The end of February marks the first furtive stirrings of autumn, but for winemakers in the Overberg, it heralds the fruition of another year of devoted cultivation, stooped labour and eager expectation.
Roused from their ripening slumber, vineyards in the Stanford to Cape Agulhas (the fabled tip of Africa) belt are now teeming with activity at sunrise as the sweet, low hanging orbs are hand harvested; soon to be transformed into what aficionados the world over would argue to be the apotheosis of agriculture and art.
Enviably positioned for their cool maritime winds and favourable terroir, wine estates from Stanford to Cape Agulhas produce award winning vintages which confidently hold their own with the best, both locally and abroad. While far from comprehensive, we give you a whistle-stop of some of finest, all within comfortable proximity to De Kelders.
The Sir Robert Stanford estate enjoys an impressively historic pedigree, owing its name and origins to the storied life of entrepreneur Robert Stanford. Wine has been cultivated on the grounds as far back as the 1890’s, but these days it is owned and run by husband and wife duo Jan and Madre Malan. After sampling some Cutters Cove or Sir Robert Stanford - the two premium labels produced by winemaker Jan - in the beautifully appointed wine shop, step over to Madre’s Kitchen, a bastion of old fashioned Afrikaans warmth and unpretentious cuisine, and pair Jan’s consummately crafted wine with lunch overlooking the vineyards.
Neighbouring the Sir Robert Stanford estate is Stanford Hills, a charming boutique wine farm owned by Peter and Jamie Kastner, two well loved faces in the Stanford community. Their Jackson’s Pinotage garners consistently high praise among the wine set, and their olive orchards and fynbos (part of the unique and stunningly diverse Cape Floral Kingdom) plantations keep them exceedingly busy year round. The Tasting Room is a fast growing presence on the local restaurant scene, opening onto lily-jewelled dams and expansive views of the Klein River Mountains, the southernmost mountain range in Africa.
Follow the Klein River just 17km out of Stanford and you’ll discover the Raka vineyards distinctively laid across gently rolling gradients. Spanning 68 hectares and accommodating up to 400 tons in its commodious cellars, Raka is one of the flagship wineries in the Overberg. A family run operation eponymously named after the squid fishing boat which patriarch Pieter Dreyer helmed, the rich mythology and romance of winemaking proved just as intoxicating as his former seafaring life.
After experiencing the sophisticated scale of Raka, you’ll find the little Vaalvlei wine farm, whose vineyards occupy just 3 modest hectares, a surprising, down-home delight. Adopting the traditional open fermentation process of winemaking forbears, Naas Terblanche epitomises the current handcrafted trend. Of his rather eccentric second passion, frogs, Naas effacingly concedes: “I’m a bit crazy, I suppose.” He’s discovered 13 distinct species on his farm, including the endangered Western Leopard Toad which he proudly honoured as the Vaalvlei emblem. Small, plucky and full of character- just like Vaalvlei itself.
The Lomond wine estate lies just south of De Kelders, and is one the few within the Cape Agulhas appellation of origin. Viticulturalist Wayne Gabb pioneered the virgin terrain, a 1100 hectare plot of wondrously profuse biodiversity, in 1999 and is committed to utilising only the most sustainable practices and ‘softest inputs’ in his winemaking. Through a unique patchwork quilt of 18 different soil varieties, Lomond produces single vineyard wines, each expressing its unique geology and bearing the name of a floral species found on the farm. Wine tasting can be enjoyed at Farm 215, a private nature reserve and guesthouse overlooking Lomond’s visionary integration of enterprise and wilderness.
When Henry David Thoreau declared “We need the tonic of wildness”, he was pointing to the restorative virtues of wild, unfettered nature. In its innate balance, nature mirrors the freedom we long for; it reminds us of the strength of stillness; the value of reflection – the very things busy modern life so often precludes. Set between the timeless Overberg mountains and De Kelders’ oceanfront, the panoramic grandeur encircling Cliff Lodge would surely satisfy even Thoreau’s hunger for the primordial and therapeutic. The simplicity of land and sea, I’m sure he would agree, is a salve for the weary soul.
A holiday worth its salt should naturally relax and rejuvenate, but, maybe more importantly, also renew some of the wholeness we lose in our lives of constant motion; return us to ourselves in some way. The bracing, wild beauty you’ll find at De Kelders goes a long way to satisfying these criteria, but to assist guests in truly letting go of the stresses which crowd daily life, Cliff Lodge enlists the services of Brett Robertson and Tasha Saha, two of the most adept therapists living and working in the magnificent Overberg.
Brett’s therapeutic treatments and Tasha’s organic facials are unanimous, heavenly favourites among guests, and the perfect complement to Thoreau’s prescription of ‘wildness.’ Both Brett and Tasha could be described as holistic practitioners in that they view the human being as an integrated partnership of body and mind, and not merely the sum of isolated mechanical parts. Their training and background share many parallels: both are fully qualified yoga instructors and lifelong students of the body’s subtle energy anatomy, and it’s this sensitivity to deeper dimensions which makes them such exceptional therapists.
Brett’s approach is a combinatory one, having studied under highly accomplished teachers in a broad range of healing modalities and traditions. His fluency in massage, Shiatsu, Reiki and Body Talk allow him to tailor the treatment to the comfort and depth of his clients needs. An opening consultation and questionnaire will broadly set the course of the treatment, but it’s his intuitive empathy which guides the process in often unexpected directions. If you’re feeling battered and bruised by the hurly-burly of life, a rhythmic deep tissue body massage may very well be just the thing you need to unwind and immerse yourself unreservedly into your holiday. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling mentally scattered or ungrounded, a Reiki balancing may yield more penetrating results. Very often, a treatment will include both and more, and it’s this scope, flexibility and insight which make a session with Brett so rewarding (not to mention blissfully enjoyable!) Brett’s own personal journey to living a more awakened life has become his ardent passion, and you’ll feel this immediately in his warm, engaging presence. Visit his website www.be-touched.com to learn more.
