Part I Capetown to Durban, Oct. 11 to 25
We had an easy, uneventful and on-time flight from Frankfurt to Capetown, with a short stop-over in Johannesburg, The Avis car was waiting and we were on our way in less than 30 minutes after touch down. A fuller description follows further down in the report as this car would keep us company for the coming 2 weeks, till Port Elizabeth on the West Coast.
We had a bit of a problem finding the hotel in the residential Claremont district, because we took the wrong exit from a roundabout but asking directions at another hotel nearby, we found it quickly. That is why we asked at the hotel if they could recommend someone as a guide. We got Jackie Romanov for Wednesday and Thursday.
On Tuesday we ventured on our own down to the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, via Hout Bay and the legendary Chapman Peak drive. We had a fine lunch at the Black Marlin, a large fresh seafood establishment to the south of Simon’s Town. It is interesting to note that the Cape Point nor Cape of Good Hope is the African continent’s southernmost point; that honor belongs to Cape Agulhas near Bredasdorp, on the way to Swellendam, Riversdale, Mossel Bay, George, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, on the N2 as driven later in our journey.
|Cape Dutch House ANDROS||Near the Cape of Good Hope||Ostriches near the Cape|
A short kilometer away from the hotel there is a large, modern shopping center called Cavendish Plaza. My first visit was to get some badly needed rand in cash but there I ran into serious trouble. The EC Maestro Card to be used in conjunction with my Credit Suisse account just recently received in the mail and touted as having access to thousands of ATM machines and incorporating the latest technology, would only allow me to withdraw R500, or about 100 Swiss Francs at one time. Apparently, I could have repeated this several times, how many times nobody knows. I chose not to use it at all as it is a clear way of Abzockerei (a clever way of extracting horrendous fees from the poor user) by the card issuers with connivance of the bank as each withdrawal will cost you a not inconsiderable minimum fee. I complained to CS but of course, nobody knows anything and does not feel responsible.
When I saw an American Express Office, I went there and with some persuasion, I got the equivalent of $500 in Rand cash. Meanwhile, the cashier had dialed my London based account executive and from her I learned that I could withdraw up to $10000 in any 21 day period by issuing a personal check on my Swiss or US bank. The black Amex card would be the guarantor to their local agent that the check issued by me would be covered by them if it ware returned for lack of funds (with of course corresponding difficulties with Amex if that were to happen). The phone call to the UK was complimentary. No expenses were charged, and I got the inter-bank rate for Swiss francs of that day. So for me it is clear: no more EC card abroad, only for ATM withdrawals in Switzerland.
On Wednesday, we first went to Table Mountain with Jackie. Thanks to Jackie’s guide status we could park close to the station, a place normally reserved for taxis. If ever you go there, drop a person at the station and have him/her stand in line to buy the tickets while you park your vehicle as it can take quite some time, not nice under the burning sun. Once you have the tickets, the wait for the gondola is short. It is a Swiss cable car, and it has a revolving platform.
Walking on the well laid out paths is easy and informative, especially if your guide has some idea of flora and fauna, as well as the city below you. We had a wonderful bright day there and enjoyed the vistas and the many explanations by Jackie, a proud and very knowledgeable South African lady. I can only recommend her services; of course, you find it all yourself eventually, but you lose too much time doing it on your own.
We had a fine sashimi luncheon at the waterfront, and then went to the only Big Man’s store in town where I found all I needed to complement my wardrobe for South Africa.
On Thursday, Jackie took us to a tour of Somerset West, which is actually half an hour south of Stellenbosch where we were going to stay a week later. She took us to a property called “Vergelegen” – it means “abgelegen” or “far away” . It was founded in the late 17th century by emigrant Dutchmen on lands granted by the Governor or High Commissioner in Capetown to deserving persons. It was a good one day trip from Capetown in the old horse carriage days whereas now it takes just about an hour.
Vergelegen lies in huge park like grounds, has an octagonal 3 m high wall and the Manor is (as many were in that time) built in an H shape with the 4 arms going onto each side of the H. Though it is period furnished, unfortunately not much of the original furniture is left but you get a very good picture of how grand all this was at that time. There is also a formal rose garden, and they have the most stunning camphor trees, over 300 years old, with huge foliage and tremendous stems and roots. We did not actually visit their winery as I saw quite a number of people had arrived there, but we had the opportunity to enjoy one of their great Cabernet Sauvignons later in the trip.
We spent Friday on our own, going to the magnificent Botanical Garden and another drive around the coastline behind the Table Mountain. Lunch at a small Italian bistro where I had 12 sublime garlic prawns, my wife Uschi had Fettuccine a la Vongole. The afternoon was spent in the garden of the Andros, at the pool, with Uschi swimming her rounds.
