France, South Africa · 26 Days · 100 Moments · November 2017

Cissy in South Africa

26 December 2017

Boxing Day and our last day in South Africa. It’s been a blast! Today we went out to the V&A Waterfront and walked out to Sea Point. Quite a long walk and we hired bikes for the way back. It was a lovely sunny day and we had time for a quick supper near our hotel before the airport taxi and heading home. An amazing 4 weeks!

25 December 2017

Christmas dinner was at the Kloof Street House, a Victorian building with an amazing interior and garden. We had to wait for a table as they were booked out, but it was worth it! I had ostrich – a bit of a change from turkey...
Christmas Day! It honestly doesn’t feel like it, which I like ...😎 So we had a chilled morning at the hotel and at lunchtime decided to get tickets to the cable way up Table Mountain. I can’t believe I’m writing this because we should be walking up it ... But in our defence it was a very hot day and I don’t think I would have made it. As a compromise we walk the hour and a half uphill to the cable way.

24 December 2017

Christmas Eve! It is the last day of having a car and the Polo has to be returned tomorrow morning (yep, stuff is open on Christmas Day in SA). We haven’t yet been to Stellenbosch – and it’s only a short drive from Cape Town – so that is this afternoon’s destination. We do ONE wine tasting at Spiers, one of the original wineries in the region.
View of Table Mountain from hotel window.
The final leg back to Cape Town. We are staying for three nights (23, 24, 25) at the Cape Town Hollow Boutique Hotel - good position next to Company Gardens and the room has a view of the gardens and Table Mountain :)

23 December 2017

As if today hadn’t been busy enough, we had booked tickets (when we first arrived in Cape Town) to one of the summer concerts in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. We managed to get back to Cape Town just in time and squeezed a space in the garden to see ‘Mango Groove’. It was a lovely sunny eve and the gardens were mobbed.
The gardens at Boschendal.
Our second stop was Boschendal and, as expected, a complete contrast. This is one of the oldest farms in South Africa (founded 1685) and it has been making wine for 300 years. The setting is stunning and the estate has been beautifully looked after. There are several food options, from freshly prepared picnic hampers (which you take into the grounds along with your wine and ice bucket) to the Werf restaurant. We got a table at the Werf and chose the lunch with paired wines. I will post some piccies but it won’t do it justice!
Our first stop (we are only going to visit two wineries) is Leopard’s Leap. We had a bit of late brunch there and the ‘standard’ wine tasting (usually this is made up of five of the wineries most typical wines: two whites, a rosé and two reds; costing 25–35 Rand – only £1.50–£2!). Leopard’s Leap is set in lovely grounds and the interior is fresh and modern. The rosé was favourite (strawberry yoghurt 😋).
The Corner House, where we stayed in Franschhoek, was lovely! We were served a fabulous breakfast outside in the terrace this morning. We had gone for a walk around town when we arrived last night (live music and a Saturday market in the town centre) but we will explore a bit more and check out the art galleries before we head off ... wine tasting!

22 December 2017

Live music at the market and Christmas tree Franschhoek style.
Babylonstoren is a historic Cape Dutch farm (dating back to 1692) that has one of the best preserved farmyards in the Cape and a magnificent garden. Its formal restaurant ‘Babel’ is fully booked (and has been for months ...) but luckily there are plenty of other eating and wine tasting options.
Next stop for us is the Cape Winelands. Matjiesfontein is not far from Paarl, one of the three big centres of winemaking we hope to get to (the others are Franschhoek and Stellenbosch). I particularly want to visit he Babylonstoren Estate on the outskirts of Paarl. We will stay the night in Franschhoek and explore there tomorrow.
A slightly stressful drive in the dark (including being pulled over by the police for a roadside check) to find somewhere to stay led us to this place! This pile (the Lord Milner Hotel) is in the very ‘English’ Matjiesfontein. It was a great place and really well priced.

21 December 2017

Well this was an unexpected end to the day! It was a very dreich afternoon by the time we got to the National Park and there was no available accommodation :( We decided to pay the park fees anyway so we could spend 3 hours or so looking round. It was very wet and there were very few visitors. But just as we were driving the last part of the trail we saw a pride of lions! So exciting. We watched them for some time before having to tear ourselves away to get out of the park before the gates were locked at 7pm.
The wide open landscape of the Great Karoo.
A few views of Prince Albert.

