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.
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 →
For many years, there’ve been two sad old buildings full of potential on the R45 between the N1 and Franschhoek. One of them used to house the old Groot Drakenstein post office.
Landscape architect Danie Steenkamp bought the property recently and has given it a new lease on life, selling the one building to Vicki Bell for her antique and collectable shop and keeping the other building for his, an architect’s and lawyers offices… and the Ou Meul Bakery that will become a new compulsory stop on the R45.
The old Groot Drakenstein Handelshuis, and one-time post office, is now the grand old lady on the R45 from the N1 to Franschhoek.
I wasn’t too thrilled to find a snake in the outbuilding that houses my solar batteries and inverter yesterday afernoon. And since I know nothing about snakes, I posted a photo of it to find out what it is. Well… everybody on Facebook seems to know far more about snakes than I do and I was bombarded with suggestions… like “coaxing it into a bag”. Yeah, no thanks.
And then Adele Toua who manages the Simonsberg Conservancy put me in touch with someone and he offered to take it away this morning. And that’s how I met Kobus Smit of the Cape Reptile Institute.
I don’t know what I was expecting but I think some drama was at the top of the list. But hardly a minute later Kobus had it in the tube and it was all done.
“A nice big boy” was Kobus’ first comment. But this big boy needed to be prodded to wake up.
If there’s one thing this south-western corner of the African continent really has going for it, it is the quality of light. Add to the that the confluence of two oceans and spectacular mountains, and one has light displays that are hard to beat.
These were my views from home yesterday morning before the sun had even properly risen… it was at first light. The first view is across three mountain ranges to the Matroosberg on the other side of Worcester. The second two are towards Franschhoek.
Only politicians, bureaucrats and the foolish think that when they choose a name to brand a destination, they have the makings of a successful brand. They usually choose what they regard as a “safe” name, catering for all interests, ignoring everything that is already well-established.
And without the budgets of Unilever or SA Breweries, or a carefully created brand strategy, they believe their new brand will take root just on their say-so.
For some time now, I’ve driven Helshoogte Road (R312) between Boschendal and Stellenbosch almost daily, and I’m convinced that this is one of the most stunning drives in South Africa. It passes the villages of Pniel, Jacobsdal and Kylemore through the Banhoek Valley. With the anchors of Delaire Graff and Tokara at the top of Helshoogte Pass and Boschendal at the Franschhoek side of the road, and much in between, it is a destination in its own right.
Banhoek Valley from the top of Helshoogte Pass 5km outside Stellenbosch.
This area has been named Dwarsrivier Tourism from the name of the river that runs through the valley. It’s yet another case where tourism is not aligned to the destination.
Dwarsrivier is hardly unique in South Africa and is definitely not the area’s best known feature. The old Bangehoek (anglicised to Banhoek) and Helshoogte are what most people still refer to when talking about the area.
Stellenbosch’s outgoing mayor, Conrad Sidego, gave me this book yesterday as a thank you gift. It is a stunning book, and just reinforces our thinking about this area.
CapeInfo has added Banhoek Valley over Helshoogte Pass as a new destination, ignoring Dwarsrivier Tourism as the area’s name. We have written to the manager of the tourism organisation explaining what we’re doing but haven’t received any response or acknowledgement.
We decided to use Banhoek instead of the old Banghoek or Bangehoek since the conservancy covering the area has been named Banhoek. And we’ve included the use of Helshoogte for it’s uniqueness and the memory of the old winding pass planted with bluegum trees to stop cars driving over the edge. (Does anybody have the story of how those trees came to be planted?)
Some people have suggested we should be using the original Bangehoek as the name. What do you think?
The two best ‘good news’ stories from the Western Cape are probably the V&A Waterfront and Boschendal Wine Estate. Both were sold about a decade back — the Waterfront to foreign owners who expatriated the profits but stopped all new development and Boschendal to a local BEE consortium who made their money from property development on the Estate while neglecting the farm and its national heritage.
Under new local owners, the Waterfront has been rejuvenated and the new Watershed alongside the dry dock is one of the most apt legacy projects of Cape Town’s year as World Design Capital in 2014. At Boschendal, it’s all happened much more recently since the property was sold to a foreign buyer, and the focus there has been on the farm and maximising the public attraction and benefit of the historic areas of this iconic estate.
