FIRST TWO DAYS: ROOIELS, AN OCEAN DRIVE AND VERGELEGEN WINE ESTATE
South Africa – it started off as a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip and now we have just returned for the third time in 7 years.There is no better marker of somewhere that has really caught you than to return again and again – particularly given somewhere which is a 12 hour flight away from our home.
By the end of these precious 7 days until 6 October, I wished that we had spent the first 2 weeks of our 3 in the Western Cape and only 7 days in Botswana and Victoria Falls instead of the other way round.We’ll just need to come back – again.
Vic Falls to Jo’ Burg to Cape Town
Arrived in Cape Town Airport very late, around 8.30pm, but you seem to get through things so quickly here, especially in off peak times.By 9pm we were heading off in the hired car to Rooiels, about an hour from Cape Town, a stunning spot right by the ocean.
Was a bit nervous about the drive in the dark on almost deserted roads, given the whole safety thing, especially at night.But as soon as we left the motorway and headed through upmarket Gordon’s Bay and along Clarence Drive , I relaxed.We could make out the ocean bathed in moonlight and the Kogelberg mountains loomed in dark shadow to our left.We’d fallen in love with this superb area on our first trip and Rooiels, a small settlement of smart beach houses, had impressed us a lot.
But finding our accommodation in the darkness as we turned into the settlement was impossible! There were few signs, none for Wonderlings, our B & B. No streetlights. I managed to set off one house alarm (hoping a rifle shot wouldn’t be next) as I wandered up the drive, mistaking it for our accommodation.Then had a woman in another house cowering behind her upper floor curtains when I knocked on her door to ask directions.Turned out our place was right next door.It was 10.15pm by now but I’d emailed our hosts to expect us late.
Lovely warm welcome though when we met Jenny and her husband Koos.What a beautiful, unusual house it was too.We had an upper floor apartment, the Restio Suite, with a big circular balcony and small kitchen.Very comfortable – oh, the joy of arriving in a cool climate after 2 weeks in 40C in Botswana and Victoria Falls! There was even a bracing ocean breeze. Bliss.Had some tea then got the limited wi fi sorted, messaged home, read a bit to relax then bed.
The view that greeted us next morning was stunning. It’s quite a spot. Koos served us our breakfast tray in the room at the little breakfast table we had set inside as it was a bit parky for the balcony.What a spread! Freshly squeezed orange juice, a real treat for us Northern Europeans, fruit, muesli, yoghurt, bread and toast.Lashings of tea.Then a full cooked breakfast.Splendid – and all for a very reasonable sum per night.The low, low cost of staying in South Africa/quality is always astonishing:Wonderlings was about £35 each per night B&B.
Chatted to Koos about any walks he’d recommend though I had a wish to see Silver Sands. Big warning from him about puff adders! It was a glorious morning so we spent an hour meandering down to the beach with its mountain backdrop and wide river running down to the crashing ocean.The sea, the sea! And the wind! I had missed both in Botswana, they’re in my blood; a consequence of family coming from the Outer Hebrides and Skye. I need cool, windy weather after a spell of intense heat.Back home, although Scots always complain about our country’s ‘variable’ (putting it mildly) weather, we soon moan if a rare heatwave ever strikes.
Strolled down to the beach, always a draw and kept a look out for otters and Black Eagles but no sign. Much comment on our accents when we popped in to buy milk (always, the need for tea!) in the shop.The owner had visited Scotland a few years before.Lots of chat about the Rugby World Cup and SA’s and our chances (well, ours were poor, theirs were pretty good).Chris, my husband and an ex-rugby player, was constantly keeping tabs on the results via the radio and online news while we were away.I think he misjudged(thankfully) the fact that our trip clashed with this not – to – be -missed event.
Keeping a lookout for the dreaded Puff Adders which we’d been warned us about, we headed back to the house to get sorted out for a driving tour of the area.The house’s fynbos garden was beautiful. I love fynbos – no wonder it has World Heritage status.It is stunningly beautiful and so unique to this spectacular land.
Into the car and a short drive round the coast to find Silver Sands but no joy.Turned out we should have accessed it via Betty’s Bay as the road we took was a dead end. Frustrating.Wandered down to the shore anyway, only to be told by a local fishermen to be wary of thieves! ‘They’ were about so keep valuables hidden.We wouldn’t be hurt as such but…..In this place, I thought, looking round the empty, unspoiled landscape? It gets the nerves going again, when you hear that sort of advice and we didn’t hang around too long.Is it over-cautiousness or grim reality? It’s a damn shame overall because much of the coast does seem like a bit of a paradise on earth but not with the fear factor.