Tasha’s organic facials are unlike any you’re likely to have experienced before. Founder of her own range of luxury skincare products, Miöja, whose unique formulations were developed through years of observing the secret life of plants and their myriad healing properties, Tasha’s gentle, glowing countenance, embodies the ‘Deeply Naturally Beautiful’ ethos of her products. Tasha sees true beauty as a reflection of inner radiance, of a fundamental wellness that emerges naturally when we live in balance. The products she selects from Miöja’s three ranges – Violet, Orange and Green - are each imbued with vibrational remedies (similar to that of Bach flower remedies) designed to balance a specific mental-emotional energy, bridging the beauty industries disconcertingly wide gap between inner and outer. A facial with Tasha is deeply nourishing (the products are so pure you can practically eat them) and you can expect to feel utterly taken care of for one magical hour. Your skin will sing with lustrous life for days after, too. Miöja products are certified organic, vegan and cruelty free and can be purchased from the Cliff Lodge gift shop, exclusive retailers or online at http://mioja.co.za/
From its teeming oceans to its spectacular vistas, the Overstrand (the stretch of coastline from Hermanus through to Gansbaai) has plenty of marvels to recommend it, but for marine wildlife enthusiasts, The Big 5 is unsurpassed. The term was coined in Gansbaai, arguably the epicentre of marine tourism in this region, and refers to the almost unprecedented co-habitation of the Southern Right Whale, Great White Shark, Cape Fur Seal, African Penguin and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin.
This year’s season has drawn to a close, but if you’re visiting in the months from June to November, a phalanx of photographers aiming outsized lenses seaward can only mean one thing for certain: the whales have arrived. The Southern Right Whale population swells at this time of year as they migrate to our waters to mate and give birth, affording close encounters and the chance to witness some exhilarating pageantry. The sight of a Southern Right launching above the water, suspended in the air for a balletic moment before thundering back into the distant, silent horizon, is known as ‘breaching’, and although I’ve seen this spectacular display dozens of times now, it’s impossible to feel even the slightest hint of indifference each time it happens. It is poetry. But to be mere meters away from a nursing mother and calf gently lolling together inshore is more arresting in its beauty than even this; an intimate and rare blessing you’re sure to never forget. With adult Southern Right Whales tipping the scales at 60 tons, they certainly put the ‘big’ in the Big 5, but it’s the graceful beauty of these colossal creatures which really captures the imagination.
For the more intrepid thrill seeker, getting nose to nose with the undisputed kingpin of the seas, the Great White Shark, may be more your speed. Swimming unassailably at the top of the food chain, the Great White Shark commands respect like no other marine animal. Their predatory efficiency and enigmatic nature inspires awe and fear in equal measures, but the numerous shark cage diving operators in Gansbaai are helping dispel enduring myths and misconceptions surrounding these eerily beautiful animals. Gansbaai has been dubbed the Great White capital of the world, drawing adrenaline junkies, scientists and conservationists alike to study and admire them under the safe guidance of highly trained experts. And for the truly cavalier, dispense with the cage altogether and swim free with these prehistoric masters of the underwater domain. And no, that’s not a joke.
The Cape Fur Seal, African Penguin and Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin may make up the tail end of the Big 5’s hierarchy of size, but they are crucial to Gansbaai’s unique marine eco-system and a delight to see in their natural habitat. The proliferation of playful and curious Cape Fur Seals in Gansbaai is mainly due to the incredible 55 000 strong colony on Geyser Rock, an island offshore from Gansbaai. Dyer Island lies just adjacent to this, and is where you’ll find the breeding colony of the endangered and quirky African Penguin, the only of the 17 penguin species worldwide which breeds in African waters. Many, myself included, world argue the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin to be the most endearing member of the Big 5. They almost never venture out further than waters of 30 meters in depth, so consistent sightings and interactions are very probable. A subspecies of the Bottlenose Dolphin most commonly seen in aquariums, it’s a joy to see the African Bottlenose revelling in the waves and streaking full-throttle through the open water.
Locals and seasoned visitors say it isn’t uncommon to say up to three of the Big 5 on any given day in Gansbaai. How many will you see in this ‘Serengeti of the sea’?
The unrelenting beauty of De Kelders’ coastal wilderness may be a tough act to follow, but a short drive to Stanford Village is an essential destination for anyone exploring this charmed stretch of the Overberg. Where De Kelders natural splendour is nothing but jaw-dropping, Stanford’s easy village life is positively heart-warming.
Stanford Village is best experienced on foot. Walking down Queen Victoria road – the commercial and social centre of the village – you’ll be immediately struck by one of Stanford’s most famed features: its architecture. With its many distinguished historical buildings – some dating back as far as the late 19th Century - and rural Victorian cottages set against the benevolent mountains, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled onto the set of a colonial period drama. But make no mistake, Stanford is no quaint relic.
Saturdays are when Stanford truly shines; when locals – a curious mix of city defectors, retirees and enterprising, creative talent - and out-of-towners alike linger at vibrant meeting points strung along the high street. Whether antique store perusing, morning market milling, or idling unapologetically at the cafes and eateries, you’ll immediately feel part of the neighbourly bonhomie that has had more than a few visitors upping sticks for Stanford after tasting this authentic community life.
The Saturday morning market, hosted under the eaves of the Stanford Hotel, is a recommended starting point for your day. Here you can find the freshest locally grown produce and no shortage of decadent pastries and wholesome artisanal treats. For the best places to sit with a cuppa and watch village life roll by, move on to either Graze Slow Food Café and The Stanford Table (heck, try them both!), two of the villages’ most buzzing and beloved venues. The Stanford Table does ‘tea, tapas en alles’ with artful attention to detail, while Graze serves up exceptional farm fresh fare and bracingly good coffee.
