News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Wednesday October 17th 2018

Botrivier’s great deceit

Fire Ericas on display following a fire across the mountain in January this year. Photo: Steve Kretzmann/WCNBotrivier is a deceitful little place, it’s been placidly lying to me for years. Spread out next to the N2 just over an hour from Cape Town, most people speed past on their way elsewhere without giving the dorp a second glance. It’s got mountains right behind it that look like they might hold some interest, but this is the Western Cape, there are mountains everywhere.

But unlike places that pretend they’re all amazing and then reveal their true nature to be overpriced and over-marketed, the deceit of modesty practiced by Botrivier and surrounds is a delight. Once you turn off the highway, meet the people living there and walk into those relatively unprepossessing looking mountains, an entirely different world opens up.

Thanks to the historical discourse offered by our trail guide Gerald McCann, I was to discover the place has been conning people since those ultimate campers, the trekkers, pulled their ox wagons over the pass in Toeka se dae. More on that later.

One thing you’ll find is a sense of community threading through the area. People here help each other out (and no, that’s not true of all country places). In fact the Green Mountain Eco Route we were fortunate enough to have a taste of wouldn’t exist without a bunch of farmers and guest-house owners working together.

This four-star bespoke slack packing trail involves six establishments, two of which you sleep at. The others allow you to wander over their conservancies – they’re all signed up to the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (www.bwi.co.za) – into their vineyards and orchards and offer you delicious food and wine at your lunch time stops.

But let’s get back to the beginning – which is difficult because what we did of the trail was back to front.

After taking that neglected turn-off to Botrivier you would drive on a decent gravel road into those mountains you may have turned your nose up at so often. Soon you’re driving past Cape Dutch farm houses filled with dark wood panelling and surrounded by rose gardens, lilies, vines and ducks, before heading up the Van der Stel’s pass. Here the country is drier and the mountain ridges, tortured by ancient geological forces that folded and fractured them, reveal a snaggle-toothed beauty. If you’re too taken by this scenery you might miss the turn off to Porcupine Hills, an olive farm along a narrow valley with a breathtaking vista of the tortured rotated sedimentary layers from which it takes its name.

Wooden floors, two bedrooms with expansive beds, an upstairs reading nook, lounge with big classical sofas and large fireplace, a fully fitted kitchen, and a bathtub that easily fits two, were the features of the Farmhouse we stayed in.

If you can rouse yourself on the first morning and get past a breakfast with all the trimmings, you’d start the four day trail on a tractor ride to the top of the now imposing-looking Groenlandberg and walk 18km with a locally-trained guide through the pristine fynbos of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

You get given lunch up there at spot accessible by 4×4. At the end of a day spent on top of the world you would get picked up and driven back to your four-star digs and fed again.

Day two is 16km through fynbos on the lower windward slopes of the mountain and you’d walk into Oak Valley Wine estate for lunch before wandering on to the Paul Cluver estate for wine tasting.

Sated, you’d be picked up to meet your bags at your new haven – the Wildekrans guest house. I don’t use the word haven lightly. Look, it you’re into glass and chrome and minimalism you’re not going to like it. If, however, you like lots of dark wood, restored Cape houses, long dining room tables, farm kitchens, antique furniture, four-poster beds, leather-bound books and contemporary South African art, you’ll love it. As we did, unreservedly.

Situated next to the old Cape wagon trail – those ultimate campers I mentioned – the gardens overseen by Barry Gould, running into the apple orchard, are as splendid as the house. The green lawns dotted with contemporary sculpture – did I mention a pool at both Porcupine Hills and Wildekrans? – beckon stiff hiking legs to lie down and relax. If you can get up again you’d be treated to a dinner of local produce and Barry’s own wines in the restored shed.

At Wildekrans we were invited to join Barry and Alison Green – who did the cooking – and their two daughters Hannah and Molly for supper. Having spent much of their lives in Johannesburg before buying Wildekrans, the couple display that delightful combination of city sophistication and country hospitality. Much wine was consumed with nary an awkward pause in conversation.

Watch out for their home-made toasted muesli in the morning, it’s addictive.

Day three and four are half day walks of 11 and 10 km respectively and include the Paul Cluver game and poplar forest, lunch under the trees at Wildekrans and lunch at the end of day four’s trail at Beaumont wines.

The day four trail was the one we actually did. Starting off on the old ox-wagon trail from Wildekrans, Gerald showed us why those campers figured it was an easy ramble after the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the fabled Canaan that was the rolling Overberg hills. From the old Bot River out span it looks like a picnic. Go over the rise and before you is a deepening narrow kloof. Those trekkers must have been devastated.

It was the upper slopes of this kloof we walked, into the crannies of the mountain that looks so relatively tame from the N2. We spotted a pair of resident Black Eagles. And flowers. More flowers than Gerald could point his stick at. It was nature’s orchestra. Entire hillsides of Wachendorfia’s, oodles of the normally rare black iris, Proteas galore, fire Erica’s in splendour, painfully pink Everlastings…

Beaumont Wines was just far enough from Wildekrans to make us feel we’d deserved the simple and delicious lunch graciously served by proprietor Jane Beaumont on her porch, but left us with enough energy for a tour of the old mill being restored over four years of Saturdays by vintage machine junkie Andy Selfe.

The R1 110 per night per person sharing price tag gives you a luxury outdoor holiday tailor made to your interests, with everything laid on. If food and wine is your thing, you’ll get it in spades. If you’re more into fynbos and hiking, you’ll get mountains of it. If you like to mix outdoor activity with four-star home comforts, this is your Shangri-la.

And next time you drive past Botrivier, you’ll definitely give it a second glance. Probably a lingering one at that. – Steve Kretzmann, West Cape News

Tags: Botrivier, Green Mountain Eco-Trail, hiking, Houwhoek, Overberg, travel, Wildekrans

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2 Responses to “Botrivier’s great deceit”

  1. So brilliant that you’ve discovered this Overberg gem! Hope you got all the way up Van Der Stel Pass – if you didn’t – do it next time. In fact it’s best to go a bit of a long way round and approach Botrivier from Villiersdorp and come down the pass. It’s one of me most favourite journeys. As for the people, the wine, the accommodation and the food – they are all truly special.

  2. Genevieve says:

    Anyone interested in enjoying the Botrivier experience should head this way this coming weekend (30 Oct 2010). Barrel Race, Van Der Stel Pass Challenge, Lyzard Kings at the Botrivier Hotel and you can enjoy the Elgin Open Gardens along the way!

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