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bouldersgeneral

manybeachThe Boulders and its African Penguins

We have a lot of photos for this post, so please enjoy scrolling through. It was such a privilege to be able to see so many penguins.

Some of our family in South Africa live in Kommetjie on the Cape Peninsula, so after lunch one day they suggested a visit to The Boulders to see the penguins. They have a young daughter and said that she loves going there. Seeing as we had our young granddaughter with us on this trip, we thought that was a great idea. And it was, even though it was extremely windy.

The Boulders is a protected area, part of Table Mountain National Park.

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beachThe Boulders is on a sheltered cove between Simonstown and Cape Point and is an area with quite a few small beaches and sheltered bays and many huge granite boulders that enclose them. It’s believed these boulders are about 540 million years old. When you see the area, it’s quite obvious where the name comes from!

One the one side the area is bordered by indigenous bush above the high-water mark, and on the other by the clear waters of False Bay. The Boulders has become world famous for the thriving colony of African Penguins. The cove is right next to a residential area, but it is one of the few sites where this endangered bird (Spheniscus demersus) can be seen at close range, wandering freely in a protected natural environment.

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You can see a swimmer down there

Swimming is allowed at one of the beaches (Boulders Beach, off the second parking area) and we did see some people in the water, but not very close to a few penguins. None of us thought about swimming—besides having to pay, it just doesn’t seem right somehow to be in the water perhaps close to the penguins, either disturbing them, or helping to habituate them to humans.

There is a parking area at each end of the cove, connected by a small road for local residents on one end, and then a boardwalk, which is free. Local vendors set up stalls selling some South African souvenirs on the edge of the parking area—some look very nice, and our daughter actually did buy a dress for our granddaughter made from a local indigenous print.

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EmboardWalking along the boardwalk (or running, in the case of the kids) was fun, as we saw lots of penguins just below in the vegetation buffer zone, plus hundreds further down on the beaches. We even saw a couple on the boardwalk, just waddling along, which thrilled our granddaughter. They are cute, almost comical-looking, birds and we felt very privileged to see so many. With their black and white plumage, it almost looks like they have tuxedoes on, with just a little pinkish-red color above the eyes!

 

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There’s a penguin down there

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viewdowncloserTo get even closer to the actual colony, on some looping boardwalks that go almost to Foxy Beach, you have to pay. For adult South Africans (over age 12) it was R78 each, and children R39. For other African countries close to South Africa (there are 14 SADC—Southern African Development Community—countries) it’s adults R152 and children R76; and for international visitors adult R303 and children R152. This sliding price scale applies to many special attractions and parks in South Africa, unfortunately. The motivation for this is to allow locals to experience the wonder of these popular destinations at a more affordable rate. Only a couple from our party did this, as we got a good look at the penguins from our walk.

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Tweedledum and Tweedledee

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Penguins in the water

The African Penguin is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature). From an estimated population of 1.5 million in 1910, by the end of the 20thcentury only about 10% remained. The main reasons were the harvesting of penguin eggs for food, and commercial trawling, which reduced the penguins’ food supply. At The Boulders the penguins have rebounded from just two breeding pairs in 1982 to a colony of about 2,200 in recent years. This is partly because commercial trawling has decreased, thereby increasing the supply of pilchards and anchovy, which form a large part of the penguins’ diet (they also like squid). It’s also because they are protected here.

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An information board

one4There are a number of information boards along the board walk, giving lots of facts and figures about these birds and their life cycle. So, here are a few fun facts.

FUN FACTS ABOUT AFRICAN PENGUINS

–They used to be called Jackass Penguins because of their donkey-like braying call. But a number of species of South American penguins have the same sound so these local birds were renamed African Penguins, as they are the only species that breed in Africa.

–They can swim an average of 7km (4.3 miles) per hour and can stay underwater for up to 2 minutes.

–Ocean enemies include sharks, Cape fur seals, and killer whales. Land enemies include viewdownpenguinsmongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs, plus gulls that steal their eggs and new-born chicks.

—They make their nests in the ground as they cannot fly. They are social breeders so they nest in colonies, but protect the area around their particular nest. Breeding starts at about 4 years of age, and main breeding season starts in February. African Penguins are monogamous, and take turns to incubate their eggs and feed their young.

generalview–New-born chick are covered in down, which is not waterproof. After about 30 days, both parents head out to sea to find food. Many young chicks congregate then for protection. After about 60 days the chicks’ plumage changes to a waterproof blue-grey color, and they can learn to go to sea. At this stage they are called “Baby Blues”. After about a year to 2 years, the Baby Blues moult and get black-and-white plumage.