Once you’re feeling suitably sated, aim your compass toward the languorous Klein Rivier which runs though Stanford’s very centre. The stunning profusion of birdlife invites you down the wandelpad (walking trail) for a ramble along the riverbank, or maybe you’d sooner flop down, gaze across the water and set your cares adrift. Either way, it’s magical.
Heading back into town, take some time to stroll along the neatly laid lanes and rustic gravel roads for a glimpse of everyday residential life. Here you’ll see barefoot bands of kids romping, skating and bicycling with all the space and safety a child (or parent, for that matter!) could wish for. These quiet, unthreatening streets are one of Stanford’s most treasured assets for families who moved to the country to find a different way of life. In this, beyond the genteel hedges of lavender and cordial rows of poppies, lies the real spirit of Stanford Village.
After a long winter we are relishing the gorgeous summer weather in the Overberg. The Fynbos wild flowers are colouring the roadsides and hills with pink, yellow and red and the Cape birdlife is out in force enjoying these beautiful flowers as much as we are. The sunsets over the ocean have been wowing our Cliff Lodge guests, and the clear blue skies and warmer weather is a real treat after the winter chill. We are enjoying another fantastic whale season in De Kelders with Southern Right Whales coming to the calmer waters of Walker Bay to mate, give birth and to feed their new babies. Whale watching from the deck of Cliff Lodge while drinking one of our famous cappuccinos or a glass of the local Overberg wine is a memory to treasure. Boat based whale watching is an unforgettable experience as these gentle giants are as curious about us as we are about them, and so get very close to the boats. Shark lovers have been experiencing the thrill of seeing these apex predators up close and personal on the shark diving boats in Gansbaai, and our more adventurous guests are exploring the beaches of the nearby nature reserve on horseback. Have a look at this video of some of the activities you can enjoy while staying with us. It’ll have you packing your bags and heading to De Kelders!
Talented blogger and wordsmith, Scarlet Nguni (www.scarletnguni.com), came to stay at Cliff Lodge recently to experience the wonderful Overberg autumn. Here’s her review:
Mist envelopes me as I dip down a hill on the R43 towards
Gansbaai. Low hanging cloud swirls like Scottish fog and I’m momentarily
disappointed: I was banking on a blazing sun sinking below the horizon in a
kaleidoscope of colour. Now the light’s turning white and I can barely see
the taillights of the car in front of me – there’s goes my hope of
capturing a spectacular sunset.
However by the time I’ve turned into De Kelders and begun
driving along the craggy edge, I’m starting to feel an exquisite rush of
enchantment. Suddenly the familiar fynbos morphs into a mysterious foreign
landscape, as if I’ve been teleported across the seas to somewhere magical
like the Isle of Skye (sans the drudgery of airport security, visas and long
cramped flights). My mood lifts, unlike the cloud.
Nico warmly ushers me
through the front door of Cliff
Lodge, its interior bright and welcoming as he leads me up a flight of
stairs to my room. I’m already taken by the art adorning the walls and in
this weird half light, it feels more like I’m climbing towards a cruise
ship cabin. He opens the door with a flourish and shows me around. The suite is
elegant and spacious: a Manhattan penthouse transposed on a rocky ledge
overlooking the Atlantic. I sink onto the four poster bed, the mist taking on a
positively romantic hue as I gaze out at the swell sneaking through the fog.
What an idyllic place for a honeymoon, romantic weekend or even a rejuvenating
getaway to pamper yourself.
Ocean Suite is the chic cherry on top of Gideon and
Gill’s award winning haven (with a further four rooms equally stylish,
thoughtfully appointed and nautically named). There’s a telescope for
whale viewing, flat screen TV and DVD player and even a Nespreso machine (in
case of midnight emergencies) in the fully stocked mini-bar – though
I soon discover both Nico and Gideon are exacting barristers who pride
themselves on the quality of their cappuccinos. And, as someone who is an out
and out caffeine snob, trust me these men know good coffee! I feel at home and
The massive balcony showcases the
breathtaking view – an immense expanse of sea that stretches on forever.
Looking out it’s rugged rock, crashing waves and endless fathoms of
crystal cerulean… which in whale season, comes alive with mating couples
and later, frolicking mothers and calves. And although you can charter a boat to
take a closer look, you’ll be astonished how much you can see from the
comfort of this lofty vantage point.
Waking refreshed after being gently soothed to sleep by the
murmuring lullaby of the ocean, I admire the moon lingering high in the pastel
pink sky, shimmering like mother of pearl. The mist has cleaned to reveal a
magnificent vista and I’m awed by the epic beauty of this place as the
light paints watercolours across the canvas of dawn. A great start to my day!
And it just gets
better: downstairs a delicious array of cereals, fruit, yogurt and freshly baked
goodies greet me along with the heavenly aroma of freshly expressed coffee.
Gideon serves me one of the best flat white’s I’ve ever sipped as I
sit soaking up the sunshine. Gill’s freshly juiced watermelon and mint is
a revitalizing tonic… and there’s still a litany of delicious
cooked delicacies to choose from. One is quite literally spoilt for choice.
This part of the Overberg is magical throughout the year but there
is something particularly beguiling about winter with her wild storms and raging
seas. I can think of nothing better than being curled up safe inside, basking in
the warm glow and watching heavy swell crash against the rocks below. In fact,
I’m such a devoted wave watcher that after sampling the sumptuous
smorgasbord breakfast, I skip down to Die Stal to see the ocean shatter itself
into white foam splitters, revealing brief rainbows in the spume. Later
I’m lucky enough to be included in the local Kelp Kult and taken for a
bracing swim in the Walker Bay reserve. Riding seaweed seahorses on the back of
a rip, my spirit soars with sheer sensory delight of sea, sunshine and salt.
