Hiking Blue Mountain Trail Elgin Valley South Africa

Elgin Valley South Africa

Captivating Elgin Valley is part of the Western Cape’s Kogelberg Biosphere in South Africa’s Overberg region. The valley is “surrounded by Kogelberg, Groenberg, and Hottentot Hollands mountain ranges forming a cool mountain plateau”. It’s one of the most beautiful nature reserves I’ve experienced!

A few weeks ago, I tried ziplining in Grabouw and enjoyed eagle-eye views of the Elgin Basin from high above. Hiking the Blue Mountain Trail was a perfect opportunity to see the valley from a different, close-up perspective.

The biosphere reserve covers 103,629 hectares (400 sq. miles) of valleys, mountain peaks, and coastal plains. We were granted permission to hike the trail, a protected area closed to the public. The photos tell all! Most aren’t captioned, and they don’t adequately portray the vistas. You must see the incomparable skies, mountains, and fynbos in person!

Cape Floral Kingdom

The Elgin area is a sanctuary for plant taxonomy. Our guides and members of the group were well-versed on plants endemic to the Fynbos biome. I gave up trying to learn their botanical names and just enjoyed looking at them.

Andreas Groenewald Guide

Patrick Mapanye Guide

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“The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of six Floral Kingdoms in the world. It’s the only one contained in its entirety within a single country.” South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

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With a growing market in eco- and agri-tourism, the area is known for award-winning wine farms, high-quality apple and pear orchards, roses and other cut flowers, and commercial pine plantations. Elgin’s “cool temperatures and plentiful winter rainfall provide unique conditions ideal for wine growing”.

Almenkerk Wine Estate

Many grape varietals grow in the area with “special attention to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir“. Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve Company – a non-profit organization – manages the reserve.”

Elgin Almenkerk Panorama – Visit Winelands

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“The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve is home to over 1,880 different species of plants, 77 of them occur nowhere else in the world.” SA-Venues

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Endemic Elgin Valley Fynbos

Fynbos

Overberg fynbos is world-renowned. The plants “adapted to the strong winds, wet winters, dry summers, and soil types of the region”.

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“Fynbos is the collective noun for plants in the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape. It includes the protea and erica families and other flowers and plants.” SJ du Toit Botanist overberg.co.za

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The Fynbos Eco-Tourism Forum was established in 1996 to publicize the “Overberg Fynbos Route”. The organization offers fynbos outings and workshops for nature conservation and ecotourism marketing.

Wild Iris

The Blue Mountain Trail

The Blue Mountain Trail is a three-day “slackpacking hike around the south side of the Elgin Valley”. It includes “farm stays, delicious country food, educational wine tastings, baggage transfers, and a fynbos guide”. The organizer, Alison Green, lives in the valley and owns and manages Wildekrans Country House.

Sculpture Wildekrans Country House

The 50km (31-mile) trail passes untouched wilderness and fruit and wine farms. It’s rated a three to four level of difficulty by Fiona McIntosh – Slackpacking. Although I hike regularly, three straight days of 8 to 12 miles is more than my usual moderate outings. Even so, I decided to try the Blue Mountain Trail, despite a warning to be prepared for any weather conditions.

Wines of Elgin Map

In 2017, I recall surviving a tough, multi-day slackpacking adventure along a portion of South Africa’s Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail. It was an extended part of a drive through the Garden Route from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay.

Highlands Trail – safarinow.com

Sheep Sculpture Wildekrans Country House

Hiking Group

Our hiking group included five hikers and two well-qualified guides – Patrick Mapanye and Andreas Groenewald. Born and raised in South Africa, Andreas lives in nearby Somerset West. Patrick immigrated from Malawi fifteen years ago and lives in the Elgin Valley. Michelle, a photographer and social media marketer, accompanied us on day two. We were also joined by Sandy and Kevin King from South Hill Vineyards. The group was accommodated at their wine farm the second and third nights of our trip.

Kogelberg Trail – Hiking South Africa

Other hikers included a journalist from the UK living in Mallorca Spain who was writing an article about slackpacking and wine farms, two sisters from Hermanus who are artists and friends of Kevin and Sandy, and a visitor from Maputo Mozambique who lives part of the year in Johannesburg. This post is an attempt to summarize our three-day adventure.

