by Gregory Simpson

Kogelberg

The land of plenty

Kogelberg_Nature_Reserve_Accomodation_Rudolph_de_Girardier__MG_9283.jpg

Searching for an outdoor adventure within an hour’s drive from Cape Town? Look no further than the gorgeous Kogelberg Nature Reserve where you can enjoy the delicate ecology of a fascinating biosphere, upmarket accommodation and get your adrenaline fix.

The coastal drive from Gordon’s Bay to the Kogelberg is without a doubt one of the most scenic drives in South Africa. Sweeping your way past sun-kissed beaches and rocky outposts, you will reach the Kogelberg gravel road leading to the reserve.

The recently upgraded road from the R44 to the heart of the Kogelberg provides even more stunning vistas, and serves as a fitting gateway to the area.

With the roaring (in winter) Palmiet on your right, and prominent mountains on either side, a profound sense of anticipation takes over as you drive toward the CapeNature huts, where we had booked our accommodation for the weekend.

The tastefully designed accommodation was just perfect, with all the amenities than one may expect to find in a luxury two bedroom eco cabin. They blend in well with surrounds and are a marked upgrade on the wooden chalets they replaced in 2012. The units are not on top of each other, providing privacy and amazing vistas.

The best thing to do after checking in is to take a stroll down to the nearby river, which has a single track path that can take you all the way up to the Steenbras Dam alongside the N2. Following a brisk 20-minute walk, enough to get the blood flowing, you are met with rejuvenating mountain pools that simply beg to be swum in.

Be prepared for a chilly reception in the Palmiet River; but believe me, it is well worth it once you have adjusted to the icy water. There are several fantastic spots for swimming as you make your way deeper into the reserve. Hikers have a plethora of options to choose from, with one- or two-day hikes through rolling mountains and shimmering streams.

Hugging the river, The Palmiet River Day Hike is a particular favourite for your average weekend warrior, taking you deep into the Kogelberg Reserve to the Stokoe Bridge and diverse terrain as well as various sandstone formations. Even if hiking is not really your thing, the gardens are a must-see as they contain many of the signature Fynbos varieties of the area, as well as waterfalls, and a restaurant for a morning cup of tea — making for a stellar start to any day. In total, 1600 plant species can be found in the area, of which 150 are endemic.

The Leopard’s Gorge Day Hike is a moderate one-way hike through diverse Fynbos vegetation, starting at Oudebosch and ending in the grand Harold Porter Botanical Gardens near Betty’s Bay. Thrill seekers will have a ball kayaking down the Palmiet River, particularly in winter. Various distances, from nine to 18 kilometres, are on offer.

Adrenalin fix

When the river is at its fullest and most furious, it is graded at level three difficulty. I was silly enough to think we could make it down without any experience, following heavy rains. I was accompanied by a friend with about the same amount of experience and, needless to say, we spent more time in the water than in the double kayak.

On more than one occasion, my knee crashed against hidden rocks on the riverbed, and at times it was touch and go whether we would make it out to the lagoon at the bottom of the river with all four limbs intact. Through sheer determination, and the help of ice-cold beer to ease the pain, we made it down to the mouth.

Unless you are a seasoned paddler, book a guided tour on proper inflatable river rafts, as it is really not worth risking life and limb to save a few bucks. In summer, however, the river turns from an unforgiving monster into a kitten.

Mountain bikers have 23km of unspoilt tracks to discover at a moderate intensity. Due to occasional summer fires, however, the Kogelberg mountain bike trails and hiking trails can be temporarily closed, so be sure to check with CapeNature before planning your route.

The surrounds of the Kogelberg have plenty of other options for lovers of the outdoors, with great surfing beaches, horse-riding and manicured golf courses. Kleinmond Golf Course is set at the foot of the Kogelberg Mountain Range, and provides a scenic nine-hole challenge; but watch out for baboons sneaking up on you where the course borders the reserve.

Golf haven

Serious golfers should make a booking at Arabella Hotel and Spa, home to the pristine Arabella Championship Course. Rated in the South African top five for many years, it has the feel of a links. Having played it, I would put it on par with Pearl Valley.

If you are partial to high-end pampering after the game, the hotel’s spa facilities will have you covered. It is a great place for honeymooners to laze the day away, following a rejuvenating massage and spa treatment.

Arabella produces fine vintage wines, which go down well with pretty much anything on the hotel’s five-star menu. There are a few accommodation gems in the sleepy-hollow towns that border the Kogelberg Reserve.

One of the landmark entertainment sites in the area is the charming Hangklip Hotel, which is set on an isolated piece of land near the water’s edge. Sunday roasts are always a hit, while the evenings can get a little rowdy, with beer and wine flowing with gay abandon during peak season. It is aimed more at your budget getaway crowd, and is great for hosting parties and bands.

We still had some energy for wine tasting: so off to the highest wine farm in South Africa, at the Iona Wine Estate. Because the average temperatures are so much lower at Iona, its grapes take much longer to ripen, making them just a little more intense. The cellars are open by appointment on weekends and public holidays.

Since brandy is the drink of choice for many South Africans, why not check out the historic Oude Molen Brandy Distillery in the heart of the Elgin Valley, which flanks the Kogelberg? The weekday tours investigate the history of the factory, which stores huge 100 000-litre tanks of the golden nectar, named Big Bertha and Long Tom.

Oude Molen VOV 14-year-old brandy, as well as local delicacies such as fruits, brandy marmalade and yummy brandy truffles are available at the distillery’s shop.

Once you have discovered all the joys of the greater Kogelberg area, you will want to take some more time off to further appreciate one of the quiet achievers on South Africa’s tourism map.

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