Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The Vergelegen Wine Estate in Somerset West is less than an hour's drive from Cape Town yet back in the 1700's it took three days by ox wagon to get there.  In 1700 Willem Adriaan van der Stel succeeded his father, Simon van der Stel, as governor of the Cape and it didn't take him long to claim himself a modest 30,000 hactre piece of land just like his father had done with Constantia.  The farm was on the slopes of the Hottentots Holland mountains with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and was called 'Vergelegen' meaning 'situated far away' due to the distance from Cape Town.  Willem Adriaan planted vines as well as fruit orchards and also started farming with cattle and sheep.  Shortly after he left the Cape the estate was sold and divided into four separate farms namely Vergelegen, Lourensford, Morgenster and Cloetenburg. 
The old Cape Dutch style homestead has been turned into a museum offering visitors a glimpse into a 300 years of Vergelegen's existence showcasing select treasures of early Cape Furniture, objects and textiles.

Directly behind (or in front, depending how you look at it) the house stand five giant Camphor Trees.  These trees are the oldest living, officially documented trees on the sub-continent and was planted by van der Stel somewhere between 1700 and 1706.  The trees are officially protected and were proclaimed National Monuments in 1942.

To the side of the manor house visitors will find the Royal Oak.  The tree was planted in 1928 and according to the first plaque under it was grown from one of the last acorns of King Alfred's Oak at Blenheim Palace in England.  A second plaque states that acorns from this oak was personally collected on 23 April 1947 by His Majesty King George VI for replanting in Windsor Great Park.  Two other plaques commemorate the first visits to Vergelegen by Queen Elizabeth II (21 March 1995) and  Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall (5 November 2011).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Skateboarding down the Donkin

One of the things that the redevelopment of the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth has done was inadvertently create the ideal winding downhill skateboard (long board) coarse.  This has led to the first Donkin Downhill Dash taking place today.  The pathway, starting up at the historic lighthouse and pyramid with its crosses representing democratic votes past and future, makes its way down towards Chapel Street and are long enough for the top skaters to clock times of about 1 minute 22 seconds.

The turnout was quite good with over 50 skateboarders taking part and hundreds of people turning out to watch what is hopefully the first of many such competitions to come.  It was also the ideal opportunity for the photographers of the city to bring out their hardware and shoot the action with me starting to get some lens envy watching some of the guys click away with their big cameras and lenses.

After a couple of warm up runs the first heats took place with everybody getting a run.  It was a timed event which means a race against the clock and not against each other on the coarse.  During the lunch break the guys were doing free runs again before the second heat and it was nice to get a couple of photos with more than one skater in the picture.

This event and the venue has great potential to become very big and we will hopefully see both national and perhaps even international skaters here in future.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pink Vergelegen

One of the wine estates in the Western Cape I've always wanted to visit but never had the opportunity before was Vergelegen in Somerset West.  Earlier in the year I was in the area and pinched off an hour of my time to pop in for a look a this historic estate established by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700.  I'll do another post about the estate in general, but wanted to show off these two pictures of the old Cape Dutch style manor house seen from the garden which, on my visit, had the most beautiful pink flowers in bloom. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Citrus farm tour

While browsing around the stalls at the Patensie Citrus Festival on Saturday I heard the announcer say something about tractor trips to one of the citrus farms and I immediately went to enquire. Five minutes later the family was sitting in a trailer behind farmer Danie Malan's tractor in anticipation for the tour to his farm to start.

Along the way Danie stopped to tell us about the young citrus trees that we saw and how the sun can easily burn their trunks hence the trunks getting wrapped.  The second stop was at the lemon orchard where I got to hop off and pick a couple of lemons that went into dessert on Father's Day (the next day), lemon meringue.  After another short ride we got to the naartjie orchard, our main destination.
Everybody on board got a bag and could get off the trailer and pic their own naartjies.  Pipless and guaranteed sweet.  This is the type of thing that city folk love to do as most of them have never had the opportunity to walk between the trees and pick their own fruit.  This has great tourism potential for an area with city slickers going there for a weekend to experience the farm atmosphere.  The Gamtoos Valley has a lot of very good farm based accommodation establishments, so perhaps all they need to do is to offer the farm experience along with it and they would be able to attract even more people to the beautiful part of the province.  But I digress. 
The farm tour was by far the Kidz' favorite part of the day.  Especially Drama Princess loved picking the fruit and I'm sure she will enjoy living on a farm so much more than in the city.  The In-Laws joined us at the festival a little later on and also went on the tour with the Kidz tagging along again.  Like the farmer said, "They're my best customers." 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Patensie Citrus Festival 2012

