Penguins, wines and fynbo trails
By lVijaya Pratap | Express News Service | Published: 11th August 2017 10:41 PM |
HYDERABAD: After the highly exhilarating experience of white shark cage diving, Charmaine (the dynamic lady behind the white sharks project), greeted our ravenous group with warm smiles and great food: under the tall trees in the woods, a huge, round table laden with an inviting buffet seemed the most appealing sight at that moment.After the brunch was to follow the equally exciting Quad Biking. Clinton (of S A Forest Adventures) prepared us for the upcoming adventure with his detailed orientation. For quad biking, no previous experience is required. He said the quad bike trail we have chosen is rated as one of the top trails in South Africa and has often featured in movies, commercials etc. This had us even more excited at the prospect of various photo ops and the bragging opportunities on the social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
We biked through the vineyards of Hamilton Russell and Southern Right wineries, travelled up the mountain as the dust raised clouds behind us. I thought biking through the fynbos (a rare plant species of South Africa), was quite cool: together with an introduction to the spectacular environment, it gave me extra time to explore the special floriculture and mountain scenery. Clinton educated us on the four primary plant groups of fynbos: proteas (large broad-leafed shrubs), ericas (low-growing shrubs), restios (thin reed-like plants) and geophytes (bulbs), identifying each. Fynbos must burn every 15-20 years to enable weaker plants to flourish and prevent them from being overwhelmed by stronger species. If this does not happen, more species could become extinct.
We climbed further up and entered the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, one of the most pristine viewpoints in the Western Cape. From here we had a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Hermanus and Walkerbay. I took many pictures of the splendid view, capturing the moment for posterity.The next day we drove through the very picturesque Clarence drive, while JP (our guide) religiously counted the Blue Cranes in wheat fields. This national bird of SA is found mostly in pairs. Blue Cranes are monogamous and they pair up for life.
With his telescopic eyes, JP spotted one bird that was trying to get the attention of a female and announced that it is not paired yet. I don’t know why, his soft chuckle soon turned into a guffaw, making fun of the male bird that is going to be tied up for life with his future mate. I didn’t find it funny at all. Is fidelity to be laughed at?
We entered the quaint coastal town of Betty’s Bay, to reach the Stony Point Nature Reserve, which is home to one of the largest successful breeding colonies of African Penguin in the world. Here we got to see penguins up close, via the boardwalk through the colony, observing the flightless birds go about their daily activities in their natural habitat, without disturbing or unsettling them.
There are also Hartlaub’s Gulls and Kelp Gulls, which forage in the colony, while the Rock Hyrax, more commonly known as the Dassie, can be seen on the surrounding rocks.
Interesting information is given about penguins at every turn. 60 million years ago, penguins converted their wings into bony flippers, which enable them to “fly” underwater where they hunt fish, crustaceans and squid; they evolved only in the cool waters of the southern hemisphere; double their weight before moulting, and then starve for 3 weeks; lay two white eggs, which both parents take turns to incubate for 38-42 days.Formerly, large number of penguin eggs was collected for sale in Cape Town mostly bought by bakeries, but it was banned in1967. Chicks are fed partly digested fish (regurgitated fish “porridge”) for three months until they leave the colony. When fully feathered, the young penguins go to sea and learn to catch fish for survival. Competition with industrial fisheries for sardines and anchovies has reduced chances of penguins finding food, which resulted in their population decline.
I spent a couple of hours in the company of these delightful creatures, observing their daily life. Some were loners, some were in groups, they all would walk to the shore, get into the water, swim briefly and return, mostly riding on a wave. It looked as if they were just having fun!Wine tasting at the lovely Neethlingshof Wine Estate, set in adorable surroundings was a unique experience. The estate is steeped in history, which dates back to 1692. Their beautiful avenue of stone pines is much celebrated. It’s a place where soil, climate and vines co-exist in perfect harmony. Their red and white wines are subtly oaked, showing softer tannins and greater harmony; grapes are afforded the perfect opportunity for slow ripening to reach full maturity and enhance their natural flavours and aromas.
As the water trickled from the fountains, the scent of beautiful white roses wafted across, amidst the enduring beauty of the past, I had a memorable lunch at their classy restaurant located at the Manor House which is a beautifully preserved Cape Dutch homestead dating back more than 200 years.
Isn’t that a fitting finale to my wonderful South Africa trip?
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)