If you’re done with the cold, factor Mossel Bay into your future. Winter is giving Capetonians the cold shoulder and if you want to escape the drippy season, why not chase down the sun along the Garden Route. This year, my winter escape was the French Riviera but let’s face it, it’s tres far away and with the Euro trading at increasingly horrible levels against the Ront, flitting overseas is an expensive excercise. So when Mossel Bay Tourism invited me to visit, I didn’t hesitate. Aside from its balmy winter climate and its perfect proximity to home – it’s only 4 hours away by car and 40 minutes into George by plane – I’d not been in thirty years and was curious to see the changes and what it now had to offer.
Turns out it deserves far more than a pit stop as there’s so much to discover. The town is loaded with character and oozes hospitality. It also serves as the ideal base from which to explore the gorgeous and ecologically diverse Garden Route. I flew in, drove the 25 minutes into town, put down five busy days, and 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 you’ll ever see, but take a trip, linger longer and unpack more than your suitcase. Read on to find out more.
But first, coffee (in town & beyond)
Artisanal coffee is big in the Bay and brew crews are producing fine flat whites all over 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 having Baruch take you through a tasting is quite an eye opener – he’s quite the purist and a champion of the proper coffee cause.
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, plus does an omelette that you really don’t want to miss out on.
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, if you’ll pardon the pun.
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 innovated an industrial artform using aerospace grade alloys to manufacture, on site, 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’.
Heritage & History
Mossel Bay’s timeline dates back 164,000 years and its more modern history is traced to 1488 when 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 point close to where the current Dias Museum complex and Post Office milkwood Tree now stands. The town began to take shape in 1788 and to this day several old homes and other buildings remain from back then, built in various architectural styles ranging from simple English stone cottages to gabled Cape Dutch buildings that have been sensitively restored.
I was fortunate to have both Carina Wiggle from the Mossel Bay Heritage Society (hers was an unofficial tour) and Ben Lindeque from RPRX Tours, show me a few beauties on two different days – the Old Standard Bank Building, the Modergemeente stone church and St Peter’s Church, that boasts the tallest steeple in the Southern Hemisphere. RPRX took me on an unforgettable sunrise walk (with the best flask coffee & rusks!) along the cliffs beneath the Cape St Blaize Lighthouse. For the more ambitious, the 6-hour hike also comes highly recommended.
For a dose of history of another sort, a trip to the Point of Human Origin to the astounding Middle Stone Age archaeological research site is a fascinating excursion. It’s accessed via Pinnacle Point Golf Estate and the cave, close to 200,000 years old, is known as PP13B. It’s the grand finale that follows an interesting talk by an exceptional guide, Christopher, and encompasses a refreshing walk along a hiking trail that snakes away from the golf course Pinnacle through aromatic fynbos, sensational views flanking the route, and ending 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 & tipple
Being a small town, the choices are a little limited but there are a few key recommendations. Aside from the eating at previously mentioned coffee spots, there is the family friendly Cafe Gannet run by the warm and welcoming Janine, with delish sushi and seafood, and a broad menu, found next to the museum in a prime location with views for days 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.
For the best high tea this side of Buckingham Palace, the Monroe Theatre & Deja Vu Vintage Tea House is the place. What a delightful experience and a fabulous add-on to your MB itinerary. The sumptuous spread prepared by Joan and Dewaal Carstens is exceptional and if you’re in the mood, don a glam hat from their vast collection to add to the vibe.
We go from posh to potjie, and a traditional breakfast in the urban boma at Hotel Portao Diaz in D’Almeida awaits. Try South African favourites like straight-off-the-coals roosterbrood (toasted rolls)- let the butter and jam melt into the bread and dip it in a cup of drip coffee while your meal is prepared on the fire by Blommie and her team of cooks.
My fave though was the pap (porridge) – it’s my ultimate comfort food – and theirs is the bomb. After eating, ask for Tertius at the hotel – 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.
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, say hello to the owner Nikki, and, toes in the sand, get right 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 on site – piping hot loaves waiting to be thickly sliced and lathered 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 insanely good prawns, which like the other fishy dishes, are all prepared right there.
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 this years 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.
Just outside Mossel Bay: Klein & Groot Brak & Surrounds
When you’re done exploring Mossel Bay, a drive out leads to the coastal villages of Klein Brak Rivier and Groot Brak Rivier, all in under thirty minutes. The picturesque seaside villages are well known for a multitude of amazingness and if you love oysters, then stop at Munro’s Cape Oysters and thank me later.
I only tried oysters for the first time two years ago in Namibia and for me, they’re an acquired taste – I’ve had days when I love them and days when I don’t. Now though, after downing four shucked for me by Hein Munro himself, I’m craving them, fresher than fresh, the perfect texture, prepped with a squeeze of lemon and a drop of tabasco sauce. Happily for me, Hein is particular about sustainability and his product- the Common Rock Oysters- are harvested legally and ethically, in keeping with strict eco policies. In a word, epic.
After that, it’s wine o’clock and Boplaas Tasting Room next to the Klipheuwel Farm Stall is calling, alpacas and all. I was in Portugal a few weeks ago, in 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), according to my good friend and wine afficionado Emile Joubert, ranks right up there with the best of them, and I have to agree. The Boplaas repertoire goes beyond port to red and white wine, gin and whiskey, best enjoyed on the stoep with a cheese platter on the side and an alpaca on the horizon. If you’re a craft beer fan, like me, 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 adorable stray cats roaming the carpark so take care when driving in.
And since everyone has a sweet tooth, pop a praline at Rococo, a chocolatier salon dedicated to decadence and where the cakes, bon bons and the best hot chocolate lollies will sate your sugar crush.
Nature, rejuvenation & rural tourism
Aloes are bright and beautiful and everywhere in Mossel Bay – like sausage dogs. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many of one breed in one place, ever- loved it!
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 surrounding and feels like a sanctuary, the perfect escape from city life where you can lose yourself in nature, be pampered at the spa, (try the African Rungu massage), enjoy a meal poolside (watch out for the cheeky monkeys), or relax in the lounge next to the fire. 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 as the landscape shifts from inky black to purple, mauve and dusty pink, and the veld comes alive.
There is no shortage of things to do in Mossel Bay -pay a visit to the tourism website for the full offering. Another quirky activity, done after visiting Posboom Distellers, is to hop on the Diaz Express that leaves from the old station and take the 15 kilometre trundle along the operational Transnet tracks for a birds eye view across the bay, 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. The artist, Boshoff Botha is a huge talent and should be exhibiting in a major gallery somewhere.
Life’s 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 an obvious 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?
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 !