|The world cup was still several months away, and the stadium at Green Point in Capetown was under construction (the previous stadium had been demolished in 2007).
I really wanted South Africa to win, in the same way that they did in the Rugby world cup, 15 years earlier (the events are shown in the film Invictus).
Sadly that didn’t happen, but loads of people had a good time visiting the country and Vuvuzela has become a household word !.
|On our way to the Stellenbosch wine lands, we stop of at the Kirstenbosch. Although his main home is in London, Wilbur Smith owns a house here.
On the eastern slopes of table mountain, it covers over 36 Hectares and is one of the most spectacular gardens of its kind, in the world.
Kirstenbosch, the most beautiful garden in Africa.
|It isn’t just for frumpy botanists and gardening types. Just like the botanical gardens in Sydney its designed to reach out to everyone.
As I set off walking around, I saw this stage being erected for a music festival.
I headed up hill, along Rhodes drive, to get a better view of the whole park.
|There were many specialised sections like medicinal plants, mountain flowers and stuff like that.
There was a mixture of open spaces and more secluded paths like this one. I only had 3 hours to see it all, and I didn’t want waste a minute.
|I walked along a section of the Skeleton Gorge path.
Jan Smuts walked this rout most days, well into his 70’s and I was proud to have walked in his footsteps.
|Henry Pearson, the designer of the gardens is buried here.
On his grave it says simply “If you took the time to find this grave. Look around.”
We left the gardens and headed for Stellenbosch. We spent the night in an Afrikaner home.
There was a large organ in the living room, and black and white photo’s of the owners ancestors, going back to the first Dutch settlers.
These were the people that Smith wrote about in all his books and I feel like I’ve come home (even though I’m on the other side of the world).
There was a bible next to every bed in the house, and for the first time in some years, I found myself reading it before drifting off to sleep.
|Stellenbosch is known internationally for its wine and we had a full morning planned experiencing it.
Our first stop, was the Bergkelder. Here, they don’t grow grapes but buy them. They are made into wine and stored inside a hollowed out mountain.
Our guide Lientjie was really helpful and friendly.
She was obviously from Afrikaner stock. Power of the Sword (the Wilbur Smith novel that had inspired my trip) was set around the 40’s and 50’s and mentioned that it was very rare for British and Afrikaners to inter marry.
I asked our guide Charl if this was still the case. He said that doesn’t really happen any more, South Africa is a truly multicultural country, not just in law, but in attitude.
|We went into the mountain and saw some of its famous carved barrels from 1969.
We tried 5 different wines. We had eaten a small breakfast and no lunch, so the cold dark corridor, came alive with giddy laughter.
I’m quite new to wine tasting. Each time Lientjie would discuss the smell and taste of the wine.
This was quite strange as it always seemed familiar, but I couldn’t think of what.
Then she would say common associations are dark chocolate, ripe banana or cigar box and I would instantly connect.
|Wealthy people, can actually store their own wine here.
Here, Mark Shuttleworth, the first African in space, has some cases in storage.
|Standing next to the tour bus, with my authentic bottle of Stellenbosch wine.
It cost less than a fiver, and drunk later that evening. They have a web site, and when finances pick up, I’m going to order another and have it flown over !.
|Our next stop is a vineyard called Knorhoek.
Outdoors this time, it had an open air party feel.
£1.50 for 5 wines. Our guide this time, asked if she could give us a 6th for free.
As we leave Stellenbosch, I realise that I haven’t seen the university or any of Cape Dutch architecture.
|Our guide Charl points out this hills. When the Afrikaners left to set up the orange free state, they actually had to dig out these roads and paths, to get over the mountains.
We stop at a shopping centre to get some lunch. A security guard with an automatic pistol and AK47 is standing in the foyer. Strange, as everyone around looked happy and comfortable (perhaps that’s why 🙂
I read in my guidebook that there is a famous zoo nearby and I ask to visit it. The Adventure Company stipulate ethical travel, so its off the agenda.
Someone in the van explains that anyway, a Wolf and an Aardvark could never mate anyway.
We arrive at Oudtshoorn Ostrich farm.
|I hadn’t expected much from this part of the trip, but ended up fascinated by the whole thing.
Our highly enthusiastic guide, showed us a DVD of how Ostriches are farmed. It basically involves removing eggs (the Ostrich doesn’t mind, as long as their are a few left) and taking them to an incubator.
Amazingly, the Ostrich will actually compensate, by having more eggs. This artificial increase, is the key to the process.
