Join Shirley Kokot on a laid-back, three-day walking tour of the Overberg coast between Hermanus and Betty’s Bay.
‘We’ve just had the best of both worlds,” said my husband Mike, his face aglow with contentment and lots of clean air. This comment followed a three-day slackpacking trail that began in Hermanus and ended at Stony Point near Betty’s Bay. What’s so special about that, you might ask? It’s the details of the experience that lent credence to Mike’s words… The trail is called the Biosphere Breaker Way and it was far more than a walk in nature. Sure, our days were filled with breathtaking views as we strolled along fynbos-clad mountain slopes and down to the shoreline, but they were also filled with fascinating snippets of information about the history, flora and fauna of the region, from a trio of SATOUR-accredited guides – and others – who shared their knowledge and enthusiasm freely. We met our guides and the other trampers on a Sunday evening at the Auberge Burgundy, a luxurious guesthouse in Hermanus where we spent two indulgent nights. Us ladies had an equally indulgent time exploring all the little shops in town. The trail isn’t a hike from one point to another. Although it has a beginning and an end point, walkers are taken to various places of interest by shuttle bus, which allows for a more leisurely walking pace. You only need to be moderately fit to enjoy this trail, which
is great for someone like Mike who was still recovering from a spinal fusion procedure. The first outing was a fynbos walk in Fernkloof Nature Reserve behind Hermanus. We paused for refreshments at Olifantsberg, with a splendid view of Walker Bay below. After that, we met up with Conrad Wegelin – one of the founders of the Breaker Way – in the vineyards at Bouchard Finlayson Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Conrad explained the vine-growing process – how the vines are cultivated in a nursery by grafting a stalk of a particular cultivar onto hardy rootstock. The Boland town of Wellington is the heart of this industry and because the work is still largely done by hand, it requires many workers to graft hundreds of thousands of vines each year. In years gone by, during peak vine-growing season, children would be recruited into the workforce and given the job of binding the graft with twine to secure it. This meant that they missed school and had to explain their absence to their teachers upon their return. And so the Afrikaans term for truancy – stokkiesdraai (literally, binding sticks) – found its place in the language. Of course, being on a well-known wine farm in a valley where nothing can be seen but earth and sky, called for some wine tasting! The owner of the estate, Peter Finlayson, was one of the pioneers of pinot noir in South Africa and we found that his reputation for excellent wines is well deserved. Legend has it that the valley was once home to a leper colony. Those who travelled from Caledon to the coast felt nervous because of the dangers associated with the disease, and they’d speak of their feelings of “onrus” (unrest) during the passage. This is how the name of the Onrus River, and later the coastal town, was born. (The other story is that the name Onrus comes from the “restless” pounding of surf against the rocky coast.) After our wine-tasting session, we were shuttled back to Hermanus, supplied with wellington boots and escorted around the Heart of Abalone farm at the New Harbour. The farm must have limited poaching to some extent. It employs more than 500 people and produces tonnes of abalone that is mostly shipped to Asian markets. Our host on this tour was the founder of the company, Johan Hugo. It was fascinating to see how the tiniest abalone “spats” develop over years into fully grown adults, in hundreds of tanks that are continually flushed with sea water. Thirty years ago, abalone farming was done differently: The spats were raised in tanks then put back into the sea to mature. But this allowed for diseases to spread to the stock, so the process was adapted into what it is now. The largest abalone could be eight years old and about 20 cm in diameter, but at the farm they’re harvested younger to be used in various recipes. My youthful memories of cooking perlemoen recall much heavy arm work to tenderise the flesh with a mallet, followed by mincing, mixing with breadcrumbs and cooking in wine for some time. We were treated to very different dishes after our tour – the highlight being some two-year-old abalone the size of 50 c pieces, prepared in an Asian sauce. Fresh, delicate and delicious.
FOOD & FRESH AIR. Knowledgeable guide John Boyce (top) regales the group with tales of shipwrecks. Johan Hugo (above), founder of Heart of Abalone, shows how baby abalone are grown. This slackpacking trail includes plenty of stops like an alfresco lunch in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve (above left).
VITAMIN SEA (previous page). Fill your eyes with views and your lungs with fresh air on the boardwalk from the lagoon to the Kleinmond harbour.