West Coast and Cederberg

Cederberg flowers.
By Laurianne Claase

Malmesbury in the Swartland

The Swartland region of the Western Cape extends from Darling near the west coast to Porterville in the east and Piketberg in the north. However, the landscape is not black, as the name suggests. The dusky rhinoceros bush that gave this region its name has been replaced by tilled fields in winter khakis and summer greens.

Malmesbury is the largest town and its grain silos leave you in no doubt as to its principal industry. Accordingly, the town boasts the country's oldest milling company, Bokomo, which is ninety years old. Tours are offered. The sandy, marsh and renosterveld (rhino grass) vegetation erupt with spring flowers in season and can be enjoyed in all their splendour in the nearby Kalbaskraal Nature Reserve.

The biggest co-operative wine cellar in South Africa is one of the highlights of the Swartland Wine Route whose six cellars can be found within forty minutes from Cape Town. These include those at Piketberg and Porterville. Swartland Wine Cellar's policy of paying for quality rather than quantity when buying its grapes has ensured a string of awards for their extensive range of forty-seven wines. The cellar's most well-known product is the sweet, honey-flavoured nectar called Hanepoot (Muscat d' Alexandrie) which is popular as a dessert wine.

Malmesbury Golf Club, Malmesbury

In addition to mountain-biking trails, 4x4 routes, hiking trails and freshwater angling in the area, the leafy 9-hole golf course has an added attraction - a fine view of Table Mountain.

Malmesbury Museum, Malmesbury

South Africa's Jewish community originated when refugees escaped from Russia during the Russo-Turko war of 1877. One such intrepid exile walked the fifty kilometres from Cape Town to Malmesbury in 1901 settled there and opened a shop. In 1911 the synagogue followed. Later years, however, saw the once flourishing Jewish population dwindle in favour of city life and the synagogue fell into disuse only to be revived today as the Malmesbury Museum.

Kasteelberg Hiking Trail, Malmesbury

There are two one-day hiking routes on the farm Spes Bona on the slopes of the Kasteel Mountains which Malmesbury shares with its more picturesque neighbour, Riebeeck Kasteel. A fine view of both can be had along the shorter two-hour route and the longer four-hour amble. Neither are too strenuous under the energetic summer sun. A remnant of yellowwood forest can be seen. Hikers huts are available for overnighters.

Bread and Wine Cycling Trail - Malmesbury, Riebeeck Kasteel and Riebeeck West.

A three-day, two-night mountain bike trail passes through wheat fields and vineyards on its meandering way through Malmesbury, Riebeeck Kasteel and Riebeeck West (the little known birthplace of two of South Africa's better-known politicians - D.F. Malan and Jan Smuts.)

Porterville, Swartland,

On the way sample some of the port at Allesverloren, the ancestral farm of the Malan family. You can also visit the restored farmhouse where Smuts was born, incongruously immaculate amidst the clang and clatter of the PPC Cement Factory. Spring paints the roadsides pink with peach blossoms. Sleep over on a farm the first night and cosset yourself in a guest house on the second.

140 kilometres north-east of Cape Town at the foot of the Voorberg mountain, this area was originally one farm which was subdivided in 1863. Farming is still the principal occupation of these parts. The Porterville Wine Cellar is on the Swartland Wine Route and the local museum is housed in an historic gaol.

Paragliding, Dasklip Pass, Porterville

With an abundance of mountains, the Western Cape provides ample opportunity for those who, rather than scaling summits, like to jump off them. A steel platform jutting from the top of the Dasklip Pass is a favourite launching point for the more experienced. In fact, the World Hang-gliding Championships were held here in 1986. Local paragliding competitions take off in December and February.

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Porterville

The Dasklip Pass is a short way out of Porterville and carries you up into the Groot Winterhoek mountains. At 2 077 metres, its peak is the second highest in the Western Cape and snow dusts its lofty heights in winter. The reserve has ten hiking trails of varying duration and a number of rudimentary shelters. The African heather and fynbos, fantastical rock formations and mountain streams will make you want to trade in your mortgage for a few acres of Eden.

Golf, Porterville

The Porterville Golf Club provides more laid-back outdoor pursuits in the form of a picturesque, nine holes at the foot of the Olifants River Mountain. A leisurely morning's pursuit of a 34 par is a popular pastime.

Angling,Porterville

Freshwater angling permits must be obtained from Nature Conservation. Black Bass and Carp inhabit the Berg River and its dams. You'll need artificial lures and spinners for bass while the carp like their starch - currie porridge and sweetcorn. Misverstand Dam in nearby Moorreesberg is a good place to try your luck. Or there's the added chance of yellowfish at Porterville Dam where there's an angling competition every November.

