Trails and Travel offer self-guided walking and cycling holidays in the Cape Winelands, in and around Stellenbosch- the second oldest town in South Africa. The vegetation, Cape Fynbos, is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. Read more
The Cape Winelands stretch from the Cape coast to the plains of the Little Karoo. Most of the vineyards are found in the Western Cape near the coast.
Traditionally when referring to the Cape Winelands one called to mind the cellars around Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington and Franschhoek .
Amongst the magnificent regions in the Cape, Stellenbosch distinguishes itself as the fountainhead of South Africa’s most prestigious wines. Winemaking here dates back more than 300 years.
In 1971 Stellenbosch became the first wine region in South Africa to establish a wine route as an organised network of wineries at which the tourist could experience the product of the vine and tune into the soul of the region’s winelands.
The Cape Winelands Walk starts in the Helderberg area,which forms part of the Stellenbosch Wine Route and passes through some of the most scenic vineyards and Wine Estates in the Stellenbosch wine region.
It finishes in the historical university town, Stellenbosch.
The recorded history of Stellenbosch dates back to 1679 when this name was given to a small island on the Eerste (First) River by Simon van der Stel, the then governor of the Cape.
The Dutch East India Company bought 2500 morgen land west of the “Tweede” (Second) River, now Lourens River, for agricultural reasons from the Hottentot Chief. This included coastal land and fishing rights.In this area the current towns Somerset West,Strand and Gordon’s Bay were established.(The starting point of your route)
Weather in the Western Cape Coastal region is mild Mediteranean.
The graphs below indicate the average rainfall and the number of rain days as well as the average maximum and minimum temperature per month.
The table below reflects the average rainfall per month, at the starting point of the Cape Winelands Walk. It was measured by us in Somerset West over the period of 20 years. The average rainfall in Somerset West was 890 mm over the period. May, June, July, August and September are the high rainfall months. The second table shows average rain days. The historic data indicate rain days of 8 to 10 per month during May to September in the Cape Winelands.
An indication of the Cape Winelands temperature is provided below. The graphs show the monthly statistics for Stellenbosch. It shows that the coldest days can be expected from June to September and the warmest months are December to February
The ground in the area is mainly sandy and rough.
Stellenbosch is virtually surrounded by beautiful mountains. They are the Helderberg, Stellenbosch Mountain, Jonkershoek Valley and Simonsberg, which is connected to Botmaskop and the rest of the Jonkershoek mountains by the saddle of Helshoogte
The Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountains are on the Somerset West side. The name Hottentots Holland, derived from the word Holland (Homeland) of the Hottentots.
The mountains consist mainly of Table Mountain sandstone and granite.
The cliffs of the Helderberg are formed of rocks of the Peninsula formation of the Table Mountain Group and are coarse grained quartzitic sandstones.
The lower and middle reaches are underlain by rocks of the Malmesbury Group, probably 900 million years old, and the cliff rocks some 400 million years old.
Cape Granite intruded the Malmesbury Group some 600 million years ago, but there are no outcrops within the Helderberg Nature reserve, but underlies part of the reserve and outcrops only to the north west.
The Malmesbury group can be seen in several places in the Helderberg Nature reserve. Consists of phyllitic shales, siltstones and fine grained greywhackes. It is from these rocks that the soils of much of the lower and middle reaches of the reserve have been derived.
Water, which filters from the mountains, is very pure, and water in all the mountain streams is safe to drink
Fauna and Flora
The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms. It covers only 0,04% of the earth’s surface. View Fynbos Gallery
‘Fynbos’ is the Afrikaans word meaning ‘fine bush’, from the Dutch fijn bosch, which is descriptive of the fine-leafed, thick, shrub-like vegetation, which occurs in the winter rainfall area of the southern and south-western parts of the Western Cape, known as the Fynbos Biome This characterises much of the vegetation you are about to see on the slopes of the mountains you will be walking through. The Jonkershoek valley is part of a World Heritage area. The majority of the plants are evergreen, sclerophyllous (hard-leaf) plants. It is remarkable that Fynbos plants grow in very poor soil, often derived from weathered sandstone. Over years the term ‘fynbos’ has persisted and has become synonymous with one of the richest and, possibly, most beautiful floras in the world.
Fynbos grow in a 100-200km wide coastal belt stretching from Clanwilliam near the West coast to Port Elizabeth on the Southeast coast. It forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, where it accounts for half of the surface area and 80% of the plant varieties. The Fynbos in the western regions is more rich and varied than in the eastern regions of South Africa.
