Vines, Passes and the Sea | 145km

Vine Passes and the Sea.

Somerset West

Nestling on the slopes of the Helderberg, Somerset West was founded in 1822 on part of the historic farm, Vergelegen. Originally named Somerset, after Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape from 1814 to 1826, the name was later changed to Somerset West to avoid confusion with the town of Somerset East in the Eastern Cape.

Other wineries in the Somerset West region include Avontuur, Meerlust and Eikendal. On the edge of Somerset West lies the Helderberg Nature Reserve, which covers 245 ha of unspoilt fynbos vegetation. The reserve is criss-crossed by a network of walking trails and offers good birding opportunities, which can be enjoyed on a South African holiday.

Helderberg Wine Route

The Helderberg wine region owes its name to the majestic Helderberg Mountain, which dominates the scenery between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. The region is especially noted for its superb red wines and ports, but also produces outstanding sauvignon blanc and chardonnay wines. This South African holiday tour allows sufficient time to visit some of the 21 wine farms, cellars and co-ops on the Helderberg Wine Route.

Among the well-known wineries are historic Vergelegen - granted to Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1700 - with its magnificent Cape Dutch manor house and avenue of camphor trees, JP Bredell Wines (renowned for its red and port-style wines), Vergenoegd, Longridge and Yonder Hill.

Strand

...has been sought-after since the mid-1800s, when it was the traditional summer holiday resort for farmers from the Stellenbosch area. Situated on the northeastern shore of False Bay, the 5 km-long expanse of white sandy beach offers safe swimming, making it popular with families, sunbathers and surfers.

Gordon's Bay

The picturesque harbour town of Gordon's Bay lies in a secluded cove on the eastern shore of False Bay. From the slopes high above the town an enormous anchor, made of whitewashed rocks, overlooks the luxury waterfront developments that now line the bay. Main Beach and Bikini Beach, next to the harbour, offer safe swimming and are packed with sunbathers enjoying their South African holiday during the summer months. Candidate officers of the South African Navy are trained at the South African Naval College on the eastern side of the harbour.

Koegelberg Bisophere Reserve

...lies at the southern end of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Characterised by high mountain peaks and deep river valleys, the reserve comprises a core area of 18 000 ha and several smaller fragments. Kogelberg is internationally renowned for its diversity of fynbos plants, and is home to some 1 600 species, including 150 endemics.

Among its rare botanical treasures are the endangered marsh rose (Orothamnus zeyheri) and the greatest concentration of Mimetes species in the Cape. Visitors can experience the wilderness atmosphere and spectacular scenery along several day walks and an overnight trail. Kogelberg was declared southern Africa's first biosphere reserve in 1998.

Rooiels

...with its small sandy beach, takes its name from the farm granted to Abraham Louw in 1839 and the river of that name. It refers to the red alder (Cunonia capensis), a riverine tree occurring in the area.

Pringle Bay

...is a beautiful sandy inlet lying between the mouth of the Buffels River and a small rocky headland named The Point. Its name honours Rear-Admiral Thomas Pringle, commander of British naval forces at the Cape from 1796 to 1798. In the early 1800s, the bay was earmarked as a port to enable farmers to ship their produce across False Bay to Simon's Town rather than negotiating the arduous Gantouw Pass over the Hottentots Holland Mountains.

Over the years, the bay's remote location attracted its fair share of deserters and runaway slaves, and a cave just north of the Buffels River still bears the name Drostersgat (Deserters' Cave).

Hangklip

...at the southern extremity of the Hottentots Holland Mountains, marks the eastern end of False Bay. Originally named Punta Espinosa (Thorny Point) by early Portuguese navigators, the 454-m-high mountain was later renamed Cabo Falso (False Cape) as it was sometimes mistaken for Cape Point during bad weather conditions. To the Dutch, it resembled a hanging lip, and so they called it Hanglip (which later became Hangklip). During World War II, Hangklip was the site of a radar station built to keep a watch for German vessels.

Betty's Bay

...is a pleasant coastal resort and angling spot established in the 1930s. At Stony Point, the western extremity of the bay, visitors can get close-up views of a colony of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), one of only three mainland colonies in Africa. The first penguins started breeding here in 1982, and within eight years the breeding population had increased to just over 100 pairs.