20 December 2017

We drove two of the Four Passes in the end, the first (Schoemanspoort) just after Oudtshoorn and the second (the Swartberg Pass) on the way to Prince Albert. The Schoemanspoort pass was pleasant enough but the Swartberg Pass through the Great Swartberg Mountains was mindblowing ! It was much longer than we expected and also unpaved (we were in a little VW Polo not a 4X4). Suffice to say we hadn’t left enough time to finish it and get to Price Albert before dark ... Great description at:
I had to take a picture of this, the colours are amazing! Oudtshoorn used to be a very rich place; it was where the ‘ostrich barons’ built their fine stone houses (the surrounding land is perfect for rearing and farming ostriches). They made their money during the Victorian and Edwardian periods when the feathers were in demand for clothing and bags. These women were making and selling every colour of feather duster!
On our way to Oudtshoorn we stopped off to see ‘The Big Tree’: an 800-year-old outeniqua yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus). It is over 36 m tall (9 m circumference) and towers over the rest of the canopy. A giant among giants!
We are now getting used to driving in SA and parking and buying petrol are no longer quite such alarming experiences! Each garage petrol pump seems to be attended by up to a dozen individuals. There is a lot of shouting, jumping and waving to guide you in and then every car window is washed, rinsed, squeegeed and towel dried before you have had time to turn the ignition off ... Similar with parking in the street. There are informal attendants everywhere to ‘help you’ park and look after the car. No one seems to have a fixed price in mind for any of these activities – a few Rand is the norm. Everyone has their particular job to do (real or improvised) and that’s how the world goes round. [It’s always a problem with advice in guidebooks – believing that you are going to get mugged or ripped off if you step out of your locked car. Good to be careful but not let it spoil interactions with others or stop you buying mangoes at traffic lights ...]
Longish drive today – we want to head back west via ‘Route 62’ and the ‘Four passes’, which will take us away from the coast and into the mountains. We didn’t set off with a particular end point in mind; Oudtshoorn, Prince Albert or somewhere else in the Karoo would be good.
Amazing waves crashing at Storms River Mouth.

19 December 2017

Fabulous swimming spot at the end point of the waterfall trail.
Beautiful day today and we are going to do the waterfall trail which runs along the coast and through some native forest.

18 December 2017

Watching the #sunset
Blue duiker!
No blue duikers (although we ended up seeing one of the shy elusive creatures eating the shrubbery outside our apartment later). Lots of invertebrates and fungi though.
The rain stopped! Spent the afternoon doing the ‘Blue duiker’ forest trail – a good place to see the smallest SA antelope apparently.
Storms River Mouth is a beautiful spot and I can’t believe it is only mentioned in passing in our guide books. On spec we asked the National Park office if they had any accommodation – and luckily there is a single ‘Oceanette’ left (SAN Parks have a range of cabins, camping spots and little apartments). It is perfect and we grab it for 2 nights.
Even the wildlife seemed fed up with the weather! Alan wasn’t keen on this little chap on account of his ‘beady eyes’ and ‘rattyness’ but I think the feeling was mutual ;) He is a rock hyrax – first time I’ve ever seen one. Very interesting creatures, their nearest living relatives are elephants and dugongs.
Beautiful abalone shell found on the beach.
It was rainy and cold when we arrived in Storms River. We spent a night at a rambling but cosy hotel in the village (with open fire!) and drove down to the river mouth the next morning. The ‘suspension bridge walk’ is one of the hikes in Tsitsikamma National Park it was dramatic if a bit wet ...

17 December 2017

We have decided to have a final day exploring the Garden Route but not to go to Jeffreys Bay or Port Elizabeth (too far). Glad we did because after a drive through Plettenberg Bay, Wilderness and Nature’s Valley, and not really seeing anywhere we wanted to stop, we ended up at the village of Stormsrivier – a great little place.

