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.
The Cape Winelands is home to a surprisingly large number of animal-based attractions, in other words great news for tourists and dads with kids to entertain like myself. Situated on Babylonstoren Road in Simondium, an area centrally situated between Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, a CITES registered breeder and tanner of the African Nile crocodile.
Basically, if you want a close up view of teeth on legs all wrapped up in a thick leather hide, Le Bonheur is the place to go.
So, obviously the main crocodile pond tour takes front and center in terms of activities for any day visitor, with eleven such tours taking place on a daily basis.
The tour starts off with a brief introduction to the species in the briefing room, before you are led out onto the ramps that walk you above the open dams and Le Bonheur’s approximately 300 crocodiles who are mostly lazing about beneath you. You will learn more about these animals from an experienced guide, maybe witness a feeding session (primarily during the Summer months), and definitely get to touch/hold a baby croc.
While not particularly exciting as such (crocodiles tend not to move very much unless they really have to), the tour is very informative and certainly worth it if you have never seen a crocodile in real life before.
Then there is the crocodile cage dive, a close encounter experience offered by African Croc Dive that sees you dipping into a pool full of crocodiles with only a steel cage between you and their rather plentiful teeth. (For those of you who don’t relish the prospect of getting wet, an underwater, dry viewing box experience is also on offer).
That said, it isn’t all crocodile on the menu at Le Bonheur. In the main building the team have setup an interesting little self-guided snake centre exhibit filled with both indigenous and exotic snakes, and also on offer is an interactive snake show that includes both an informative talk and touch session with some of their slithery stars.
Then there is the small onsite restaurant/pizzeria that produces a selection of good pizzas, pies, and other light lunch options (like their famous crocodile meat pies). Well priced and a good way to round off a croc viewing experience on a hot summer’s day. You can also pre-book a picnic basket to be enjoyed on their luscious lawn out by the dam, or book the braai facilities if you want to take charge of your own menu for the day.
The dam behind the main building is open for catch and release fishing (you can hire fishing rods from Le Bonheur if needed), and the small kids play area around the back is great for the little ones to run out any left over energy while you laze on the grass under the shade of their big trees.
Finally there is the small gift shop full of Nile Crocodile leather products, and just in case you didn’t feel like making the drive home, Le Bonheur also has self catering/bed and breakfast facilities available.
Oh, and they host kids parties, cater to weddings (their hall can accommodate anything from 160 to 200 guests), and offer conference facilities.
So pretty much everything then.
Anyway, the girls and I found ourselves spending a Saturday there back in December last year (the second time that we had paid Le Bonheur a visit), and as you might imagine, crocodiles were observed, croc skin touching was had, pizzas devoured, and lots of photos taken. So a good day out then.
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(Footnote: Obviously the horrible accident at the start of the year was an absolute tragedy for all involved, but given all the employment that this attraction provides in what is a relatively economically depressed area, I’m really pleased to see the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm still operating and attracting as many visitors as what it does. Tourism still remains the best key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in rural communities at this stage.)
Last year December saw us enjoy a holiday break in three parts – first Christmas at home, then a splash at Pinnacle Point Estate in Mossel Bay with my folks and my sister’s family, followed by a (because we were already in the area) final stretch in Gouritsmond with both my folks and Chantelle’s folks. (So yes, basically a full on family time holiday then!)
This was my second time holidaying in Gouritz (or Gouritsmond depending on who you ask), and to be honest, despite not being into fishing (which technically you should be if you are going there) I was really looking very much forward to the quiet, chilled nature of a stay in this little coastal holiday town.
The house that we had rented wasn’t 100% perfect thanks to its strange living arrangement (it had only just hit the holiday rental market), but beggars can’t be choosers (we only made the decision to go right at the end of the year), and in the end the actual accommodation was more than comfortable enough for the eight of us, so all was good on that front.
