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Return to Stellenbosch – more wine-tasting!

LIMG_0939Dave and I had enjoyed Stellenbosch so much on our way east, that we regretted having already booked our next night’s accommodation at Kleinbaai. But no worries! We hadn’t booked the next two nights, so we could easily turn around and come back through here again on our way back west, to Cape Town, so that’s what we did.

On our first trip through, we hit a couple of wineries, then headed east to the coast via the Franszhoek mountain pass. This time, after our Gansbaai hike, we scootled back to Stellenbosch that afternoon via the scenic coast road. I had the whole trip precision-timed: how far we could go on the Gansbaai hike before having to turn around, and what time we needed to be back in the car and on the road, in order to make it back to Stellenbosch in time to visit one winery before they closed.

We already had a map of all of the wineries, and the owners at our previous accommodation had kindly circled the ones that they highly recommended. The one that (a) was on their recommended list and (b) was on our route into town and (c) would be open that day was Blaauklippen – so there we headed.

One of the many lovely things about the Stellenbosch wineries is that they are all so different. Wine-tasting here is a bit different from what I am used to in other parts of the world. You generally have to pay for tastings here – but then they are a more formal and drawn-out experience, where you sit down and have five different glasses poured for you, which you enjoy in a leisurely way, one by one. Do not plan on hitting four or eight wineries in a day!

Blaauklippen, like all of the wineries here, is in a stunningly beautiful setting – the vineyards backed by rocky mountains. The tasting area was a casual sitting area outside, and the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable.

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Arriving at Blaauklippen.

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Such history in this part of South Africa – both here at Stellenbosch and at Constantia, it was amazing to visit wineries that are over three centuries old.

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We each could choose a completely different selection of wines to taste – whites, rosés, reds and sparkling! (And then taste each other’s picks, too)

 

One of the other reasons that we had wanted to go back to Stellenbosch was because of its amazing “steakhouse” – the Hussar Grill – which takes such care of the meat, the waiters telling you how many days each of the cuts of beef has been hanging, and offering a great selection of wild African game meats there. The first time there I had kudu, which was exquisite – like the tenderest and tastiest beef you have ever had. This time Dave had ostrich. Another amazing night, enjoying great foods and very fine yet affordable wines (no plonk!).

The next morning, sadly, was our last here. We had a 2pm flight to Johannesburg, and from there, the next day we would be flying east to Upington, for our race in the Kalahari Desert. But the Cape Town airport is only about a half-hour drive from Stellenbosch… so we were able to get to one more winery before flying out. We selected Asara – with a more formal tasting room overlooking the wine barrel storage room (I am sure there is a better name for that…) which also doubles as a ballroom, with a fancy chandelier and space to lay out grand dining table down the central corridor.

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The tasting room at Asara.

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Wouldn’t you LOVE to attend a dinner here?

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Well, at least we got to enjoy the wines here…

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The grounds here were lovely too – and there is accommodation on-site.

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Enjoying our last view of Stellenbosch, before whizzing off to catch our flight.

 

 

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Klipgat Trail hike, Gansbaai to DeKelders, South Africa

LIMG_0935Well, we had spent a lot of time in the car this past week. And on planes for a few days before that. Not great training for our Kalahari race, which was now only days away. We had loved Stellenbosch so much on our way through, that we decided we would stop here again on our way back to Cape Town. But we would stop and do a coastal hike from the village of Gansbaai first, before heading inland. A good chance for us to get some exercise, as well as to test our gear.

This was a real eye-opener of a hike – a great chance to see what towns back home like Tofino and Port Alberni could do with waterfront lands if they planned ahead a bit. The whole 7 km hike is along a narrow strip of shoreline, nearly all of it with residential land backing it. But the shoreline itself – the beaches and the rocky headlands and the cliffs – is all public land, and the trail that passes over here is beautiful.

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The day was quite warm – nothing like what we were expecting in the Kalahari, but still a lot hotter than what we were used to back home – so this was a pretty good training hike with our loaded packs. I was quite surprised to feel hot spots developing on my heels – precursors to blisters – which I guess was due to the hot weather and my sweaty feet. I had worn these same socks and shoes, with the loaded pack, many times at home with no problems at all. A good little warning, for being proactive about taping those areas before the race started.

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Tortoises. They actually move pretty fast!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. This was a lovely hike, and there were whales just behind the break nearly the whole way. Dave and I really appreciated the chance to get a few hours of activity in, before getting back in the car to hurry off – our time in the Cape Town region was rapidly running out, and we wanted to get to at least one more winery in Stellenbosch today, before they closed.

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Beautiful views of sea and coastal scrub the whole way.

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We stopped for a quick core workout at one of the bays.

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Mostly a coastal path, with infrastructure such as stairways where needed.

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Just a thin strip of public land – but what a boon for the community!

