Robertson, Cape – Small Town, Big Food, Good Birding

Who can resist  a Cape country stay and good food, with some great birding thrown in?

When we spend time at our home in Mossel Bay, as we did during July this year, we often try to break away to an area that we have not visited or explored before. This time around we chose Robertson in the Western Cape, just 2 and a half hours from Mossel Bay, and after scanning through all the options on Booking.Com we settled on Orange Grove Farm for our two night stay. Gerda and I also like to try out special restaurants now and again and were pleased to get a booking at the Reuben’s Restaurant in Robertson, owned by the renowned chef of the same name and with a reputation for fine dining.

The last Monday in July saw us heading west along the N2 National road to Swellendam and from there branching off to Ashton and Robertson, a road quite familiar to us by now, but always a delight and particularly so at this time of year, with the contrasting greens and yellows of the scattered wheat and canola fields providing a spectacular patchwork.

Canola fields
Canola fields

First stop for lunch was at Riversdale where the restaurant had a welcoming fire going (did I mention there was a severe cold spell over most of SA?) and simple but hearty food – we chose toasted sarmies and coffee to keep us going. The friendly owner also helped us choose some frozen home-made meals for the evening meal at Orange Grove, which is a self-catering resort, and later we were only too happy that we had chosen this option as we popped the Bobotie and rice in the microwave for an instant delicious supper.

Riversdale cafe
Riversdale cafe

Not much later we stopped at Orange Grove’s reception, but not before having a coffee in the restaurant at Rooiberg Winery Restaurant, right at the turn-off to Orange Grove. We were very tempted to try their pineapple Danish – you can make up your own mind whether we succumbed to the temptation or not, suffice to say we really enjoyed that last short stop.

By 5pm we were in our chalet set against the slopes of the fynbos-covered mountain, looking over the vineyards and olive groves with the valley in the background.

The cottage
The cottage

The chill of evening was setting in fast so I got the wood fire going and the gas heater running, then braved the chill air to start a new atlas card with the many visiting birds attracted to the indigenous garden and surrounding fynbos – cheerful Cape Robin-Chats and Bokmakieries with their well-known calls, White-Eyes twittering and Karoo Prinias in good form, moving about restlessly.

Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Robin-Chat

It was not long before the sun started disappearing behind the surrounding mountains, prompting the resident Cape and House Sparrows to settle in for the night as the cold really set in.

Next morning we slept late, with our breakfast basket arriving at 8.30am, beautifully packed with the goodies we had ordered off the list – all for self preparation. “Real” coffee from the French press went down well with a warm muffin and a skewer of fresh fruit with yoghurt – it’s moments like this that you feel really privileged and spoilt.

Once showered, I found a sunny spot on the patio and kept a lookout for passing birds, which did not disappoint. Fiscal Flycatcher is really at home here and it is also the most recorded bird in the pentad (reminder : a pentad is an 8km x 8 km block based on co-ordinates). Not far behind are the Sunbirds (Malachite and Southern Double-collared) in their colourful finery, and a selection of Canaries (Brimstone, Cape and Yellow), perky as always.

Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Flycatcher
Indigenous garden
Indigenous garden
Sunny corner in the morning
Sunny corner in the morning
Brimstone Canary
Brimstone Canary

Later in the morning Johan and Rosa (Gerda’s sister) arrived and we  took the short drive to the Rooiberg Winery restaurant for lunch and a chance to catch up on family news both sides and enjoy some of the simple but tasty fare on offer. Knowing we had a dinner date in the evening, Gerda and I went for the safe option of fish and chips, which turned up beautifully grilled, while Johan and Rosa chose the chicken curry, equally delicious judging by their satisfied murmurs.

The big chair at Rooiberg Winery restaurant
The big chair at Rooiberg Winery restaurant
Check those prices!
Check those prices!

The wine was from Rooiberg’s selection and I was pleasantly surprised that the cellar (next door) prices applied in the restaurant – where else in the world can you be served an acceptable wine for less than R40 (that’s about 2 Pounds!)

After a lengthy and relaxed lunch, we settled the reasonable bill, said our farewells and returned to Orange Grove Farm, where I set out to do some justice to the atlas list. I soon had all three species of Mousebird (Speckled, Red-faced and White-backed) chalked up and a group of 5 Domestic Geese on the nearby dam while the other dam further along the road had Black Duck and Coots.

Orange Grove Guest farm
Orange Grove Guest farm
White-backed Mousebird
White-backed Mousebird

A walk along the road next to the riverine bush was quite productive with Pied Barbet in the trees and a variety of birds on and around a mound of organic fertiliser (that’s the nice term for it) – Doves, Sparrows, Weavers, Bishops and a few Cape Spurfowl all vying for a spot.

Swee Waxbill turned up in the trees and settled for a while for a late afternoon grooming session, but were not easy to photograph, while a Southern Tchagra popped out of the lower stratum of the bushes long enough to snatch a photo.

Swee Waxbill
Swee Waxbill
Southern Tchagra
Southern Tchagra

We had booked in advance for Reubens Restaurant that evening, but when it came to going out in the cold and driving the 20 Kms to Robertson we almost cancelled – thank goodness we persevered as it was a memorable meal in very pleasant surroundings, with some really stunning dishes accompanied by an excellent Merlot – the photos don’t do the dishes justice but use your imagination and sense the subtle flavours and perfect cooking!

Dinner at Reubens in Robertson
Dinner at Reubens in Robertson
Gerda enjoying Reubens
Gerda enjoying Reubens
Springbok loin (the animal not the rugby player)
Springbok loin (the animal’s not the rugby player’s)
Orange souffle
Orange souffle
Crème Brulee
Crème Brulee

Next morning we again lay in till late then set off on the return trip to Mossel Bay, again stopping at our new favourite roadside restaurant for coffee and a breakfast pastry (the infamous “load shedding” meant we could not boil water for coffee that morning). The road back was not busy and we took it easy, just enjoying the passing scenery, which at this time of year includes a vibrant display of flowering aloes, some natural, others planted.

Aloes along the Ashton-Swellendam road
Planted Aloes along the Ashton-Swellendam road

Riversdale was our last stop at just the right time for tea (no, we resisted the cakes this time). Passing Mossgas (PetroSA) the rain had formed temporary wetlands in the fields and the Gulls and others were making the most of it.

Gulls in temporary vlei near PetroSA (after soaking rains)
Gulls in temporary vlei near PetroSA (Mossgas) (after soaking rains)

Shortly after, we were back “home” in Mossel Bay (well it is our second home) with some pleasant memories of a charming part of South Africa.

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