Paardenkloof Nguni Cattle – paardenkloof.co.za

Check-In Wildekrans Country House

The four-day, three-night trip began with check-in at Wildekrans, a cozy, historic 1811 homestead in Houw Hoek near Grabouw and Botrivier. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the gardens and house are embellished with the work of South African artists.

In the evening we enjoyed a wine tasting presentation by vintner Mohseen V Moosa of PaardenKloof Estate – “Valley of the Horses” in Dutch. His wine farm is on the northern slopes of the Babilonstoring Mountain Range, an historical area where Voortrekkers herded their horses in the 1600s.

Paardenkloof Landscape – paardenkloof.co.za

PaardenKloof Estate was the first farm to “re-introduce a herd of Nguni Cattle to the area”. They maintain “organic sheep, 23-hectares (57 sq. acres) of vineyards, and a variety of fynbos”.

Adam and Eve Sculpture Wildekrans Country House

Mohseen’s interesting wine tasting presentation was followed by a delectable dinner and brief presentation by our guide, Andreas Groenewald. He described what to expect during our first day on the trail.

Blue Mountain Trail – bluemountaintrail.co.za

Day 1 – Botrivier and Elgin Basin

After breakfast we left Wildekrans and took a shuttle bus to the trailhead along High Rising Road. The weather was perfect as we breathed in glorious fresh air and slowly descended into the Elgin Basin mesmerized by uninterrupted panoramic views of Cape Overberg wheat and canola fields, mountains, and fynbos.

Houwhoek Pass – sa-venues.com

It was a warm, clear day with relatively easy trails of about 11 miles. Along the way we stopped to examine fynbos and enjoy a relaxed morning tea. About mid-afternoon we had a lazy picnic lunch. Everyone looked for mountain leopard, porcupine, gray mongoose, and klipspringer or other antelope. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any.

Rhodesian Ridgeback – dogbreedslist.info

It’s interesting to note that the Elgin wine farms we visited had resident Rhodesian Ridgeback watchdogs. The large, mellow dogs are referred to as the “African Lion Hound”. They’re native to South Africa, “bred by Boer farmers to meet their needs for a hunting dog in the wilds of Africa”.

After a satisfying day, we checked into our farm-stay at South Hill Vineyards. A short rest was followed by a wine tasting presentation by Kevin King, a fantastic dinner, and an overview of the next day.

South Hill Vineyards produces “top quality cool climate grapes and wines on a contemporary, accessible, boutique wine farm”. Their “luxury farm-stay includes a restaurant and gallery of continually changing local art”. The wine and food were exceptional, and it was a great place to get to know each other and revive after hiking in the South African bushveld.

Rare White King Protea – Zoë Poulsen Cape Town Botanist

Day 2 – Kleinmond and Paardeberg

On day two we experienced strong winds and our guides took a pragmatic approach, deciding to play it by ear and determine how to proceed as the day progressed. The trailhead was in Highlands Forest and parts of the trail were surrounded by a series of unique, otherworld-looking rock formations.

Elgin Valley – safarinow.com

We walked above Kleinmond and Paardeberg and saw mongoose droppings, a small puff adder, and an interesting caterpillar and lizard – still missing the coveted, elusive mountain leopard. Our guides said animals were likely hiding from the wind, but in the wetlands, we heard happy frogs croaking away.

Sculpture Iona Wine Farm

Andreas decided the wind was too wild for the exposed uphill part of the trail. He had hiked it before in similar conditions and said it was unpleasant. We turned back a few miles ahead of schedule. After retracing our steps and stopping for a quick, windy lunch near the rock formations, we enjoyed wine tasting at Iona Wine Farm.

Iona Art – iona.co.za

House Iona Wine Farm – iona.co.za

Andrew Gunn, an engineer from Johannesburg bought Iona in the late 1990s. It was an apple and pear farm that he converted into a winery. Like most wineries in the Elgin Valley, it’s a family business. He and his wife Rozy, a sculptor and fellow valley farmer, manage Iona. Winery art includes Rozy’s sculptures, political satire cartoons, and a flawless car collection.

