My first assignment at Getaway involved tackling a plush 57-kilometre Green Mountain Trail on the Groeneland Nature Reserve. Having never hiked before, this hike might have set the standard a bit too high for my future hikes and assignments. The hike turned out to be a combination of amazing views, hard work, and delicious wines. Photographs by Teagan Cunniffe.
‘I’m surprised by all this talk about journalism and not a word to enquire about the hike tomorrow,’ said guide Andreas Groenewald at dinner. The nerves started kicking in. I’ve only ever walked over a hill in Grahamstown. This was an entirely different story: 57 kilometres over three days (the standard itinerary spreads the distance over four days but time constraints meant we had one fewer in which to do it), and lots of mountains. Real mountains. What made me do it? The promise of wine, a proper bed every night and some new gear from Cape Union Mart that included hiking socks (I didn’t even know there was such a thing).
After a short transfer to the starting point on a private farm, we set off to cross the Groenlandberg Nature Reserve at the decent hour of 9am. Andreas and assistant guide Evan Kortje were like kids in a candy store, their enthusiasm ignited by the sight of a mountain covered in fynbos. Andreas looked at the carpet of erica flowers in front of us as if seeing them for the first time and cried out,‘Look at all this pink! You’d swear the mountain was blushing.’ The flowers were tiny and growing at ankle height. Evan said they refer to a hike in winter as a humble visitation. ‘You have to get on your knees to truly appreciate and see the flowers,’ he said, kneeling down over a patch of proteas that looked like baby cabbages.
About five kilometres later, Andreas pointed at the mountain ahead, ‘We will walk across that path’ – a trail of white sand – ‘but before that, we will go to the top of the mountain and from there on it’s just downhill. It will be a great reward for this hard part of the climb.’ The 360-degree view of the orchards and vineyards of Elgin and Grabouw, Theewaterskloof Dam, Kleinmond right to Hermanus in the distance and the path we’d already covered – all the way back to Porcupine Hills – was a breathtaking reward for the uphill slog.
I couldn’t help but feel on top of the world in more ways than one – the indulgent lunch: a juicy spinach and mushroom quiche packed for us earlier and good filter coffee, savoured with a spectacular view from 1130 metres above sea level (higher than Table Mountain, Andreas pointed out). Soon it was time to soldier on. The energy required going up earlier was so much more within my control than the energy I now needed to keep my body from slipping and rolling downhill.
We came across a mountain spring flowing out of rock on the side of the trail, but some of us (read me) were less excited about drinking this ‘natural water’ because of its brown colour. I held back but Andreas wasted no time, scooping it up with both hands and drinking thirstily.‘This is what water should taste like!’ he said. Registering my doubt, Evan told me that minerals in the fynbos enter the water through its roots, so it’s known as ‘fynbos tea’. Upon closer inspection, it did look like tea, and I drank water from a spring for the first time in my life!
We exited the trail via Viljoen’s Pass and the small Nuweberg cemetery that day. I couldn’t help but wonder if that graveyard was home to individuals who hadn’t been able to make it all the way… Only then, after covering 18 kilometres, the first and longest stretch of the hike, did I look back with pride at having made it, alive. Over the next two days we walked through more of this beautiful region that makes up part of the Kogelberg Biosphere. More than 1500 plant species grow here, and more than 20 of them are proteas alone. We even came across impepho – a tumeric-scented herb used by traditional healers to chase away evil spirits.
Every day was rich in visual artistry, accompanied by an incredible orchestra of frog serenades, splashing waterfalls, chirping birds and leaves dancing in the wind. At the end of each walk we ate delicious food and tasted wine, and each night we sank into comfortable beds. It’s perfect for beginners and I realised that though I may walk sluggishly and roll myself over like a ball of dough being kneaded, I can also walk over mountains.
Plan your trip
Take the N2 from Cape Town through Somerset West, over Sir Lowry’s Pass and past Grabouw and Elgin. After the Houw Hoek Pass, head for Bot River. Drive through town, past the hotel, go over the level crossing and turn right onto the Van der Stel Pass (to Villiersdorp). It is 16km on gravel to Porcupine Hills (signposted on the right). Transfers from Cape Town airport can be arranged.
How it works
The Green Mountain Trail covers 57 km over four days, traversing the Groenlandberg section of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, and visiting farms (Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and Beaumont) that are all members of the world’s first biodiversity wine route. Nights are spent at luxury guest houses, which provide breakfast and dinner, and hikers are transported to and from the trail each day. 0282849827, greenmountaintrail.co.za
Need to know
Spring has masses of flowers and flowing streams (lots of frogs); summer offers migratory birds, harvest action, orchids and proteas (plus Elgin Open Gardens in late October and early November); the bulbs bloom in autumn, which is also cooler; winter is cold. It’s a moderate walking trail, no technical skill needed, and distances range from 11 to 18km, which means you’re often only walking for half the day and can spend the rest at leisure, including wine tasting.
What to bring
Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, snacks and water, as well as something warm and waterproof to wear in case the weather changes (probable in the Overberg).
R8795 per person sharing (minimum six people) for four days. Solo walkers and smaller groups can join other groups. The rate includes all meals, wine tastings, guides, luggage transfers and three nights’ accommodation at Porcupine Hills, an olive farm, and historic Wildekrans Country House.
K-Way Torrential Rain Jacket, R899
Made of polyester micro-fibre, it was light and easy to carry. The inside seams are sealed and kept cold air out and warmth in. It also kept out the drizzle on day three, although its name implies it could deal with far worse.
K-Way Men’s Explorer Kloof Trousers, R899
They’re made from water- repellent nylon with a UV-protective finish. The leg bottoms can be zipped off to convert them into shorts ‒ due to the weather on my hike, there was no need for that, but in summer this will be very handy.
K-Way Kilimanjaro ’12 Daypack, R1099
The shoulder straps hug you tightly but comfortably, so it feels like you’re carrying hardly any luggage. Chest straps allow you to tighten up and adjust the hug of the bag. You won’t want to let go of this one!
Hi-Tec V-Lite Flash Hike, R2599
These waterproof leather boots were comfortable and strong. The high tops offered ankle support ‒ handy in the rocky environment and on the downhills. They’re rather ‘macho’, which inspired me to crunch through vegetation and climb rocks to take pictures and enjoy the views.
Read our ‘battle test’ review of the Hi-Tec boots here.
This story first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our November issue features the next adventure frontier of Madagascar, affordable breaks in Hogsback, and what to do in the Cradle of Humankind.