If you want to make me happy, invite me to walk …
Which is exactly what West Coast Way did a little while back, bringing together a group of bloggers and friends – The Roaming Giraffe, Moving Sushi and Going Somewhere Slowly – to experience one of their much talked about walking trails, the Darling Stagger.
Arriving in Darling first thing for a delicious breakfast and coffee at The Granary Petite Hotel’s Chicory Cheese Café where we were staying, we made an early start with bellies full and ample fine coffee as our send off.
Meeting our Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails guide Ryno at the !Khwattu San, we hit the open road. Our walk would take us towards the coast and along the shoreline towards Yzerfontein. The weather wasn’t playing along, but bundled in wind breakers with good walking shoes and a scarf to ward off the chill, our enthusiasm couldn’t be dampened.
This is a sure way to feel the honesty of nature in the wind and the wild waves. Covering a total of about 14km in about 5 hours, I could happily have kept going. There is a barren beauty to the West Coast, flat lands and farms filling the space between the R27 road and the cool Atlantic ocean.
The Darling Stagger
Three years in the making, the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails is one of the newest trail products on offer in the Western Cape and growing in popularity given its close proximity to Cape Town. Providing the choice between Eve’s Trail, the Five Bay Trail and The Wheels of Time, it’s the Darling Stagger that I am taken with.
Named after the nearby village of Darling, the Stagger usually follows a 2.5-day route once walked by short-necked giraffe, the San tribe who occupied this land and the early settlers and farmers we know today. The route explores some of this history along the way and includes a taste of contemporary culture, olives and wine.
We did a condensed sample day of walking, but the format for the entire trail is very slick. Given that this is a slack packing option, you leave your overnight bag at your guesthouse and are transferred from there to !Khwa ttu for a short guided tour by a San guide. From here the hike continues towards Yzerfontein and along the unspoilt coast on the following days. A guide leads the trails and luggage is transferred between accommodations.
After completion you may want to extend your stay in Darling, a quaint and interesting village with much on offer, inducing a Craft Brewery. I loved that you only have to carry a backpack with your lunch, water and camera. The entire trip is well catered and you are allowed to relax into the unique environment and maximise on the experience, whilst learning about the surrounds.
Following Ryno over the sand dunes.
A grain of sand and particle of shell, for every dream imagined.
Beach walking on the Yzerfontein stretch of coastline.
The walk between the R27 west coast road and the coast.
Our informative l guides Ryno and Verdi Alaart.
Making a wish on the many fairy thistles.
Along the way we discovered the remains of many tiny little tortoises, mostly we were told, had fallen victim to crows that are rather prolific here. A sad reality.
After our arrival in Yzerfontein, we were met and transferred to the Tienie Versveld Reserve just outside Darling on the Yzerfontein Road for a visit. This land was donated to the National Botanical Society of South Africa by Marthinus Versveld, known locally, as Oom Tienie, many years ago and is preserved as a regional attraction.
What makes this 20 hectare reserve so incredible is that its never been ploughed, which gives rise to wonderful Sandveld flowers each year. Open for visits throughout the year, it is the bulbs that draw the crowds during flower season. While there we looked out for the graves of Marthinus and his wife Beatrice, known as Baby, reminding us of the family who lived here once.
This area has been the focus of flower enthusiasts since 1917, and the West Coast is said to have as many as 1200 different flowering plant species, 80 of which are endemic to the West Coast and found nowhere else. We were in luck as across the land, these beautiful candelabras were in flower.
There was a chill on the air after a day of walking in the drizzle and wind, yet that never stopped us from taking the time to learn more about the reserve or walk the wooden walk ways and paths in search of beautiful seasonal flowers.
More about the Trails Project
It took three years for the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails to develop their five slack packing routes, which all carry the emphasis on growing the local economy by supporting existing and emerging tourism services. Its working well, and new guides, caterers and drivers have joined the fold in providing this top notch service. The other trails include:
All have their own unique characteristics and themes and you couldn’t go wrong whichever you choose, so perhaps look at dates, durations and focus areas to find the right match for you.
This truly is a remarkable way to see the area and I love how they’ve incorporated local attractions, accommodations, wine and food spots into the mix. It’s a mini soulful Camino, an easy escape from the world, within easy reach of Cape Town and with all the comfort, ease and treats of a holiday, well spent, outdoors.
Nature lovers, it’s time to work your way through the Bisophere’s offerings.
Captured at my happiest. Wind swept, ocean side, alive.
Best travel buddies out there.
Stopped between red road and blue waters, Di, Anje, Ryno and I.
Connect with the fine people at the Cape Biosphere Trails and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Their offices are just off the R27 at the West Coast Farmstall, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town.
Disclaimer: My visit to Darling and the Darling Stagger experience were organised and hosted by West Coast Way, Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails, staying at The Granary Petite Hotel and enjoying meals at the Chicory Cheese Café, The Flying Pig, Bistro Seven and Darling Brew.
Also see my related posts: Four of my favourite South African Walking Trails For Round The World Experts and The Darling of the Swartland. Tannie Evita, Sweet Treats, Books, Music and Craft Beer. Learn more about the West Coast at West Coast Way.
Bottom three pics by the talented Linda Markovina of Moving Sushi.