Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Cape Town. Day 5. Stellenbosch/Franschhoek.

Early the next morning we were again collected in a mini-van, this time by Pieter, to head up into the world-famous wine districts around Stellenbosch. Compared to the previous day, the weather was warm, sunny and still – a perfect day for getting out into the countryside (also great weather for looking at whales and penguins, but you can’t have it all!)
Our first stop was a Spier winery – and not for the wines. Spiers has a renowned collection of birds of prey at Eagle Encounters, as well as the Cheetah Outreach. 2 amazing programs that are doing their best to look after the wildlife.

We first went into Eagle Encounters and were the only people there. The boys loved the birds, and got to pet a couple of very friendly barn owls. The centre tries to rehabilitate injured and mistreated birds.

When they are rehabilitating the Peregrine Falcons they often use masks to cover their eyes so they do not get stressed.

 The barn owls were so soft, and the boys bothe freaked out at how they can turn their heads 180 degrees.
 Could you ever imagine getting a baby owl, rolling it in packing tape and using it as a football??
We saw this little fellow on the road to recovery.

 Barn Owl
 Tawny Eagle
 Black Eagle
 Tawny Eagle, ready to rip the flesh from your fingers!

The eagles, falcons and hawks were beautiful - Cameron’s favourite was the Peregrine Falcon, the world’s fastest animal which can dive nearly 300 kms per hour.

We then went on the tour through the Cheetah Outreach facility to see the cheetahs. They were all in large enclosures, and it was not all that easy to get a good look at all of them – until a young boy about 5 years of age wandered off between the enclosures and aroused the natural instincts of the cheetahs! They were all up, at the fencelines and very interested in this small moving potential snack! Needless to say, the volunteers were quick to ask his parents to keep Junior a fraction closer to them, and not the cheetahs. 

Cheetahs are extremely elegant, but are incredibly ‘brittle’. If they get injured, they cannot run and therefore can’t hunt. They are extremely risk averse in the wild, and will be scared off a kill very quickly by other predators to ensure they avoid injury.

They have been known to bring down a small kill to distract their ‘followers’, before killing for themselves. They hunt by tripping using their dew claws (the smaller claws you may have seen further up the ‘wrist’ of your typical tabby) and then crushing the wind-pipe. They are very selective, and don’t bring down animals much bigger than themselves.

Therefore, sheep are highly attractive (slow, easily scared and a bit dopey) for Cheetah, and farmers are known to trap. Shoot and poison the Cheetahs near their farms. This only encourages other predators to move in, which is not helpful to anyone.
A wonderful ‘symbiotic’ solution has been found –a breed of dog called the Turkish Anatolian shepherd bonds with the sheep herd, and will bark loudly and scare away predatory cats. They are not likely to follow and attack the cats, but will defend the sheep vigorously. The Cheetah program has started breeding and supplying these dogs to farmers (with the first years expenses fully paid) and the results are astounding – flock losses on some farms have dropped from over 30% to under 2%, and most are without a single loss for the entire year. They are massive dogs, and the program seems to be a success – the cheetahs are not killed, and the farmers don’t lose their stock. A win-win foreveryone.  We didn't get a good photo of the dog, but please follow the above link to see a picture of the Turkish Anotolian shepherd and read more about the great work the Cheetah Outreach program are doing.
We found out that there were a number of cubs at an off-site facility. For an ‘appropriate’ donation to the program, it was possible to go and visit them. We couldn’t resist such an opportunity, and we booked in for the afternoon. This massively changed our plans for the day, as it meant we had to stay in the Stellenbosch area and not travel up to Franscheok, where Phil had planned to take Nicole and the boys to the fabulous Ruebens Restaurant.  We thought a hand-on visit to the cheetah cubs was well worth the change of plans.
After Spiers, it was on to the wine tasting! The first ‘farm’ (they are called wine farms here, and not wineries!) that we visited was Middelvlei Wine Estate. Excellent wines for Nicole and Phil, and a petting zoo for the kids (as well as the farm dogs, who were very friendly. Alexander and Cameron were wondering what these turtles were up to????

