Biodiversity in the Breedekloof

By Karen Rutter
Photography C&D Heierli

The big man touches the small plant with gentle fingers. “It’s called a Shy Rose, in English. It’s one of my favourites,” he says. Around us, a sea of fragrant fynbos ripples in the soft winter breeze. It feels like an indigenous garden of Eden. And, with careful conservation planning, it should stay this way.

We’re standing in the newly-named Platbos Nature Reserve on a section of Sakkie du Toit’s farm in the Slanghok Mountains of the Breedekloof. He’s the man who likes the Shy Rose, and he’s also equally enthusiastic about the conservation efforts being made in the area which makes up the Breedekloof Wine and Tourism Route. His Platbos Reserve, which includes 74 ha of endangered Breede Alluvium Fynbos, forms part of a Stewardship Biodiversity Agreement signed with Capenature, in a pioneering partnership between state and private parties.

“Being aware of conservation issues doesn’t mean you have to stop farming. You can carry on with development, but you can do it in the right way, which is nature-friendly. It benefits everybody, in the end,” says Sakkie.

We’re bouncing along a rugged 4X4 trail with Garth Mortimer and Rudolph Roscher. Garth’s the CapeNature Conservation Stewardship Extension Officer who’s been passionately involved in the Breedekloof area since 2006. Rudolph is from the Department of Agriculture, representing the Sustainable Resource division, and he’s also been working here a while. Garth is English-speaking, with a background that includes a stint in Kruger as well as in various CapeNature parks around the country. Rudolph is Afrikaans-speaking, and was trained as an engineer. Together, they form an impressive team. Kind of like conservation’s Men in Black.

“The Breedekloof (which stretches from the end of the Du Toit’s Kloof tunnel on the Rawsonville side, and towards Worcester) includes a number of unique indigenous plants within a sensitive eco-system,” says Garth. “Most of the endangered lowland areas are on private farms, so our challenge has been to work with farmers—mainly wine farmers—to look at ways of securing and sustaining these areas.”

Rudolph explains further. “We’ve developed a system where we all work together—myself from the Department of Agriculture, Garth, the Breedekloof Wine Route office and people from Water Affairs, Working on Water and more—to create a neighbourly environment where we’re all pulling towards the same goals,” he says. 

“It’s not a case of green versus brown,” smiles Garth, referring to environmentalists and farmers. “Farmers are inherently conservationists, by virtue of their closeness to the land.”
I’ve driven out to the Breedekloof inVolkswagen’s newest 4X4 SUV, theTiguan. Leaving before the sun rose, the car hummed smoothly along the N1 towards Rawsonville. A mid-range off-roader, as opposed to VW’s massive Touareg, it nevertheless boasts a formidable range of bells and whistles which make it a stylish ride. An onboard radio/navigation system featuring touch screen control of the GPS, CD player and more, individual air-conditioning settings, leather seats, generous storage space and enough room for five make it suitably comfortable inside. From the outside, the Tiguan is more sleek than chunky, kind of like a 4X4 that’s been on a Sports Science diet. Lean but not mean, it’s got the power to move fast and the flexibility to conquer tricky offroad angles. A range of electronic systems aimed at making the 4X4 more capable off road include hill descent assist, hill climb assist and adaptations to the ABS braking system. 
It’s a seriously sporty package, and just the right way to explore outside the city.

In the Breedekloof, the long-term aim of conservationists like Garth is to make sure that endangered habitats, which support a range of rare indigenous plants, birds, and small animals such as tortoises, are preserved through formal conservation agreements. Stewardship means using natural resources wisely, such as protecting ecosystems, and managing invasive plants and fires. Farmers have a choice how to get involved in stewardship agreements, ranging from establishing conservation areas to game reserves. Just last month a ground-breaking biodiversity agreement was signed between the BEE company Fynbos, Vrugte en Wyn Boedery and CapeNature, committing themselves to conserving 40 ha of endangered Breede Alluvial Fynbos on their land. And over the past few years CapeNature has successfully concluded 21 contract nature reserves, 16 biodiversity agreements and 12 voluntary agreements with private landowners—effectively expanding the protected area estate in the Western Cape on priority threatened habitats by 42 437 ha. But it hasn’t always been easy trying to persuade farmers to look at new ways of operating. Deciding whether to plant new vines in a sensitive area, or to preserve the land as a conservation site, has obvious financial repercussions. But the ecological results, in the long run, will benefit everybody in terms of creating a sustainable ecosystem. Put simply, preserving fynbos means cleaner water systems, better irrigation and healthier agriculture.