It’s a lot like being a mermaid – and the irrepressible power of the
sea has always fascinated me.
It’s significant to note most Cliff Lodge guests are based
abroad and return at least once – if not once a year.
Glowing feedback spread by satisfied visitors and consistently excellent reviews
on Tripadvisor ensure this glamorous
retreat is fully booked throughout the season. Both Gill and Gideon are
remarkable hosts: warm, accommodating and perfectly professional. And they keep
exceeding expectations. For the first time since moving to my little farm
sanctuary, I feel reluctant to return home. Spend one night here and
you’ll understand why: it’s heaven.
rom now until the end of July, Cliff Lodge is running a winter
special: 10% discount for a 1 night; 20% off if you stay for two nights and a
glorious stay for 4, pay for 3 (they close from June 15th for a month).
For more info visit www.clifflodge.co.za, call 028 384 0983
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
My advice? Book now and treat yourself to the Ocean Suite:
you’ll be delighted you did!
Winter here is dramatic – most days the sea is wild and the wave watching is superb. This time of year is called the ‘green season’ in the Western Cape because it’s the rainy season, and the Cape Floral Kingdom comes to life. Because of its proximity to the sea, and the warming influence of the ocean currents, the climate of the De Kelders area is mild. Frost is rare, and temperatures are not extreme. The average winter temperature is 17 degrees C, and it can rise to 25 degrees.
Winter also sees the start of the whale season along the Overberg coast. This area offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world between June and November. De Kelders is one of the prime whale ‘nursery’ areas for Southern Right whales, with its sheltered coves, and gently sloping sandy sea bed.
Winter is also the best season to view Great White Sharks in Gansbaai, with peak shark season from April to October. Great White diving has great value for conservation, as for the first time the Great White is worth exponentially more alive than dead! For many, seeing the majestic Great White in its natural habitat is a life-changing experience – their fear of these sharks having been transformed to fascination and admiration. We therefore believe that Great White tourism in Gansbaai has brought about a positive conservation victory for the sharks.
Cliff Lodge has an ideal location for enjoying all that winter in the Western Cape has to offer.
To encourage you to visit the Overberg this winter, we are offering a 20% discount on two night stays, and 25% on three nights or more when booking direct. Winter is truly the ‘green season’ – fewer people, beautiful landscapes, whales, sharks and great deals on accommodation and activities.
The Cliff Lodge team is thrilled to have been awarded the 3rd spot in the "Top 25 B&B’s in South Africa” and the 22nd place in the “Top B&B’s in the World” in the Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards 2013.
Thanks again to all of our guests for your reviews. We feel very lucky to do the job that we do, and the team at Cliff Lodge love our work. It’s the interaction with our guests that makes this business so rewarding.
Here is a link to the complete listing of the Travellers’ Choice Winners for the 25 top B&B’s in the world: http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Hotels-cInnsBB-g1
Unpretentious and intimate Kloeks @ Home is within
walking distance of Cliff Lodge, and offers a small starter, main and dessert
menu, with a varying selection of seasonal fare. A few of our guests claim to
have enjoyed the best steak they’ve ever eaten at Kloeks – we have no doubt!
Kloeks is also well supplied with sea food from the fishing boats of Gansbaai.
We recommend Kloeks to our guests because they focus on perfecting a few dishes,
as opposed to a menu groaning under the weight of too much choice – plus they
have loads of charm.
Phone: 028 384 2769
Physical address: 78 Devilliers De Kelders, Gansbaai
Dinner: 6:30pm - close, Monday to Sunday
Thyme at Rosemary’s Restaurant in Gansbaai is a
short distance away, and is the perfect little lunch spot. We’ve can highly
recommend the bobotie and the game pie, but you’ll find lighter options on the
menu, such as delicious sandwiches and salads, which can all be enjoyed in their
pretty garden setting during the warmer months.
Phone: 0283842076 / 0728844936
Physical address: 13 Main Road, Gansbaai
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 11.30am - 9.30pm
Jonathan is the amiable owner and host at Benguela
Restaurant in De Kelders. The décor is minimal and classy, and the
atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. Lamb shanks and the coriander encrusted
steak are always a popular choice here, and vegetarians are well catered for.
Phone: 028 3842120
Physical address: Guthrie Street De Kelders, Gansbaai
Opening times: Dinner – closed on Tuesday
Dining at the Red Indigo at Grootbos Nature
Reserve is a 5* experience! Watch nature showing off its best fynbos and sea
views while you dine on dishes like ‘succulent beef fillets, seared duck livers
with cumquat compote and coriander-flavoured dark chocolate delicacies’. This is
fine dining at its most exquisite.
Phone: +27 28 384 8000
Open 7 days a week, for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Mariana’s, located in the quaint village of
Stanford, has garnered several awards, including ‘Best Country Kitchen’ in South
Africa – and it deserves them all. Based in a converted country cottage, looking
out onto the expansive vegetable garden that your meal is largely created from,
the menu at Marianas is a taste adventure in South African country cooking,
combined with Mediterranean and French influences. The result? Ecstasy! Book off
your afternoon to ensure hours of lingering, enjoying every morsel of their
heavenly fare. We recommend everything on the menu, but have a soft spot for
their lamb shank and Gruyere soufflé. Booking is essential!
Marianas at Owls Barn - 12 Du Toit Street, Stanford
Opening hours - Thursday to Sunday - arrive from 12 noon.
