African shoestrings – South Africa Day Fourty one – Stellenbosch

One of these future expeditions was the now confirmed Kalahari trip that left in three days time from a place called Upington in the far north, so we thought we’d just relax and hang around Stellenbosch in the meantime.

Strangely enough after a day just ambling around, we got bored!  It’s not that we hadn’t been anywhere, we had visited the wine museum, a cheese factory and tried for the second time the main tasting cellar at the very inhospitable Die Bergkelder. It just seemed a bit dull! So the next day we upped the ante and hired a Volkswagen Chico, . This was our first introduction to this car. To describe it as small is an understatement. It’s tiny! But as you will see later on, its name would be immortalised in our memory banks forever.

We visited more wineries after a bit of hike in the Jonkershoek nature reserve, a mountainous area of small trees and scrub.

Generally the wineries in South Africa are of two worlds, there’s the breezy new world; similar to wineries in Australia with smiling friendly people, trendy cafes and restaurants with plenty of facilities for visitors or the dour starchy old world; whose employees obviously believe they have that rare skill in being able to weigh up potential customers by their dress.
These people are dinosaurs instead of seizing an opportunity to introduce new people to drinking wine they take the approach that if you don’t look like buying a dozen bottles you’re not worth the effort. Travelers dressed in shorts and a tee shirt obviously fit the mold, after all if you’re travelling on the cheap then you’re not going to buy more than a single bottle to drink with your can of baked beans that night.

Wrong!

The only thing that stopped us buying a couple of cases of wine and sending it home to Australia was the fact that nobody could tell us the actual cost supposedly on account of Aussie customs having a variable duty. Still the dinosaurs didn’t stop our enjoyment as we visited four wineries, two of which were standouts. Funny thing the friendlier the staff the better the wine. In the case of Hartenberg not only were the staff and surroundings excellent but the wines were also pretty bloody good too.

South Africa already has one own unique grape variety (cultivars in South Africa, varietals in Australia), called Pinotage that is well known throughout the world. Hartenberg introduced us to another but this time almost obscure unique South African red varietal called Pontac and it tasted bloody good!
As you can guess wine is one of my passions and given the platform I could talk about it forever.
My final comment about the South African wineries (they actually call them wine farms) is the amazing settings. Nearly every one of them has a mountainous backdrop, mainly because the Jonkershoek range cuts through and scatters itself around the whole area. It’s not particularly high, one of the highest is Twin Peaks (no, not the Twin Peaks) at around 1494 metres but they are dramatic, rising from the flat plains or in the case of the winelands, foothills covered in vines. And of course most of these wineries have positioned their cafés and restaurants to take full advantage of the location.
Having a casual meal with a good bottle or two with that sort of view is one of life’s great pleasures and temptations, which we didn’t unfortunately succumb too.

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Wine tasting glasses

Wine tasting glasses

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African shoestrings – South Africa Day Thirty-nine – Stellenbosch wine route

What the Stumble Inn did have and what backpackers all have is plenty of information in the form of a notice board and flyers. The flyers were mostly from other backpackers and other forms of budget accommodation plus the odd restaurant and attraction or tour from all parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.
We even saw a flyer from a backpackers in England! This is really an excellent idea and a great way to pick up info whilst travelling. Some of the busiest places even have an ‘expert’ who can arrange almost everything for you, but most have people with enough knowledge to book tours and accommodation and guide visitors to local attractions.
We took advantage of this when we saw an ad on the notice board for a six day camping tour of the Kalahari called the “6 day Kalahari experience”. Neil booked it for us but we still had to wait for confirmation.

Of course for us the biggest attraction in Stellenbosch was the wine route. This is a route that you follow to 29 different wineries, if you’re up to it!
We decided to hire push bikes and just visit a few. Selecting the flattest route we enjoyed ourselves riding through the vineyards and stopping off at three different wineries.
Staff at all these places were friendly, informative and happy to give us some of their time. And even though I am unashamedly biased towards Australian wines, the wines were pretty good too, especially at a place called Jordon.
Most of these wineries had character white washed buildings of the dominant Cape Dutch style with an excellent backdrop of mountains and vines. The fourth and last winery, Spiers, was more like a theme park. Two restaurants, a café, conference and banquet centre, Cheetah Park and a deli from which we bought picnic supplies, made us forget that it was actually a winery. We sat around the lake and ate without a care in the world as we watched families enjoying the park like atmosphere in the warm sunshine.

All this tranquility and relaxation came to an abrupt end, when we discovered one of the bikes had a puncture. Somehow we had a feeling that a place like this wouldn’t have any facilities to repair punctures for tourists pleasantly warmed by the gentle sipping of wine.
We rang the Stumble Inn and Neil said he would come and pick up us. He had actually warned us about these giant thorns that are found in the grass. Even though we had been especially careful to avoid riding over grass, one little prick had created another bigger prick in the tyre!

Well every cloud has a silver lining. Whilst we were waiting we went on the Spiers cellar tour and tasting. Peter, our young host was very entertaining even though he had this annoying habit that’s crept into our society, of saying, “you’re welcome” after being thanked for answering a question.

We ended up waiting around for a fair bit of time after the tour before Neil picked us up and then charged us for the privilege!

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A small winery near Stellenbosch beneath the Stellenbosch Mountains

A small winery near Stellenbosch beneath the Stellenbosch Mountains