“When I was in the army we called this type of thing Comm. Ops—Communication Operations,” laughs Sakkie. “Garth and Rudolph have to win the hearts and minds of the farmers in the area.”
The Breedekloof is already on to a fine start. With its 22 wineries, it has partnered with theBiodiversity Wine Initiative, which aims to minimise the further loss of threatened natural habitat, and to contribute to sustainable wine production, through the adoption of biodiversity guidelines by the South African wine industry. And the area itself is a slice of heaven.
Over a lunch at the Bergsig Bistro Melody Botha, CEO of Breedekloof Wine and Tourism explains why the route is different from others, and how conservation efforts benefit both farmers and visitors.

“We’ve always had an emphasis here on outdoor activities—fishing, hiking, camping, horse-riding, that sort of thing. By joining up with CapeNature and LandCare/Department of Agriculture, we’ve been able to offer visitors even more when they come here,” she says. “We’ve had Nature and Wine Weekend guided walks from Slanghoek Cellar, and during the annual Breedekloof outdoor festival we also have walks and talks.”
 


The spin-off for the farmers is that as they open their land to conservation efforts, they can benefit from tourism initiatives. 
After lunch, I let the Tiguan loose to explore the region. Sakkie’s Slanghoek Mountain Resort is on the same road as the Jason’s Hill, Opstal and Breeland wineries, all of which offer tastings in gorgeous surroundings. If you head closer to Rawsonville there’s the DuToitskloof and Deetlefs cellars; go through the village and you can find Goudini, Daschbosch and Merwida, amongst others.
Across the Breede River towards Worcester are still more cellars including Rico Suter, Seven Oaks and Mountain Ridge. More than enough to make a visit to the valley stretch over a weekend, as opposed to a day visit.

Of course, one of the best ways to get a good taste of the offerings is to go during the Festival, where extra offerings such as a night run through the vineyards, helicopter flips and even a raisin-spitting competition are part of the fun.
I muse over this as I negotiate the twists and turns of the road like a rally driver. The Tiguan makes it easy to feel like a pro behind the wheel. And at a time when it costs more to fill up your car than to feed and clothe your family, there’s another reason to like the Tiguan. It’s got a direct injection engine, featuring TSI technology. The benefit of TSI, in a nutshell, is that it affords maximum power at a minimum level of fuel consumption. 127 000 motorists around the world already have the TSI technology under their VW bonnets.

VW is the only carmaker to date to use this technology combination in mass-volume series engines, and the Tiguan is the first SUV in the world to be offered exclusively with charged engines. The TSI engines recently received the renowned ‘TechnoBest’ technology prize at the Istanbul Awards in Wolfsburg.

From a green point of view, it also feels appropriate to be driving this SUV while I’m covering the Breedekloof conservation story. Because TSI engines make do with a comparatively small amount of cubic capacity, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are significantly reduced.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really want to hand the car back to VW when I’ve finished this trip. It’s got everything I like—good fuel consumption, an athletic body, agile moves, and smart finishes. It looks cool in the city, but turns tough in the rough. It turns heads, but it’s not pretentious. If this car was a person, it’d be Daniel Craig.

But I’m smiling when I turn back to the N1. It’s been a good trip. Earlier in the day, Sakkie stops me as we were passing through his vineyards on the way to the Platbos Reserve. “Look,” he smiles. There are three wildebeest, young males. “I bet you didn’t think you’d be on a game drive today,” he laughs. Indeed not. And it’s just one more unexpected pleasure that I treasure from my trip to this unique stretch of the Breedekloof.

The Festival of Festivals

A celebration of wine, food, adventure and music will take place from Friday October 10 to Sunday October 12 during the fifth annual Breedekloof Outdoor and Wine festival.
The fun-filled weekend will include events hosted by Wineries from the Rawsonville, Slanghoek, Goudini and Breede River areas, which make up the Breedekloof, just a one-hour drive from Cape Town.

Activities include live music and entertainment, food and wine pairing, 4X4 excursions, quad-biking, paintball, archery, guided fynbos hikes and bird watching, cheese and olive tasting, a giant slingshot, and a tagged fishing contest. 

Taste buds will be tantalised with a range of delights from oysters topotjekos, spit-braai and a skaapkop dinner.

Sporting Activities have always been one of the main focuses and 2008 will be no exception, with events such as the annual 5km and 10km Deetlefs Night Run through the vineyards; and the ‘Mountain to Mountain’ Mountain Bike Challenge over 30km or 60km hosted by Slanghoek Winery.
The Breedekloof is a family destination and the festival promises plenty of healthy outdoor entertainment for younger visitors, including pony rides, farm animal petting and face painting.

Accommodation in the area includes self-catering options, bed and breakfast venues and guest houses. 
To view the full programme or to reserve accommodation visit http://www.breedekloof.com/ or call (023) 349-1791.