Author: Carolyn Boyle
Date of Trip: May 2015
We arrived at our first stop, Boschendal (www.boschendal.com), a bit too early for a tasting. That gave us time for a self-guided tour of the Manor House (R20 = US$1.60 pp). Built in 1812 and a national monument, the Manor House is one of only a few original Cape farmhouses that have been restored and furnished with period pieces. Afterward, we strolled in the Herb Garden and enjoyed views of the Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains. The Wine Tasting Room is in one of the historic werf (farm homestead) buildings and the tasting was held outside in the shade of ancient oak trees. A tasting here is R35 (US$2.80) for five wines and we again shared samples to taste 10 wines. The excellent wines here were accompanied by some excellent freshly baked crusty bread.
Goats are the theme at Fairview (www.fairview.co.za) in Paarl: they appear on the winery’s crest and labels and in the names of some of the wines (“Goats do Roam”, “The Goatfather”). We began with lunch at the Goatshed Restaurant, where John had the Springbok Shank paired with Fairview Mourvedre; I had the Lamb Curry paired with Fairview Pinotage. As might be expected, Fairview also produces a line of goat cheeses. We opted for the Sommelier’s Choice tasting in the Beryl Back Master Tasting Room. That tasting costs R75 (US$6) per person and includes olive oil and eight wines, each paired with a cheese; we did not share the samples this time. After the tasting, we purchased a bottle of the Fairview Swartland. After such a hearty lunch and tasting, we felt that we would not be able to face a full dinner later. Instead, we decided to buy a baguette from the Goatshed’s bakery and three cheeses from the Vineyard Cheesery (Blue Tower, Traditional Camembert and Crottin) for a picnic supper. As we were leaving, we noticed an arbor planted with Alicante Bouschet, one of the few red-skinned Vitis vinifera grape varieties that also have red flesh.
Although the Spice Route vineyards are at Malmesbury and Darling in the Swartland wine region, the tasting room is in Paarl near Fairview. In fact, the same person (Charles Back) owns both Fairview and Spice Route. Spice Route Destinations (www.spiceroute.co.za) includes not only the tasting room but also an array of artisanal shops, including a charcuterie, brewery, distillery, chocolateria, artist galleries and more. The complex offers panoramic views of Table Mountain and the Simonsberg Mountain range. We chose to do the Flagship Wine Journey, a selection of Spice Route’s single vineyard and flagship wines, for R50 (US$4) pp. As usual, we shared samples and ended up tasting all 12 wines on the tasting list. Before we left here, we stopped at the charcuterie (richardbosman.me) to purchase a selection of cured meats and a jar of pork rillettes to accompany our supper.
After this satisfying day of touring, we finally arrived at the Sea More Express Guesthouse (www.seacapetown.com). The Sea More Express offers acomodations, tours and airport transfers. We had pre-paid for the “Holiday in One Package”, which included five days of tours, three nights B&B accomodation and an airport transfer. The package price was R1100 (US$88.34) pp/day for three days of accomodations and tour, R650 (US$52.20) pp for the tour on the day we overnighted on the ship and R850 (US$68.25) pp for a tour to an distant wine area on the last day; the airport transfer and transfers from/to the cruise terminal were complimentary. One of the day tours actually was the shuttle to Gansbaai for a shark cage dive; we pre-reserved spots on that tour for R1750 (US$140.52) pp. Thus, the total price package was R6550 (US$526) pp. Additional costs included our meals and some entrance fees that we paid for on the day. In addition, Kyrt paid the wine tasting fees as we went along and we reimbursed him on the last day.
At the guest house, we met Kyrt’s partner, RJ, and their menagerie: parrots, dogs and a timber wolf; the animals are not allowed in the guest areas. The guest house feels like a friendly home. It has elegant but comfortable common areas decorated with some thoughtful consideration. The kitchen is compact but well designed. There is ample glassware (for those wines of course) and dinnerware. Our room was small but nicely appointed. It had a safe and was provided with plug adapters for us foreign types; there is Wi-Fi in the common areas. Breakfast was different on each day we stayed but was always good and had excellent fresh fruit.
The only real problem we encountered during our stay was something entirely beyond Kyrt and RJ’s control: the unpredictable rolling blackouts (called “load shedding” in South Africa) that had been going on since January. Although the timing and length of these electrical power outages are supposed to be announced in advance, they often are not. This is wreaking havoc with any business that needs electricity to operate or even to process credit card payments.
The prospect of a power outage made us thankful that we had accumulated items earlier for our candle-lit picnic supper tonight. After enjoying that with one of the bottles from Asara, we retired to rest up for another hard day of touring tomorrow. Fortunately, the weather was mild during our stay so we did not need any electricity for climate control in our bedroom.
