Exploring the Estate of Vergelegen in Somerset West (2017-07-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 30 MAY 2018

A visit to Somerset West’s historic Vergelegen estate is always a treat, thanks to its selection of stunning restaurants, the elegant wine tasting venue, the beautiful (and functional) gardens, its rolling lawns and tree rich grounds, the fascinating history on show in the preserved manor house and library, and of course, the 300 year old Camphor and other ‘Champion’ trees dotted about the estate.

I have of course written about Vergelegen and its long history before, but it is worth keeping in mind that this wine producing estate (now owned and maintained through the deep pockets of Anglo American) was founded all the way back in 1700 – and indeed a large part of the farm’s original grounds served as the base for the eventual 1822 founding of Somerset West itself.

In other words, Vergelegen is very much integral to the story of the Helderberg region.

Surprisingly, the estate is quite child friendly these days, with a great play area and of course the large open lawns all making for a very welcome kid distraction for those times when you just want to sit back with a glass of wine (or warm cup of coffee) in hand, take in a deep breathe of crisp outdoor air, and enjoy the spectacular landscape views on offer.

One such opportunity arose just before the holidays last year, when we met up with Miguel, Retha, and her folks for a cup of coffee and a stroll around the estate – something my two little girls very much enjoyed once I told them about the bridge that needed crossing and the magical tree cave that needed finding on the other side.

They were rather pleased then when this turned out to be entirely true for a change.

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”50825,50826,50827,50828,50829,50830,50831,50832,50833,50834,50835,50836,50837,50838,50839,50840,50841,50842,50843,50844,50845,50846,50847,50848,50849,50850,50851,50852,50853,50854,50855,50856,50857,50858,50859,50860,50861,50862,50863,50864,50865,50866,50867,50868,50869,50870,50871,50872,50873,50874,50875,50876,50877,50878,50879,50880,50881,50882,50883,50884,50885,50886,50887,50888,50889,50890,50891,50892,50893,50894,50895,50896,50897,50898,50899,50900,50901,50902,50903,50904,50905,50906,50907,50908,50909,50910,50911,50912,50913,50914,50915,50916,50917,50918,50919,50920,50921,50922,50923,50924,50925,50926,50927,50928,50929,50930,50931,50932,50933,50934,50935,50936,50937,50938,50939,50940,50941,50942,50943,50944,50945,50946,50947,50948,50949,50950,50951,50952,50953,50954,50955,50956,50957,50958,50959,50960,50961,50962,50963,50964,50965,50966,50967,50968,50969,50970″]

Vergelegen’s well maintained grounds are always such a pleasure to explore, and indeed, whether you are interested in wine, art, fine landscapes, or even historic buildings, there is pretty much always something for everyone at this very enchanting estate.

Related Link: Vergelegen Wine Estate | Wikipedia | Somerset West

The Big Cats and Crocodiles of Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn (2017-07-04) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 27 MAY 2018

Celebrating over 30 years of conserving and caring for endangered animal species, the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which originally started life out as a crocodile show farm), is one of the now very iconic Oudtshoorn attractions for visiting families – after all, which small kid is ever going to forget entering the premises through those toothy, gaping crocodile jaws!

A fully accredited, privately owned institution, Cango Wildlife Ranch has worked for years towards the conservation of cheetah and other endangered species – so much so that they are in fact one of the five biggest cheetah centres in the world and has for many years had the highest survival rate of cubs produced globally.

Currently housing over 90 species of animals, all in good condition, and looked after by a large experienced team of both professionals and volunteers, the Cango Wildlife Ranch serves to maintain both excellent breeding programmes as well as robust public awareness campaigns.

Then of course there is that whole entertaining visitors through edu-tourism thing.

The Cango Wildlife Ranch setup is fantastic. The grounds, pathways, and enclosures are interestingly presented, well maintained, and in fact just well done, while the guided tours which lead you through everything are slick and very informative – and for those in search of something even more adventurous, experiences like crocodile cage diving and big cat interaction are also available.

There was of course no way that Chantelle, the girls and I could pass up the opportunity to pay the ranch a visit as part of our June Holidays road trip last year, and I’m quite glad that we did make the time to do so in the end.

The girls were enthralled, I was happy to relive pleasant childhood memories, and most pleasing of all, Cango Wildlife Ranch remains still well worth the visit.

