WITH the rapidly falling rand it makes cents to stay home and that’s exactly what we did. And where better than the Overberg. Four of us, eight days, the criteria loose but with a preference for wine and olive tasting, somewhere to swim and somewhere to hike.
Meeting in Bot River our first night was at Wildekrans Wine Estate. This Overberg dorpie had gone unnoticed until Steve Wilson introduced me to the Shunting Shed. That was many years back and since then we’ve become regulars, hiking, swimming, overnighting and buying wine from Beaumont and beer at Bot River Hotel. Next stop was the eco-cabins at Oudebosch in Kogelberg Nature Reserve followed by Walshacres, a short paddle along the Kleinrivier from Stanford. And here lies a tale, actually a thief with a tail, but more of this later.
If you’re looking for a chilled place to be but want all mod cons and enjoy swimming and canoeing, this is the place. It’s secluded, private and peaceful, except for the River Queen motoring past and the occasional fish eagle flying by. Wanting to paddle into town to explore we brought along a chain so we could lock our canoe to a sturdy stake on the riverbank.
There we got chatting to a local guy who pointed above to a nest saying it was home to a family of Paradise flycatchers. But we wanted beer. Armed with paddles and on his recommendation we went in search of Kacey’s on the main drag. It’s a cool place to rub shoulders with the locals on the porch and imbibe of local beer brewed at Birkenhead Vineyards. Afterwards, wandering back to the boat, a car stopped, the driver and passenger laughing. The river’s that way they shouted pointing down the road before tearing off again.
Next day we paddled far, to Klein River Lagoon. Stuck on a sandbank, giving numb bums a break we dragged the canoe through the shallows watching a Goliath heron catch a fish. Other birdlife included terns, egrets, red bishops, yellow-billed ducks and kingfishers, both pied and malachite. But the prize was seeing and hearing Overberg signature birds, Blue cranes, a bunch of them, six or more, coming into land before grazing. This rare and special sighting is as precious as seeing the wild horses of Kleinmond, seen the previous day on the drive from Oudebosch.
Reluctant to leave Walshacres we had a short paddle to the bridge on the Fynbos Road, and then back for a swim. After saying goodbye to owners Nina and Russell Metcalf we set off to explore more of the village and what we’d seen from the canoe the previous day.
Wine-tasting at Springfontein along the Wortelgat Road we then continued to the Spookhuis. Founded in 1892, it was a neglected ruin when the Johnsons family from Knoxville Tennessee purchased it in 2002. Five years later the three-storey Georgian-style house has been renovated to its former glory. The original roof was solid iron which was shipped here from England.
As for the ‘spook’, the story is a convoluted one, told by Tendai Vambe of Mosaic Private Sanctuary. Best to go there and hear it for yourself. Back in Stanford and yearning for home-made ice cream we were warmly welcomed at Don Gelato by owner Conrado Geovannetti. Ice-cream is made next door from milk from cows that graze on sweet grass of the Klein River, local fruit in season and eggs from free range chickens, Don Gelato reproduced the gelato remembered from his boyhood made on his grandmother’s farm in Italy.
Tastebuds satisfied we waved Stanford goodbye to make a quick stop at Birkenhead Vineyards to buy craft beers before heading to Kleinrivier for cheese. A little further on we stopped at Raka to stock up with wine.
Another quick stop in Caledon for food, can you believe that shopping malls have arrived in this wheat farming town, we were fully stocked for the final two nights at Chavonnes Farm Cottage. Having never been there before we had studied our map debating whether it was on the south side of Babylonstoren accessed from the Hemel en Aarde valley or from the north and via Caledon. Thank goodness for technology and owner Chaline providing directions.
It’s a nice drive, even for a city car, passing dams, hay bales, sheep, cattle and the odd wind turbine, before arriving in the farmyard. The cottage is sandwiched between the main farmhouse and the farm managers’ place, the dam for anticipated swimming was dry but there were surprises in store.
First up was Popa, paws in English, a dog with an insatiable appetite for throw and catch. He entertained the guys for hours and exhausted them.
There isn’t much to do there, but there’s ample birdlife and this is where we witnessed a Steppe buzzard swallow a snake, the poor creature wriggling as it slithered down the raptor’s throat.
Next day we rescued a Cape sparrow that had fallen from a nest in the grapevine above our heads; a complicated procedure with Steve climbing on a chair and for the entrance in its nest.
Patiently monitoring its parents, there was much relief as we watched the chick being fed bugs and grubs. Hopefully this Cape sparrow family will be there to entertain you another day.
As for the thief with a tail. A Vervet monkey has arrived on the Klein River, never seen by Nina and Russell of Walshacres, but apparently by their neighbours. On our first day he stole mince pies and next morning we heard him thudding across the roof before seeing him catch something. Later, at home, zooming in on a laptop it turns out to have been a bird which he was dipping into the river.
l Watkins is the author of Off the Beaten Track.