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One optional descent along the way to some sea caves.

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We went down by a stairway, but our route back up was a bit rough!

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And this was the view pretty much the whole way… with whales feeding close to shore, just off the kelp beds. Great hike!

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Kleinbaai to South Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas: birdwatching and whales!

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Heading east along the coast.

I had always believed that Cape of Good Hope was Africa’s southernmost point. But on this trip I learned that Cape Agulhas, a tiny bit to the south but much farther east, actually holds that claim to fame.

I’m glad that Dave and I didn’t plan to go any further east than Cape Agulhas. Planning our trip from home, everything looks so close together on the map. But once you get here, there are so many places you want to stop at.

We’d arrived at our B&B in Kleinbaai at nightfall the previous night, just in time to have dinner at the quirky pub just outside this tiny seaside village : the one and only place we experienced our whole time in Africa where the cheap wine really IS just cheap wine. (Everywhere else, it is cheap yet world-class). This was plonk! Terrible! (The food was good, though).

We started reasonably early the next morning, with our first stop at Pearly Beach, 10 km east of Kleinbaai. You don’t need to take a boat trip to enjoy the whale-watching here! We could have stayed here all day, watching the southern right whales feeding just off the kelp beds and just behind the beach break, some of them with calves.

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Breaching southern right whale at Pearly Beach

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Another southern right whale just off the kelp beds.

Our trip soon became a birdwatching expedition – first here at Pearly Beach, with sandpipers, whimbrels, and endangered African oystercatchers along the rocky shoreline.

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Still working on ID-ing this guy, some sort of plover at Pearly Beach.

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African black oystercatchers – endangered – nesting here.

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A whimbrel watching the crashing surf. This is an amazing species – we have them here on Vancouver Island. Our birds go down to Central and South America for winter. This guy, here in South Africa, was most likely raised in northern Scotland! And will head back there to nest.

We finally forced ourselves back into the car to continue eastward, towards the cape -when I spied a tree alongside the road full of weaver nests. I forced Dave to pull over and back up, and we watched the birds, lovely yellow cape weavers chattering and hanging upside down from their suspended nests. Little did we know how many trees like that we would see in the coming miles!

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A tree full of weaver nests!

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Bickering weavers.

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They are very pretty birds, though – these cape weavers.

We still had not had a chance to buy a bird book, so we had no idea of the names of the species we were observing. We ended up making up names for most of them – our own private birding language. When our route eventually veered on to gravel roads, a sparrow-sized bird with a tail about four times the length of its body flew alongside for us and finally landed. We called it the tailbird.

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Now onto the dirt tracks – and some amazing birding.

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Tailbird!! (Later ID’d as a pin-tailed whydah)

But the birding became much more spectacular than that… as we came across flocks of ostriches!  We passed a lot of wetlands, with all sorts of wading birds and ducks and geese. I named one of the ducks we saw the white-faced whistling duck (because that’s what it looked like and that’s what it did)… and later learned that I had got it pretty much right!

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Very pretty birds, these blacksmith lapwings.

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And yes – ostriches!

A distant flock of spoonbills was one of the highlights of our day, along with a range of small birds in brilliant shades of yelllow, red and green (later identified as weavers, bishops, and a malachite sunbird), and several blue cranes: gorgeous graceful cranes with long wing feathers than blow in the wind, South Africa’s national bird.

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Blue cranes are rare and endangered – but they were common down here.

With all of the birdwatching, it took ages for us to make it to the cape. We were starved by the time we stopped for lunch, at a little hole-in-the-wall fish and chips stand around Struisbaai.

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Struisbaai – where lots of kids were playing in the warm ocean water.

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A limited lunch menu – but good security!

The cape itself was beautiful too, with some short walking trails around – a chance to stretch our legs after all the driving. The lighthouse here was constructed in 1848 – but by now it was already 5pm, and they were locking up so we couldn’t go in.

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Walkway to Cape Agulhas.

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And here we are at Cape Agulhas – southernmost point on the African continent. Not as spectacular as the Cape of Good Hope.

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Nice birds at the cape, too – this is a Kittlitz’s plover (I think)

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Cape Agulhas lighthouse…

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…built in 1848.

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Later learned this is an oryx, or gemsbok – native further north.

The drive back was fun too… a few fenced-in areas that we figured out were private game farm. The animals must have been sleeping when we drove through the first time, but now they were moving around.

Dave screeched to a halt a few times: “Wow – what is that?” It’s fun being in Africa – like being a child again, with all of the new animal names and bird names still to learn.

 

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And these guys? Later learned – the bigger, darker ones are bontebok, these ones on a fenced-in reserve, but they were actually originally native to only a very small area right around here. I think the little guys are springboks – native to northeastern South Africa and Namibia, but not to this exact area.

