Tag Archives: south africa

Hunting for Proteas at the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West (2019-07-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 08 APR 2020

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. I can’t convince, bribe or coerce my wife or either of my girls to head out for a walk with me. Mind you, not that it bothers me in the slightest – it is their loss after all and in any event, it just gives me an even greater opportunity to randomly stop and take a picture or three!

Residents of Somerset West are really fortunate to have a very nice, accessible and well run City of Cape Town managed and operated (with support from the local Friends of Helderberg Nature Reserve NPO) nature reserve right on their doorstep in the form of the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

Situated on the southern slopes of the Helderberg mountains (the peaks of which remain under the protection of Cape Nature), the Helderberg Nature Reserve originally came to be as a wildflower garden (and to protect the water resources in Somerset West) in 1960, following a period of lobbying by the local Rotary Club of Somerset West. Since then the area has morphed into a proper nature reserve with the now 402-hectare reserve protecting a swathe of Swartland shale renosterveld, Kogelberg sandstone fynbos, Cape Winelands shale fynbos and Southern afro-temperate forest pockets.

The lower reaches of the park is home to large tree shaded lawns, popular with families and perfect for the hosting of picnics, birthday parties and the occasional music concert, as well a small coffee shop and the Maskew Miller Educational/Visitors Centre. As you would expect, there are walking and hiking paths scattered around the reserve, catering to nature lovers of all fitness levels (and particularly popular with those who like jogging up mountains for exercise).

Surrounded by all manner protea species and birds galore, there is tranquility, majestic mountain landscapes and a sweeping view over False Bay below – what more could one looking for a break from suburban living possibly still need?

Spinning Cotton into Clothes with the Barrydale Hand Weavers (2019-07-02) Photo Gallery | Shopping 07 APR 2020

There aren’t that many commercial hand weaving ventures left in South Africa, but if you ever find yourself in the delightful little town of Barrydale on the border of the Overberg and Klein Karoo regions (and which is known for mixing farmers and artisans), you’ll stumble across one such venture that is very much thriving – and has a pretty feel good story to boot!

The brainchild of Carol Morris and German-trained weaver Tivane Mavuma (who come from running running a knitwear operation in Swaziland), Barrydale Hand Weavers was established to create quality hand-loomed products while also serving as a way to uplift the local community through upskill and opportunity.

Spun by members of the community itself, the finest high-grade cotton is then transformed by a group of trained local weavers into all manner of homeware products including bathmats, cushion covers, rugs, table runners, and their famous flat-weave towels – all on rickety age old wooden hand looms.

In addition to their local storefront in Barrydale itself, Barrydale Hand Weavers already supply boutiques and shops across South Africa, while also having found moderate success in exporting their woven products to countries such as Canada, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.

Once you are done perusing their wares, browsing the art, and maybe sipping a warm coffee in the unique brick courtyard of their main shop, you also have the option of taking a drive down the road to the actual factory itself – a nondescript building tucked away in Barrydale’s small industrial area that houses all of Barrydale Hand Weaver’s prized looms and weaving staff.

It is super interesting to watch how this centuries old craft works and how incredibly beautiful pieces of patterned cloth are able to emerge through such not quite as simple as what they first seem looms. (And yes, as you can see from the picture above, if you’re cute or ask nicely enough, they might even given you the chance to have a spin on the loom!)

Well worth a stop and look see then.

Blooms, Buds and Bridges in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (2019-03-17) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 06 APR 2020

As one of Cape Town’s premiere Big 6 tourist attractions, the magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is celebrated as one of Africa’s most beautiful gardens and is an absolute must do excursion if you are looking for a tranquil green escape from the bustling city bowl.

Nestled at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and administered by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Kirstenbosch estate covers an area of 528 hectares with its 36 hectare large cultivated garden placing a strong emphasis on the cultivation of indigenous plants only. Its main conservatory exhibits plants taken from across a number of South Africa’s biomes (like savanna, fynbos and Karoo), while the extensive outdoor garden places its focus on plants native to the Cape floral region.

Established in 1913 on land bequeathed to the Cape Colony by Cecil John Rhodes, the more than a century old Kirstenbosch garden is criss-crossed by a large number of different paths and walkways, each leading you to a different collection of plants and each patiently waiting to take your breath away as you traipse around the foot of the mountain.

