A three-day slackpacking hike is a great way to experience the Overberg’s flora and fauna … and reinvigorate both body and mind.
Nothing puts life into perspective like retreating to the mountains, taking time to appreciate the landscape. One foot in front of the other, climbing, descending, sometimes clambering over rocks and wading through trickling streams, allows one to focus on the intricate details of the surrounds, the vegetation and the creatures that call it home.
If this is something that appeals to you, why not try a wonderful three-day ramble along the Blue Mountain Trail? It is 50km winding through the wilderness, forests, fruit farms, and fynbos of the southern side of the Elgin Valley. I first heard about it while hiking the more familiar Green Mountain Trail in the Overberg mountains a year ago.
Under the same custodianship, the newer Blue Trail takes hikers even closer to the ocean and into protected land on the opposite side of the N2 highway. It is a manageable and well-paced hike, first past the Bot River, with views towards the wheat fields of the Overberg, and then descending into the Elgin Valley.
We spent time in the Paardeberg mountain above Kleinmond, walking in the pristine Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and then all along the curve of the Palmiet River. Seeing glimpses of the ocean below, we climbed the fynbos-rich hills with their dramatic rocky outcrops. On the last day, we reached the summit of Dragon’s Head. I am proud of this achievement, given that I am not much of a rock climber – yet.
The trail hails its name, Blue Mountain, not only from its blue hue in the evening light but also from the colour of the sky and the views of the ocean. Revel in the mountain streams and cool waterfalls, and the way the sunbird’s little collar reflects the midday sun. For a change of scenery – and this is something hikers often do – you can request to do the trail in reverse, which provides a whole new perspective.
Just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, I am very familiar with the Overberg area. I often visit the coastline that runs from Rooi-Els to Hermanus and on to De Kelder, and the inland towns of Napier and Caledon. Yet this trail is new territory to me. Of course, exploring it on foot affords a completely different perspective. It provides one with the opportunity to gaze across valleys towards familiar oft-driven highways and newly discovered mountain paths.
A Gift To Oneself
Time spent in nature is such a gift to oneself. It is soul food, a reconnection with the things that matter and a reminder of the need to protect our most precious environment, especially in such a phenomenal setting. Making our way through a tapestry of fynbos and fruit farms, we crossed privately-owned land, all sharing the vision to conserve the environment and promote responsible tourism.
This is the world’s first biodiversity wine route, which is impressively dedicated to uniting conservation and agricultural development in a mutually beneficial manner.
Some 80% of the Cape Floral Kingdom is made up of fynbos, two-thirds of which occur only in the Western Cape. Fynbos includes proteas, ericas and restios, as well as geophytes, daisies and legumes. The trail takes you through the Kogelberg, a 100 000-hectare area that is home to 1 900 of these plant species – the densest in the world.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are several endemic species that we were fortunate enough to see on our walk. The ericas were in bloom, the king proteas pushed proudly through the ground, and pincushions added colour to the landscape.
Focused On The Little Things
We focused on the little things while out on the hike. On a couple of days, a light drizzle enhanced the colours of the flowering fynbos that engulfed us in their shades of pinks and pretty yellows.
A variety of creatures greeted us each day, from cute slimy toads to ground beetles, one lonesome crab, baboons playing up ahead and snakes we encountered on the footpaths. There were countless brilliantly painted sunbirds, eagles, buzzards, head-bobbing lizards, scary looking spiders, out of the ordinary cockroaches, dragonflies, and chameleons.
The distance is manageably broken down to daily walks of 18km, 16km, and 12km. It is interspersed with picnic stops and time spent paused in appreciation of the wilderness. Our guide picked out rest spots with elevated views. A highlight was a stream into which we dipped our feet as we enjoyed our picnic.
As part of the Blue Mountain Trail’s social responsibility programme, hikers are handed a Walk With An Alien walking stick, a project in which a personalised walking stick is carved from alien vegetation by local communities. I wouldn’t have managed without mine.
A Slackpacking Hike
This is a slackpacking hike. Accommodation is in the beautiful Wildekrans Country House, where Alison Green, the creator of the trail and activist for the conservation of the area, was our host. Wildekrans is a historic 1811 homestead situated in the village of Houw Hoek and overlooks a large garden where carefully placed sculptures and art pieces line the path that leads to the river. The house is furnished with antiques and filled with contemporary South African art.
From there, we moved on to South Hill Vineyards in the cool wine-producing Elgin valley for a couple of nights in their luxury villa. Wine tasting is hosted and meals are served in their restaurant and art gallery area.
This venue also showcases the work of both famed and upcoming South African artists. We were treated to wine tastings from the regions by PaardenKloof Estate, lunch at Paul Cluver’s SALT restaurant, and concluded with a beautiful spread of food at the Almenkerk Wine Estate.
The hike was certainly challenging at times and the distances great, with my body and feet weary at the end of each day. But when we settled into the luxury and comfort that slackpacking caters for, and given that we didn’t have to carry anything but a day-pack, it really was an indulgence.
The generous spirit of our hosts contributed to the splendour of the untouched and protected region. They shared their homes and knowledge with us. There are numerous reasons to repeat the hike – I know I will.
The Essential Details
NUMBERS You can join the Blue Mountain Trail as an individual hiker, couple or even book as a group of family or friends. Either way, you will be spending time with like-minded nature lovers. There are never more than 10 hikers in the group.
FITNESS LEVEL Be sure to walk some mountainous paths before taking on the trail. All levels of fitness are welcome, as the guides set the pace for the group. However, you will enjoy it more if you are stronger because there are some long and rather demanding elevations.
WHEN The trail is offered year-round, except during July. Between August and November is wonderful, as the weather is at its most predictable and the flowers are in full bloom. In summer, the guides will have you up early to avoid the midday heat. The trail runs from a Monday evening to a Thursday afternoon when the farms and reserves are quiet, and exclusivity is better guaranteed.
God is in the details.
From the trail, and the top of Dragon’s Peak
Wildkraans Country House
South Hill Vineyards Villa
Read my other published articles here.