Category Archives: Western Cape

Martin Hatchuel — SA tourism’s muse has gone silent

Martin Hatchuel has been known by thousands of subscribers to his email newsletter, This Tourism Week. Its publication was sometimes erratic, but has now ceased completely.

Martin often used This Tourism Week to stir controversy wherever he thought he saw injustice or just plain stupidity. And he didn’t pull his punches. But in real life, he is far gentler, far more reflective.

Martin Hatchuel and his faithful companion, Tommy, an elderly Belgian

Martin Hatchuel and his faithful companion, Tommy, an elderly Belgian Shepherd

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Stanford Revisited

There’s an apocryphal story about a neighbour who wasn’t too happy with his new German neighbours on the Wortelgat Road outside Stanford.  But the German neighbours invited him nonetheless when they opened their new restaurant… and he accepted.

Springfontein Eats

Springfontein Eats

During the long lunch at Springfontein Eats, he had a phone call from his daughter, concerned about the rising level of the Klein River which passed right in front of his home.  He told her he couldn’t worry about it now, he was enjoying the meal too much.

His daughter called again half an hour later to say that the water was at the door.  Again, he said the meal was too good to leave.  Her next call was to let him know that the water was up to knee height in the house.  He told her not to worry, the house was insured and the meal was truly exceptional.

Yes, Springfontein Eats is that good.  And although it opened five years ago, it’s still producing some of the most memorable gastronomic experiences you’ll get anywhere.

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Fancy a gypsey caravan?

There are always unusual things coming out of Stanford.  Like the gygpsey caravans Howard Dunbar builds.

He’s built about 16 caravans over the past four years, mainly in two sizes — 5.4 metres and 3.6 metres.  A fully kitted caravan — with complete solar power system, pumps, fridge, fitted kitchen and bathroom — costs between R135,000 and R175,000.

Howard Dunbar and his 5.4 metre gypsey caravan

Howard Dunbar and his 5.4 metre gypsey caravan

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The social hub of Stanford

Stanford Hills Estate has become the de facto community hub of Stanford.  It’s child-friendly… and has one of the best kids’ playgrounds anywhere.  It’s also pet-friendly and dog walkers from the village take to its hills every day.  If you don’t have a dog to walk, one or both of Peter & Jami Kastner’s Ridgebacks will happily take you for a walk.  And you might come across the weekly art classes, the weddings and other functions… and the music events.  It’s a friendly, unpretentious and… to use a word Peter and Jami use often… rustic place to relax, stay, play and and enjoy good wine and food.  Peter and Jami really do enjoy people enjoying the place and they make an effort to make sure that locals feel part of it.

Jami & Peter Kastner

Jami & Peter Kastner

Stanford Hills has grown organically.  Unlike many wine estates, there was no corporate budget to support the farm.  It grew as and when finance became available.

Peter and Jami never set out to be farmers.  Peter had a restaurant in Hermanus and Jami a flower exporting business when they bought portion of the old Weltevrede Farm, which they bought for its flowers.

Then one self-catering cottage became two, AfriCamps was added with five luxury “tents”, and the Manor House was converted to cater for larger groups.

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Southernmost Tip of Africa iconic site

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.

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Hermanus’ best-kept secret

VOLMOED is a beautiful self-catering accommodation country retreat set in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus.

Tucked away in it’s own little valley within the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley lies a peaceful place called Volmoed. As the Onrust River makes it’s way from the heights of Babylon’s Toring through De Bos Dam it tumbles down into this little valley with a waterfall and lovely natural rock pool, setting the scene of tranquility and natural beauty that are the hallmarks of this Retreat and Conference Centre.

It all started in the early eighties when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra felt called to establish a place that would minister to people who felt shattered by their life’s experience. After sharing their vision and buoyed by the prayers of their supporters, they formed a Trust and moved onto the property in April 1986. The property has always been known as Volmoed (meaning full of courage and hope) and the previous owners asked that we please keep the name – and what more appropriate name for a place of healing and wholeness! The valley first came to prominence as a place of healing during the 18th century when a leper colony was established here, and more recently when Camphill (next door) opened its doors to the sufferers of Downes Syndrome.

