Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Port Elizabeth's Hop on Beer Route Tour

The Western Cape has it's various winelands where one can take daily tours to taste wines and learn more about how they are made.  Port Elizabeth does have it's share of wine lovers, but the closest wines they can taste at source are in Plettenberg Bay so they usually end up having wine tasting events with Western Cape wines.  But how about beer?  Craft beer in particular.  This is probably what Tony Neveling of Gecko Tours here in the Bay was thinking when he came up with the idea of a craft beer route in the city.  More exactly, the Hop On Beer Route tour.
I joined a few journo's, photographers and tourism peeps for the launch of the tour and although I'm not a big beer drinker, had a fab time tasting what is being brewed right here in Port Elizabeth.  The tour starts in the parking area at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars and hopped onto a bus that was to shuttle us around to the three breweries that we were going to be visiting.
Out first stop was at the BeerYard in Richmond Hill.  The BeerYard has become one of the city's most popular gathering places for lovers of beer, where they may not always know your name (hope you get the Cheers reference) but you can write it on the walls with pleasure.  The venue is extremely laid back with the pool in the backyard even stating that bikini's are optional.  Ok, so it's probably not that laidback, but I'm sure that pool gets thoroughly used in summer.  At this stage BeerYard produces two of their own beers, namely Car Park John and Two Rand Man, with a new micro brewery being built next door that will allow them to expand on their offering.  They do offer what is probably the biggest variety of craft beers in the city so you will be truly spoilt for choice when visiting for a cold one.  We didn't just have a cold one, but rather four cold ones, tasting their own two brews as well as another beer and a cider.  Then it was time to head back to the bus and move on to brewery number two.
Our second stop was at an extraordinary brewery which I hadn't heard of before.  Dockside Brewery in the lower Baakens Valley is a true artisans brewery producing extreme, exotic and extraordinary beers for a small but extraordinary niche market.  Notice how I have used the work extraordinary three times (four time now) in this paragraph.  It is because that is what Dockside Brewery is.  

I had never heard of Dockside Brewery before the tour, but I won't forget it any time soon.  They are located just behind the Herald in the Baakens Valley and have been producing beer for just over a year now.  Their beers are very unique and not to everybody's taste, but those who appreciate a proper craft beer will really enjoy it.  Personally I prefer ciders or a pilsner, but tasting their beers was an experience.  They don't compromise on quality, make sure they don't skimp on the ingredients and take much more time to produce a lot less beer than most other breweries.  Most other breweries produce ales in 11 days.  At Dockside they take between 42 and 56 days.  The other unique ingredient they use is spring water from the Elands River Valley.  So no municipal water going into their beers.  Another thing to note is that Dockside don't produce their craft beer in kegs as draft.  Their beer gets bottled and thus also allowing them to be sold directly to the public through the shop on the premises.

Except for getting to taste not just four (as planned) but all five of their beers, we also got to try beer bread baked with beer from Dockside Brewery.  They found the very first beer they produced not really to anybody's liking and decided to bake beer bread with it.  The beer bread turned out to be a winner and the decision was made to continue brewing that beer specifically for bread.  Now Dockside doesn't only sell beer, but also beer bread kits which we tried at home and was very impressed with the result.  Tour guide Tony couldn't keep up cutting the bread as the group was tucking in.
The last stop on the tour, eight (or was it nine) beer tasters and some beer bread later, was back at Bridge Street Brewery where we left our cars earlier.  In the few years since opening, Bridge Street has become an iconic spot where one gets to not just have excellent craft beer, but also scrumptious food.  We started off with a tour led by master brewer Lex Mitchell himself before we got to make ourselves comfortable in the tasting room.

At Bridge Street we got to taste all four of their own craft brews; three beers and a cider.  Amongst them the Celtic Cross Pilsner, my favorite beer.  These were accompanied by their lip smacking, hot out the oven pizzas.  The beer tour includes a meal so it wasn't a case of trying to impress us but rather to show us exactly what people on the tour would experience.  This would also be the end of the tour, but most people would probably opt to spend the rest of the afternoon or evening here at Bridge Street or perhaps head back to BeerYard.  Just make sure you keep to the limit or have a dedicated driver on hand if you are going to enjoy a few too many.  All in all the Hop on Beer Route tour was a huge hit with everybody present and I am sure as word gets out it will become a very popular tour not just with visitors but also for corporate and end of year groups.  Cheers.
Disclosure: I got to go on the Hop on Beer Route Tour as guest of Gecko Tours and Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.  I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The mouth of the Bushmans River