Nearby can be seen the remains of the Southern Cross Whaling Station, which operated between 1907 and 1928. Relics include part of the jetty, the ramp used to winch carcasses ashore and the remains of the Balena, one of the last whaling vessels.

Harold Porter Botanical Garden

Covering 188 ha, this beautiful gardens lies against a backdrop of high mountains and incorporates two beautiful forested kloofs with waterfalls: Disa Gorge and Leopard's Kloof. The garden was named after the original owner of the land, who bequeathed it to the National Botanical Gardens of South Africa when he died in 1957. The garden focuses on the conservation and cultivation of the flora of the winter rainfall area.

A network of footpaths meander through the 5 ha of cultivated gardens, with their lawns, tranquil ponds and collections of various plant families, as well as the natural fynbos on the mountain slopes. The walk to the waterfall in Disa Gorge is highly recommended, especially from late December to mid-January when the red disas are in bloom.

Kleinmond

Bounded by the Palmietberge to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Kleinmond nestles along the rocky coastline between the Palmiet Lagoon in the west and the Kleinmond Lagoon in the east. It has been a popular holiday destination ever since farmers from Elgin began using Kleinmond as their annual summer holiday retreat almost a century ago.

Covering 355 ha, the Kleinmond Coastal Nature Reserve extends from the coast, with its strandveld vegetation, to the fynbos-covered mountain slopes north of the town, and provides protection to more than 1 000 plant species. The reserve adjoins the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and is criss-crossed by a network of trails. Kleinmond Lagoon offers safe swimming and canoeing, while the sandy beach off Sandown Bay can be accessed via a footbridge.

Houwhowk Pass

In the early days of travel, crossing the Houwhoek Mountains, which separate the Elgin Valley from the rolling hills beyond the Bot River, presented a formidable obstacle. Houwhoek means 'hold corner', and probably came from the need to hold back, or slow down, the ox wagons when negotiating the steep descent.

The original pass was completed in 1831. At the summit of the pass is the Houw Hoek Inn, established in 1834 on the site of an old tollgate, and the oldest inn in the country. Most of the ground floor dates back to 1779, while the upper storey was added in 1860.

Grabouw

...is the centre of one of the country's most important apple-producing regions, and is also a major producer of pears, plums and nectarines. Situated on the banks of the Palmiet River in a sheltered valley between the Hottentots Holland and the Groenland mountains, the town developed around a trading store opened by Wilhelm Langschmidt in 1856. He named it Grabau, after his birthplace in Germany.

Elign

When the railway reached Grabouw in 1902, the station had to be built on more level ground as the gradient above the village was too steep. Land was made available on the farm Glen Elgin (named in honour of the 9th Earl of Elgin, the Colonial Secretary at the time) and the station was named Elgin. In time, the name was also used to refer to the whole valley. The first apples were planted in the area in 1905 by Sir Antonie Viljoen, and today Elgin is famous world-wide for its Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Starking apples.

The story of the apple industry is told in the Elgin Apple Museum (open daily during summer), one of only two apple museums in the world. Several local farm stalls tempt travellers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as homemade farm produce.

Steenbras Dam

...was commissioned in the early 1920s after the reservoirs on Table Mountain could no longer meet the growing water demands of Cape Town. Since its completion, the dam wall has been raised twice to increase the dam's capacity. Covering 380 ha when full, the water backs up to 8 km behind the 36-m-high dam wall. Steenbras is one of only two pumped storage power stations in South Africa, with a maximum capacity of 400 MW. When demand for electricity is low, water is pumped from a lower reservoir for storage in the dam. When demand rises, the water is released to generate electricity.

Sir Lowrey's Pass

The South African holiday route into the Cape interior across the Hottentots Holland Mountains initially followed a game trail known to the Khoikhoi as the Gantouw, a name meaning 'elands' path'. The route, about 2 km northeast of the summit of Sir Lowry's Pass, followed a steep, narrow kloof; the deep ruts carved by the thousands of wagons that crossed the mountain can still be seen in the rocks.

At nearby Kanonkop, the Dutch East India Company sited two cannons to signal the arrival of ships in Table Bay and to warn of impending Khoikhoi attack. The Gantouw was replaced in 1828 by a new route named in honour of Sir Lowry Cole, the Cape Governor at the time. At the top of the pass there is a splendid view over False Bay.

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