In 2002, the then municipal manager of Cape Agulhas municipality, Keith Jordaan, asked me for ideas to improve the area for tourism. I gave him three ideas:
Create a world class, iconic site at Cape Agulhas to celebrate it as the southernmost tip of the African continent and where two oceans meet.
Napier was a dry and boring little village then with a largely ugly main street, so I suggested removing half of every third parking bay — which are rarely used — to plant an avenue of trees. (The sidewalks were too narrow for planting.)
Restore Bredasdorp’s old railway station — the southernmost on the African continent — and get tourist trains running there… steam trains preferably.
I discussed these with my old friend and respected colleague, David Jack, on his farm outside Napier over breakfast one morning. There are few people whose judgement I trust more. He was enthused by the ideas, and started telling me about the work of an American landscape architect he had seen recently, which would be so appropriate for Cape Agulhas. We spoke about a competition for designs and a possible champion, when we discovered that the then-CEO of the WWF had a house in nearby Struisbaai.
For Napier, Dave asked me to tell the municipal manager that he would donate the trees! I did, and at a subsequent municipal meeting I was asked to repeat the offer. The official responsible for services said he couldn’t allow it because it would mean raking up leaves!
In 2014 I became aware of a competition for the design of an iconic site at Cape Agulhas. I read the competition document and found it a bit wishy-washy, so I called one of the judges — the late Fabio Todeschini. He wasn’t aware that he was one of the judges and hadn’t formally accepted any invitation! So I wasn’t going to hold any high hopes…
Then Bernie Oberholzer, a landscape architect I’ve known and respected for decades, recently asked if I had been to see the iconic site. He sent me information about it… and I started looking forward to seeing it with eager anticipation. Might they have just got this right?
It’s against that background that I visit the so-called iconic site.
With a network of lakes, rivers and dramatic hills set between the Indian Ocean and the Outeniqua Mountains, Wilderness is a unique destination. Often overlooked in favour of the nearby and much larger George and Knysna/Plettenberg Bay on either side, it is a destination in its own right. So don’t just drive through… stop and explore, as we did.
Yes, Rose is a very enthusiastic flyer, and no, I resisted her invitation to try it. Of course it gives her an unparalleled perspective of the area’s many attractions. It’s just one of many activities you can do. I think a tandem flight would be a good bet! Photo: Travelbug Rose @gotravelbug
The Kaaimans River mouth with its signature bridge. There are hopes for reviving the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, and this route is begging for a return of the old steam train or something like the Franschhoek Tram. Photo: Travelbug Rose @gotravelbug
Waking up in the morning: View from my bedroom at The Wilderness Hotel. This was the original homestead where Wilderness all started, and it’s within walking distance of the village’s pavement cafes, restaurants and the beach.
Exquisitely beautiful and serene. The Kaaimans River Waterfall. Photo: Travelbug Rose
On my first morning, Rose took me canoeing on the Kaaimans River. That’s the river one crosses just before entering Wilderness from the Cape Town side.
How many times have I just driven past this… intrigued by the houses alongside the river tucked into the steep slopes behind them!
It was just a short paddle to a spectacular waterfall, almost completely surrounded by steep, rock cliffs. A very, very special place.
Thank you Chris Leggat at Eden Adventures for the use of your canoe!
The rest of the day we explored Timberlake Farm Village — well worth a visit, and do stop at Pause Coffee Roastery. Wessel Kruger is serious about his coffees and you won’t be disappointed. The cheesecake was memorable too!
We drove into the farming area between Wilderness and the Outeniqua mountains and along a section of the old 75km Seven Passes Road. This was the original route between George and Knysna before the N2 opened. It was built between 1868 and 1883 by Thomas Bain and crosses seven rivers – the Swart, Kaaimans, Silver, Touw, Hoëkraal, Karatara and Goukamma – passing through indigenous forests and river gorges.
We stopped for tea and a snack at Hoekwil Country Cafe — “an unpretentious country secret on top of the mountain”.