Rob Lundie is Boschendal’s MD. His strengths are knowing what’s good and what’s bad, and what makes a development successful. He also knows how to pick a professional team that will exceed expectations.
Rob comes from a farm in the KZN Midlands but his professional experience lies in property investment and development — he managed an international property fund in Majorca before coming to Boschendal. There, he focused on high quality, long term investments primarily in Europe. “I’m not a hospitality expert,” he says, “but I’ve owned retail and restaurants and I know what’s good and what’s bad. I know what makes a development successful.”
One of his partners, representing family interests, wanted to buy Boschendal and asked Rob to help structure the contract. When the deal was done he asked Rob, “Would you like to see what you helped us buy?” And the allure of Boschendal started working on Rob. So in December 2013, Rob and his wife spent two nights at Rhodes Cottage and he prepared a simple, one-page business plan, which he describes as “opening the shutters.”
When Graham Johnson, Boschendal’s then MD, decided to move on, Rob’s partners in Majorca gave him leave and the business plan unfolded from there. He started at Boschendal last July. An enormous amount has been achieved in a very short time.
After eight years of promises not kept under the previous owners, the new family owners insisted that there must be delivery before talk. What Rob found was a team of people with a genuine love for the farm and the valley — some had been on the farm for 25 years and “just needed permission to think and act. It’s that team that generated the energy and there has been a buy-in into a new ethic. In the past, there was no long-term vision. Boschendal has a matriarchal role in the Valley which is starting to be realised again.”
“An exclusive experience to an inclusive audience” One of the first things to be addressed was bringing the various components of the farm and the brand back into the Boschendal company, and maximising the farm’s cover crops because this is at the heart of what Boschendal is all about.
The Werf — the historic Manor House and the buildings around it — is the focus of the public experience and that has received a make-over. The flagship restaurant — The Werf — opens mid-March with renowned chef Christiaan Campbell at the helm. Le Pique Nique — the picnic venue that started them all — is becoming popular again and the delightful Farmshop & Deli is open every day of the week, from 8am to 9pm. This is a family-friendly destination serving breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with tables both in the cosy restaurant and scattered under the oak trees. The Farmshop & Deli also stocks a range of products including Boschendal’s own pasture-reared Angus Beef, fresh farm bread, artisanal jams, home-made preserves and local olive oils.
The focus is on providing flavourful and nourishing farm-to-table food; celebrating the produce of Boschendal and the Franschhoek valley with menus that shift with the seasons. Much of the fresh produce is grown right on the Farm and, where possible, other ingredients are sourced from farms and small producers in the surrounding winelands. Transport is kept to a minimum: three-quarters of the ingredients are sourced within 30-kilometres of the farm.
The historic Rhodes Cottage (left) sleeps 6 in the cottage and 4 in the Garden Annexe. The Orchard Cottages (right) offers stylish simplicity with a rural yet contemporary character. The atmosphere is carefree and relaxed making the cottages ideal for families or groups of friends.
Former labourers cottages have been converted to luxury guest accommodation, ranging from Clarence Cottage (a two-bedroomed cottage situated close to the historic werf), The Werf Cottages (adjacent to the historic werf) and The Orchard Cottages (family-friendly farm cottages with shared swimming pool and large gardens). And then there’s the historical Herbert Baker designed Rhodes Cottage which comes with its own housekeeper.
Only one new building has been built — the Olive Press, a conferencing & wedding venue, which hosted the Cape Wine Auction as its first function when R10.5 million was raised for education in the Winelands.
Rob emphasises that “there is a big obligation to community upliftment and there has to be a social impact from investment.” Projects are in the ideas stage and one focuses on honey. The Farm could encourage staff to keep backyard beehives and assist them with funding to get this going. One family might keep 10 hives but a community venture becomes a business with a reasonable scale. Boschendal could lend its brand/name for the honey produced by the community.
(A big hurrah for that! The honey sold in supermarkets by neighbouring Rhodes Food Group and many others is labelled as “Made in China”.)
