We had been counting down the days (weeks – months ) to visiting South Africa again, and specifically Swellendam and Buffeljagsrivier, since March 2020 when you-know-what scuppered all travel plans. Finally on the evening of January 3rd this year we boarded our flight.
Our long time dear friends Amanda and David moved to Swellendam from UK in 2006 and thence to Buffalo Creek, Buffeljagsrivier in 2018 – many Swellendammers know Amanda as ‘Mrs Gram’ – David was an early Mr Gram and musician, raconteur and wearer of very loud shirts………..until, sadly, May 2020….. when we had to say a long-distance final goodbye to him. We have waited impatiently since then to visit Amanda and enjoy the charms of the area once again.
Table Mountain showed all her glory as our plane approached Cape Town airport – finally! We’re here and started adjusting to a 35 degree temperature increase (UK was minus 2 just 12 hours ago). What is that blue stuff above us? We had not seen a blue sky nor enjoyed sunny weather for months so we were quick to discard several layers of clothes to expose our pasty arms. Efficient Avis car rental saw us quickly on the road to enjoy our favourite route to Swellendam via the gorgeous coastal road to Betty’s Bay. The quicker we can see penguins, the quicker we relax. They did not disappoint and neither did the lunch provided by a local project right beside the sea.
Onward to the N2 playing ‘Spot the Blue Crane’ along the way and my particular favourite (as they are such an odd shape!) guinea fowl mooching about the fields. In no time we passed the silos at Caledon which tell us we are getting close to Swellers and a sign reminds me that Bredasdorp is not far and that means a return visit to the wonderful Julian’s Pottery and restaurant. It is on the list but more about that later.
Have you visited the Ou Meul bakery at Riviersonderend? Do stop off, we did and loaded up with supplies and surprises for Amanda now under an hour away. Communication failed somewhat (noise in bakery? My tired mumbling?) while I purchased pies for our dinner…. I was advised to place them in an oven for 10 minutes but Amanda has an AIR fryer so I asked if that would work. I was confused about the expression on the young lady’s face and then realised she thought I was enquiring about reheating pies using a…. HAIR DRYER ….. Whoops. The pies were delicious BTW.
Back on the road and, I think, travelling a bit faster as our destination was now close. Soon we swept off the N2 for the final leg to Buffalo Creek where our dear chum was waiting for us with wine at the ready – she knows us well – hugs and smiles and yes some tears. Lyra the ginger cat was not so welcoming as she rightly cottoned on that her human Amanda would not be available to give her 100% attention upon demand. Despite her lowering looks, we felt such joy to be in this most beautiful part of the world where we were so happy to sit and enjoy the views of the Langeberg Mountains, feel the sun on our skin, listen to the birds and yes…. Wine of course. On the list was also a visit to restock gin supplies at Inverroche.
With so many acclaimed restaurants, how do we choose? In no particular order we thoroughly enjoyed Christelles Bistro and Grace& Merci for lunches, breakfast at Tredici, and dined at Koornlands, Woodpecker and La Sosta. We were spoilt for choices with special mentions for the Warthog ragout and a savoury crème brulee which while being a surprise to see them on menus (nothing like that in the UK) were absolutely delicious. The warm welcome and exceptional service from all the eateries we chose added to our experience of fantastic South African people and their restaurants. I must include in my memories of superb dining, Amanda and her Air Fryer (NOT hair dryer). Not being at all sure what an air fryer was, I am now a convert. What lovely meals Amanda prepared and in such quick time. I must get one! If offered a scotch egg by Amanda, say yes!
Even the supermarket choices were excellent! And perfect for sitting out on Amanda’s stoep playing cards, talking, talking and talking. Fun as that was, we have certain favourite wine houses to revisit plus new ones recommended by our local knowledge guru Mrs Gram.
Van Loveren is always a treat ( I’ve lost count now of number of our visits) as the wines are so good and the ambience perfect for a sunny afternoon of wine and food pairing.
Springfield has two of our favourite wines (Life from Stone and WholeBerry) and we were delighted to find them at Platform 62. What a great place to find so many favourites all under one roof! With a delicious café – but I can’t help worrying about the pig, Fanie.
Day trips were planned to Weltevrede (tricky to pronounce for this Brit to the amusement of our holiday group) for the experience of making
champagne! Cap Classique! The only place in the world (at time of our visit) where we could get hands-on experience of bottle disgorging, corking, caging and labelling with the addition of a secret ingredient we were able to choose depending on our taste buds. Amazing.
