Picnic spots in South Africa

Vaal River

The banks of the Vaal River in the Northern Cape of South Africa offer so much more than a quiet picnic. The river begins in the Drakensberg and flows into the Orange near Douglas, which in turns flows all the way to the Atlantic Ocean on the West Coast at Alexander Bay between South Africa and Namibia. Vaal means grey and is in contrast to the Orange River, which looks orange from the iron rich earth it flows through. I grew up on a farm, which had several miles of river boundary and pretty much all the good stuff happened at the river. Though we were constantly told that it was treacherous and dangerous, it flowed most of the time peacefully enough. It was a place for much needed solitude in a big family, as well as lively communal outings. Either way, its broad and stately flow restored our small human equanimity and perspective. On every walk we hoped to spot a leguan - its much diminished prehistoric menace still enough to break a leg with a swoop of its tail, its evil lidless stare enough still to thrill with brief fear as it slithers off a dead tree from which it is barely distinguishable into the water with not so much as a splash.

Less sinister but more dangerous were the boomslangs, which might suddenly slide over your shoulder as you walked under a tree or surprise you with a sudden hissing in the grass. Usually their fear exceeded ours and they were gone before we had properly registered their presence and walked on with only the hyena’s laugh or the bark of a baboon to disturb the silence. But it was not all dangerous – there was much that was peaceful and lovely, too. A particular joy was to see the kingfisher perched on a waving branch above the water, looking intently into the swirling grey mass before plummeting into it to emerge with a glittering squirming fish as it shot back up. The stillness of the veld became pregnant at the river, where the birds sang more readily, especially in the evenings when the world finally cooled down – also more quickly at the river. We listened especially for the wild high mournful cry of the fish-eagle and more carefully for the bubbling sound of the vlei lourie (Burchall’s Coucal) which promised rain.

Anything could happen at the river: it was a place to play, to take the horses and the dogs. It was a place to go searching for treasure - not entirely fanciful as alluvial diamonds are to be found there. We never found diamonds ourselves, though others did, but we did find a wonderful selection of agates and garnets and quartz. The ‘proper diggers’, as we called them, were a source of great fascination for us: they lived from one find to another – one week like kings and 51 other weeks like paupers and it seemed to matter not one jot to them where on this roller-coaster they found themselves at any particular time. Everyone went to the river – for various reasons: for walking for drawing, for fishing or digging, for wonder – alone or en familie. I can think of no better spot for a picnic.

Bushman’s Hill

Bushman’s Hill was another destination for an outing – either alone or with guests. Though we rarely picnicked on the actual hill – it would have seemed profane, I think. The hill stood not far from Big Tree (where we would eat) and dreamed of days long gone in the heat. On arrival we would scramble out and the hunt would begin – for the paintings, which gave the hill it’s name. They would surprise and delight at least partly because they were so hard to find. Delicate, faded – barely even there, the san rock paintings lay in the sun on this hillside a timeless joy.

They depicted, and depict still, a world and a way of life unimaginably different to our own. A precarious existence it seemed on the very edge of the possible. They made the desert inhabitable and yet have left so little trace of this feat. Perhaps part of its wonder lies in that – that it was so lightly done. So very unlike our own heavy existence on the world – carbon foot-printed as it is. The paintings were light, for all they are painted or even carved onto rock

Each of us had our favourites: I remember an Eland, proud clean ochre on a grey rock and giraffes and of course the people. Hunters or dancers – they were tiny and graceful and seemed to dance right out of the rock surface they were painted on or entirely unaware of their audience seemed to be heading into the rock – where another world beckoned. And much that I have learned about San rock art and its meaning, ritual and profound since, has confirmed these impressions.

Near the foot of the hill lay, perhaps ironically, the graveyard of the first missionaries to Pniel Estates. And a little further off the ruins of their houses. We wandered through these modest ruins and tried to imagine the life they led. Much maligned in history for being the fore-runners of colonial exploitation, the two clashing worlds lay here peacefully side by side: both gone except in some even more remote parts of Botswana.

Le Pique Nique - Boschendal

During the summer months Boschendal’s Le Pique-Nique area provides the ideal setting for an al fresco lunch of pre-packed picnics served in wicker baskets.

Tables and chairs are set in the shade, under the lofty, fragrant pine trees - perfect for a relaxed summer afternoon.

Collect your basket filled with pâtés, French bread, cold meats, salads, and cheese and biscuits and relax and enjoy the warm sun.
To complete the meal, dessert and coffee are served from the gazebo. The wine list offers the full range of Boschendal’s finest wines to enjoy with your picnic and to enhance your "Boschendal experience".

Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive is known as one of Cape Town’s most scenic drives. There are a few designated picnic spots, as well as numerous viewing spots, where you can pull off the road and enjoy this fantastic picnic setting. On warm days Chapman’s Peak is very popular with picnic goers as the views from the drive are spectacular. In summer, late afternoon is the ideal time to picnic as it’s not as hot and you have the pleasure of the sun setting over the tranquil Hout Bay. The length of the drive allows you to find your own peaceful spot where you can spread out your blanket, snacks and drinks and take pleasure in the panoramic views. Between sunrise and sunset you can get a half way pass if you are not driving to the other end of Chapman’s Peak, therefore avoiding the toll fee.


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