–During the annual moult old worn feathers are replaced. During this period the birds warningbitlose their waterproofing and cannot head out to sea for about 21 days, so the moulting period is often called the time of starvation and before the moult they need to fatten up.

–Peak moulting time is December, after which they head out to sea to feed, as they do not feed during moulting. They return in January to mate and begin nesting from February to August.

–Penguins have very sharp beaks and can cause serious injury if the bite or lunge. So, be aware.warningsign

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden Valley Winery from up on the hill walk

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Some of Hidden valley’s vineyards

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Some of the olive trees

On our last trip to South Africa we were lucky enough to visit a number of wineries we’d never been to before (see Idiom Winery here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/idiom-lunch-with-a-stunning-view/).

Hidden Valley was another one. We’d driven past the entrance many times before on our way up to the end of the road at Uva Mira Winery, but never got around to stopping. Thank goodness our sister-in-law, who lives in the area, decided this was a good lunch place, as it’s another gem, in a stunning location.

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Winery buildings from The Deck

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The lake

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Path along the lake to The Deck

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The Deck from the path

This winery is high up on the Stellenbosch Helderberg, just below Uva Mira Winery. After driving up the steep entrance road, you park and then can choose to either walk up the ramp to the large modern tasting room and the fancy Overture Restaurant (reservations and many $$ required!), or take the path along the edge of a small lake, surrounded by lovely indigenous gardens, to The Deck. We chose the latter.

The Deck, a casual eating place, is a floating deck on the lake. The view up to the mountains and the vineyards is spectacular, and it’s an unusual experience to eat and enjoy a bottle of wine while rocking ever so slightly on the water. We had a burger and wine—seems like a strange combination but it worked.

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Us on The Deck

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The Deck and lake from hill walk

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Classic Fragment (Face)

Along the path we passed two large bronze outdoor sculptures; one a face (called Classic Fragment) that has become the icon of Hidden Valley and is now on most of the wine labels; the other is called Ramona, an attractive young female figure. These pieces are only some of the “hidden” gems that one can find around the farm. The same bronze face, just smaller, greets visitors as they walk up the ramp to the tasting room. We also found a gorgeous big cat in a slivery metal (we think a Cape leopard, but there was no identifying plaque) near a parking lot above Overture Restaurant.

 

 

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Ramona

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Wine label (stuck in my travel notebook)

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I pose with a smaller Classic Fragment

You can take a walk on a circular loop from The Deck up the hill behind, winding through the fynbos, past some of the estate’s vineyards and olive groves, getting a great overview of the estate and across to the mountains. Rod did it while I sat with our sisters-in-law and just enjoyed being on the deck.

In 2015, banker Riaan Stassen (who has been involved with wine for many years) became the new owner of Hidden Valley and oversaw numerous new projects and upgrades. The cellar is still surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, almond orchards, and gorgeous fynbos gardens, but there is now a sculpture studio run by sculptor local Willie Botha

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What we think is a Cape leopard

(1958-), and some luxury accommodation next to the Overture Restaurant.

To get to Hidden Valley, take the R44 towards Stellenbosch. At Mooiberg Farm, turn right into Annandale Road, which is quite narrow. It splits after a little bit, so follow the road up, past Guardian Peak, towards Uva Mira. An even narrower road turns off that, and winds upwards.

 

 

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Alumni Park, between Red Gym and the Memorial Union

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Badger Pride Wall

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Badger Pride Wall, night

Alumni Park is on campus, between the Memorial Union and the Red Gym. This spot was chosen for the park, as it’s the most popular entryway into campus.

The idea of a park-like promenade in this spot was included in the 1908 Campus masters plan, a dream that was finally realized in 2017. In 2009 Alumni Association president Paula Bonner decided to work on this idea again (it was then a parking lot) and worked very hard to get donations, find artists etc. I’m told that this is the first such Alumni Park in the USA.

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harleyThis pretty spot tells stories of the university and its graduates and the ways they changed the world. It is just 1.3 acres but has many plants and shrubs, and on the edge is the 80-foot Badger Pride Wall, designed by Nate Koehler. It’s lovely by day, but really striking at night when it is specially lit up.

Alumni Way winding through the center of the park has various exhibit panels telling about ideas and achievements of UWM alumni, such as William Harley (1880-1943) of Harley-Davidson fame, who got a degree in mechanical engineering here in 1907. He and Arthur Davidson founded the company in 1903.

