Drag Hunting in the Western Cape of South Africa
Riding at the Cape in South Africa
Drag Hunting in the Western Cape of South Africa
After an overnight flight, direct from Heathrow to Cape Town, despite the early breakfast, it is a welcome relief not to have any jet lag. And as there is only 1 hour time difference during the SA winter or Cape green season, we can start our holiday programme straight away. We are met at arrivals by our genial host and guide Carl, who is our Guardian Angel for the full duration of the next 8 days of our tour.
After checking in at our luxurious, Victorian guest house and enjoying a light lunch we are introduced to our hunters at the nearby Cape Hunt’s country base where the hounds are kennelled. The huntsman and his wife, who is the stable manager, along with Carl, accompany us on our first ride around the Hunters Valley estate where there are ample opportunities for cantering and jumping. The ground is mainly soft sand with numerous natural jumps made from brush, stones, logs and hay bales as well as a tyre wall, bank drop and coffin, all of which are between 18 ins to 3 ft high. We ride through wooded areas, bush, and savannah-like prairies and along the edges of rolling hills of wheat fields for the next two hours before stopping to let our horses cool their legs in a dam. After an exhilarating ride we return back to our guest house for a sumptuous dinner of a traditional Cape Malay dish of ‘Bobotie’ – curried mince with a baked egg and milk topping, followed by a welcome early night.
The next morning we return to Hunters Valley where a special drag hunt has been organised for us and we are pleased to meet some of the Cape hunt members who also join us. We all thoroughly enjoy our hunt, with most of us taking all the jumps enroute, although there is also the option of going round them for those not wishing to jump. The hunt breakfast, which follows, is cooked on a traditional South African open fire. We enjoy one of the huntsman’s special lamb ‘potjie’s’ (casserole) whilst sitting under the trees, on the lawn outside the Cape Dutch club house of the stables. In the late afternoon we drive via the beautiful Franschhoek pass with its stunning sandstone rock formations of cliffs and gorges and the Dutoits River flowing far below enroute to the historic Houw Hoek Inn, where we stay for the next four nights.
After a short drive down the Houw Hoek Pass the next morning, we meet our horses which we will ride for the next three days, as well as the characterful, Afrikaans stable owner, Manfred, who entertains us with his tales over lunch during the following days’ rides. We set off along a totally empty, pristine beach where we enjoy some of the longest canters any of us have ever experienced with most of the horses happy to splash through the edge of the water as the Atlantic Ocean waves lap up the beach. Later, as we walk the horses along the shoreline we are thrilled to be able to watch from the saddle, numerous whales gathered together in a giant pod that seems to stretch for up to half a mile, just 20 meters or so from us. We ride on to explore the Kleinmond Lagoon Nature reserve and are lucky enough to see some of the wild horses living there as well as flamingos and pelicans. After a picnic lunch we thoroughly enjoy ourselves following Carl as he leads us at a canter up and down and round the sand dunes ‘bundu bashing’ before we reappear on the shore line again for the canter home, back along the deserted beach. Next, to refresh ourselves, Carl drives us to the Beaumonts’ Wine Farm where we all enjoy tasting their various different white and red wines, before we return to the Inn for dinner.
The next day we ride out directly from the stables following a former ox wagon trail up the Houw Hoek Pass, and at times along the side of an old railway line, which still has the occasional train running along it. The horses are used to the train, so when it does appear, we stop and let them face it, and the train passes without incident. We ride to the top of the mountain through the beautiful indigenous shrub land known as ‘fynbos’, where we stop to take in the spectacular view, before descending down to the Houw Hoek Inn for a late lunch, leaving the horses tied up in a paddock in the grounds. In the afternoon we complete our days ride by returning back to the stables.
The next morning we set out directly from the Botriver Stables again and spend the day riding along the edges of fields of wheat and vines of grapes and through fields of cows and sheep before reaching a wine farm where we stop for lunch. We complete a circular route back to the stables and say goodbye to our horses, and Manfred. In the evening we spruce ourselves up for a dinner dance held at the Houw Hoek Inn and despite the fact that we must get up early the next morning, we all make the most of dancing and partying with the locals until the end of the evening, although none of us can match the ‘two-step’ (a variation of the foxtrot), which the Afrikaner couples of all ages do so elegantly and effortlessly to the music from the 60’s onwards.