Erica

The weather report for our short final day called for heavy wind and light rain. We were given the option of forgoing the hike but meeting at Almenkerk Winery for lunch and wine tasting. I waited until morning to assess the weather, but with howling wind during the night, I wasn’t overly optimistic.

Hiking Group at Almenkerk Wine Estate

I was up early the next day, but along with half of the group opted out. Although it was disappointing to miss the final hike and views of the Kogelberg Valley and Palmiet River, my body was tired and hiking in wind and rain didn’t seem a good idea.

South Hill Winery – Agritourism South Africa

Day 3 – Almenkerk Wine Estate

Almenkerk Wine Estate was purchased by Belgium / Dutch owners in 2002. Previously a 32-hectare (79 sq. acre) apple and pear farm, it was converted into a 15-hectare (37 sq. acre) wine farm. A small part of the farm still has apple and pear orchards.

Modern Almenkerk Winery – capewinelover.co.za

Like most farms in the area, it’s a “family-owned and family-run operation”. Joris and Natalie van Almenkerk manage the farm and cellar with support from family members. The wine was exceptional, but the finer points of Almenkerk’s unique wine making methods explained by Natalie escaped me…

Modern Wineries of South Africa – loot.co.za

I looked through an interesting hard cover book on display at Almenkerk entitled Modern Wineries of South Africa – photography Craig Fraser, writing Hugh Fraser, design / production Libby Doyle. The book features photographs of “South African modern wineries representing the evolution of the SA wine-making industry”.

After the wine tasting, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and said our goodbyes. It was a fast-moving three-day adventure with vast information about the incredible area, fynbos, and wine making. I learned so much, it will take a few days to absorb! Hiking the Blue Mountain Trail is a good workout and a worthwhile, educational experience. It leaves you with vivid memories of South Africa’s beautiful Elgin Valley and the hearty, creative locals who live in and love the spectacular Valley!

Art Wildekrans Country House

Sea Kayaking Walker Bay South Africa

Walker Bay Adventures Guide Riaan – Launching and Landing Area

A special joy of South Africa is its extraordinary coastline. Experiencing it from a kayak is the best, but winter swells are often prohibitive. For about a week Walker Bay wasn’t safe for kayakers. This morning there was minimal swell and conditions were clear, crisp, and calm, so I joined a sea kayaking adventure.

Walker Bay – Xplorio

Our group of four explored the Hermanus coast and went a short distance out to sea. The day trip was uneventful in terms of whale sightings but a rich experience basking in the natural beauty of the area. During the peaceful outing we saw interesting plankton, entertaining Cape Fur Seals, Cormorants, Oystercatchers, and other marine life against a backdrop of misty Overberg Mountains and surf splashing on sea cliffs.

Located in Hermanus Old Harbour, Walker Bay Adventures is an ecologically friendly company. They leave little impact on the environment and participate in conservation, including litter cleanup in the Bay.

Walter Bay Adventures Kayak Launch Area

We used double sit-on-top self-bailing sea kayaks. They’re easy to maneuver for any level of kayaking experience and work well in Walker Bay. Your feet and legs get wet when launching and landing, but the experience is so pleasant it’s inconsequential. The small group included a couple visiting from Germany on their way up the Garden Route, and I shared a kayak with our happy, well-qualified guide, Riaan.

Walker Bay Adventures

Area Map – winesofelgin.co.za

The adventure was thoroughly enjoyable!

Ziplining Grabouw Elgin Valley, South Africa

Elgin Valley Vista

For years I’ve wanted to experience ziplining. Saturday was the day, and it didn’t disappoint! The adventure was rich with adrenaline rushes, indescribably beautiful South African landscapes, and good company.

Heading Out

I discovered Cape Canopy Tours with the help of a Hermanus kayak company – Walker Bay Adventures. After four attempts at joining a Cape Town kayak group and as many cancellations due to wind and swell in Table Bay, I gave it up. It can be clear on land but wind, tides, and waves put the kibosh on kayaking. Weather permitting, I’m scheduled for a Walker Bay sea kayak trip later this week.

Walker Bay Nature Reserve – Open Africa

It’s early for whale season but there are interesting birds, fish, and animals in and around Walker Bay – sun- and sugarbirds, cormorants, pelicans, herons, penguins, otters, dolphins, seals, sharks, and a local fish – galjoen, kabeljou, and steenbras.