16 December 2017

A highlight of Knysna is this informal Somalian seafood restaurant (Freshline fisheries) tucked away in a railway siding in the docks – it was packed on this Saturday night although a heavy rain shower drove some people away (the tarpaulin covering the tables was porous!). The waiters brought beach brollies and blankets though and all was well.
A (the!) highlight of Mossel Bay is the museum dedicated to the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, the first European to sail around the southern most tip of Africa (1488). There is a replica of the ship he sailed in, which itself sailed here from Portugal in the 1980s, and an aquarium.
The good thing about not having a plan or pre-booked accommodation is the freedom to up and leave if you dislike a place (although I’m sure this overly relaxed attitude might not always work in our favour!). Neither of us have taken to the Garden Route so far. The towns of Mossel Bay and Knysna are odd so we only spend one night in each (maybe we are missing something ...). Knysna’s ‘highlights’ are gated holiday bungalow communities built on the various islands around the lagoon. The central island has upmarket shops and eateries.

15 December 2017

This morning we have a fairly long drive to Mossel Bay and the start of the Garden Route proper. Everyone has recommended the town of Knysna as the place to go (which is a bit further along the coast than Mossel Bay). We will stop for lunch at Swellendam – one of SA’s ‘most picturesque small towns and the 3rd oldest’ (as far as those established by the Dutch are concerned I guess).

14 December 2017

A late afternoon wander after being safely deposited in town by Wine Hoppers is just what we need to clear our heads! Some pics of the harbour and open air fishing museum in Hermanus. Still no whale sightings!
How to describe lunch at Creation Wines! I booked the option of seven small plates with eight matched wines (first course was paired with two different Sauvignon Blancs). Food and wine pairing is what this winery is famous for and it didn’t disappoint; it was one of the most memorable meals I have eaten. We sat outside in the sun on the terrace to eat, and each plate was beautifully presented.
Wineries visited: Bouchard Finlayson (old school, knowledgeable, famous Pinot noir); La Vierge (a bit in your face) and Ataraxia (decidedly up its own bottom but v nice prize-winning Chardonnay).
Well who knew. Hermanus is a very short distance from a number of low key but quite exclusive wineries in the ‘Hemmel-en-aarde’ valley – a fact I discovered by chatting to one or two of the SA wine cognoscenti on the last morning of our stay. We had to work quickly to rectify matters! By midday we had signed up to a Wine-hoppers ‘wine safari’ and booked a late lunch at Creation wines (highly recommended). [Hemmel-en-aarde translates as Heaven and Earth and is the basis for the rather odd/annoying biblical references in some of the wineries.] Our late start meant missing three of the wineries (as it turns out no bad thing) but there was plenty of time to see another three before lunch. Wine hoppers do pick-ups and drop-offs in a high safari style jeep, which is accessed by a rickety step ladder (as it turns out quite a bad thing). All very laid back and no rush to fit any particular timetable.

13 December 2017

No whales! But the little fishing town of Hermanus is lovely. After finding a really nice and well priced guest house we are going to spend two days here.
After the trip round the Cape Peninsula we are heading to ‘The Garden Route’ in the Southern Cape. Not quite sure what to expect of this but it is a popular holiday destination for South Africans and half of our guide book is dedicated to this stretch of coast. False Bay is supposed to be the best place to see migrating southern right whales and their calves, although we have missed peak season (September/October).

12 December 2017

Further along the coast is Kalk Bay – where we ended up wishing we had stayed! Lots of art galleries, curio and book shops with good food and drink options. The village is very much underplayed by the guide books which is a shame. Decided to book a room for the night in nearby Muizenberg to give us time for a wander round. Muizenberg reminds me of what I think Cape Cod looks like (I have never been). Faded seaside facades, colourful beach huts and seafood shacks – I love it. We had fabulous seafood at ‘Livebait’, a restaurant in a converted Art Deco building on the seafront.
We stayed in Simon’s Town after visiting the Cape. It is famous for its land-based colony of African penguins at ‘Boulders’ (over 2K individuals). A really pretty stretch of coast with large granite boulders and rock formations interspersed with white sand and tidal pools. The penguins are everywhere and don’t seem to mind sharing the beach and swimming pools with people (quite funny as we had been creeping around trying not to disturb!). The town is also a SA navy base and has a really interesting naval history. The Dutch East India Company used False Bay as its fleet’s winter anchorage from 1743 and then from 1814 it was the British Royal Navy’s base in the South Atlantic (until the handover to South Africa). There is an old ‘burying ground’ at the back of the bay filled with the graves of mariners, unnamed sailors and children.

