Day 6 – Bar Bar Black Sheep, have you any space?
written by Roan Mackintosh, pictures edited by Rory Alexander
It’s been a long week on the bikes, with non-stop activities and late dinners. Last night was no exception and as we left the table on the way to our enticing beds, we all agreed to convene at the heated indoor pool at Piekenierskloof at 7am the next morning. My duvet is stronger than it looks. I wasn’t expecting a wrestling match when I set my alarm, but as it flared into life early the next morning, that’s exactly what I got! I put up a spirited fight, it must be said, but to no avail and in the end I found myself pinned into submission and only made it to the breakfast table at 8am. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who had missed the poolside appointment as I found only the very diligent Rory at the table. He had not only swum at the allotted time, on his own, but had also managed to snap a sensational picture of the sunrise over the valley.
Breakfast done & dusted, we were successfully re-fueled for the day ahead. Piekenierskloof has a plethora of activities (walking trails, bird watching, volleyball, target shooting, mountain biking, mini golf & all manner of indoor games such as pool, air-hockey, table tennis etc.) We’d selected the most exhilarating one on offer for our morning stint (of course) and Natasha led us to the beginning of the zip lining course that crisscrosses the ridges overlooking Citrusdal. With lines ranging between 125 & 280 metres long and the highest point being 15 metres above the fynbos below, the 7 lines offer a fun & uncommon way to view the beautiful surrounds. The obligatory safety briefing completed, we lined up to traverse the first rather baby-ish first line over a small pool of water. All 4 of us skillfully descended & eagerly awaited Siv’s arrival at the small pedestal so that we could move onto the next, longer, more thrilling line. Not sure what went through his mind, but when the guide gave the signal to keep coming forward, Siv yanked down on the brake handle attached to the pulley and came to an abrupt halt – about 3 metres short of the landing! This meant our guide had to re-attach himself to the line, swing back out over the water to retrieve one stranded Siv through a rather elegantly performed scissor kick leg-lock maneuver and pulling him the rest of the way. And thus Siv “Shortstop” Ngesi born…
Having only opened in 2012, the Piekenierskloof hotel boasts a rather impressive track record of receiving top honours in the Traveler’s Choice awards for 2013 & 2014. They are also currently ranked 6th in the 2015 Tripadvisor top 25 hotels for families in South Africa. With an absolutely stunning location nestled in the Cederberg foothills, just off the N7 highway, it really is a great stop-over during a journey up country or it could be the final destination for an extended family holiday, not too far outside of Cape Town.
After an arduous journey of about 30 seconds we were at our next destination. Hebron is quite literally across the road from Piekenierskloof & is famous for their rather unique concept of wine and tea pairing. A family run establishment that not only produces farm goods such as oranges, flowers and Carmien tea (in partnership) they also have accommodation, a restaurant and wine tasting area on the property. We met Steve and Caro, the very friendly owners, as well as their chief tasting guide Arnel. One got the impression that given the chance, Arnel could talk to you for hours about not only the unique characteristics of the tea and wines from the area, but also how the subtle undertones of each could enhance & compliment flavours in the other. She also explained the relationship to food and how both flavor, depth and “intensi-tea” of the drinks would particularly suit them to specific types of food. I must say that I have never tried tea and wine together but there is definitely something to be said for the transformation (or rather highlighting) of flavours that takes place when consumed one after the other. Arnel’s rather infectious fervor for the topic of flavor combinations made this a fascinating stop along the route.
From here we took to the scooters once more and I immediately regretted the decision to trust the sunny blue skies and leave my gloves in the support bakkie. Not sure if it was because we were now in slightly more hilly terrain, but the late-morning air had a surprising bite to it and if it wasn’t for 3 other stout men carrying on despite this, I might have stopped on the side of the road to sun myself, or at least reduced the speed to negate the chilly headwind. The entrance to Porterville presented a respite for the now completely numb hands as well as some lunch at Villa-Cho-Co-Latt. What made today rather different was that listeners from Goodhope FM had followed our journey through the week and entered a competition by sharing their own experiences of the West Coast on air and on social media. The winners of this daily draw (prizes included experiences from tourist attractions on the Weskus) were also given the opportunity to join us for lunch at this particular stop and to find out a little more about our experiences, from the horse’s mouth as it were. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and I guess my only hope is that they do indeed return later to re-discover the West Coast as we have showcased to them, which has been ultimate objective of this whole exercise.