With my parents in the mix, there was of course a LOT of card games over the next couple of days to be had (Monopoly Deal for the win!), plus of course the LOADs of leftover Christmas snacks to be devoured, not to mention all that relaxing walking about town to be done – which I most certainly did my fair share of! ;)
We braaied, we rung in the new year with a potjiekos get together in the caravan park, we hunted for small little fish in the rock pools, we went on exploratory drives around the area, and of course, we tucked into delicious milktart and peppermint crisp tart pancakes whenever the opportunity arose.
In other words, it is basically impossible to come away from a stay like this NOT feeling 100% chill, refreshed, and ready to tackle the new year head on!
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(Or rather, that is how one would normally come away feeling after such a good seaside getaway, unless of course they experience a blown coil in their aging Hyundai Accent, which then triggers a chain of events that eventually leads to a quite unscheduled holiday extension in George…)
You could of course travel to Eikendal in Raithby, lying along the R44 snug between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, in order to taste and buy their award winning wines. You could even be heading out that way to stay in one of the private terraced rooms of the Eikendal Lodge, or perhaps to try your hand at fly fishing in their trout stocked dams.
Most likely though, you are probably heading towards their distinctively styled entrance to grab a seat (either inside or out) at Cucina di Giovanni, more commonly referred to as Giovanni’s among the locals.
We didn’t actually know this, but it turns out that this restaurant is rather on the popular side, and even more pleasingly, produces some particularly delicious pizza – as we found out for ourselves with an impromptu visit there one Sunday afternoon back in August this year.
(Turns out, the place we were actually on our way out to, the nearby Vredenhof, is closed on Sundays).
Eikendal itself is really worth a visit though.
Obviously there is the traditional wine tasting and food pairing that happens at the Eikendal Tasting Centre, but then there are also tours of their distinctive barrel vaulted cellar, fishing with the onsite Winelands Fly Fishing outfit, upmarket food from Giovanni’s, mapped out vineyards walks, lush green lawns, and finally a small kids play area, to enjoy.
Also, the abundant views of the vineyards and mountains isn’t too shabby either.
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Chantelle, the kids and I rather enjoyed this impromptu visit, and given the fact that Eikendal lists Kiddies Tastings and Tractor Rides on their website, there is a more than reasonable chance of us returning for a more full experience sooner than later!
In the middle of Houw Hoek Pass, as you travel between Grabouw and Bot River, you will pass by a very hard to miss white and green building, tucked away in a rocky corner with undoubtedly a lot of cars parked outside.
The popular building in question is of course the longstanding Houw Hoek Farm Stall, known for its quality, fresh, homemade breads, pies and bakes – a trait that makes it rather popular little stop among the locals.
Also, in addition to a good selection of local wines on sale, the shop section is stocked with all manner fresh fruits and vegetables from the farms of the surrounding Elgin Valley, all complemented by the normal farm stall home industry staples like biscuits, jams, biltong, and of course – cake.
Seeing as this is a chef-owned-managed business, the food and coffee on offer in the welcoming little coffee shop is particularly decent, and bonus, if sitting at a table and chairs doesn’t quite appeal to you on the day, then you will be pleased to know that picnic baskets can also be prepared on request.
Somewhat surprisingly, Houw Hoek Farm Stall is also home to three dams stocked with Rainbow trout – making it a great spot for some fly fishing then. (Naturally, rods and tackle can be hired from the farm stall itself.)
Oh, and finally they have a nice little space out in front that is open enough for the little ones to run around and give their legs a stretch.
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(Bonus: Just in case you were wondering, this particular stop took place back in March this year, when Jessica and myself drove up for a long weekend away with my folks in their place at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay.)
There are not a lot of freshwater fishing spots in the strictly Somerset West/Strand area. However, out of those few that do exist, without a doubt Poinsettia Dam is by far the most popular one with the locals.
(Or at least, that’s what it looks like and that’s also what Google searches seem to corroborate).
