Things to See in South Africa: Vergenoegd’s Duck Squad in Stellenbosch Travel Attractions 04 AUG 2017

The Stellenbosch wine estate of Vergenoegd went from being completely unheard of to one of Cape Town’s “must visit” attractions in literally the space of a year and a half, and while a lot of this is of course down to some really good marketing, the lion’s share of kudos has to go to the farm’s unusual, eco-friendly pest control scheme – their duck squad.

Cared for by duck handler Denzel Metthys, around a 1,000 trained Indian Runner ducks are used to control snails and other pests in Vergenoegd’s vineyards.

These ducks, who put on daily parades in front of the manor house, are essentially the wine estate’s superstars, and as such are treated rather well.

As for the wine estate itself, well the team over at Vergenoegd produce some rather nice wines, have a great restaurant operating out of the old manor house, host a couple of events, and nowadays, is home to a popular weekend farmers market.

A team over at Great Big Story put together this great little feature on this feathered story:

Well worth putting on your “things to see” in the Western Cape list.

Related Link: Vergenoegd Wine Estate | YouTube

Winding Down the Year in Gouritz (2016-12-30) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 03 AUG 2017

Last year the girls and I escaped with Chantelle’s folks to Gouritz (better known by its more common Afrikaans name, Gouritsmond) for a couple of days, ending off 2016 and ringing in 2017 with a proper little December Holidays getaway.

Gouritz is a small coastal holiday town situated at the Gourits River mouth, about 30 km away from Mossel Bay and on the same stretch of coastline as nearby Vleesbaai, Boggoms Bay, and a particular favourite of mine, Pinnacle Point.

Thanks to its access to both the Indian Ocean and Gourits River, Gouritz is a mecca for fishing, boating, and other water sports, and given its relatively remote setting, is a popular area for nature lovers to gather.

Also, come the December holidays, it gets packed to the rafters with people escaping to the coast!

After an enjoyable drive up with loads of short stops in between, the girls and I eventually reached the tiny town and joined up with Oupa and Ouma at our house for the next couple of days, the peculiarly named Drie Plekke Lekker.

(Sadly, Drie Plekke Lekker is rather… lacking on the maintenance front, meaning that despite the nice space, for now it is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend until someone steps in and fixes it up a little).

Over the next couple of days we enjoyed milktart pancakes, walks around the town, drives along the coast, swims in the river, lunch in the middle of nowhere, a trip on a train to Hartenbos, and a massive New Year’s Eve lamb spit braai in the caravan park with Bernard and the rest of Monty and Cheryl’s friends!

Jessica flew her kite, the girls played non-stop with their Oupa, and pretty much every morning kicked off with multiple games of Snakes and Ladders. (Oh, and as a bonus surprise, Chantelle managed to slip away from the guest house in order to drive up and join us for a day or two!)

So. Pretty impossible to say that we didn’t have a good time then.

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A great little off the beaten path holiday spot.

Related Link: Gouritz | Gouritsmond

Fire Damage, Plankies, and Lunch at 365 Bistro & Simply Coffee in Pringle Bay (2017-02-25) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 02 AUG 2017

Earlier this year, the area surrounding Pringle Bay (a small coastal town along the Hangklip Coast, between Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els) was ravaged by a massive veld fire.

Although fires are commonplace here in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve area, this one was particularly bad thanks to immensely strong winds that fanned the flames all the way to the doorstep of Pringle Bay, taking out a couple of the boundary houses in the process, and burning literally on the doorstep of Chantelle’s aunt and uncle’s home.

(Apparently, it was only through a freak change of wind direction at the very last second that the town of Pringle Bay actually emerged relatively unscathed from this inferno.)

A couple of days after this disaster, Chantelle and I decided to take a scenic drive out along the picturesque Clarence Drive, and along the way decided to drop in on Pringle Bay to survey the damage.

The devastation was eye-opening. Many of the surrounding hill faces were now completely reduced to sand and stone, with only the blackened remains of bushes poking out here and there, the result being an eerie, almost alien landscape left to drive through.

Amazingly, despite the scale and proximity of the fire, it appeared that less than a handful of homes were actually razed, quite astonishing considering that some of the open plots sitting right in between the houses were burnt!

Making our way back to the center of the town, we decided to do a little exploring and head out towards Hangklip, seeing as it was a road that neither of us had actually ever driven before.

We ended up following the bad gravel road all the way to the (rather dilapidated, though some would say charming) Hangklip Hotel, turning around at its famous Plankies pub next door – all whilst under the watchful eye of a local baboon who was busy tucking into the leftovers of what had very obviously been quite the party the previous evening.

Back in Pringle Bay proper, we strolled around some of the lovely little establishments that seem to be popping up all over the town these days, before settling in at Simply Coffee, the coffee shop section of the super popular Bistro 365 & Simply Coffee restaurant hub.

