Copy and images by Jacques Marais
Wines to Wilderness Local Buzz:
Porterville comes across as just another country dorp when you cruise from the surrounding wheatfields into the wide and tree-lined main road. There’s a SPAR and a good butchery, the standard small-town coffee shops (Koppi-Koffi) and pubs (Akkediskis), and – as usual – a church with a towering spire.
Once you start exploring the town, a whole bunch of hidden secrets will be unearthed, though. Dozens of artists have moved here to escape the rat race, with everything from potters and painters to crazy-good mosaic ladies hidden away along the shady and languorous back roads. It is beyond the urban edge where the real adventure starts, though…
The village lies within the shadow of the rugged Winterhoek ranges, and if you decide to meander up Dasklip Pass, you will discover one of the Western Cape’s truly wild places. This premier wilderness area is known as Groot Winterhoek, and it is unarguably one of Cape Nature’s most remote and off-grid conservation areas.
The extensive reserve encompasses a full gamut of craggy peaks and pristine slopes, blanketed with a fragrant fynbos mix of erica, protea and restios. This is where the small mountain streams feeding the Olifants River start, with dramatic kloofs and canyons slicing through the landscape below the towering Sneeuberg, topping out at a dizzying 2 077m.
Currently, mountain biking is not allowed in Groot Winterhoek – nobody at CapeNature is able to adequately explain why – but this does not mean you should not take the time to reconnect here with nature… Go hike or trail run the multi-day routes along the Groot- and Klein Kliphuis Rivers, immerse yourself in the giant black-water rock pools at Die Hel, or commit to a three-day kloofing adventure down the 24 Rivers Canyon.
There are numerous other adventure options even closer to Porterville, and you definitely do not want to miss 22 Watervalle. This is the area’s ‘original adventure destination’ – and yes, you’ve guessed it – you can view 22 spectacular cascades along their 10.5km trail. There’s also a steep MTB trail in the making, with some sweeping berms ducking and dipping amidst overhanging branches of indigenous montane forest.
Dasklip Pass slashes skywards along the ridges about 10km north of the village, and near the summit is where you will discover one of the Cape’s original eco-adventure retreats. Beaverlac is an outdoor destination that has drawn campers, hikers and nature lovers for many a decade, and it is immediately obvious why …
Part working farm and private nature reserve, the 450ha property unfolds along the upper reaches of the Ratel River. This fast-flowing tributary joins the Olifants River approximately 8km below the camp site, and the many pools and waterfalls lie at the heart of your Beaverlac experience. We will return to the trails here in more detail at a later stage during this Blog …
For more information on the untold adventures awaiting you in the Berg River Region, feel free to visit their excellent web site at www.bergriviertourism.co.za.
This is a story about a route in the making … Right now, the Wines to Wilderness Route is a ‘mountain biking dream in progress’, but do not let this put you off from exploring the Bergrivier Region. Read on and you’ll find out how to navigate those rambunctious back roads on your bike, all while discovering how all the various trail nodes fit together.
You always need a good spot from which to start an adventure, and what better place could you wish for than a wine estate with award-winning food? Piekenierskloof Wines slumbers atop the eponymous pass, just beyond the Paleisheuwel turn-off, and is famed for their great vintages and delectable meals.
This is also the area where the ‘Rooibos-to-Muisbos’ MTB Challenge (sponsored by Carmien Rooibos Tea) kicks off. The Paleisheuwel road – traversing the spine of the mountain range – descends steeply westwards towards the coast, and would make for a fast roadie-style ride if that is your cup of herbal tea.
A speedy 32km T-bones you onto the R365, where you turn right to Sandberg and Leipoldtville. These back roads are generally quiet, but look out for agri-traffic (tractors and Isuzu bakkies) as you pedal all the way to the coast at Lamberts Bay for an 86km cruise.
Yeah yeah, I know … you brought your mountain bike, and don’t feel like tar. Here’s what you do: right where the Paleisheuwel Road junctions with the N7, is an access point where you can get onto the old Piekenierskloof Pass, basically following the curves of the N7. Pin your ears back and follow your front wheel!
Some navigation will be required to get you through the farm roads at the base of the Winterhoek mountains, but if all else fails you can follow the R365 back in the direction of Porterville for around 70km in the saddle. A few avid mountain bikers in the area are working hard to gain open access to a recreational MTB route, and the negotiations with local farmers will hopefully pay off.
Your first trail node is a hidden secret: the ‘22 Watervalle’ Camp Site, approximately 5km out of town. It makes sense to camp overnight here if you want to add their 15km MTB trail to your tick box, but the real gem is the extensive hiking route taking you past no less than 22 waterfalls – it is truly breathtaking, but you will need at least 4-5hrs to complete the hike.
The mountain biking route is rather rough-and-ready, with lots of loose stones and sharp corners blitzing along the mountain side. Some pushing may be required here and there, but the higher (and rather technical) Red Route eventually gets you onto a kickass section of the trail berming via the lush indigenous forest and to one of the most beautiful cascades imaginable. Well worth it – www.22waterfalss.com.
Ok, I suggest another overnighter here, because if I sing the praises of this place any louder, I’d be shouting my head off. First you need to get there, though … From 22 Watervalle, roll for 4km back to the R365 and turn right. Pay attention, because after 2km you turn right again at a sign to Dasklip Pass, this time onto a gravel road, with a turn-off to the pass itself (on tar) 16km into your ride.
