This post was originally penned in the winter of 2018. I’d just returned from a week on the French Riviera and landed back home to a miserable Cape Town so the invitation from Mossel Bay Tourism came at the perfect time. Right now we are faced with restricted international travel so now more than ever, exploring locally is the thing. The Western Cape is winning with options and the Garden Route is a good place to start.
Mossel Bay is only four hours from Cape Town by car and 40 minutes into George by plane. I’d not been in thirty years and was curious to see what it now had to offer.
MUCH MORE THAN A PIT STOP
Mossel Bay is loaded with character and welcoming hospitality. It also a convenient base from which to explore the gorgeous Garden Route. I flew in to George, drove the 25 minutes into town and put down five busy days. I got way more than I bargained for, in the best possible way. The little harbour town may not feature on your radar (yet) or rank as the prettiest town on the map, but take a trip – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
COFFEE (in town & beyond)
Artisanal coffee is big in the Bay and baristas are producing fine flat whites in a number of shops across town. Baruch’s roastery and restaurant in Voorbaai offers a selection of single origin blends and is the home of Israeli tapas, amongst other things. Beans – 100% Arabica -are roasted on site and prepared by ‘operators’, and if he’s around, Baruch will take you through a tasting.
Fearless Coffee shop and lounge on Marsh Street is all about the science of coffee. Coffeeologist and owner Loretta de Moor has created a welcoming space and applies several brewing methods such as Aero Press, Moko pot and Espresso. Try her omelette too- so good.
At Joan’s Florist & Coffee Club barista Olivia serves a sublime capuccino and while you wait for her to serve it, browse the gift shop and florist on the premises. In nearby Groot Brak Rivier (Big Brak River), Brothers Coffee, overlooking the green valley below, put their passion into the pour and have set the bar high.
Crafting superb bespoke high pressure brewing systems right in the centre of town is Super Veloce where the multi-disciplined mechanical engineer Paolo Mastrogiuseppe has developed a machine on site using aerospace grade alloys to manufacture custom-made vessels to precise client specifications. To quote the website, ‘the Aviatore Veloce is a quarter-scale re-creation of an authentic jet engine with the added functionality of a coffee or tea maker, either using filter coffee grinds or tea leaves’.
Mossel Bay’s timeline dates back 164,000 years. In 1488 the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias came ashore with his men (recorded as the first Europeans to ever set foot on South African soil), at a place close to where the current Dias Museum complex and Post Office milkwood Tree now stand. The town began to take shape in 1788 and to this day several old homes and other buildings remain, the architectural styles ranging from simple English stone cottages to gabled Cape Dutch buildings that have been sensitively restored.
I did a walkabout with Carina Wiggle from the Mossel Bay Heritage Society and Ben Lindeque from with RPRX Tours. theSome of the stand outs were the Old Standard Bank Building, the Modergemeente stone church and St Peter’s Church, having the tallest steeple in the Southern Hemisphere. RPRX took me on a stunning sunrise walk along the cliffs beneath the Cape St Blaize Lighthouse. For the more ambitious, their 6-hour hike also comes highly recommended.
POINT OF HUMAN ORIGIN
For a dose of history of another sort, a trip to the Point of Human Origin to the Middle Stone Age archaeological research site is a fascinating look into human history. It’s accessed via Pinnacle Point Golf Estate and the cave, close to 200,000 years old, is known as PP13B. Led by an exceptional guide, Christopher, you’ll walk along a hiking trail that leads away from the Pinnacle golf course through fynbos terrain and with sensational views flanking the route until you descend down a steep staircase that leads into PP13B. (Be prepared for the puffy ascent back up and make sure you have enough water.)
CUISINE, CAKE & A TIPPLE
Aside from the eating at previously mentioned coffee spots, there is the family-friendly Cafe Gannet opposite the town museum, owner-managed by the fabulous Janine Shippen. Enjoy sushi and seafood with sensational views across Santos Beach.
If you’re booked into self catering accommodation and fancy a dinner with a private chef, look no further than Karen du Plessis from Kitchen Queen Food Studio who will cook up a storm and make you feel right at home. I loved this experience, shared with new friends at the elegantly rustic New Stone Manor where I was hosted during my stay.
HIGH TEA & FANCY DRESS
For the best high tea this side of the Palace, the Monroe Theatre & Deja Vu Vintage Tea House is the place. It’s a quirky experience and a fabulous add-on to your MB itinerary. The generous spread is prepared by Joan and Dewaal Carstens and if you’re in the mood, don a glam hat from their vast collection to add to the olde-world vibe.
POTJIE KOS, & traditional food
Do a traditional breakfast in the urban boma at Hotel Portao Diaz in D’Almeida awaits- South African favourites like straight-off-the-coals roosterbrood (toasted rolls)- where the butter and jam melts into the bread and you dip it in a cup of drip coffee while your meal is prepared on the fire by Blommie and her team of cooks.
TRY THE PAP (porridge)
My fave though was the pap (porridge) – it’s my ultimate comfort food – and theirs is the bomb. After brekkie, ask for Tertius at the hotel as he’ll have more info on the available walking or driving tours into the township guided by Kim Pietersen, where lunch with the locals at a chesa nyama (local meat restaurant) can be arranged.
DE VETTE MOSSEL
One of the best and most unique dining experiences you can have in Mossel Bay is at De Vette Mossel right next to Souwesia beach, open all year round. Arrive, kick off your shoes and get down to the business of feasting. The seafood is outstanding, offered as a rolling buffet, but can we also just talk about the bread, baked right there. Piping hot doorstop slices lathered with butter and smeared with apricot jam. It’s hard to hold back but resist because trust me when I say you don’t want to miss out on a thing, especially the peri peri prawns, also prepared in front of you.