Regretfully no children under the age of 10
The Black Oyster Catcher Restaurant is based at a
boutique wine estate, off the beaten track along the Elim road. Drawing their
inspiration from seasonal availability, the menu boasts a wide selection of
seafood, cooked to perfection and paired with their delectable wines. Savour
delicious wine and an organic lunch while you drink in the beauty of the
Phone: 028 482 1618
Physical Address: Moddervlei Farm, Elim
Open 6 days a week from 11:00 - 14:30
The Harbour Rock in Hermanus is a spectacularly
situated restaurant, positioned ‘on the rocks’ inside the Hermanus Harbour. We
highly recommend their sushi, and their beautifully prepared lunch dishes, which
range from duck a l’orange, to slow-cooked lamb and expertly grilled calamari.
Watch the waves crash beneath you as you sip on crisp white wine with your
sashimi, or a bottle of red with your fillet and pepper sauce. The Harbour Rock
delivers consistently delicious food, from an unforgettable venue.
Phone 028 312 2920
Physical address: Suite 24A, New Harbour, Hermanus
Breakfast: 9am - 11:30am, Monday - Friday
Lunch: 11:30am - 4pm, Monday - Sunday
Dinner: 6:30pm - 10pm, Monday - Sunday
The wild beautiful ocean along the Gansbaai coast is home to the Marine Big 5 – whales, sharks, African penguins, Cape Fur Seals and dolphins – the perfect place for the ultimate sea-safari! Whale season is from June to December, and September, October and November are the best months to see southern right whales along this coastline. This area offers the whales warm, sheltered waters to calve. The young right whales stay close to their mothers, suckling on her fat-rich milk. Calves in South African waters grow about 3 cm per day (birth weight is about 900 kg). This fast growth rate prepares the young whales for the long and hard southward migration to the cold Antarctic. Occasionally, southern right whales give birth to white calves. These white calves are rare, and a real treat to see as they are so visible in the water. They turn mottled grey as they grow.
Evan Austin has the enviable job of piloting the African Wings light aircraft that conducts whale watching flights over this area, and he had the following to say about what he has seen over the past few days.
“The guests on the African Wings flights have had incredible sighting this week. There are now six white Southern Right Whale calves in Walker Bay. I can only guess that some of these have migrated westward from the De Hoop area with their mothers, and are now here with us for a while. The rest of the calves in Walker Bay are getting very big which means that the mothers may start departing for the Southern Oceans shortly.
Walker Bay water was a dark olive green yesterday so we roamed a little further afield and found Great White Sharks by the dozen in the shallows adjacent to the beach near Dyer Island. At one stage we saw eleven Great Whites directly below us. The guests on the shark boats must have had fantastic viewing. We found the clearest, turquoise, tropical island look-alike water I have seen this year at Quoin Point, with eight mother / calf pairs of southern right whales in residence.”
Nice job Evan! A whale watching flight with African Wings is a real treat as you can watch undisturbed whales, completely unaware of human presence as the aircraft has an extremely low noise signature. The scenery along the Gansbaai / De Kelders coastline is also breathtaking. Shore-based whale watching is also fantastic in De Kelders as the whales come very close to the cliffs, which offer a great vantage point. Boat based whale watching is also a wonderful experience, giving one a chance to get very close to the whales.
This poem – a beautiful tribute to whales by Heathcote Williams – is a wonderful celebration of one of the most mysterious, gentle and intelligent creatures of the marine world.
“From space, the planet is blue.
Their arms and hands changed into water-wings;
Their tails turned into boomerang-shaped tail-flukes,
Enabling them to fly, almost weightless, through the oceans;
Their hind-legs disappeared, buried deep within their flanks.
Free from land-based pressures:
Free from droughts, earthquakes, ice-ages, volcanoes, famine,
Larger brains evolved, ten times as old as man’s . . .
Other creatures, with a larger cerebral cortex,
Luxuriantly folded, intricately fissured,
Deep down, in another country,
Moving at a different tempo.
And the whale’s lips formed their distant, humorous curl,
When we were clawed quadrupeds,
Feverishly scrabbling at the bark of trees.
Whales play in an amniotic paradise.
Their light minds shaped by buoyancy, unrestricted by gravity,
Like angels, or birds;
Like our own lives, in the womb.
Whales play for three times as long as they spend searching for food:
Delicate, involved games,
With floating seabirds’ feathers, blown high into the air,
And logs of wood
Flipped from the tops of their heads;
Carried in their teeth
For a game of tag, ranging across the entire Pacific.
Play without goals.
They are not compulsive eaters.
They can go for eight months without food;
And they do not work to eat.
They play to eat.
After dinner, music.
Ethereal music that carries for miles,
A siren’s song,
Leading sailors to believe,
As the sounds infiltrated through the wooden hull,
That their vessels were haunted
By spirits of the deep.
Webs of elegant cetacean music stretch around the globe.
An indication that there are creatures, other than man, still evolving.”
Taken from Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams
Life in the intertidal zone along the Overberg Coast
Coastal intertidal zones provide a varied habitat of extremes: amazing animals and plants that have adapted and evolved to combat the pounding waves, desiccation at low tide, changes in salinity and temperature in the estuaries and rock pools. The intertidal region is an important model system for the study of ecology. The region contains a high diversity of species, and the zonation created by the tides causes species ranges to be compressed into very narrow bands. This makes it relatively simple to study species across their entire cross-shore range, something that can be extremely difficult in terrestrial habitats.
Where life began
Rocky shorelines frequently contain tidal pools of varying sizes, and they may have provided some unique conditions that would have made biogenesis possible, (the chemistry that created this primordial soup 4 billion years ago). When gazing into a rock pool, spotting the many different organisms in this ecosystem, it’s worth pondering life’s origins born of this environment of extremes.
A hint at our own aquatic past is suggested in a correlation between the human menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle. Many aquatic species follow the same lunar cycles influence on the tides for reproduction.
