Vredenheim Estate

Vredenheim is another Stellenbosch Winery where you can lose yourself in spectacular scenery and absorb country life only a short distance from Cape Town.

Apart from wine, the Estate is famous for its’ wildlife and it’s Big Cat Park in particular.  An assortment of antelope and Birchell’s zebra graze lazily on the approach to the main buildings while a lone male ostrich keeps vigil, but the estate’s best asset by far has to be the magnificent gardens surrounding a beautiful lake.  You’ll learn later too why I chose to focus on the garden.

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Approved by Cape Nature, the Cat Park is educational, allowing one to see an assortment of Africa’s famed big cats at arm’s length (sic) – think brown and white lions, caracal (Rooikat in Afrikaans), cheetah and leopard – along with two Bengal tigers.  I was taken by how knowledgeable the staff are and their affection for the cats is almost contagious, but I left feeling uneasy and saddened that these magnificent creatures are contained in a small space on a continent as vast as Africa.

Don’t get me wrong, the park is a sanctuary for many of the inhabitants, particularly the caracal who have long been outlawed by farmers in the Western Cape and even more so following a horrific and astounding 2011 legal sanctioning to cull 900 000 caraculs and jackals in the name of controlling livestock loss.  (See also http://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-16-zille-attacked-over-predator-cull)  Still, I’d love to see bigger enclosures that emulate their natural habitat.

Photographic opportunities are always limited when animals are kept in cages, but the tigers were by far the most entertaining, particularly at feeding time.  And when one decided to chew on a car tyre to either pass the time or relieve a dental niggle.  Even then the mesh spoils the moment though.

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Close Encounters

There are several arguments for and against keeping animals in captivity, and this includes wildlife rehabilitation centres.  It’s not something I want to debate here because that’s not what this blog is about.  It’s about living on the tip of Africa, one of the most spectacular places on the planet, and being touched by abundant and diverse wildlife.

Spier wine farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch is one of many to have embraced wildlife rehabilitation and incorporated it into the farms over the years, from their cheetah outreach programme to the newer Eagle Encounters raptor rehabilitation and education centre, where you can get up close and personal with a number of wildlife species and birds of prey in particular.

The (amateur) photographer in me will argue that being able to shoot semi-tame wildlife so close up isn’t a challenge and there is a lot of truth in that.  Canadian wildlife photographer and blogger Lyle Krahn recently likened it to shooting fish in a barrel and he’s right, but what I will say is that nothing can take away the thrill I felt interacting with a Bengal Eagle Owl and Wahlberg’s Eagle.  But I left the boa constrictor to my son :-)

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14-IMG_0741 19-IMG_0761 36-IMG_0822In one of the demonstrations visitors see a plastic snake with food attached being used to encourage a hand reared Secretary Bird to fend for itself while a greedy blue crane, endemic to the Cape Overberg farmlands, vies for attention.

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The best of many worlds ….

Another of the blessings that comes with living in the Noordhoek Valley is the country living.  Along with the ocean, the windswept world class beaches and the mountains, life doesn’t get much better than this.

Several times a year the Noordhoek Common bursts with activity, from the Country Fair to equestrian events, like this weekend’s Noordhoek Farm Village Horse Trials where my friend Carol’s horse was competing with a young rider.  It’s easy to kick your shoes off here, relax and soak it all up.

25-IMG_056507-IMG_0473 20-IMG_0519 22-IMG_0541 And then there was the horse that actually smiled for the camera :-)

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This is the spirit of the tip of Africa!

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Freshlyground, Kirstenbosch and 36 Degrees

A sweltering Cape Town pulsed with Afro-fusion when Freshlyground returned to Kirstenbosch again this year, notching up ten years of playing at this landmark venue.

The heat was an incredible 36 degrees C when the gates opened at 4pm.  People rushed to claim the seating in the shade and the entire 5000-strong crowd collectively sighed in relief when the sun slipped behind the mountains offering some respite.

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Sundays don’t get much better than this in the Mother City, where we are uber proud of the world class talent this city is home to.

Cuties at the Cape Town Tens

I spent yesterday watching my son playing in the annual Cape Town Tens rugby tournament, but instead of posting rugby photos I thought I’d share some snaps of a couple of toddlers who were having the time of their life on the sideline.

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The setting is unbelievable from Hamiltons Rugby Club in Greenpoint – with the stadium built for the 2010 Soccer World Cup looming on one side and the Mother City’s iconic Table Mountain on the other.

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I say this at least once a day:  I am SO blessed to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

Scenes from Stanford, the village around the Green

Stanford – only slightly inland from the coastal towns that make up the Overberg Whale Route – is the quintessential quaint country village.  Full of charm, artisans, crafters, arty folks and stunning eateries, life centres around the village green.  It’s easy to get lost there for a weekend and the Saturday market is a must visit.

Instead of taking the usual touristy snaps of churches and sunsets, I looked behind the scenes at what makes Stanford so appealing.

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IMG_8916The Stanford Table is among the delicious foodie places with it’s Tapas menu and interesting mosaic designs on the walls.  The freshly squeezed watermelon juice was that delicious I went out and bought a juicer – and of course some watermelons which were in season.

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Following local travel scenes for my upcoming trips using Travelogx

Cape Agulhas – the real Tip of Africa

It seems synchronistically appropriate that my 150th blog post is about the real tip of Africa – that southernmost point even more south than Cape Town and the Peninsula where I live and where the might of the Atlantic and Indian oceans supposedly lock horns.

I have wanted to visit for a while, not only for the photographic opportunities and a growing interest in lighthouses, but because I blog about how blessed I am to be living on the tip of Africa.  I felt drawn and obliged to visit.

IMG_8318-001You can’t miss the lighthouse as you come down the main street heading to the parking area at the official southermost tip.

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It’s hard to describe what it’s like standing in that magical spot marked with an invisible “X”.  In a way I was at the end of the Earth and expected something dramatic.  Instead the ocean was disturbingly calm and a pallet of turquoise wrapped around indigo, rather than waves lashing the shore in rage, or even gales.  After all, this is the treacherous southern Cape coast, dotted with wrecks of ill-fated ships.  Yet there seemed to be more chaos in the local caravan park-cum-camping area, which was packed to the seams with December holidaymakers.

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Meet the local Superette which can quite confidently claim to be the southernmost situated Cafe in Africa :-)  I found it ironic that even in a virtually unspoiled place like this, the big brands have still managed to stake their claim.

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Arniston

One of my favourite stops on my Overberg trip was in Arniston and the historical fishing village of Kassiesbaai.  Here generations of fishermen have handed down the tradition of making a living off this stretch of Cape coastline.  It was the day before Christmas when I stopped by and most of the locals were adding a last minute lick of whitewash to their cottages.  I also almost abducted a wriggly young Pitbull.  Almost. :-)

Like Santorini sans the Greek architecture, the cottage doors and window frames are painted in hues that mirror the ocean.

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In complete contrast on the other side of the bay, a collection of upmarket holiday homes.IMG_8202-001

Out and about in Hermanus

Two hours out of Cape Town and the capital of the Whale Coast is yours to explore.  I loved Hermanus, even in the silly season when the town was bursting at the seams with holidaymakers.  Whether you’re a foodie, nature lover, wine buff or there to just chill, there’s something for everyone along this stretch of southern Cape coastline and adjoining Hemel en Aarde valley - even when the whales have moved south for a season.  All you have to do is indulge!

Start with the coastline …..

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Then the eateries …..

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Browse for collectables …..

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Then hit the shops and markets!

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