to sleeps embrace, I am left wondering whether it was a dream, a fantasy...
“We are going to explore some rock art,” Christiaan says as we clamber into the Landcruiser the next morning. The Cederberg is famous for its rock art - two kinds of rock art. One are the thousands of works of art left by the nomadic bushmen who once inhabited this area, and the other are the incredible sculpted spires and jagged peaks forged by the ravages of wind and rain upon the arid canvas of this desert land.
“It's a short walk,” Christiaan says as we follow him around large boulders up to an overhanging cave-like shelter. We’ve stepped through a portal and back in time. The walls are alive with art - eland, elephant and the bushmen. A world from a another time comes alive as Christiaan explains the stories depicted in these ancient and beautiful works of art. Once more it seems magical. Almost a fantasy, as we are transported to other worlds, other times, hidden behind towering rock behemoths standing like silent, frozen sentinels.
“That's what’s unique about this place,” I muse as we enjoy a late breakfast back at the lodge “It's a fantasy world, where old and new, rugged and sublime, earth and heaven meet in a surreal dance. It's a world that not only calms the soul but energizes the spirit. A world not explained - a world that must be experienced. Quite simply it’s magic...unicorn and all!
Bushman's Kloof was recently voted by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, the No. 1 resort in South Africa and the No 3 in the category Best Hotels and Resorts in the world!
To find out more about Bushman's Kloof Wilderness Reserve visit their website.
“It’s a postcard town,” the captain of the catamaran says as we glide silently over the turqouise sea looking at the whitewashed buildings clustered along the seaside. This is the second time I’ve heard this description today about Langebaan, and it could not be more apt.
There must be something special about Club Mykonos in Langebaan, because this is our third time back here in the past year, and every time we have just loved it. “It’s a relatively undiscovered gem,” the manager of the Bouzouko restaurant, adjoining Club Mykonos, furtively whispers to us as we enjoy the most amazing setting for a dinner.
The sun sets over the yacht mooring creating a postcard scene as the yacht sails are silhouetted against an indescribale riot of colors competing for attention across the sky, and I sip my beer, and tuck into succulent chicken souvlaki. “This is one of my favourite dinners,” my kids chime. I can see why. It’s the combination of good food and incredible setting.
Most of the people from Cape Town don’t seem to know about Langebaan. It has been discovered by Gautengers, and a few foreigners, like George from the kite surfing shop, who comes from Greece each year to teach people to kite surf. “It feels just like my home,” he says. “The whitewashed buildings, the sea, and the friendly village atmosphere.” Of course I have to lean forward to understand him as he enthusiastically explains this in his rich Greek accent.
What strikes us as amazing about Langebaan, and especially Club Mykonos, is that it is not only a destination but a launchpad to explore this area. “If anyone is bored here,” the Bouzouko manager says, “then there must be something wrong with them.” And he’s right. The Club Mykonos resort is built like a Greek village. A maze of winding, cobbled pathways snake between whitewashed homes, arrayed with brightly coloured shutters, set around a Mediterranean-like sea. Just lying under the palms and soaking up the atmosphere would be enough…but there’s the siren’s call of the refreshing sea, cruises on yachts, spas for those needing pampering - and our personal favourite, a glass of wine watching the sun dip into the sea and transform the world into a wonderland.
However, the opportunities don't end here. The town of Langebaan has everything from the best-value breakfast at Breeze to the best place to learn to Kite Surf in South Africa, to a plethora of quaint shops and eateries. Then within about thirty minutes drive there is the West Coast National Park with it’s stunning white beaches and flower displays in Spring, Paternoster for the quant fishing village experience - make sure you have your hake and chips in paper wrapping at the takeawawy by the beach, and Veldrift for a boat cruise and pink flamingo extravaganza!
Maybe it’s best that not too many people find Langebaan so it keeps it’s small town feel, but I think the word is getting out, and we’re sure glad we found this place! Why look at postcards when you can step into one?
One, two, three...heaven. Or at least as close to it as possible.
Backing up... “Hi Craig, welcome,” Manu says shaking my hand warmly. “The winds a bit northerly at the moment,” he says nodding towards the vaguely flapping windsock. We're at Signal Hill and below us the beautiful city of Cape Town stretches out towards the sea and the infamous Robben Island in the distance. “We need it to be more head on,” Manu the owner Cape Town Tandem Paragliding says. He then goes on to explain how we must take off into the wind. “It's not like a helicopter that creates its own wind, we need the wind to be provided.” I look at the windsock still flapping forlornly and wonder if we will fly. I'm hoping we will, but I'm all for there being enough wind to keep us up.
“It looks like the wind is fine now,” we're told about 20 minutes later. Soon I'm being strapped into my gear. It sort of feels like I'm wearing a giant diaper. “Maybe it's for those who get a little afraid on the flight,” I muse sagely as I stare down at our destination far below. “Just make sure you keep running,” Manu says, “just don’t stop or sit otherwise I’ll end up on top of you.” And so it is that after just three steps I’m suddenly like one of those cartoon characters and running in the air. The ground drops away and it’s almost miraculous as we are suddenly flying.