Stone-age man’s footprint
When Neanderthal man was still ruling supreme in Europe, modern people were living in caves along the Overberg coast 85/100 thousand years ago. Evidence of this has been found in Klipgat cave in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, (in De Kelders), one of the most important cultural assets in the Western Cape. One can visit this cave and see how the Khoisan’s way of life set the blueprint for our first steps out of Africa.
Everywhere along the Gansbaai coastline there are heaps of shell’s and other debris that result from early people visiting the shore and collecting shellfish. These refuse dumps of ancient beachcombers give us an invaluable insight into tens of thousands of years of history, a priceless and fragile heritage resource. Shell middens are protected by legislation in South Africa, and no private excavation is allowed.
The Khoisan were the first to discover the healing qualities in the various parts of fynbos plants. Much of this knowledge was embraced by the early European settlers in the Cape; some of this knowledge is still used today by traditional healers and in modern medicine. Wild plants are protected by law in SA, and may not be picked, dug up or destroyed.
An important part of the coastal experience is discovering the benefits of the abundant plant life. Seaweed is mostly edible (but not always palatable), full of protein, calcium, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. It’s an aquatic pharmacy, an untapped sustainable resource. The list of other everyday products derived from seaweed is astonishing: toothpaste, dental moulds, welding rods, audio speakers, gravies and beer are but a few.
Whales and dolphins
Undoubtedly the best place to spot whales from land in SA is De Kelders, near Gansbaai. From June each year large numbers of Southern Right whales, Eubalaena australis, arrive in Walker Bay to give birth and mate. This bay seems to have the perfect conditions for these gentle giants. Dozens can be seen close up from vantage points along the cliff path of De Kelders. Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, also pay a visit here on their long migration path, and stay to recoup before continuing north. Bryde’s whales, Balaenoptera brydei, can be seen blowing off shore right throughout the year along with sometimes hundreds of dolphins torpedoing across the bay.
The amazing life of limpets
When it comes to limpets southern Africa is the world’s foremost biodiversity and biomass hotspot, with some areas having densities of 2,600 individuals per square meter. Limpets at first glance are static, even boring creatures, but a closer look reveals an evolutionary masterpiece. Cape false-limpet uses chemical weapons as defence; Giant limpets use brute force in territorial battles; Ducks foot limpet develops and tends gardens of algae; Goat’s eye limpets slam their shells down like a guillotine, dismembering ferocious predators, Kelp limpet’s parachute from the canopy when kelp breaks loose in storms before being cast ashore. The Limpets’ shell shape and amazing adhesion has allowed them to become the dominant species on rocky shores exposed to heavy wave action.
Shipwrecks and Ghost ships
Over 140 shipwrecks lie off the infamous coast between Cape Infanta and Danger Point, which is near Gansbaai. H.M.S. Birkenhead’s tale of bravery and honour – coining the phrase “women and children first”- is but one of several tragic stories born of this treacherous coast. Many yarns of lost treasure and ghost ships spun in local communities over the decades have led to several successful salvage operations off the Southern Cape coast, retrieving some of the largest treasure caches ever found. The Flying Dutchman, who according to legend is destined to sail these seas until the end of time, was first seen off Danger Point in 1823.
Breakfast at Cliff Lodge is an occasion! We serve a delicious spread on our sea front deck, with a spectacular view of Walker Bay. We’re passionate about coffee, and buy our organic beans from a nearby specialist coffee roaster that roasts our beans to order to ensure that our coffee is fresh. Gideon and Nico are trained Baristas, and their passion for coffee is matched by their skill. We also serve a range of wonderful loose leaf teas. Be sure to try the Cliff Lodge Rooibos (Redbush) Tea blend – it is delicious, and very healthy. The juices of the day are freshly juiced, and range from watermelon to carrot – whatever’s in season. The breakfast starts with a continental spread of fresh fruit, different breads, muffins, waffles and croissants. We serve a range of cheeses, cold meats, yoghurts and cereals. Then there is the hot breakfast menu . . . organic cinnamon oats, French toast, or your choice of eggs served with tasty sides.
I’m so often asked for the recipe for our delicious granola, that I’ve decided to share it here. It is a breakfast treat, but also makes a great snack. It is a little different every time I make it; sometimes I use almonds instead of macadamia nuts, or raisins instead of cranberries. When Wilma and Cees (our most regular guests) come, I always add roasted coconut flakes because Wilma loves coconut. Get creative with it, and enjoy.
Cape Agulhas is the southern tip of the African continent, lying on the Agulhas Plain of the Cape Overberg. The towns of Cape Agulhas include: Arniston / Waenhuiskrans, Struisbaai, L’Agulhas, Napier, Bredasdorp and Elim.
Cape Agulhas is located at the very tip of the legendary “Foot of Africa” where the cold Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and the strong Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meet. Early Portuguese seafarers rounding this dangerous point called it Cape Agulhas (Cape of Needles) because they found that the needles of their compasses showed no deviation there. The country’s second oldest working lighthouse was built here in 1848 in the Pharos style.
This lighthouse has been restored and its 11 million candlepower beam can be seen shining over the dark ocean for 30 sea miles on a clear night. The lighthouse now houses a tea room and the only lighthouse museum in South Africa. The koppie behind the lighthouse provides a panoramic view of where the two oceans meet, ships pass and whales play.
The actual Southernmost Tip of Africa is 1 km west of the lighthouse and is marked by a simple cairn (pile of stones). East of the cape are “vywers” (fish traps) which were created by the KhoiKhoi thousands of years ago. These traps were made by building dams across shallow gullies so that fish would be stranded in them at low tide. Some “vywers” have been maintained through the centuries and are still used today.
The coastline at L’Agulhas is known as the graveyard of ships because the winds, high swells, treacherous coastline and erratic weather conditions have caused countless shipwrecks. At least 140 ships have come to grief along this coast since the middle of the 17th century. The only wreck visible from the shore today is the Meisho Maru 38, a Japanese vessel that was wrecked in 1982.
