From the summit of Perdekop in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve near Franschhoek, it feels as if the whole of the Western Cape is laid out at your feet.
Make the most of these sunny days – put on your walking shoes and head for the mountains.
Well marked and with plenty of escape routes, Perdekop Trail in Franchhoek’s Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve must be one of the best mountain hikes in the country. It’s a circular trail that can be hiked in either direction, although I prefer to do it clockwise as the climb up is more gradual and you end with a refreshing dip in a river pool. The flip side is a long, steep descent: If you have bad knees, consider going anti-clockwise. The gravel service road forks almost immediately on the other side of the entrance gate, with Perdekop Peak signposted to the right. Ignore the sign (unless you’re walking anticlockwise) and go straight up. After about 450 m, the gravel ends and the climbing begins, initially up a series of steps and zigzags. Baboons often sit on the rocks and watch the hikers here. Please don’t feed them. The well-maintained trail then ascends gradually through striking, cobalt-blue maagbossie ( Aristea africana) and patches of white everlastings, to Breakfast Rock. A kilometre from the gate, this is a popular picnic spot and turn-around point for those who want to do a shorter hike. Enjoy the stunning views and the birds flitting from flower to flower. Across the valley, you’ll be able to see the route of your return hike snaking down the ridge. The path drops down a little, through an area that burnt recently and now sprouts colourful daisies and mimetes, towards the Perdekloof stream. First you’ll cross a tributary stream via a bridge, before gradually climbing through weather-sculpted rocks and up the valley towards the saddle beneath Dutoitskop. Just over an hour after you set off (about 2,7 km from the gate) you should arrive at the junction of the Perdekop and the shorter Uitkyk and Manganese trails. This is a good spot to take a moment to orientate yourself, and to reflect on your pace. Perdekop is still 4,3 km away and 500 m of vertical climbing awaits. The trail also gets significantly more rugged. The route is marked with signboards, painted footprints and cairns, but it’s not always easy to follow, especially if visibility is poor. Sections through boulders can also be slippery. If there’s mist or rain on the higher peaks, or if anyone in your party is not feeling confident, rather continue straight for another 20 minutes to the summit of Uitkyk Peak, then return the way you came.
Want to carry on to Perdekop?
Okay, let’s go! The trail climbs steeply off to the right offering spectacular views of Wemmershoek Dam in the valley of the same name. Keep your eyes on the path: There’s a drop-off to your left. Once through the boulder fields, the gradient eases and the path contours along the edge of some cliffs before traversing grassy flats. It’s really alpine up in the high mountains, with airy drops and soaring birds of prey. The vegetation becomes sparser as you climb, with bright vygies, striking yellow butterfly lilies and other bulbs sprouting among erica and stunted cone bushes. When I hiked the trail in December 2017, delicate lapmuis ( Gladiolus hirsutus) were in bloom, clothing the veld in pink. The path here is undulating and a bit loose at times and it will deliver you to another stream crossing just below the turn-off for the return leg. You have less than 100 m of climbing to go, so hang in there. The summit is marked by a big beacon. Look for the summit book buried at the base of the beacon on the side that you approached from and record your achievement. From the top of Perdekop, you can see for miles – on a clear day, all the way over the Winelands to Table Mountain. Once you’ve feasted your eyes, head back to the junction and turn left. The descent largely follows a ridge line, offering superb views of the Franschhoek Valley, and somewhat depressingly, the sandy expanse of Theewaterskloof Dam. At first the path meanders through grassland, then it becomes increasingly rocky as it drops through dense stands of proteas alive with sugarbirds. The final 2 km are quite precipitous, with some steep, sloping slabs that can be slick when wet. Take care on tired legs. A dip in a tannin-stained river pool at the end is reward for your efforts, then it’s a 10-minute hike back up to your car. Distance: The circular route is 13,4 km long and will take about six hours. Where? The entrance to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is just out of town up Franschhoek Pass (R45). How much? A hiking permit costs R40 per adult (free for children under 16 if accompanied by an adult) and you can get one at the reserve gate, at the Huguenot Museum in town, or at the Franschhoek Tourism office. You can also buy your permit online at webtickets.co.za (search for “Hiking @ Mont Rochelle”; R50 per person). A map costs R20. Opening times: The gate office is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm, but you can enter at any time if you’ve bought your permit online. Water? You cross two streams, but carry enough water just in case they’re dry. It’s a long day out and there’s no shade. Contact: 021 876 2861; montrochellehiking.co.za
VIEWS OF THE VALLEY (above). After reaching the summit of Perdekop Trail, a long descent lies ahead. The path is steep and narrow at times so keep your wits about you.
VELD AND FYNBOS (opposite page, clockwise from top left). The route follows the Uitkyk Trail to the saddle beneath Dutoitskop before branching off to the right. Reward yourself with a dip in this river pool just before the short climb up to your car. The trail is well marked with signposts, footprints and cairns. Don’t forget to sign the summit book – you’ve earned the right to put down your name.