“We need to turn into the wind,” Manu says as we bank to the right along the side of Signal Hill. It's stunning, because rather than immediately heading off over the city, we fly along the side of the hill with the hillside brush flying past just a few meters below our feet. “It really does feel like I’m flying,” I say as the fresh Cape Town wind whips at my jacket. It’s an amazing feeling literally skimming above the plants below you, yet somehow you’re flying.
After a minute or so…time in this heavenly place takes on a different meaning, so it could have been an hour, we bank left and the hill drops away. Moments later we’re flying above the busy Sea Point suburb below us. The packed streets, crane-active buildings, and daily life seem like a distant planet as we float softly on the gentle breeze. It’s quiet. It’s tranquil. It’s amazing.
“Do you want to experience some tricks?” Manu asks as we near the Sea Point promenade. “Yeah sure!” I exclaim enthusiastically, “bring it on.” I’m loving this and the more the tranquility mingles with the thrill the better. “You don’t get motion sickness do you?” Manu enquires. Well, even if I do, I want to taste the action. “No,” I reply, “let’s do it. Even if I get sick I want to experience the fun.” And so as we glide out like a seagull with wide-spread wings over the sea, the action begins.
All of a sudden Manu banks to the left and we are thrown into a spiral. Then moments later we are tossed around and spinning in the reverse direction. Or at least I think that’s what happened. All I really know is that I’m yelping with excitement as the adrenalin pumps and the stomach gets that awesome tingling feeling. Wow!
Finally as the sparkling ocean screams past us just meters below, we bank once more to the left and are suddenly calmly floating down towards the grass field on the promenade. And then like a butterfly landing on your skin, we gently float and touch down on the grass. One, two, three…earth. Wow. What an incredible experience.
“That was incredible,” I say as Manu packs up the gear. “Absolutely incredible. How many flights do you do?” I ask.
“About one thousand a year. But then there are between three and six in the team depending on the time of year,” he continues. I can see why they’re so busy. From start to finish the experience is not only incredible, but it's professional and you feel totally safe. Minutes after we land their shuttle is there to pick us up and take us back to the top.
“Ninety!” I exclaim. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Manu replies, “The oldest person I’ve taken on a flight is 90 and the youngest is 3.”
That is incredible. It truly is a sport that anyone can do. An opportunity for anyone to experience flight in a way that a few years ago we would never have dreamed possible. An opportunity to step, at least for a moment, into heaven…or at least heavenwards, where the wonder is better experienced than ever explained...because most won’t believe until they’ve been.
I love Cape Town but not the traffic. The solution is the hop-on, hop-off, City Sightseeing Red Bus, and we've got tickets for the family to explore for the day. “Welcome on board,” beams Eric the bus driver as we step on board. We've boarded the bus at Sea Point, close to where we are staying.
The bus makes its way along the Sea Point promenade. The sun is poking out after an evening of cold rain. It's fortunate, because this experience is best seated on the top level of the bus in the open air section. “Hey Josh,” says Hannah leaning over, “there's a kids' channel.” I plug my headphones in and see they have, besides English and a whole lot of languages, a dedicated kids' channel. It's actually very vibey and I'm listening to it enjoying the banjo and “Daar kom did Alibama oor die see”. I'm feeling young...I'm looking forward to this adventure.
We arrive at the Waterfront which is where all the adventures begin and end, although you can leap on and off at will. We've decided to do the blue Peninsula tour but with a stop to do the yellow downtown tour. We love inner city experiences especially in vibey Cape Town.
The kids have their headsets plugged in, tuned to the kid channel awaiting our departure. Maybe I should “grow up” and hear what the adult channel has to say.
We've driven thousands of kilometers on our travels this year around South Africa, so there is something particularly relaxing to just sit on an open air bus while around us cars hoot and jostle for position.
As we sit atop the bus I'm grateful for my warm jacket as the winter air is fresh but invigorating. As we weave through the city we are fed a constant stream of fascinating information from the audio feed. "Look up," the commentary says, "at about the same height as the bus you will see a balcony." Like obedient robots everyone turns and looks up. "It was from this balcony that Nelson Mandela first addressed the nation of South Africa after his release." Wow, it's so cool to drive past places which were momentous occasions in the birth of our new country.
“District 6 was the birth place of Cape Town's colorful carnival,” says the dude in my ear as once again the strains of “Daar kom die Alibama” play to make the point. There is no carnival on at the moment, but a colorful array of people, from tourists to locals, fill the streets around here. It's testimony to transformation where tourist and locals mingle together in the streets.