 

We finished our night with a drink and dinner at the Great White Restaurant – named for the sharks that frequent this area. (No… we didn’t go swimming here).

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Cocktails at the Great White – with a southern right whale skeleton suspended overhead.

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Visiting the African penguin colony at the Boulders, Simonstown

LDSC_0032There is so much to do here, and it is so hard to figure out where to spend our time and what things to bypass. We’d already spent most of the first half of our day at World of Birds, and we wanted to make it all the way to the Cape of Good Hope this same day. But we would be driving right past the colonies of African penguins, near Simonstown. It would be a shame to bypass this – but if we stopped, we might not have much time at the Cape of Good Hope….

Well – who would drive past penguins? Of course we couldn’t! Their colonies are right on the edge of town, a stone’s throw from the highway. (In fact, there are signs on the highway warning you to lookout for penguins). It’s part of the national park system, and very well managed. We paid our entrance fee and had a quick walk around…. don’t have time to write much, we’re trying to get back on the road – but here are some pix!

The whole area is boardwalk- so visitors have great opportunities to get very close to the penguins, yet the birds are not disturbed by our presence at all.

The whole area is boardwalk – so visitors have great opportunities to get very close to the penguins, yet the birds are not disturbed by our presence at all.

It's near the end of the nesting season, so there were lots of big fat chicks around.

It’s near the end of the nesting season, so there were lots of big fat chicks around.

Here, the parent is regurgitating to feed the chick.

Here, the parent is regurgitating to feed the chick.

The site is right on the ocean. The penguins can walk from the beach up to their nesting sites in the dunes. Here are both fluffy grey chicks and blackand white adults.

The site is right on the ocean. The penguins can walk from the beach up to their nesting sites in the dunes. Here are both fluffy grey chicks and blackand white adults.

Lots of them resting on the beach.

Lots of them resting on the beach. So nice to be able to see them so close.

Really fun birds to watch.

Really fun birds to watch.

This was a really worthwhile stop. But we didn’t have much time left to spend at Cape of Good Hope. So we got into the car and started driving – our last chance to see the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet! Next blog post will describe that!

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Birdwatching between Cape Town and Cape of Good Hope… sort of

Crowned crane (from further north in Africa)

Crowned crane (native to areas further north in Africa)

Well, this was fun! The day before, Dave and I had hoped to drive all the way to Cape of Good Hope (like an hour’s drive south of Cape Town) but we were waylaid by the wineries. So we tried again today… but he had noticed a turnoff yesterday for The World of Birds. We REALLY want to buy a good bird book to identify South African birds – so we stopped for a visit, not really planning to go in.

Well – we did, and it was amazing! There are over 300 species there – mostly birds, but also some mammals and reptiles too. It started 40 years ago as a private venture on rented land, aiming to house injured birds, and it has grown from there. We were especially impressed by the size of the enclosures. They are very large, so the birds can fly around. You can actually walk through most of them – very large habitat areas where you are right in there with the birds. And very impressive species – not so many small songbirds, but lots of raptors (kestrels, owls, vultures) and lots of wading birds such as ibises, egrets, herons and storks.

One of MANY hornbill species.

One of MANY hornbill species.

And a great collection of hornbills – very unique African birds.

What was especially nice to see here was how many of the birds were nesting – a sign that they are really well treated, and very comfortable in their habitats. They had lots of room to fly or walk around, and we could observe lots of natural behaviours.

So it was 1pm when we left there… still only halfway to Cape of Good Hope, not having even passed by the penguin colonies yet, not having even eaten lunch yet! So much more to do this day – more blog posts coming – but for now, some bird pix!

The scarlet ibises - from South America - were spectacular!

The scarlet ibises – from South America – were spectacular!

The white peacock display was like a choreographed ballet - the three of them turning in time with one another.

The white peacock display was like a choreographed ballet – the three of them turning in time with one another.

Flamingos!

Flamingos!

And not just birds. The squirrel monkey habitat was fun - a huge enclosure where the little guys could come visit us. This guy wanted Dave's glasses. He's squeezing Dave's ear with his soft little fingers - no claws!

And not just birds. The squirrel monkey habitat was fun – a huge enclosure where the little guys could come visit us. This guy wanted Dave’s glasses. He’s squeezing Dave’s ear with his soft little fingers – no claws!

A red-billed toucan.

A red-billed toucan.

The wood ducks really liked the furniture. These guys are native to North America - we sometimes see them on the Beaver Pond near home.

The wood ducks really liked the furniture. These guys are native to North America – we sometimes see them on the Beaver Pond near home.

Duck on a table!

Duck on a table!

