Tuesday, January 24, 2012

South Africa Day 10 - Tsitsikamma National Park

Made the most of the sumptuous spread laid out for our delectation in the large breakfast room, and after filling up we took the short drive the Knysna Heads, here two dramatic sea cliffs create a lagoon which they protect from the worst of the pounding waves. The weather was dismal so we didn’t get much of a view, dramatic or otherwise, but we dutifully walked down to the shore because, well, we were there and that’s what you do.

A view from Knysna Heads, it looks more interesting that it was
Apart from that, didn’t really see much else, most of the area was filled with gentrified suburbs, as is the way for coastal retreats, not that there was much to retreat from. After that we motored to Thesen Islands, which consist of a series of 19 man made islands linked by 21 arched bridges situated in the Knysna estuary. We took the road that connects it to the mainland and drove into what was a small version of Venice if Venice had been built by yuppies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

South Africa Day 9 - Carry on up the Knysna (pass)

After a decent breakfast, accompanied by the pleasing sound of running water (we were sat not by the toilets, but next to a small terrace fountain), we checked out of Queens Hotel but left our luggage in the safe hands of the receptionist, whilst we had another bash at the Swartberg Pass.

View from the Pass
This time we got all the way to Prince Albert, the town that that lies at the end of the Pass, or the beginning depending on which way you’re coming from of course. By necessity the journey was pretty slow going, the road is traversable but quite steep in places and as rough as a badgers arse for most of it, so the car took a bit of a beating. But I told the car it was worth it, if only you had eyes to see what we were seeing, I told it, or ears to hear me talking to you, or a voice like in Knight Rider, that would have been amazing. But of course it didn’t, despite the fact I painted KITT on the back of it in Tipex after we picked it up, it just wasn’t enough to make it happen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

South Africa Day 8 - Oudtshoorn

After a rip roaring breakfast at Rothman Manor, one of the very best so far, much like the place itself, we trundled, with balloon like paunches, to the car and made speed out of Swellendam, pointing ourselves firmly in the direction of Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn’s main claim to fame I believe, and if this is not so then it should be, as it is indeed a marvellous main claim upon that fame, is that it’s the home of ostriches. And when I say home, I don’t just mean a well proportioned pile with a separate reception room and space for a bonquet. I’m talking a dwelling of epic proportions, replete with banqueting halls for each day of the week and more cupolas than you can shake a foxhound at.

Ostrich doing what it does best

Saturday, January 14, 2012

South Africa Day 7 - Swellendam

Had an early breakfast before packing up our stuff yet again in readiness for the journey to Swellendam. Already I’m getting into a routine of packing, making sure everything is in its place, each item fitting in perfect unison. My suitcase is like a well oiled machine, each piece coming together and harmonising in perfect completeness. In fact, now I think of it, my packing is also like a ballet, where I am the conductor upon his rostrum, where my shirts are the horn section, shorts the percussion and my pants the brass. Anyway, you get the idea. So, after that graceful performance we were speeding out of town with the open road in view.

10 minutes later we were back at the hotel as I had left the passports, money and my driving license behind in the room safe. But after that, we were definitely off.

Again we stopped in Boschendal to have a look at the manor house, as it was closed the day before. If you’re looking for a restored 19th century Cape farmhouse then you cannot go far wrong with Boschendal Manor House, besides the fact it is one of very few in existence, it does give a sense of stepping back in time with it’s beautiful period furnishings and of course it’s pièce de résistance - an antique four poster stinkwood bed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

South Africa Day 6 - Wineries

After being greeted by a shining and candidly blue sky upon awaking we immediately partook of breakfast by the pool. After a genteel meander through our morning collation of croissants and pastries with the accompaniment of various delicate preserves, quietly rounding off with a robust coffee, we at last felt able to face the world.

Yes, we were about to enter the refined and exquisite world of the winery.

The wine region is split into five wine routes, which all told, encompass two hundred wine and grape producers that lie within the boundaries of the Stellenbosh Wine of Origin classification. We opted for the Helderberg route which is situated to the south of Stellenbosh and who’s farthest reaches border the Somerset West shoreline.

We hadn’t chosen this route for any particular reason except, much like a ripe red grape, it was a nice plumy purple colour on the little map we had. This is quite appropriate I guess, as I tend to choose wines on how appealing their labels look.

Without blowing my own trumpet, I’m unabashed to say that this is not a method of classification I have come across elsewhere, so I was looking forward to imparting my knowledge upon the estate owners we were about to meet, who I’m in no doubt, would be surprised, yet inordinately grateful for an opportunity to expand their understanding of ‘the Grape’.

After a bit of a tour around, including stopping at an estate that had its very own menagerie of wildlife, I took the opportunity to snap a few zebras with the lens I had hired for the safari part of the trip. Little did I know that this was the first and last time I would use it.

Zebras looking. Yes looking.

Friday, January 6, 2012

South Africa Day 5 - Table Mountain & Stellenbosch

Woke up to a glorious morning, a clear, burnished blue sky sporting a fat, cheerful sun. We decided that this was a perfect end to our stay in Cape Town and more importantly was a perfect time to be heading up my old nemesis – Table Mountain!

We headed out straight away, forgoing the diversion of breakfast for the moment, we could always grab some later after those Table Mountain aspirations had been sated. We buckled up and shot from the outskirts of the city like a sprightly bulimic towards an all you can eat buffet, speeding up the road to the cable car, determined not to waste our last chance at glory.

We actually got there slightly too early in fact as it was still over half an hour away from opening, but not to worry, it meant we would be one of the first up there on this most auspicious of days. We were second in line, seems someone wanted it even more than ourselves, or like us they’d thought it opened earlier than it did. So after a short wait, and with quiet anticipation, we paid our fare and entered the cable car that would take us all the way up the mother of all flat topped mountains.

At last, my view of glory awaits. That little mound at the top is the upper station.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

South Africa Day 4 - Bo Kaap & Townships

Woke to an exceedingly grey morning, with intermediate rain, needless to say Table Mountain was off the cards yet again, I couldn’t even be bothered to lament at the situation, instead I went down to breakfast and stuffed myself with an inhuman quantity of pancakes.

Feeling overstuffed and under whelmed we drove into the city and took a gander at the Bo Kaap, or the Cape Malay Quarter. This section of Cape Town was originally established after the years of slavery in the city throughout the 18th century, when people were shipped in from around the world, especially from Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony for several centuries. They were the first to bring Islam to South Africa.

The sky may be grey but the houses are sunny
Although it is called the Malay community it should be more accurately called the Muslim community as most of the inhabitants speak Afrikaans or English, but no longer the Malay languages. But whatever they speak, they sure know how to paint up a storm. The area includes a number of streets, full of houses covered in various vibrant hues and make for an arresting site and decent way to spend a couple of hours, camera in hand.