On Saturday, we drove via the Capetown suburbs and the N7 north to a town called Clanwilliam, a 2 l/2 hour drive on good asphalted roads. Soon after that town, the road became a hard surface dirt road with the ensuing dust behind us, but fortunately not many cars coming from the other direction. It was another 43 km to get to our destination, The Bushman’s Kloof (=valley). This is a Relais & Chateau Property with 12 individual or dual cottages; ours is called Riverside or The Honeymoon Suite, a one bedroom affair and superbly appointed with a large parlor, large bedroom and Jacuzzi equipped bathroom and with two outside reception areas for 6-8 people and two and another with 2 comfy lounge chairs for sun bathing. There are 4 pools on the property, one of them heated.
The property was managed as a farm until 1992 and then reconverted into its original grass and bush land. The area covers 17000 acres, or 6800 hectares, which is 68 square km or two thirds the size of Nevis. The lodge opened in 1996, Relais & Chateau status from 1998.
We started with the first evening drive at 4:30 – fortunately we all had warm clothing but we still welcomed the supplied parkas as the temperature was a mere 18 C and with the wind-chill factor, it must have been 12 to 14 C.
We saw some kestrels (D: Sperber) and one small South African Eagle which can fly at full speed into a tree to catch a snake or salamander, without endangering himself. Of course there are myriads of water fowl right next to the river, which had banked up slightly, and had thick layers of reed at the edge. The cottages are thatched, not with the reeds from waterÂ¹s edge but with a grass that grows abundantly everywhere.
On the highland bush, we found several groups of mountain zebras, two larger ones with one stallion and some 5 mares of which several were pregnant, and one young animal aged about 1 week. It is very strange that the young one had a bottom line (belly) like the adults so that he would not show up in the herd to an observant predator. In the 1950s there were a mere 90 of these beautiful creatures alive worldwide, now they must again be well over a thousand.
There were also gnus and warthogs that can be called beautiful because they are so ugly. Only a warthog mother can love her child, is another saying. We also saw some S.A. springboks, a different species from the ones further north, and the “bontebok” a unique species of S.A. which could be rendered as bunter Bock in German They were hunted for the beauty of their hides and at one time, there were a mere 50 of them left; now even this Kloof has perhaps 70.
An ostrich mother was seen with 9 little offspring running behind her, one was badly limping. Sure enough, when we saw the group again on Sunday morning, there were only 8 young left as the ranger had predicted the night before. His condition plus the sudden drop of temperature resulting in a cold spell did the necessary.
During the drive and walk on Sunday we saw a 4 foot shiny yellow Cape cobra, very deadly and once she was aware of our clicking, she fled in great haste. We also saw a beetle with metallic blue wings scintillating in the sun, carrying a much larger and still living spider away to eat, and a land turtle looking for shelter when she sensed us.
Many rare and beautiful birds were spotted by a German lady who had sharp eyes and excellent knowledge of these matters.
The first late afternoon drive, it was bitterly cold and extremely windy, but on Sunday all day and Monday morning, there was a pleasant sunshine without wind.
The rocks here are sandstone, and the whole area is sandy yet apparently quite rich enough to grow potatoes and veggies provided there is enough water. We visited one of the rock paintings made by the original inhabitants some 6000 years ago: the Bushman. The figurines seem to either be depicted around a shaman, or then numerous animals that populated the bush at that time. There were then all animals of the Big 5, namely buffalo, elephant, rhinoceros, lion, and leopard, all extinct in these southerly regions. So they had plenty to eat if they managed to make a kill. And they did with all kinds of good meat providing species such as the eland, the springbok, then gnu and a number of other kinds of bocks and gazelles. They did that by merely outrunning the animals, and tiring them out so that at the end, they stood still and the Bushman could easily apply the coup de grace. It was nothing for these people to follow a prey for many hours, without tiring themselves. They managed this by also dancing to near exhaustion to achieve a trance, especially their elders. Many of the animals had clear bodies of say a gazelle but with a head of a buffalo or a springbok with a trunk of an elephant. This seems to show that those painting the scenes were aware of another world, of spiritualism, but as there are absolutely no records, and since the Bushman was eradicated by the white man within 3 or fewer generations, nobody can know for certain.
Because of the many such sites on the property, Bushman’s Kloof has been declared a South African Natural Heritage Site.
On Monday afternoon, we drove back towards Capetown but did not go that far and drove to Stellenbosch in heart of the famous wine country. We had some difficulty in locating the Lanzerac Manor and wine estate, founded in 1692.
On Tuesday, we visited the area: it is amazing how far up the mountains they have been planting wine. The wine farms are usually quite large, as in the Bordelaise, with some most beautiful old Cape houses as their headquarters and main attraction, and huge par-like gardens of English lawns and even rose and herb gardens.