Another unexpected find in Mossel Bay was the Posboom Distillery based at the old train station where Pieter van der Walt is producing a range of liqueurs that have seen him win a number of Michelangelo Awards. Pay him a visit and taste them all, from the coffee (a gold winner at the 2018 competition), to the caramel vodka (my favourite) and traditional aniz escarchado or witblits (aka ‘moonshine’).
And if gin is your thing, then you’ll be delighted to know that Harmony Honeybush are about to launch theirs (if they haven’t already), adding it to an established line of fine teas and body care products. Word has it that there’s another new gin on the block made by Cape Blaize Distillery-can’t wait to try it on my 2021 trip!
BEYOND MOSSEL BAY to Klein & Groot Brak & Surrounds for oysters & more
When you’re done exploring Mossel Bay, drive to the coastal villages of Klein Brak Rivier and Groot Brak Rivier, all under thirty minutes away. The picturesque seaside villages are well known and if you love oysters, stop at Munro’s Cape Oysters.
Hein Munro does the shucking himself and the oysters are fresher than fresh, the perfect texture, prepped with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of tabasco sauce. Hein is particular about sustainability, and his product- the Common Rock Oyster- is harvested legally and ethically in keeping with strict eco policies.
Boplaas Tasting Room next to the Klipheuwel Farm Stall is another key stop, alpacas and all. When I was in Portugal I visited the Douro Valley which is home to some of the finest ports in the world. Boplaas (take a look at their conservation mandate as well) ranks right up there with the best of them according to my good friend and wine afficionado Emile Joubert, and I have to agree. The Boplaas repertoire goes beyond port to red and white wine and gin and whiskey, best enjoyed on the stoep with a cheese platter on the side. If you’re a craft beer fan the Salty River Beerhouse serves up of some of SA’s finest and it’s conveniently situated on the same property right next to the Klipheuwel bike track. And don’t forget to kiss an alpaca before – just watch out for the spitting. True story.
If you’re still in Groot Brak and up for dinner, there’s the rustic Transkaroo Restaurant, once an old railway station and in a lovely setting, positioned next to the lagoon. (There are a few stray cats roaming the carpark so take care when driving in.)
Chocolate fans should stop by at Rococo, a chocolatier salon where the cakes, bon bons and the hot chocolate lollies will sate your sugar crush.
Just when you thought your itinerary couldn’t take much more, there’s Botlierskop, a stunning private game reserve situated between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean with lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, the rare black impala and more, as well as a abundant bird life. The property blends into its surroundings and is the perfect urban escape. Lose yourself in nature, be pampered at the spa, (try the African Rungu massage), and enjoy a poolside lunch (watch out for the cheeky monkeys).
For more of an adventure, hop in a Travel-Ibiki shuttle and take a road trip to Botlierskop’s newest lodge – called the Village –on Kleinvlei Farm on the northern side of the Reserve where you can lunch at Bellevue Restaurant where kids can also have a ball. It’s very close to historical Friemersheim, originally a mission station that was established in the 1800’s. This hidden gem is home to a small community of 2000 and on what’s known as the ‘fragrance route’ – so worthy of a wander.
There’s much to see in Friemersheim – the old church, amazing private gardens like the one belonging to Hester and Mitchell Uithaler, decorated with upcycled 2 litre plastic bottles filled with coloured water, and the Kwekery (nursery) where you can buy several species of plants and walk in the fledgling lavender garden created from scratch after the devastating 2017 fire, by Petra Jordaan and friends.
If you’re after the Big 5, then book at the Garden Route Game Lodge, only 40 minutes from Mossel Bay, for some bush R&R and do the early morning game drive. Aside from viewing the game, the sight of day breaking over the Langeberg mountains is spectacular.
Hop on the Diaz Express that leaves from the old station and does a 15 kilometre trundle giving a birds eye view across the bay and stopping at the Hartenbos railroad siding.
Before you embark though, walk to the other side of the bridge and you’ll notice a huge installation artwork of Nelson Mandela. Investigate further, and you’ll come across exceptional metal sculptures, also made from repurposed scrap by Boshoff Botha.
LIFE IS A BEACH
…in Mossel Bay, 300 out 365 days of the year according to the local tourism office. Having 3 out of the 23 Blue Flag beaches, internationally rated for safety, amenities, cleanliness and environmental standards, that are listed in a single province, Western Cape – namely De Bakke, Hartenbos and Klein Brak Beach. Santos Beach is one of my favourites, marked by the restored colonial style pavilion, one of only two still in use in the world today, the other being in Brighton, UK.
So you see, there’s more to Mossel Bay than meets the eye and it’s offering exceeds expectations. It’s a great winter get-away destination. The weather is temperate, sea is warm, the surf is great, the whales and dolphins come to play each year, the sand is soft and summer in winter is an actual thing. And for Capetonians who relish summer-in-winter, it’s warmer, cheaper and way closer than the Cote d’Azur. What’s not to love?
Visit tourism website for the full offering for more info.
Mossel Bay- do stuff!
Mossel Bay Tourism | Accommodation: New Stone Manor and Garden Route Game Lodge | Tours: Real People Real Experiences and Travel-Ibiki | Working space: Comind | Social media back up & Diva’s chaperone: Riaan Jordaan
Mossel Bay Tourism can advise how to curate an all-encompassing itinerary to suit your needs and Follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for destination and Garden Route inspo! #getmetomosselbay !