The Cape Escape – South Africa, September 2007

A wine and birds tour organised by Lys Hall's Grape Escapes


Fourteen, plus two leaders, Lys for wine, Ken for birds, not forgetting our driver Clinton [Click on images to see at full size.]


We were based at the Dorpshuis Boutique Hotel in Stellenbosch, which was an excellent central spot for our daily trips out into the surrounding countryside and vineyards, but was near enough to the centre of town for us to be able to walk to the shops and restaurants in the evening if we wished. After a long flight from Bristol via Amsterdam we arrived late on 19th September, having been met at Cape Town airport by Eugene, the coach company owner, and Clinton, who was our driver for the week.

Front of Dorpshuis Hotel Room at Dorpshuis 1st floor Room at Dorpshuis ground floor
Coutyard at Dorpshuis Hotel

Thursday 20th. Drove to Paarl, first to the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve to get our first views of birds and flowers (including some King Proteas), and an overview of the town itself. Then to the Fairview winery for a tour, tasting and lunch in the sunshine, looking at the goats in their tower, then back to Stellenbosch via the Kanonkop winery, where we had another tasting.

Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve
View over Paarl Goats at Fairview winery

Friday 21st. Headed to Boschendal for a trip round the winery and a tasting, then walked through the grounds for a visit to the Manor House, followed by an excellent lunch. Good views of a flock of Swee Waxbills in the grounds – a new bird for Ken.

Boschendal Boschendal reserve wine cellar Boschendal reserve wine cellar
Boschendal vineyard Boschendal Manor House Swee Waxbill

Afterwards continued beyond Franschhoek to the Boekenhoutskloof winery for another tasting, then back to Franschhoek itself for a stroll round the town, including a look at the Huguenot Monument.

Swee Waxbill Boekenhoutskloof winery Franschhoek Huguenot Monument

Saturday 22nd. One of our longer drives today, north via Marlborough to Darling, to visit the Groote Post winery. Spent some time working slowing along its access track, admiring a wide variety of birds, including a very obliging Southern Black Korhaan and some reasonably wild-looking Ostriches, and also the wonderful displays of flowers. Notched up another new bird here – a couple of Spotted Thick-knees, located close to three Bontebok by the road.

Southern Black Korhaan Flowers at Groote Post Bontebok

The owner of the winery, Peter Penz, took up for a walk to his nature reserve lagoon, full of Southern Red Bishops and Red-knobbed Coots, with a wonderful display of flowers nearby, then we had a comprehensive tasting on the terrace of their restaurant, followed by yet another excellent lunch. Peter Penz kindly located a couple of Blue Cranes for us in a roadside field before we set off on the long drive back to Stellenbosch.

Groote Post winery Lagoon at Groote Post Lagoon at Groote Post

Sunday 23rd. A wet morning, but it brightened later. Into Cape Town first, spending most of the day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, looking at proteas and sunbirds. The pin-cushion proteas were particularly fine, and we had good views of both Malachite and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. It's a good place to get good views of some of the small birds, though larger species like the Helmeted Guineafowl and Egyptian Geese are also easy to see.

In Kirstenbosch gardens In Kirstenbosch gardens Pin-cushion Protea
Showing people the birds Malachite Sunbird Orange-breasted Sunbird
Helmeted Guineafowl Cape Robin

Monday 24th. Once again into Cape Town. Most of us took the open-top bus ride round the centre, then up to the lower cable-car station for Table Mountain. Some ventured to the top, while the rest of us continued on the tour to the seaside resorts of Clifton and Sea Point and back to the starting point by the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Everyone else eventually ended up here, to spend the afternoon eating and shopping in the sunshine.

