The Durbanville/Bellville area is home to a couple of nice greenbelt areas, not necessarily as lush green as those found in Constantia and the like, but certainly nice wide open spaces with lots of grass and loads of good picnic spots. One of the better known ones is Majik Forest, a strip on the edge of Welgemoed that encompasses two dams (Fynbos Dam and Amandel Dam) and of course the titular small forest.
Naturally this then means that you are bound to encounter quite a few families spending some quality time down on the grass together, either enjoying a picnic, trying their hand at a bit of fishing or going for long walks. (The forest on the other hand is the perfect spot for teenagers looking for a bit of privacy – or at least that is how it was back when I was growing up!)
Mountain bikers have laid some serious claim to Majik Forest, with the Tygerberg MTB Club setting up shop and laying out various trails over the area. The park is also adjacent to Vink’s Arboretum, another great public space that is home to over 500 different indigenous trees!
So, a great option to keep in mind if you find yourself in the Northern Suburbs and want to get the kids off the couch and away from the tablet/TV!
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Side Note: Although security used to be somewhat of an issue in the area, following the fencing off of the entire public space, things have gotten much better, thus seeing an influx of families returning to relax in the park.
Going for an afternoon stroll around Sonstraal Dam whilst feeding the ducks is somewhat of an institution for any family with small kids in Durbanville, and seeing as this is something that we did back when we were kids, there is no reason not to continue the tradition with my own brood – even if I don’t exactly live in the area any more.
Although an inviting and scenic space, there is in fact no swimming or boating allowed in this small body of water, and in response to an outbreak of avian botulism in 2005, no fishing allowed either. (Although the bird flu has since been dealt with, the local council opted to maintain the fishing ban in order to protect the local birdlife, many of which use the dam for breeding purposes).
Another thing worth pointing out is that for a long time the dam area went into a real state of disrepair and neglect, thanks in large part to the inconsiderate nature of visitors who littered with abandon and in general just disrespected the facilities. Thankfully though this problem seems to have mostly been dealt with and the dam area certainly appears to be undergoing a productive period of rehabilitation.
Anyway, I’m kind of getting distracted now. Last year August I found myself in the area, and so invited my folks (who live reasonably nearby) to join us for a walk around the dam. It was, as always, a pretty pleasant affair.
Even if we didn’t actually feed any ducks for a change.
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Oh, and after our stroll we grabbed a coffee and some cake from the Deeghuys Taste Kitchen, a neat little eatery/test kitchen for Deeghuys that is tucked away off main road Durbanville. It was rather nice as well.
Related Link: Durbanville
Every time that we enter Franschhoek via Stellenbosch, a large mound/structure off in the distance on the right hand side catches my eye, I mutter to Chantelle, “I wonder what that is?”, and then continue to drive on into main road of this wine-soaked, tourist friendly little town and straight away forget all about it.
Which is silly really, because if I had just opened up Google and looked at a map then I would very much have known that what I’m seeing is a dam wall.
For its water needs, Cape Town relies heavily on the Western Cape Water Supply System, which is basically a big inter-linked network of six dams, their associated pipelines, tunnels and distribution networks – with the six dams in question being the Theewaterskloof Dam, Wemmershoek Dam, Steenbras Dams, Voëlvlei Dam and finally the Berg River Dam (i.e. the one that was right in front of me the whole time!).
As you can see from the photo above, the reason that the Berg River Dam isn’t all that apparent from the road (basically the reason I’m using to excuse my ignorance of the dam in the first place) is because of the clever decision to plant indigenous flora on the downstream face of the dam wall – the express purpose being to try and get the dam and associated structures to blend in with the surrounding landscape and thus be a little more environmentally friendly.
As for the award winning dam build itself, well, from all accounts this was a very successful project (basically completed on time and within budget – something not often associated with government run projects of this scale).
With an exhaustive planning and consultation period that stretched from 1989 to 2002, construction began in 2004 and by July 2007 the dam started storing water – with it filling up a year later thanks to a particularly good spell of rainfall. The Berg River Dam was officially opened in 2009.