The coastal Sunshine Coast town of Kenton-on-Sea is flanked by two tidal river, the Bushmans River and the Kariega River.  Normally the area is a quite and peaceful area until the summer holiday arrive.  That is when mostly inland holiday makers flock to the area with a lot of them bringing their boats to enjoy the river with.  The Bushman's River, on the western side of Kenton, is the 2nd-longest navigable river in South Africa and offers a 22km stretch of open water.  The river is ideal for water sports or just a leisurely cruise upstream.  What makes it even more attractive is that fact that most of it is unspoiled and undeveloped due to a number of game reserves along its upper reaches. 
A trip out to the area a week or two three ago gave me the opportunity to snap this pic of the river mouth.  I know it's not the most exciting picture, but it does show how beautiful the place is.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A classy day at the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire

Anybody blindfolded and flown around the country before being dropped off at the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire would have been excused if they guessed their destination to be somewhere in the Cape Winelands after seeing what was around them.  They would have been very wrong though.  The JBC wasn't taking place in the Cape Wineland.  Far from it.  It took place just outside Addo at Africanos Country Estate in the Sundays River Valley of the Eastern Cape.

The JBC Affaire wasn't just another event with music and stalls.  It was something slightly different and brought to the Sundays River Valley some of the Western Cape's top wine estates, specialty food stalls ranging from cheese and cold meats to olives, oysters, chocolate and biltong as well as a craft brewer and PE coffee roasters Mastertons.  These were all  bound together with live jazz performances on stage and the most amazing food, flower and fragrance pairing demonstration.

The Damselfly and I left the KidZ with friends and headed out into the Addo countryside nice and early on a perfect spring Saturday morning.  The beauty of the valley this time of year is the striking fragrance of citrus blossoms in the air and one just can't help but to pull over and suck in lungs full of it.  We arrived at Africanos just after the doors opened and before the crowds started coming in which gave me a chance to have a look at all the food stalls and take some pics.

The wine section of an event like this is always a huge attraction and the glass we received at the door came in very handy when wanting to taste some of the wines on offer.  Wine estates on offer included Calitzdorp Cellar, Ken Forrester, Simonsig, Beyerskloof, Cape Point Vineyards, La Motte and a couple more so there was something for everybody.

The program on stage started at 10 am with a different band going on every hour.  While we were there there were some excellent performances by Khanyiso, the John Edwards Trio and Cosa Nostra with a few more that we didn't get to see.  I'm not one who can sit and listen to Jazz all the time but the music on stage was the perfect backdrop for enjoying the food and wine on offer.  I even caught myself bobbing along with the beat at one stage.

As I have said already, there was really something for every taste on offer at the JBC.  Claus the Cheeseman from Knysna had a great variety of cheeses, cold meats, salami and artisan breads while those who like their meat dried could pop by Kirkwood's Famous Karoo Butchery's stand.

People went to the Laharna stand to try their olives, chillies, sundried tomatoes and herbs and most enjoyed it so much that they came away with tubs of olives and other goodies.

The Sundays River Valley is famous for elephants and oranges and oysters couldn't be further removed from what the area has to offer, but oysters turned out to be one of the most popular treats at the JBC.  I always thought that the first dude to dare throw a raw oyster down his throat must either have been very hungry, very stupid or very brave.  He must have known something cause as we know oysters are regarded a delicacy by many today.  Some even believe it to be an aphrodisiac.  Whatever you think, the Oyster Bar did a roaring trade of both the traditional raw oysters as well as a yummy deep fried one that I got to try. 

The coffee and chocolate lovers wouldn't have felt left out with what was on offer.  Sjukla's hand-made Belgium chocolates are delectable, especially those with a hint of citrus in them.  Right next to their stand Mastertons' barista was waving his magic coffee wand for those in need of a caffeine fix or some chocolate covered coffee beans.

Not everybody are into wine, but the organisers had thought of that as well.  They also had craft beer on tap brought to the valley by the Dragon Brewing Co as well as craft ciders by Everson's.

The highlight of the JBC, for us anyways, was the Neroli Fragrance Experience which involved food, flower and fragrance pairing during an interactive session in the Africanos hall.  The food bit was done by South African TV and Kokkedoor chef Mynhardt Joubert...  

 ... while the flower arrangements were done by PE based German Master Floral-Designer Fayette Scherwinski who is a floral magician. 