CAPE TOWN DAY 3: WED, 05/04/15
Finally, the weather had cleared! After breakfast, we headed out for our Cape Peninsula Tour. As we headed south, Kyrt pointed out the devastation from the March 2015 wildfires that burned over 3000 hectares (4000 acres) of land across the peninsula from Muizenberg to Hout Bay. One of the areas affected was the Constantia Valley, the oldest wine producing region in the Southern Hemisphere.
We enjoyed scenic ocean views as we drove south along the west shore of False Bay. Our first stop was at the Boulders Penguin Colony near Simons Town. The penguins here are endangered African penguins, also known as jackass penguins for their donkey-like bray. These penguins are closely related to the Magellanic penguins that we had seen at Punta Tombo in Argentina and the Galapagos penguins that we saw during our cruise there. As at other viewing areas we have visited, humans must stay on the designated paths but penguins are free to go wherever they like. It seemed odd that so many wanted to nest near the parking lot or right next to the path, where we saw a parent with two chicks. There are only about 2000 penguins at Boulders (compared to 500,000 at Punta Tombo) but we will take any opportunity to see them in the wild. As we walked back to the van after strolling the paths, we saw a large black snake on the hillside; it moved away from us quickly. Kyrt said it must have been a venomous Black Mamba but the two wardens at the site said it was a harmless Mole Snake. Whichever it was, our motto is to leave snakes well enough alone. Back at the parking area we saw a dassie (rock or Cape hyrax), which we had also spotted earlier; a dassie looks much like a guinea pig.
We continued driving south to the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park (www.sanparks.org//images.independenttraveler.com/parks/table_mountain/recreational_map.jpg); the entrance fee is R110 (US$9) pp. Along the highway, there were signs warning us not to feed the baboons. Kyrt told us about a recent woman visitor to the NP who was eating a sandwich when she was approached by a baboon. She held the sandwich over her head; the baboon simply jumped on her chest and took the sandwich, along with her thumb. On a more pleasant note, Kyrt also pointed out crosses that commemorate the voyages of Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama around the Cape.
Once in the NP, we took the Flying Dutchman Funicular (capepoint.co.za/flying-dutchman-funicular/) up to the historic lighthouse; the funicular costs R55 (US$4.50) pp. There were several baboons roaming around the lower funicular station. Although there was a large tour group ahead of us, it did not take long to board the funicular for the short ride to the viewing platform; Kyrt told us the best spot to stand for spectacular views during the ride and for a quick exit once we reached the upper station. One of the sights is Bellows Rock, an underwater peak. The waters constantly churning around the rock make it look like a whale is blowing and surfacing. Once at the top, there were numerous viewpoints with stupendous views of the cliffs and rugged coastline. We climbed up to the Cape Point Lighthouse for even more fantastic vistas.
Back at the bottom station of the funicular, we headed to lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant (www.two-oceans.co.za). John and I shared an order of six raw Cape oysters; at R180 (US$14.50) those six cost almost as much as a dozen Louisiana oysters in New Orleans. For our main course, we both had the Medium Langoustine Combination (4 langoustines, 4 black beard mussels and fried calamari) plus a glass of Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc. The food here was very good and the views were outstanding.
As we continued our drive through the NP, we spotted an Eland and further on a baboon. We stopped briefly at Gina’s African Art Studio. There were some nice handicrafts here and a large number of interesting sculptures. As the road climbed up to Chapman’s Peak Drive, we had gorgeous views of Noordhoek Beach. Sadly, 20 Pilot Whales beached themselves here in 2013 and only one survived.
Chapman’s Peak Drive (www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za) winds for 5.6 miles (9km) along the cliffs from Noordhoek to Hout Bay. With its tremendous views and 114 curves, it reminded me of the Pacific Coast Highway in California. It certainly lives up to its reputation as one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world! I was really glad that someone else was driving so that both John and I could enjoy this fantastic scenery.
Back at the guest house, we still had half a baguette plus plenty of cheese, cured meats and wine for another picnic. Towards the end of of supper, we got to experience a load shedding. Kyrt brought us a lighter and our room was well-furnished with candles. This outage was only slated to last an hour but ended up being more than three. We read on our Kindles for awhile and turned in before the electricity came back on.