The dam itself is a concrete-faced rockfill dam (a type of embankment dam) which is 68 metres high and 929 metres long, with a gross storage capacity is 130 million cubic metres. The surface area of the reservoir is around 488 hectares.
That said, given our current drought conditions the current water level of the Berg River Dam isn’t quite where it normally would be…
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Unsurprisingly, the surrounding area itself is actually quite popular with local joggers, hikers and mountain bikers.
So, just in case that somehow, like me, you haven’t actually spotted it before, here’s a handy map:
Six months ago, on an impromptu Sunday afternoon drive, Chantelle and I passed by Theewaterskloof Dam and of course stopped to take photos of the very noticeably almost empty dam.
(In case you aren’t familiar with it, the Theewaterskloof Dam, established in 1978, is the largest dam in the Western Cape and forms a major component of the Western Cape Water Supply System.)
As the months passed and the drought worsened, things like saving the lawn were quickly forgotten, and instead Chantelle and I focused on using less water than normal, the end result being an average monthly use for our household of around 4-6 kilolitres.
What that translates into is less bathing for the girls, less showering for us, and using bathwater to refill the toilet cistern. Also, we don’t wash cars, or bother with anything in the garden either.
So not particularly pleasant or convenient, but certainly effective.
Our rainy season has now technically come and gone, and although there was at least some rain, it still wasn’t particularly much, meaning that this coming summer is going to be pretty scary for the City of Cape Town if its population can’t get it into their heads to do even more to save water.
One can only imagine what Theewaterskloof Dam will look like next March.
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Bonus: A lot of local drone enthusiasts and vloggers have of course been documenting this phenomenon. This particular video was put together by Adam Spires, and gives you a much better view (and bird’s eye view) of the dam as it more or less currently stands:
Here’s a map in case you feel like driving out to see for yourself.
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!
I love the fact that we have a proper duck pond as a municipal park here in Strand. The appropriately named Dam Park is situated right across from the Strand High School and offers a nice green space in the middle of Strand suburbia.
There is a playground to the side of the dam with an array of colourfully painted swings, a climbing frame, a roundabout, and a slide – you know, all the basics – as well as an old tractor and plinth mounted steam train. (Which stinks at the moment thanks to some homeless person deciding that it would be great to use as a bathroom. Disgusting!)
We used to in the past visit the dam fairly often in order to feed the ducks (like literally everyone else in the area) and watch the locals occasionally try their hand at catching a dam fish or two, but seeing feeding ducks is now seen as not quite the correct thing to be doing (population and invasive species control reasons mainly), we drop by there far less than what we used to in the beginning.
The water levels of the dam itself on the day that we visited was surprisingly high – much higher than what I had anticipated (considering the drought conditions we are currently experiencing), but quite probably because of the one or two surprise days of rain we had experienced earlier in January.
With Chantelle stuck at work, the girls and I spent some time playing around (they even got me to climb to the top of the climbing frame with them), before we eventually got bored and convinced Chantelle to join us for some lunch at play time at the Gordon’s Bay Spur during her break.
It was a good plan.
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Also, a map in case your kids bug you to go and look at some ducks.
Related Link: Facebook Page
One Saturday in October last year, Chantelle and I decided to take the girls out for a spot of strawberry picking at Polkadraai in Stellenbosch. However on arrival at the strawberry farm it was immediately clear that pretty much the entire Cape Town must have had the same idea as us, and so we did a u-turn and headed back towards Stellenbosch, looking for something else to do instead.
Then a brainwave hit me – I’d previously visited the five star Asara Wine Estate & Hotel in Stellenbosch for a business meeting with Distell, and have wanted to show the place off to Chantelle ever since. So I took a chance and turned in by Asara’s manned gates and stated that I was off to visit the deli (which I think I remember having spotted that last time I was there).
As it turns out, they do have a deli on-site – and surprisingly it is a pretty cool little find.
If you aren’t familiar with Asara, then know that it is an award-winning wine estate and 5-star hotel billed as being situated in the heart of the Cape Winelands. Breathtaking views, tranquil atmosphere, upmarket service – well you get the picture.
Previously known as Raphael’s (where I previously had enjoyed a lunch), mise en place is the new destination fine dining restaurant at Asara, while the Sansibar is their casual, bistro-style dining option.
