Our trip to South Africa was divided into two parts:
- Cape Town and Wine Region
- Safari and Johannesburg.
This entry is about the first half from December 27, 2011 through January 1, 2012. More pictures are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mweisburgh/sets/72157628779941995/
After a 14 hour flight from NY to Johannesburg and then a two hour flight from Joburg to Cape Town, Karin and I were picked up at the Cape Town airport by Steve Thomas and Lexei of Daytrippers around 1:00 in the afternoon. If you decide you want to see Cape Town and/or wine country and/or Africa by bicycle, Steve probably knows more about routes and places of interest and off road bicycling, than anyone we met.
Because the airport is right between Cape Town and Stellenbosch, we had a 1 hour drive to the Stellenbosch wine district and our inn, The Auberge Rozendal Guesthouse. The inn grows its own organic herbs and vegetables, in addition to being a wine farm and winery. The views were beautiful, and the inn was about 4 miles from town. They also create a sipping vinegar. While you can use the vinegar for salads or cooking, the preferred way of consuming it is to sip a little and mix it around in your mouth for a minute or two before swallowing. It’s worth trying, and we purchased some and brought it home. Joerg Steibing, the hospitable owner with his wife Karin, asserts that mixing the vinegar with the saliva in your mouth creates an alkaline mixture that neutralizes acid indigestion.
Below is the view from the Inn.
On this day we did light bicycling, about 20 miles in total, visiting two vineyards and bicycling around Stellenbosch itself. The Stark Conde winery had a beautiful venue for tasting, a porch in the middle of a small lake surrounded by mountains. The Lanzerac Estate, just down the road from our inn, had an extremely interesting chocolate and wine tasting. Since they make both their own chocolates and wines, they crafted different chocolates to accentuate the tastes of the different wines, finishing with a honey wine that they say is made by only two people in the world.
Herb arrived late that night, and joined us in wine tasting over the next two days, even though he did not bicycle.
Day 2 was about 50 miles of bicycling for me, 65 for Karin. We visited about 5 wineries over the course of the day, and there were four not-to-forget experiences during the day. First, at the first vineyard, the ornaments on their Christmas tree were wine bottles. Second, Steve knew about a dirt unmarked pathway that went up and down the hills through the wine fields. All you could see were grape vines with the mountains in the distance; no cars or people. Fourth, the Ken Forrester winery had some of the best wines we tasted.
The picture below is while we were riding in the dirt path in the wine fields.
Perhaps the most memorable moment, though was the Ernie Els winery, and, yes, it is the same Ernie Els who is the golf pro. At 4:30 in the afternoon, after about 40 miles of bicycling (and no lunch), we started climbing for about 7 miles. Upon stopping, our guide Lexei realized we’d climbed the wrong hill. The ride down was much easier. We found the turnoff, and bicycled another 3 miles to the beginning of the road to the Ernie Els Winery. Unfortunately, this was about three miles up at about 8 degrees. I made about half, and just hit the wall. I walked up the final mile and a half (at 85 degrees temperature), to finally join Karin and Lexei tasting wines, with one of the most spectacular views I’d ever seen. The Ernie Els wines are great, and sitting on the winery’s porch at sunset watching the lengthening shadows of the mountains around Stellenbosch was incredible. Lexei called Steve to come pick me up in the van, and he and Karin took off for the 10 miles back to the inn. Herbie joined me with Steve, and we further enjoyed the views and the wine. This is a must; if you go to Stellenbosch, you have to go to the Ernie Els Winery, and try to get there after 4:00.
Here is the view from the Ernie Els winery:
Our daughter Rosie and her friend Grace, who we’ve known since before she was a teenager, joined us in the afternoon, although they did not bike that day.
Day 3, December 29, was about 55 miles of bicycling. The first highlight was a bike path up the Hellshoogte pass on the way to the Franshoek valley. This was a shady, winding, 15 miles up from the inn. Rose, Grace, and I all experienced a feeling of accomplishment when we reached the top. For Karin, though, this just wasn’t a challenge. Just a mile further was the incredibly beautifully designed Takara Winery. They had very good wines, but the architecture and artwork are not to be missed. Two hundred yards further is an amazing view over the Franshoek valley.