11 December 2017

Picked up another hire car this morning (a VW Polo for a bargain £9 per day for the two week hire) and set off for a tour of the Cape Peninsula. This is described as a day trip from Cape Town in the guide books but we are planning to spend a couple of nights here and not rush. First stop was for lunch at Hout Bay, a fishing village and kind of faded seaside resort (which I loved). Afterwards we headed for the Cape of Good Hope ...

10 December 2017

A Sunday walk around the city today. We started at ‘Company Gardens’ (established by the Dutch East India Company when there were ‘trading problems’ with the local people). Next we walked around the brightly painted Bo-Kaap area which is the Muslim quarter. Later we got a taxi down to the V&A waterfront (Victoria and Alfred as it turns out). The waterfront was very glitzy with lots of new buildings and shops - although you can still see the original architecture and it remains a working dock.

9 December 2017

First impression of Cape Town is – THE WIND! I was nearly blown over twice while walking from the station, but at least it was warm wind. Staying for two nights now at the Fritz Hotel, which is right in the centre of the City Bowl near the popular Kloof St and Long St (latter was full of loud clubs and bars on Saturday night so we decided to avoid ...). Had a late supper at the Kloof House - Alan had ostrich!
Shosholosa promise more than ‘a pleasant experience’ but they never mentioned time-keeping! We soon realise that the train is never on time and today it is running 4 hours late ... The journey was good overall though, comfortable and relaxing looking out of the window or reading. Late arrival in Cape Town meant we got in after dark, so we ended up running the gauntlet of the city’s many self-appointed security officials and ‘community police’ who quickly decided we were in need of help and were difficult to escape ...

8 December 2017

We are taking the ‘Shosholosa Meyl’ train and sadly not the Blue Train, which is several orders of magnitude more expensive (but we travel through the same landscapes). The journey takes 26 hours so luckily our request to have our own ‘coupe’ has been granted and we have a bit of our own space. While waiting for the train I immediately feel guilty about even thinking about the Blue Train and a private compartment. We are travelling ‘Tourist Class’ (tickets cost ~£45 each) which includes a bed and bedding. Virtually all the ‘tourists’ are white. Economy class is filled with black families who only get a seat and have to bring their own blankets (and wait on a different platform). The levels of poverty and living conditions in the suburbs of Johannesburg and through some of the towns we travel through are shocking and the scale is so vast that it is difficult to even comprehend.

7 December 2017

This morning we have to get back to Johannesburg and return the car. We have booked the Marriott Protea Hotel near Park Station for tonight as tomorrow we get the overnight train to Cape Town!

6 December 2017

Tonight we are staying at the Royal Hotel in Pilgrim’s Rest, a conservation village that was an original gold rush town. It hasn’t been changed since the 1970s and most of its buildings are museums of one sort or other. We stayed in one of the hotel’s cottages across the road. It was lovely but the whole town is a bit odd in the evening - we were the only overnight guests and the only people in the restaurant ...
Blyde River Canyon and the three rondavels.
A final day exploring Kruger before heading off to the Blyde River Canyon later this afternoon. We headed north from Oliphants Rest Camp and explored the area around Monpani. There is another SAN Rest Camp there with a place to have lunch. More sightings of elephants (their favourite tree the mopane grows in this area) and giraffe and zebra.
Cottage at Olifants Rest Camp overlooking Olifants River.

5 December 2017

Wide-open changing landscapes as we drive north through the park.
The destination today is Oliphant’s Rest Camp. Another day of doing our own ‘safari’ – this map shows a straight line but we actually took a number of quiet side roads and dirt tracks to explore the park. Park rules are very strict about self drives – visitors must stay in their cars (aside from a few designated viewpoints and hides) and not leave food lying around – for both safety and the wellbeing of the animals. We were lucky to see animals ranging from tortoises to elephants (we had to be very careful of the former as they like to walk along the middle of the road where they look exactly like piles of elephant dung!). A couple of good spots were ostriches with their chicks and a kori bustard (world’s heaviest flying bird).
The thatched hut we stayed in at Lower Sabie. Really comfortable and clean. Each had a fire pit/ braai thing and an external kitchen. There is a good restaurant on site from which you can watch hippos wallowing in the river.

