In the Loop
On a whim RON SWILLING turns off into the foothills of the Langeberg and is charmed by the Klaasvoogds Meander
A meander through the Langeberg foothills knows just how to charm
Almost halfway along the R60 between Robertson and Ashton, a tarred 8.5-kilometre meander remains much of a secret in the Robertson-Breede River wine valley. It starts as the Klaasvoogds West road, circling around to Klaasvoogds East and back to the R60.
On the route, which was tarred three years
9 ¿ restaurants, a choice of accommodation, olive tasting, a cactus garden/nursery, and a lavender and olive farm. It’s a short and sweet meander that has something for everyone.
First stop on the meander, Sheilam Cactus & Succulent Garden, draws your attention. Huge, prickly mother-in-law’s chairs and towering cone cacti are part of the large garden, which you can explore at your leisure, or take a guided tour with knowledgeable Minette Schwegmann, who educates people on the succulents of South Africa.
Minette tells me a charming tale of the origin of succulents. As the story goes, when God started to walk around the world, some plants decided to stay in the vast, windy expanses and became grasses, some opted to be proteas dotting the mountainside, others chose watery habitats and became waterlilies.
On reaching the desert, God advised those that remained to store water in their stems, shed their leaves and put on a waxy outer layer to protect them from the harsh sun, and grow spines to deter wild animals. When the succulents eventually complained that they were now too ugly for anyone to love them,
In 2003, Minette and her husband Garth took over the family farm from Garth’s parents. Garth’s father had bought the Sheilam Farm from Lourens Malherbe, a cacti and succulent collector who started the garden in 1954, and this collection came with the farm.
Minette dusted off the textbooks and revived her botany degree to care for and enlarge the speciality nursery that houses many rare South African succulents, as well as cacti and cycads. She propagates the various species by hand and cautions the public, “By taking a plant out of the wild, you destroy future generations, and it’s illegal,” and urges people rather to buy seed or plants from nurseries with permits.
Sheilam’s plants include intriguing specimens like the old man of Peru, horses’ teeth, Bushman’s grape and klipplante (stone plants or lithops). The unusual loveliness of the succulent garden belies the patience needed for these slow-growing but waterwise plants. They can take decades to establish themselves, as seen in the painfully slow growth of the elephant’s foot that only grows one centimetre a year, or in the Agave victoriae-reginae,
Like Minette, it is with a newfound respect for the wonders of nature and the guardians of the Earth, that I drive two kilometres further along the Klaasvoogds road for an entirely different experience – lavender. Rows and rows of it. The Margaret Roberts variety,
I was happy to discover.
My visit to the quaint Owls Rest Olive and Lavender Farm began with a cold lavender cordial on the veranda and ended with a tasting of tapenade in their shop. In between, husband and wife team, Patricia and Hedley Manicom,
¿ lavender and olive trees to their small distillery.
The farm was a dream come true for them. “I always wanted to live on a farm with a plaasdam and a windpomp,” Patricia tells me. When their children grew up and moved away from home, Patricia and Hedley left their longtime jobs in the city and went exploring the
countryside. They eventually found a spot a year ago that ‘ticked all the boxes’.
Now, besides distilling lavender and rose geranium essential oils, they use the hydrosol for beauty products, and make olive oil, olive tapenades, and tamarillo (tree tomato) and bell-pepper chutneys.
As convenient as the tarred circular
$ ¿ tracks that run northwards into the heart of the Langeberg. This is where you can treat yourself to overnight accommodation in the natural Klaasvoogds amphitheatre, and swim, hike, mountain bike and absorb the scenic beauty of the area. The Pat Busch Mountain Reserve offers all this, with rolling grassy lawns thrown in.
$ \] ¿ accommodation on the farm. His daughter-inlaw, Lindi, who with her husband Stephen took over the property in 2004, explains, “It was always a place for hikers, birders and nature lovers to come and rest. A keen nature enthusiast, Pat wanted to sit on the porch and watch buck coming and going. His vision was to make it a nature reserve and he was dedicated to preserving the land.
When you can tear yourself away, the rest of the meander calls. It takes its name from German-born Claus or Klaas Voigts or Voogds, who came to the Cape of Good Hope in 1691 as a soldier for the Dutch East India Company. He is believed to have had dubious dealings over the years and to have been at the forefront of a group of hunters, traders and cattle rustlers. According to folklore, the renegade was trampled to death by an elephant at the Klaasvoogds River, but time has clouded the details of the story.
Back on track, just 5.5 kilometres along the tarred loop, I sip on Kranskop’s awardwinning Tannat wine, mulling over the prime opportunity of savouring quality olive oil
À and honey. The small family-owned and
-run winery still favours traditional methods, picking their grapes by hand, using a basket press to reduce the tannins, and maturing wine in French oak.
Winemaker Newald Marais has years of experience in the wine industry, having worked for Nederberg for 27 years, where he
honed his winemaking skills before buying Kranskop in 2008.
A kilometre onwards and I make my last stop, this time for olives. “We’re a bit more on the chilled side.” Clive Heymans from Marbrin Olive Growers offers this apt description of the meander as we sit on the stoep, with friendly dogs curled at our feet, surrounded by a healthy forest of olive trees and a clear sky.
“Life’s too short not to have good oil,” says Clive. A short farm road has led me down the hill to Marbrin’s reception and tasting area, past olive groves and a small dam with cows and geese in the surrounding ¿
Clive tells me.
He also introduces me to the making of quality olive oil, and gives me a tasting of Marbrin’s olives and tapenades, as well as
À award-winning Intense Olive Oil. No mean feat for the new kids on the block, who had
¿ olive oil into the world arena.
Clive and his wife Briony took over Marbrin from Briony’s father in 2012, introduced the tastings and began to experiment with their eight cultivars to create a boutique olive oil. The family business now produces a range of products and is about to launch another three oils – saffron, dill and fennel – as well as a monthly supper club, where Clive will share his culinary talents. “South African olive oils are among the best in the world, and contain no unlisted additives,” he says. “Local olive oil lovers should never buy anything but what is homegrown.”
I take the last leg of the meander at a snail’s pace, enjoying the regal Langeberg as I pass vineyards, orchards of olive and fruit trees, houses with colourful washing
À 3 eating grapes by the roadside. But when I reach the main road, I’m certain I can hear Time start to tick again, like an old clock with a mind of its own, and I reluctantly turn for home.
OPPOSITE TOP: The Klaasvoogds Meander is a short, tarred and chilled route off the R60 between Robertson and Ashton. BELOW LEFT: The country splendour of grape vines and rolling hills, backed by regal mountains. BELOW RIGHT: Minette Schwegmann amid the array of succulents at Sheilam Cactus & Succulent Garden. ABOVE: Patricia and Hedley Manicom in the small Owls Rest distillery. RIGHT: One of the highlights of the meander is a visit to this olive and lavender farm.
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Children happily enjoy juicy grapes along the roadside. Peace and a good serving of natural beauty at Pat Busch Mountain Reserve in the foothills of the Langeberg.Lindi Busch and the rolling lawns of the reserve. Gravel tracks run into the heart of the Langeberg, where you can swim, hike and paddle.
ABOVE: At Kranskop, a family-run, award-winning wine estate, Ezett Viljoen explains the traditional methods of winemaking, like hand-picking grapes and using a basket press. ABOVE RIGHT: “Life’s too short not to have good olive oil,” says Clive Heymans of Marbrin Olive Growers.