The diversity of fynbos plants is greater than that of the tropical rainforests, with over 9000 species of plants occurring in the area, around 6200 of which are endemic, i.e. do not occur anywhere else in the world. Of the Ericas, 658 (Cape Plants – Goldblatt & Manning 2000) , occur in the Fynbos Biome, while only 26 are found in the rest of the world. This is in an area of 70,000 km² – by comparison, the Netherlands, with an area of 33,000 km², has 1400 species, none of them endemic. Table Mountain in Cape Town supports 2200 species, more than the entire United Kingdom. Thus although the Fynbos comprises only 6% of the area of southern Africa it has half the species on the subcontinent, and in fact has almost 1 in 5 of all plant species in Africa.
Fynbos Plant Families
Three of the characteristic fynbos plant families are the proteas, ericas and restios. Proteas are represented by many species and are prominent in the landscape as one of the few, large-leafed plant types, generally with large striking flowersheads, which may be pollinated by birds. Ericas or heaths are generally smaller plants with many small, tubular flowers and needle-like leaves. The grass-like restios – only a few species of which are known outside the fynbos area – grow in wetter areas. More than 1400 bulb species occur among the fynbos, of which 96 are gladiolus and 54 lachenalias.
Fire is a necessary stage in the lives of almost all fynbos plants, and is common during the dry summer months. Many of the seeds germinate only after the intense heat of a fire. In readiness for fire, most proteas retain their seeds on the bush for at least one year, a habit known as serotiny. They do this in structures which resemble the original flowerheads. In some species these structures are strikingly beautiful and long-lasting, which accounts for their use in dried floral arrangements.
Threats to fynbos
The major threat to fynbos is the spread of alien plants, such as hakea, the Australian wattles Acacia cyclops, commonly known as rooikrans and Acacia saligna commonly known as Port Jackson, and pine trees from Europe.
Other significant threats include too frequent fires and fires in the wrong season; commercial afforestation; and the development of housing estates and farms.
An important aspect of fynbos conservation is that many species have such a tiny range that ploughing a field, or building a single house can wipe out the entire world population of a unique form of life. Part of the dilemma is whether or not to tell members of the public where a rare species occurs so that they can keep an eye on it. This may put the species at risk to unscrupulous collectors and cultivators. The alternative of keeping this knowledge secret might lead to sympathetic landowners destroying plants out of ignorance.
The Cape Flora is ecologicaly very delicately balanced. Alien species readily become established in fynbos and displace the native plants and animals. As a result of this, combined with the naturally limited range of many species, urbanisation and the spread of agriculture, numerous fynbos plants are now seriously endangered or extinct.
Renosterveld tends to occur where rainfall is between 250 (rarely to 200 mm) to 600 mm per year and at least 30% falls in winter. Where the rainfall is higher, the soil becomes leached and Renosterveld is replaced by Asteraceous Fynbos.
Renosterveld is characterized by the dominance of members of the Daisy Family (Asteraceae) specifically one species – Renosterbos Elytropappus rhinocerotis, from which the vegetation type gets its name. Although Renosterbos is the characteristic dominant, many other plants are prominent – for instance in the Daisy Family (Asteraceae).
Proteas, Ericas and Restios – typical of Fynbos – tend to be absent in Renosterveld, or are present at very low abundances.
Leopards are occasionally found in the mountainous areas, but smaller cat species and baboons are common.
Snakes, tortoises, lizards as well as amphibians, such as various types of frogs are found here.
The area is rich in bird life.
Wine estates in the Helderberg Valley
These vines lie on the slopes of the Helderberg and combine the influences of both a mountain and maritime climate, producing some very unique wines.
Vergelegen, meaning “situated far away”, was granted to the Governor of the Cape in 1700 and the property (342 ha) has had a long and fascinating history since that time. Willem Adriaan Van der Stel, was a man of divergent interests who transformed the uncultivated land into a veritable paradise. He planted vines, camphor trees and oaks, laid out fruit orchards and orange groves, and introduced cattle and sheep.
In October 1709 after Willem Adriaan van der Stel’s deportation the farm Vergelegen was divided into 4 farms, inter alia Morgenster and Lourensford.
The Vergelegen homestead was ordered to be demolished, which only partially happened. Vergelegen passed through a succession of owners until 1798, when the Theunissen family took ownership of it for over a century. Under their care, the vineyards flourished.
In 1917 Sir Lionel purchased the property for his wife Florence Phillips, who spent vast sums on the restoration of the old homestead, library and gardens. The old footbridge was replaced by a structure wide enough to accommodate motor traffic, roads were constructed and dams built. The vineyards were removed and replaced with mixed agriculture.
After the death of Sir Lionel and later Lady Florence Phillips, Charles ‘Punch’ Barlow and his wife Cynthia acquired the estate in June 1941. They added their own considerable treasures and the tradition of Vergelegen was maintained. Anglo American Farms limited purchased the property in October 1987. One of the many projects undertaken by Anglo American Farms was to begin replanting the vineyards, following intensive climatic and soil tests. This historic property is now coming into its own as a showpiece of South Africa’s recent wine renaissance.
