In Our Element – Exploring the Wine Country

We left you at the end of the last post as we sat in our beautiful, remote cabin in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, soaking up the peace and quiet and making friends with the wildlife. That evening we watched a spectacular electrical storm raging on the horizon for hours, lighting up the whole sky.

It was a great display, made all the more magical by our surroundings, but it did raise our concerns about making it out of the park the next day in our ground-hugging hire car – any rain would make the mud roads impassible. We needn´t have worried, no rain had made it our way and, whilst it took us hours to reach tarmac again, the slow drive was lovely and the car made it out in one piece.

We drove the Hex River Pass towards Wellington, drinking in the endlessly gorgeous scenery.

The plan had been to have a full driving day zig-zagging through the mountains to Worcester, Wellington, Tulbagh and ending up in the city of Paarl for a one-night stop-over. However we stopped at Worcester for some food and ended up throwing the rest of the itinerary out of the window as soon as James spotted an outdoor shop where we whiled away the rest of the afternoon looking at binoculars, paint balls guns, torches etc. and spent far too much money! We spent so long in there in fact that all the cafes closed and we ended up eating take-away pizza in the car!

We arrived in Paarl early evening via the Du Toitskloof Pass but the weather had turned and much of the views were hidden by clouds, mist and the odd drop of rain. When we arrived, we saw that Paarl was a much larger city than we had anticipated. I was quite pleased we weren´t staying as we are both kind of citied out. There was just one stop before we escaped in the morning – one of the prisons that had housed Nelson Mandela and where a statue has been proudly erected in his honour.

From there we lost no more time in heading straight out to the wine country, full of excitement and anticipation. We had heard great things about South Africa´s food and wine capital of Franschhoek and expectations were high.

We were not disappointed! Our AirBnB was a cosy little farm directly opposite one of the main vineyards and about 3km from the centre of town. We wandered around the centre peering into art galleries and estate agent windows, had a wonderful lunch at a fantastic restaurant for the princely sum of €18 and then spent the rest of the afternoon in La Cotte….

Not just wine, they sold hundreds of French cheeses as well – I wanted to move in! We left €100 lighter in the pocket but with 7 bottles of wine and port, a hundred weight of various cheeses and silly grins on our faces.

But this was just the start. The next day we were up early and heading for the Wine Tram. Just as dangerous as it sounds! Trams start running at 9:30am and continue all day taking you to as many vineyards in the area as you can manage. Each one offering wine tastings, cellar tours and – of course – wine to buy.

We were restrained, we didn´t start until 10:30am but we were welcomed onto the tram with our first glass of wine. Today was going to be interesting!

Our first vineyard was Grande Provence and we were taken from the tram to the vineyard itself in style.

Once there, in the middle of some beautiful vineyards we started as we intended to continue with a 5-wine tasting experience.

From there to Rickety Bridge where we held back and went for the 4-wine tasting but gave in to temptation and bought a very special bottle of limited-edition wine which we now need to find a special occasion to drink…maybe to celebrate when the last member of the Sidetracked team finally makes it to Cape Town??

The day continued in style with gorgeous views everywhere….

And wine of all shapes and sizes flowing all afternoon…..

Until I finally waved the white flag at 4pm and we wandered back to our farm to sleep it off!

Franschhoek is a place after my heart – good wine, plentiful cheese, great food. Rolling countryside with vineyards as far as the eye can see and very little else. If we were to decide to settle in South Africa this is where I would be. I felt comfortable, settled and in familiar territory. It did occur to both of us later that the three places we have seriously considered as a forever home – France, Portugal and Franschhoek – all have one thing in common….vineyards!

But all good things have to come to an end, and with heavy hearts – and the estate agent details for a small Franschhoek farm in my pocket – we jumped back in the car and headed for Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch is still wine country and generally considered to be more famous for its wines than Franschhoek. But it´s a larger town, less cosy and friendly, more like real life than a fantasy bubble! We were in no mood for more wine tours today so pootled around the town looking at the numerous art galleries and outdoor shops and chatting to the locals. We were learning a lot about living in South Africa and it´s very interesting to see that everyone has a very different view on life here – some more positive than others. It´s hard to know what the reality would be like, it seems to depend so much on exactly where you live, what you do and how lucky you are.