Dasklip is a pretty cool climb, if steep in places, with exceptional views over the Sandveld farmland to the west. You eventually reach the Beaverlac turn-off to your left after a solid 7km ascent, with a steep 4km drop into the camp site to follow. Pitch your tent and get ready to explore: I suggest a swim at either Secret or Main Pool to get rid of the dust, and to slake your thirst on the sweet Ratel River waters.
Two main route options await from the camping area, so head out over the concrete causeway crossing the Ratel (or Badger, if you want) River. The Yellowfish / Flatrock / Africa Cottage option bears left immediately, passing a big shed before tripping into Beaverlac’s wild heart.
You could explore by bike along the short Flatrock Trail should you have the technical skills, or otherwise head into the hills towards the course of the upper Olifants River along a sandy 2km stretch (and boy, is it worthwhile)! The main gravel road continues slip-sliding amidst the incredible Stone Temple landscape, passing Africa Cottage 7km into the ride.
Unfortunately, a gate signifies the start of a neighbouring farm after a further 1.5km, with the crossing through the scenic Olifants River only a tantalising kilometre away from here. There’s a R500 fine for ignoring the sign, and I’m nearly of the opinion that you should bite the bullet and pay the fine, it is so beautiful. Maybe it’s best not to make the farmers angry, though; if they opened up this route to riders, you’d be able to pedal all the way to Citrusdal from Beaverlac, maar nou ja!
There is also the steeper and more eroded ‘Extension Road’ if you turn right after the Ratel River causeway. This heads into high ground via Old Testament rockscapes and – if you are going to be lucky enough to bump into klipspringers, lynx or Cape mountain leopard (it can happen!) – this is where you need to keep your eyes wide open. We spotted three black eagles, and countless other bird species – www.beaverlac.co.za.
The Groot Winterhoek Reserve is situated 12km from the Beaverlac turn-off, so this makes for a 32km return ride to this vast wilderness area should you have the energy to go and partake in one of their many day hikes. It truly is a mindblowing outdoor arena, and in my opinion is on par with wilderness areas such as Swartberg or the Baviaanskloof … Yup, it would be sad to miss out on this special kind of magic – www.capenature.co.za.
There is also Pampoenfontein (a legendary paragliding take-off spot) and the unparalleled Ginsmiths, a local distillery crafting award-winning gins. It’s not easy to find Leslie and Col, but if you book a tasting in good time, they will explain exactly how to get there off the Groot Winterhoek access road. The taste sensation comes packaged with oodles of peace and tranquillity … just saying! – www.ginsmiths.co.za.
Off The Bike
Die Hel, Winterhoek
This ‘Hell’ should not be confused with Gamkaskloof, but probably rates on par when it comes to Wow Factor. Set deep within the embrace of the Groot Winterhoek Reserve, you need to commit to a 13km hike along the Groot Kliphuis River to get to ‘Die Hel’. Many people believe this to be the Cape’s biggest mountain rock pool, but even if it isn’t, it still rates beyond spectacular.
Those up for a no-holds-barred adventure then take on the ’24 Rivers’ gorge on Day 2; you need to wade, boulder hop and slog your way through imposing sandstone formations to a protected overnight spot in the lee of an overhang. The sandstone wall is covered in bushman paintings, and trout flash around in the limpid-clear river pools.
On Day 3, you inflate your tiny pack-rafts to shoot the white-water rapids along the lower reaches of the canyon, negotiating a maze of palmiet channels to the pick-up point at De Hoek Estate. This is a technical and potentially dangerous activity, and should only be done with a qualified guide – www.gravity.co.za.
Situated on a beautiful fynbos farm high in the mountiains bordering the Grootwinterhoek Wilderness area, the farm is reached via the Dasklip Pass and has breathtaking views all the way from Table Mountain to the West Coast village of St Helena Bay. There is an abundance of bird and wildlife around, including Black eagles, Cape vulture, klipspringer, porcupine, leopard, aardwolf and caracal to mention a few. The Gin and Tapas Tastings provide an interesting and adventurous day out – www.ginsmith.co.za.
When to Go
Plan your getaway to the Groot Winterhoek wilderness well in advance, as only a limited number of hikers are allowed into the reserve at any specific time. Both Beaverlac and 22 Watervalle must be booked well in advance to ensure you get space, with day visitors strictly limited. Keep in mind that heavy downpours and frequent snowfalls may occur from May to September; it is a mountain wilderness, and the climate can be extreme.
||Wine to Wilderness Route|
|DURATION:||18km Return / 10km loop|
|CONFIGURATION:||Various ride options|
|START POINT:||Beaverlac Camp site|
|GPS COORDS:||32.904 S / 19.067 E|
|TERRAIN||Gravel and tarmac passes; jeep-track & singletrack|
|ACCESS:||Overnight guests ride free|
|FACILITIES||Camping and General Store|
|BEWARE OF:||Extreme temperatures; snakes in summer|
Here’s a confession from all of us on the #oZONE Crew: We’re never without a tub – big or small – of Squirt Barrier Balm. By now, everyone knows that it works superbly as a lip balm, but that’s really just an extra.
The main purpose most riders use it for is as an anti-chafe balm, protecting your butt and thighs against chafing and irritations on the bike. The anti-microbial properties help prevent fissures, and it is both water- and sweat resistant. No worries if you’re a triathlete, because we’ve made sure it is neoprene friendly, too!