Rocky Fynbos Hillside

Elgin Valley

Elgin Valley canopy tours take place near Grabouw in the spectacular Hottentots Holland Mountains. A South African World Heritage Site, it’s a “pristine, previously inaccessible” wilderness area about forty-five minutes from Hermanus. The endemic floral diversity is spectacular. Mammals include klipspringer (Oreotragus), baboon, leopard, and grey rhebok. Shy nocturnal animals, Cape leopards are rarely seen.

Backroad to Zipline Platforms

Cape Canopy Tours

Cape Canopy Tours is noted for its safety and high-quality zipline structures and equipment. We began the day with a safety briefing. Our guides explained how the ziplines work and what to expect. I quickly learned that the safety briefing wasn’t preparation for a stunning aerial perspective of the Cape Overberg!

Hottentots Holland Mountains

There were six fun people in my group – a couple from Ireland and a family of four from the UK – father, two daughters, and young son. I was the only first-timer, as everyone else had experienced ziplining before.

After the briefing, we were fitted into harnesses, helmets, gloves, and jackets. Our adventure began with a 30-minute ride over rough backroads in an open 4×4 safari vehicle. The views were amazing as we drove over bumps, potholes, and puddles from an overnight rain. Clouds framed the mountain range and created interesting shapes, shadows, and colors. The truck dropped us off and we hiked a short distance to the first of eleven zipline platforms!

Waterfall Ravine

Eleven Ziplines

There were over 8,000 feet of ziplines – the longest was 1,100 ft. Each zip point had a small plaque describing the length of the slide and the nature and geology visible in the surrounding wilderness area. There were abundant rivers, waterfalls, rocky ravines, and fertile valleys. Near the end, we passed over an 82 ft. suspension bridge situated above a double waterfall.

Cape Canopy Ziplining – Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust

The zipline process begins when you step onto a wooden platform where a guide connects you to the zipline cable. You wear heavy leather gloves; one has a reinforced palm for the hand that rests lightly over the cable behind the pulley – the right for right-handed people. Tightening your hand over the cable slows you down, but the guides told us not to do that without their signal.

Cape Leopard – TimesLIVE

The other hand goes around harness lines under the cable. As you lean into the harness and pull knees to chest – the guide releases the cable, and off you go!!

Walker Bay in Distance

Wind and Speed

Our wild card was the wind. It was substantial! At the first zip platform, we were given the option to reschedule, but everyone wanted to continue. It took me several zips to relax and get into the free, magic feeling of flying through the air on a zipline! Of course, the longer the slide, the faster you go. The guide waiting at the next platform puts on the brake to slow you down for landing. The most difficult part (for me) was trusting in the brake. Without it, you would slam violently into the mountain on the other side!

Hike to the First Zip

The speed you travel depends on the length of the zipline, your weight, and the wind. The guide waiting takes all things into consideration in deciding when to pull the brake. Our guide was skillful and my landings were soft and painless.

Fynbos Hillside

In heavy wind during the second or third slide, I missed a signal to tighten my hold on the cable and slow down. I’m still not sure what happened, but suddenly the cable stopped and I was hanging in the middle of the slide looking down at the valley below –yikes. The guide zipped out to meet me and ferried us both back to the other side. Scary as that sounds, it really wasn’t – maybe more so for the guide. Focusing on signals is challenging when you’re moving fast.

Tiny Bird Sculpture Last Zip Platform

Euphoria

Ziplining time passed quickly and at the end, it seemed like a dream. The hike to the vehicle pickup point brought us back to reality. It was an unforgettable experience that I hope to repeat! My zipline video is attached – minus the screams

Elgin Panorama – Visit Winelands

I’ve booked a four-day, three-night slackpacking hike in July on the Blue Mountain Trail. The trail is 31 miles long and “winds through wilderness, forests, fruit and wine farms, and lush fynbos fields”.

Elgin Basin Vineyard – Wade Bales Wine Society

The trail covers some of the same terrain we zipped over in Bot River and the Elgin Valley as well as areas of Kleinmond, Paardeberg, Kogelberg, and Palmiet. All are part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. I’m hiking most days in preparation, as it will be a tough three-day hike for me.

Hottentots Holland Landdroskop Road – CapeNature