The architecture in Stellenbosch is lovely, very colonial and a little art deco. Much of the town is dominated by the University which does a good line in beautiful buildings.

And the art spilled out into the street, including this cute little guy, who I thought looked like he needed more cheese!

Our road trip was coming to an end and Cape Town was beckoning once again. We had re-booked our original AirBnB and were looking forward to meeting up with some of our old west-Africa group who had finally made it to the city that day.

First stop was to return the hire car. We had had it valeted and James had stuck some bits back on that the gravel and mud roads had dislodged. The hire car people were delighted with its condition and we were very relieved! As we walked away I felt a large burden lift, I hate hiring cars!

The rest of the day was lovely. We met two of our friends for lunch at the Waterfront then wandered back to our place via Bo Kaap with them – smiling at the eclectic wildlife sharing the green spaces.

Including an almost demonic albino squirrel….

We drank wine, ate grapes and put the world to rights. Meeting up with these guys was like seeing old friends. Talking about the highs and lows of the trip brought memories and feelings flooding back. The sights, sounds, smells. The frustrations, the achievements and the emotions.

South Africa is a very different place to west Africa – prosperous, westernised, familiar, cooler! Somehow the intensity of our travels has diminished but we have only just scraped the surface so far and of course we are one important member of the team short!

There was one thing left to do on our Cape Town itinerary that we had not managed to fit in first time round and that was to climb Signal Hill. It was a bit of a hike but cooler, shorter and less steep than the climb to the Table Mountain cable car a couple of weeks earlier.

The views were spectacular.

But we decided against taking the quick route down!

And then all that was left to do was to jump in a taxi and head for the farm run by our Cape Town shipping agent to await the arrival of Henry.

Our accommodation isn´t too shoddy, but it is getting a little chilly as South Africa heads into winter.

There are a few other overlanders staying here, travelling in everything from huge Mercedes trucks to push bikes. We´re happily soaking up the atmosphere, sharing experiences and advice, and James is in his element looking round the various vehicles stored here whilst their owners take a break from travelling.

And it´s lucky we like it here as it looks as though we´ll be stuck here for a while! Latest update on Henry´s progress is not good news. When we arrived here yesterday his ship was moored at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, due to arrive in Cape Town on 10th – this Sunday. As of this afternoon the ship has left Las Palmas and the timetables have been updated – he is now delayed until 18th. Then we have 4-5 days to get him out of the port.

Will we ever see our beloved Henry again? What condition will he be in after spending 3 months in a container? Too many questions to bear thinking about, unfortunately way too much time on our hands now in which to keep asking them…..

5 responses to “In Our Element – Exploring the Wine Country”

  1. So jealous of all the beautiful sunsets and water surroundings you upload. I love sunset and sunrise, and the shots you’re uploading are gorgeous! Can’t miss all those wine bottles at your current place. I hope Henry gets to you safe and sound (and soon!!) xx


  2. Looks fabulous – what great photos. I love your thatched hut – hope you’ll be comfy there awaiting Henry’s arrival xxx


  3. So jealous of your drives in South Africa!

    We didn’t drive the Tankwa Park but looks interesting. We did drive from Clamwilliam to Wuppertal which ia a little north and due west of the Park. This was part of our week long wildflower drive. Maybe we will catch Tankwa Park on our way to Namibia next year. (Long story but we are doing Ireland/UK/a portion of France later this year and will return to Africa for nine months next year.)

    We also rented a car while waiting for our late arriving 4Runner. Big difference in a ground hugging vehicle and a vehicle raised and larger tires.

    We did all the towns and cities you did in the wine country. If we could afford a second home and maybe we could in South Africa I told Nancy I would like to buy in Franschhoek — if it weren’t for the 30+ hour flight from the U.S.?? The beauty, the people, the wine, and the food are difficult to beat anywhere else in the world.

    As always enjoyed the photographs and your writing. I searched you photo of the overland vehicles but didn’t see our 4Runner, Dang.

    May your drives be nothing but fantastic.


    Tom Allin +01-303-880-9765 ________________________________


  4. Paarl and Stellenbosch are in a truly beautiful part of the world ! I have a sister in Paarl and so know it well, I envy you (but its a good envy ; ) )


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