Ostrich Palace Oudtshoorn Wilderness De Hoop

Jan Leeming

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Shoreham Airshow 2007
Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.



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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 2nd April 2009


Sorry not to have written for a fortnight but I've been away and also rushed off my feet.

My son and two friends arrived in Capetown on March 21st and it's been all stations go ever since.  I'd planned a short trip to give them a taste of the Western Cape and we packed a week's trip into four days.

My son requested that we start our mini-adventure with a breakfast at The Hillcrest Berry Farm.  It's on the way to Franschoek and situated in a wonderful position with fabulous views down  the valley and up to Devil's Peak - all were suitably impressed.

Many years ago I discovered that the Garden Route is somewhat inaptly named as, apart from the mountain ranges on your left hand side, you can't see the sea for much of the time and it doesn't even start to get 'pretty' until about Knysna.  So I always go in the Oudtshoorn direction either over the Pass or through the Huguenot Tunnel, then to Worcester and Robertson and Montagu and along Route 62 which is now officially on the Tourist map.  It's a lovely route through mountain passes and the little Karoo - is virtually traffic free and only takes just over an hour longer than the N.2 route - which can be a nightmare with big trucks and lousy drivers.  Four years ago, my son and I were coming back to Capetown along the N.2 and we saw a BMW overtake a car which was already overtaking a truck and they were all going up a hill - Madness.

I told the Youngsters that we would visit Ronnie's Sex Shop which caused some mirth and speculation.  It isn't a Sex Shop at all but a Watering hole for drinks and food.  The story goes that Ronnie bought a farm and on it was a Farmstall which he duly called Ronnie's Shop.  One night his friends daubed in 'Sex' and the 'Farmstall' hasn't looked back since.  It's even on the official R.62 Tourist Guide.  Ronnie is a character and over the years I've been going there have seen it steadily improve - mind you the Graffiti on the walls remains just as amusing as is the collection of smalls hung all over the bar.  I hope he doesn't smarten the place up too much or it will lose it's charm.

I've stayed in Oudtshoorn many many times but a couple of years ago, about 20 kms before Oudtshoorn, I pulled off the road so that my father, stepmother and I could have some tea at an Ostrich Palace - not any old Ostrich Palace (built on the profits of the Ostrich Feather trade at the beginning of the last century) but the first one which has been in the Potgieter family for hundreds of years - Rietfontein.  Having been an interviewer all my life, I'm always curious and love finding out about people and spoke at length with Kobus Potgieter about all the problems facing the modern-day Ostrich Farmer.  At that time it was the difficulty of exporting Ostrich meat to Europe because of Avian Flu. It was at that visit I found out that Kobus and Elmare had some rooms to rent.  So on this visit, we booked into one of their 'cottages' - a whole house to ourselves.  Dinner was simple but superb and Seth (Jonathan's Flatmate) was bowled over by the Ostrich Fillet.  It was all served with such grace and style and breakfast was such a delight for the eye, you almost didn't want to eat the fruit.  Also, after breakfast Kobus gave us a very informative and interesting talk about Ostrich farming - much more comprehensive than the information you get if you visit one of the Commercial Ostrich Ranches.  (We all fell in love with the Golden Labrador - called Ou Nooie - Old Lady of the farm and called that since she was a puppy and the lovely black Kitten who insisted on suckling from Ou Nooie). Jonathan wanted to appropriate  both of them - so did I come to that.

The Youngsters didn't comprehend the time restrictions and wanted to visit the Cango Ranch, the Caves and do the Adventure trek (slipping, slithering and sliding along incredibly narrow passageways, climbing up steep 'pipes' and posting oneself through a 'letterbox' ) which Jonathan and I tackled a few years ago.  It's at the narrow end of the Caves and is the only part which is still 'alive' because it is still subject to permeation by water from the river - the rest of the Stalactites and Stalagmites are 'dead' - impressive but dull.  (J and I have visited incredible caves at Aven in Southern France - the size of which would swallow up St. Paul's Cathedral and glimmering and shimmering with a million crystals).  