What a road! It matches Chapman’s Peak drive for wow factor. A beautiful , quiet (early October) sweep of a road below the Kogelberg mountains, hugging the ocean for most of the way. We were headed now for Vergelegen Wine Estate, a favourite from a previous visit.Very beautiful and fairly close by.We’d enjoyed it more than the others we’d visited in the famed Stellenbosch area. Far lovelier, I thought.Maybe as Europeans, we are pulled towards the oldest places, heritage.
Stopped off at various points on the road for pictures including the deserted Kogel Bay camp site.It really is an astonishing drive.
Got into a pickle thinking we knew the way to the wine estate only to get caught up in the chaos of Somerset West which seemed to have grown ten fold since we’d last driven through it’s not particularly inspiring streets.Pride comes before a fall and our first fall out of the holiday was brewing as Chris got fed up backtracking and being caught up in awful traffic which had suddenly become – implicitly, not stated overtly, (my husband is FAR too subtle and well mannered to let rip directly) – MY fault. Finally got directions from the Tourist Office I suggested we stop at, much as Chris thought it was totally unnecessary.Ah men and directions – they will not take advice! I would have stopped half a dozen times to ask passers by.What a shock to find myself talking to the lovely, helpful Tourist Board girl through what looked like prison gates.Security once again – sobering.
Vergelegen Wine Estate
On our first visit 2 years ago I was unimpressed with the approach to the Estate through what looked like a housing scheme but once inside the security gate it’s truly beautiful.It’s a sizeable operation but it was very quiet when we visited.Ghost-like in fact.There are interesting old buildings to peruse – it’s the oldest of the Estates – with enormous Camphor trees that look like something from the Jurassic age.300 years old.Visited by our own Queen Elizabeth, the only Estate she visited in the Cape.The formal garden is a delight and we enjoyed just strolling through the grounds with the stunning mountain backdrop. Life affirming.That mountain backdrop – the Hottentot Hollands, was breathtaking.So far in my travels, the mountainscapes I’ve seen that have really stirred my soul, apart from the Western Highlands of Scotland, are some of those in South Africa and in Namibia.
Chris tried one of the Wine Tastings in a very modern, swish building.It’s SO interesting to hear the blurb about the wine though to be honest, nothing was outstanding; very average. But what the heck ; it’s the experience and we left with a couple of whites, a Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. Still haven’t found anything to beat the Fat Bastard Chardonnay(no joke ) we bought last visit from the supermarket for £5 or the world class sweet wine Vin de Constance (£30 a half bottle) from Klein Constantia Estate.One of Napoleon’s favourite tipples apparently; he went through 3o bottles a month and they still have the order on display.Another very beautiful and interesting wine estate.
Popped across to Lourensford Estate after that just to see another one but it didn’t match where we’d been. Nice cafe and bistro so had a coffee there and some chocolate cake.Not bad.
Drove past the St James Lowrie township and what an awful contrast to ‘beautiful’ South Africa.The conditions people have to live in are really awful.Unbelievable in such a rich country.I sometimes think it’s a wonder there isn’t even more unrest in the country than there is, when you have that level of poverty juxtaposed with the fine standard of living of many white South Africans.Tragic.Yet I’d say many of the black South Africans we have met have been the loveliest people we have ever come across on our travels.As ever, those with the least are often the most genuine and generous spirited though we have experienced nothing but good humour and a warm welcome from all South Africans.
A quick supermarket shop for sparkling wine supplies (for me), pickles and cold meats, cheese and tomatoes and nice bread for dinner.We were keen to get back to our temporary home beside the ocean and enjoy it more.Managed a glass or two of wine on the balcony with our fleeces on before the wind and some light rain chased us inside.We end up eating in at night quite a bit in our accommodation of choice, if it has a balcony ( a must for us) as we enjoy the quiet and our own company and sitting somewhere with a fine outlook.It’s usually been a long day and it’s great just to relax in our own place (which I have researched to death to find the ‘perfect’ spot, prior to the trip , so just as well we make the most of it!)
Re- read our South Africa guidebook and dipped into an Agatha Christie book, pored over the map then did some more internet stuff, writing up a bit of our trip, checking over photos.Was still revelling in the coolness after Botswana, felt we could breathe again.
We had the Whale Coast ahead over the next 3 days and then the edge of the Little Karoo around Montagu, part of the Robertson Wine Valley route.Very different and beguiling for us as first timer visitors.