In addition to flowers, tree and bird watching, there are of course the expansive lawns beckoning families to sit down and enjoy a picnic, the metal dinosaur sculptures looking to whisk you away to another age, the hauntingly beautiful African stone sculptures dotted around the gardens, the exquisite collections of Proteas (king of our floral kingdom), the twisted metal and wood of the snaking Boomslang foot bridge that takes you above the forest canopy, Moyo restaurant as well as the tea room for those not wanting to eat sandwiches from a basket on a blanket, an art exhibition space, a main exhibition hall, and of course come Summer, the annual (and incredibly popular) Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset music concerts which are an absolute sublime way to experience some of your favourite (both local and international) performing artists.

As for this particular visit of ours in March of last year, we struck it lucky in that the weather was a bit overcast on the day, making for much more pleasant walking conditions up and down the slopes of this magical green space. Not great for photos of course, but certainly very helpful in keeping the moaning of two little girls tired from all the walking slightly in check!

As always, a magical experience and certainly an absolute must do excursion for any visitor to our beautiful city of Cape Town.

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and the Southernmost Tip of Africa (2019-03-23) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 APR 2020

In March of last year I decided to drag the family out on a spur of the moment day trip to the see the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse and visit the southernmost tip of Africa marker in the Agulhas National Park. Of course, seeing as we were headed out that way anyway, I also managed to throw in a visit to the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum – but only in exchange for a light breakfast in Bredasdorp first. (Chantelle and the girls drive a hard bargain!)

Much like say Strand and Gordon’s Bay, the two small coastal holiday towns or settlements of Struisbaai and L’Agulhas have pretty much merged into one another these days (i.e. you can just about get away with using either name synonymously), and is a particularly popular coastal holiday destination for many Afrikaans speaking families.

Built around a natural harbour and with some of the best fishing waters on offer, the area has done well to maintain a very laid back, undeveloped charm and it is quite easy to see just why this is such an attractive weekend getaway destination for a lot of Western Cape folks.

Operated by Transnet National Ports Authority and sitting at the entrance of the SANParks-operated Agulhas National Park, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse holds the honour of being the third ever lighthouse to be built in South Africa and is the second-oldest still operating (after the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town).

Built in 1848 and operated until 1968 before being taken out of service due to its crumbling sandstone walls, the lighthouse (with its design inspiration taken from the Pharos of Alexandria) was declared a national monument as well as a Western Cape provincial heritage site in 1973, leading to a restoration and reconstruction effort lead by the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum and local council that resulted in its recommission in 1988.

The red and white banded lighthouse welcomes visitors and as such has become a popular tourist destination, a fact made quite apparent by the number of people squeezed into the small building on the day of our visit. That said, I don’t exactly have the body circumference conducive to climbing up lighthouse tower stairs, so I did give this one a skip.

SANParks and the Department of Tourism have put a lot of effort into making the Southern Tip of Africa (and the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) as tourist friendly as possible, going so far as to lay out a boardwalk that you can follow just about all the way from the lighthouse to the official (and photo famous) marker.

Last year also saw the unveiling of a large 3D relief map of Africa known as the Iconic Map of Africa Monument. Part of a project funded to the tune of R15 million, this monument pays homage to the African continent. The map is aligned with the earth compass (with the tip of Africa pointing to the south) and to represent the differing landscapes across the continent, the map has been sprayed with various metal powders that over time will react with chemicals in the environment and atmosphere to change color and represent the different biomes and vegetation across different regions of Africa. (Bonus, this makes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a heck of a lot easier than what it would normally be!)

The open access Agulhas National Park itself isn’t one of South Africa’s largest national parks, covering an area of around 20,959 hectares. That said, it does boast some 2,000 native plant species (hello fynbos) and a wetland that provides refuge to birds and amphibians.

The waters are of course teeming with Southern Right whales over the November to January whale watching season and there are plenty of sea birds like the Damara tern and African Black oystercatcher for birders to tag.

Apart from all the scenic rocks, crashing waves and fynbos, the treacherous, fish rich waters of Cape Agulhas is of course infamous for its many shipwrecks over the years (aka the reason for a lighthouse in the first place), with names like De Zoetendal, HMS Birkenhead, and HMS Arniston all counted among its victims. (This is also then why we have a shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp of all places).

In fact, just a short drive into the park (or about a 20 minute walk from the southern tip marker) will lead you to a rusted prow resting on the rocks, the final remains of the Meisho Maru No. 38, a small Japanese fishing trawler that met its end at Cape Agulhas in 1982.