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Centuries-old vineyards at Constantia: Our first wine-tasting tour in South Africa

L12088251_848891241873232_2946849377145815409_nDave and I had big plans for the day. Our friend Thamar, who we had hiked up Lion’s Head with the previous day, recommended that we visit the vineyards at Constantia, a short drive south of Cape Town (she lives in Constantia). So we planned to pop in there and visit just three of them, before continuing south, visiting some of the coastal villages, then down the peninsula to look at penguin colonies and hike around the Cape of Good Hope.

Well, wine tasting in South Africa is not how we are used to it. They sit you down at a table and serve you your wines, one by one. It is not fast – but it is very pleasant! We really enjoyed the relaxed pace – but we only managed to make it to two wineries (we had lunch at the second one) and it was already 5:00! Too late to get to the Cape of Good Hope-so that was our day!

The first winery we went to was Constantia Glen. The landscape was stunning - rolling green vineyards surrounded by grey craggy peaks.

The first winery we went to was Constantia Glen. The landscape was stunning – rolling green vineyards surrounded by grey craggy peaks.

The tasting room was beautifully designed, with windows on three sides, so we could appreciate the views. We spent hours here!

The tasting room was beautifully designed, with windows on three sides, so we could appreciate the views. We spent hours here!

OK, time to leave Constantia Glen and move on!

OK, time to leave Constantia Glen and move on!

...and on to Groot Constantia - a winery established here more than three centuries ago, in 1685!

…and on to Groot Constantia – a winery established here more than three centuries ago, in 1685!

I was charged by an elephant from behind. Just kidding - there was some amazing artwork, especially wildlife paintings, on the walls in the tasting room.

I was charged by an elephant from behind. Just kidding – there was some amazing artwork, especially wildlife paintings, on the walls in the tasting room.

A really pleasant day - low-keyed and relaxed pace. We learned a lot about the different wines and theprocesses that give them their unique flavours. It was interesting trying different grapes that are not grown much in other regions around the world, such as pinotage.

A really pleasant day – low-keyed and relaxed pace. We learned a lot about the different wines and the processes that give them their unique flavours. It was interesting trying different grapes that are not grown much in other regions around the world, such as pinotage.

And the drie was really nice too, along thiscoast road, below the Twelve Apostles that we had glimpsed from our hike the day before.

And the drive was really nice too, along this coast road, below the Twelve Apostles that we had glimpsed from our hike the day before.

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First hike in Africa: Lion’s Head in the mist

LIMG_0735Dave and I arrived here in Cape Town on Monday afternoon – pretty exhausted from the long long journey. The next day, yesterday, we poked around the waterfront, then met my friend Thamar and her husband Richard for a late afternoon hike up Lion’s Head, a conical peak on the side of Table Mountain, and then dinner.

I know Thamar from the one-week ultramarathon I did in the Himalayas two years ago. We were room-mates for the week, and we kept in touch – so I emailed her when Dave and I made the plans to visit Cape Town.

The weather was less than ideal… very grey and overcast, with enough of a drizzle falling that we got fairly wet on the way up. But none of us wanted to wimp out. Thamar kept saying it was a shame that we couldn’t see the view, or where we were going. We were fine, though, having fun anyway – but it was hard to know where we actually were in the fog!

Here's a view of Lion's Head we took today, when we drove South. We couldn't actually see it yesterday!

Here’s a view of Lion’s Head we took today, when we drove south. We couldn’t actually see it yesterday!

It got a lot steeper as we neared the top - but there were metal rungs stuck in the rock to climb on, and chains to hold on to. It was fairly slippery, but quite doable with all of that help.

It got a lot steeper as we neared the top – but there were metal rungs stuck in the rock to climb on, and chains to hold on to. It was fairly slippery, but quite doable with all of that help.

We were mere metres away from the summit when it finally came intoview.

We were mere metres away from the summit when it finally came into view.

Thamar and Richard had brought beers for us all to drink while we watched the sunset. We were able to carry out the first half of that plan.

Thamar and Richard had brought beers for us all to drink while we watched the sunset. We were able to carry out the first half of that plan.

The whole team...

The whole team…

Thamar kept saying she thought it might clear, and Richard and I kept laughing at her. But... on the way down... it started to clear! Dave and I were shocked to have a view of  where we had just been!

Thamar kept saying she thought it might clear, and Richard and I kept laughing at her. But… on the way down… it started to clear! Dave and I were shocked to have a view of where we had just been!

Cool-looking native pigeon. Dave and I really need to buy a local bird book.

Cool-looking native pigeon. Dave and I really need to buy a local bird book.

Beautiful views downward now. Those cloud-shrouded hills are called the Twelve Apostles, and the posh suburb below them is Camp's Bay . This is the view southward.

Beautiful views downward now. Those cloud-shrouded hills are called the Twelve Apostles, and the posh suburb below them is Camp’s Bay . This is the view southward.

A fun hike. The rain added atmosphere, and it was nice that things cleared enough that we had someviews at the end. And then lots of fun all together at a good local Mexican restaurant.

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