Piketberg, Swartland

125 kilometres north of Cape Town on the N7, the Piket mountain makes a dramatic backdrop for the sloping suburbs of this picturesque farming town. It is the mountain that is of interest to the tourist with activities ranging from mountain-biking, hiking and horse-riding to water sports like canoeing, fishing, skiing and boating, Noupoort Guest Farm nestles in a craggy kloof overlooking the tawny fields of the Swartland below. Behind these is the cornflower blue of the sea at St Helena Bay.

Hiking trails for both the stroller and the strider grant vistas of Table Mountain in the south and the ancient Cederberg range to the north. If you like your scenery a little speedier, there are informal mountain-biking trails on the farm as well as 4x4 tracks. Bring your own Pajero, of course. And after all that exertion, Noupoort has the last word in relaxation - an outdoor jacuzzi and an indoor sauna in addition to the pool deck.

Darling, Swartland, Evita se Perron

In a rather unorthodox demonstration of the common wisdom that behind every great man there is a great woman, South Africa's premier stand-up satirist, has let that woman take centre stage. Pieter Dirk Uys, in his drag persona of Evita Bezhuidenhout, is South Africa's unofficial first lady and the country's conscience in a kaftan. He bought the old corrugated-iron railway station in Darling, some 70 kilometres from Cape Town, painted it pink and transformed into a caberet venue named Evita se Perron - ('platform' in Afrikaans.) Along with Uys's own inimitable brand of talent, the venue showcases a variety of acts in a space that has been painstakingly put together as a bad taste tribute to the bad old days.

This little farming town of vineyards, wheatfields and wild flowers now has fifteen resident artists practising various disciplines. Evita se Perron hosts an annual Arts Festival in September to exhibit some of the talent. The Spier Vintage Steam Train runs monthly excursions to Evita se Perron from Cape Town. And in keeping with the artistic flair of the town, the community puts on a Passion play every Easter Weekend.

Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve, Darling

In addititon to the National Botanical Institute's Tienie Versveld Reserve, wild flowers on private farms throughout the area can be visited in spring flower season which runs from August to mid-October. There is an annual Wildflower and Orchid show in the third weekend of September.

Langebaan, West Coast

Just over an hour's drive north of Cape Town up the west coast, what was once a sleepy fishing village on the sheltered shores of Langebaan lagoon, has become a bustling retirement and resort town which is especially busy in the summer months of November to March. If neighbouring Saldanha is a hive of industrial activity, then Langebaan is its counterpart in the pursuit of leisure. Langebaan Lagoon is a mecca for watersport enthusiasts while its southern shores are protected by the West Coast National Park. However, the steel-producing plant at Saldanha is just across the bay.

The lagoon is a Ramsar site important in the conservation of the habitat of some 70 000 migrant waders including flamingoes. Like the birds, eat your fill of fire-grilled fresh fish, lobster, mussels and prawns at the award-winning Strandloper Open-Air Seafood Restaurant in Langebaan. Booking is advised.

Langebaan Yacht Club, Langebaan, West Coast

Langebaan Yacht Club is your one-stop shop for all watersports such as swimming, windsurfing, yachting, rowing, waterskiing and angling.

Langebaan Country Club, Langebaan West Coast

For golf, tennis and bowls Langebaan Country Club is the place. The manicured lawns and private beach of the Langebaan Country Club are a favourite weekend playground for Capetonians. Its immaculate 18 hole golf-course, tennis courts and bowling greens provide outdoor diversions within easy access of the watersports of Langebaan lagoon and the scenic pleasures of the West Coast National Park. The Club's well-appointed lodges, bars and lounges provide the requisite indoor recreation.

Whale-Watching, Langebaan

At the end of the eighteenth century, over a period of about twenty years, 12 000 southern right whales were killed to provide northern soap, oil and whale-bone corsets. The name 'Southern Right' came from the whalers who regarded it as the 'right' whale to hunt. By 1935, a hundred odd mammals were left in South African seas. Protection was finally awarded in 1940. Sixty years on, population figures are rising but it will take another thirty years for the Southern Right to fully recover. The whales visit the east and west coast of the Cape on their annual migration north. They come to have their calves in the warmer southern waters and can be viewed breaching and spouting and tail-lashing from July to November all along the coast.

Saldanha, West Coast

An hour and a half's drive from Cape Town north on the west coast road is the largest natural bay in South Africa , which, unsurprisingly, finds itself the centre of the west coast steel industry - smelt it here, load it here and transport it from here. The same goes for Saldanha's other big industry, fishing - catch it here, buy it here and eat it here. There is also a resident navy base.

Nearby Langebaan is of more recreational interest although fishing trips and boat trips, 4x4 routes and hiking trails, and numerous watersports can be enjoyed here, as there. Flower season is from August to November and the whales can be seen from June to December and there is an Arts and Crafts Market on the first Saturday of every month.