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”49898,49899,49900,49901,49902,49903,49904,49905,49906,49907,49908,49909,49910,49911,49912,49913,49914,49915,49916,49917,49918,49919,49920,49921,49922,49923,49924,49925,49926,49927,49928,49929,49930,49931,49932,49933,49934,49935,49936,49937,49938,49939,49940,49941,49942,49943,49944,49945,49946,49947,49948,49949,49950,49951,49952,49953,49954,49955,49956,49957,49958,49959,49960,49961,49962,49963,49964,49965,49966,49967,49968,49969,49970,49971,49972,49973,49974,49975,49976,49977,49978,49979,49980,49981,49982,49983,49984,49985,49986,49987,49988,49989,49990,49991,49992,49993″]

Seriously. If you find yourself in Oudtshoorn and have kids in tow, then missing a visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch (which is open 365 days of the year just by the way) is pretty much unthinkable!

Related Link: Cango Wildlife Ranch | Oudtshoorn | #JuneHolidays2017

The Stalactites and Stalagmites of Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn (2017-07-05) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 MAY 2018

Caves and ostriches, that is pretty much what immediately comes to mind if you think of Oudtshoorn, and rightfully so – no tourist visit or holiday with kids to the largest town in the Little Karoo is complete without having visited at least one ostrich show ranch and of course the world famous Cango Caves!

Situated in the foothills of the Swartberg mountain range, the Cango Caves can be found in the Precambrian limestone of the area, stretching for about 4 km (in length) underground. Based on cave paintings and other recoved artifacts, the cave system appears to have been in use throughout prehistory over a long period during the Middle and Later Stone Ages, however, it was only after its rediscovery in 1780 (by local farmer Jacobus van Zyl), that the caves took on its role as one of the more popular local places to visit.

Due to accessibility constraints and in efforts to preserve the caves themselves (the limestone is particularly susceptible to heat, light, touch, and of course the carbon dioxide that we breathe out), only about a quarter of the actual cave system is open to visitors – who may only only enter the cave as part of a guided group.

Tours are conducted at regular intervals throughout the day, with the two main tour types being the “Standard Tour” which takes around an hour to complete, and the “Adventure Tour” which takes around an hour and a half and has you crawling through a number of very narrow spaces and up some very vertical faces!

(Not really recommended if you are on the larger than normal side though – people can and do get stuck, sometimes horribly so.)

The tourist parts of the caves have been made wonderfully accessible, with knowledgeable tour guides and clever lighting bringing to life the beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations, in a space that really is one of those places that you need to experience in person in order to get a feel for its majesty.

It is also worth mentioning that the visitors centre that you need to move through in order to reach the caves is also rather well laid out, featuring an excellent and informative “Interpretive Centre” that is well worth spending a little time in.

Now the last time that Chantelle and I visited the caves was back in 2007, so I was rather pleased to be able to return to this otherworldly place a full ten years later – the perfect showpiece for our two little munchkins in tow on what was now turning out to be a very attraction filled holiday roadtrip.

Pleasingly, the Cango Caves were exactly as brilliant as how I remembered them to be.

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”50628,50629,50630,50631,50632,50633,50634,50635,50636,50637,50638,50639,50640,50641,50642,50643,50644,50645,50646,50647,50648,50649,50650,50651,50652,50653,50654,50655,50656,50657,50658,50659,50660,50661,50662,50663,50664,50665,50666,50667,50668,50669,50670,50671,50672,50673,50674,50675,50676,50677,50678,50679,50680,50681,50682,50683,50684,50685,50686,50687,50688,50689″]

Fun Fact: You don’t really want to still be walking along the pathway when the lights are turned off (which they do in order to further preserve the caves). Unfortunately for Jessica and myself though, this was exactly what happened as we were making our way out (my knee was giving a bit of hassle, so I was moving slowly by this point of the tour).

Seriously, I’m amazed that I didn’t need to dig out a clean pair of pants for Jessica – that was one massive pitch dark fright for one so young to have experienced! :D

Related Link: Cango Caves | Wikipedia | Oudtshoorn | #JuneHolidays2017

Craft Beer and Play at Grass Roof in Port Elizabeth (2017-07-08) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 21 MAY 2018

If you are ever out in the Port Elizabeth area and find yourself in need of a good kid friendly restaurant option, be extra sure to pay the exceedingly cool Grass Roof farm stall and coffee shop a visit.

Situated on the Olive Tree Farm, just a few kilometers from Sardinia Bay, the Grass Roof is a coffee shop, kids playground, trendy cafe, and farm stall all rolled into one. Open Monday to Sunday, the eatery strives to promote a healthy, organic lifestyle, with a lot of its food menu and farm stall offering sourced directly from the gardens and fields of its host farm.