Wilderness is a class act. The Milkwood Centre in the village is an absolute delight hidden behind the Spar and a fuel service station. The area has enough resident money to support pavement cafes, pubs and restaurants which were lively and well supported, even on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Pomodoro had a great vibe and served one of the best pizzas I’ve had.
Lively pavement cafes and restaurants that don’t disappoint.
I was intrigued that Wilderness had managed to retain its village feel and a sense of authenticity. It has so many attractions but hasn’t gone the way of George, Knysna or Plettenberg Bay. (In Franschhoek, I discovered How Franschhoek became such a successful tourist town after asking similar questions.)
I discovered that one of my former prep school teachers — “Masters” we called them then — lives in Wilderness, so I asked Hugo Leggatt if he knew the reasons. Here’s his reply:
“I’ve given thought to your question about the village feel of Wilderness. There are naturally various contributory factors but I think I could reasonably cull to two.
“In no particular order, the one is that there was no coastal road between George and Knysna until about 1950, when this section of the N2 was completed. The first proper road between the two towns was built by Thomas Bain in the years from c.1868. This was still the road when I first came here in 1947 and is the one now known as the 7 Passes route.
“So one can say that until 1950 one came TO the Wilderness, not THROUGH. Which meant that most houses were owned by retirees or were holiday homes.
“The second factor has to do with the ownership of the land. The property was owned, and named, by George Bennett (English) and his wife Henrietta ( a George girl) who built the initial homestead and ran it as a farm in the years on either side of 1880. After the Anglo-Boer War the property was sold to Montagu White (who had been Paul Kruger’s Consul in London in the years leading up to the war). Montagu lived at Fancourt but had The Wilderness run as a guest house/farm. He had some plots laid out but does not appear to have made any serious attempt to sell them.
“After Monty’s death in 1916 by mushroom poisoning at his Fancourt home, The Wilderness was sold to a new company The Wilderness (1921) Ltd. The main driving force behind this company was Owen Grant (1883-1964) who virtually ran the place for over 30 years. There were strict building regulations – no wooden or prefab houses, for example. Perhaps more importantly for your enquiry, all business was in the hands of the company – the hotel, the garage, the shop – and no guest houses were allowed.
“There is more detail, of course, but the net result was that practically the whole place was “residential”, with such commercial development as there was being controlled by Wilderness (1921). Things have changed with time but I think those two factors were major contributors to the village feel.
Wilderness is worth another, longer visit. If the beach, hang gliding (single or taken up in tandem by an expert), abseiling, canoeing, quaint shops and crafts, isn’t enough for you, then the walks and hikes will spoil you. Have a look at some of the Walks & Hikes in the area.
Thank you Rose for a great introduction! And for this video!
Without any doubt, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa will — in September 2017 — become the most exciting space and place to have ever opened in Cape Town. CNN reported that it will make Cape Town the contemporary art capital of the world.
Deciding on the Most Beautiful Drive in South Africa is no easy task! Clarence Drive – between Gordons Bay and Rooi Els, alongside mountains and ocean – should be on any shortlist. And so could the Long Tom Pass and Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, Magoesbaskloof in Limpopo, and… well, why don’t you let us have your suggestions?
View of Simonsberg mountain from Bartinney Private Cellar on the slopes of Botmanskop
We’ve decided the Very Best Drive in South Africa is Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. You can’t beat the drama of those iconic mountains and row upon row of vineyards and fruit trees – which change from season to season, day to day, and hour by hour.
There are incredible places to eat and stay, wines to taste and mountain bike routes to delight. It is a gastronomic and visual feast. Click here to read more…
So many accommodation establishments like to describe themselves as a “home away from home” in their publicity material… but is that what people travel for? Don’t people travel to experience something different? Something that is a lasting memory? To talk about and share with friends?
Please tell us what you think by voting in our poll below. (And if you have comments, add them at the bottom of this page.)
Here are some of the really different accommodation places added to CapeInfo recently:
Sleep in an ancient indigenous forest at Platbos Forest Reserve, situated at the foot of Africa. Described by botanist and author, Professor Eugene Moll, as a “unique South African forest jewel”, this is a forest that enchants and inspires all who visit.