French Huguenot Memorial, Saldanha

This monument commemorates the landing of the first French Protestants who fled Catholic persecution in the seventeenth century. Facing an uncertain future as refugees in Europe, a number arrived at the Cape, taking up the Dutch East India Company's offer of land, in exchange for fresh produce to supply their ships; laden with tea from China, horses from Arabia, gold from Sumatra and wine and dried fruit from the Cape.

West Coast National Park, West Coast

100 kilometres north of Cape Town on the straight and fast track from Cape Town on the R27 highway, the southern tail of the Langebaan lagoon sweeps through the West Coast National Park which comprises some 20 000 hectares of inland and coastal reserve. The protected beaches and low-lying bush and lake shelter a huge diversity of fauna as well as flora. Flower season arrives after the winter rains in September and the dunes and marshy flats twinkle with colour. The Postberg section of the park is only open during flower season; August to October.

The Parks Board run boat trips from their Langebaan base to Postberg and then give the guided tour by vehicle. There is some gravel road inside the park but 4x4's aren't necessary. There is no accommodation within the park. The lagoon has been parcelled up allowing a variety of water sports on the one hand and a wilderness area closed to the public on the other. There are hiking trails and spring flower trails through the reserve offering an opportunity to bump into an antelope or two. Bird hides make bird-watching that much easier. There are picnic facilities for day visitors.

Hiking trails, West Coast National Park

Hiking and spring flower trails are offered throughout the reserve. The Postberg Wildflower Trail is open during the spring months of August and September only and is a two-day ramble through one of nature's many wonders. The flowers provide the setting for a large variety of antelope and birdlife. While the walking is not strenuous you'll have to pitch your own tent and carry your own water. Bookings for this popular trail open on April 1 and as only twelve people are admitted daily, you will need to phone promptly.

The Strandveld Educational Trail starts at the Geelbek Environmental Centre within the park which provides accommodation in a Cape Dutch homestead and National Monument. The double bunks are more than comfortable, hearty West Coast meals are provided in the dining room and there's a bar to slake that post-hike thirst. Videos, slide shows and briefings from the resident Parks Board officials prepare you for the birds, beasts and poison milk bush you'll see on the two day walk past Strandveld sand dunes and Sixteen Mile Beach.

Lamberts Bay, West Coast

Two and a half hours north of Cape Town on the west coast, this seaside village and laid-back holiday resort at the mouth of the Jakkals River has great seafood, fine beaches and lots of birds. Boat trip, Lamberts Bay Two rivers and an ocean beg to be explored from Lamberts Bay. The Olifants River and the Berg River bracket the coastal town. Day cruises to the rivers north and south of Lamberts Bay take you past dolphins and seasonal whales and the largest seal colony on the West Coast.

Help catch your own lobster, the cuisine for which the area is most famous, or throw in a lazy line upriver. There is a rustic bush camp at which to overnight if following the loops of the Olifants River. Sundowner cruises as well as seafood dinners and lunches aboard, can also be arranged. And on those days when the weather fails to co-operate, 4x4 beach trips and coastal runs are organized instead.

Whale-bone House, Wadrift, Lambert's Bay

A rather macabre testimony to the extinct whaling industry in these parts is a house made from whale bone at the farm Wadrift as well as a working wooden lock over two hundred years old. Bird Island, Lamberts Bay, On this 3 hectare island, \ Cape Nature Conservation protects one of only six areas in the world where the Cape Gannet breeds. You'll also find cormorants in large numbers and a small community of the endangered African (Jackass) penguins. Access is on foot via a causeway from the harbour making photography far easier than bobbing from a boat.

Sandveld Museum, Lamberts Bay

This museum on Church Street houses one of the oldest bibles in the country. It is written in High Dutch and is over three hundred years old.

Citrusdal, Olifants River Valley, Cederberg

The spectacular mountain scenery of this agricultural town in the Upper Olifants River Valley comes courtesy of the Cederberg Mountains. The orange blossom air testifies to the town's citrus-growing industry while grape vines mean that wine can't be far behind.

The Baths, Citrusdal

The first resort to spring up around this natural hot spring was established in 1739. Today many of the stone extensions added in the Victorian era remain, surrounded by citrus groves. 18 kilometres from Citrusdal, the self-catering resort offers tennis, mountain biking and hiking trails should soaking in the indoor jacuzzis or splashing in the hot and cold outdoor pools not be entertainment enough.

Goue Vallei Wines, Citrusdal

They've been making wine in the well-watered Olifants River Valley since the earliest days of European settlement in the 1700's. The Goue Vallei co-op gets its grapes from through the region, including Piketberg, Lamberts Bay and Cederberg. Encouragingly, all Goue Vallei's grape producers have committed themselves to best practice conservation principles in their farming practice.