Picture perfect, untouched, rugged, unbridled coastal views that stretch out in every direction that you look. Tranquil, fresh sea air and fynbos everywhere. Can’t say then that I didn’t love our visit to this most southernmost tip of Africa.

Traipsing about Rooi-Els Nature Reserve (2019-01-19) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 04 APR 2020

At the start of last year I managed the unusual in that on a rare weekend morning without Helderberg Cake Company orders to fulfill, I got Chantelle to agree to come out for a nature walk with me and the girls – my destination of choice being the quiet little settlement of Rooi-Els. Of course getting there means tackling all 77 potentially nausea inducing twists and turns of the extremely scenic Clarence Drive as well, something Chantelle is not overly fond of on the best of days either!

Known for its fishing and diving opportunities, not to mention the fact that it is constantly being bashed by the sea winds and raided by the local Chacma baboon troop, the mostly holiday home littered little settlement of Rooi-Els is pretty quiet, has only a handful of tarred roads, and thus very little in terms of commercial ventures. (Mind you, they do have a popular bikers’ pub and two rather nice restaurants all of a sudden).

One of its claims to fame is that Rooi-Els falls within the vaunted Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, the 100,000 hectare UNESCO designated area whose landscape is home to one of the most complex biodiversity regions on our planet – featuring more than 1,880 different plant species, 77 of which occur nowhere else on earth. This sweeping sea of fynbos and mountains is home to a variety of animal species like leopard, caracal, baboon and antelope, as well a particularly rich selection of bird life.

As a conservancy, there are no fences around Rooi-Els to keep people out or nature in – instead it is the commitment of the local communities, farmers, conservation agencies and local government to protect and nurture the land and its biodiversity.

(For reference, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, which interestingly enough was South Africa’s first ever registered biosphere reserve, encompasses the entire area from Gordon’s Bay to the Bot River Statuary and inland to Grabouw and the Groenland Mountain.)

As for our little excursion, we found ourselves first picking our way through the fynbos over the small picturesque area marked as the Rooi-Els Nature Reserve, before extending our trip with a drive out to Betty’s Bay in order to take in the devastation of the recent fires that had ripped through the town, devouring anything and everything in its path, after which we turned back and stopped for some coffee and a light lunch at Pringle Bay’s always pleasant Bistro 365 & Simple Coffee eatery.

So a proper mix of an excursion then. The tranquil quiet beauty of nature in the fynbos rich area of Rooi-Els, the sobering reality of the fire risk that comes from living so close to the mountain in Betty’s Bay, and then the mad vibe of people enjoying the weeked at a bustling Pringle Bay town center.

Building a House in the Lego Shop in Canal Walk Cape Town (2020-02-15) Photo Gallery | Shopping 03 APR 2020

Having enjoyed a great morning out at Cape Town’s historic Castle of Good Hope, followed by a stroll along Sea Point’s sunny promenade, the next stop for Jessica, Emily and I was a stop at the sprawling Canal Walk Shopping Centre in Century City, Cape Town – primarily so that I could keep my end of the bargain by buying Lindt chocolates for everyone!

These days of course, for me a visit to Canal Walk wouldn’t be complete without popping my head into the wonderfully yellow and over the top official LEGO store that the Great Yellow Brick Company opened in the mall a handful of months ago.

As with any good LEGO selling shop, the breadth of amazing LEGO sets on offer is enthralling enough, but for me it is all the little extras that really make it the best LEGO shop experience, things like the Pick-a-brick wall, the minifigure building station, the play with bricks area, the interactive LEGO displays and of course the beautifully done, custom built Bo-Kaap MOC standing proudly on display in the front window.

And of course, because I never do anything in a hurry or on a schedule, the girls and I enjoyed a right royal time browsing all the LEGO themes and then hunkering down to build a pyramid roof, glass wall house. As always, I’m not sure who enjoyed it more – the girls or me!

Man, having access to stores like this when I was a kid sure would have been heaven! :)

Biltong and Pancakes at the Wild Oats Community Farmers Market in Sedgefield (2020-01-04) Markets | Photo Gallery 02 APR 2020

This past December holiday period saw us spending a bit of time up in Mossel Bay, and for one of our planned day excursions we decided to take the girls out for a boat trip to the Knysna Heads. Of course, getting to Knysna from Mossel Bay means passing through my beloved Sedgefield, and if you are going to be passing through Sedgefield on a Saturday morning then it is virtually impossible to ignore the massive throng of people turning off to pay a visit to the award-winning Wild Oats Community Farmers’ Market.