Platbos — sleeping in an ancient forest.
Situated alongside a lake in the Elgin Valley, less than an hour from Cape Town, Old Mac Daddy offers quirky accommodation in a variety of holiday homes and refurbished vintage trailers. There is also an outdoor swimming pool, a beach with its own bar, guest lounge and a restaurant and bar. Free WiFi access is available.
Old Mac Daddy — sleep in a vintage Airstream trailer.
It was pure chance and serendipity that we ended up here… a blessing… Klipfontein Keep is simply a Wow! It lies between Bredasdorp and Struisbaai, looking across fields of bright yellow canola. It’s a self-catering lodge that exceeds all expectations.
Klipfontein Keep across a sea of yellow canola
Views that let your brain breathe… from Klipfontein Keep
In a historic sense, a Keep is a fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Klipfontein Keep has its low stone walls marking the werf, but you can easily imagine these as the stone walls of the castle. Inside, there is the drama of a double-volume space with a gallery, all covered by the exposed thatched roof — and it’s that delightful aroma of thatch that greets you when you enter the front door. And then there’s the upstairs suite with its balcony, with a panoramic view across canola fields to distant mountains and more bright yellow canola fields.
This is Jenny Uys’ creation — and it’s one of the most special places I’ve ever had the privilege of staying at. Because staying here is a privilege — it’s not another commercial accommodation establishment — it is a place you need to fully enjoy and appreciate, with respect. In some ways, it should remain a best-kept secret for those who do appreciate. (I’d hate, on the basis of CapeInfo’s recommendation, for people who don’t respect property to visit here.)
Johannes & Jenny Uys, in front of Langrug Lodge, built in 1912.
Jenny grew up in the hospitality industry and it’s part of her DNA. She may be a farmer’s wife now, but she’s taken hospitality to new levels with Klipfontein Keep and Langrug Lodge, her first venture 14 years ago.
The farm Visserdrift — where Langrug Lodge is located — has been in husband Johannes’ family for over 100 years and their children will be the custodians for the next generation. The farm includes part of Soetendalsvlei — the second largest natural fresh water lake in southern Africa. (It’s named after the VOC ship Zoetendaal which was wrecked on the coast nearby in 1678. One of the sailors was killed by an elephant on the ridge not far from the Lodge. The large sandstone blocks used to build the Cape Agulhas lighthouse come from this area.)
Then 22 years ago, Johannes bought the farm Klipfontein, on the opposite side of the R319, which once belonged to Lord de Saumerez, the English lord memorialised in Dalene Mathee’s novel Driftwood.
This is a luxurious lodge that puts many 5-star establishments to shame. There are two suites with big beds and full en-suite bathrooms (bath and shower). A third bedroom has two beds and an en-suite bathroom with shower. On the upper-floor gallery there are two sets of bunk beds. So it’s ideal for two families with some older and some younger kids.
Downstairs there are two living areas — one focused on a big screen TV with full DSTV; the other on the fireplace/indoor braai. The kitchen is the most comprehensively-equipped I’ve come across — it includes a washing machine, drier and dishwasher — and far, far more. There are in fact two cooking areas — a conventional stove/oven in the kitchen and a gas hob and another oven in the fireplace area. And there is a braai outside and a spacious stoep to enjoy the vista… which takes in Eland and Bontebok in the distance… and the sound of the sea.
Johannes’ biggest passion is game and Klipfontein is being stocked with eland, bontebok, springbuck and buffalo to supplement the indigenous small game — dyker, steenbok, Cape grysbok, rheebuck and bushbuck. The new game is in camps now but the medium-term plan is to take the fences down so they will be wandering around Klipfontein Keep. Jenny and Johannes have lots of plans! There are already two hiking trails of 20km and new trails for hiking and mountain bikes could extend into the adjacent De Mond Nature Reserve, with a self-permit system at Klipfontein Keep.
Buffalo at Klipfontein Keep
Springbuck come in various colours and the rarer ones get shot most by hunters for that reason. The Klipfontein herd has wide variety, including those we know best.