And I’m rather pleased that we did. The food – and beer – was particularly excellent!

(Apparently the coffee shop runs during the day, before closing for the evening when the upstairs Bistro tweaks the menu and takes over).

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t nearly take as many photos on the day as what I normally would do – so all the more reason to visit again I guess…

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Not bad for an impromptu afternoon’s exploring then.

P.S. Clarence Drive alone is ALWAYS worth the drive!

Related Link: Bistro 365 & Simply Coffee | Pringle Bay | Hangklip Hotel

Wine Tasting with Art at Saronsberg in Tulbagh (2016-12-11) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 AUG 2017

Forged in the 2000’s and named after the mountain whose western slope is home to many of their vineyards, Tulbagh’s award winning Saronsberg, despite the farm itself’s deep historic roots, is actually a relatively new wine producer, having only produced its first vintage back in 2004.

Saronsberg Wine Cellar is known as a patron of the arts, and as such have married their wine tasting facilities with an unique art gallery, showcasing the work of a broad spectrum of famous and proudly South African artists.

I’m particularly fond of Angus Taylor’s work, and his hauntingly beautiful “From Earth From Water” (more commonly known as Lady of the Lake) sculpture serves as Saronsberg’s official mascot.

In addition to the actual wine (and nowadays olive oil) production, Saronsberg caters as a superb conference venue, and if that wasn’t enough, accommodation in the form of elegant self-catering vineyard cottages is also on the books.

As for the wine,  well two of Saronsberg’s red wines stand at the top of SAWi’s (The South African Wine Index) scored list, meaning that you are guaranteed to taste something remarkable if you ever find yourself in the area.

Which is exactly what happened when Chantelle and I paid a visit to their wonderfully modern wine cellar facilities last December.

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A perfect marriage of wine and art.

(Hint: Angus Taylor’s “Conduit” stone man is a good indication that you’ve successfully navigated your way to Saronsberg!)

Related Link: Saronsberg Wine Cellar

Rowing on Eikenhof Dam at the Elgin Grabouw Country Club (2017-03-11) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 31 JUL 2017

Located in the Kogelberg biosphere region and sitting right next to the tranquil waters of the Eikenhof Dam in Grabouw, the Elgin Grabouw Country Club, which was founded in 1987, serves as the area’s local recreational sporting and social hub.

Thanks to its proximity to the dam, watersports, rowing in particular, are particularly big here and a number of amateur and university rowing teams call this dam home.

In addition, the country club serves as home ground for the Elgin Cricket Club, never mind the fact that it also counts 3 tennis courts, two squash courts, a swimming pool, and a bowls green among its facilities!

The nearby Cape Pine’s pine forest plantations are home to some of the best mountain biking trails in Grabouw, and as you can imagine given its location in the Kogelberg biosphere region, the natural fynbos and mountains are home to many a hiking trail, making it popular with nature enthusiasts.

I had heard that the restaurant at the Elgin Grabouw Country Club is technically open to the public, and so having never been there before, one early Saturday morning in March, I bundled my girls into the car and went for a scenic drive over Sir Lowry’s Pass and on to Grabouw.

I enjoyed the drive, the girls less so. (It was hot).

Anyway, back to the dam. Established in 1977 (and raised in 1998), the Eikenhof Dam is an earth-fill type dam on the Palmiet River, its primary purpose being that of irrigation for the fertile land that makes up the fruit-producing Elgin Valley area.

Naturally, given the severe drought that the Western Cape currently finds itself experiencing, the dam was looking in need of quite the serious top up, but nevertheless, there was still enough water for some rowing to take place. (Which was of course quite fascinating for the girls).

However, my master plan of sitting down to eat some lunch with the girls at the club house promptly went up in smoke on discovery of one single “Beware of Snakes” signboard staked into the ground in front of the restaurant building, immediately freaking both girls out to such an extent that I begrudgingly had to heard them back into the car and make another plan.

Sigh, sometimes exploring with little girls is much harder than what it should be… ;)

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Nevertheless, I do look forward to return when the dam and its surrounds are back to their usual lush green state!

Related Link: Elgin Grabouw Country Club | Eikenhof Dam

Cape Dutch Architecture in the historic Church Street of Tulbagh (2016-12-10) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 30 JUL 2017

The Boland Earthquake of 1969 wreaked massive damage across the historic town of Tulbagh, but it was also thanks to this very disaster that the restoration and preservation of the town’s history became a reality.

The discovery of a photo taken in the 1860s allowed for the town to get together and restore every historic structure on Church Street to its original state, leading to 32 provincial heritage sites standing in one street alone, the largest concentration of National Monuments in South Africa!