“This wine farm has the best views and the most modern wine tasting area,” says one of the bus operators as we arrive at the wine loop. Of course you have to do the wine loop - it's Cape Town. And so we hop off at Beau Constantia. It's a short stroll from the bus stop and soon we are seated in a glass enclosed tasting room perched high above the beautiful vineyards. The sun streams into our glass sanctuary warming us as we soak it and the ambiance in.
“This sushi is delicious!” Nicky exclaims. And it is delicious. We love sushi but this warm crispy sushi on a cold day blended with a glass of award-winning wine is just what we need to satiate our lunch needs. The only issue is that we won't be buying any because the prices seem to match the area...fancy!
After Beau Constantia we continue on to Hout Bay and decide to get off here for the requisite dose of fish smell and real harbor experience. Some locals have charmed a large seal out onto the pier with fish snacks. For a few rands tourists get to take photos and have a chat with the seal. Net in Suid Afrika (only in South Africa) #ilovesouthafrica
After strolling around for a while and eating some fish-tasting “slap tjips” the bus arrives, always like clockwork, on time. It's the homeward journey now and the bus turns around at Snoekies factory...there's no doubt what they sell here as all the kids - land lubbers they all are - cover their noses to mask the smell. It's our trip back now along the beautiful Atlantic seaboard towards our end point, Sea Point.
The sun is rapidly heading towards its seaward destination and is bathing the mountain in a warm light as we travel along the bottom of the magnificent Twelve Apostles range. It's truly beautiful, and I'm almost dizzy from deciding whether to look right at the majestic mountains or left at the sun-tinted sea.
Finally with the song, from the kids audio channel, “the tourists on the bus go click, click, click...” playing over and over in my head, we get off the bus. We certainly have gone “click, click, click” as we tried to capture some of the stunning and different scenes we saw on our trip. We're just in time to watch the majestic sunset back at our apartment, with a glass of wine in hand and some more...click, click, click.
“Welcome Mr and Mrs Blewett,” say both Nicole and another person in stereo as we sit in the plush chairs at the check-in of the Twelve Apostles hotel. They apologize for the stereo welcome, but I chuckle at their enthusiasm, it's a good sign for our timeout night of escape from the kids. Soon we are sitting sipping a welcome sparkling wine while Nicole checks us in.
Entering the Twelve Apostles hotel, named after the magnificent peaks that rise behind it, that border the majestic Table mountain range, is like being transported to another world. “It's a long story,” says Nicole in reply to our question as to how they got this spot. “The hotel began as a hunting lodge, was once an advertising agency, and various other twists and turns on its journey to what it is today.” This hotel really is one of a kind, and sitting on the side of one of the world's natural seven wonders on one side and the beautiful sea on the other is a story that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
After our check-in, Nicole chatting with us like long lost friends, shows us around this amazing boutique hotel on the way to our room. I'm already wishing we were staying here for longer. “I wonder if the kids would miss us if we stayed two nights?” I muse.
“Wow!” is the first word out my mouth as we are ushered into our room. A luxurious room filled with tranquil music, fresh orchids, chilled wine and a stunning view of the sea opens before us. Our bedroom draws in the sea through a large opening that looks across the inviting lounge...where the fresh fruit, snacks and chilled wine beckon...to the sea beyond.
After soaking up the ambiance for a while, we decide to go and check out the Leopard bar before dinner. We saw it on our guided tour en route to our room. A warm chatty vibe draws us in on this cold evening. Soon we are seated beside a roaring log fire and beneath slowly turning fans, reminiscent of a bygone colonial era, waving lazily above us.
“I'm part of the family,” Nsikelelo our waiter says as we engage him in conversation after he delivers our draft beers and a tasty snack selection of nuts and olives. We have asked him how long he has been here and we can see from his beaming face that he genuinely enjoys his job. There is something about a hotel where the staff are happy that transcends good service. It's seen in their natural and relaxed conversation and the obvious pride in where they work.
What particularly strikes me about this hotel is not just the friendliness and professionalism, but something else. I can't quite put my finger on it yet.
“We'd better go to dinner if we want to make our movie,” Nicky says. Wow, I can't believe it's already time for dinner. Time seems to compress here. We walk into the Azure restaurant and are seated at our corner table. Soft music, low light and happily chatting diners fill the ambiance.
We have booked in for their special three-course dinner and movie special. Jabu our waitress explains how the menu has two styles of food from two chefs. Bea Tollman’s dishes - the owner of this hotel, has designed some delicious traditional meals like chicken noodle soup and prawn stroganoff, which sound particularly tasty on a cold winter's evening, while executive chef Christo Pretorius does a range of European taste sensations. We choose one from both.
“Here is your goat cheese mousse with passion fruit,” says another beaming waiter who looks as proud as though he were the chef. Wow! If that's what they call the palette awakener then my taste buds are now certainly waiting in eager anticipation for the meal.