Situated adjacent to the beautiful Swartvlei lagoon on the outskirts of Sedgefield, this 20 year old, world renowned farmers’ market was first launched back in 1999 and operates, come rain or shine, every Saturday morning from 08:00 (07:30 in Summer) to 12:00. The market brims with locally produced foods, free-range meats, cheese and dairy, bakes, and of course, fresh-from-the-field fruit and vegetables. There is also coffee and all sorts of breakfast on offer, so basically no reason at all to stay inside and make your own breakfast back home then.

The stalls are all neatly covered (i.e. there is no product sitting baking under the hot sun), there are loads of trees to provide enough shade where needed, and the constant buzz of people milling about or sitting and enjoying the company of friends and family over a good cup of coffee all swirls together to make for a wonderful vibe.

The market is pet friendly, and in general comes across as very earth friendly too, and certainly whatever it is doing it is getting right, because the amount of people visiting the area each and every Saturday morning is quite the sight to behold!

While fresh farm produce wasn’t really on our minds for this particular visit, hunting down delicious nibbles, pancakes and fresh fruit juice most certainly was, and on that mission front I’m pleased to announce that we had great success! (After all, this seems to be Chantelle’s natural environment!)

Strawberry Picking in the Sun at Polkadraai Farm in Stellenbosch (2019-12-22) Family Attractions | Photo Gallery 01 APR 2020

Of course strawberry picking season rolled around again and of course the girls and I headed out to our favourite strawberry picking spot, the super visitor friendly Polkadraai Farm lying just outside the town of Stellenbosch. This time around though we didn’t make the mistake of going to pick too early in the season, meaning that bringing home buckets of juicy red strawberries was a lot easier than the previous year’s excursion!

Polkadraai Farm has an expansive strawberry growing operation and its years’ worth of experience and experimentation with different strawberry varietals means that they are pretty much able to supply strawberries all year around. Picking season for the public however is only open during the months of September to January, and given the lengths that the farm has gone to in order to make this outing a proper family attraction, it attracts an ever increasing, huge number of local visitors with each and every passing season.

Because the actual picking of strawberries doesn’t take much more than 20 to 30 minutes, Polkadraai encourages longer family visits by having added tractor rides, pony rides, a mini golf putt putt course, two kids playground areas, two big stretches of lawn, and a food court – not to mention their well stocked shop that features all manner of strawberries and strawberry-related products (as well as a decent selection of local wines).

As for the strawberry picking itself, you head inside the shop on arrival, buy as many buckets as what you are people going into the strawberry fields, and then head out and fill the buckets with juicy red strawberries until they are filled to the brim. Pretty simple stuff.

This year the strawberry picking patch we were directed to was on the upper slopes of the farm (under the shade tunnels) which came as a bit of an unwelcome shock to my two girls who really weren’t in the mood to first walk up a hill in the blazing December summer sun that we found ourselves sweating under on the day.

Nevertheless, I managed to cajole them up the hill and into the plantation mounds, and despite all the sporadic groaning I think that overall fun was had by all. Not that it really matters though – the treasure trove of strawberries we returned home with were seriously delicious!

Walking the Girls at Radloff Park in Somerset West (2019-07-21) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 31 MAR 2020

Somerset West is scenically a beautiful space. Lying in the Helderberg Basin, surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains, and squeezed in between the Cape Winelands and False Bay, Somerset West is somewhat our local answer to Cape Town’s leafy suburb of Constantia. A good way to experience a bit of this suburban green space is with a walk out in Radloff Park.

The park, with its wide open space, grass fields, tree-shaded paths, and refreshing river water (it lies on the banks of the Lourens River), is an especially big hit with dog lovers – so much so that locally the site is pretty much known as the Radloff Dog Park. In other words, expect a LOT of dogs on your visit!

A number of sporting codes also call this greenbelt home, including the local cricket, croquet, squash, and baseball clubs, with even a small skateboarding park (for those less interested in playing with balls) tacked on as well.

Dogs and sporting code fields aside though, the area is green, tranquil, full of trees, teeming with bird life, and comes with amazing views and a lazy river walk to boot. The perfect spot for a family picnic outing then, or in my case, something to do with the girls!