They also wanted to go up the Swartberg and down the Mereingspoort Passes as well as visiting Prince Albert.  The Choice was theirs and eventually the caves lost out to the Passes and we couldn't have had a better day and better visibility.  For those of you who've not been to SA and Oudtshoorn, the Swartberg Pass is one of the highest in the South Africa (I understand) - a dirt road, craggy and steep.  Then you drive for just over half an hour and come back down the Mereingspoort on a tarmac road!  It was the route of the Old Voortrekkers and there are approximately 25 bridges over the river all with names depicting a story from the past. Names like Spookdrif - A supernatural light in the form of a ball of fire was seen at this drift - Steweldrif - according to legend the boots of Petrus Meiring's wagoner were washed away here causing him to return home for another pair; Boesmandrif - just beyond this drift there are broad, deep, clefts in the rocks where the Bushmen (San) used to live.  All these names and stories can be seen in the Information Centre at Watervaldrif - named after the nearby Waterfall.   This pass is  so different from the other end of the range - still with the incredible vertical strata but much more gentle and  with some vegetation and the lovely river running at the foot of the mountains.

The first time I visited with J he insisted on diving into the pool at the Waterfall.  It was so cold and he got out so fast, he almost walked on water.  That was in December so the water has had time to warm up and Seth enjoyed quite a long swim in the beautiful pool.

Because we were not going to be able to go on Safari, I thought it would be good for the party to see the Knysna Elephants.  So we positioned ourselves in Wilderness at a 5 star B & B called Serendipity.  Wow, were we in for a gastronomic treat - an amazing Five course dinner which would give some London restaurants a run for their money.  The chef, Liselle,  has won several awards - she does the cooking and Rudolf, her husband runs front of house.  Serendipity was a Restaurant first and then they added some rooms.  Liselle runs cookery courses and it's definitely on my 'To Do' list when I'm back in SA.

I'd taken my father and stepmother to the Knysna Elephants a couple of years ago.  Father is registered blind (Macular Degeneration with only Peripheral Vision) and really they are both too advanced in years to be bounced round on a Safari Truck - so the Elephants were a good compromise after they'd viewed Lions, Cheetah, Tigers etc. at the Cango Ranch.  This time our trip was even more rewarding as, once you've fed the Elephants they virtually come among you.  There were two cheeky little ones who constantly felt round for food  with their trunks.  The Knysna elephants were almost extinct and then a few remaining ones were given sanctuary, as were orphaned elephants from other places.  They've started to breed and it really is a wonderful experience to feed and touch an elephant.  They are so large but so gentle - Gentle Giants.

We moved on to Monkeyland  at The Crags near Plettenberg Bay.  This is also a Sanctuary for all sorts of Primates mostly who were kept as pets and then grew too big to keep in a domestic situation.  One isn't allowed to touch them but they are all over the reserve and we saw Ring-tailed Lemurs, a White Handed Gibbon, Capuchin and Spider Monkeys and many others whose names I've forgotten.  Well worth a visit.

The youngsters hadn't really shown much interest in Birds of Eden until they saw the size of the 'Aviary'.  It is the largest free-flight aviary  in the world and incorporates an indigenous forest with Waterfalls and elevated walkways.  Previously caged birds from every corner of the globe live here in free flight. The colours and varieties are phenomenal.  I'm not really a 'Bird' person but one is open mouthed with awe at the specimens.  Be warned, you need to earmark a day to see and do justice to the Knysna Elephants, Monkeyland (don't get confused with another Monkey World closer to Knysna) and Birds of Eden and you need plenty of space on your memory stick - and don't forget the extra batteries.  We saw roughly a third of their 170 different species.

We then had a long drive to De Hoop - A Nature Reserve.  The friends who recommended that we stay at the Buchu Bushcamp had omitted to tell me that it was nearly 40 kms of Dirt Road. It was approaching evening by the time we turned off the road just past Swellendam and as the day gave way to night, the drive seemed endless.  We did finally get to the Bushcamp, and as the name suggests it was rustic - yet another adventure.  Our meal was simple and the generator was turned off around 9.30 so there wasn't much to do although one could just about read by the 'Storm Lamps' they provided.  Next morning we awoke to the beautiful freshness of the fynbos, the birds calling and the Baboons playing.  They weren't very popular with the Bushcamp people as they'd totally wrecked the main building only a few weeks previously.  But the boys enjoyed seeing them



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