SA's wild, wild west

2014-02-12 08:21
“Just follow the noise,” Sarah from Wine Flies said as our group made its way through the stalls and vendors of Green Market Square.  

Umm… which noise exactly, I wondered at first. Because, well, there was a lot of noise going down amid the early morning bustle.

But, as we moved along, sidestepping trollies filled with colourful sarongs, wood carvings and beaded jewellery, one anachronistic noise rose above the rest.

“Read all about it! Read all about it! Come get the latest news from around the colony! Step right up!”

And sure as nuts, there he was – a man in a tweed suit, bowler hat and a pair of spectacles standing on the steps of the old Town House waving, what looked like, tea-stained pamphlets in the air. Drawn like black flies to chardonnay, we gathered around him and so commenced our trip into the historical Cape hinterland.

Forgotten Route  



Started by Cape Town-based boutique tour operator, Wine Flies at the end of 2013, the one night, two day Forgotten Route journey offers adventurous history buffs and wanderlusting wine lovers a truly offbeat excursion into the Little Karoo, following in the footsteps of rough and ready Victorian-era traders with diamond dreams in their eyes.  

While the journey comprises a range of different facets, the highlight is undoubtedly a two-hour train ride that takes you to the perfectly preserved historical town of Matjiesfontein.  

A traipse around Cape Town  

Our trip kicked off early on a Friday morning with a walking tour along Capetonian landmarks – the Old Town House on Green Market Square, Wale Street and, of course, the Company Gardens.  

After tossing a sufficient amount of peanuts at opportunistic squirrels and admiring the 350-something-year-old Saffron Pear Tree (the oldest cultivated tree in South Africa), we made our way to the 12-seater tour bus and headed off to the Kimberley Hotel in Roeland Street.



Built in 1895, this legendary watering hole originally served as an integral connection point for horse-drawn carriages moving between Cape Town and Kimberley during the diamond rush and is still a favourite hangout for modern-day rogues and rebels of the hipster kind.  

Here we received a tour briefing and our all-important passports for the journey lying ahead from our pocket watch-bearing guide, Riaan, over a cup of coffee… or for the slightly thirstier, a pre-10am pint.  

Onward to Rawsonville

Once the last sips of coffee had been swallowed and remaining swigs of beer had been downed, it was back to the tour bus, on to the N1, through the Huguenot Tunnel and right to the doorstep of Kirabo Private Cellar in Rawsonville.

Situated in the picturesque Breedekloof Valley, just an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Kirabo is a charming family-run boutique cellar specializing in red wine. The farm has been in the Le Roux family for five generations and absolutely oozes the sort of tranquil vibrance that comes with well-established places. The sense of gratitude and wonder is reflected in the name Kirabo, a Lugandan word meaning gift from God.



Sitting in a somewhat chic shed, we tasted their diverse red wine selection, paired with – wait for it – CUPCAKES! The odd combination was inspired by their slightly sweet, easy drinking wine named after the popular and pretty confectionary.  

Train to Matjiesfontein

Feeling only slightly buzzed we hit the road once more – this time to the Worcester station where we boarded South Africa’s quintessential cross-country train, the Shosholoza Meyl.



From the comfy booths of the restaurant compartment, we admired the swiftly changing scenery – the folded mountains of the Hex River Valley melted into little Karoo plains, which in turn gave rise to dusty towns with little white houses and even a space-age looking solar energy farm.

And suddenly… we were back in the 1890s.  

At least that’s what our arrival at the Matjiesfontein station felt like, as we received a round of cocktails to the sweet soundtrack of an old gramophone.



The strange sense of anachronism increased as we crossed the town’s single street and headed on toward the Lord Milner Hotel where we would be spending the night and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by plush red velvet, polished wood and slightly creepy paintings.

Once we'd found our rooms and dropped our bags, we set off on the shortest town tour ever: a 10-minute red bus trip around town in the ‘Beefeater.’ Our Matjiesfontein-based guide, John Theunissen, made a candid announcement two minutes in “we’ll now turn left, because we can’t turn right” and shortly after “we’ll now turn right, because we can’t turn left,” which took us squarely back to where we started.      



A man of many talents, John easily shifted into the piano chair at the Laird’s Arms Pub to regale everyone with honkey-tonk-flavoured folk sing-alongs, such as ‘O Ryperd,’ Suikerbossie and even his own rendition of ‘De La Rey.’

Although the hotel is rumoured to be haunted by at least two ghosts, our frivolous evening of singing, dancing and eating perfectly braaied lamb chops, flowed seamlessly into a night of peaceful sleep – a relief to some, but a great disappointment to others.  

Although it’s hardly bigger than a postage stamp, Matjiesfontein has a special sort of energy about it, perhaps the spirit of founder, railwayman James Douglas Logan still hanging around?

The Scotsman, who served as superintendent for this stretch of railway during the last part of the 1800s, bought the piece of land on which the town now stands and invested a good deal of energy and funds into transforming it into something of a hub for the British Empire in South Africa during the Victorian era.

Not only did it serve as the headquarters for the Cape Command during the Anglo-Boer War, but also birthed a new era of sport in Africa, as Logan shared his passion for cricket.  

Koo Valley 

After a jam-packed Friday, it seemed almost impossible that the Saturday could live up, but it did. And how! After a hearty Lord Milner breakfast we were off once more, taking a sho’t left into the Koo Valley – where we got to taste the finest biltong and dried fruit the Western Cape has to offer at a tiny little café called Oupa Batt Se Winkel. All prepared and cured by co-owner, Tannie Hannetjie, and a team of 20 local women, the dried goods are naturally preserved, sulfite-free and beyond delicious.  



As if we hadn’t been spoiled enough Tannie Hannetjie treated us to a lunch comprising a variety of potjies that had been simmering on the fire all morning, served with rice and salad and rounded off with watermelon and sponge cake for desert.  

With full bellies and half-mast eyes, we headed off to our last destination for the trip – Kingna Distillery just outside Montagu for brandy tasting.  Run by the Hunlun family, the distillery produces luscious 5 and 12 year pot stilled brandies, which can be sampled during tasting sessions in the steampunk-style cellar.  



On the way home, the bus makes one last stop at an old Anglo-Boer War blockhouse in Montagu before heading back towards Cape Town, finally giving everyone a chance to catch a satisfied mobile cat nap.

If you’re looking for a fun weekend away with your partner or a group of friends, the Forgotten Route comes highly recommended. While it could also be a fun family activity, it’s best to leave young kids at home.  

What you need to know  

Cost: From R1 390 per person, includes everything except lunch and drinks

Duration: Two full days, one night. Which means, set aside your entire Friday and Saturday for the experience.

Contact details: call +27 (0) 21 423 2444+27 (0) 21 423 2444 or email info@traintokaroo.co.za

More information: http://theforgottenroute.co.za/
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Read more on:    cape town  |  travel  |  travel south africa  |  lifestyle
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