Flowers decorations and topped up glasses were the order of the day

The one hour session, done at 11 am and 2 pm on both days, didn't just involve us sitting and watching a cooking and flower demonstration.  It involved interaction as well where all six senses with us getting to see, touch, taste and smell the food, flowers and perfumes; and of cause listening to the experts.

While the demonstrations were on the ladies were encouraged to try out the DKNY scents on display while one lucky lady from the audience also got to have a makeover.  Wine glasses got topped up and taste buds were tantalised.  Some of the delicacies Mynhardt and his assistant dished up was an instant meringue with citrus rind, a quick sticks cheesecake with lavender flowers in it and various spreads and dips (sorry, but at a loss for a proper description for it) that went with the proper meringues and fresh fruit that also went onto the table.

One of Fayette's table decorations

Once the food and flower demonstration was done the final products were used to set the table in the middle of the hall.  It wasn't just a case of dishing everything up on plates.  It goes straight onto the table. 

Then it was our turn and spoons were dished out - excuse the pun - and we were invited to tuck in straight from the table.  We were encouraged to try different combinations and to even try some of the flower petals with the food.  Truly a very unique experience and very well presented.

All in all the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire was an absolute breath of fresh air.  There are a lot of artisans and country markets all over the show these days, but there is definitely a market out there for something like this.  Something a little more sophisticated combining good food, wine and music in a controlled environment.  When I first heard about the JBC, I have to admit, I had my doubts.  Those doubts vanished like mist in front of the sun after visiting and seeing what they had to offer and I am sure that next year will be even bigger and better.

Disclosure: We received tickets to visit the Jazzy Boozy Cheezy Affaire from the organisers  and visited on the first day of the event.  Our transport and all other costs were for our own account.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A very unusual beach

Can you guess where this beach is?
Technically it's not a beach.  Not a coastal one anyway.  It is the sandveld on the banks of the Bloemhof Dam on the border between the North West Province and the Free State.

Bloemhof Dam was built in the late 1960's and is located at the confluence of the Vaal River and the Vet River.  At 25 000 hectares the dam with it's 4 270 m long dam wall is one of the largest in South Africa.  The dam itself is very shallow as it isn't located in a gorge and stretches up to a 100 km upstream from the wall. 

The area around the dam has been declared a protected area with the Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve on the North West side is the more prominent Sandveld Nature Reserve in the Free State.  The Sandveld Nature Reserve is one of South Africa's top birding spots with 295 bird species recorded here as well as game like giraffe, buffalo, eland, gemsbok, and rare sable and roan antelope.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Karoo rain selfie

I enjoy taking selfies.  It is something one has to do if you travel solo a lot (which I normally do when travelling for business) and want to at least be in a picture.  Selfies are also a way to tell people "Look where I am and you're not" making it a great tourism marketing tool.  Driving back to Port Elizabeth from Johannesburg I was on a quiet road between Steynsburg and Hofmeyr in the Karoo and stopped to stretch my legs.  There wasn't a car in sight so I decided to do something I have seen a lot of bloggers and Instagrammers do.  Take a selfie with the camera on road level while standing right in the middle of the road.  Plus it started raining so I could do the stretch out my arms and feel the rain pose.  This was the result.  One moment I like the picture and the next it feels all wrong (what with lines and thirds and all).  I know I need to work on it a bit but lessons have been learned ala Heyneke Meyer and the Springboks.  So what do you think? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Karoo windpomp

Two birds with one stone.  In this case two Karoo icons in one shot.  A windpomp and a couple of Karoo koppies.  In this case the Koffiebus and Teebus outside Steysnburg.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Karoo road works stop-go scenery

Some people absolutely hate stop-goes at road works.  I used to be one of those but recently have changed my whole outlook on them.  I make a point of it to get out the car at each one to stretch my legs and to take in the surroundings.  Even chat to the driver of the car in front or behind me.  A week or two ago I drove up to Johannesburg for the Getaway Show and encountered road works on the way up just north of Middleburg and on the way back just south of Cradock. 
My stop outside Middelburg was early morning on a grey cool day in the Karoo.  While the cars were passing from the front I was taking photos of the silhouetted Karoo koppies with a farm fence in the foreground.  Spot the windpomp on the left?

