TIME TO HIT THE ROAD
With the historic South African Parliament Building a burned-out shell, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, gave his annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) from a well-bedecked and colorfully lighted Cape Town City Hall. A major advantage of the new seating arrangements was that Members of Parliament did not have individual microphones. So instead of the usual raucous circus Cyril was able to ramble on uninterrupted for almost 2 hours. Pity. The old system was at least more entertaining. He repeated the same stale promises of previous SONA’s. There was no summing up of the mess the country is in, the challenges it faces, or any lucid action plan for the future. Not surprisingly, people debate whether SA is a failed state or a failing state.
The good news is that with the 4th Covid wave declared over South Africa will soon come out of its national state of emergency. Could there not be a better time than now to hit the road?
Our first trip of the month was to Hermanus, a beachside resort town under 2 hours east of Cape Town. We had not visited the area for almost a decade and the difference was remarkable. Evidence of a well-governed town was everywhere. The place is spotless, safe, town planning has maintained and enhanced the historic areas, the suburbs are well planned, despite huge growth, and public areas look perfect. Unfortunately, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna do not match up, and little wonder that so many Capetonians own second homes here or are making Hermanus their first home.
We chose the Marine Hotel to stay, part of the Liz McGrath Collection, a luxurious boutique hotel.
Less than half an hour out of Hermanus and back into the mountains is the valley of Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth). Wine growing is relatively new to the Walker Bay Region but has made rapid strides and there are multiple award-winning estates with wine tastings, pairings, and restaurants.
The success story of the region is the Creation Winery. It is widely listed as one of the top 10 most beautiful wine estates in the world. Certainly magnificent, I would personally have a real problem judging between the multiple magnificent estates dotting the wine regions of the Western Cape. But I did enjoy an excellent wine tasting ably assisted by a charismatic vintner from Burgundy who was spending 2 months on the estate to study new successful wineries. He recommended their Creation Reserve Syrah and Creation Reserve Chardonnay as his favorites. They were excellent and I purchased both to take home.
At the beginning of March we truly hit the road for a planned two-week trip that was to be our first seeking wonderful new adventures since the onset of Covid. With our first destination we hit the Jackpot! Take the N2 out of Cape Town to Caledon, turn right (south) on the R316 through Napier, a totally charming village, and into Bredasdorp, then turn left onto the R319 for 7km and right onto a dirt road for 41km to the Potsberg gate entrance of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, flash your Wild Card or pay the park entrance fee, continue another 15km on a rougher part of the dirt road, and reach the parking lot of the Lekkerwater Beach Lodge. The final 8km are so rugged you are transferred to the lodge in a Landrover, greeted with a glass of champagne, and taken into the lodge for a briefing. Difficult to concentrate because of the stunning view outside.
Because of its unique situation and history, let me expand on this more than I usually do for places we visit. For background, in 1930 Bill Green walked or rode on the back of a donkey from Hermanus to Mossel Bay, a distance of over 300km on modern roads, and vastly more on the difficult terrain of the rugged coast. He was seeking the perfect spot to build a family fishing retreat, found it at this spot and named it Lekkerwater (nice water), not after good water, there was none, but because it was the perfect fishing spot. Fast forward to around 1980 and the South African government essentially confiscated all private property in this sparsely populated region to use as a missile testing base. Three years later the government reversed their decision, refused to return the land to the original farmers, and gifted it to Cape Nature, the government body controlling nature reserves, to expand the De Hoop reserve. The formerly Green house was then used by President FW de Klerk as his ‘Camp David.’ It was here he met privately to negotiate with the ANC to relinquish power and allow the country to become a true democracy. It was also here that he heard the news that he had shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela.
The original house was destroyed in a forest fire and the land leased to Natural Selection to build an exclusive boutique resort of 7 chalets on the original footprint, allowing a maximum of 14 guests.
The De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the most glorious coastal reserves in Africa, situated in the Cape Floristic Region, one of 6 worldwide, and boasting 3 vegetation types, dune fynbos, mountain fynbos, and coastal fynbos. The coast is a marine protected area, with fishing banned for hundreds of kilometers. Without any other habitation for miles around, nature is at its ultimate best.
Amazingly this region has recently been proven to be the true ‘cradle of humanity,’ of homo sapiens. Previous understanding was that the earliest evidence of human ‘thinking’, of any art, science, or technology, dated back about 40,000 years to caves in Spain, France, and Indonesia.
Now evidence from caves about 6km along the coast from Lekkerwater proves that homo sapiens started creating symbols in their heads and transferring these onto rocks, beads, or shells about 75,000 – 100,000 years ago. DNA and other evidence suggests that ancestors of every individual on the planet originated from maybe 300 breeding pairs of humans living on this strip of coast about 4,000 generations ago. I guess that makes us all Africans and all related!
Next stop was Knysna and our favorite hotel there, the St James Boutique Hotel, years ago also the favorite of Royals including Princess Diana who reputedly stayed there. I have previously described all this in past newsletters and will not do so again.
What can one say about the best laid plans of mice and men? On our first day in Knysna Covid hit. Despite double vaccination and a recent Booster, Moira caught the virus, became really ill, and spent a week in the St James suite. Sandy, the Manager, and her staff were truly incredible. Instead of continuing to a couple more real adventure stops as soon as Moira was out of isolation we returned to Cape Town. So regrettably I end this letter by reflecting that it not always easy to think on the bright side.
Cape Town, The Ides of March 2022.