In addition to all the fresh produce and baked items (it is a proper smorgasbord of tasty stuff), the farm shop is stocked with all manner of deli surprises, authentic crafts and handmade items.

The rolling lawn in front of the restaurant provides the perfect play area, which is complete with a number of fun kids activities like old tractors, climbing frames, etc. (There is even a giant adult swing if you are keen on also joining in on the fun!)

Then we get to the restaurant/cafe itself. First off, the menu is amazing. Well presented, evocative descriptions, and a final product to back it all up, makes for an exceptional light meal experience. From pizzas to gourmet burgers, from craft beer to freshly brewed Mastersons Coffee – Grass Roof’s kitchen team has  you covered.

Also, the view from the deck is pretty damn decent too!

And yes, just as the name implies, all of this happens under a bright green, grass covered roof!

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”51250,51251,51252,51253,51254,51255,51256,51257,51258,51259,51260,51261,51262,51263,51264,51265,51266,51267,51268,51269,51270,51271,51272,51273,51274,51275,51276,51277,51278,51279,51280,51281,51282,51283,51284,51285,51286,51287,51288,51289,51290,51291,51292,51293,51294,51295,51296,51297,51298,51299,51300,51301,51302,51303,51304,51305″]

It is no wonder then that this is easily one of Chantelle’s favourite spots on the list of places visited over the course of our 2017 roadtrip holiday. Definitely worthy of a family get together or two!

(Also, eagle-eyed readers might have spotted that the last two photos in the gallery aren’t exactly of the Grass Roof visit. As it so happened, we actually stayed with our good friends – and tour guides – the Grangers during the P.E. stint, and of course, Evan being Evan, time simply HAD to be made for a braai or two!) 

Related Link: Grass Roof Farm Stall | Port Elizabeth | #JuneHolidays2017

Mixing Spices at Brenda’s Deli at the Spice Route in Paarl (2018-05-11) Photo Gallery | Shopping 18 MAY 2018

Located on what was previously known as the Seidelberg wine estate, the Spice Route is a fantastic tourist destination out here in Paarl, speaking loudly to those who truly enjoy their artisan food experiences.

However, with all the action happening around the grounds of the main manor house, it is quite easy to visit Spice Route and come away having completely missed an utter gem that is tucked away in its own little lavender-fronted dwelling at the foot of the estate – Brenda’s deli.

Started by well-travelled Brenda de Jager around 2007, Brenda’s specializes in spices and preserves, with the business going to great lengths to celebrate and respect their ingredients by avoiding artificial preservatives and additives, championing flavour, and producing fresh, natural products using local sources.

As a foodie, Chantelle was instantly mesmerized by the interesting array of spices (of which there are plenty!) and food products on display, while even I walked away impressed with the very clever, very satisfying, simple but elegant shop layout.

The smells, the colours, the textures, the selection – in other words, an absolute treat for anyone who enjoys cooking their own exotic dishes, and a shop that will definitely encourage you to part with at least some money on the day! ;)

(For reference, Brenda’s products are also available at selected stockists nationwide, as well as online via their e-store).

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”51836,51830,51824,51825,51826,51837,51838,51839,51840,51841,51842,51843,51844,51845,51846,51847,51848,51832,51831,51829,51828,51827,51834,51849,51833,51835″]

It’s rather a pity then that I almost immediately managed to ruin the granadilla and lemon curd that Chantelle picked up by unwittingly allowing it to curdle. At least her spices are a bit tougher and should be safe from my ham-fisted ways…

Related Link: Brenda’s Deli | Spice Route | Paarl

Celebrating Mother’s Day with a Picnic in Green Point Park, Cape Town (2018-05-13) Photo Gallery 15 MAY 2018

Instead of the usual big Sunday lunch at one of our houses with the rest of the family for Mother’s Day, this year Chantelle came up with the idea of getting everyone together for a big celebratory picnic – settling on the gorgeous Green Point Park (in Cape Town) as the perfect venue for the event.

We arrived early on the day, and as luck would have it, we snagged a table and, more importantly, the weather played along brilliantly, dealing us with a sunshine-filled, windless Autumn day – perfect for all the little ones to run around and play.

In terms of family joining in on the fun, it was Chantelle’s mom and dad, my mom and dad, my brother, my sister and her husband, and of course all the kids – our two girls, and Claire’s three boys!

Loads of food, plenty of conversation, and lots of fun. Basically the perfect recipe for spending a full day enjoying both the company and the stunning surrounds!