CAPE TOWN DAY 4: THU, 05/07/15
We had planned to tour the Swartland wine region on our last day but continuing bad weather in Gaansbaai dictated that we defer our shark dive until then. We had met Adi Badenhorst and Eben Sadie when they were doing a tour of the USA last September. Therefore, we had hoped to visit Badenhorst Family Wines (aabadenhorst.com), Sadie Family Wines (www.thesadiefamily.com) and also Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines (mlfwines.com). However, Kyrt had been unable to set up the necessary appointments. Nevertheless, we were able to have three tastings in the Riebeek Valley.
This wine area is further from Cape Town than the ones we had visited earlier. After a long drive, we arrived in Riebeeck Kasteel at the foot of the Kasteelberg (“Castle Mountain”). Our first stop was at the Riebeek Cellars Wine Shop (www.riebeekcellars.com). Riebeek Cellars produces wine under 11 different labels; we tasted nine wines here and purchased a bottle of the Cape Ruby port to take back to the USA.
Our next stop was up the road in Riebeek Wes to taste at Allesverloren (www.allesverloren.co.za). Tastings here are free for small groups (fewer than 10 people). Although this winery produces wine from some French varietals, most of its production involves Portuguese varietals; we tasted five wines from their regular line and one of their estate wines. Allesvorloren’s flagship wine is its port-style Fine Old Vintage. We had the opportunity to taste the 2010 vintage from a just-opened bottle and from one that had been opened four days earlier so that we could appreciate the difference. We were impressed enough to buy a bottle of the port to take back home.
Now it was back to Riebeeck Kasteel and Het Vlock Casteel (www.hetvlockcasteel.co.za). The farm’s trademark “Castle” hosts weddings, conferences and other functions; there is also a shop featuring the farm’s fruit and olive products, which are made on-site. The farm’s wines can be tasted and purchased in the shop as well. We climbed up to the Castle’s terrace to enjoy a view of the countryside, then went down to the shop. The shop, “Die Winkel”, offers free samples of an enormous variety of natural and marinated olives; there are also jams, chutneys, preserves and many other fruit products to taste. It was hard to choose from such bounty but we finally settled on a bottle of balsamic vinegar-marinated Kalamata olives to add to the remains of our picnic supplies. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the olives but we did taste the wines and bought a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Despite having eaten perhaps a few too many olives, it was now time for a late lunch at the Royal Hotel (www.royalinriebeek.com). John had wanted to start with the “Fresh West Coast Oysters”; however, the chef (to his credit) felt that the oysters were not fresh enough to serve. Instead, John chose the “Rare Seared Tuna on Nicoise” followed by the “300g Chalmar Rib-Eye”; he drank a glass of Mullineux “Kloof Street” Chenin Blanc and a glass of the house Shiraz. I had the Tiger Prawns and the “Kingklip with Thai Green Curry Sauce” with a glass of the house Chenin Blanc.
Once back at the guest house, John and I went out to a nearby convenience store to buy a couple of hard rolls to eat with the last of the cheeses and cured meats. We also had some of the olives plus one of the wines we had acquired earlier. Tonight we needed to be asleep early so that we could be up early to catch our transport to Gansbaai for our shark cage dive. Now nervous about load shedding, we set our battery-operated travel alarm clock as well as the alarm on John’s watch to be sure that we would get up on time.
CAPE TOWN DAY 5: FRI, 05/08/15
This morning we were outside waiting at 3:40 a. m. for the shuttle; the van arrived right on time. There were already four people on board and we picked up one more. Then we headed off for the 2-hour drive to Gansbaai. There wasn’t much to see along the way because it was pitch dark.
We arrived at the White Shark Ventures (www.white-shark-diving.com) headquarters at about 6:00 a. m. A basic cold breakfast (fruits, cereal, cheese, cold cuts, hard boiled eggs, bread, coffee, tea, juice) was served at 6:30 a. m. During breakfast, we were given a talk about Great White Sharks and a safety briefing about the dive procedures. “Dive” is actually a misnomer as neither tanks nor snorkels are used. There are no weights either; the “divers” pull themselves underwater with a bar to view approaching sharks. A minor aggravation was that Kyrt had said the tour price included everything and we did not need to take towels with us. It turned out that our tour fee did not include the cash-only towel rental fee of R30 (US$2.50)/towel plus a R100/towel deposit. Anyway, I did not bring enough cash for two towels and two deposits but I was allowed to leave only one deposit (I guess I look honest).
As dawn was breaking, we headed out to the “Megalodon II”. The boat was on a trailer and we scrambled up a portable staircase to board. The boat was towed down to the boat launch and into the water. All bags, purses, etc., had to be stowed in the dry hold before leaving. We were shown the hold, life jackets and snack basket; we were also given instructions for using the head. There were about 25 divers (although only about 20 actually went into the water). The divers were mostly young adults but there were a few other people around our age.
