Over and out

Over and out

The incredible Overberg really does have it all. Where else can you marvel at whales, hike amongst pristine fynbos and savour fine wines? By Nick Dall

The Cape Overberg stretches from Gordon’s Bay to Cape Infanta – passing L’Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa on the way – and takes in rugged coastline, pristine beaches, unspoilt fynbos and babbling brooks. Not to mention loads of quirky country restaurants and some of the best wineries in the country. The best part? It’s less than two hours from Cape Town and blessedly uncrowded for most of the year.

SUGARBUSH I LOVE YOU SO

The Cape Floral Kingdom, mainly made up of fynbos, is one of the most biodiverse plant kingdom on the planet, with more species per square kilometre than the Amazon rainforest. Every inch of the Overberg is a nature lover’s delight, but the real jewel in this truly splendid crown is the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty’s Bay. Botanists get very excited by the cornucopia of species on offer but there’s also plenty to do for plebs like you and me.

Every January and February, the cliffs behind the Disa Kloof Waterfall (accessed via a flat, easy walk) are emblazoned with red disa flowers that glisten in the mist. Leopard’s Kloof Trail (don’t forget to pick up a key at reception) is a more strenuous walk, but the effort is rewarded by great views and a pristine series of pools and cascades which are splendid all year round. More serious hikers will love the Oudebosch Trail, an almost three-hour hike that runs from the Palmiet River near Kleinmond (get your permit from the Cape Nature office in the Kogelberg Reserve), all the way back to the Harold Porter Gardens – passing through some untouched indigenous forests on the way.

BEACH BUM

The Overberg boasts so many wonderful wild beaches that it’s hard to pick a favourite. You can’t really fault Grotto Beach in Hermanus which has endless white sand, safe swimming, and pretty good waves, while families will love the more placid lagoon beaches at Onrus and Pringle Bay. If you want something more rugged (and possibly windswept) try Pearly Beach, Struisbaai or Koppie Alleen in the De Hoop Nature Reserve.

If choosing the best beach in the region is tricky, then selecting the ‘most charming seaside village’ is a doddle. Arniston – with its whitewashed walls, thatched roofs, and traditional harbour – would win hands down. It’s a great place to explore on foot (especially Kassiesbaai, the town’s historical fishing village), swim in the gorgeously warm waters of Oyster Beach, and take a long stroll out to the famous wreck of the Arniston.

But Arniston’s biggest drawcard is Waenhuiskrans, the enormous sea cave which gives the town its Afrikaans name. To find the cave you have to scramble down a limestone cliff and squeeze through a tiny porthole into the back of the cave. Once you’re in, and your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you’ll be struck by the ferocity of the waves pounding and crashing beneath the perfect archway facing the sea. A poignant reminder that the cave should only be visited at low tide…

ADRENALIN JUNKY

We all know that home is where the food is, which is why the Dyer Islands off the coast of Gansbaai are so darn popular with sharks. With seals and penguins galore, the islands are one of the best places in the world for a spine-tingling encounter with great white sharks. Weather permitting, boats head out to the islands every day. You can choose between watching the show from the safety of a boat or entering the sharks’ lair in a secure cage. This special floating cage is supplied with oxygen from a cylinder on the boat, so no scuba equipment or experience is necessary. What is obligatory, however, is an ironclad stomach.

WHALE OF A TIME

Between June and December every year, southern right whales leave their icy Antarctic homes to mate and calve in the warmer waters off South Africa’s southern coast. Whales can be seen throughout the Overberg at this time of year, but Hermanus is without doubt the region’s whale-watching capital. Visit between September and November and you’re virtually guaranteed to spy loads of the enormous beasts mere metres from the town’s delightful clifftop path. If you’re having trouble finding them, simply heed the call of the charismatic Whale Crier who uses a bugle fashioned from kelp to signal their whereabouts.

Much smaller, and far more endearing are the African penguins who call Stony Point (in Betty’s Bay) home. The colony, which numbers a couple of thousand birds, is a wonderful low-key alternative to the exceedingly popular (for humans!) colony at Boulders Beach. Stony Point was also the site of a whaling station at the turn of the last century so keep your eyes peeled for the large concrete vats, where the blubber was boiled, and the wreck of the Una in the bay.

THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE

The Overberg is chock-a-block with quaint platteland dorps and quirky country eateries. For picture postcard cuteness, it’s hard to beat the mountain hideaway of Greyton, whose thriving community of crafters, restaurateurs and publicans will ensure you don’t go hungry. Also worth checking out is under-the-radar Napier: Plonked amidst cornfields, and featuring some great Cape Dutch architecture, it’s less pretentious than Greyton but just as arty.

Usually undiscovered gems are hard to reach, but the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is barely 5 km from the centre of Hermanus. Restaurants, wineries and gift shops are strung out along the road which meanders through this unjustly pretty corner of the Cape. Some of South Africa’s best wines come from Hemel-en-Aarde, and Hamilton Russell Vineyards (famous for its Pinot noirs and Chardonnays) is a good place to start. Other highlights include Sumaridge, which has fabulous sea views, and Ataraxia with its spectacular hilltop tasting room.

All that wine would be lost without some top-quality nosh to complement it. Several wineries have on-site restaurants (I can recommend La Vierge) but for the best food in the valley look no further than Moggs Country Cookhouse, which has been whipping up gourmet fare since 1996. Located on a working fruit farm, the setting is quite unlike anything else in the valley.

Photography: hougaard malan, Gallo/gettyimages/alamy, shutterstock

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