Franshoek, meaning French Corner, is filled with some of the finest restaurants in the Cape Town area, and makes wines that are more similar to French wines than the other wine valleys. Next trip, we intend to spend more time there, but we did have two memorable experiences. The Boschendal Winery has classic Dutch architecture, and we liked their wines enough that we ordered a mixed case to be sent back home. The Chamonix Winery has very good wines and a very nice restaurant with excellent food, even up to Herbie’s standards.
Here is Steve Thomas, Lexei, and Karin at the Boschendal Winery:
From Chamonix, Steve drove us to Cape Town, where we bicycled about 5 miles around the city and ended up at our hotel, The Protea Fire and Ice Hotel. This was a really in hotel. The rooms are a little small, but very interestingly designed (the glass shower is part of your bedroom), the Internet is free, and there is great people watching in the bar.
There is a lot to do in Cape Town, and we didn’t have enough time there to do all we wanted to.
On December 30, Karin and I bicycled down to the Cape of Good Hope along the coast. This is a beautiful trip, and is about 60 miles. There are a few major hills with incredible views of the coastline. Steve Thomas picked us up as the route turned inland, so we actually skipped about 20 miles. But, this allowed us to take a detour within the Cape park, to bicycle along some unmarked dirt paths through the Cape Floristic Kingdom, one of the most diverse biomes in the world. Most people think of the Cape as the spot where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet, but technically, they meet 15 kilometers further east. In any case, while bicycling there, we ran into Ostriches and Baboons and a lot of very interesting plants and flowers.
This is what the Cape Floristic Kingdom looked like:
That same day, Rosie and Grace took a surfing lesson, and then bicycled to view the penguins, both of which they loved.
Dinner that night was at The Africa Café, which is a must if you go to Cape Town. They serve a tasting menu of native African foods, along with dance and music, and very interesting art.
December 31 was a shopping day. Not my thing, but there are a lot of good places to pick up interesting African artifacts in Cape Town. That night we had the finest dinner we had the entire vacation. Aubergine is perhaps the best restaurant in South Africa, and for New Years, they had a special tasting menu paired with wines and including native music and dancers. Grace, Rosie, and I were each invited to dance with the professionals. Aubergine was a perfect place to welcome in the New Year with family, and was probably one of the 10 best meals I’ve ever had.
January 1 was the day we decided to climb Table Mountain. Table Mountain has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, and dominates the Cape Town skyline. We made five mistakes. Karin told us we could get breakfast at the base of the mountain, but, in fact, there was no restaurant so we climbed on the remnants of the previous day from Karin's backpack, a quick meal of old cheese and stale bread. We started about noon, so we were climbing in 85 degree weather, up a steep incline, for just under two and a half hours. We didn’t bring enough water; we had three water bottles for the five of us, and we should have brought six water bottles. We did not bring jackets, and the top is always covered with clouds and windy, so it was quite cool there. And, finally, I didn’t take vista views along the route up, even though they were gorgeous. Once on the top, you are in clouds, so there are no views of Cape Town.
Here is Herbie, Gracie, and Karin about 1/3 of the way up Table Mountain:
When you get to the top, it's still a 20 minute walk to the restaurant and cable car. That was certainly a shock. Here is what it was like at the top:
We all took the cable car down, rested at the hotel, and went out to a less than good dining experience at one of the restaurants at the Waterfront.
The next day, our flight left at 6:30 in the morning for Johannesburg and our safari. If you want to see more of the photos from the first half, they are annotated and here is the link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mweisburgh/sets/72157628779941995/
Among the things we really wanted to do but missed in Cape Town because we didn’t have enough time:
- The Waterfront: this is a high end mall and shopping experience.
- The Botanical Gardens: these are supposed to be among the finest in the world.
- Robbens Island: this is where Nelson Mandela and others were imprisoned for trying to end apartheid. You need to purchase your tickets in advance, generally by about two weeks.
- The night clubs: Cape Town is known for its night life.
The next entry will be on the Safari portion of the trip.