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WellredOn the lake side of the park, a big Bucky sculpture welcomes visitors to the park. Called “Well Red”, this 8-foot-high glass and bronze sculpture was created by sculptor Douwe Blumberg, with glass artist Dan Neil Barnes. Clever name, as the idea of reading is the link to a university, and red to the main color of the university mascot, Bucky the Badger.

 

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Note the commemorative wall behind the statue

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View from the Spirit

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Part of the Thomas wall

Chicago has a fantastic collection of public art, of all shapes, sizes and themes. Over the years we’ve tried to track down as many as we can, and I’ve written about many of them already. We spent last weekend in the city and had the chance to wander around Grant Park more than we have before, thus discovering more public art.

This lovely sculpture, the Spirit of Music, in Chicago’s Grant Park is also known as the Theodore Thomas Memorial.

 

 

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Note the face on the lyre

Theodore Thomas(1835-1905) was the founder of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1891 and The Spirit of Music is a tribute to him. Under his directorship, Chicago gained a reputation for musical excellence, which continues today. The figure, and the monument behind it, were sculpted in 1923 by Czech-American artist and sculptor Albin Polasek(1879-1965). Polasek came to Chicago to head the sculpture department at the Art Institute School. Instead of creating a sculpture of Thomas, Polasek decided on a tall bronze muse holding a lyre. The artist said that the face on the lyre was modeled on his own face.

 

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mooseThe half-ball base on which the muse stands is decorated with different animals, such as a moose, a bison, and a bear—also quite striking.

The monument is in the strip of park along Michigan Avenue, almost opposite the Blackstone.

There is a museum to Albin Polasek in Winter Park, Florida. I wrote about it here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/albin-polasek/and here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/masterpiece-of-the-week/april/

 

 

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Rod M and El Drago trunk

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El Drago

signEl Drago Milenario, the Dragon Tree

In Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

This big old tree is advertised in all the guidebooks to Tenerife, so we decided we had to go and see it. It’s in a special park in Icod de los Vinos (Icod of the vines), a town not far along the coast from Garachico where we were staying. Parking is a huge problem as this is a big tourist attraction, and as I mentioned before there’s not a lot of parking space on the islands as there’s not a lot of flat land. So it’s best to follow the signs for the El Drago parking garage (not free).

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Square Andes de Lorenzo-Caceres

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El Drago and other smaller dragon trees in the park

We paid 3 euros each to get into the park (senior rate). You can see the tree from a pretty town square next to the park, the Square Andres de Lorenzo-Caceres around the Church of San Marcos, begun in the 16thcentury. But it’s worthwhile going into the actual park and walking in it a bit: you get closer to the tree and see many other trees and plants in the park.

Why is this tree one of the biggest tourist attractions of the island?

The El Drago (Dracaena draco) is supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world (it looked like some kind of euphorbia to us) but the actual age is disputed: some claiming that it’s up to 1,000 years old, but most experts say that’s very unlikely. It’s not a hardwood tree so it’s amazing that it’s that old anyway. It’s also the largest D.draco tree alive, partly because of its massive trunk formed by clusters of aerial roots that grew from the bases of the lowest branches and grew down to the soil.

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A dragon tree with berries on Gran Canaria

 

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Municipal Park, Arucas, on Gran Canaria

The park has many other dragon trees, much smaller (some were especially planted to hopefully replace this old tree when it does finally die). Other parts of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and three of the other Canary Islands also have some these trees in various places, so they are emblematic of the islands. However, they are not as prolific as before and are actually on an endangered list in some places.

The Dragon Tree is one of the most unusual plants on the Canary Islands. These are actually sub-tropical tree-like plants that are native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and a part of western Morocco. They are, interestingly, a member of the asparagus family Asparagaceae! It has branches on the top, in a kind of umbrella shape, that end in tufts of spikey leaves. As Wikipedia says, “When young it has a single stem. At about 10–15 years of age the stem stops growing and produces a first flower spike with white, lily-like perfumed flowers, followed by coral berries. Soon a crown of terminal buds appears and the plant starts branching. Each branch grows for about 10–15 years and re-branches, so a mature plant has an umbrella-like habit. It grows slowly, requiring about ten years to reach 1.2 metres (4ft) in height but can grow much faster.”

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In Arucas

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At Casa del Vino on Tenerife

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In Orotavo, Tenerife

Its red resin-like sap (known as “dragon’s blood”, el sange de drago) and its fruit were used in Roman times to make a medicinal powder, and it was used in pigments, paints and varnishes. The Guanches (original inhabitants of the Canaries) worshipped this tree and used the sap in their mummification process.

