Individual, longer road trips had always pushed our time envelopes, ending up with a rush to get back to Hermanus. A closer-to-home mini-trip was in order. Of course, "closer-to-home" is a relative concept when confronting the vast spaces of the Western Cape.
Visiting Arniston at last
We must have been the last of the intrepid travellers we knew to miss out on Arniston. In fact, calling the place Arniston is a bit misleading. The most interesting bits are in adjoining Kassiesbaai and at the end of a short(ish) trek South to Waenhuiskrans.
Let's start with Waenhuiskrans and its grot (Afrikaans for cave seems most appropriate). Timing is all because it's not good to be inside the grot(to) when the tide comes in. That much is fairly obvious from the pictures but there is also the access to the cave which involves traversing large slippery boulders for a hundred metres or so before slithering through a low entrance to reach the final destination. And that's after you've descended a precipitous path of uneven rocks before you even reach the water. Not great when one's balance is compromised by Long Covid.
Shan got there first and took the following fab photos. She also established that, despite the fact you'd never get a wagon and attendant oxen down there, the cave was originally named Waenhuis (Wagon House) on the hypothetical assumption that if you could, they would fit.
Above: (top) A splendid shot from the back of the cave; (bottom left) Shan slithered forward for more of a view from the grotto's mouth; (bottom right) taken from outside the grot four intrepid surf anglers dice with the waves that would grab unwary tourists at a slightly higher tide.
Happily, we emerged relatively unscathed. A few cuts and bruises for me but not a scratch for my wife, the gazelle.
We repaired to Kassiesbaai for lunch. To Willeen's Art, Craft and Restaurant to be exact. This enabled us to do several things:
We strolled back to the 'Posh" bit to retrieve our car going a little bit past it to check out the small enclave of kerk and the odd restored cottage that were separated from the riff-raff by the Spa and Behemoth now occupying the central ground.
Above: (top row) Langklip beach at the Kassiesbaai end was by far the most lively and provided the backdrop for an enjoyable lunch; (2nd row) characterful buildings in the old fishing village en route to Willeen's and the beach; (3rd row) Shan at Willeen's and a meal of succulent fish; (bottom row) improvised sculpture and an informal housing unit pumping out a dash of reggae.
We retired to the BlueSky Arniston Guest House for the evening (although I did escape for a quick sortie to take some photos in the lengthening shadows, below). Despitebeing set a fair way back from the sea front, this was one of the best accommodations we stayed in during our 144 day odyssey.
Above: (top row) a kerk and historic farmhouse form a small collection of historic buildings on the "posh" side of Arniston/Kassiesbaai; (2nd row) some of the fishermen's cottages facing across the "Newtown" have been smartened up but most still retain a more informal and sociable air; (3rd row) heading to the beach to catch the last rays and perhaps a swim; (bottom) a kind of passeggiata in which car drivers are also participants, crawling along the few streets - don't expect to maintain even the 30 km/h speed limit at this time of the evening..
The next section of our journey involved skirting around the particularly wild stretch of coast to the North-East of Kassiesbaai, which includes the De Hoop nature reserve. Our primary point of interest was to be the Sijnn winery, which we had been told was doing some splendid things that were specific to the local terroir. As was often the case on our South African road trips, there were other unexpected diversions, too.
Above: map of the 650 km, 5-day inner circle of missed highlights, note to self - spend a few hours in Napier if following this route again, maybe time it for lunch.
Sijnn at last
"If you get a chance and you're passing Malgas, you must try and get to Sijnn wines," my friend, Daryl (Bikey) Balfour, pronounced.
'Er, Bikey, you don't just "pass" Malgas! Nonetheless, my heartfelt thanks because we did just pass Malgas but only because the primary destination was the Sijnn vineyard (at your recommendation, of course).
There were a few of bonuses along the way thrown into the bargain, too. A couple of these presented themselves before we even got to Sijnn when we were confused by the signs and had to ask for directions ...
Above: (top left) listen guys, this occurred on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere between Ouplaas and Malgas and we weren't quite sure we were on the right track - there was no-one else to ask; (top right) and yes there was a Dop Shop, together with an estate agent, a trading post and Grunters Restaurant and Pub (complete with disco), in the middle of vast scrubland with a few gravel roads heading in various directions; (bottom left) and yes there were two pristine Dutch cyclists in Grunters having breakfast, having cycled that morning across semi-desert from Swellendam, 45 km away; (bottom right) we resolved to return to Grunters after visiting Sijnn - we were definitely up for a burger and chips.
So now we really are at Sijnn
It would seem that I have been serendipitously dilatory catching up with my blogging endeavours in the week during which Tim Atkin MW delivered his much awaited 2022 SA report. Not only does it reveal that he has named Charla Bosman (née Haasbroek) his 2022 Young Winemaker of the Year but it also includes a comprehensive article on Terroir in his introductory section "South Africa at a glance - The 10 things you need to know."
