Driving East: a road trip of landscapes, wine and whales

Posted by A on 15 November 2012

We left Cape Town early on a Thursday to see how the time-heeled live. To get a sneak peak of luxury life like taking dad’s fancy new car for a spin. The tables at Babylonstoren were nested in swallows. Rich and angry foreigners who fly here in the summer to eat colour themed salads and pumpkin fritters so good they should be illegal. At the back of the Franschhoek bowl the blue mountains shrug together. Blanketed in proteas and watch tourists to eat up Franschhoek like chocolate. Motorbikes whip and cut through the pass to Theewaterkloof like Marlborough cowboys of the Overberg. Ducati and Kawasaki. The stallions bred by the Italian and Japanese. These giant roads are curling paint swaths of engineering. Built as an act of proving the genius of frustrated national roadworks engineers from another era.  Long lines of tar swim deeply down into black dams with water lapping their walls like an oil spill.

Elgin Valley attracts cyclists faster than hippies to cous cous. Conversations gear between Lance and bodyweight and there’s more reference to calories than a Bridget Jones trailer (and twice as much leg shaving). Grabouw is braai and bakkie country with a pocket of small town shops. PEP. FNB. Discount Slaghuis. We browse through fenced suburbs and find a white plantation house owned and run like a Munich train station by a gentle German couple. Villa Exner. Our room furniture feels like we’ve checked into an awkward afro-zest pinterest moodboard. Norah Jones wants to fly me to the moon and her drizzle of jazz notes fall over our cool evening on the verandah. At the local Houw Hoek farmstore I was careful not to get my stomach into another fight with a florentine. Racks of chicken pies smell like warm farm dreams. You know a route is becoming popular by the amount of Asian tourist walking around shouting over Samsung tablet computers. Their adventures in Africa fenced only by 3G reception.

The back roads to Hemel en Aarde are through hills polished by 50 shades of khaki. We leave the cloud of Gmail and Facebook and enter the cloud of dust. Creation wines have pinot noir so good that patrons line up to land a table like an air-traffic holding pattern. Toward Caledon, the detour roads take us into hills of wheat, canola, sky and mountains which arrange themselves like bands of bottled sand art. We were nervous because at 4pm we still hadn’t confirmed our accommodation and might have to sleep in the vineyard like bergies with Pinot Noir. At the last minute we were rescued by a loft at Emits Cottages and we filled a valley as luminous as an Albert Bierstadt painting with the smell of braai’d lamb chops.

Hermanus locals deserve their own TV station. With fashion from Roodeport and bodies from protein shake they border on inspiration for a new Die Antwoord Video. This town is becoming too popular. It’s now Franchhoek by the sea meets Caprice for old people. Everybody knew it was coming but they kept building roads for the swarms of cars and crowds who flock to Checkers Hyper and whale-watching outposts. The new promenade feels beautiful but dry like walking through a 3d render. Glossy textbook architecture for tourist filled with Germans in national travel uniform. Socks with sandals. Norwegians covered in enough Northface polyesters and lenses to climb Everest and start a camera rental agency. I take a morning surf to burn off the guilt calories. As you go up the east coast surfers start to talk to each other again and personalities start warming up like the water.

We arrive at the Marine Hotel. The bakkie is so dirty from the backroads that the security want to send us to the construction entrance. Pluto the god of strength carries my bags along corridors so long they feel like walking into mirrors. The 100 year-old Marine Hotel hogs the best views of the sea and bay. The hotel has rooms and scenes with rich subtle history like an Edward Hopper. We eat out whale-shaped biscuits in a resturant where everybody is wearing moisturizer and asking the waiter if he’s from Malawi. A guy who wants to be Bono shuttles in with a girlfriend who’s just had a fight with a tan can. Karoo lamb, springbok and pinot noir tempt you to eat like it’s Christmas. We wake up to southern right whales a few hundred meters from our window. The whale information boards look like homework so we climb into sea kayaks and start guessing if they are logging, lobbing, breaching or just chilling. Dual kayaking is a where eco-workout meets couple’s therapy and the whales hide from us like naughty cats as we paddle our rubber ducks across a flat sea of frosted glass.


Pumpkin fritters so good they should be illegal

Franschhoek valley towards Theewaterskloof Pass

The pass to Theewaterskloof

Villa Exner in Elgin


More beautiful roads

Bakkie and braai country

Dam in the Hemel en Aarde

Detour to Caledon


View from the loft at Emitts Cottages in the Hemel en Aarde Valley

Back roads to Creation Wines

Couple therapy

Our room at The Marine Hermanus

The Marine

There was a whale here one second ago


I’ll be doing a series of these road trips as a way of launching the new Europcar Facebook app with Getaway Magazine. The app helps you plan and browse cool roadtrips around South Africa. You can check a map of my full trip ‘#DrivingEast’ out on on the Europcar App page.

The places

Lunch at Babylonstoren (www.babylonstoren.com) and first night in Elgin at Villa Exner Botique Hotel  (www.villaexner.com).

Day two was tasting at Creation Wines in Hemel en Aarde (www.creationwines.com) and night in the loft at Emetts Cottages: (www.capestay.co.za/emettshemel).

The last night we stayed at the beautiful Marine Hotel Hermanus, which is part of Liz Mcgrath collection.(www.collectionmcgrath.com/marine/)

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