The Agulhas Plain is still wild and unspoilt with a fascinating coastline of jagged wind- and water-sculpted formations. The Agulhas National Park, De Hoop Nature Reserve, and De Mond Reserve have unique, dramatic landscapes and amazing fynbos. The limestone and Elim fynbos plant species especially add to the unique character of the area. This area is part of the Cape Floristic Region, one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. There is also a large variety of animal species in the Agulhas area, many of them endemic, and found nowhere else in the world.
Cape Agulhas is a well worth a visit, and is an interesting day trip to consider whilst staying at Cliff Lodge. The drive to the southernmost tip takes you past the wine farms of Elim, and some quaint Overberg villages.
We invest in the surrounding area by buying local goods and supporting local enterprises.
We contribute to a local school by donating books, toys and by giving financial support.
Cliff Lodge supports The Recycle Swop Shop, (a White Shark Projects initiative).
We encourage our guests to contribute to this project through the Pack for a Purpose programme – www.packforapurpose.org
The Recycle Swop Shop is an empowerment initiative for children in Gansbaai. The aim is to clean up the community, teach environmental awareness and to help provide for the basic needs of local children. The children of Masakhane Township in Gansbaai collect bottles, tins, plastics and other recyclables and bring them in bags to the Recycle Swop Shop. In return, they earn buying points that they spend in the shop. The shop carries school supplies, simple clothing, and toiletries. If you are coming to stay with us please use available space in your luggage to provide supplies for the Recycle Swop Shop.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the world’s most precious natural assets. So special that it has been designated as one of the world’s six plant kingdoms, alongside for instance, the Boreal Forest Kingdom which covers most of the northern land masses of Europe, Asia and North America. It is the smallest Floral Kingdom in the world and is in a league of its own. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains 526 of the world’s 740 erica species, 96 out of the world’s 160 gladiolus species and 69 proteas out of 112 in the world. The Cape Floral Kingdom covers an area of less than 90 000 square kilometres and hosts about 8 500 plant species. To put this into perspective, the British Isles, three and a half times larger, have only 1 500 plants and less than 20 of those are endemic. Fynbos makes up four-fifths of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Other non-fynbos vegetation types in the Kingdom are renosterveld, subtropical thicket, succulent karoo and afromontane forest.
Fynbos is the term given to a collection of plants that is dominated by shrubland and is uniquely characterised by restioids (reeds). It is only when you experience fynbos at close hand that you discover the rich variety of its exquisite flowers and grasses. Fynbos comes in many forms and one of the reasons for the huge number of species is the way this vegetation varies in different habitats. It is the diversity of its plants that is the most intriguing feature of fynbos.
fascinating botanical wonderland is a delight to explore. We will arrange walks through the fynbos and visits to fynbos farms for you.
The Overberg has more than 330 bird species with at least 20 endemic species. This impressive diversity is due to the variety of habitats in the area.
The coastal area around Cliff Lodge has a variety of habitats and food sources for birds. The many fruiting trees and shrubs attract fruit-eating species such as Cape Bulbuls and Mousebirds, as well as insectfeeders. Sugarbirds and sunbirds also use the area as stepping stones to the mountains. An endemic to the fynbos biome, Cape Francolins are often seen in the low fynbos along the coast.
Nearly half of South Africa’s 63 diurnal raptors have been recorded in the Overberg. The light brown solitary Steppe Buzzards are migrants from Eurasia and may be spotted on the phone and power lines along the R43 to Hermanus. Jackal Buzzards are also often seen in the area. Black Harriers (near threatened) are endemic to southern Africa and are regularly recorded around De Kelders, especially in early summer. Rock Kestrels are a common site, often in pairs on our weather vane. Another bird of prey frequently seen along the roadside is the Blackshouldered Kite. Spotted Eagle Owls are a familiar sight on the cliffs and overhead lines.
Dyer Island off of Gansbaai is a breeding ground for many sea birds such as Jackass Penguins, cormorants and Cape Gannets. Other coastal species that may be seen in De Kelders are terns, plovers, gulls and of course the striking African Black Oystercatcher, one of South Africa’s rarest coastal birds. Oystercatchers breed from October to March and are very vulnerable to disturbance by people and vehicles. These birds are regularly seen on the rocks in front of Cliff Lodge.
In 1991 South Africa became the first country in the world to pass regulations protecting the rare Great White Shark. Gansbaai is now reputed world-wide to be the best place to see and dive with this impressive apex predator.
Surface view or cage dive with the Great White in its natural feeding ground around Dyer Island, just offshore of Gansbaai. The white shark seafari lasts about 4 hours, and begins with a 20 minute boat trip from Kleinbaai Harbour to Dyer Island. Viewing of these sharks from the comfort of the boat is spectacular, as Great Whites are surface feeders. For the more adventurous, the safety of the cage gives you a face to face encounter with the awe-inspiring sharks. The specially designed cage is very secure, and floats with part of the cage out of the water. Divers are never more than one meter below the surface and air is supplied from a cylinder on the boat so no bulky Scuba equipment is needed. All of the necessary diving equipment is supplied, and all shark diving operators have to comply with strict safety rules set out by the South African government.
The best time of year to view sharks is from June to September. During this time 4 or 5 sharks are usually encountered in a day, but as many as 18 have been seen. This high season corresponds with the South African winter, and winter storms can prevent boats from launching so schedule a few additional days into your itinerary. For more information about viewing Great White Sharks in Gansbaai, visit White Shark Projects.
The once threatened right whale population on the South African coastline is now increasing by 7% a year, nearly doubling in 10 years.
The whales come from the cold Antarctic into the shelter of Walker Bay to mate and breed. The females produce only one calf each, born after the mating ritual of the previous year. A cow stays with her youngster for up to three months in these waters, nursing it until it is ready to make the return journey south.