However, it's not just yet. A selection of corn bread, seed bread...even a Banting option with Salmon pate arrives. “It's all too tasty for words,” says Nicky as she reaches for more. I don't bother wasting time on commentary I'm trying convince my mouth to calm down and not gobble this taste sensation too quickly.
“For me food is about the experience,” we overhear a nearby diner saying to her friend who seem to be here for a birthday celebration. I couldn't agree more. And this meal is certainly becoming a sensual experience on so many levels. My taste buds are going crazy and our starters haven't even arrived!
“This is a crazy delicious,” taste I say as I try and make sense of the explosion of flavors in my Baby Calamari Risotto. The crispy tentacles balance the succulent roast calamari, while cauliflower, barley and sultana purée compete in a dance of precision for my attention. We should quit now while our taste buds are in heaven. But we can't. What's next?
“I'm bringing you 'Table mountain in the morning',” says Jabu as she delivers our palette cleanser. I stare confusedly at her. All of a sudden our berry sorbet palette cleansers are covered in a silky plume of soft smoke as a smoking table mountainesque scene, a magic combo of dry ice and water, creates a surreal effect on our table. Ok now I really should quit. This is not only a taste sensation but a visual splendor too.
Our main meal arrives. I'm almost nervous. Prawn Stroganoff. My poor tastebuds are already needing Ritalin to calm them down. They're behaving like ADHD kids in excited anticipation. The stroganoff is...I can't use words here. You are going to have to taste it because words will not capture this taste. All I can say is now my tastebuds are now really hyper!
“Wow Jabu you're busy tonight,” I say as I've watched her go from table to table with the same passion and enthusiasm. We chat briefly and she shares her story. Her rise from being unemployed to today working in this world-class restaurant and her vision to rise to the top. “Some of the regulars ask for me she says,” beaming with obvious pride, “and so sometimes I have to handle extra tables.” I can see why they ask for her. She loves what she does, and it shows.
It looks like one of those long thin perfect pools that you see at luxury resorts for the fitness fanatics to swim lengths in. But this is not designed for a swimmer but for the tongue. It's the most amazing creme brûlée severed in a long thin bowl and my tastebuds are now swimming hyperactive lengths.
Besides the beauty of this setting, what originally drew us to the hotel was the experience. There are many great restaurants. Great hotels. Yet for us we love an experience. That’s what our journey has always been about. And so when looking for a special place to spend the evening we were attracted by the “Overnight Dinner and a Movie” combo. I have a vision of sitting in an intimate movie theater after a lovely meal. And so with the meal done its now movie time. “Milkshake or hot chocolate for the movie?”Jabu asks. Before my overindulged tastebuds can respond by requesting both I order the hot chocolate.
We're seated in the conservatory sipping hot chocolate and snacking on a tub of popcorn which arrived, just in case we are still hungry, while enjoying an old Tom Hanks movie. I'm not sure how my body is taking all this in. But there's no stopping now. I'm sinking into the soft couch. My eyes are slowly closing. Thankfully my bed is close by. For now it's just Tom, hot chocolate and the prospect of pure bliss.
Finally as the soft sheets and feather pillows draw me back to our room I realize what the “something else” is about this hotel. “It's their stories!” Jabu's story, Nicole's story, Nsikelelo's story. Our fellow diner’s story. Even the hotel's own fascinating story. It's an intersecting of lives and stories, tastes and experiences that has made this such an authentic and special place. Maybe it is fitly named after the twelve apostles about whom such great stories were once written. One thing is certain, we’ve just written a single entry in our story here. I’ve heard about a dinner and star gazing…now that sounds like another experience waiting to become a story.
Eish, it's cold. I must get these goats under cover. I know they are strong, but they will not survive outdoors in this snow. I pick up my stick to try and stop one of the stupid ones running into the road, luckily it jumps back because just at the moment a car comes around the corner. Everything is white, even the dirty goats.
One of our favourite places in South Africa is Franschhoek. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from the best coffee - and we're fussy on this front, to some of the best restaurants, to the fun European vibe, to the little town, to lots of places to enjoy a great glass of wine in a beautiful setting.
“Hey, but are you doing going on about Franschhoek…isn’t this blog about Clarens?”
It is indeed…and to me Clarens is the Franschhoek of the Free State, and possibly even Franschhoek on steroids!
After completing the crazy 90km Comrades marathon body alignment exercise, we are on the move again...black toenails and all, and our destination is Clarens. We're staying at Kiara Lodge, a timeshare resort about 10 minutes outside of Clarens. Our first shock is the weather. Brr! The sun is shining down boldly from above, casting a rich orange and red hue on everything, yet somehow it's more form than function. It's just not warm.
“This is the Free State in winter…sunny, fresh, but stunning,” I think to myself as Nicky and I float on the little dam at Kiara Lodge atop a paddle boat sipping our sundowners, soaking every sunray we can get like beleaguered lizards.
