So you have visited Cape Town and spent time on the Peninsula and at V&A Waterfront. You have seen the view from the top of Table Mountain and sampled the city life along Long Street. If you are like most tourists, your next stop will be Hermanus for whales and sharks or travel on further to the start of the renowned Garden Route.
The N2 is the fastest route out of Cape Town, as it winds through the Houwhoek Pass and past the wine farms of the Elgin Valley. Few people have any time to stop here, even for a toilet break, as the journey along the Cape coastline is only just beginning. It is a great shame and even more so since the unique Green Mountain Trail opened up in this area in 2009.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to sample the trail recently and, despite some wet weather, was delighted to have discovered this unique activity. The trail is a collaboration between various accommodation owners, local guides and the regions wine farms. The combination of guided trails through spectacular mountain scenery and evening wine tastings with local winemakers works perfectly. What makes the trail even more interesting is the excellent conservation and community involvement that is implemented along each stage of the route.
Green Mountain Trail is approx 60 km in length and is covered over a four day period. Slack packing is the order of the day with your main luggage transported between overnight accommodations, whilst you only need to carry a day pack. It is fully guided with local experts on the fynbos, birds and wine industry available to answer any question you may have. We saw leopard tracks almost every day and numerous small bucks darting away ahead of us indicating that the hills are very much alive with wildlife.
It all starts at Porcupine Hills Guestfarm in the Groenlandberg conservancy about an hours drive from Cape Town. Before booking you will be asked for the height of your waist from the ground in walking shoes. It is possibly the strangest request I have seen made on a booking form, but it all becomes clear on the first evening. Everyone is presented with a walking pole made by a local craftsman from cleared alien vegetation and this will become your trusted companion for the next few days. It is the first sign that conservation measures are taken very seriously on this route.
The first couple of days are all about the views which open up as you trek around Groenlandberg. At the summit you can see the Western Cape laid out before you with views from Cape Point to Gansbaai and the winelands mountains at your back. The end of the route is all about the fynbos covered valleys and you may never meet a more knowledgeable guide than Gerald who will take you on to the final stage of the walk to Beaumont Wines in Botrivier. From fynbos and its relationship to fire to the tales of how early travelers hauled their wagons up the narrow Houwhoek pass, he will keep you entertained and informed all day long.
Wine is a crucial feature of the trail and there are numerous opportunities for tasting as well as eating the tremendous picnic lunches provided by Oak Valley. All the wine farms are part of the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, which implements best practice in biodiversity management in their day to day operation. At Paul Cluver, where the third day culminates, 10% of land is given over to game rearing for Cape Nature and you will likely see Ostrich, Eland and Bontebok grazing. It was here that Paul was informed that the estate discovered Bontebok were perfect for grazing between vines and keeping weeds under control. Previously they had tried cattle but they were too clumsy and damaged the delicate vines. The elegant Bontebok were a perfect solution meaning the estate has now reduced its dependency on herbicide application.
You will depart from the final nights stay at Wildekrans Country House both informed and invigorated, but also delighted that you did not just rush on by with all the other vehicles along the N2. It is still only an hour back to Cape Town or on to Hermanus, so there is plenty of time left in your trip to discover the traditional tourist hot spots of the Western Cape. You will appreciate them all the more having spent some time in the solitude of the hills and Winelands, which are the real rural heartland of this fabulous part of the world.