There are more males than females in the spring reunion and whale watchers are privileged to see an elaborate mating game as a number of consorting males compete for a female’s attention. But the biggest creature in the world is the least aggressive lover! Rather than fighting for sexual rights, the bulls mate one after another with the same female, each trying to be the one that fertilises her.
The calves grow at about 3cm per day and feed on almost 600 litres of milk per day while suckling. The Overberg coast is one of the world’s most important nursery areas for the southern right whale.
The coastline of the Overberg offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world, mainly from June to the end of November. De Kelders is considered one of the prime viewing spots, offering unsurpassed opportunities for close-up viewing and photography from the cliffs.
De Kelders offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world. The Southern Right Whales come very close inshore to the sheltered deep waters between June and December each year.
The high cliffs of De Kelders give excellent land-based sightings of these magnificent mammals as they breach, lobtail, spy hop and sail. As Cliff Lodge is located right on the edge of Walker Bay you can watch the whales from the comfort of our all-weather conservatory and sea front deck. It is an awe-inspiring experience to see these gentle giants just metres from the shore in front of the house.
Unique boat based whale-watching trips will let you experience the thrill of seeing the whales up close and personal. The Southern Rights seem to be as curious about us as we are about them, and are often friendly and playful, passing under or next to the boat. The boat-based whale watching industry is strictly controlled, and the designated areas have been carefully selected so as not to interfere with whale-watchers observing from land. Two reputable companies offer boat based whale watching in Gansbaai: Dyer Island Cruises and Ivanhoe Sea Safaris. Spectacular whale watching flights are also available with African Wings.
This article appeared in the Cape Times and “Walks with a Fat Dog” by Peter Slingsby
The whales have arrived at Hermanus, but you can find even better whale-watching opportunities at the other end of Walker Bay. There are plenty of whales, some wild beaches, and dramatic sea-caves thrown in for good measure. There’s also a “tidal pool” that is, uniquely, filled naturally with fresh water.
The Duiwelsgat trail traverses the coast at Die Kelders, from the Klipgat caves in the north to the Gansbaai Caravan Park in the south. The full route is only 7km one way, so a turn-around to retrace your steps from the tidal pool will give you a walk of about 11km. The views both ways are brilliant.
You can either start at the Cape Nature office at Klipgat, where you have to pay a small fee, or you could pick up the path at the northern end of Vyfer Road, Die Kelders, in which case entrance is free.
The path soon meets Cape Nature’s boardwalk and steps, and you descend to Klipgat where there is a fresh-water reservoir at sea level and a gush of pure, clean water to slake your thirst. This is also a good spot for a sea-bathe.
There is no real path – our guide, Gideon Shapiro of the excellent Cliff Lodge at Die Kelders, led us into and through a succession of caves, where archaeologists are excavating remarkable relics of our distant human past.
Iziko SA Museums and the universities of New York and Stanford have been busy here uncovering traces of Middle Stone Age people from up to 80 000 years ago, as well as pottery, beads and sheep bones from Khoisan herders from the last few thousand years. Don’t touch anything!
Beyond the southernmost cave, the route climbs the limestone cliffs until you reach a low stone wall that surrounds the Duiwelsgat, the scary hole that gives the trail its name. Hang on to your kids and dogs here – the “gat” is really deep and the wall seems designed to keep out nothing bigger than a tortoise.
Rather carry on southwards, keeping an eye out for whales and admiring the incredible view past Hermanus to Cape Hangklip and, far in the distance, Cape Point. Here are some of the most dramatic seascapes in Africa, so if the whales are shy there’s still plenty on which to feast your eyes.
The limestone cliffs are crumbly, and you should keep back from the edge as you round the bend and Die Kelders comes into view.
From here the path is not well defined – there are occasional green footprints and red dots, but if you have any nervous moments it’s best to retreat to the beachfront roads of Die Kelders. You’ll pass the famous “Drupkelder”, where Hendrik Cloete allegedly stole a stalactite in the 18th century and had it transported to his house at Alphen.
You’ll have to follow Cliff Road here past Whalesong Lodge and Coffee on the Rocks. This is another excellent whale watching point. When you’ve had your coffee, you’ll soon find yourself back on the rocks, circling round past Stanford’s Cove – another safe bathing place. Another kilometre of jeep track takes you to the tidal pool, and there are plenty of rock pools here to interest you.
CapeNature recently received a handsome grant from the Lotto Board for the upgrading of the facilities at Klipgat. Gideon and Stanley are driving moves to have the whole Duiwelsgat trail upgraded to the standard it deserves, but they’re having a bit of strife from the Overstrand municipality in this regard. Some small towns just don’t seem able to appreciate their finest assets!
Both Gansbaai and De Kelders have many good restaurants and coffee shops for your refreshment, and there are many fine accommodation establishments, too, if you want to make a weekend of your visit.
You could do some shark cage diving, visit the famous Danger Point lighthouse, or enjoy a fine meal at the unique Ikhaya laba Thembu restaurant in Masakhane.
“ From De Kelders there is a superb view over the great sweep of Walker Bay where whales flirt and laze, and white sand dunes rise in strange contrast to the blue mountains of the coastal range.”
T.V. Bulpin; Discovering Southern Africa
“…this little town is able to offer some of the world’s best boat and shore-based whale watching and unquestionably the world’s best white-shark diving. The sensational marine tourist attractions should not be the only things to lure you, however. Some of the Cape’s best-conserved fynbos adorns the mountains in the area and numerous walks and trails criss-cross it. After a week spent wandering the streets of Gansbaai and its surroundings, we can comfortably say that this, truly, is the gem of the Overberg.”
Cameron Ewart-Smith; Getaway Magazine March 2003