Work has started on a new vegetable garden right opposite the new restaurant as part of the commitment to its quality dining experience. While the chef reckons the 4-5 kitchens on the estate will use 3–5 tonnes of fresh produce a month, there will be opportunities for farm workers to supplement the seasonal needs of the restaurants. This could see excess production being marketing under a community Boschendal brand. Maybe we’ll see that in Woolies soon?
Two new hiking trails have been developed on the mountain slopes which provide an added reason for visiting. (These will be published on CapeInfo shortly.)
Sustainable energy is another consideration but one that takes longer to implement. Solar power is planned and an Environmental Impact assessment has been done for hydroelectric power in the mountains. And there’s more to come.
Rob says that “his first 18 months will address getting the foundations right, but that it’s going to take much longer to reach the end idea.” And fine-tuning of the first steps has already started.
Rob Lundie is a real asset to the Western Cape and, if we can keep him here longer (which his kids are hoping for,) there’s little doubt that his wider impact in the region will be significant.
Thirty years ago, Franschhoek was sleepy hollow personified, and very little had changed in the preceding 70 years. It was a farming dorp which attracted a few city folk on a Sunday drive to escape the city and the only attractions were the Huguenot Museum (which was — unusually for a small country town — open on Sundays after church) and Swiss Farm Excelsior for tea and scones.
Very little of its French heritage remained, apart from place names. In fact, the French influence of the Huguenot settlers had completed disappeared 100 years after they arrived in 1688. Today, after a sustained marketing strategy, it’s French roots are inescapable. Investment in the Valley has been phenomenal. How did this all happen? Arthur McWilliam Smith, who was close to the centre of events over the past 30 years, tells the story.
Arthur McWilliam Smith, a former mayor and one Franschhoek’s primary gamechangers.
When he arrived, Franschhoek had three accommodation places; today it has over 150. So, he points out right at the start of the interview, “the changes have seen a massive increase in employment.” So Franschhoek is the model that every aspiring tourism town needs to examine very carefully.
The forerunner of change was the late Michael Trull, a Capetonian who had been an advertising executive in the UK, and erstwhile owner of La Bri Vineyards. Capitalising on the introduction of the Wine House liquor licence that had been introduced, he opened the restaurant “1688”, taking its cue from opportunities for the town’s imminent tercentary date. (He also founded Vignerons de Franschhoek at a time when there were very few wineries in the Valley.)
But he couldn’t make the restaurant work with a weekends-only clientele and sold it to Arthur, who bought it for his first wife. (She was a real food lover and he had offered to buy her a restaurant in Johannesburg where they lived. Her reply was “anywhere but Johannesburg!”)
So, they settled in Franschhoek with Arthur commuting to Johannesburg on the days he needed to be there. He had been involved in local politics in Johannesburg so it was inevitable that he would participate fully in the Franschhoek community.
The first burning issue in the town he became involved in was when a proposal to build retirement homes — “like those you find in Hermanus today” — had been approved by the local Council. (Franschhoek still had its own municipality then and there was no party politics in municipal government.) It became a big election issue — with a 90% turnout (unheard of in those days) — and Arthur’s Johannesburg experience in local politics saw him being elected to the Council without too much difficulty.
That saw the establishment of an aesthetics committee at the municipality which, with the majority of councillors focused on carefully controlling the town’s development, placed aesthetic and environment issues centre stage.
Another mover in the town was Shirley Parkveldt at the Franschhoek Conservation Trust (who also planted the avenue of trees into the town). In the late 1980s. with some council funding, Todeschini & Jaffe was appointed to prepare guidelines for conservation and development (which won a Cape Times Centenary Award) and was later extended to cover the whole valley with funding from the Regional Services Council.
Alleys lead off the main street into leafy courtyards – one could be in the south of France.
With aesthetics becoming the winner, the town started attracting people in search of a quality lifestyle. It was becoming a very sophisticated country village. Maybe encouraged by Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, a significant number of advertising executives moved to the town along with the beginning of real money, and lots of money. Of course, this changed what the town had to offer because the demand was growing.
When Arthur sold his restaurant to Susan Huxter after the death of his wife, Le Quartier Francais became one of the places to eat. It became a destination in its own right. More and more people flocked to Franschhoek.
