Exploring the greater Swellendam area
I was up early the next morning and while there was still a thick blanket of cloud across the sky it had at least stopped raining. I had a quick cup of tea and ventured out with my camera, eager to get some photos after the terrible weather the day before. Although there was no sunrise to speak of I really enjoy shooting in the soft morning light and had some fun experimenting with depth of field on these thorny specimens. Before long the others started emerging from their chalets and we climbed into the bus to begin our tour.
First stop was Rolandale Restaurant and Farmstall, on the side of the N2 highway, for a full breakfast and you know you’re in farm country when the bacon is twice as thick as the stuff you get in the supermarket. Ready to tackle the day it was back on the bus and through the village of Suurbraak. This village is nestled among streams of running water and sheltered by giant oaks with history dating back to the ancient trade routes of the Quena (Hottentot) people of Southern Africa. From here we made our way up and over the Tradouw Pass. It is hard to capture the scale and beauty of the Tradauw Pass, even more so when the weather isn’t ideal, but it is definitely worth doing if you are in the area.
At the northern end, just over the pass, is the small town of Barrydale and we had the privilege of our own private brandy tasting in the Barrydale Cellar with Riaan Marais who is now the CEO of Southern Cape Vineyards.
I’ve visited many wine farms and attended several whiskey tastings during my time in the advertising industry but this was my first brandy tasting and it was fascinating. The experience was made even more authentic as we sat in the subterranean cellar amongst the oak barrels in which brandy was ageing.
The water biscuits on the table looked familiar from whiskey tastings but there was also chocolate. That’s right having sipped the brandy on its own we were then instructed to try it again with the chocolate (sea salt or chilli) and see what effect it had on the flavours. Needless to say anything with chocolate is a winner for me and this was a fantastic experience that has given me a new appreciation for the finer points of brandy.
Next, just a few minutes drive down the R62, we visited Joubert-Tradauw private cellar where we were going to taste some of their wine before having a light lunch.
We were greeted by Meyer Joubert, the viticulturist and winemaker, who gave us a tasting of the wines he produces under the two separate and distinct labels Joubert-Tradauw Private Cellar and Unplugged 62. He also showed us around the cellar and we got to try some red wine straight out of the barrel that hadn’t finished maturing yet. It was interesting to see how much the maturation process adds to the flavour and taste of the wine.
Having sampled so much alcohol so early in the day lunch couldn’t have come at a better time and as if planned with the weather we had some delicious vegetable soup with a platter of fresh bread, meats, preserves and cheeses hit the spot. Then it was back over the Tradouw Pass again and back into Swellendam where we visited the Lavender Farm where you can pick fresh lavender to your heart’s content and that’s just what some of our group did.
The last stop of the day was what I was really waiting for. On the shores of the Buffeljags Dam is Umshanti where we were booked to do zip-lining and a cruise on the dam. Unfortunately their boat had been damaged in the storm the day before so that was cancelled and because of the weather the rest of the group had backed out of doing the fuffi-slide but I am not one to shy away from an activity so I put on my wetsuit, fastened the harness and got a quick safety briefing as I stood on the platform clutching the pulley. Everyone thought I was mad to the point where I started questioning my own sanity but Kosie, the owner, seemed as eager to see me do it as I was to try it and so off I set.
It must have been all the adrenalin because I didn’t really even feel the cold. In fact, it was so much fun that I got Kosie to drive me back up and I did it again. While this may be a great place to have fun in summer I wasn’t going to let the season get in my way and there are plenty of other activities on offer.
All in all it was a great day and it just goes to show how much you can do in the greater Swellendam area. As the sun set we could see the clouds were clearing and so surely we would have sunshine for our tour of the Bontebok National Park in the morning…