There is just something special to small town festivals which you don't get in the cities and the Patensie Citrus Festival has that something special.  This past weekend the third annual Citrus Festival took place in the Gamtoos Vally west of Port Elizabeth.  The Gamtoos Valley is very much a farming area and produce both fruit and vegetables with potatoes and oranges being two of the major produce from the valley.  In actual fact the valley is often referred to as the food basket of the Eastern Cape.  The festival took place and and around one of the storage sheds in the town and gets organised by Gamtoos Tourism to generate funds to market the valley and create awareness for more visitors to come and experience one of the most beautiful areas in this part of the Eastern Cape.  Festivities started on the Friday evening already with a dance where well known country music star Lance James performed.
Our first stop when we got to the festival and one of the main reasons we went was the fresh produce stall.  Produce so fresh it comes straight from the farms.  Plus we paid less than half what we would have paid for the same stuff in the city.  Rather than trolleys there were farm workers who loaded your purchase onto wheelbarrows and pushed it to the car for you.  Real farm hospitality.
Because the area is one of South Africa's top export citrus producers, citrus is at the core of the festival.  The local Patensie Citrus group had one of the best stalls of the day selling jams, marmalade's and even a cookbook.  Another citrus related highlight was a farm tour on a tractor and trailer with farmer Danie Malan during which visitors were allowed to go in amongst the citrus trees and pick their own naartjies.

Entertainment and exhibits there were more than enough of with Dillon Lerm kicking off the on stage entertainment which went on all afternoon and well into the evening.  Outside there were tractor and farming exhibits, an old car and vintage tractor exhibit, a funfair and even a haunted house for the kids to go and scream in.  Well scream, laugh and giggle.   

Except for the on stage entertainment the stalls at any festival is at the core of things and without good stalls people don't return to these festivals.  And good stalls the Citrus Festival had.  The Gamtoos Tourism food stall were churning our pancakes, breakfast rolls and burgers while the roosterkoek stall on the other side of the isle just couldn't keep up with the demand.  Fresh orange juice squeezed and poured immediately was tops.  You just don't get that in the city much.  Outside another popular stall was the Pomegranate stall where the sold fresh pomegranate juice, something I've never had before.
Oh and cakes.  Did I mention the cakes?  The local church ladies had a table where they sold the most divine lemon tarts, cup cakes, carrot cakes and quiche.  What's a small town festival without the local tannies' cakes?  And in this case nice "hold in the hand bite size" cakes.

The Citrus Festival may not be as big as the more established Kirkwood Wildlife Festival but I kinda like it that way.  I do have a feeling though that in a couple of years this festival is going to be very popular.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shark Rock Pier in HDR

I've never used the HDR effect on any of my photo.  Some people over use it but making all their pics HDR although it does enhance some pictures beautifully.  My main reason though is because I don't have Photoshop.  Over the weekend I discovered that Picasa does have a HDR effect button (don't know how I missed it before) so I decided to try it out on a picture I took of Shark Rock Pier in Port Elizabeth last week.   

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Spider's house

I wonder what type of eight legged critter lives in this hole?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Somerset West ghost hill

When I was in primary school we went on a school tour to Cape Town and one of the places we visited was the ghost hill in Somerset West.  I remember how the teacher parked the school bus on the hill, switched it off and let go of the hand brake, making the bus free wheel... UP the hill.  I've always wanted to return and on a recent trip to Somerset West I made some enquiries and headed up to the top of Parel Valley Road to where I was told it was.  It took me a couple of stops and tries before I found it but I did.  The road comes up the hill before cresting the top and running slightly down hill from where the car is towards the camera.  Its as if somebody forgot to tell gravity that the hill isn't going up anymore.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What you're looking at?