The Rainbow Nation
There’s also star-gazing, bird-watching and even the novelty of collecting fresh eggs from the chicken coop nearby, but, for those who don’t want to leave city luxuries too far behind, there is full DSTV, a DVD player and Wi-Fi.
Watch Klipfontein Keep become a renowned destination!
Now this is something completely different. It’s an old bywoners cottage that has been meticulously restored to offer perfect comfort. And it’s totally off-the-grid. Hot water comes from a “donkey”, lighting from flickering flames and cooking with gas. It’s total escapism right on the banks of Soetendalsvlei, with with its own jetty and rowboat.
Jenny’s poem says it all:
I dreamt of Africa. A cottage beneath the biggest bluest sky of all. Expansive vlei out front, endless fields behind. Wild neighbors far too shy to show.
I dreamt of solitude. A place of perfect quiet. Of lapping water and timid birds. Of long, long walks across the veld.
I dreamt of comfort. Crackling fires and broad, soft sofas. Of timber table tops, first planed centuries ago.
I dreamt of deep, hot baths. And still, dark nights. Where silence lulls and soothes.
I dreamt of all this and now that it’s real, my dream has somehow changed… I want the world to know my peace of Africa but, on the other hand, I’d like to keep it all to myself.
Langrug Lodge has been very popular ever since it opened 14 years ago. Some families have been back more than 20 times. Some book it for three weeks. Book your peace of paradise.
Beezus knows this is a special place, at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site outside Howick.
This is one of the most inspiring artworks of recent memory in South Africa. It gripped me the first time I saw photographs of it. I just had to visit it when I realised it is just outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, where I spent one night on our travels. I met Nelson Mandela five times, and he will always be unique among the many very special people from around the world I have been privileged to meet.
What makes this photo special is the way Beezus reacted. There is quite a walk from the car park — not a Long Walk by any means, but enough to make one think about the Long walk to Freedom.
Beezus wasn’t on his leash, and seemed to sense the gravitas of the place. He walked up to the inscription, as though looking at it, and then took a few steps back… and just sat there, looking at the artwork. For maybe 15 minutes while I reflected too…
On how different South Africa would be with a Mandela still at the helm: Xenophobia would be nipped in the bud before it became angry. A proper discourse on statues would take place before chaotic elements had their way. Mandela was a Statesman… his successors are nobodies, less than nobodies… At least we experienced a Statesman, and can hold every future leader up to that benchmark.
What made this visit special was the walk back. There’s a hoarding around new buildings underway which carries stories about what’s being built, and a photo of Madiba. Beezus walked past these and then stopped… and looked back at Madiba’s photo… gave a yap and then continued on his way. He knew what this was about, and that places him ahead of most of humanity.
Travels with Beezus is the successor to Travels with Akela (the wolf who died in 2012), which was inspired by John Steinbeck’s literary classic: Travels with Charley — in search of America. Steinbeck was saddened by what he found in the USA, as have I in SA. Government is failing us, increasingly, day by day.
This post marks the end of the travels for now, and I must catch up on the stories waiting to be published from this trip. Follow CapeInfo on Facebook to see all of them.
I’d never heard of Lionsrock Lodge & Big Cat Sanctuary before. I was visiting Bethlehem to see a friend and it was on the list of places she suggested I might stay at. Life would have been poorer if I hadn’t selected it. It was one of the most treasured experiences of my life!
Yes, it is very comfortable. That’s Beezus’ Hills sleeping bag on the floor – a gift last Christmas from a friend. LionsRock is pet-friendly.
The scenery is stunning and children are catered for too.
Photographs taken from your room could almost be a painting.
View from the swimming pool. Do you know how Common Waterbuck got that white circle on its bottom? When they boarded Noah’s Ark, the vessel’s toilet seats had just been painted white. As usual, the waterbuck had drank too much water and needed to go to the loo… even though the paint hadn’t dried.
But Lionsrock is a very special and rather extraordinary place. It is also home to about 85 lions, 13 tigers, caracals, hyena and a three-legged cheetah. It is a project by Four Paws — an international animal welfare organisation, founded in 1988 with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. It focuses on assisting animals that are directly under human control: stray dogs and cats, laboratory animals, farm animals, wild animals and companion animals but also bears, big cats and orangutans kept under inappropriate conditions.
