Earlier this month (July 2011) the Cape West Coast Trails were launched within the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve (CWCBR). The CWCBR, with the West Coast National Park at its centre, is one of the 6 UNESCO recognised Biosphere Reserves in South Africa.
Paul and I were invited to explore the brand new Darling Stagger, a cycling and walking slack packing trail between Yzerfontein and Darling. The Darling Stagger is one of the five trails planned within the CWCBR. The other four include the Eve’s Trail (a walk mostly along the West Coast National Park beach), the Five Bay Trail (a coast hugging walk between Paternoster and Jacobsbaai), Wheels of Time (a cycling tour from Mamre via West Coast National Park to !Khwa Ttu), and the Berg River Canooze (a kayak trail from Hopefield to Velddrift).
Why a Biosphere Reserve?
With Cape Town rapidly expanding north, West Coast communities recognised that action was required to ensure that conflict between urban expansion and the diverse ecosystems on the West Coast would not get out of hand and appropriate development plans were put into place. Hence the CWCBR was proclaimed in 2000.
The idea behind the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme is a sustainable and balanced approach between human development and nature conservation. Part of the sustainable development of the CWCBR is enhancing its tourism potential and the Cape West Coast Trails are part of this philosophy.
The Darling Stagger Stage 1
At lunch time we left Cape Town on an unseasonally warm & sunny day. The meeting point just outside Darling at Alexanderfontein Farm was also the first activity of the weekend. Olive tasting at the home of Darling Olives is an all-round olive education on growing, pressing, and use of these originally Mediterranean fruits. As a non-olive eater, I was fascinated and partly converted. A total surprise to see how many uses olives can have. From your simple virgin olive oil and cured olives to olive pastes and olive cooking & bath salts. Maybe I am pretty ignorant when it comes to these little fruits, but the biggest revelation was to learn that black olives are just ripe green ones. Always believed these were different types….
After this olive experience we set off to !Khwa ttu, San Education and Culture Centre and home for the night. We worked up a bit of an appetite with a cycle from the Bush Village Camp to the Atlantic Ocean for a traditional African sundowner. Staying in locavore style, we had a Darling Brew, a slow beer inspired by the rare geometric tortoise. Although a reasonably light beer, the return cycle was far more challenging than the first leg. Or maybe it was more due to the fact that we ended up cycling in the pitch dark, under the most magnificent night sky? The Scorpio constellation was a gentle reminder that it really still is winter in South Africa.
Returning to camp, a typical West Coast dinner was awaiting us, mussel soup, grilled snoek, and several traditional deserts prepared by Natasha and Cariline from Langebaan. All flushed down with the lightly wooded Quercus Gold Chardonnay from the Darling Cellars.
Was this setting the standard for the rest of this slack packing weekend? Can it get even better?
The Real Darling Stagger
Waking up after a chilly but comfortable night, I bumped into yet more great cooks. Natasha & Kyle from Chefs on the Move in Scarborough, although not quite Darling local, were here to show our guides, Morgan and Jacky, what can be achieved with some TLC and fresh ingredients. For a change I was not the odd one out, the lonesome vegetarian, the one declining a full cooked breakfast. This time breakfast consisted of Mobi’s organic granola with fruit & yoghurt, a vegetarian spicy Lebanese take on a cooked breakfast and good quality coffee. Basically I was in heaven.
Coming down to earth with a bang, I realised why this weekend was called the Darling Stagger. After all this fabulous food, walking is no longer an option. So we just staggered to !Khwa ttu, where Ivan gave us an introduction to San medicinal knowledge of the Fynbos vegetation. Fynbos is not only the most diverse vegetation types known on earth, it is also rich in medicinal purposes.
From !Khwa ttu we walked through the fields, vineyards, and olive groves of Ormonde and Alexanderfontein with stunning views of Table Mountain, Dassen Island, and the Atlantic Ocean behind us. The terrain varies from sandy & grid tracks to some tarmac roads or just through the fields. The trail is not hard, you only carry your day pack and the distance is limited to about 15 km. I had no problems at all, so basically anybody in reasonable shape can do it.
After about three quarters of the hike, we arrived at an idyllic setting in the olive groves, where a Bedouin type tent was erected, straw bales set out to give the old legs a good rest and a delicious light lunch of salads ready to be devoured. Natasha, Kyle and Morgan had done an sterling job!
The last stage of the stagger was fortunately mostly downhill, a good thing as drinking wine at lunchtime and climbing hills is not a good combination. Little did we know however that more wine was on the itinerary with a full blown Ormonde wine tasting. For some strange reason, nobody seems to quite remember how many wines we tried, but I can tell you we sampled the whole Alexanderfontein, Ondine, and Ormonde ranges.
The evening programme was the cherry on the cake – Evita Bezuidenhout’s Christmas in July show and babotie at Evita se Perron in Darling. Having heard so much about Evita se Perron and Pieter-Dirk Uys’ character Evita Bezuidenhout, I can confirm that all the praise is well-deserved and more. She is not only funny, but very sharp and willing to stick her neck out by tackling political issues in a way that everybody, regardless age, gender and race, will listen to and take note off. In addition, she does amazing work raising funds for the Darling Trust. Girl you totally rock!
The Darling Stagger finale
The second night we stayed in the heart of the sleepy village of Darling in Trinity Lodge. Here you don’t need an alarm on Sunday, as the church bells, calling Darling’s community to the early morning service, wake you well on time for breakfast.
After breakfast it was time to burn some of those calories with a short cycle through the village, a visit to the fascinating Darling museum and Nicolaas Maritz’s Studio Gallery. Nicolaas, a well-established local artist, decided it was time to have a proper Studio Gallery, so people can have a look ‘behind the work’ and understand it better. He created the most incredible house full to the rafters with art, mostly his own but also some of his fellow South African artists. You roam from one room into the next, into his waterwise garden and his studio, and lose yourself in his intriguing work described by art critics as zippy, post-modern ethno-centric punk, naive, and challenging. No idea what that means, but I love his work.
The finale to the Darling Stagger is wine tasting and lunch at the historic Groote Post wine farm. I have always liked their wines, but the Groote Post Chenin Blanc 2011 is exceptionally good and great value for money. The mini ‘Ice Age’ last spring led to a very late harvest of this cultivar and the beautiful guava and green-apple flavours.
Overall the Darling Stagger slack packing trail was a great success with fabulous food, wine tasting to make anybody’s mouth water, mixed with a good amount of calorie burning of walking and cycling, and great company. Thank you guys for hosting us!