This is important to this yarn because on that day in February I learned more from Charla about terroir than at any time in my previous half century of being a wine-lover. Described by Jancis Robinson MW as "the total natural environment of any viticultural site" it all became crystal clear sitting beside Charla on the Sijnn verandah while she gestured at the spectacular scenery in front of us. It was a glorious day with the Breede River valley bisecting the arid scrub on its way to the sea.
Shan and I were tasting the 2017 Sijnn White under the tutelage of its eloquent winemaker..
After a brief chat about the coincidence of two great young winemakers, Francois and Charla, having the same family name, and establishing that they were firm friends but in no way related, we turned to more serious matters.
This vintage of Sijnn was the White's 10th vintage. Charla noted that they were just beginning to understand their terroir which had brought about the most exceptional vintage yet at Malgas. The latest 2021 vintage is described by Tim and others as the best yet so I'd better be sniffing out UK importers before Sijnn fans have snaffled the lot.
Shan wandered off to admire the landscape while Charla poured some of the red vintages for me. The latest of these, the 2019 was awarded 96/100 points by Tim in his 2022 report.
I think the most fascinating aspect of this little bit of heaven on the edge of Malgas was that a decade or so earlier the terroir was being treated with extreme scepticism by fellow winemakers. Seemingly hot, dry and arid compared with other emerging regions such as Hemel-en-Aarde. But, enabled by owner David Trafford, Charla had a multi-faceted plan to harness the cooling sea breezes Malgas shares with Hemel-en-Aarde including:
I could go on (and on and on) so apologies to readers if I've been dwelling a bit about the winemaking details that were a revelation to me ... we'll be returning to Grunters soon for some soul food.
But briefly back to the fact that two of South Africa's foremost emerging winemakers started out in life with Haasbroek as their last name, I think it was Charla who assured me that it wasn't as unusual a name as I'd imagined it to be. Apparently, not even in the wine industry.
Thank you again Bikey for the suggestion, it was totally worth it.
Above: (top left) we caught the comfy wine and food tasting verandah at a quiet time of the year and were privileged to enjoy undivided attention; (top right) the Breede River winds its way to its mouth with what appears to be an extension of the Overberg in the background; (bottom left) Charla Bosman née Haasbroek and David Trafford; (bottom right) not too easy to find in the UK, Charla pointed me towards a Scottish distributor who was most efficient but didn't have much stock - will Tim's report make finding Sijnn wines outside South Africa easier or more difficult?
Grunters Restaurant and Bar at the Breede River Trading Post
Returning to the Breede River Trading Post and while consuming our fat boy (and girl) special burgers we contemplated this phenomenal establishment with not a dwelling in sight or within several kilometres. It must seat close to a 100 revellers at peak capacity. Unless they are all Dutch cyclists and/or horse riders, you can forget pistols at dawn. SUVs at closing time a definite possibility, though.
Above: (top row l-r) the trading post that is a precipitous few kilometres from anywhere on the Breede River; clearly they must entertain the occasional fisherman, given the name of the bar and restaurant; there is an ample sound system (which was currently blaring out Bruce Springsteen) and seating for what must be 100 diners/revellers; (bottom row l-r) Shan can't keep the grin from her face as she contemplates a fatty-burger a la Brucie; examples of some serious lavatorial kitsch - where does one actually find such things.
Ferry 'cross the Breede
It had been with a little trepidation that we committed to this route. As with quite a few remote rural locations in South Africa it can be quite tricky to obtain current information as to the passibility of roads. Had it not been for the drawcard of Sijnn we probably would have taken an alternate route via Swellendam.
When contemplating our travel plans we could only find info via the net. The following was a fairly typical entry from two years before: "It was with great sadness that we said farewell to the historic pontoon/ferry over the Breede River at Malgas. Since the first half of the 19th century it has transported goods, animal and vehicles over the River. However, it will soon be replaced by a yellow metal monster with no character at all. I salute the amazing men who harness themselves to the cable and walk the length of the pontoon to pull it 120 metres to the other side of the river."
I suppose it was a little sad but this was outweighed by the relief at finding the new crossing in place and working like clockwork. It's free, too, which is always a surprise to the British motorist. The passage was as smooth as anything; just a tad of welly/wheelspin getting off and up the ramp on the other side marred our stately progress.
Above: (top row) the pont approaches from the far side; our car embarking; (bottom row) we had to travel via the mouth of the Breede to pick up an easier road up to Riversdale; finally ensconced at our accommodation for the night with a glass of wine.
Tomorrow we would be breakfasting in prison before crossing the mountains in the background of the last picture above.
The last 3 days of our short road trip, taking in Garcia's Pass, Montagu, Greyton and Genadendal.