A giraffe at Amakhala Game Reserve outside Port Elizabeth gawking at the tourists gawking at her.  Actually, she posed very nicely for us all to get a couple of photographs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sipping wines at The Wine Show

I never really "learned" to drink wine but that surely didn't stop me from attending and really enjoying the annual The Wine Show at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth this past weekend.  The weather over the weekend was miserable, wet and cold, so there was no better way to warm up the insides than going on an all out wine tasting safari at the show.
Most of the "big" and well known wine estates weren't represented at the show but this was perhaps a blessing in disguise because it gave visitors the opportunity to taste and discover wines from some of the country's premier boutique wine estates.  In fact I encountered a lot of wines that you can't even buy over the counter anywhere and which is only available by ordering direct.  The way the show works is that you get your glass at the door and then make your way around the expo tasting wines as you go.  And taste we did.
While some of the exhibitors just had their wines lined up on their counters, others went all out to showcase their wines along with breads, cheeses and flowers.  Even though we only visited towards the end of the second day, some of the exhibitors were still keenly telling us about their wines, estates and asking us which we preferred while others were just happy to pour away.
The wines varied from well bodied reds and light and fruity whites to bubbly sparkling wines and sweet dessert wines.  So like I said, I'm not much of a drinker, so by the end of my visit me head she was a turning a bit.  Looking at some of the other show goers I could imagine there were a few who may have been turning a tad more than  mine, but the guys from Goodfellas were on hand to take them home safely in their own cars.  So, did I learn to drink wine at the show?  I wouldn't say so, but I did discover one or two wines that will definitively make their way into my house in the near future.

Disclaimer: Our visit to the show was made possible by The Wine Show and Wine Extra.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hazy Durban sunrise

I was enjoying the slightly hazy sunrise in Durban when I noticed a ship approaching through the haze on its way to the harbour.

Friday, June 8, 2012

First time on the Gautrain

Imagine a bunch of small town children going to Johannesburg and getting to ride on the Gautrain for the first time.  Now imagine a bunch of small town adults having fun and really being in the spirit of things riding on the Gautrain for the first time.  Well, I don't know what you are imagining, but the experience itself wasn't much different than it would be with kids.  Big eyes, lots of fun, comments and laughter   Earlier in the year I attended a tourism expo in Johannesburg and a bunch of us decided to all have our first ride on the Gautrain, Gauteng's state-of-the-art rapid rail network.

The group came from all over with towns like Matatiele in the North Eastern Cape, Mossel Bay on the Garden Route, Malmesbury in the Swartland and the Cape West Coast represented.  Oh yes, and me.  It was like everybody was high on sugar or something the way they were hopping around and joking while waiting for the train to arrive.  And then it came... Actually it didn't, cause this one was going the other way.  But ours arrived shortly after.

The fun continued and the ride was no different so while we were flying along at 160 km per hour the cracking of jokes just went on.  The dude against the window landed up next to the group and held his pose very well while all this was going on.  He should have just gone with the flow...

Arriving in Sandton from Midrand we disembarked the Gautrain at the 45 meter, 6 storey deep Sandton Station.  This we didn't quite realise until we went up three long escalators.  Wow, what a ride and what a marvel.  The return trip was a little more subdued, but still the excitement continued and I am sure everybody are looking forward to their next visit to Johannesburg for another ride on the Gautrain.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New life

A fern growing out of the remains of a bush fire in the Groendal Wilderness area outside Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Durban beachfront panorama

Yet again I spent nearly a week in Durban for Tourism Indaba with very little time to get out and take a couple of photos.  I did get to take a walk along the beachfront at South Beach on the morning of my departure and managed this panorama shot from one of the piers.  Click on the picture to see the enlarged version.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Up side down... bottom up... side by side... this picture could be very disorientating

Sunday, June 3, 2012