I jumped at the opportunity to amble down Church street over the course of our weekend away at the African Tulip Guest House last December, taking my time to admire all these fantastic, well kept examples of Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian architecture.

Other than those acting as museums, most of these historic houses are privately owned, with many operating as businesses, including the likes of restaurants, guest houses, art galleries, or quaint little shops.

Church street is also home to two churches (on either end of the street), a rugby field, a communal green space, and a organic community vegetable garden.

Outside of each house there stands an official, nifty little signboard, detailing the structure’s history and design style, not to mention the dispensing of some fascinating tidbits of local lore.

Naturally, plenty of photos were taken during the course of my stroll – I mean, who doesn’t love taking photos of classic whitewash and gables!

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Well, well worth taking the time to amble down Church Street, and even better if you can organise to join one of the historic walking tours!

Related Link: Tulbagh | Cape Dutch Architecture

Things to See in South Africa: Glowing Rooms 3D Mini-Golf in Cape Town Kid Activities 29 JUL 2017

So how do you make putt putt even more of a crowd puller if you find yourself trading out of a small boring little shopping center (The Gallery) in Milnerton, Cape Town?

Why you slather everything in neon, glow-in-the-dark paint, airbrush some fantastic wall murals to strengthen the effect, light it all up under UV bulbs, and then make the experience that much more trippy by throwing in some special 3D glasses to give a rather unique view of the world of course.

Welcome to the Glowing Rooms 18-hole glow-in-the-dark 3D mini golf experience.

As part of their Things to Do in Cape Town series, the guys behind Travelvids (a very cool Cape Town based travel video training and production outfit) put together this awesome video of the experience:

Well worth putting on your “what to do on a rainy day in Cape Town” list!

Related Link: Glowing Rooms SA | Facebook | Travelvids.tv

Chimpanzees at Monkey Town in Somerset West (2016-11-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 28 JUL 2017

Sometimes I don’t particularly feel like driving very far when it comes to my weekend outings with the girls, and so invariably we end up at Monkey Town, situated a ridiculously convenient ten minutes down the road from me.

Founded back in 2000 by animal lover and habitual monkey rescuer Roseline Grobler, the Monkey Town Primate Sanctuary is a Somerset West based wildlife center for monkeys and apes with more than 230 animals split among 28 different exotic species, including Tammy, Ruby, and Sunny, Monkey Town’s famous chimpanzee sisters.

The sanctuary has an interesting layout as you essentially walk for large swathes of the park in a fenced tunnel, with monkeys moving about in the open all around (and above) you.

Although you are more than welcome to browse and work your way through the sanctuary on your own and at your own pace (strolls through Monkey Town don’t normally take much longer than an hour), it is recommended to rather join in on the frequent guided tours, primarily because that way you will learn a lot more about the animals running around in front of you.

Feeding time is quite the fun spectacle (for that matter, the chimpanzees never cease to amaze with both their catching and bottle opening skills), and if you want an even closer look/interaction with some of the smaller, fluffier critters, then there are a couple of encounter options eagerly awaiting your purchase.

The girls rather enjoyed this particular outing last year, with Jessica, as she invariably does on these outings of ours, taking quite a shine to our guide and pretty much never leaving his side for the duration of the tour!

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These guys do a lot of great work in terms of taking in, rearing and caring for abandoned, captive-bred monkeys and are definitely worth supporting, meaning that if you have kids, then undoubtedly this is one of those visits that you can safely leave on your To Do list.

(Also, if the kids get bored, there is the kids play paradise of Cheeky Monkey right next door. In all honesty, I can’t really recommend them as a restaurant of choice, but they do have all the necessary equipment if you have kids with lots of energy to get rid of!)

Related Link: Monkey Town | Facebook

Things to See in France: Mont Saint-Michel Travel Attractions 27 JUL 2017

One of the earliest recognised UNESCO World Heritage Sites, France’s famed Mont Saint-Michel island commune in Normandy stands as one of France’s most recognizable landmarks, not to mention one of its most popular tourist destinations.

Situated about 1 km off the country’s northwestern coast, the tidal island crowned by its great Romanesque abbey supports a small population of around 50 permanent residents, all living within the boundaries of this medieval walled city.

Inaccessible during high tide, this fortified position has been held since Roman times, and in addition to its position as a place of worship since the 11th century,  The Mont as a strategic stronghold stands legendary as having been unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War, not to mention its successful 1433 defense against a full scale English assault.

Of course the reverse of this unconquerable nature wasn’t entirely missed either, with the tidal island also spending a fair bit of its history as prison stronghold for some of the Kings of France.

A team over at Great Big Story put together this great little primer on the fabulous Mont Saint-Michel:

No wonder it is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.

Related Link: Wikipedia | Forbes | About France | YouTube