Today it serves the wider community as a facility for conferences and courses while still being accessible to individuals who simply need to get away from it all.  Volmoed doesn’t offer TVs or games rooms but they do offer a peaceful environment, walks over the fynbos covered hills, and cozy log fires in winter.

These photos show the God-given beauty and Jane’s magnificent garden! (Click on any thumbnail to open the slideshow.)

For more on Volmoed, click here.

It is a place that nurtures the soul.

 

General Dealer Museum at the Stanford Hotel

“It was originally a general dealer, then a men’s bar, a wine bar, a place to buy picnics, a function space — but it never quite worked. Then it occurred to me that Stanford didn’t have a museum — so I turned it back into a general dealer — as a museum.”

A compulsive collector since the early 1990s, Penny van der Berg, owner of the Stanford Hotel, has had so much fun with this corner-store museum, sourcing goodies from across the country and describing it as, “A little bit Selfridges, a little bit Stuttafords, using my own poetic licence.” Continue reading

One Wilderness you won’t want to be delivered from

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.

We were very, very fortunate.  We had social media maven and blogger, Rose Greyling Bilbrough, aka Travelbug Rose (@gotravelbug) as our guide.  She’s also the energy behind Wilderness South Africa, which has become hugely successful with over 10,000 followers.

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

Wilderness lakes

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.

The Kaaimans River Waterfall. Photo: Travelbug Rose

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!

Kaaimans River cottages

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.

Wilderness pavement cafes and restaurants

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!

Solar makes cents, and Boschendal becomes a significant producer

About two years ago, the V&A Waterfront commissioned 4,207 solar panels (7,000m²) installed on the roofs of the main Waterfront buildings, with a total electrical output of 1,093.8 kWp at a cost of R20 million.  It conserves about 1,721,956 kWh annually, significantly reducing the Waterfront’s environmental footprint.  At the same time, Boschendal commissioned its first, small rooftop solar installation at the Rachelsfontein complex.

Then in October 2017, Robben Island launched its R25 million, 666kWp solar farm supported by 828 kWh battery storage, to reduce reliance of diesel which was shipped in for the island’s generators.  Just based on the cost of fuel savings, the Robben Island installation will pay for itself within five years.  The micro-grid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage micro-grid system in South Africa.

Boschendal solar farm

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Bucking the trend in the drought

The Western Cape has faced its worst drought in a century, and this is the third consecutive year of that drought.  Cape Town’s mayor has been at pains to point out that — with climate change — “This is the new normal.”

With dwindling water supply to farmers, crop productions have been slashed and, across the Province, between 35,000 and 50,000 jobs are at risk, excluding an even larger number of seasonal workers.  I asked for the provincial department of agriculture’s stats for produce under threat but received no response!  I am underwhelmed!

Minister Alan Winde’s speeches, however, paint a dire picture which are just a tip of the iceberg.  A month ago, Alan visited the West Coast.  “There’s thousands and thousands of hectares of agricultural land below the Clanwilliam Dam which produces a lot of produce and revenue for our country that’s now under severe water restrictions. They’re going to produce 50% less,” he said.  “Farmers are being throttled and are forced to use 60% less water, with the Clanwilliam Dam level at around 36%.  There’s an 80% decrease in potato crops and a drop in wine and export quality citrus.”  With commercial farmers struggling, one focus for Province is supporting backyard food gardens for workers’ food security.

“In places like Ceres, 80% less potatoes and 50% less onions will be planted — resulting in about R40 million less paid out in salaries and wages.  In Lutzville the tomato paste plant will not even open this year.  Some 30 000 animals have been sold as farmers battled to feed their core herds.”

Against this backdrop, Boschendal started out at the beginning of the drought with a massive planting of 600,000 new fruit trees over a period of three years — which has just been completed. Permanent jobs in farming operations alone has grown from 70 to 287.  Their dams are full and Jacques du Toit, Boschendal’s general manager, said the dams started overflowing on 20 August and he counted 15 streams on the farm running into the Dwars River, on to the Berg River, and out to sea… Continue reading