Franschhoek’s tourism very successful organisation focused on the valley’s French roots and an annual events calendar targeted a clearly defined audience. One wonders what the original Huguenots would think of Bastille Day? The storming of the Bastille in 1789 happened 101 years after they arrived in the Cape!
Part of the town’s charm stems from the fact that it is a narrow valley, and views of the mountains dominate wherever one looks. The retail form of the main street, with its alleys and courtyards, happened by accident. The main street was originally lined mainly by residential properties and those building footprints largely determined the retail spaces that followed.
The incorporation of Franschhoek into Stellenbosch Municipality saw the town lose its independence but it also meant more money for the town. The two towns share similar philosophies, with the same focus on heritage issues and environmental quality, and both have very active (and vocal) citizens. Franschhoek could have been far worse off.
What led to the success? Arthur says “it was the right people at the right time… the right leaders. The village was small enough to make a difference possible. And there was luck.”
In conclusion, Franschhoek drove its success by focusing on quality — the aesthetics, the environment and the activities offered. Success attracts further successes, or at least facilitates them. One can’t overlook the glory that local-boy-turned-chef Reuben Riffel brought to the town with Reuben’s restaurant. And after selling his restaurant, Arthur turned to accommodation, and Akademie Street Boutique Hotel was voted one of the best in SA. (He has since sold it.) The Rupert family, usually associated with Stellenbosch, almost has stronger ties to Franschhoek after the late Dr Anton Rupert bought the first of several farms in the valley in 1969 at L’Ormarins. He was also the patron of the Franschhoek Conservation Trust.
And, unlike Stellenbosch and Robertson where tourism and wine run parallel marketing organisations, Franschhoek has a single organisation embracing everybody — arguably one of the best around.
The mountains tower above everything else. That’s Mont Rochelle at the bottom of the pic — Sir Richard Branson’s South African Hotel & Vineyard.
Otter’s Bend Lodge in Franschhoek is probably Beezus’ true happy space. Apart from Mark, Mary & Ollie Heistein who he adores, it is an exciting, friendly and unpretentious place. He even gets on with Alex the Doberman, but less so with Sheba the Ridgeback. Maybe he’s just too much, too feisty and too confident for her.
Caracal (Rooikat, Desert Lynx, Caracal caracal) in the pear orchard at Otter’s Bend Lodge
One evening I saw an unusual shape moving through the pear orchard right in front of the house. And the I realised it was a Caracal – but seeing a live one was very different to the stuffed one at the Simonsberg Conservancy’s office at DelVera (where I have to cover Beezus’ eyes when we walk past it). I’d been warned about them in Banhoek because a friend’s cat was taken by one there. I’ve been a little nervous about them (for Beezus’ safety) ever since. It has the mystical quality of most wild animals.
The following morning I took Beezus out to water the garden and the Caracal suddenly appeared in the driveway, and started walking towards me… not furtively or aggressively, but seemingly inquisitive. Beezus had been off to one side but when he came around and saw it, he took off after it like a pack of wild dogs… or made enough noise for a whole pack of wild dogs in a murderous mood.
The following day, after his early morning walk, Beezus decided he wanted to go back to bed and went to sleep. He woke half and hour later making the anguished noises which mean there’s something out there he’s got to get! I got up to look outside and there, about 300 metres away, I saw something jumped through the long grass – a small buck perhaps? No, it was the Caracal again heading towards the furthest boundary of the farm.
Five minutes later I looked up from the laptop through the window, and there it was about 8 metres in front of me! I grabbed the camera to get a decent photo this time… but its battery was flat…
What have I discovered about Caracals? It is a wild cat widely distributed across Africa, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia into India. The specific name is attributed to the German scientist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber who described Felis caracal in 1776 from a specimen collected near the Table Mountain. The generic name Caracal was first used by the British naturalist John Edward Gray in 1843 on the basis of a type specimen collected near the Cape of Good Hope. They weigh between 7.0 & 16kg. They live mainly on prey smaller than 5kg, including hyraxes, springhares, gerbils, mice, and birds. They are capable of taking antelopes, including species such as mountain reedbuck, springbok, common duiker and steenbok.