Its an amazing way to farm meat, in a warm arid environment.
|A few of the interesting things I found out:
An Ostrich can move its throat to the side or back of its neck to protect its windpipe.
The Ostriches have tags to stop in-breeding.
One Ostrich egg is enough for 15 people.
12% of ostriches are infertile.
Farmed this way, an Ostrich egg is “good for meat” in 14 months.
Eggs are very strong, but this is mainly down to the fluid inside and the sand normally found at its base.
|The excellent presentation, finished with a rather silly “donkey derby” type race with Ostriches.
We leave the Ostriches and head back to the van. Its spontaneously decided that we should visit the Cango caves.
|We are introduced to our guide Ilse. She shows us around the 1st chamber, which is easily the biggest open area, I have ever seen underground.
The lights are dimmed, to simulate what it would be like, lit with only 1 candle, to view it as its first discoverers had.
The 2nd chamber was smaller, but well worth the visit, and the 3rd, had not had its floor levelled, so we could see what it would have been like to “walk” around the others before they were finished.
|Some years earlier, the caves had been used for a rock concert. It was pointed out, that this would never be repeated as several priceless pieces of rock had been vandalized by thieves.
It wouldn’t have mattered if their consciences had made them return them as they could never be re-connected to the original stone.
The Stalactites like this one, had been both Carbon and Uranium dated.
I know some people get claustrophobic, but I absolutely love being underground in places like this.
|In the evening we go to back to our chalets, and have an indoor bbq, cooked by Charl.
The food is delicious, and after some thought, I decide not to risk my wine on the plane, and share it with everyone.
In the morning, I avoid the communal breakfast, and instead make some hot chocolate, and sit quietly on the grass.
As we load up the van, everyone compliments me on how lightly I pack. I explain that I wear Rohan clothing.
|We stop at a beach called heaven. Charl explains that its famous for some reason and where it gets its name. Lost in the moment, so didn’t remember any of it (sorry).
We have 2 hours to relax on the beach. A few people go for a swim. Others kick a football around. I walk along the beach with Simon and Gill.
It stretches out for miles. The ocean, the sky and the sand under my bare feet made for a remarkable experience.
|We arrive at Knysna (pronounced nysna). Driving around the lagoon we get the first glimpse of our accommodation.
I always wanted to stay in a log cabin. I sort of thought I would be in Norway or Sweden, not South Africa, when it finally happened !.
Quite small but had a chacuzzi, and a balcony (which I later decide to sleep on).
|We walk to the famous Knysna heads.
The lake in Knysna was the inspiration for the lagoon sea battle at the end of Wilbur Smiths Blue horizon.
I find a small cafe next to the water and have a coffee, enjoying this amazing view. I still couldn’t get over how inexpensive everything was.
|An amazing site and probably the worlds most dangerous port due to tides (the saltwater ocean meets the freshwater feed, right in the middle of the lake).
On the other side of the heads is a nature reserve called Featherbed. There was a debate about whether we should visit it. At £26 I thought it was too expensive.
|There’s a nice pub near our cabin so I stop by for a pint (its around 5pm and the pub is filling with after work drinkers)
The sight of people smoking really surprised me (the smoking ban in the UK has been in force for several years).
I’m joined by our guide Charl, who I’ve mentioned a few times before. A really cracking bloke, I learned loads of useful and interesting things from him (and he looked like Rob from Woodsmoke).
He was also a keen Wilbur Smith fan, and we frequently discussed which was his best work. One thing we did agree on, was his most recent book Assagi was awful, and reads like a Mills & Boon 🙁
There used to be a song in a tedious TV program in the UK, called Spitting Image. The song said something about, I’ve never met a nice South African.
Well, that just wasn’t my experience at all. The people I met were all friendly and personable.
The thing I did notice, was they were practical, plain speaking and would stand for no nonsense. I think that may be where the cultural misunderstanding comes from.
|I wander into town to buy some souvenirs. I stop at a cyber cafe, grab a bottle of beer and catch up on my e-mail. Henrik, Nadiah and my brother David have all e-mailed me with congratulations about completing the bluelist.
I arrive early for dinner at the fisherman’s rest. A charming waitress called Melinda shows me to my table, as the other members of my group arrive.
In the guidebook, its says 2 things you must try on the Garden Route are eating freshly caught fish, and drinking Mitchell’s bear.
I decide its time for the first one. Back home, its normally cod or haddock, but here its hake and served in a skillet, its delicious.
|We never get to visit a traditional township.
The closest I got, was when we drove passed one, and I quickly took this photo.