The Ruens to De Hoop | 310km
...at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, is the third-oldest town in South Africa. Established in 1743 as a magisterial district, Swellendam briefly enjoyed the status of a republic when the local burghers revolted against the maladministration of the Dutch East India Company on 17 June 1795. The republic was short-lived, though, as three months later the first British occupation of the Cape began.
The town is renowned for its many well-preserved Cape Dutch and Georgian buildings, among them the Drostdy (magistrate's court), the only 18th-century drostdy still in existence. The stately building forms the focal point of a museum complex consisting of the Ambagswerf (tradesmen's yard), the old gaol, Mayville with its Victorian rose garden and Zanddrif, an 18th-century farmhouse (now a restaurant).
Several day walks, ranging from easy one-hour rambles to a strenuous full-day hike, range over the mountain slopes of the Marloth Nature Reserve just north of the town. Swellendam is the centre of the world's largest youngberry-producing area, as well as the surrounding wheat, fruit, sheep and dairy farms.
This Afrikaans name, meaning 'ridges', refers to the typically undulating landscape traversed by the road between Swellendam and Bredasdorp. Also referred to as the Ruggens, or Ruggensveld, the region extends from the Riviersonderend Mountains southwards to the Duineveld along the coast, and from the Houwhoek Pass eastwards to beyond Bredasdorp. It owes its undulating nature to the incision of numerous rivers and streams through the limestone overlying the ancient rocks of the Malmesbury Group.
...the centre of the surrounding wheat and sheep farming district, was established in 1838 by Michiel van Breda. The highlight for visitors is the Shipwreck Museum, which houses a fascinating display of figureheads, cannons, coins, porcelain, ships' bells and other artefacts recovered from the many vessels wrecked along the Overberg coast. The adjacent old coach house contains an interesting collection of Cape carts, a Scotch cart (a two-wheel tip cart drawn by horses or oxen), two horse-drawn hearses and an old fire engine.
The Old Parsonage is a typical strandveld house, and has been furnished with articles salvaged along the coast. The Audrey Blignault Room, at the tourism bureau, is dedicated to the Afrikaans author, who was born in Bredasdorp. The bureau also has an interesting display on the Foot of Africa Marathon, the continent's southernmost marathon. South of Bredasdorp, the 800-ha Heuningberg Nature Reserve provides protection to over 300 plant species, including eight of the 14 genera of the protea family, a rich diversity of ericas, buchu and geophytes.
Among the over 36 endemics to be seen are the Bredasdorp lily (Cyrtanthus guthrieae) and a pincushion(Leucospermum heterophyllum). There are many short walks, as well as two longer routes of 2,5 and 3 hours, respectively.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
Covering 36 000 ha, the De Hoop Nature Reserve features a variety of habitats: large tracts of coastal fynbos, shifting sand dunes, the scenic De Hoop Vlei and 45 km of unspoilt coastline. The reserve lies in an area with some 1 500 species of fynbos, including 50 species that are endemic to De Hoop. Fauna include the largest bontebok population in the country, Cape mountain zebra, eland, grey rhebok, steenbok, common duiker, Cape grysbok and ostrich.
Birders flock to the 15-km-long De Hoop Vlei, a wetland of international importance for migratory birds. Of the 260 bird species recorded, 97 are waterbirds, among them 12 waterfowl species and 13 species of migrant waders such as little stints, curlew sandpipers and ruffs. The coast is the habitat of the African black oystercatcher and the Damara tern. In addition to a short circular drive for vehicles near the office complex, there are also picnic sites and day walks, as well as a mountain bike route.
The waters off De Hoop have the largest concentration of southern right whales along the South African coast and the reserve offers superb vantage points for viewing these majestic creatures. Self-catering cottages are available, but visitors must provide their own bedding and kitchen utensils. A campsite is also available.
Rising over 400 m above the coastal plain in the northeastern corner of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, Potberg is an inselberg (island mountain) of sandstones and quartzites. The mountain cliffs are home to the last breeding colony of the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) in the Western Cape; with the active co-operation of local farmers, the colony has increased from a mere 45 in 1986 to 107 adult birds in 2000.
The mountain has at least 12 endemic plant species, among them a small ground protea (Protea denticulata), the potbergensis subspecies of Protea aurea and a wild tea bush (Aspalathus potbergensis). Facilities for day visitors include an interpretation centre, picnic sites and two day walks.
The Klipspringer Trail is a 5-km circular route, while the Potberg Trail is a 4-km route to the summit of the mountain from where there are fine views over the Breede River valley and the reserve. The Potberg environmental education centre is used by organised groups, especially schools.
During the period 1757 to 1894, several pont crossings were in operation on the Breede River. The crossing at Malgas, a small settlement on the western bank of the river, came into use in 1830. When the original wooden pont eventually sank, it was replaced with a steel one which was washed away in the great flood of 1906. The current pont 1, introduced in 1914, is the only remaining hand-driven pont in South Africa.
In addition to serving as a pont crossing, Malgas became a busy inland port during the mid-1800s, when it was a terminus for the trading firm of Barry and Nephews. Instead of using the arduous overland trek, goods were brought from the Cape by sea to Port Beaufort at the mouth of the Breede River. After negotiating the sandbanks at the mouth of the river, the vessels steamed the 48 km upstream to Malgas where cargo was offloaded and products destined for the Cape taken on board.
Established in 1817 as a point of communication with the interior, Port Beaufort was named after the Earl of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset, on whose instructions the estuary was surveyed. Under the trading firm of Barry and Nephews, established in the early 1820s, Port Beaufort developed into a thriving settlement, with a shop, warehouses and approximately 20 houses. On 26 September 1859, the firm's specially built steamer, Kadie, steamed up the Breede River to Malgas on her maiden voyage.
Over the next six years, she successfully completed 120 trips, until becoming stranded on rocks along the river bank on 17 November 1865. Soon afterwards, the company's fortunes began to decline, and after it ceased operations in 1882 the once-thriving port sank into obscurity. The small thatched church built in 1849 by Thomas Barry serves as a reminder of Port Beaufort's prosperous days.
...at the mouth of the Breede River, is renowned for its excellent fishing, and offers opportunities for both surf angling and fishing in the estuary. It also offers a wide range of water sports in the sea and on the river, while the long sandy beach has safe swimming.
Established on the banks of the Duivenhoks River below the Langeberg, Heidelberg is the centre for the surrounding wheat and sheep farms. The town developed around a church established in 1855 to serve the farming community living in the area between Swellendam and Riversdale, and was named after the German city where the catechisms were originally drawn up.
...is a small settlement and railway station named after the Buffeljags River, which was known by that name as early as 1676. The Afrikaans name means 'buffalo hunt river', as it was a noted spot for hunting buffalo.