4 December 2017

We had a great drive through the Park and saw a lot of buffalo and elephants (one in musth that we kept well back from). This was a waterhole near the Camp with quite a few hippos (although mostly we could only see eyes and nostrils – occasionally yawns and splashing!). There is a very large Nile crocodile in the foreground of this shot.
This afternoon’s destination is Lower Sabie – a South African National Park ‘Rest Camp’ next to the Sabie River in Kruger National Park ... Hoping to see hippos.
Time to relax in the pool after a sweltering bush walk with the (armed!) ranger. Saw giraffe and zebra, always seem to see them together.
Goodness – a very early start after our late night chatting and drinking round the fire. A 04:45 call to coffee so we were ready for the dawn game drive at 05:30. Mr Chalmers was quite overcome! We saw more leopards (including seeing a territorial spat between two females at very close quarters), lots of elephants and more.

3 December 2017

We got back to the Notten’s quite late to find everything lit by paraffin lamps and candles (no electric lighting within the Camp). So atmospheric. There was a hot(!) bath waiting and a bottle of SA fizz – what luxury and what a rush to fit it all in before meeting the others in the bar at 8. Dinner was a braai (grill) in the sunken ‘boma’ at the edge of the Camp. It was candlelit with a blazing open fire – reassuring because the Camp is unfenced ... nothing between us and the waterhole in the darkness beyond. I had my back to the waterhole while eating dinner and the ‘whoo–woop’ call of the hyenas (close by) was spine-tingling. [Two weeks ago Notten’s had a kill right in the Camp; a leopard caught a waterbuck and was trying to get it up a tree. However the buck was not dead and still kicking – it fell from the tree right into the fangs of waiting hyenas. Glad, after being told this story, that you have to be ‘accompanied’ while returning to your room at night.]
Sundowner Gin and Tonic...
A piccy of me and the ranger for our sunset game drive (there was also a tracker). This trip was one of the most wonderful things I have ever experienced and I feel so lucky. We saw lots of animals (from termites to elephants) but I think the leopards stole the show.
Notten’s Bush Camp is just fab. Family run, lovely welcome and the best room (overlooking the water hole). We arrived at midday and by the time we had sat down for a drink and sandwiches (High tea not until 3pm!) we had seen a white rhino, herd of elephants and a warthog ...
Very excited about the trip today; driving from Graskop to Sabie Sands private reserve. We are booked into Notten’s Bush Camp for the night, which includes sunset and sunrise game drives and a bush walk – as well as all our meals.

2 December 2017

God’s Window on the Panoramic Route.
The Pinnacle on the Panoramic Route
A lunchtime check-in at the lovely and arty Graskop Hotel before heading out for more Panorama-ing.
A bit of a Busman’s holiday on the Panorama Route near Sabie – one of the world’s largest areas of planted forest ! Mainly plantations of pine and eucalyptus. On the way to Graskop we visited the spectacular Mac Mac falls.
The forestry museum at Sabie was closed! (The municipality hadn’t paid the energy company so it switched off the town’s electricity ... all the shops were operating in darkness)
Start of the holiday proper today; destination is Graskop, via Sabie and the ‘Panorama Route’.

1 December 2017

1st night spent at the Kloofhuis Guest House In Barberton, a hillside Victorian house with a lovely open verandah. Dark at 7pm here and light at 4am - woken by birdsong!
2 flights later and a long drive (which did include seeing a baboon sitting by the side of the road and Zebras) made it to Barberton and this really cool little place. Good food and good wine - what more more could you want ....
A bit late leaving Paris but a good (~10 hr) flight to Johannesburg. Picked up the hire car and after a 4 hr drive we are safely at Barberton (Mpumalanga province).

30 November 2017

Snowing in Paris! ❄️ A bit of a wait for our flight to Johannesburg tonight at 23:30 but it’s starting to feel exciting ...
Beautiful and sunny when we left Edinburgh, then ...