The Southern Overberg still seems to prefer horses above cars.If you drive from Cape Town to the Eastern part of South Africa, the N2 highway will take you inland for quite a while before you come close to the coast again at the beginning of one of the tourism hotspots of South Africa, the Garden Route. Where the N2 starts its inland route, a land-mass with an ancient history and a mind blowing nature opens to the South, though mainstream tourist are blissfully unaware of this and only notice the undulating wheat fields which cover the Northern part of what is called the Southern Overberg.
Access along the coast is easy. Hermanus, the Whale Capital of the world is well known and enough people find their way onwards to Gansbaai, the world’s shark cage diving mekka, but that is as far as most people discover the Whale Coast. Push further however and you will enter a different landscape: tar roads turn into gravel roads, human infrastructure and signs of civilization become further apart and less in between, raptors guard the poles along the side of the roads and a tortoise will here and there lazily cross from left to right as if nothing has changed in the last few million years. Driving a car, you will almost feel out of place and you would wish you would be on horse back. Why the rush?
Already in the early days of white settlement, the Southern Overberg did benefit from its natural seclusion. It was simply too difficult to make it over the rough mountains which stood in between the Southern Overberg and the rest of South Africa. The local Khoisan residents, the Chainukwa tribe, lived a rich life for ages as is testified by numerous old Khoi geographical names in the area and early day reports filed by small expeditions of the Dutch East Indies Company. Local Khoisan heritage today lives on in the unspoiled Moravion Mission Village of Elim on the road between Gansbaai and Cape Agulhas which was founded to function as a safe haven for the Khoisan after increased farming by white settlers and colonial regulations against a nomadic lifestyle destroyed their ancient and efficient way of life. Testimony of the earliest descendants of the Khoisan is Klipgat Cave in the Walker Bay Reserve next to De Kelders. Here remains were found of modern man dating back to more than 70’000 years ago, when Neanderthal man still had about 40’000 years to go in Europe without being harassed by Homo Sapiens.
The Southern Overberg is a late-comer in the Western Cape’s property and tourism development after the fall of Apartheid. The locals are thankful for this and were able to learn from mistakes made in other areas of the Western Cape. The Agulhas National Park will protect vast tracts of land and provide a safe haven for game to be released as will the various nature reserves of Cape Nature along the coast and many private nature reserves. Development in the area is aimed to be in tune with the sensitive natural requirements and the expectations of the growing number of tourists, painfully aware of their individual footprint and increasingly allergic the concrete string developments which typify so many tourism hotspots in the world. What good is nature based tourism if the tourism developments make it harder and harder for nature to flourish and harder and harder for people to enjoy it?
There are a few towns in the Southern Overberg. Apart from Hermanus and the fishing village of Gansbaai, there is lazy old Stanford, a Victorian Village bordering the birding hotspot of the Klein River Estuary and the majestic Klein River Mountains with some very good restaurants, there are the inland towns of Napier and Bredasdorp and the coastal towns of Pearly Beach, Struisbaai and Franskraal. But that is about it. Though we should not forget to mention the rural hamlets of Wolvengat and Baarskeerdersbos and a few other mini-establishments in forgotten valleys. Symbolically Cape Agulhas takes first place : it is the Southernmost tip of the African continent and the spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. In truth however the warm waters of the Indian Ocean wash wash the shores of all of the Souther Overberg and mixes with the cold and oxygen-rich currents of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the reasons for the extremely rich marine life along these shores, which can be enjoyed on boat based marine eco tours to Dyer Island (a colony of the African Penguins has its home here), round Geyser Rock (with 60’000 odd Cape Fur Seals) and past whales floating by and numerous sea birds flying over.
Forgotten by most and partly overgrown, the routes of the early white settlers are still there, meandering from water hole to shade providing bush. We still know where they are and have incorporated these routes in our horse trails. Today horse riders also have different requirements and we have developed other routes as well to show the extreme variety of this area and as much as possible of its richness. We are grateful to all the public and private landowners who have granted us transit rights. This enables us to follow where nature wants to lead us unhindered by property borders and fences. The result is the combination of a true wilderness experience and a cultural and heritage trail where we will cross exactly one tar road.