The Khoisan Corridor

By Malu Lambert

Photography C&D Heierli & Malu Lambert 

“It looks as if a hand has squeezed them into shape, like you would with dough,” says Ivy du Toit, pointing towards the purple Slanghoek Mountains. Nature is king here in the Breedekloof. In a bid to tempt more traffic off the N1 and into the area, Ivy, matriarch of Jason’s Hill Private Cellar, has created a hiking trail on the mountain behind her wine cellar.

Her husband Sakkie has a thing for animals. Just before we set off on a hike, the dogs come sniffing towards us, one after another, and several cats are lounging about. Pretty normal for a farm, you say? Well, Sakkie also has huge cages filled with squirrel monkeys, marmoset monkeys, and parrots of every colour from pink to grey. There is also a toddler running about. Blonde, cute and third in line. She’s called Ivy too.

A giant cactus looms up ahead on the trail. “Isn’t it amazing,” says Ivy, “it could be a hundred years old.” She has been on the farm for a good thirty years. Her husband was born here, as well as his father and his father’s father. The cellars in the Breedekloof area are family businesses; families have been on the farms for generations. It’s understandable when you take in the views that this hiking trail offers.

From here you can see just how flat the valley really is. It’s covered in vineyards and fruit trees, and walled in by mountains. All threaded through by the Breede River, a river that has sustained life and legends for centuries.

One such legend is about how Slanghoek—a ward of Breedekloof—got its name. Slanghoek means snake’s corner, and some argue that it’s because of the serpent-like shape of the river. While others, such as Hennus Trotzky, Financial Manager of Slanghoek Wines, have another story.

“There’s an old Khoisan legend,” Hennus says, “about a snake that wore a ruby on its head. Each afternoon the snake would go for a swim in the Breede River and leave the ruby on the bank. A man was watching the snake and he wanted the ruby. Simply stealing the ruby was too dangerous. It was said that the snake would follow the thief to his home and kill his family. So one day when the snake went for its swim, the man crept towards the ruby and covered it with a copper cowbell. Then he went back to his hiding spot. When the snake slithered back it couldn’t see the ruby. It was devastated and died from a broken heart.
“And that,” says Hennus, leaning over the tasting counter, “is how the area got its name.”

Later in the day, we’re at Du Toitskloof Winery, where winemaker Philip Jordaan says, “I love living here. The climate is fantastic. In winter there’s snow on the mountains. And in summer, when it’s really hot, we go to the dam to swim.

“We don’t have lots of restaurants, like Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, but our wines are just as good,” says Philip. The outdoors is what Breedekloof has to offer. Well-trodden wine routes rarely offer the freedom to explore like this one does. Sure, blink and you might miss it—but there’s a lot more going on in this little valley than just drinking.

You need to spend at least a day getting to know it. Zoot through a quick wine tour and you’ll be left feeling under-whelmed. So, to start off the day, why not try canoeing or river rafting? If you’re into exercise, there are plenty of trails to discover and explore, by horse, mountain bike, or even on foot.

There is also, of course, Goudini’s hot water springs. This is where we find ourselves spending the night, in the Slanghoek Mountain Villas. A new addition to the resort, the villas are up on the mountain, surrounded by fynbos. The view is mesmerising. Worcester sparkles in the distance and the whole of Breedekloof is laid bare.

Goudini is an old Khoisan word meaning the place of bitter honey, so called because of the yellow blossoms of the wild almond trees that were once prolific in the area and gave the local honey a bitter taste. 

The morning comes in fresh, cold and clear. It’s another beautiful day. The dirt road into Dwarsberg Trout Hideaway is narrow and winding. This charming camping and fishing destination is deep in the mountains and covered in vineyards. Owner Ernst Stofberg sells the grapes to nearby wine estates. For those who prefer a ceiling to a canvas roof, there are also four cottages for hire. One of them is quaintly named Tant Kappie.

“Tant Kappie was a labourer who worked on the farm close to a hundred years ago,” says Ernst. “We named the cottage she used to live in after her. They called her Kappiebecause of the big old hat she used to wear. She would walk to church every Sunday, all the way to Rawsonville. It would take her something like three hours both ways. People in wagons offered her lifts. But she had too much pride. She chose to walk all the way.”

The mountains are wild here. And so is the river. Right now it’s breeding season for the trout, so they’ve disappeared into deeper waters, but in season the waters are filled with flashes of silver. A fly-fishing hotspot, the camping sites are already fully booked for the summer.

Up in the mountain, the wreckage of a plane is rusting into the fynbos. Once the charge of a decorated war pilot, the old Shackleton is now home to dassies and insects. Visitors to the farm can hike up to view it. On your way, and if you’re observant and have a nose for them, you may come across some Bushman paintings. A guest once stumbled upon them and now Ernst is reluctant to reveal their location. He has had them verified as genuine Khoisan drawings, but he’s not keen on the busloads of tourists they might attract. 

The fingerprints of the Khoisan are everywhere—in tales, names and rock art. But their touch is also evident in the respect the community has for the nature around them—most of the farms are champions of biodiversity. The Bushmen may all have disappeared from this little valley, but it’s clear that their legends live on in the minds and hearts of the locals. Wine, adventure and history—all just an hour’s drive from Cape Town.

Fun Comes Naturally

A celebration of wine, food, adventure and music will take place from 9 – 11 October during the sixth annual Breedekloof Outdoors and Wine festival. The weekend will include events hosted by wineries from the Rawsonville, Slanghoek, Goudini and Breede River areas.

Besides being able to sip award-winning wines, activities include live music and entertainment, hot-air ballooning, mountain biking, a tagged-fishing contest, stand-up-comedy, a skaapkop dinner, art exhibits and a crocodile spitbraai.

Sporting activities have always been one of the main attractions, and this year will be no exception, with events such as the annual 5km and 10km Deetlefs night run through the vineyards, the ‘Mountain to Mountain’ mountain bike challenge over 30km and 60km hosted by Slanghoek Winery, and the Daschbosch Adventure Challenge, which includes a 25km sprint race or a 10km family fun race.

The Breedekloof is a family-friendly destination and all wineries will cater for children, most with supervised play areas. For more information visit www.breedekloof.com/outdoor.html.