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Article from BTNews 26 SEPTEMBER 2016


Following last week’s  ON TOUR of CAPE TOWN  the editor-in-chief follows up with some further words on the southern part of South Africa.  Wine is synonymous with the Western Cape but there are other things to do.

South African wine has a history dating back to 1659.  During the Apartheid years the wines were off the table in many countries but in recent times the product has staged a remarkable comeback, some such as Constantia being considered one of the greatest wines in the world.  The Constantia Nek winery is on the Blue Bus route, a hop-on-hop-off service. 

Production is concentrated around Cape Town, with the major centres at Paarl, Stellenbosch and Worcester.  In South Africa there are about 60 appellations within the Wine of Origin (WO) system, which dates from 1973.  Tasting is best organised with a tour or a driver/chauffeur/taxi.  Most of the wineries also offer restaurants to a very high standard.  They get very busy.

The Backsberg estate is about 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town and this year celebrated its centenary.  Its best wines have been described by Bubbly magazine as “Full with a zesty, citrus finish and long aftertaste.  This MCC (Methode Cap Classique) is an excellent wine to enjoy with seafood, starters and desserts”.  The estate also produces a distinctive brandy considered to be at least equal to the best of Cognacs, recently awarded the Domecq Trophy as “The Best Brandy in the World” at a ceremony in London.

We were hosted by Simon Back whose great grandfather arrived at the shores of Cape Town as a penniless political and religious refugee from Lithuania at the early part of the last century and was first a butcher and then a farmer on the present site.  In the cellars there is a picture of Simon’s father and grandfather standing proudly at Cape Town harbour loading tankers of wine for shipment to France where there was a shortage of wine after World War II. 

In 2008 Simon, joined the farm after finishing his Business Science Economics degree.  He tells the tale of the cellars opening to the public for the first time in 1970, his father and close friend and manager John Martin waiting for people to come and visit. “In those days if we sold a couple of cases of wine for the entire day we were grateful and excited,” he said.  The restaurant, full on the day we visited, bears testimony to a slight change of direction.  Book in advance.

Our land tours were organised by Escape to the Cape, with Joe our friendly driver, only too pleased to go off the schedule if a point of interest came about.  Local guides are a ‘must’ if you want to get the most out of a visit.

Cape Point is not the most southerly point in Africa (See BTN 19 September).  Generally referred to as the Cape of Good Hope it is about 40 miles south of Cape Town situated within the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).  The westerly route takes you past Simonstown, once a major Royal Navy base, now the headquarters of the South African Navy, and within it a museum including the former SAS French-built submarine Johanna van der Merwe (now SAS Assegaai).  There is a train service from Cape Town Central Station.

Just south of Simonstown is Boulders Penguin Colony, home to a unique and endangered land-based colony of African Penguins. This colony is one of only a few in the world, and the site has become famous and a popular international tourist destination.  Strangely enough it is set in a residential area.  From just two breading pairs in 1982 the colony has grown to 2,200 in recent years.  Viewing is from boardwalks.  The beach is ideal for children as immense boulders shelter the cove from currents, wind and large waves.  Don't touch or feed the penguins – they may look cute and cuddly but their beaks are as sharp as razors.
Approaching Cape Hope itself is largely across a barren landscape generally wild, unspoiled and undeveloped and is an important haven for seabirds.  You need to keep your eyes peeled for antelope such as klipspringers or the larger red hartebeest, eland and Cape mountain zebra.  We drove slowly avoiding the tortoises and it was made very clear that you don’t even think of feeding the baboons.

Our target was The Flying Dutchman Funicular. 

Its name describes it and it is believed to be the only commercial funicular of its type in Africa, and taking its name from the local legend of the ghost ship.

The line runs from a lower station at the Cape Point car park, up an incline through dense fynbos to the Old Lighthouse.  The funicular leaves from the lower station every three minutes, comfortably accommodating 40 passengers per car. 

No need to walk. 

At the top is the Two Oceans Restaurant from where you can view both Atlantic and Indian waters, with False Bay in-between.  Even here, at the bottom of the African world the eating is fine and the staff welcoming.  There is a further climb to the old lighthouse, now replaced just a few hundred yards away.

This short trip did not allow for a visit to either a National Park or Game Reserve.  National Parks tend to be huge (the largest of them all Kruger, bordering Mozambique, is massive 7,523sq miles) whilst the game reserves, privately owned, are more commercial, but are also protected and under strict regulations. 

We plan to visit next time Aquila, recommended, two hours’ drive from Cape Town either a long day out or an overnight.  The reserve is a 10,000 hectare conservancy, and home to the big five legends of the wilderness – elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.

Aquila Game Reserve has two large swimming pools, each with a pool bar overlooking the reserve.  There is a large dining area, and various lounges.  It has a library, curio shop and children’s entertainment area. In August 2015 Aquila added luxury lodge rooms to its accommodation offerings.  These range from more basic rooms, to five premier cottages built into the rock and perched on a hillside gazing out over the veld. 

Maybe in 2017.



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