Yet what is amazing about this area is the Golden Gate Park. It's truly a stunning destination to visit. We set off on the Holkrans walk. It wends along the valley floor as it heads between towering rock structures on either side. At its end it curves around a large rock to reveal a massive cave. We scramble up into the cave and look out at the spectacular vista, framed by the cave, that our vantage point affords. Thick moss that must be centuries old grows on parts of the cave walls and is soft like some natural mattress.
A long set of wooden stairs leads up next to the cave. We clamber up them and the circular walk continues back along the ridge towards the hotel. It's surprises are not finished as the walk stops at more beautiful caves and amazing views of the valley below, framed by the endless blue sky above. It’s another world, and we are enjoying it all to ourselves.
A couple of days later we move to stay in a little cottage just 200m from Clarens town. Staying this close to Clarens means no need to drive anywhere because within walking distance are the best coffee places, incredible restaurants, walks, shops…everything. However there is one reason to drive - SKIING! Yes, you read right, skiing in Africa, it sounds like an oxymoron, but Clarens is the gateway to reaching Lesotho’s AfriSki resort.
It's early, in fact it's dark and we are up and today we are heading to AfriSki. After putting on our ski gear, which feels strange considering the brown hills around us, we clamber into Pajey and are on our way. It takes three hours to get to AfriSki, through border posts, along winding roads, over long winding narrow passes and past frozen waterfalls.
When we finally arrive at Afriski all the hills are brown and barren but AfriSki sports a single white strip like a line of Tippex fixing a mistake on the hills. The resort is empty - so we have chosen our day well and some clouds hang in the air with the promise of snow. The costs ramp up quickly for a day like today. There's the fuel…six hours worth, then entrance of R50 p.p. then ski hire and ski pass. We discover that half day prices start at 12 noon so we go for that. The end cost is about R500 p.p. which when I think about it is way cheaper than Europe!
We've brought the bum boards so spend some time sliding down a slope having find careening into the barrier at the bottom. We have about an hour before half day starts so we go to the pub. A warm log fire is crackling and we add a round of cappuccinos to complete the alpine experience. It feels surreal sitting in this snowy world with people clumping around in ski boots just hours from Clarens.
It's time to go get out gear and soon we are kitted and ready to hit the slopes. As we emerge out of the ski hire shop the snow begins to fall. It's the first snow they've seen in months. Huge soft flakes float gently down and soon everything begins to turn into a magical winter wonderland. We can't believe God's gift to us. It's stunning. It’s time to hit the slope….OK “slopette”. Only one slope is open, the bottom one, which provides a 10-second ride. Hey it’s Africa and we’re skiing…even 10 seconds is epic. We fly down it, we meander it, we try parallel skiing it, we try backwards, we even try doing circles. We just do fun.
By 3:30 we do our final run, savouring every moment. We have to head back now. I don't relish driving in snow on these mountain passes. As we descend the pass the snow starts to come down heavily blanketing the road in complete white and making driving much more challenging. “Watch out!” Nicky calls as I veer to the right to avoid a stray goat being chased by a blanket wrapped Basotho herder. His muddy goats are quickly turning white as the snow begins to blanket everything white.
Slowly the snow is left behind as we descend heading towards the border and Clarens beyond that. The sun dips in the horizon exploding the dramatic clouds into a pyrotechnic display. It’s as though the beauty cannot end, but then this the wonder of this beautiful part of Southern Africa…sip, shop, ski…sensational!
Clip, clip, clip. Once more my tips are trimmed. It's been the same routine for over 40 years. I'm never short of water or food. I'm never too hot or too cold. I'm constantly cared for, constantly groomed, but yet I am still so small. So unbelievably small.
How do you script a perfect anniversary day? Well it's hard after the previous day's experiences at Kagga Kamma and God's bedroom - but we are determined nonetheless.
The start is obvious. Walk the 100 meters down Frasnschhoek's Huguenot street to the best coffee spot, The Hoek. Begin the day with the best flat white around and their delicious chocolate twists - crispy on the outside with soft chocolate on the inside. Great start!
We then head over Hellshoegte Pass to the university town of Stellenbosch. Unlike Franschhoek on the opposite side of the mountain, Stellenbosch is not only bigger and busier, but it has a student vibe not a tourist vibe. The green heart of Stellenbosch is a stunning botanic garden and so we start our visit here. Soon we are immersed it its beauty and tranquility.
“This bonsai is 40 years old,” an official and obviously knowledgeable curator says as he gently trims the tree. Everything about it is miniature, even the fruits. It's amazing. “Yes,” he replies, “they are olives. However they are a special olive that is naturally small and so it makes them appear just right for the tree.” It's like we've been transported to a Lilliputian world. In fact we are so enraptured we even consider returning next week for a bonsai course.
