Day 5 – Treasure trove at Fryer’s Cove
written by Roan Mackintosh, pictures edited by Rory Alexander
Traveler’s tip: Always carry some headache pills in your toiletries bag. A true West Coast ‘kuier’, while thoroughly enjoyable, does tend to ring in one’s ears a little longer than desired the following morning. Thank goodness the Tharrakamma beds are comfortable and the breakfast is a hearty one. I’d come out of last night somewhat dented but still in reasonable shape. Adventure waits for no man, so we were soon once again on our ‘poegies’ to meet Madalene van der Lingen & Monika de Jager outside the Namaqua West Coast tourism office. We shared yet more laughter with them as we recounted some of the previous night’s shenanigans. Madalene had the honour of escorting us to our next stop, Doringbaai, while Monika returned to the office to complete the day’s work – aka to lick her wounds 😉
When asked why it is called Doringbaai, which directly translated means Thorn Bay, Madalene cleverly responded “that is because it is a thorn in your side to leave.” Historically this small town was a thriving Crayfish packaging and export hub, peaking in the mid to late 80’s. With the increased regulations in the industry, these practices have long-since halted in the town and the empty buildings next to the Lighthouse were taken up by two unlikely neighbours – an Abalone farm and a winery.
Albie is one of the co-owners of the privately run Abalone farm in Doringbaai, along with 2 other individuals & a local community trust. Having started only 2/3 years ago, they now employ 45 people at the farm and are capable of producing 50 tons of Abalone a year. At $50/kg, that’s quite an astounding local operation! I think what fascinated me most though were the Abalone themselves. I had always pictured them being very similar to mussels that would cling to a rock and just stay there. Not so. These fascinating little creatures actually move a helluva lot at night when they are feeding and we actually saw a few of them moving around in the tanks, somewhat faster than a snail as they glide along. They also display some pet-like behaviours in that when entering the spawning rooms, they actually recognise the presence of people and move to the surface/edge in anticipation of feeding. Albie and his team have worked tirelessly to build the farm to where it is today with a healthy spawning stock of around 300 spawning adults (that can be up to 80 years old!) These are the cogs of the farm & are well-nurtured as they keep the stock ticking and growing for up to 4 years before they can be sold – exported mainly to Asian countries. I believe that natural Abalone spawn only once every 2 years or so, but through the manipulation of water PH they are able to replicate this up to every 6 weeks on the farm. It all sounds pretty simple, but Albie’s slightly sunken eyes told of the years of experience and dedication that are required to get the right system and balances in place. Overall quite a delicate operation. With the involvement of the local trust, the community is also benefitting and the once-abandoned Crayfish factory is now again aiding the local economy.
Right next door is Fryer’s Cove winery (that I hinted at in yesterday’s post). Here we were greeted by a spirited young man named Jacques Vos. He explained how the winery had been established around 2011, so this too is a fairly young enterprise making use of old infrastructure. And with the same trust being involved in the running of the restaurant accompanying the winery, there really is a nice symbiotic relationship that exists between the commercial enterprises of the small harbor and the local community. The winery was started primarily to service a small 6-hectare vineyard in very nearby Bamboesbaai, although they have since grown to produce other wines from the region (like the Kookfontein from Lambert’s Bay) Jan and Ponk van Zyl are the visionaries behind the winery as they identified the area as having a particularly unique terroir (a French term used to describe all the environmental factors that shape a wine – soil, rain, topography & so on…) and persisted with the belief of a successful vineyard even though the area has no real reliable water source. They have some unique practices at the winery, such as cooling the wine during the fermentation process by pumping sea water through ‘bladders’ encircling the outside of the fermentation tanks. Even more surprising is the construction of a 30Km pipeline all the way back to Vredendal in order to get the fresh water necessary to produce the wines! They are also able to boast being the closest vineyard to the Atlantic sea in the world, giving their wines a very unique flavor and you can see why this small West Coast winery made it into our itinerary as a must-visit destination on the Weskus.
There are quicker ways to get from Doringbaai back to Clanwilliam but as most of these are dirt roads we were forced to take the long way round and with 1 hour 45 mins solid on the scooters, this was definitely our longest single stint on the bikes to date. Numb bums were the order of the day as we pulled up outside the Rooibos Tea House in Clanwilliam. Incidentally this is the only area in the world where Rooibos can successfully be grown and produced into tea. Making this the only Rooibos tea house in the world! Sanet is a lovely lady that runs the establishment and she greeted us with a large jug of much-needed naartjie-infused Rooibos iced tea. We gladly accepted the refreshment and sat down to enjoy some hot tasting of a very few of the over 100 varietals available – Vanilla being my favourite. There are 7 different ‘clans’ into which these teas are classified –> Natural | Green | Herbal | Fruity | Sweet | Spicy | Flower – each with their own merits. It was also fascinating to note that around 70% of all the Rooibos farming is still done by hand. That’s right, seeded by hand, harvested by hand and produced using only basic farming tools such as tractors. The average plantation has 10,000 plants per hectare, so you can imagine the sheer human effort that goes into this industry. Something else to note is that the entire plant is used, stems and all, not just the leaves as with some of the more traditional teas. You won’t find all these varietals in your local supermarket so if you are a Rooibos tea fan, then check out www.rooibosteahouse.co.za to order online.
Another long day came to an end in the Piekernierskloof parking lot. Francois & Natasha were on hand to welcome us off the weary road and they joined us for some fantastic dinner as we welcomed back a returning Siv Ngesi. Francois is a fan of hot food and I’m pretty sure he had a hand in making the chilli poppers much spicier than others that I have tried around the country – very nice though (particularly Rory’s face and breathing through his teeth when he tried them and a welcome departure from all the fish we’ve been sampling over the past week. A bacon-wrapped fillet on a bed of spinach with a side mushroom sauce and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Natasha also introduced us to a new drink. Malibu and Fanta grape. I can picture how your nose just wrinkled up at the prospect (much as ours did at the table) but let me assure you she was not far off the mark and it’s actually a very enjoyable drink.
Exciting times lie ahead for Dwain as Siv’s return brings with him the replacement parts for the damage wrought in the ‘Spoegie-man’s” wake. He’s probably fast asleep as I type this, but I’ll get my own back as I have a slightly longer lie & he has to get up at day-break to test his Vespa mechanic skills. Let’s hope he is successful & we have all four clowns back on the Scooters as we head into the penultimate day of this wondrous West Coast scoot tour. You know what to do – #scootwestcoast