With my phone’s battery currently playing up (it needs to be replaced ASAP), I didn’t exactly bother to even try and take any photos on our special picnic day – so I guess that you will just have to take my word for it then that the Green Point Urban Park is an absolutely PERFECT spot for these sort of outdoor family gatherings.

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”51801,51802,51803,51804,51805,51806,51807,51808,51809,51810,51811,51812,51813,51814,51815,51816″]

Definitely not the worst way to have celebrated this year’s Mother’s Day then.

Related Link: Green Point Urban Park

USA 2016 – 20 Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego (2016-07-18) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 12 MAY 2018

One of the best views of San Diego’s harbour and skyline can be found at the Cabrillo National Monument – in fact, a clear day will actually give you a good view over a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Tijuana, and even Mexico’s Coronado Islands!

Situated at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, the Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542 – the first time a European expedition had ever set foot on what later became the West Coast of the United States.

The first thing that greets you as you drive up into the national park is the fantastic Cabrillo Visitor Center, which in addition to its useful outdoor signage, viewing deck spots and smorgasbord of visitor information on hand, also sports a fantastically well done museum section, containing a fascinating array of carefully preserved items, information and interactive exhibits.

Then of course there is the unmissable limestone heroic statue of Cabrillo himself, a present to the USA from the Portuguese government. The original statue which was handed over by the Portuguese ambassador in 1938 was executed by sculptor Alvaro de Bree, with it weighing in at 6,400 kg and measuring 4.3 m in height.

However, weathering as a result of its exposed position dictated that the original sandstone model needed to eventually be replaced, and so in 1988 the (still striking) limestone replica that you see on site today made its appearance.

Interesting fact: During World War II the original Cabrillo Monument site was completely off-limits to the public thanks to the Point Loma Peninsula’s reservation for military purposes (San Diego is strategically incredibly important to the United States Navy), but this worked out well in the end – following the war, the national monument’s area was significantly enlarged thanks to work by both presidents Eisenhower and Ford.

Standing at around 57 hectares in size, the Cabrillo National Monument is also home to a number of other fascinating points of interest, like the Old Point Loma Lighthouse – one of the oldest lighthouses to ever operate on the West Coast of the United States of America.

And while this particular lighthouse now operates as a walk-in museum attraction only, just down the hill is the still very much in operation New Point Loma Lighthouse as well. There there are also the old gun batteries and retired radio station that houses an interesting the military history of the area exhibition.

In terms of nature activities, there are a number of short trails throughout the Cabrillo National Monument, including the popular two-mile long Bayside Trail that takes you through one one of the last remaining remnants of coastal sage scrub habitat in the world. It also in the process gives you spectacular views of Sand Diego Bay and the city beyond, Ballast Point (where Cabrillo landed), sandstone cliffs, and if the season is right, even some snow on the tops of the mountains!

The Coastal Tidepool Trail on the other hand takes you along its winding path down to the rocky intertidal area of the monument – which is incidentally one one of the best-protected and most easily accessible of rocky intertidal areas in southern California. Given the incredibly diverse and thriving animal communities to be found in the tidal pool area, this section also then happens to be one  of the more interesting spots of the park to pay a visit to.

Oh, and as if all this wasn’t yet enough, given its high elevation, the Cabrillo National Monument is also a brilliant whale watching spot – the perfect place in fact to watch migrating Gray Whales pass by from December through February!

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”49326,49327,49328,49329,49330,49331,49332,49333,49334,49335,49336,49337,49338,49339,49340,49341,49342,49343,49344,49345,49346,49347,49348,49349,49350,49351,49352,49353,49354,49355,49356,49357,49358,49359,49360,49361,49362,49363,49364,49365,49366,49367,49368,49369,49370,49371,49372,49373,49374,49375,49376,49377,49378,49379,49380,49381,49382,49383,49384,49385,49386,49387,49388,49389,49390,49391,49392,49393,49394,49395,49396,49397,49398,49399,49400,49401,49402,49403,49404,49405,49406″]

So pretty hard not to include this as one of the many tourist things to do here in San Diego then!

Related Link: Cabrillo National Monument | Wikipedia | San Diego | #USA2016

Following the Cliff Path of the Hermanus Biodiversity Walk (2017-08-09) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 09 MAY 2018

Hermanus is probably the best place for land based whale watching in the Western Cape (which is why we find ourselves visiting at least once a year), and its beautifully maintained Cliff Path makes this relaxing activity all that more better.

Although originally constructed by the Hermanus Botanical Society, these days the path is cared for by the volunteer Cliff Path Management Group (CPMG), who have done a fantastic job in improving, making accessible, and enhancing the walkway such that it remains one of the more popular Hermanus tourist attractions.

