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Growth Opportunities

Growth Opportunities

May 2015

Words and pics Nancy Richards


Thank the lord it’s not me. A negative sentiment, true – but exactly what I felt as Jason and Signonne from New York plunge down 300m of steel cable off one narrow platform smack onto another on the opposite cliff face, 1000m up from sea level. I’ve had the zipline experience, so am more than happy just to witness this time. Much easier to appreciate the drama of the surrounding mountain ranges and fynbos infinity without the distraction of rushing adrenalin. The Cape Canopy tour in Grabouw about an hour from Cape Town and in business since August last year, is in the heart of a pristine, previously inaccessible part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. It’s also within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you want to be looking around you. But if you’re ziplining, you also want to be concentrating – gloved hand above the pulley, watch for the safety block, breathe, enjoy. There are eleven slides, between thirteen precipitous platforms, a swaying suspension bridge crossing a double waterfall - all the rush you can handle. ‘You sure get to confront your fear’ says Ellen from London, white knuckling on the bumpy truck ride back down to base camp. 

LINE & SINKER – getting ready to fly on the Cape Canopy zipline.

Some hours later Jason and Signonne return  as well exhilarated if exhausted. Over tea, conservationist in charge Ryan Larkman explains the low environmental impact of the zipline. ‘We could dismantle the whole thing tomorrow and you wouldn’t know it’s been there.’ But if you’d done it, you sure wouldn’t forget. Nor the view neither. 
WHERE: Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve  021 300 0501


On my way through the Company’s Garden, headed for the city’s latest honey pot – the recently upgraded restaurant, I detour through the smart new burgeoning veg patch. Not quite leaning against his pitchfork but very relaxed, was John Jonkers, one of a handful of gardeners seeing to the area designed to evoke the Dutch East India Company’s original 17th century ‘VOC’ vegetable garden. ‘It’s all about heritage,’ he says, affectionately tweaking a leaf.  It’s been developed jointly by City Parks and the Heritage Resources Management Dept. But it’s not just a nod to history. Manager and horticulturalist Rory Phelan says, ‘it’s to promote the idea of urban agriculture to a wider audience.’ Under nets against  squirrels and Egyptian geese, there are healthy Peter Rabbitesque rows of lettuce, chives, chillies etc as well as old timers like artichokes and beetroot, but long term the plan is to source ‘heirloom’ seed that pre-date the days of hybridisation and have ‘inherent immunity to disease.’

GOOD COMPANY – old methods of new growing.

The layout is a miniaturised version of the original quadrilateral design and as in the past, watering is done with a leiwater irrigation system from a Table Mountain spring. There’s a berry garden, orchards of good old fashioned quinces, apples, pears, peaches and plums grown espalier style as well as beds of indigenous medicinal plants. ‘When the settlers came here they didn’t have any medical supplies, so they had to take a leaf out of Khoisan tradition.’ There are lots of green lessons to be learned here. In partnership with Woolworths, there are plans to run educational courses and if you fancy sampling the wares, there’s also talk of a ‘garden table’ at the Company’s Garden Restaurant so you can choose your own salad. In the meantime, refurbished by the Madame Zingara team who have a feel for Cape Town’s pulse, the restaurant is pulling the crowds. Not just for their menu (a big improvement on the old Tea Room’s toasted sarnies) but for the eco-playground toys in the yard – giant nests, basket swings and carved giant tortoises. What’s not to love! 
WHERE: The Company’s Garden 021 436 1357

NESTING INSTINCT – playground toys at the Company’s Garden Restaurant.


I’d steeled myself to do some shopping at Canal Walk in Century City. A throbbing temple of consumerism where I did what I had to do, quickly. This left time for an exploratory visit to Intaka Island, a 16ha nature reserve and wetland minutes away from the Babel of buying in the midst of a seriously commercial landscape. Although they pay for it in levies, it’s a treasure for those who live and work in the area, but for most of us who haunt the malls or thunder past on the freeway it’s a well kept secret. Accessed from a wooden bridge from the mainland, the island is a serene network of walk and waterways. Back in 1996 when Century City was a just a twinkle in the developer’s eye, it was the result of an Environmental Impact Assessment recommendation and has been born out of the original pans and sandplains.But nearly twenty years on it feels like more than just a compliant tick box.