Throughout its history celebrities of international renown have frequently visited Vergelegen. Over the last decade Vergelegen has been honoured by the visits of the full Executive Committee of the ANC, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, and in March 1998 by Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton with their First Ladies.
Lourensford Estate, established in the year 1700 and once part of Willem Adriaan van der Stel’s Vergelegen, is arguably one of the most beautiful wine estates in the world. Steeped in history and heritage, the estate also boasts an ultra-modern winery utilising technology unique in the Southern Hemisphere. The magnificent soils and diverse micro-climates create the ideal terroir for world-beating wines. Lourensford is fast-becoming one of the biggest wine estates in South Africa, with over 300 hectares of vines already planted.
Purchased in 1998 from David Gant , the estate is owned by Dr. Christo Wiese, a prominent South African businessman. Lourensford today is a consolidation of several farms in the upper Lourens River Valley- 4 500 ha.
The rich soils of the estate also produce apples, pears and plums in abundance. Lourensford has almost 350 hectares under fruit, all of which is packed in their own pack shed that also packs fruit from other producers in Southern Africa. The beautiful mountain slopes are covered by pine plantations, spanning approximately 900 hectares. Their sawmill also operates from the premises, utilising their own wood, as well as premium wood from the rest of South Africa to produce bins, as well as many other products. They also cultivate Buchu (an indigenous herb), as well as trout. Their cheesery is producing a modest output of some of the finest farmhouse cheeses in the Cape.
Lourensford’s scenic beauty has played host to many local and international film shoots. They also host annual sports and cultural events. There is a sizeable equestrian establishment on the estate, with stabling as well as one of the only two polo fields in Cape Town, where the sport of kings is practiced and enjoyed.
The earliest traces of human activity in the Hottentots Holland Valley are to be found at Grootnek and Uitzicht, two locations deep in the heart of Lourensford Estates. The Uitzicht stoneage midden has early and middle stoneage artifacts (150,000 – 200,000 years BC) that are leached out of the soil by winter rains.
Helderberg Nature Reserve
The reserve was opened in 1964.The Rotary Club of Somerset West suggested that a Nature Reserve would benefit the Community.
Natural vegetation in the Helderberg Nature Reserve is representative of Mesic Mountain Fynbos on the upper reaches, and the Renosterveld on the lower reaches. Fynbos is found mainly in the Western Cape, has few trees or succulents. The Helderberg Nature Reserve is unique in that there is a convergence of four habitats – mountain, riverine, forest and lowland scrub.
Bontebok,The Cape Hare,Duiker,Porcupine,Genet and small Mongoose are some of the mammals in the reserve.
In addition there are about 40 bird species, 12 insect – and 8 snake species.
As part of the Cape Winelands, the Stellenbosch Wine Routes are part of the six most popular tourist attractions in South Africa and are also connected to the global Great Wine Capitals Network.
Today the Stellenbosch Wine Routes represent more than 200 wine and grape producers within the boundaries of the Stellenbosch Wine of Origin classification.
The Stellenbosch Wine Routes include 5 sub-routes which each have their own characteristics in terms of prominent wine styles, climates and geographical location.
South Africa currently has 101 957 hectares under vines, of which approximately 18 % is planted in the wine of origin Stellenbosch region.
Stellenbosch Wine Routes was the first wine route ever formed in South Africa, in 1971!
Stellenbosch Wine Routes is now the largest of all the South African wine routes in terms of number of members – in excess of 140!!
Stellenbosch was voted South Africa ’s favourite wine route for a second year in a row in a recent public survey conducted by a leading magazine.
Stellenbosch has the most wine awards per capita/wine than any other region in South Africa!
Daily wine tasting, cellar tours and sales are offered at most cellars and many of these have restaurant and picnic facilities.
A variety of soils and locations ideally suited to flourishing of a wide variety of grape cultivars, has seen Stellenbosch continue to dominate the South African wine scene in terms of quality. With the growing acceptance of South African wines globally, Stellenbosch remains at the forefront of growth in the wine industry.
Dornier Wines is located on two estates, both with long traditions. The history of Keerweder goes back to 1694, when it was acquired by Jac van Dyk. The Homestead farm includes a historic Sir Herbert Baker homestead and one of the oldest wine cellars in the area. The Dornier family bought the first farm in 1995, planted most of the vineyards and opened a new cellar in 2003.
One of the region’s most distinguished examples of Cape Dutch architecture endures on a 300-year old country estate, preserving the elegant atmosphere of a gracious age.