Wedged between the Kleinriviersberg mountain range in the north and the broad expanse of Walker Bay to the south, the official walkway meanders for almost eleven kilometres along Hermanus’ rugged and beautiful coastline, stretching from the New Harbour in the west and snaking all the way through to the estuary at the mouth of the Klein River in the east.

In addition to being great for whale watching, the path is super interesting for nature lovers as well, winding through a diversity of vegetation types (complemented by some informative signage along the Biodiversity Walk stretch). It takes you past a number of fascinating points of interest, including both the historic Old and New harbours, as well as the village market square. Follow it for long enough and near the wooden footbridge at the mouth of the Mossel River, you’ll even find signs depicting the graves of two southern right whales that beached at that point!

Beyond the river mouth, the path continues around the Langbaai bathing beach, on to the Kammabaai and Voëlklip beaches and right up to the magnificent main Grotto beach – which itself sweeps for nineteen kilometers around Walker Bay to De Kelders and Gansbaai!

Last year August saw us in town for a spot of whale watching (and of course lunch), and naturally we took the time to stroll a small section of this brilliant walkway on the day. It will still be a few years until we can walk the whole thing in one go (the girls moan far too much at the prospect of walking any real sort of distance at the moment), but once everyone is ready (i.e. a little more grown up) it is definitely something I’m going to make us do!

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”50390,50391,50392,50393,50394,50395,50396,50397,50398,50399,50400,50401,50402,50403,50404,50405,50406,50407,50408,50409,50410,50411,50412,50413,50414,50415,50416,50417,50418,50419,50420,50421,50422,50423,50424,50425,50426,50427,50428,50429,50430,50431,50432,50433,50434,50435,50436,50437,50438,50439″]

Anyway, Hermanus always makes for a good day trip, and seeing as whale season is soon upon us once again, I guess we’ll be back in the area sooner than later…

Related Link: Hermanus Cliff Path | Hermanus

Pizza at the Lake House in Somerset Lakes, Somerset West (2017-11-12) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 06 MAY 2018

Standing right next to the newly opened Reddam House Somerset West boarding school, Somerset Lakes is a pretty good looking gated residential estate that has sprouted up on the outskirts of Somerset West – mind you, as a LOT of others have also done over the last handful of years!

Anyway, the only reason that I’ve ever even been inside this nice estate is thanks to the fact that the Somerset Lakes clubhouse is home to a rather nice, open to the public, restaurant, trading under the name The Lake House at Somerset Lakes.

They serve a fantastic array of pizzas and other light meal options, are home to a brilliant Sunday roast lunch, and of course stock some fabulous wines (which makes sense if you consider that the owners also run the hugely popular Southey’s Family Bistro, also in Somerset West).

Combining all of the above with the estate’s design aesthetic and its picture perfect lake center piece, it then quickly becomes obvious why we rather enjoy paying a visit there every now and then!

One of our last visits to the Lake House Restaurant (November last year) saw us inviting Chantelle’s folks to join us for lunch, all of which went rather well (the food was a hit!) despite the girls for a change not being on their normal standard of best behaviour – plus a rather unexpected visit from an inquisitive but cool as a cucumber stray goose.

With lunch now concluded, the next logical step (as it should always be when you visit there) was to head out along the boardwalk for a stroll around the lake. Amazingly, given that we had experienced a shower or two in the days prior to our visit, the lake was looking in a lot better shape than the last time that we had encountered it, and it was great to see all the local bird populations (who call Somerset Lakes home) in such good form.

The landscaped gardens were in bloom, a short stop at the jungle gym and outdoor fitness gym was enjoyed, and of course the entire visit was capped off with some clamber and play session in the estate’s little pine forest plantation that hides a treasure trove of obstacle course equipment within.

Pretty impossible not to recommend this place to be honest!

[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”51625,51626,51627,51628,51629,51630,51631,51632,51633,51634,51635,51636,51637,51638,51639,51640,51641,51642,51643,51644,51645,51646,51647,51648,51649,51650,51651,51652,51653,51654,51655,51656,51657,51658,51659,51660,51661,51662,51663,51664,51665,51666,51667,51668,51669,51670,51671,51672,51673,51674,51675,51676″]

(In all honesty though, I’m not sure how long a private residential estate will continue to host a public restaurant, but given how much I enjoy it, I’m holding thumbs that this place sticks around for as long as possible!)

Related Link: The Lake House Restaurant | Somerset Lakes | Somerset West