At the end of our first week we check out of Chapman’s Peak Hotel which has served us really well. Great breakfasts, if a little slow and relaxing evenings in the verandah restaurant eating seafood and always, in Ted’s case, rare red meat. We are now to head for Wine Country via Hermanus where we have an overnight stay with an exciting booking for the following day.
Our journey will take us past the Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and it is here that we stop to find something to eat and drink. The formal restaurant is fully booked but this does not matter because there are tables and benches and an open grassy area with filled sacking bales to sit on. There is a small market with some fast food outlets serving South African specialities, such as Potjike for example. Nick and I have a plate of this and we all drink fizz. Whilst we are there we witness the wonderful spectacle of the Indian Runner Ducks setting off to work. The image of a vineyard that most of us have is perhaps neatly trellised rows of lush green vines with their leaves gently waving in the wind. We will see these when we arrive at Franschoek. This wine estate is different however because each day a veritable army of ducks is set loose amongst the vines for farm work. This work consists of picking off snails and other pests which can plague the vines. A byproduct of this activity must inevitably result in adding to the fertility of the soil. These ducks have been carrying out this service in the vineyards since 1984. By now the estate has its own breeding programme for the birds. Unsurprisingly the name of the company is Runner Duck Wine.
So we spend a very happy interlude in the sunshine. As well as feeding ourselves we are able to buy a bag of food to feed the ducks 🙂 We buy a bit of bubbly to take with us and then rejoin the main road that will take us through to Hermanus. Originally called Hermanuspietersfontein, but shortened in 1902 as the name was too long for the postal service, this is a town on the southern coast of the Western Cape. It is famous for whale-watching and is a popular retirement town. The whales can be seen from the cliffs in the town centre as early as June and usually depart in early December. They were once hunted in the nearby town of Betty’s Bay, but are now protected to ensure the survival of the species. We are booked into the Harbour House Hotel which has a lovely position on the seafront although the rooms we are allocated are not particularly well positioned to enjoy views and such like. But we are only here for one night and it is late afternoon when we check in.
In the evening we go to a local restaurant, La Pentola, which is boasting Abalone on its menu. You only eat the foot of an Ormer but it costs us an arm and a leg to do so! And it is a delicious treat. I am not surprised that abalone is offered for sale around these parts, although I understand there are fishing restrictions. Driving along the rocky coasts there are extensive kelp forests and what is interesting to me is that you can see the fronds at all states of the tide. Around the UK you only see stooped kelp fronds floating at the surface at low water spring tides. They are called forests because in a sense the kelp stipes are like the trunks of underwater trees. The kelp species common to the Cape Peninsula and the west coast of South Africa include Sea Bamboo – Ecklonia maxima, Split Fan Kelp – Laminaria pallida, and Bladder Kelp – Macrocystis angustifolia. The kelp canopy provides an important habitat for thousands of species of fish, invertebrates and other seaweeds. Kelp species are tough and resilient, and stretching into the sea, often for many kilometres, they help break the great force of the waves offering protection to the nearshore ecosystem. Ormers can hunker down amonst the hard substrates on which the kelp stipes are attached.
I saw bleached, dead ormer shells on the beach by the small coffee shop on the southeast end of Robben Island when we made a day trip of pilgrimage. A couple of Asian boys had picked up one or two as souvenirs to take away after we had made a stop by the coffee shop. There were hundreds, thousands of shells cast up. As we were loaded back onto the coach to complete the tour of the island the guide refused to allow them to keep the shells, which seemed churlish although I am only too well aware of the restrictions around taking live ormers.
Before we had left the Cape Town area we had made a boat trip to Robben Island. It is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And with good reason. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. The island is situated in Table Bay, easily visible from the peak of Table Mountain. It’s name is Dutch for ‘seal island’ and it is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. ( Not surprising then that empty shells and other rejectamenta are washed up onto the almost flat shores.) The island is effectively a living museum and every year thousands of visitors take the ferry from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town for tours of the island and its former prison.