In 1692 Sergeant Isaac Schryver of the Dutch East India Company received his first piece of land. Governor Simon van der Stel granted him Schoongezicht – 21 Morgan of virgin soil near the small town of Stellenbosch, which was his to toil as he wished.
With three hundred years behind her and over thirty of those spent as a hotel, it can safely be said that Lanzerac has established a reputation as one of the best known and best loved hotels in the country. In fact in 1975 she appeared in a prestigious Thomas Cook publication as one of the top 300 hotels in the world and “by far the prettiest in South Africa”.
But there was a grey time in her life – after David Rawdon sold in 1988 Lanzerac looked set to join the brassy big time set with talk of timeshare and multi-million renovations. But luckily for lovers of the real Lanzerac legend it was not to be. In 1990 Christo Wiese, businessman, wine lover, ex-Matie, saved her in the nick of time “because I wanted a wine farm”.
With Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald of Halcyon Hotels, Wiese has invested just enough to restore Lanzerac to the fine, simple style to which she is accustomed, but the oak trees provide the same shade and the kitchens the same comfort.
In July 2012, the Lanzerac was acquired by a British Consortium and is operating under this management.
Jonkershoek Valley & Nature Reserve
The peaceful,rustic Jonkershoek Valley is approximayely 3 km south east of Stellenbosch, 50 km from Cape Town.The valley is surrounded by mountains from where the Eerste River originates .On the south western side is the Assegaaibos Nature Reserve, and the Stellenbosch mountain
In the 17th century the Jonkershoek Valley was allocated to a few released slaves
Winter (May – July) is the rainy season with an average annual rainfall of 400 – 1000 mm . Temperatures vary from 14° – 19° C.
The mountaintops are sometimes covered with snow.
Summer (November – March) is dry and hot.
The average temperature ranges between 19° and 35° C.
The prevailing winds are south-easterly during summer and north-westerly in winter.
History of Stellenbosch
The recorded history of Stellenbosch dates back to 1679 when this name was given to a small island on the Eerste River by Simon van der Stel, the then governor of the Cape. It can, however, be assumed that prior to its official naming, the Stellenbosch surrounds were home to various indigenous communities.
The Eerste River, which today still ripples through Stellenbosch, was so named as this happened to be the First (‘Eerste’) river the Dutch settlers came upon after leaving their Cape Town base.
After its discovery, Stellenbosch was quickly identified as an area in which to settle, with great potential for agriculture. The surrounding areas proved rich in soil and correct climate for producing vegetables to sustain the ships passing by the Cape of Good Hope en route to the other Dutch colonies in the East. Add to this the thirst of the Dutch and other settlers that necessitated the making good wine, Stellenbosch soon saw its hills and valleys also planted to vines along with other agricultural crops.
That skilled vintners were sent to the area and the vines bore wonderful fruit is proven in the fact that, to this day, Stellenbosch remains world-renowned for the quality of its wines, with the vine being by far the region’s most prominent agricultural feature.
With the rich agricultural pickings, the early settlers soon established a bustling town. The earliest building in the Stellenbosch area dates back to 1689 and can still be viewed on the historic wine farm of Muratie. In the town itself, solid, white-plastered buildings arose and the streets were planted with oak trees, giving it the name Eikestad (Town of Oaks), which is still used to describe the town today.
Besides its rapid growth in becoming a centre for the flourishing wine industry, the foundations for Stellenbosch’s heritage as an educational centre were laid in 1859 when a theological seminary was established. In 1918 a university was founded, and to this day the University of Stellenbosch remains an internationally recognized education centre and one of the leading universities on the African continent. It is also one of two learning centres in South Africa that trains fledgling wine makers – the other being the Elsenburg Agricultural College outside Stellenbosch.
Besides its status as a leading cultural, education and leisure destination, it is wine that has made – and continues to make – Stellenbosch famous.
The heart of Stellenbosch still resonates with a historical atmosphere and cultural allure. It is the 2nd oldest town in South Africa. The early settlers to this fertile region were encouraged to plant oak trees and Stellenbosch ’s oak lanes streets bear testimony today in the town being know as “Eikestad ” – village of oaks.
The buildings reflect over three centuries of occupation, including Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture. A myriad of museums, covering cultural-historical matters, art, textile and others, and other places of interest are found along the oak-lined streets.
Stellenbosch can also be regarded as the wine capital of South Africa, with some 150 wine estates to be visited. And it can therefore be expected to find numerous highly rated restaurants in the area, both out on wine estates or in historical buildings in the town centre.
Various theatres, also open air theatres in the Winelands, arrange musical and theatrical activities all year round, as a a result of the vibrant University and some 20 000 students manage to get full houses most of the time.