All the animals at Lionsrock are accustomed to humans and many were rescued from appalling conditions in zoos, circuses or as show pets — for people to have their photograph taken while holding or sitting alongside them. That only works with young animals so they were often malnourished to keep them smaller, suffering the consequences as they got older. This is especially evident in one of the tigers at Lionsrock, where rickets has left it badly debilitated.
At Lionsrock, all the animals are assured a more humane and permanent future. It is probably the most professional setup I’ve ever seen. And it needs your support — which you can give by visiting Lionsrock. It deserves to become one of the best-known (and loved) destinations in South Africa, so please share this with your friends.
Do watch the is breathtaking video showing drone footage taken above Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary. That will answer the question, “Do the animals have enough space?” At the bottom of that page, you’ll also find links to other videos. One is the story of Cesar’s rescue from a dreadful zoo in Romania, which embraces everything that Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary is all about.
Of course there are lions… about 85 of them in several prides spread across a number of large enclosures. There are not many places where you will get this close to these magnificent creatures — in complete safety.
Coda was born on a farm in South Africa. Only a few days after his birth, he was separated from his mother and sold to the former owners of the property now occupied by Lionsrock, where he was raised by hand. For a short time he shared an enclosure with lion cubs, but he separated from them because he got bigger and bigger. Coda is very attached to humans and appears friendly to all people. Since November 2007, he’s had a big and natural enclosure with a little dam, because tigers love water.
This is either Tom or Jerry, the Caracal brothers. I was astounded by the colour of their eyes.
I’ve been fascinated by Caracals (rooikat, desert lynx) ever since I saw one in Franschhoek. Or to be more accurate, a live one in Franschhoek, because there is a stuffed caracal at the Simonsberg Conservancy’s offices at DelVera outside Stellenbosch. That one was the first one Beezus had ever seen too, and I had to always carry him past that one, covering his eyes — because he just wanted to kill it! Beezus chased the Franschhoek one away, but you can read about that story here.
So being able to watch them really close was a special treat.
The three-legged cheetah
These guys were the noisiest of the lot at night, although it sometimes felt as though there is some sort of competition between the hyenas and lions. But lions have a more lazy roar… hyenas sound almost manic! But what sounds to go to sleep with… This guy had caught a sniff of Beezus and was coming closer to find out what he was.
The zebras usually hang about around the road between the main entrance and the lodge.
Canopy Tours: Traversing the canopy of an ancient forest
Ashley Wentworth, founder, & Anneline Wyatt, MD, of Stormsriver Adventures
Ashley Wentworth is an evangelist — about doing good and doing things the right way.
And Stormsriver Adventures, the company he started in 1998 when he escaped the rat race in Cape Town, has probably achieved more than any other — through investing in people.
Apart from being Fair Trade-accredited (one of the most onerous accreditations anywhere) it has also won almost every award worth winning. And they are one of the largest new job creators in the Eco Adventure industry in South Africa.
He was re-thinking his business after a disastrous setback when Mark Brown, an engineer, came to him with an idea that led to Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours. Mark had constructed a similar canopy tour in Costa Rica.
The first of its kind in Africa, the canopy tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor…
Most platforms are located in giant Outeniqua Yellowwood trees. The scenery and bird life is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the 2½ to 3 hours.
The concept of guiding people through the upper canopy of a rainforest originated in Costa Rica, where adventurous biologists devised new methods for accessing the forest canopy in order to conduct research on the undiscovered canopy ecosystem. The idea soon developed into a breathtaking form of eco-tourism which allowed people to enter and experience a previously inaccessible natural environment.
Construction was done in accordance with strict civil engineering standards. Concept to completion took fourteen and a half months.
The tour begins with a detailed safety briefing followed by a ‘kitting up’ session where full body harness, pulleys and climbing equipment is issued and checked. A short drive into the Tsitsikamma forest and it is time to monkey around!
