Our land activities manager, Richard, had a great programme for us. He hired a car and we headed off to Simonstown for brunch. The seaside feel with the smell of sea weed and salt in the morning sun accompanied by the evocative call of the seagulls (Cape Black Backed) was quite unlike anything we had experienced for a long time. The lovely old colonial architecture of the town, with slender pillars supporting upper floor balconies, deserved more time than we gave it. I hope to go back for a longer look with Anne in January.
From there we drove on to the Cape Point Nature Reserve and, once through the toll gates, drove across an extraordinary landscape of low fynbos vegetation, peppered with grey boulders enlivened with streaks of orange and green grey lichen. Rounded clumps of intense white flowers mirrored the boulders across the flat terrain. Ahead the Cape rose up and we were soon parked and joining a steady stream of tourists climbing the long path to the lighthouse. A funicular runs up the hill, but we enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs. There were spectacular views down to the Cape of Good Hope, with richly emerald blue water surging in towards a white sand beach on which a flock of cormorants stretched out their wings in the sunshine. The swell broke heavily against the Cape rocks, and out at sea tiny white specks turned out to be fishing boats far, far below. I found a wall and settled down for a quick sketch of the Cape. But I hadn't left enough time to add paint because I had spent ages gazing down the vertiginous cliffs at the nesting cormorants with their orange patch below the beak, and various other birds too.
We were soon off again towards Franshoek, which turned out to be a long drive along twenty miles of sandy beach on the margin of Cape Flats, and then we turned up into the mountains, stopping periodically at viewpoints to admire the great depth of the landscape.
We were getting hungry by the time we stopped at La Petite Ferme, the first winery on our way down into Franshoek. They had a lovely restaurant overlooking the valley and the mountains, and our spirits rose at the thought of lunch. But they said they were too busy to feed us, and some started to leave, until Richard wisely suggested that we taste their wines anyway. At R$220 (R$18/£) per head we were introduced to 6 wines produced there. Richard, as the undoubted wine connoisseur, rated the Sauvignon Blanc as acceptable, but had reservations about the Bordeaux blend (which unusually included Pinotage), and was not impressed by the Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of aromatics from the eucalyptus surrounding the vineyard. As our lively Sommelier took us through the wines, he kept referring to delicious food which it should accompany, until I protested that they hadn't allowed us to eat! Thankfully he took the point, and arranged for us to be delivered a delicious cheese board each, as we sat out in the sunny gardens overlooking the mountains and rich green of the valley full of vines.
Time was running out, but we managed to try another vineyard, La Couronne, where they also managed to produce wonderful pizzas. The combination of bobotie and banana was inspired. Bobotie is a traditional Afrikaner dish, with Indonesian origins, made by softening old bread in milk, frying onions, cumin and other spices with mince meat and combining them in a big pot to stew.
The sound set dramatically wit ha flare of that rich evening colour over the traditional Cape Dutch architecture and the glowing vines, with the backdrop of the mountains rearing up like a wall behind.
It was along drive home, but Maria s the designated non-drinker, did a great job of getting his happy passengers back to Tin Tin.
The next morning we rose early(ish) and set off to climb Table Mountain via the Plettenklip Ravine. It's the steepest ascent, and gave spectacular views across table Bay as we climbed. Someone had put in a huge amount of effort to place flat rock steps up the path. We passed other climbers descending who said that the cable car was not running so we would have to climb down later. As my legs were feeling quite tired this was alarming news. Up and up we climbed, with the ravine getting narrower and narrower between wonderful towering cliffs closing in to frame the view. I was delighted to see a sun bird very close to me feeding on a species of Erica, with half-inch long red flowers arranged in a ring around the stem. So unconcerned was the sunbird that I was able to get my phone out of the rucksack, and hold it within a few inches of the feeding bird. William later identified it for us as an orange collared sunbird - unusually a new one for him!
Mark and Richard were going strong, but my legs were definitely giving out! But I was determined to get to the top even if I had to come down all those steps on my bottom. Maria was also struggling and, far more sensibly, turned round to descend when another climber asserted that was at least another hour to the top and that the cable car was not running. That was a pity, because if we had managed to help her onwards it turned out, as evidenced by Chinese tourists in stiletto heels, that the cable car had started running again. But by then it was too late and Maria had the hardest task of all which was an hour and a half descending the steps to the car.
Richard flew home that afternoon, and he kindly deposited us at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on his way to the airport. Here we said goodbye after a wonderful adventure together, and then went off to explore the wonderful gardens. We were so lucky to join a free garden tour and to meet out guide Jill. She took us for three hours through all the different areas of the garden, so full of knowledge and enthusiasm, leaping from boulder to boulder across the streams, and giving us an extraordinary and invigorating afternoon.
I'm very lucky to be coming back here on holiday with Anne, Alice, Felix and Matt in January before I sail onwards.