FERRY COOL – take a ride on the waterways around Intaka Island.

For the droves of birds who hang out there it’s a five star destination with reed beds, endless nesting opportunity, two custom-built heronries for roosting and breeding and a playground of purified water ‘polished’ by a natural filtration system. It scores as a people pleaser too – resting benches, shady viewing spots, an educational centre, swathes of indigenous fynbos including 24 red data species and  two bird hides trained on waders, kingfishers, darters and coots. In one a twitcher and his zoom lens were settled  in for the long haul. You can walk all or some of the 45 minute nature trail by yourself or go with a guide, you can also get the best of both worlds by taking the hop-on hop-off ferry that plies the canals – and takes you back to the shops if you get withdrawals.  
WHERE: Century City 021 552 6889


There’s a running group that once a year organises a special trot down from Signal Hill and up to Tafelberg Road on Table Mountain. Bit of a killer, especially the return journey. But what it offered this year was the opportunity to see the SunStar up close. This angular artwork has been mired in controversy. ‘Blight on the skyline’, ’is it art if it’s sponsored’, ’is it art anyway', ’.....’ You know how Capetonians like to whinge. But what is it? 

I circled it a number of times, took some pics, put my nose into the shipping container supporting the 21 solar panels and dozen or so batteries and read the inspiring message on the side: ‘.... beacon of hope forged from the repurposed fence that used to surround Robben Island.’ None the wiser, later I called designer Christopher Swift for the back story. ’The intention was to invite people to see challenges from a different point of view.’ He quotes Einstein to the effect, ‘We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them...’ His own thinking is that the day of the costly, solid granite monuments dominating precious space is over, that art can be a moveable, flexible feast and that it should be free and accessible to all. It can also be lighter on the earth if it’s made out of reclaimed materials. Back in 2009 Swift took possession of some fencing from Robben Island that was on its way to the landfill. ‘I wanted to use it to create something positive – jobs, art, hope. ‘ Sunstar uses some of that fencing, it also uses geo-screws to pin it to the ground so that it can be dismantled without leaving an environmental footprint. It’s lit by solar powered long-lasting LED lights. ‘The original idea’, says Swift, ‘was that when its time was up, those lights could be donated to homes where they’d be useful.’ But since the artwork was adopted by Sun International, those decisions and its long term journey are out of his hands. Jacques de Bruin project manager of Sunstar picks up the message, ‘It’s all about having vision, looking ‘beyond the fence.’ SunStar will stay on Signal Hill till May, maybe longer – watch that space.

WHERE: Signal Hill

GARDEN PATH – the abundant gardens at Soil for Life.


It’s not every day you get an invitation to an annual general meeting of Home Gardeners, so I was honoured to attend the one at Soil for Life’s headquarters in Constantia sandwiched between the Waldorf School and Peddler’s the pub. It was a bright, sunny day and delegates squeezed into the boomklass, chalet style multipurpose centre up next to the greenhouses, for the speeches and awards ceremony. Proceedings are led by growth guru Pat Featherstone, founder of Soil for Life, an organisation that promotes and teaches the principle of healthy soil for healthy vegetables for healthy people . SFL’s own gardens epitomise the success of the principle. Flourishing would be an understatement. Vegetables burst out of creative beds, climb and creep across soil that has been fed, built and nurtured to be the very best.nThe creativity doesn’t stop at the growing, there are benches, gazebos, a sundial, sculptures carved and constructed out of reclaimed wood and innovative growth experiments in progress. At the shop you can buy compost, vegetables, plant boxes, literature and more – but the inspiration is absolutely free. 
WHERE: Stables Lane, Brounger way, Constantia 021 794 4982


The Company's Garden
Century City

Nightjar Travel