We wander out the gate and notice a popup art exhibition in a disused building, and discover that Stellenbosch is having a huge art festival. And so begins a visual feast as we stroll through art shows in restaurants and shops, craft markets in hidden corners, and food stalls tantalizingly beckoning the unwary towards them. We soon find ourselves wandering around the vaulted halls of Stellenbosch's museum and art gallery. It's like being in another world - art, music, beauty, history, smells, tastes.
It's not long before our meanderings lead us past a restaurant that is advertising a delicious sounding mushroom burger. And so like those helpless to the siren's call we are drawn in for a burger and beer. A student sits with a long empty coffee cup at a nearby table working on his computer, while at another table a group of friends laugh loudly as they clink their glasses in a toast. The food is rich and full of flavor, just like our experience in Stellenbosch.
Returning to the botanic gardens towards our car we round off our experience with a dark chocolate cake and a chocolate mousse cake washed down with a double espresso. Our gastronomical glands are enraptured.
Did I say “round off our experience”? You can't leave Stellenbosch without wine tasting, it is one of the top wine regions in the world. And so we need to round off, again, our experience, by visiting Blaauwklippen and Lanzerec wine farms for a taste of the grape and a mellowing of the soul. Now we feel fully rounded off! With a glow of contement we drive back to Franschhoek to spend a few hours catching up on life before the coup de grâce of our day - dinner at Rocos.
We arrive at Rocos which is located at Dieu Donne wine farm just before sunset. We are seated outside where we have drinks and watch the sun explode the sky into oranges and reds from behind the mountain. We then move indoors to their beautiful glass enclosed restaurant and settle to enjoy what Josh and Hannah say are the best meals they have ever had - I have a Pork Belly that is superlative, Hannah has the Springbok Loin which is equally delectable and Josh and Nicky share a cheese board starter and a Pork Belly.
We all feel a little like porkers with full bellies, but as I drive home and slip into bed I can truly say this has been a day gifted by God…a gift that began 23 years ago and just keeps on getting better. Thank you Lord for 23 years and my four beautiful gifts.
It's a great time of year mainly because there's no shortage of food. Yet I know that it won't always be like this. In a short time the sun will not be as warm and the days will be short. So I don't take the food for granted. Even though we have enough I'm constantly searching for more. Yet today there are so many people around. It's unusual. Every now and then I spot an opportunity to dart down. I've seen an acorn lying just below a nearby tree. I climb rapidly down and dart across the open grass. Grasping the acorn with glee I turn to climb my tree. My heart leaps as a huge person towers over me. I jump backwards clawing at a nearby tree as I scuttle to the safety above, thankfully still holding my find.
There are many amazing things you can do on the Western Cape but if you are there at the right time of year, like the end of summer, there is a real treat you can share in. In what has echoes of Biblical times, we head to Eikendal Wine Farm to celebrate their annual harvest. We had been warned to get there early to secure a good spot so using our Berg Time to our advantage – we moved our watches two hours forward in January and we're still enjoying it - we manage to get there by 10am Local Time, 12 noon Berg Time.
We are ahead of the imminent masses and find a lovely tree and table near the edge overlooking the vineyards on one side and the lake on the other. Hannah and Josh notice an unused mega bean bag and drag it over to our idyllic spot. They plop down onto their comfy spot and we lean back to watch the arrivals.
Slowly like ants attracted to honey the crowds begin to roll in. Lounging in our spot we watch the latecomers’ despair as they search in vain for a nice table but have to settle for a spot under the burning sun. And so a day of relaxation and celebration unfolds. From tractor rides to grape stomping to art exhibitions to just chatting or lying on the huge bean bag, this is a wonderful way to spend a day.
The highlights are the grape stomping and the wine christening. Huge barrels of grapes are brought and throwing decorum to the wind the revelers leap in barefooted, dresses lifted high and long trousers pulled up. Children giggle excitedly as locals and foreigners, young and old enjoy the squishy sensation of crushing grapes with their feet. I'm not sure I'd want to drink the resultant wine, it piquant, somewhat acidic flavours with a lingering sweaty nose might not be the best. But it is sure fun stomping those grapes.
The harvest celebration pinnacle involves the naming and releasing of the new season’s wine. This year the 2015 Chardonnay is named after Solly Kramers wife, Anita. Of course what's the worth of naming without tasting! A huge barrel is opened and faster than squirrels on heat the crowds converge. I stand patiently in the line and am finally rewarded with a glass of strange milky colored wine – apparently this milky color is part of the final wine process. With glee I navigate the swarming harvest revelers with my glass headed for our table. I'm so intent on my destination I nearly step on a squirrel who also must have been celebrating with too much fruit of the vine judging from his startled expression and hasty exit up a tree. We drink deeply of the new vintage enjoying is tropical and slightly sweet taste. Here’s to Anita!
With the lingering taste of joy filling our souls we finally leave to pick up Sarah who has spent the weekend with her friends at UCT before heading back to our base at Franschhoek.