We were very happy that we visited this park to see this tree and learn something new about Nature. Around the islands we noticed many plaques, boards with emblems and/or names of places, and local flags that have the dragon tree on them in some form.

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Hotel San Roque in Garachico

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Crest on the square in Icod—with Guanches and the dragon tree

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Small weeping cherry tree by the car park

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Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.

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Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.

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The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea

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cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky

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How’s that for a view!

Rustenberg—Gardens, a Labyrinth, and Wines

A Stunning Combo

Tranquil, beautiful, lush, green, pastoral are words that sprung to mind as we drove up, past pastures with cattle, small estate houses, and vineyards.

Rustenberg is a lovely wine estate in a really gorgeous setting up on a hill, overlooking vineyards, in the valley of the Simonsberg Mountains. It’s literally at the end of the road on one of the wine-route roads north out of Stellenbosch, but is well worth the drive.

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Gorgeous Cape-Dutch architecture

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Schoongezicht, the old Cape-Dutch homestead

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Part of the gardens

What do we find?—lots of pretty, white gabled Cape-Dutch buildings; an impressive, modern tasting room; and lovely gardens ringed with huge oak trees. The gardens have small ponds, a gazebo, flower beds, and the jewel—a labyrinth.

Founded in 1682, the estate has a long history and heritage. The Barlow family has owned it since 1941, and various generations have been very involved in all aspects of wine making there. (The Barlow family had made a fortune with an engineering supplies company established in the early 1900s, also buying and selling woolen goods and Caterpillar machinery, among other things. The company expanded into neighboring southern African countries too. The family had also owned Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West from 1941-1987, so were very involved with wine estates).

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pergola2The public Schoongezicht Garden, open every day, is next to the Cape Dutch homestead, Schoongezicht, which dates back to 1814. In 2001, Rozanne Barlow, wife of the current owner of Rustenberg Estate, decided to regenerate and restore the garden. She had walls constructed, and converted the 25-meter-long swimming pool into a lily pond, now home to many fish. The charming pergola, originally built by John X Merriman, is covered in climbing roses, clematis and other fragrant climbers. John X Merriman was a former owner of Rustenberg. He bought it in 1892 and helped to revitalize the estate and to promote tourism in this valley. One range of Rustenberg wines is called John X Merriman, in his honor.

The garden is essentially laid out in a formal style with four different areas linked by pathways, and because it’s so harmoniously done one doesn’t really realize that the garden is quite sizable—about a hectare. The garden is a plant-lover’s dream, best described as “English”, with roses, foxgloves, salvias, agapanthus, sedum, anemones, day lilies and many more. There is always something to catch the eye, no matter the season.

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A labyrinth is now part of the gardens

The surrounding landscape of vineyards, green pastures and the majestic Simonsberg labyrinthclosermountain backdrop all help to make this garden a magical place.

The garden is open to the public during the week from 09h30 – 16h30 and on Saturdays and Sundays until 15h00.

There’s also a private garden, the Rustenberg Garden, which is open once a year to the public on Rustenberg Day.

Making these gardens even more magical is the labyrinth.

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Outside the Tasting Room

As part of the garden make-over, Rozanne Barlow transformed the site where the old tennis court stood into an eleven-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth, laid out in half brick and river stone. Information boards explain the origin and symbolism of the French Chartres labyrinth. We walked a part of it and it is a contemplative experience. If we had more time (and no demanding kids!) it would be nice to try walking the whole thing.

After that it was fun to wander up to the tasting center to do wine tasting, which was great. The Tasting Room is in the old horse stables, which have been beautifully converted architecturally. We all thought it was a great wine-tasting experience. Our hostess lady was friendly and knowledgeable and we enjoyed chatting to her. The wines are world-class, from an excellent terroir—red clay-rich granite soils on a variety of slopes and elevations. No food is available here though.

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Tasting great Rustenberg wines

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An excellent rose wine

Wine tasting is R40 per person (waived if you buy some bottles). We did buy a bottle of Petit Verdot Rose (R75) to take back for dinner that night, and it was excellent. We also ordered some wines to be shipped back to USA, and you can also order them to be shipped to UK, I believe.

Wine Tasting and Sales open Mon-Fri 9-4:30, Sat 10-4 and Sunday 10-3. Every day, except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday.

Where is it?

Lelie Road, Idas Valley, just north-east of Stellenbosch

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An unusual Rousanne wine

www.rustenberg.co.za

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