… an entire world within a single region.
If ever there was a place that epitomises one entire world within a single region of a single province of one country, it is the Overberg. Once you have been here, you’ve seen and done it all. The name, derived from Dutch/Afrikaans, literally means, “over the mountain”. In this case, just an 80-minute drive from Cape Town over Sir Lowry’s Pass and the Hottentots Holland Mountains.
What awaits you on the other side is a vista of colourful canola, wheat and lucerne fields across rolling hills; towering mountains; winelands; dams, estuaries and river adventures; endless beaches; magical forests; nature reserves and national parks; holiday villages and historical towns with much of the old architecture preserved; a vibrant farming community and eccentric, creative artists’ colonies; Hermanus and its whales; the ‘rebellious Republic of Swellendam’; the southernmost tip of Africa with its famous lighthouse; shipwrecks and whitewashed fishermen’s cottages; superb angling, surfing and spearfishing locations; cycling, horse-riding and hiking routes of every kind; delightful boutiques and bric-a-brac shopping; arts and crafts like you will find nowhere else; a mission station and where freed slaves lived and still occupied by their descendants; even a casino; and much, much more. It’s also the gateway to the Garden Route and the famous Route 62. Do you really ever need to go anywhere else for your next holiday?
Not to be confused with the official and much smaller Overberg District Municipality which covers Arniston to Infanta along the coast, what is commonly regarded as being the Overberg region stretches from the Hottentots Holland Mountains in the west to Swellendam and Barrydale in the east, and from Route 62 and the Langeberg mountain range in the north to the sea and beaches of the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the south.
The Overberg is one of the six regions in the Western Cape province, and the southernmost region in South Africa. It’s a vibrant region with diverse people who are warm and friendly, and always available for a chat.
Having crossed the mountains, turn off at the town of Grabouw – the capital of apple farming country – and take the R321 to Villiersdorp and the Theewaterskloof dam, with the Riviersonderend and Franschhoek mountains as backdrop. It is the Western Cape’s largest dam which during a drought a couple of years ago ran nearly completely dry. When filled with water, as it is once again, it’s a water sports enthusiast’s paradise.
Doubling back to the N2 will bring you to Caledon, a farming community and home of the region’s casino. Here you can travel west, spend some time in Bot River with its railway station turned into a Saturday market, and then on to the Bot River lagoon, the luxurious Arabella hotel and country golf estate. Here the road splits, with the R44 taking you back in the direction of Cape Town to the delightful coastal holiday towns of Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Rooi Els. The area is home to the absolutely beautiful Kogelberg Nature Reserve that offers, apart from its stunning natural beauty, excellent accommodation and hiking routes. The coast here is also renowned for its surfing, fishing, scuba diving and spearfishing locations.
If you chose to take the R43 going south-east at Bot River lagoon, it will take you to the ‘abalone capital’ of Hawston – much of it being harvested illegally for the Asian market – then to Vermont, the village of Onrus and into Hermanus. Hermanus is famed for its whale watching, with the huge mammals and their calves coming to within meters of the cliffs along the shore. The town offers markets, shopping, restaurants, pubs, beaches, excellent accommodation options, and behind it, the mountains and the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. The old fisherman’s harbour with its stone buildings, harbour wall, and slipway have been turned intact into an open-air museum, one of only two such harbour museums in the world. It is a provincial heritage site.
On the way towards Hermanus along the R44, a left turn onto the R320 at the Wine Village will take you to the beautiful Hemel en Aarde Valley (heaven and earth valley), home to the local wine route with more than 15 excellent wine farms. From Hermanus, you can follow the coastal R43 through the towns of Stanford on to De Kelders, Gansbaai, and Kleinbaai. This is shark-cage diving territory where the great whites lurk. Continuing along this route will eventually take you to the Agulhas National Park and on to Bredasdorp and Napier.
The R43 also takes you to the picturesque little village of Baardskeerdersbos (beard shaver’s bush) along the southern slopes of a mountain called Perdekop (horse hill). Continue on towards Bredasdorp and you will come to the fascinating village of Elim. This charming village, with most of its houses and the central church dating back to the mid-1800s, was established by German missionaries, and soon became the home of among others, freed slaves. Many of their descendants still live here in their original homes.
Once you have finished browsing through the many antiques and arts and crafts shops of Bredasdorp and Napier, or you have enjoyed a glass of wine and fine food in one of the many excellent eateries around here, you can head on along the R319 to the coastal villages of Struisbaai and Agulhas. Struisbaai has a pretty little harbour, magnificent nearby sand dunes, restaurants, a hotel and camping site, and more.
A few kilometres down the road you will come to Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. It is also home to a famous lighthouse with a museum – the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa, and the second oldest still operating. It was built as a navigational beacon for ships crossing the treacherous Agulhas bank which became known as the ‘graveyard of ships’, their many wrecks dotted all along this coast.
A bit further east towards Hermanus, is another famous lighthouse, the Danger Point Lighthouse on the southern point of Walker Bay, near Gansbaai. The lighthouse was built in 1895 after the British troopship HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off Danger Point in 1852. All women and children were among the 193 survivors, but the remainder of the over 600 people on board – soldiers and sailors mostly – all went down with the ill-fated ship. Today you can see at low tide the barely visible rock now aptly named Birkenhead Rock, that caused this tragedy. There are more than 140 shipwrecks along this stretch of the coast.
Further along this part of the coast lies the village of Arniston with its famous white-washed fishermen’s cottages and the nearby Waenhuiskrans (wagon house cliff) with its huge seaside cave. And further along, closer to the Breede River, lies the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
From Caledon you could have continued eastwards along the N2 highway. This route will take you to the farming community of Riviersonderend (river without an end) and then on to Swellendam. This town that once formed the eastern boundary of the colonial Cape of Good Hope, was declared a magisterial district in 1743, the third oldest in South Africa, and stretched all the way to today’s Mossel Bay and George. It was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel, the first South African born Governor at the Cape, and his wife, Helena Ten Damme.
This settlement soon became a gateway to the interior and was visited by famous explorers and travellers. By 1795, maladministration and corruption by the Dutch East India Company that governed the Cape, caused the burghers of Swellendam to revolt and declare their district an independent republic on 17 June 1795 with Hermanus Steyn as President of the new Republic of Swellendam. The republic was short lived however, as soon thereafter the British occupied the Cape. Today the town is a living monument with many of its original buildings immaculately preserved and has over 50 provincial heritage sites.
The Breede River also passes by Swellendam on its way to its mouth at Witsand and Infanta. The river is a haven for water sports including white water rafting, boating, and kayaking. The world-famous and very popular annual Up the Creek music festival takes place on its banks just outside Swellendam.
The Swellendam region is also home to the Bontebok National Park and the beautiful Grootvadersbos Nature Reserve. The latter lies high up in the foothills of the mountains and offers beautiful forests, a mountain stream with large rock pools, camping site and cottages.
The Overberg also boasts a remarkable floral variety and is covered with fynbos, characterised by proteas, ericas and the russet reeds of the damp lowlands. It’s also an excellent spring wildflower destination with the best flower displays from August to mid-October, but subject to weather patterns.
These are just a few of the many delightful places and experiences to be enjoyed in the greater Overberg region. There is truly much, much more.
For more information, visit www.overberg-info.co.za/region.