One might be tempted to think that this is the end of the day. One would be wrong – this is the Cape and there is always the prospect of a sunset which one cannot leave unseen. So Nicky and I, armed with sushi and a drop more wine, head to our special sunset dam in Franschhoek where we toast the end of a wonderful day and give thanks to God who has made all things possible.
Blue skies and deep cool shade blended with live music and good food results in a full bodied experience with a long finish. This truly has been a time of celebration.
The sun’s just rising as it breaks through the dark clouds. I sniff the air sensing danger but I’m not sure what it is. Hearing nothing I turn to to eat the new leaves from a tree next to the gently flowing river. Moments later I look up again. Something is wrong. I sniff the air again. I can hear something. It’s seems far off. What is it? The others in the herd are also looking up now, all staring in the same direction searching for the source of the strange sound. My muscles are tense, ready to propel me away from danger. All of a sudden one of the herd breaks into a gallop and I instinctively respond by leaping off in the same direction. Moments later a thunderous sound rises behind me. My heart is pounding as I strain to outrun the sound. My nostrils flare as I snuffle the air still trying desperately to identify the danger. And then I see it. My eyes roll in horror. I renew my effort to avoid it, but…
We drive along a gravel road that looks like we are lost and simply heading off into the Lost World, but all of a sudden a group of buildings appears and with the crunch of our tires on the gravel we park our Pajero. We’ve arrived at the West Coast Fossil Park. Inside the building offers welcome respite from the heat outside. We’ve come here to do a tour of the fossil finds that have been made in this area. As we wait for a guide to do a presentation we look around at the displays describing what they think happened in this area. The eerie frozen posture of a stuffed lassie alongside other stuffed animals gives the place a “Night in the Museum” feel. I wonder if these creatures run riot here when all the tourists have left?
Our guide introduces herself and then shows us a brief video of what archaeologists think happened in this area gazillions of years ago. However, while this is interesting, the reason we are here is the promised tour of the fossil dig site. Soon we have left the slightly ageing museum and are following our guide’s bakkie back along a dirt track to the dig site. The trail of four cars comes to a halt in a cloud of dust as we all emerge to cluster around an information sign. Beyond the sign is a valley with several dome covered structures. Our guide explains the history and geology of the land as we look on with expectation of what lies within the covered dig sites.
Soon we shuffle down uneven, rudimentary stairs and arrive at a sorting deck. It contains thousands of small stones that are shaken to let the dirt drop through in order to allow archaeologists to search for potential fossils. It looks exhausting, and we are just looking at the pile of it-all-looks-the-same stones not trying to sort it.
Entering the covered dig site we find we are walking on a suspended platform and below us a crisscross arrangement of strings has been strung to organise the various sections of the dig. A mass of bones can be seen protruding all over the place. It looks like Night at the Museum gone wrong, with so many bones sticking out of rocks.
“This is a Sivathere,” our guide says pointing at a bone half protruding from what looks like hard mud. “It’s a short necked, long horned giraffe.” I’m not seeing much giraffe, just a few bones that look like they fell off some dude’s braai. “This is a section of the Sivathere’s jaw,” he says pointing with a long stick at one of the bones. Sure enough it does look like a jaw bone, a pretty large one at that. This giraffe-like animal which looks more like an impala on steroids, stands 3 meters in height. It’s a monster giraffe.
“Check out how big it is,” Josh says, standing next to a drawing of it. This gives me an appreciation of its size. It’s massive. “There are over 500 Sivatheres entombed in the mud in this area,” our guide continues. “It seems that they were grazing in this area and a flash flood came roaring down the valley drowning them all.” This is amazing as there is no river in sight anymore. Our guide explains that this area was once a forest with a river and the sea was a lot closer than it is today. Looking outside at the dry, dusty area its hard to believe. But there's no doubt there are lots of these Siva things all over the place here. Either something disastrous happened to them or it was a mass suicide or some bushmen had a big Siva Steak party one night!
It is truly amazing standing there looking at the scene of obvious destruction with hundreds of animal bones all scattered around. “Each square,” our guide says pointing at one of the hundreds of squares in the excavation, “takes a week to excavate.” I’m not sure I would have the patience for this. This is confirmed a few minutes later. After ending our tour of the dig site we drive back to the admin building where we are led through a sorting center. Our guide holds up a jar with thousands of tiny white sticks in it. “Any idea what these are?” he asks. It seems like a silly question to me. “Tiny white sticks,” I answer knowing I’m going to get the teachers-bright-spark-award. Alas, I’m to be disappointed. “No," he says casting me a disdainful look, "these are the frog tibias,” he replies. "Hang! How did I not guess that," I wonder. “All femurs, tibias, etc. are sorted and kept together, like in this jar here,” he says pointing to another jar with millions more tiny white sticks in it.
It’s now that I realise I’ve made the correct career choice. Hey this is fascinating. I loved learning about the Siva-thing and how it may have met it’s untimely end, but wow, I can’t see me dusting off bones for weeks on end to then be rewarded with sorting frog sticks into bottles. I can hardly keep my socks sorted.