They especially liked seeing the Wallaby (he was quick), and a few rugby jokes (about Wallabies bashing up Springboks) were shared with the locals, much to Phil and Nicole’s amusement!

We then travelled into the town of Stellenbosch and had a look around, including in the oldest shop in the town, Oom Samie se Winkel (Uncle Sam's shop).  It has the most ecclectic things you could imagine.  Nicole would have bought quite a few things, if she knew they would not be confiscated at customs on the way into Australia, she was most disappointed to leave with nothing!

Pieter was from the area, and his local knowledge of the town made it an interesting tour.

Next stop was the wine farm Muratie Wine Estate, which had a lovely cellar with 30 year old cob-webs just to add to the ambience! There is a lot of history about the founding family, including how the wine estate owner, Laurens Campher fell in love with a slave girl, Ansela van de Caab.  Laurens would walk 40 kms each way to see her on her day off – taking a couple of days each way to get there! Still as a slave girl they had 3 children together, Cornelius, Jacoba and Agenetjie.  Ansela was emancipated in 1699 and Laurens brought her and the children back to Muratie where they were married. They made the farm a success and she ran it after Laurens died.

We had soup and a meat and cheese platter in the courtyard for lunch, with an excellent glass of their wine. As we were finishing one of the workers offered to take the boys on a bit of a walk down to see the farms’ ostrich and donkey. We finished off the last of the lunch and picked the boys up on our way out. They had a great time.

The theme continued – more animals than wine – but I suppose when you go wine tasting with kids, that this is bound to happen, not that we minded!

Our next stop was the cheetah cubs – there were nine cubs in a compound set on a farm away from Spiers winery. We disinfected our hands and shoes, and were instructed on the process for meeting the cubs – we would enter their compound, and would sit on some cushions set on the grass in one of the corners. The cubs could freely approach us as they liked. We also had the main handler, 2 volunteers (who were so in love with these cubs that I couldn’t imagine the tears when their 4 and 8 week stints came to an end!) and Dave from Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo (who was here to monitor two of the cubs, Michael and Lewis.  In November, Michael and Lewis will be shipped to Australia) on hand, who were happy to answer all of our questions.

It didn’t take long for a few of the cubs to come ambling over. The main one was Michael (heading to Australia with his brother Lewis) – who is known as being very gregarious and sometimes a bit cheeky. Cameron ended up being nibbled by Michael, and for the rest of the trip was happy to point out where he had been licked, scratched and bitten by a cheetah. Michael also spend a bit of time chewing on Phil's shoe laces.

 Several of the other cheetahs came over for a scratch, but the rest just kept doing what they were doing (playing, wrestling, watching the gardener outside the enclosure with interest, tracking the Turkish Anatolian shepherd puppies from thebreeding program with serious interest...)

They were captivating and gorgeous. We spent about ¾ of an hour with the cubs, and I think it was a highlight for all of us.
We washed our hands and said our (sad) goodbyes, and headed up the road for an icecream at the local Mooiberge Strawberry Farm. This place is a local landmark, and Pieter recalled happy times of stopping here in his childhood. It has a serious collection of scarecrows (if you can call them that) which really brighten up the farm.
After our icecream we headed to our last Vineyard for the day, the Hidden Valley Vineyard. Again, Pieter had made an excellent choice and we enjoyed the selection, sitting on the terrace in the sunshine.

Even the local lizard enjoys the view!

 Some of the local wines

 A perfect place to do some wine tasting after a long day of touring!
 View from the balcony

We then cruised for home, driving back in to Capetown and to our apartment. It was a fun day out, with Pieter really getting into the spirit of our trip. We laughed most of the way, with lots of fun stories and jokes shared by all. It was a great day out, and the two tours were a great way to see a little more around Capetown.

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