Mail & Guardian

Green Mountain trail: Slackpacker finds his way home

14 Dec 2012 00:00 | Brent Meersman

Breathtaking: Groenlandberg Nature Reserve offers beautiful scenery and comfortable accommodation (Richard van Ryneveld)

Breathtaking: Groenlandberg Nature Reserve offers beautiful scenery and comfortable accommodation (Richard van Ryneveld)

Many more of us would make good trekkers if we didn’t have to carry a pack or sleep in a tent. After 12km of foot-slogging, as ankles swell and blisters form, many a hiker starts to fantasise: poached pears in red wine sauce, a perfect sirloin, a good soak in a hot bath and flopping into a large feather bed with free wifi. But this is all possible if you’re on the four-day “slackpacking” Green Mountain trail.

Be prepared to be awed by the experience. With two guest houses, two sets of guides, four varied days of hiking, five wineries and many wonderful people along the way, it is hard to do justice to the experience here.

The 60km route, mostly along tracks around the Groenlandberg Nature Reserve, takes one through the Elgin Valley with its breathtaking scenery and vineyards and is the world’s first biodiversity and wine ecoroute.

One starts by being spoilt rotten at the four-star Porcupine Hills Guest Farm, which was fairly recently acquired by the disarmingly eccentric Tony Davenport and his artist wife, Charmaine. They are still in the process of winding down their city lives but have taken to country life with characteristic alacrity — they have already harvested and pressed their first olive oil.

The property has precious tracts of renosterveld, one of the most endangered vegetations on Earth, 97% of which has been supplanted by agriculture in the past 300 years.

While sipping sundowners, the resident pair of black eagles glided home to the cliffs above the house. Over dinner I met my guide, the engaging Dominic Chadbon, who has been the leader of the trail since inception. Cook Carol-Anne April presented us with an impressive French onion soup in the traditional crock bowl while Chadbon waxed lyrical about fynbos and the history of the area.

Bot River and Houwhoek, he explained, used to be crucial outspan stops. Chadbon was full of local lore too. To lure klipspringer, the dried flower stalk of the pig’s ear was used to fashion a flute whose note resembled that of a baby klipspringer.

“You nail the adult with an arrow and a bow string made from the gonnabos, which [also] provided one with spare bootlaces,” said Chadbon.

Day one of the hike starts in the back of a tractor-drawn apple cart (this is cider country, after all). Then it is an 18km hike over the shoulder of Mount Lebanon (1 202m). Thanks to a fire in 2010, which suspended the trail, seldom-seen endemic plants were on display. We came across diverse proteas: featherheads, King Gustav’s sceptres, silky puffs and spiderheads. We found a stand of the rare bokmakierie’s tail (Witsenia maura) and the super-rare Protea stokoei (pink sugarbrush). According to Fiona McIntosh’s guide, Slackpacking: A Guide to South Africa’s Top Leisure Trails, the trail has at least 87 red-data plant species.

On the ascent we stopped for tea with fresh buchu, munched a little peperbos, exposed beetroot-red fynbos bulbs and debated the merits of using fresh tips of renosterbos to deal with intestinal worms.

Day two took us onwards through montane fynbos kloofs to Paul Cluver Estate and more wine tasting. Here the stars are Riesling and Pinot Noir.

Cluver himself started us off on day three, leading us past groups of bontebok and zebra. The trail is actually his brainchild that was realised by Alison Green, owner of Wildekrans Guest House, where one spends the last two nights. Her husband, architect and garagiste Barry Gould, makes a scrumptious jammy red blend.

Green has superb taste too,which is immediately apparent on seeing the luxurious guest house. Her art collection includes William Kentridge and the 2012-2013 summer show features sculptor Guy du Toit.

Day four ended with lunch at the prestigious Beaumont winery and a dip in its picturesque dam. And, of course, a wine tasting. The only way to backpack.

Brent Meersman was a guest of the Green Mountain Trail

Perfect getaway for: A group of friends and family
Accessibility: Starts 80 minutes out of Cape Town
Cost: R5 450 per person sharing
Contact: [email protected] or 028 284 9827


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