As we motored to the dive site, the boat was followed by several skuas, who snagged snacks held out by the dive master. After about 45 minutes, the boat stopped and our gear (full 5mm wetsuits with hoods and booties) was distributed; masks were also available but John and I had brought our own prescription masks. The crew began to chum the water to attract sharks: seawater is poured into a tub of tuna heads and allowed to run back into the sea. That is not as disgusting as it sounds.
The steel cage was lowered into the water and clamped to the side of the boat. The cage has a top and the expected bars on the outside. There are bars inside to grab onto and to hook your toes under so that the diver can submerge when the crew yells, “Down!”. Five divers can go into the cage at the same time and everyone would be given at least one opportunity to dive.
John and I ended up being in the first group into the cage. The water temperature was only about 15 C (60 F) but not too bad with the wetsuit. A small (about 1.5-2 meters long) shark had been attracted by the chum. A crew member was using a tuna head on a rope to try to lure the shark over to the cage so that we could view it. Unfortunately, the visibility was quite poor due to sand in the water and sharks swim really fast; it was very difficult to take photos or even see much from the cage.
After about 20 minutes in the cage, it was time for another group to take our place. John and I went up to the top deck and discovered that we could see more from up there than when we had been in the cage. Eventually a larger shark (about 3 meters long) came along. This shark was more aggresive about pursuing the tuna head. When it got tired of having the head yanked away, it gave us a “Jaws”-type moment by disappearing and then coming up from beneath the head to grab it.
Although this was the peak season (April to October) for shark diving, we only saw one other shark, which did not deign to approach the boat. After everyone had had a chance to be in the cage, it was time to return to shore. Now that it was full daylight, we could see the incredibly narrow and rocky harbor entrance that the boat had to negotiate. The boat was winched back onto the trailer and towed to its parking place so that we could descend by the staircase.
There is a shower in each of the bathrooms at the headquarters; John managed to change into his dry clothes in the men’s room. However, the women’s room was so crowded that I changed outside under my towel. After that it was time for the included lunch, a baked chicken and pasta concoction with bread and a salad. Beer, wine and soft drinks were also included; we opted for a bottle of a local beer, Castle Lager. After lunch, we were supposed to see the video that was shot during our tour. Unfortunately, there was some sort of glitch and the videographer with the master copy had already left to video another tour. The quality was so poor that no effort was made to sell it to us.
On the return trip, we were the last people in the shuttle to be dropped off. That gave us a chance to see a bit of downtown Cape Town and a few sites like the Cape Town Stadium and the Historic Lighthouse; we also had some good clear views of Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Devil’s Peak. We got back to the guest house around 3:00 p.m.,where we had nice hot showers and finished packing. After that, we relaxed in the shade of the guest house’s courtyard with a bottle of wine and the last of the olives until it was time for Kyrt to drive us to the airport. We really enjoyed his services as host, driver, winery selector and wildlife expert!
Once at the airport, it was too early to check in for our late-evening (11:25 p. m.) flight to Amsterdam. Later we checked in for the flight and went through passport control and the security check with no problems. However, we had made a big mistake: we planned to eat at the airport but it turned out that there was only one food outlet inside the secure area. Although the sandwiches were reasonably priced and not bad, the service was incredibly slow. Diners were putting money in their receipt folders, placing the folders by the cash register and walking away. We finally got tired of waiting and did the same.
Once aboard the plane, I asked the flight attendant for our section not to awaken us when dinner was served. As a result, we were able to sleep for most of the 11.5-hour flight. We woke up in time for refreshing hot face towels and breakfast the next morning.
TRAVEL DAY: SAT, 05/09/15
After a short (2.5 hour) layover at Schipol came the 10-hour flight to Atlanta. We did not get to sleep as much on that flight. Arrival in Atlanta gave us the first chance to use Global Entry (usa.immigrationvisaforms.com/travel/global-entry-pass), which allowed us to bypass all the long immigration and security lines. Despite the cost (US$100 for 5 years) and having to go to Charlotte, NC, for the interviews and fingerprinting, we should have applied for this program years ago!
The short flight to RDU was uneventful and we made it home around 10:00 p. m., 28.5 hours after leaving Cape Town.
Overall, we had a great time in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. Although we had the opportunity to taste at nine cellar doors, that is just a tiny fraction of all the wineries in South Africa. However, we did get to expand our acquaintance with wines from this region as well as viewing gorgeous scenery and experiencing the thrill of a shark cage dive. I hope we have the opportunity to revisit this fascinating area in the future.