Continuing the amazing experience there, we had lunch in their Kapokbos Restaurant which boasts not only a wonderful menu and wine list but also, the most gorgeous views across their vines and white washed garden walls. I had the ostrich steak and the chef was full of bonhomie when I asked if I could have a different sauce with my steak (originally ginger was an ingredient and that is one of my foods to be avoided at all costs). Nothing was too much trouble, and the post main course wine tasting of their sweet wines, to choose what we’d like with our puddings, was fabulous. Of course we bought some, thankful that we did not overload our suitcases and had room for taking bottles home to the UK!
A special mention of Amanda’s business partner Graham who agreed to drive so we could all enjoy the wine. His choice of T-shirt that day “I would rather be fishing” said it all. Thank you, Graham! Sorry about the wine induced silly conversations and car journey games. Not wishing to push the friendship, we drove ourselves to the opening of the new Apricot Bar at Mez in Barrydale for tapas and music. Half price G&Ts, what’s not to love? and the food was amazing but we showed our age when we just wanted the ‘music’ to stop! Sorry to unassuming young man who provided the um ‘music’ which seemed to consist of just two bass notes on repeat. Is it an age thing? After a few G&Ts I just wanted a good old sing-a-longy like ABBA!
You do not have to leave Buffalo Creek for wonderful things to do. If you have the chance of a sundowner at Umshanti on the dam on Kosie’s boat, say yes. Puttering sedately – so you do not spill your wine perhaps? – past banks of weaver birds’ nests and the nighttime home of white cattle egrets within the gorgeous scenery of the mountains to a secret waterfall. What a way to spend an evening. Buoyed (see what I did there?) with enthusiasm, the following day I decided to have a go at canoeing – after half an hour of trying to get onboard the thing – it was great and I coasted back to the waterfall which, under sunlight, shone with copper hues so I have named them Copper Falls. So beautiful. A word of caution when onboard a canoe, it is easy to become wedged when trying to perform a U-turn, I recommend reversing out! The warm water of the dam invited swims and there were a number of restful mornings reading, having a dip and repeat.
Not far away by road were more places we were keen to revisit. Cape Agulhas then onto Struisbaai to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean, see Parrie the stingray and have fish and chips on the beach was one trip we particularly enjoyed.
We cannot get enough of them. Minutes from Swellendam and Buffeljagsrivier (first time typed without resorting to spellcheck) is Kwetu, a game park on the doorstep – Swellendammers are all so lucky and I hope visit regularly. Our UK friends Ros and Charlie are mad about giraffes and, if you visit Kwetu you will see a wooden plaque announcing that Ros and Charlie from the UK sponsor the two Giraffes at Kwetu, Melvin and Sophie. Such is their love of these amazing creatures – and, like us, all things South African. It was fun to see all the animals and to report back to the UK that the giraffes are thriving. Kwetu is the only place that we have seen the majestic Sable Antelope so it was lovely to see him again along with old favourites the various boks and wildebeests. Don’t tell the others but Melvin and Sophie have a special place in our hearts too.
For something a little wilder, we went on a half day game drive to the Garden Route Game Lodge – also not that far from you – to see the big and bitey animals from the safety of a safari vehicle. The lodge itself is so pretty with its views and thatched roof and lunch there was delicious. Added jeopardy was when we spotted a boomslang snake trying to get in for a lunch table!
We alerted the staff, and it was safely and kindly removed and taken far away. It got our eye in, though, for spotting critters on our game drive. Joined by a lovely Johannesburg couple and John and Pam from UK, we seven had a glorious game drive seeing Lions, Cheetahs, Elephants, Zebra, Rhino, Buffalo and boks. Did you know? One of the elephants was the model for the illustration on the bottles of Amarula liqueur. A celebrity!
UNDER THE OAKS
In between adventures in the nearby area, we enjoyed the Saturday morning at Under the Oaks market in Swellendam which was enhanced with incredible live music.
Tino – you will be / ARE a big star.
What an enjoyable way to spend a few hours….. market stalls (purchases made, all for me!) excellent food and cold drinks under the trees and new friendships as Amanda’s friends and neighbours welcomed us so warmly.
Love and thanks to Sonia, Alet and Debbie for your generous hospitality at your homes and, well, everyone we met – we look forward to seeing you all again. For those who know Alet, did you know she is a sound therapist? Steve and I de-stressed with her and highly recommend the experience – we are still feeling the benefits!
So, all good things must come to an end but no holiday can end without a special last day.
Our last day was truly outstanding. With our thanks again to Graham Chauffeur for the Day – who wore the same (washed!) fishing t-shirt. (What message are you trying to give us? Hmmm?) – we went to Franschhoek for a visit to Anthonij Rupert winery which included a tram ride around the beautiful estate, a visit to their motor museum housed in four immaculate buildings and then the good stuff, two tastings and a fabulous lunch.
Wow, what a way to say goodbye to our dear friend and the beautiful country she now calls home.
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