However, the spot that we were interested in seeing as we had our two little ones tagging along with us was Asara’s main courtyard and more specifically, the deli that then opens up onto it.
I was super surprised to find the deli stocked with all manner of exciting baked treats, and was even more taken aback at how well priced the finger snacks were – pretty soon we had placed an order for all manner of niceties, before selecting a table outside and then sitting back as our array of treats was brought out to us in a manner which I’m more than happy to dub as being a ‘simple high tea’ experience! ;)
The view from the courtyard is spectacular, the service is top notch, and amazingly, this was such a cool, well priced treat that all three of my girls thoroughly enjoyed!
(In other words, I guess we’ll have to head back that way sometime soon then – though maybe without the girls this time around so that Chantelle and I can give some of their other offerings a proper go…)
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As always, a useful map:
We find ourselves taking the short hop over the mountain to visit the apple rich Grabouw/Elgin area quite often, which of course then means we travel via the N2 national road over Sir Lowry’s Pass and past the Steenbras Dam (Upper) to get there.
On one of my recent expeditions to the area with my girls, I thought it a good opportunity to stop at both the entrance to Steenbras Dam (which is these days sadly closed to the public of course), as well as the Sir Lowry’s Pass view point.
(The girls were of course not impressed with this plan of mine, but I bribed them with the promise of ice cream, so all was good in the end.)
Although still a bit on the low side in terms of water level, thankfully the Steenbras Dam (a reservoir for Cape Town as well as part of a pumped-storage power system) is looking a lot better than what it was just a few short months ago – which is a big relief when you consider just how gloomy the outlook in terms of Cape Town’s water supply for the upcoming season originally was.
(Sure, it’s still not great, but it is a damn sight more positive than the original forecast outlook!)
Anyway, after a couple of minutes of standing next to the car and taking photos of the dam, guarded entrance and pretty tree next to me, I hopped back into the Getz and headed up the road, only to pull off at the Sir Lowry’s Pass view point which is probably only a kilometer or two away from where I had first pulled off the road for the dam.
The girls opted to stay in the car once more, allowing me to take my time strolling around the rather large view point area, happily snapping pictures with my cellphone in pretty much every direction that presented itself to me!
Named after Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, governor of the Cape in 1828, today’s modern and upgraded Sir Lowry’s Pass is essentially a cantilevered four-lane highway which then crosses the Hottentots Holland mountain range between Somerset West and the Elgin Valley.
As you might imagine, the lookout point affords you a spectacular view of the Helderberg basin… not that you would necessarily say that if you have only ever had my not so great cellphone camera photos for reference! ;)
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Lastly, a handy map in case you need a better idea of where this view point actually is:
National Womens Day rolled around, which of course meant no work (it is an official South African public holiday after all) and thus, given the good weather, a chance to get out of the house and do a little bit of exploring.
Seeing as Chantelle had yet to stroll around the Paardevlei Nature Walk area in Paardevlei, Somerset West, I suggested that the four of us head out that way to do a spot of flamingo watching while getting some fresh air – an idea which both she and the girls were instantly onboard for!
With Spring just around the corner, a lot of wild flowers are now starting to bloom, with the end result being of course a more colourful than usual spectacle on show.
Sadly though, the flamingos were content to stay on the far side of the dam where we couldn’t get a decent look at them, but luckily there was still more than enough active bird life in among the reeds to entertain us – turning both Chantelle and I into somewhat amateur bird watchers for a wee bit!
Hairy worms were also in abundance, and the girls took great pleasure in pointing them out!
Amazingly, the little ones did a lot better this time around than the first time I did the walk with just the two of them, meaning that we made it further down the path – though of course it did eventually get too much for them resulting in piggyback rides for most of the trail back to the car.
As you can tell from the pictures, it really was a beautiful day to be out and about in nature, and pleasingly, Chantelle quite liked this little gem of a walk that the girls and I discovered – meaning that I’m pretty sure we’ll be heading out this way more than just a few times in the Spring and Summer months to come!
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(I have written about the Paardevlei area before, but just in case you haven’t caught those, the usual suspects in terms of related links can be found at the bottom of this post again)