From Porterville, it was on to Riebeek West where we were due to overnight at the Riebeek Valley Hotel. It is a typical small town country-style hotel that promises a true bygone era feel. Regrettably the décor and fittings have been neglected somewhat and while it is still very livable, the feeling of antiquity is a little lost and the hotel simply feels old and perhaps even a little run-down. Small things like overgrown pathways, un-cleaned skylights & a pool that has since turned into a frog and fish pond mask what I think could be a truly enjoyable & quaint countryside hotel experience.
With a slightly lighter schedule for today (thank goodness!) we had some downtime on this Saturday afternoon and we arrived halfway through the Lions Super 15 game. Being a die-hard (and it has been hard!) supporter of the Lions myself as I grew up in the Highveld, I was very disappointed to see a rather unflattering halftime score against the Highlanders. Settling into the hotel bar, I was elated to watch a great 2nd half comeback resulting in a 28-23 win to the home side! We then started watching the next game – Stormers vs. Brumbies – which promised to be another cracker of a game. It seems the friendly and quiet West Coast is not immune to the blemish of Eskom’s poor power plant maintenance and just as things were getting heated – load shedding!! A little put out by this, we headed to the only nearby pub that we were informed had a generator. With only the TV’s & cash registers being powered, we knew that not only are Riebeek Kasteelians (is that even a word?) avid sportsmen, but they are also inherently practical people as only the bare necessities were powered, while the rest of the bar was lit by candles. Immensely glad for the generator, we were able to witness the end of the very narrow local victory and we all headed to dinner with a smile on our dials.
Riebeek Kasteel is actually a separate, neighbouring town, even though you’d be forgiven in thinking that it is indeed part of Riebeek West as barely 5 kilometers separates the two town centers. Situated in the middle of Riebeek Kasteel is a fairly well-known eatery called Bar Bar Black Sheep. I’d been here before and recalled a friendly and festive atmosphere with good food that was worth visiting, so I’d been looking forward to this stop since viewing the first tour itinerary drafts. What I discovered was even better than that. Having recently changed hands (about 2 months ago) it is now run by John & Susanna Tecklenburg of Oude Wellington fame. John has started/managed/owned over 30 restaurants in his career and with this wealth of knowledge and his wife’s attention to detail in the front of house, they have transformed what was already an enjoyable restaurant into an absolute must-visit establishment. I can honestly say that this has been the food highlight of the entire tour! A perfectly cooked fillet with black peppercorn sauce, topped with a sliced half-avo, accompanied by chips & veg.
YUUUUUUMMYY! Simply couldn’t get ‘Shortstop’ to stop talking about it which is kinda ironic, don’t you think? 🙂 Others had duck & a pork neck which I believe was just as delectable.
Funnily enough, Riebeek West & Riebeek Kasteel are on separate Eskom grids and therefore we arrived with the electricity still on despite having watched the rugby under generator. Shortly after the food was served though, the power was out here too (and most likely back on in Riebeek West) I think load shedding can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. With the power out, the candles were lit and John, the chef extraordinaire, emerged from his kitchen to have a cigar of which he seems to be rather fond. As he was out of the kitchen, most guests had been attended to or had wrapped up early in the premature darkness, we managed to persuade both him & his wife to join us at our table. What resulted is in my humble opinion the 2nd best night of the trip as they explained not only the history of what had brought them each to this point of taking over the restaurant (while still running and managing the Wellington restaurant too) but also the philosophy that has resulted in a relaxed yet meticulous décor, superb service and food that is melt-in-your-mouth dance-in-your-tummy good. We also came to realise why John had acquired the nickname “the tongue” as we posed for a post-dinner photo before heading back to the hotel. Last night in a foreign bed before we make our way back to home-base Cape Town tomorrow. It has been a world of fun and I wouldn’t swap these experiences or the people I have met for the world but, as we all do at some stage when travelling, I am quietly longing to go home again now.
Final day tomorrow – check it out on Twitter #scootwestcoast