To be honest, Jessica and I actually stumbled upon it by complete accident the other day. We had just finished buying a new, bright green lunchbox and bottle from Mambos for her, when, after purchasing a couple of snacks for us to enjoy, I punched in a search for the Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary (Strand) into Google Maps and off we went.
As it turns out though, the incorrect search result didn’t exactly take me where I wanted to go, and instead we ended up at Poinsettia park, where after devouring our snacks, we took a stroll, then a drive along the dirt path up the dam, and finally sat and watched the fishermen try their luck.
It seems a good park for stretching legs, walking dogs and catching a fish or two, so all in all, not a terrible little discovery then.
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A map – primarily because Poinsettia Dam is easily spotted from the road when travelling between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, but not quite as easily reached. (Hint, access it via Poinsettia Street).
Related Link: Somerset West
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.
It is no surprise really that the working fishing harbour of Kalk Bay, itself a small fishing village, is as big a tourist attraction as what it is. Situated on a beautiful stretch of the False Bay coastline, the small harbour is home to a handful of eateries, sidewalk artists selling their crafts and wares, seals, and of course, most important of all, a host of colourfully painted fishing vessels.
The fishing community is very active, meaning that the harbour itself is always a hive of fishing-related activity, which then acts as a great tourist attraction (because it is interesting to all us non-fishing and probably hard labour averse people), meaning that one gets the feeling that Kalk Bay Harbour is almost always overrun with people!
The informal fish and chips eatery Kalky’s is somewhat of an institution, but in reality, all the little eateries dotted around the harbour are worth checking out, precisely because of the fact that you are guaranteed in getting some very good, very fresh fish served on a plate.
The girls and I were in the Southern Suburbs for a visit last year October, and seizing the opportunity, I decided to take them for their very first visit to Kalk Bay harbour. As I thought they might, the two of them rather enjoyed the experience, marvelling at the boats, the seals, the actual fishing, and the spectacle of watching seagulls and seals fight for fish. (Very entertaining).
(We also stopped in for a bit at the Imperial Yacht Club on the west shore of Zandvlei to watch some of the sailboats on the water, but that didn’t last too long thanks to some hastening inclement weather!)
In summary then – If you don’t live near the sea, then a visit to Kalk Bay harbour is well worth the drive. The drive itself to get there is great (that whole stretch past Muizenberg and St James is fantastic (the views, not the roadworks-caused traffic), and the harbour itself is a bustling, tourist friendly (but not overly so), visual spectacle – with the promise of good fish and chips thrown in for good measure!
Bonus tip: don’t do it tomorrow though. Sunday is the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and unless you are really big into bikes and the associated traffic thanks to all the closed roads, I would highly recommend skipping the entire Cape Town region just to be safe! ;)
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Also, a handy map if you too want to go and watch the colourful fishing boats go about their business one day:
Related Link: Kalk Bay
After enjoying some delicious fish and chips from the nearby Boathouse restaurant in Kleinmond, Chantelle, the girls and I next sauntered down the road to the tiny Kleinmond harbour, to get a better look at this picturesque little spot.
The Kleinmond harbour was built around 1940 and enjoyed its heyday during the fishing boom of the 1970s, but had fallen into disrepair in the ensuing years. Although never really losing popularity with local fisherman, the harbour is now receiving a new lease on life, as a massive 2014 project saw developers repair the breakwaters, dredge the harbour bowl and upgrade pedestrian access.
A new jetty was installed, while existing harbour walls were all stabilized, and garages equipped for the NSRI and other emergency equipment erected. Oh, and the fish-scaling tables also received an upgrade.
The result has been a resounding success in turning this new Whale Coast waterfront area into a big tourist attraction for the little coastal town, with the Harbour Road area (as it is now known), becoming quite the little hub of great restaurants and shopping opportunities.
Fishermen we are not, but nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed strolling down the slipway and walking along the jetty, admiring the breathtaking ocean and mountain view while watching some locals attempting to pull in some fish using hand lines.
Definitely a case of property developers spending money the right way!
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Related Link: Harbour Road