The best gift for your laptop… and yourself!

It’s the best spend I’ve ever made!  For just on R2,000, my 4½ year old laptop is far, far faster than it’s ever been.  Replacing your old hard drive with a Solid State Disk (SSD) is the best thing you can do for any computer.  And you won’t have to hold your breath waiting for things to open.

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What is your favourite Drive in SA?

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

And what is yours?

What’s in a name? Everything!

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.

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.

Helshoogte Pass

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.

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?

Could Elgin become SA’s adventure capital?

Why is Elgin so often overlooked as a destination? Revisiting Elgin after a long time with a media group really got me thinking. It’s so close to the city, especially the Helderberg suburbs; it has spectacular scenery and natural beauty; there are wine estates of renown; and there are so many vibey places to go.  But it was when Jody Aufrichtig of Old Mac Daddy asked the question why Elgin can’t become the adventure capital of South Africa that I really started thinking.

It was the Cape Country Connect Experience 2016 organised by Cape Country Meander.  Each year they host the event in one of the Overberg towns which form part of the Meander — Botriver, Caledon, Genadendal, Elgin, Greyton, Riviersonderend, Tesselaarsdal and Villiersdorp.  It is a platform where local suppliers from across the Theewaterskloof area have the opportunity to introduce and showcase their products and services to local and neighbouring product owners in the hospitality industry.

One couldn’t have wished for a better scene-setter than The Pool Room at Oak Valley Estate — one of the valley’s largest and most diversified farms with wine, fruit, cattle, pigs and flowers. Really memorable wines accompanied each course and were presented by winemaker Quentin Gobrechts.

Chef Gordon Manuel introduced each dish: Citrus Cured Seabass with Pickled Cucumber & Yuzu Pearls; Acorn Fed Pork — braised Pork Cheek, grilled Loin Chop, celeriac & cider pear puree; Beef Short Rib & Porcini Lasagna with roasted red onion and tomato compote; and Dark Chocolate Mousse, Espresso Ice Cream & Macerated Rasberries.  Yum!

It’s all about “bringing the farm to the table,” Gordon says, “working with the best ingredients from the Valley and beyond.”

It was a most memorable dining experience…

And then the farm tour… free-range everything!  Acorn-fed pigs and Simmenthaler and Waygu Beef.

Pigs on Oak Valley Farm, Elgin

These pigs are huge! The recent introduction of special cages for new moms and their piglets has reduced the number of piglets being squashed by mother pig when they try to drink milk by 75%!

And then it was off to Old Mac Daddy.  Accommodation in vintage trailers in farmlands alongside a dam.  It’s one of those places one just has to visit.  It’s quirky and fun.  It even has a beach and a beach bar!

The highlight of the trip was Jody’s speech during the Cape Country Connect function: Why can’t Elgin emulate Queenstown in New Zealand — NZ’s favourite visitor destination and rated as one of the world’s top destinations.  With a population of only 19,200, it hosts around 2 million visitors a year.  Why can’t Elgin become SA’s adventure capital?

Part of the area’s problem has been its identity… is it Elgin (the Valley) or Grabouw (the town)?  For some years they confused everybody by using Groenberg/Green Mountain for the area, which meant nothing to most people.  The town of Grabouw itself is a rather sad farming village. In some respects it’s a bit like some of the sad villages in the KZN Midlands as opposed to towns like Riebeek Kasteel, Greyton or Prince Albert.

Another problem which I hadn’t been aware of is that there was some antagonism between farmers and the tourism industry.  Very surprising!  The current mayor, Chris Punt, whose term expires in August, did a lot to address this.    Someone needs to drive a shared vision for the Valley.

And there needs to be the political will to do something about the town of Grabouw.  But is Theewaterskloof Municipality up to this?

Next morning, it was breakfast at the Hickory Shack before heading home.

Breakfast at the Hickory Shack

Breakfast at the Hickory Shack

I can’t beat the story they provided, so here it is:
When a restaurant is inspired by an old shed, you can bet you’ve entered BBQ territory. Owner, and Elgin resident, Jay Haupt, had been exploring traditional food production methods for a number of years when the perfect location for a BBQ pit presented itself.

“I saw this old shed with all its character and just knew it was perfect,” says Jay, and with a bit of wrangling The Hickory Shack was born. The cooking happens in the smokehouse but the restaurant spreads out from a cosy interior to a chilled-out balcony and rolls on to a lawn complete with kids jungle gym. Plenty of parking is available up front -– and its likely Jay’s bright red 1958 Chevy pick-up will be parked among the visitor’s cars.