“I’m just grateful there are people that enjoy this,” I say, as we enjoy a snack in the tea garden at the end of our tour. One of my in-laws friends who accompanied us says, “I’m just grateful they allow fossils to visit fossils”, laughing as he digs into his huge lemon meringue slice. There’s no doubt, this has been a fascinating experience, stepping back in time. What is most amazing is that we walk not just in a place but in a time. Where I now stand others have once stood and others will one day stand. We live for just a moment, we should make the most of our time and not let our legacy be just a frog bone in a jar of history, but a meaningful difference in the lives of those we pass by in our brief journey.
I'm attracted by the cries of excitement of the others. It means they have found food. Swooping down from high I see that they are fighting over some food on the beach. As I near the edge of the building a piece of food flies past me towards the ground. I dive down determined to catch it before it reaches the ground. Just before the food hits the ground, and the others with beaks open expectantly can anticipation grab it, I snatch it from the air, rising with a squawk of triumph.
“Wow, this feels like like Greece,” Nicky gushes as we walk the narrow cobbled alleyways between the whitewashed buildings towards our accommodation. We are staying at a timeshare at Club Mykonos in Langebaan, and the haphazard tiny streets and white buildings next to a tranquil sea remind us of our time in Greece. Langebaan, situated on the north cost of the Western Cape provides not only an idyllic place to chill, but a perfect spot to explore this fascinating area.
“It’s like being in a boat,” Joshua says as he stands on the balcony looking down at the beach. Our unit is built suspended just above the beach with the waves crashing below us. All of a sudden there is a flurry of activity amongst the seagulls on the beach below. Joshua has tossed a scrap of bread down to them. “Watch this,” he says, as he throws a piece of bread down towards the beach. “It won't touch the ground.” He’s right. A seagull comes sweeping from above and snatches the bread in midair, before banking sharply to rise again while the disconsolate seagulls below hurl abuse at it.
“Crayfish meneer? Crayfish?” a weathered looking fisherman says holding a live crayfish out towards us. Paternoster, just 45km north of Langebaan is a tiny fishing village that has become a popular tourist destination. Paternoster means "Our Father” and its old whitewashed stone houses that cluster together around the tranquil blue bay make it appear to be a “father” of towns. The beach is a riot of colours and activity caused by the brightly coloured fishing boats that have been pulled up on the sand and the customers huddled around the fresh catches that the fishermen have brought in. A lone yacht is moored in the bay that stretches out from the long white beach to the azure blue sky in the distance.
Nestled right next to the beach is a fish market where, in the busy season, the fishermen display their catches. It’s here that the best fish and chips can be bought. Leaning over those waiting to pick up their orders I shout, “Three hake and chips, please.” Through the hatch in the wall I can see a frenzy of activity as an endless procession of freshly fried fish and chips is being produced. There’s nothing that makes fish taste better than sitting on a hard wooden bench, hunched over paper-wrapped fish, surrounded by the sound of seagulls, and the smell of the sea hanging in the air.
Leaving Paternoster we drive further north to Velddrift. We arrive early for our sunset cruise, so we sit next to the Berg River and soak up the atmosphere as the boat makes final preparations to leave while the sun starts melting into the horizon bringing with it a welcome coolness to the hot day. “Hello everyone,” the captain says as we all seat ourselves on the boat. “Wil jy he dat ek in Afrikaans praat or would you prefer me to speak in English.” Thankfully there are some visitors from the UK on the boat so I won’t have my limited Afrikaans put to the test. “My name is Tollie,” he continues with a chuckle as those in the know laugh at the meaning of his name. I lean over and ask my father-in-law, who is Afrikaans, why people are laughing, and he says it has something to do with bulls losing their manhood. I ask no more. “I’ve been doing this for years,” Tollie says consoling the foreign visitors aboard, “but I am not old,” he quickly adds with a grin. “In fact I never want to be so old that I have to watch Sevende Laan,” he says referring to a South African sitcom. I nod in agreement - that would be old!
Soon we are cruising along the glassy smooth Berg river which has its source in the Franschhoek mountains, where we departed from a week ago. “This is the area to see birds,” Tollie says, as he points to a group of pelicans sitting on the edge of the water. With that there is a rush to the one side of the boat with cameras whirring. Thankfully the passengers are not super-sized so there is no serious listing of the boat. “Look there,” Tollie says moments later. And there we see a flock of beautiful flamingos. It’s like we have be transferred to South America. They stand gracefully on the edge of the river, in their iconic one-legged pose, surveying us with seeming indifference as we cruise quietly by. Their vibrant pink colours burst into life as the sun casts its final orange and red hues on them. We’ve traveled from the beach paradise of Greece to the tropical waterways of South America, and we have not left South Africa. This country truly is a world all in one!