Saturday, February 27, 2016

Vergelegen and a Mountain Cabin

Combining a visit to a historical wine estate and a sleepover with friends in a mountain hut makes a pretty good weekend - at least that's our opinion. Last weekend we checked out Vergelegen, and then stayed at the Mountain Club Hut in the Hottentots Holland mountains with friends from Kuils River for one night.

Vergelegen is a beautiful wine estate in Somerset West, with a big Cape Dutch house and extensive gardens, situated at the foot of the Hottentots Holland mountains. It was established by Willem Adriaan van der Stel in the 1700's, the son and successor of Simon van der Stel (governor of the Cape Colony in the late 1600's).

Unfortunately Willem Adriaan's best interests did not lie with the welfare of the Cape Colony, and he used the Dutch East Indian Company's extensive resources to build up his own private estate and wealth, as well as passing grossly unfair laws concerning the free burghers (independent farmers). He was corrupt, and dismissed from his post and exiled to the Netherlands by the Company in 1707.

The original estate was divided into four farms (Vergelegen, Lourensford, Morgenster and Cloetenburg) and sold off. Vergelegen is now a productive wine estate owned by a mining company, and is definitely worth a visit (even if you skip the wine tasting).

The maize-like herb garden. 

Beautiful, historic camphor trees in the gardens, believed to have been planted in 1700. 

All the buildings had the same Cape Dutch style. 

 The 'Royal' Oak, planted in 1928. This tree's acorn came from one of the last of King Alfred's oak trees at Blenheim Palace in England. Plenty of royalty has also come to see it, including King George VI and Queen Elisabeth II.

I figured a thousand or more people must have taken this picture before me, but not one that has these two boys staring at the pond like they're seeing a giant tadpole with three tails. 

All that remained of the old Water Mill was one barely-standing wall. 

Crossing a natural stream. 

A stroll in the Yellowwood forest. 

More big, dramatic trees. 

The rose garden. 

After Vergelegen, we drove to the mountain hut with our friends. After a short hike with all our stuff awkwardly over shoulders and arms, we were relaxing with great views of False Bay, the mountains in mist behind us, and the laughing sound of a mountain stream in the background.
We were soon joined by two other members of the Mountain Club and had a great time with them, playing cards, chatting, and braaiing (in the fireplace, because the wind would have blown the fire, person trying to braai, and 'wors' (sausage) away outside). Thanks for the 'kuier' everyone!

On the way to the hut. 

Already at home. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Weekend in McGregor

What better place to go to for a chilled weekend away than McGregor, the small and picturesque village in the Riviersonderend Mountains? McGregor has recently gained publicity and fame for its beautifully preserved 19th century architecture and relaxed atmosphere among the vineyards (and olive groves). This is where family of ours live, and so we had a nice 'naweek kuier' at the van der Colffs.

In between activities like 'kuier', swimming and braaiing-on-the-cob (and braaiing and braaiing....thanks oom Corrie), we went 'housewatching' on bicycles, drank milkshakes, watched the (absolutely ancient) 1973 classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull movie (I think an older generation will appreciate this), and had a Valentines Day lunch at Rhebokskraal Olive Estate.

The fabulous house at Rhebokskraal. 

Typical McGregor houses. 

The Old Post Office. 

A 'stoep' (porch) is a very South African thing. 

Some people have vineyards in their backyards....

...others have cows. 


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Famous Robben Island, a Museum, and a Beach

February 6th we went on a much-looked-forward-to tour of Robben Island (meaning 'Seal Island'), a historically rich World Heritage Site as well as National Heritage Site, located in Table Bay. We also visited the Chavonnes Battery Museum for the international Wildlife Photography exhibition there, and then put our toes in the sand at Bloubergstrand.

Robben Island's claim to fame is the fact that it has been used as a means of isolating mostly political prisoners since as early as the 17th century (a Hottentot was imprisoned here by Jan van Riebeeck (the founder of Cape Town) in 1658; it's a rather amusing story actually). Nelson Mandela (South Africa's first black president as well as an incredible inspiration) was imprisoned here along with many other anti-apartheid activists during the Apartheid years (1940's to 1990's).

The tour consisted of a ride by ferry to the island, a guided tour through the prison area, and a bus tour to see some of the main features on the island.

Waiting in the mist at the Waterfront before the tour began. The entire harbor and Waterfront was shrouded in mist when we arrived. 

Departure; looking back at the Museum and another ferry. 

"Ghost harbor". The mist was very disorientating. 
 Our first sight of the island. 

The prison tour was given by a former prisoner himself. 

A court where prisoners labored. 

A cell like that which Mandela was kept in. 

 "Prison picture."

On the bus tour we learned a few interesting things, such as that Robben Island was not just used a prison, but also as a way of isolating the disease leprosy. The Leper community was relocated to Pretoria in 1931.

More than a thousand patients with leprosy died on Robben Island, and the Leper Graveyard is thus notable.

Everything used by the Lepers was destroyed except the Church of the Good Shepherd, which was built for Lepers by Lepers in 1895. It was not demolished along with other Leper Buildings because it is privately owned (it's actually the only privately owned building on the island).  

The only other historic church on the island is the Garrison Church (built in 1841), and our guide told to the group's great amusement how once a year on February 14th (Valentines Day) couples are allowed to marry in this church. Apparently their marriage would then be guaranteed to last. 

This beautiful primary school was built in 1894 for the island wardens and residents' children. It has only recently closed down due to not having enough pupils. Now, any children living on the island actually has to go to school on the mainland by ferry every single day! 

Table Mountain above the clouds. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

South Africa's French Legacy

Exploring the Cape one Saturday at a time, we couldn't skip Franschhoek, and thus on January 30th we drove to this beautiful French-established town via Sir Lowry's Pass, Grabouw and Vyeboom (places' names). Here follows everything we did. 

On the way, we stopped in Grabouw at the Elgin Apple Museum, apparently one of only two apple museums in the world. Unfortunately it is very old and not well kept, but its location is appropriate in the Elgin Valley, where 60% of South Africa's national apple crop is produced. It is also the largest single export fruit producing area in Southern Africa. 

Orchard upon orchard - we almost felt at home (after living in the fruit producing Kammanassie valley last year). 

In the Apple Museum. 

Theewaterskloof Dam.  

In 1688, 176 French Huguenot refugees (due to being persecuted in France for their religion) arrived in the Cape and were giving undeveloped farms in a mountain-surrounded area called 'Olifantshoek' (Elephant's Corner). Soon a town was established, and today it is called Franschhoek (French Corner), a beautiful little town surrounded by renowned wineries (the Frenchmen brought their winemaking skills and experience with them). Today one of the main attractions is the French Huguenot Museum and Monument, both of which are quite impressive and in good condition.

Descending down into Franschhoek on the Franschhoek Pass. Notice how the mountains are on both sides of the town. 

I couldn't take pictures inside the museum, but the buildings were 'worth a shot'. 

Lunch at a quaint little restaurant next to the museum. 

The Monument's Gardens. 


Seeking shade (it was a very hot day). 

We also stopped at the Franschhoek Motor Museum established by the Ruperts family. In contrast to the rather dilapidated Apple Museum, the Motor Museum was in another league. The atmosphere was very professional, and the buildings were built specially for the cars.

There were fast cars...