Set on Thandi Farm on the N2, Elgin, The Hickory Shack serves Texas style BBQ made in a cantilever pit. The result is tender, lightly smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken. Using mostly apple wood in the smoking process for its subtle flavours, the Hickory Shack’s pit master broods over his craft -– making meat that is done low and slow.

The smoked meat dishes are served with slaw (no mayonnaise here), mash, fries or home-made baked beans. All the accompanying pickles and sauces — from apple chutney to hot bastard — are Hickory home-made.

Local Elgin ciders and Fraser’s Folly craft beer are the biggest attention seekers on the drinks menu which also includes jam jar cocktails, cordials, shakes and Elgin wines.

Whilst ribs and brisket lure in the crowds, the big breakfasts with home-made links (sausages) are excellent fare for travellers needing a refuel or wedding weekenders nursing a sore head.

Open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday, the Hickory Shack is the real-deal pit stop.

The Intrepid Traveller ticks Elgin off his bucket list, looking across one of the dams on Oak Valley Estate.

The Intrepid Traveller ticks Elgin off his bucket list, looking across one of the dams on Oak Valley Estate.

Do you travel to be inspired? Or for a home-away-from-home?

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.)

[socialpoll id=”2355535″]

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

Old Mac Daddy — sleep in a vintage Airstream trailer.

Or how about sleeping in a Tepee at Little Wing Teepee Camp near Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg?

Little Wing Teepee Camp

Little Wing Teepee Camp near Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg



A Treasure Trove!

The entrance on the R45 alongside a Total garage doesn't give an inkling of the delights you'll find inside.

The entrance on the R45 alongside a Total garage doesn’t give an inkling of the delights you’ll find inside.

If you’re driving on the R45 from the N1 towards Franschhoek, there’s a rather unprepossessing building alongside the Total garage before the Boschendal turnoff with some bric-a-brac outside.  Stop!  And explore inside.  Koöperasie Stories is a treasure trove!  And it’s open seven days a week.

Kooperasie Stories

Kooperasie Stories

Kooperasie Stories

Kooperasie Stories

Kooperasie Stories

Kooperasie Stories

Towns & villages need help!

When I met Dupré Lombaard, a professional planner, soon after he took up his position as Stellenbosch municipality’s executive director of economic development & tourism, he started our meeting by saying how fortunate he had been at his first professional job to work with David Jack and Peter de Tolly at the City of Cape Town and sit in on meetings.  “Developers came in to discuss proposals and invariably Dave and Peter made suggestions to improve the project, so both the developer and the City scored,” he said.  (The City benefited from projects which related to their environments better, creating better public spaces.)

David and Peter were the City Planner and Assistant City Planner respectively.  Both were architects and urban designers with considerable international experience.  (David Jack moved on to become the MD of the V&A Waterfront company — arguably SA’s biggest success story.)

Very few towns in South Africa have professional planners in the employ of their municipalities.  Planners, per se, are trained to ensure that the town planning laws are upheld — they are not trained to create spaces that work well and provide delight.  Many engineers think they can do that… and urban blight is testimony to that!

And fewer municipalities will even know what urban designers and landscape architects are and do.  And these are the professions towns need most.

But the reality is that — even if municipalities could afford additional professional staff and were able to act as competent clients — there are just too few really good urban designers and landscape architects to fill a fraction of the positions.

So then I thought about how a few of the better shopping malls get it so very right… through centralised management… but that’s also not a complete solution.

And then I visited Port Elizabeth where an old friend, Pierre Voges, is CEO of the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) which was established in 2003 by the municipality with support from the Industrial Development Corporation.  It’s a special-purpose development company which has become the driving force behind urban regeneration in Nelson Mandela Bay.

I tried several times to contact Pierre to find out more but was unsuccessful.  I did learn a bit about their projects and was superficially impressed.  In 2013 (the last annual report available) they operated with an annual budget of almost R70 million.  In 2014, their successes saw their terms of reference expanded to become a regional agency for the whole metro area.

MBDA did get me thinking about the need for a similar special-purpose development company that could address the shortcomings and shortfalls of local municipalities — an agency that could bring world-class expertise to bear on Tourism Towns — those towns that commit to growing tourism and its benefits to the entire community and country.

In the Western Cape, this would be so easy to set up and there are so many towns crying out for the interventions it could initiate.  The Western Cape’s Department of Environmental Affairs & Planning would be best placed to establish and provide oversight for a provincial agency — Piet van Zyl, the department head, has the experience and track record to understand all the nuances that are essential for such an agency to succeed.

It could become an example that will create tourism game-changers throughout South Africa.