The drive back had me encounter a spot of rain.  Something that is always welcomed in the Karoo.  The road works on the N10 has been going for a little while now and they are progressing quite nicely.  The rain was brought on by a cold front and I loved seeing the mist on the mountains next to the road.  Other drivers standing at the stop go usually look at me curiously when I pull my camera out at spots like this while everybody else is sitting in their car being agitated.  I hope them seeing me take photos make them notice the surroundings a bit more as well.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A quick trip through the Bloukrans River Pass

The Bloukrans River Pass must be one of the most beautiful passes in the Southern Cape and Garden Route areas.  Unfortunately after the 2006 floods part of the road was damaged and rather than repairing it, the road was closed.  Although officially closed it isn't blocked off and there is nothing stopping cars from driving down it so that is just what I did a couple of weeks ago returning to Port Elizabeth from The Crags.  There are sections where there has been rockfalls and one has to be careful, but nothing so bad that you can't safely negotiate the road.  The nice part of it is that you are unlikely to encounter any other cars so there is a sense of peacefulness and isolation to the pass.  We stopped at the bottom to have a look at the river, but as it was a rainy day we didn't stay long.  Also the reason for a lack of more pics from the trip.

I am a huge "Walking Dead" fan and driving along the pass' leave covered road gave me that feeling of being somewhere in the series.  If you don't follow the series you won't get it, but I'm sure there are a few who do.  I'll hopefull get another chance to drive through again soon and hope to snap more pics while the sun shines.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Cradock Moederkerk

Driving through the Karoo Heartland town of Cradock the other day I just couldn't help but to stop and snap a few pics of the "Moederkerk" in town.  I've played around with a couple of effects and this is what I came up with. Oh yes, and what is a post without a little bit of interesting historic info?
The first Dutch Reformed congregation (and also the first church) in Cradock was established in 1824.  The present building was completed on the original site as the first church in 1868.  The building's design was based on St. Martins-in-the-Field on Trafalgar Square in London.  At the  opening ceremony the builder refused to hand over the door keys as he hadn't been paid everything owned to him (sounds familiar?).  Appeals when out to those in attendance and an amount of money was raised on the spot, enough to satisfy the builder.  During the Anglo-Boer War (1899 - 1902) the church roof was used as a lookout post by the British troops who garrisoned the town. as it was the highest spot in town. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hart Cottage at Glen Avon Farm

I told you a little bit of the history of Glen Avon Farm and the historic Glen Avon Watermill outside Somerset East in my previous post.  Glen Avon has a number of other old buildings on the property with the oldest being Hart Cottage.  Built around 1817, Hart Cottage is the only remaining of three of the original cottages built on the farm.  It's was painstakingly renovated and is being used as self catering accommodation for visitors to the farm.  In the background on the right is one of the farm's two old homesteads.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The historic Glen Avon Watermill

A week or two three ago I got to spend an evening on the historic Glen Avon Farm at the foot of the Bosberg Mountains outside Somerset East.  A stay at Glen Avon consist of true farm hospitality like you can only get in the Karoo and the B&B's surroundings is just what you need to get away from the city and take in farm life.  The highlight of my stay though, which was way too short, was a visit to the historic Glen Avon Watermill.
The history of Glen Avon is closely intertwined with that of Robert Hart.  Hart first came to the Cape in 1795 as an 18 year old private.  He returned there a second time as an officer (and a married man) in 1807 and was stationed in Grahamstown under Colonel John Graham.  Robert Hart was put in charge of the experimental farm which provided supplies to the army.  In 1825 the farm was closed down and the town of Somerset East was laid out on the land.  Hart was given land next to the town where he built a homestead.  The farm was called Glen Avon and it was here where Hart pioneered Marino sheep farming and also grew citrus fruit and grain.  The grain production in the area became so successful that he decided to build a commercial mill to be used for all the neighbouring farms.  

The equipment and machinery for the mill was imported from Leeds in England, brought by ship to Algoa Bay and carted by ox wagon across the Zuurberg Pass to the farm.  Although the mill hasn't worked since the mid 1990's most of it is still in working condition. 
The one part of the mill that is in visible need of repair is the chute that funnels the water to the wheel itself.  Unfortunately the floor wasn't replaced properly by the contractor when it was last renovated and have rusted holes throughout the length of it.  How I would have loved to see that old wheel turn. 
During our tour around and through the mill I photographed a couple of interesting signs, but I have to say the one that drew the most attention was the one that said "No smoking or spitting".  I imagine it was to make sure nothing unwanted landed in the flour.

The mill has three levels inside and Bill Brown, a sixth generation descendent of Robert Hart, explained the whole process that was followed when the mill was in use.  On the last leg of the visit he took us up rickety steps to the top level and you won't believe what we discovered there.  The Bat Cave.  No Batman though.  Needless to so a couple of ladies in the group high tailed back down the steps to get outside at this stage.  Anyhow, Batman or no Batman, the mill was so worth visiting.