Somewhat subdued, we have an early breakfast dressed in our full English hunting attire, which we have all tried to keep as pristine as possible in our suitcases up until now. We have an hour to cat-nap or admire the scenery as Carl drives us to Spiers Wine Farm, the venue for our drag hunt. Our horses which we rode when we first arrived have all been plaited and tacked up and transported to the hunt so that when we arrive all we need to do in jump on ready for the stirrup cup of whisky or sherry (or hair of the dog…). We are lucky to be attending one of the most popular hunts in the calendar of the Cape Hunt Club and we find out that we are part of the 65 hunters that are riding that day. We have a great hunt around the wine farm over the next two hours and are able to enjoy spectacular mountain views when we stop at the checks enroute, as well as trying out different ‘nips’ from the hipflasks of various members of the hunt club as well as one or two glass of Champagne when the support team meet us at the halfway point. We say goodbye to our horses and join many of the club hunters for lunch in the restaurant at Spiers, before saying goodbye to them too. Carl then drives us to Cape Town and to our splendid Victorian guest house, nestled beneath Table Mountain. Changing our hunting attire for our glad rags once more, Carl takes us to the picturesque Victoria and Alfred waterfront. He leads us past stylish restaurants and a parade of shops full of African curios and souvenirs to the upmarket, Quay 4 restaurant. The speciality here is fish, which we enjoy whilst taking in the impressive view of the harbour.
The next day, Carl becomes our tourist guide and we explore the Cape Peninsula. We start at the magnificent Groot Constantia wine estate, which is a superb example of Cape Dutch style buildings, and we wander around admiring the traditional furnishings and paintings. On to the very British ex naval base at Simon’s Town in False Bay and then the really cute Jackass Penguins which gather of their own accord at Boulders and are only a few feet away from the admiring public. We drive through the Cape Point Nature Reserve to the most southerly tip of the peninsula and then walk up the steep path and steps to the lighthouse standing on Cape Point before descending for a well deserved lunch. Our last ride is in Noordhoek and is again another wonderful beach ride, but this time we ride ex racehorses - some of which still go down on their haunches before going into canter! We enjoy a good steady canter up the beach and explore the sand dunes at the end before we have our last, long canter home, through the lapping ocean waves. Carl drives us back into Cape Town via the dramatic cliff-edge road around Chapman’s Peak, enhanced by the spectacular view of the deep, orange-red sun, setting into the ocean horizon. We round off our day when we are joined for our farewell dinner by the Master of the Cape Hunt and his wife at the very lively and friendly Africa Café. We eat an eclectic set meal, which allows us to sample 30 different, traditional, Black African dishes.
On our last morning we take the revolving cable car to the top of Table Mountain where we enjoy wonderful views of Cape Town and its harbour spread out below us as well as the cute Dassies or ‘rock rabbits’ that have somehow made it to the top on their own and are only a few feet from us. We enjoy a 2 hour walk around the flat perimeter of the mountain to McClears Beacon and back before taking the cable car back down. Lunch is a real treat as Carl takes us to Cape Town’s top hotel – the very prestigious Mount Nelson where we are greeted by the white gloved doorman wearing top hat and tails. After lunch we take a stroll through the historic Company Gardens past the old Parliament buildings to the old centre of Cape Town, where we look around until it’s time for Carl to take us to the airport for our overnight flight back to Heathrow. It’s sad saying our farewells to Carl who has done such a wonderful job of not only looking after us but educating and entertaining us too with his vast knowledge of South Africa including its history and society. He has taken us on such a varied journey where we have experienced so many different landscapes, animals, birds, vegetation and people and of course, two great hunts. It was much more of an amazing and incredible experience than just another holiday and one which will remain very fondly in all of our memories.
by Janet Stevens
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