At the Lanzerac Manor & Winery’s main Governor’s Restaurant, we ordered a bottle of Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 which was an outstanding wine of dark red color like elderberries or blueberries and tasting of ripe cherries, leaving also a fragrance of dark chocolate. At 60 francs the bottle, it was an expensive wine for South Africa but worth every cent of it. It accompanied one large but paper-thin ravioli filled with oxtail (!) and a succulent springbok entrecote with a vegetable medley. Uschi had a plate of langoustine soup followed by an excellent Ostrich fillet.
We made a scenic drive around the Stellenbosch area with 3 passes and totaling over 120 kilometers, having a fine lunch at La Petite Ferme in the charming little town of Franschhoek
On Wednesday/Thursday, after 5 days there and 4 days in the greater vicinity, we took leave from the Capetown region, driving on the Garden Route in the direction of Hermanus, all along the rugged coast. In the early afternoon we arrived at our next destination, 13 km west of Stanford, called Grootbos Nature Park. After settling in, our guide Silent Elephant, whose mother gave her first-born his Christian name before he had grown up, drove us down to the seashore where we observed right from the cliffs first 3 and then another 3, in total about 12 Southern Right Whales. The largest made two or three attempts to leap out of the water but managed only one real jump. Most mothers seemed to be feeding on kelp and possible smaller fish right on the shore but we were later told that they did not eat at all: they were here to mate or to raise their young ones but they closely observed their calves from a short distance or they were swimming side by side.
We were at first a bit upset when told that they had booked us in their new Forrest Lodge – after all, we had booked online with the full view of their facilities in a 360 degree slide show. A guide took us to the new place some 5 minutes away (fully visible from the old place) and the manager there worked hard at telling us of the positive sides of the new lodge â€“ the negative one we had seen coming in as workers were still working and a number of features were not yet in use. But when we saw our cabin, 5 minutes away from the Main Building, reached via a cobblestone path amid a 100 year old milkwood forest, one of the few still standing as the first settlers felled them for firewood and construction materials, we were stunned. The layout of the suite with gorgeous local woods is well planned and exquisitely finished, with all the modern facilities, even a 4×5 m observation deck with 2 lounge chairs. A real log fire is crackling in the enclosed fireplace. There are 10 such cabins in this Lodge, 5 of them occupied tonight. The German owner, Michael Lutzeyer, seems to have spent a lot of time planning and then investing an equally important amount of money into doubling the capacity of his wonderful Nature Park.
When we returned from the whale watch, we were served a fine Cappuccino with some great tasting cookies and a celestial chocolate cake, baked on the premises. This boded well for the dinners ahead.
We are driving a 2.4 l Toyota Condor from Avis, it is a SUV like station wagon with 8 seats but we use only 2, then the middle row behind us is for small baggage, and with the back row folded away, we obtained a huge storage for our 3 large suit cases plus 2 roll ons. It is a bit of a lame duck car, drives easily 140 km/h but takes its time to get there, and on long and steep uphill sections, I have to get into third gear. But it is easy to get into and out of it as the seats are higher up, same like Uschi’s Honda CRV. The Garmin GPS works well after I had the local agents reinstall the South African maps. The Swiss agent had done it but they could not be found.
On Friday, we drove nearly 500m km west and arrived at Tsala treetop lodge near Plettenberg bay just after 5 PM. It is a treetop place with 12 cottages built on high stakes or stilts, like the Pfahlbauten (houses constructed on stakes over lake shores in the present lake area of Switzerland several thousand years ago), on the side of a mountain, atop some 20-30 m tall trees. It is also a Relais & Chateau establishment, with really individually decorated villas, each with a small pool, an outside deck and shower, a terrace, a living room with a small cute fireplace (a pottery stove), a large bedroom and an antiquated bathroom with an oval tub in the middle, a huge shower stall (through which door even retired 286 kg sumotori Konishiki could enter straight on, i.e. without turning sideways). Much of what I thought to be African decorative works of art I am finding out are not local but imported from India.
On Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, we had a visit from a monkey family. Then, we drove up a steep mountain pass but finally had to return through another road back to Knysna as the dirt road was too bad to drive. The vistas however were breathtaking with mountaintops receding in 3 to 4 ranges in the far distant mist and the flora exquisite; too. We even spotted some purple “ginster” (E: broom?) in full bloom – in Europe we find them only in yellow. We saw some great farm houses which would not be there without these roads built well over 100 years ago.
There are some great passes over some of these mountains, done in the 19th century by a father and son team, Andrew and Thomas Bain, that are as impressive as the old Gotthard or Simplon passes were. We did not drive them this time as we did not have the right car; you still need a 4×4. Sunday was spent driving around d the Knysna region that is being upgraded to a major attraction, with a new top resort opening in December 2004.
On Monday morning, right after breakfast, we started our last drive to Port Elizabeth where we had to return the Condor, and take the plane to Durban. As we came to the Main Gate, the attendant pointed to our front left wheel: a flat! Fortunately, the assistant chef, the bellboy and the gate keeper, with the roadside assistance of Avis, managed to find all the necessary gadgets and replaced the bad wheel with the spare.