View of part of Table Mountain The open-top bus Cape Town from the lower cable-car station
Back of Table Mountain from Clifton Table Mountain from the Waterfront Rock (or Speckled) Pigeon at V&A Waterfront
Ken at V&A Waterfront, with friends Lys at V&A Waterfront, with friends

Tuesday 25th. Visited Groot Constantia for a visit to the winery and a tasting, then round to Klein Constantia for another tasting. The display area of the latter is especially attractive, with its mural showing the various seasons in the vineyards. Had lunch at Constantia Nek, then to Chapman's Peak Drive. Unfortunately there had been a rockfall, so we were not able to continue to Boulders Beach as planned, but we did at least get as far as the main viewpoint over Hout Bay, with no through traffic to disturb us.

Klein Constantia Klein Constantia Chapman's Peak

Wednesday 26th. Another long drive today, up over Sir Lowry's Pass and on to Hermanus. First stop was the Newton Johnson winery, some way inland along the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven in Earth) valley. Certainly a very beautiful spot, even by South African standards.

View from Newton Johnson winery Newton Johnson winery interior Newton Johnson winery cat

After a tour and tasting here we returned down the valley to the Hamilton Russell vineyard, where Anthony Hamilton Russell gave us a tasting of his chardonnays and pinot noirs, and explained the importance of the geology of the site and its effects on the various grape varieties. He also told us how part of the estate had been set aside to protect the native fynbos vegetation, a practice also adopted by quite a few other vineyard owners. After the tasting he then invited us up to his house, overlooking the vineyards, where he and his wife Olive entertained us to lunch. An unforgettable experience for all of us.

Exposed rock formation at Hamilton Russell Olive grove and flowers at Hamilton Russell Fynbos flowers at Hamilton Russell
Tortoise in H-R gardens View from Hamilton Russell's house View from Hamilton Russell's house
Anthony Hamilton Russell and the group at lunch Olive H-R, Mary & Linda Olive H-R, Mary & Lys

Afterwards we drove to the top of the ridge behind the house, to see about 20 Southern Right Whales dotted across Walker Bay below us, before dropping down to Hermanus for closer views of some of them from the shoreline in the town.

Thursday 27th. Back to Paarl again today, to spend the morning looking at Greater Flamingos, Great White Pelicans, African Spoonbills and a variety of ducks, egrets and herons at the water treatment plant that has now been turned into a nature reserve. Clinton found us an Italian restaurant in Paarl for lunch, then we returned via the modern Glen Carlou winery, not far from Paarl, for another tasting.

Glen Carlou winery

Friday 28th. Because of the Chapman's Peak road closure, we had a change of plan today, and instead of heading south-east to Betty's Bay, headed south-west along the shores of False Bay via Fishhoek and across to Kommetjie, for a breezy walk on the shore there, with some distant albatrosses and some rather closer African Black Oystercatchers, a flock of Swift Terns and a Pied Kingfisher to be seen. We continued down the coast via Scarborough (distant whales also seen offshore) and down to Simonstown to visit the Boulders Beach colony of African Penguins. Not only them, but also several dassies and a couple of extremely tame Crowned Plovers on a patch of rough ground. Had a good lunch in Bertha's Restaurant on the waterfront and a chance to look at the houses along the main street, plus the statue of 'Just Nuisance', a Great Dane that was something of a mascot during World War II. On our return journey through Fishhoek, we had excellent views of several Southern Right Whales extremely close inshore in False Bay.

African Black Oystercatcher at Kommetjie Crowned Plover African Penguin
In Simonstown Just Nuisance Southern Right Whale in False Bay

Saturday 29th. Our final day, but we still managed another winery visit, this time to Kleine Zalze, on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. We had a look at the vineyards and gardens (where Hadeda Ibises and Cape Francolins stalked across the lawns, as they did in many places we had visited), before a representative tasting followed by lunch in their obviously popular restaurant.

Hadeda Ibis at Kleine Zalze Kleine Zalze vineyard Clinton, Lys and part of group at Kleine Zalze

It only remained to return to Stellenbosch, finish the packing, and have a last stroll round the town, before Clinton came to drive us back to Cape Town airport to await our midnight flight back to Amsterdam and the UK.