From the start on the launch platform a new world unfolds as one gently glides on a steel cable to the first tree platform. All groups are escorted through the forest canopy by a lead guide and a follow guide to ensure your safety as you slide from tree to tree. The platforms, built high up in the giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods, provide an unbelievable view of this enchanting new world — any fear of heights is soon lost as you gather in your new surroundings.
Spend a couple of minutes relaxing while your guides enthusiastically explain the ecology of the forest – pointing out different trees and the magnificent giant ferns way below. The bird life is incredible. Knysna Loeries, sightings of the elusive Narina Trogon and the Vervet monkey are not uncommon.
This is an operation where the attention to detail is phenomenal! The platforms high up on the trees are constructed so that trees are not damaged in any way, and cater for future growth.
The level of safety is mindboggling — and the two very young girls who were in the group I was with were quite at ease with coping with the slides. This is very much a family outing, and just as popular for team-building exercises. (There is the comfort that if you can’t handle the heights — which are not excessive at all — there are escape routes for you to turn back. Every eventuality is planned for.)
Safe thrills… a rollercoaster amid the tree tops — even if she wasn’t doing it quite right. (Your one hand should be on the cable to brake you.)
But where Ashley really wears his heart on his sleeve is when it comes to his staff — they are his passion. When SanParks irrationally threatened to close his business by refusing permission to use the forest, it wasn’t his business that concerned him but rather the staff. (SanParks really needs to wake up — they’re not among the best companies to do business with.)
Stormsriver Adventures has funded all staff training itself, and it is as comprehensive and rigorous as it can be. Staff are also encouraged to become multiskilled, preparing them for a brighter future. Our tour guide on the canopy tour also works in the IT department.
The company’s beliefs and commitments are at its core — your find them displayed boldly at their offices and on their website:
Stormsriver Adventures is more than just an adventure company, and strives to enrich the surrounding environment and community by honouring the following 10 point commitment statement:
Total compatibility with sensitive environmental issues thus ensuring a sustained commitment to conservation of natural resources used in adventure products.
Forming a synergistic relationship with all parties in the area to the mutual benefit of all role players without exclusion.
Upliftment of the community through job creation.
Forming of partnerships with individuals/communities through joint ventures.
Committed resource plough-back by providing training for local inhabitants thus creating a highly professional tourist oriented community.
Creation of mini-enterprises through the training of “Adventure Contractors”.
Provide marketing expertise for the responsible expansion of tourism in the area and actively promote the entire area in accordance with tourism forum philosophies.
Maintain and enhance optimal safety standards in all adventure operations without compromise.
Expand environmental education packages in collaboration with Garden Route National Parks, Cape Pine and other organizations.
Actively assist with community fund raising projects and development of S.M.M.E’s.
And they even tell you where customers’ money goes:
[table caption=”Where your money goes” width=”500″ colwidth=”300|200″ colalign=”left|right”]
Empowerment catering company,7
Training & development,5
School feeding scheme,2
Donations,0.5 Only 43.5% remains to run the company
If heights are definitely not your thing, then Stormsriver Adventures also offers the Woodcutters’ Journey. It’s a completely different perspective of the forest. Those in my group had also done the Canopy Tour, and I agree with them… it was just as worthwhile.
The Woodcutters’ Journey: A drive down the old Storms River pass on the Garden Route, and experience the indigenous forest from the comfort of a specially designed vehicle.
And home-grown heroes? Stormsriver Adventures was a winner at Proudly South African’s Homegrown Awards.
Much has been made of the fact that the earliest artifacts of modern man were discovered at Mossel Bay. So this is where modern man evolved, on the southern coast of the African continent. So what?
Then do yourself a favour – a big favour – and go on Dr Peter Nilssen’s Point of Human Origins Experience. It’s an experience and a memory that will last a lifetime!
Peter and his colleague, Jonathon Kaplan, were appointed to prepare the Archaeological Impact Assessment for the Pinnacle Point Golf Estate on the outskirts of Mossel Bay which led to the discovery of this unique piece of human history and the research that followed. Continue reading →