Historically, caracals have been used in India for hunting and blood sports. A popular sport in India was to have a captive caracal set upon a flock of pigeons, whereupon bets were made on how many birds could be taken down by the cat. A practiced caracal could ground as many as a dozen birds. Today, as well as in the past, caracals have occasionally been kept as exotic pets in Africa, India, North America and elsewhere. It has been claimed caracals are “suitable as pets” because they are “easily tamed”, but caracals have also been claimed to attack people other than their owner. Caracals appear to have held some religious significance for the ancient Egyptians. They were found in wall paintings, their bodies embalmed, and sculptures of caracals and other cats guarded tombs.
Beezus gets his regular nuzzle from Mac the horse.
And then there’s Mac, the horse. He doesn’t take kindly to a saddle or a person on his back, but he’s in his element pulling a carriage which he does with aplomb. He also doesn’t like dogs but suprised everyone by taking to Beezus.
The moment Mac sees Beezus, he runs up and starts nuzzling him gently. At first, Beezus was very apprehensive (and so was I, ready to scoop him up!) and growled softly but allowed the horse to continue. He’s happier about it now.
Some days, Mac comes and whinnies at the door for Beezus to come out. When I walk down the drive, Mac comes trotting up, and I carry Beezus because I worry about those hooves. So Mac walks alongside us nuzzling Beezus’ fur.
As Mark asked, “What makes Beezus different to all other dogs?” I can only think that it is because he was raised by a wolf, and has many characteristics he learnt from Akela.
There’s good reason to celebrate when an iconic estate like Boschendal turns around its fortunes to regain its position as one of South Africa’s premier wine estates for all to enjoy. Anglo American Corporation sold it many years ago to a local investment company which was primarily interested in the development potential of the real estate, ignoring the farming assets and everything else that made it a special. Today you’ll discover a complete turnaround is underway. The new owner is focused on farming and sharing the rich heritage and natural beauty of Boschendal to create memorable guest experiences… and even the cows have happy lines!
Happy lines on Boschendal’s herd of Black Angus cattle – the horizontal lines starting behind the shoulder are clearly visible on all cows. That’s not fat but a sign of happy cows, says Andre Lambrecht.
I was taken on a quick tour around the estate by Andre Lambrechts, the farm manager. His enthusiasm and passion is tangible. After years in the doldrums — he’s been on the farm for 28 years — he is achieving things at last! And one of his passions is Boschendal’s Black Angus herd.
The herd came to be after the winery was sold to Douglas Green-Bellingham and the farm became just a supplier of grapes. So they started looking at which varietals were profitable, and those vineyards that were not, were cleared. That created the problem of having to keep the grass which grew in their place cut, to keep the farm looking neat. And Andre pointed out that farming cattle would be cheaper than mowing.
And you will be able to buy their special beef from the Estate butchery which will open soon. It’s already being served at the restaurants — “streaked with healthy yellow; not unhealthy white fat,” says Andre.
But that’s just the start of the story, because the innovation that followed — for the Black Angus herd, the vines, the fruit and the visitor amenities — is what made my visit to Boschendal memorable. They avoid using fertilizer and insecticides, using fungicides only when really necessary. Bird life has flourished on the farm — there are four groups of Blue Cranes, as well as Storks and Secretary birds. And guinea fowl of course!
Dining options on the Estate, which now has five kitchens, are being expanded and — a notable achievement — is the way in which old farm labourers’ cottages have been converted into guest accommodation. So if you’re looking for a getaway…
And the old Rhodes Cottage has been refurbished, if you’re looking for something special. That’s a fitting reminder of an important step in South Africa’s architectural history. Cecil John Rhodes was one of the first to appreciate the value of Cape Dutch architecture and, just over 100 years ago, commissioned HEV Pickstone (of Lekkerwijn just across the railway line) to acquire farms in the Franschhoek valley. Pickstone bought 19 farms for Rhodes, and was the foundation of the old Rhodes Fruit Farms. Rhodes saved many of the historic buildings on these farms, for which we must be thankful!
Boschendal does impress, and we will be writing much more about it soon.
Converted farmworkers’ cottages — with simplicity and style
Boschendal farm cottages converted to guest accommodation