Outdoor Adventures, Citrusdal

Sport 11-recognised mountain-biking routes, walking and hiking trails as well as canoeing and sky-diving are some of the activities on offer in these great outdoors. The inevitable nine hole golf course is on hand for the less adventurous.

Cederberg Wilderness Area

Two hours and five hundred million years away from Cape Town, some 71 000 hectares of ancient mountains and indigenous bush are threaded with cultivated valleys and mountain rivers. The weathered sandstone rock formations, cliffs and overhangs are daubed in paintings that date from a time when man was young.

Leopards sill roam the crevices and crannies of these hills. The slow-growing, cedar trees for which the area was named are all but extinct now, although a plantation reserve has been established in an attempt to bring them back from the brink. Once home to the nomadic San people, the earliest inhabitants of Southern Africa, these mountains suffered at the hands of the European settlers. The San fared little better than the cedars which were chopped down to make telephone poles.

The sandstone overhangs and caves record the San's passing. Rock art is strewn throughout these rugged hills, in age, anywhere from three hundred to 6 000 years old. Numerous hiking trails range through the hills and accommodation is offered at camp sites, self-catering chalets and bed and breakfasts on local farms. The elephant drawings at the Stadsaal caves are easily accessible without walking a great distance.

Clanwilliam, Cederberg

Two rivers embrace this sub-tropical town which is the centre of a fruit, vegetable and sheep farming region at the foot of the Cederberg mountain range. There are fossils in these ancient mountains and rock art, not quite as old as the hills themselves.

Ramskop Nature Reserve, Clanwilliam

A showcase for 200 species of wild flowers, a stroll through this reserve garners a view of the dam and the mountain. August and September are the prime flower months and the end of August sees the annual flower show setting up its floral extravaganza in an otherwise unused church.

Rooibos Tea Factory, Clanwilliam

Clanwilliam is the only commercial cultivar in the world of this herbal tea which is caffeine free and low in tannin and produced from an indigenous fynbos.

Clanwilliam Dam, Clanwilliam

A popular weekend holiday resort, the dam is particularly favoured by water-skiers but anglers also get an oar in. Accommodation runs to self-catering chalets and camping facilities.

Outdoor Adventure, Clanwilliam

Clanwilliam is no exception to the reliable nine-hole golf course that is to be found in most small towns throughout the country. Mountain-biking, rock-climbing, horse-riding and 4x4 routes are also available.

Historical Walking Tour, Clanwilliam

With a treasure trove of seven national monuments which include two nineteenth-century churches and the old gaol which has since reformed and now houses the local museum, a guided tour of the town is rewarding. The itinerary includes the dwellings of the first Irish settlers to the area which would explain the town's name. There is also an Anglo-Boer war cemetery.

Sevilla Rock Art Trail, Travellers Rest Farm, Cederberg

The San or 'Bushman' people of Southern Africa inhabited these lands for over one hundred thousand years. The coming of the white settlers in the seventeenth century proved to be their demise. However, they have left their imprint on more than fifteen thousand rock art sites scattered throughout. Some are estimated to be as old as ten thousand years.

More than merely a record of daily life, the paintings were part of a religious tradition and include depictions of shamans in trance states and in metamorphic states - half-man, half-beast. 34 kilometres from Clanwillian over the infamous Pakhuis Pass, Travellers Rest Farm in the Cederberg has a four kilometre trail that covers nine rock art sites. Guided viewing is advised to penetrate the significance of the fading images.

Wuppertal, Cederberg

3 hours from Cape Town on the N7 to Clanwilliam and 75 kilometres from Clanwilliam on dusty backroads, the thatched cottages of the old Moravian Mission perch above a cultivated valley that is tucked into a corner of forgotten time. The church dates from 1835 and although the millenimum is almost upon us, time is measured differently in mountains that are millions of years old. The 2 300 strong community still farm by sickle, donkey and the threshing of the wind. Their handmade leather shoe - the 'vellie' - is an institution of its own.

4x4 trails, Hiking, Mountain-biking, Wuppertal

Two routes of varying duration rattle and roll through the Tra-Tra Valley and the Koueberg Pass. The Valley road starts at Leipoldt's House, the founder of the mission, if you like a little local history with your bouncing chassis. Experienced drivers should manage the tough forty nine kilometers in nine hours so prepare for an overnight stay in hiking huts or hot-water camping.

Local guides and story-tellers are available to accompany you. And bring a like-minded friend. You may need some help on the inclines. The shorter Citadel Route is a more manageable fourteen kilometers and three hours long. For an unautomated experience of these ancient mountains, there are hiking and mountain-biking trails through the wild and lonely crags.

Copyright 2002 Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited

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