Discovering the Overberg

by Mary Tebje on 16.02.2014

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It's not just about grand vistas and easy to capture statements of beauty, it's in the detail that a landscape's story is told.

Full of bold statements and a mind-boggling array of activities, I wasn't sure five night's in a resort would do the Overberg region in the Western Cape any justice.

Walker Bay is traditionally famous for winter whale watching.

Much visited, advocated and t-shirt's bought - in fact I was born in Cape Town, I was now ready to re-discover other old haunts.

Travelling east along sweeping bays fringed by plunging blue mountains, empty beaches and aqua seas with villages and small towns tucked in at various pretty bays along the way, Walker Bay is traditionally famous for winter whale watching in this region called the Overberg - roughly translated as 'over the mountain', is a destination ready to put itself firmly on the map.

Clarence Drive (R44) has been voted as one of the 50 most scenic drives in the world by Reader's Digest.

The timing is right: Cape Town is enjoying more well-deserved accolades and subsequent increase in visitors, but it feels busy. Faded overseas country flags and restaurants struggling to cope are the downside to success. The Overberg on the other hand, didn't appear to have any flags and has space and room to breath aplenty. It is a two hours drive away and the coastal R44 feels like Chapman's Peak without all the crowds.

Calling in on old friends along the way meant not having to spend time in forgettable "farm stalls", and were rewarded with excellent local food, wine and local gossip - what not to miss and what to avoid (there's a marketing lesson in there somewhere).

Stopping, and lingering a little, for a glass of wine in Pringle Bay.

Our destination was Grootbos, a resort that needs no introduction as it's been widely promoted and written about and it's somewhere I've wanted to visit for a long time. Clearly a successful business, it has great appeal, so expectations were high.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve celebrates the natural biodiversity and the people that make this area so unique.

There is a misconception in my industry that visitors are helpless/hapless or stupid, and need entertainment spoon-fed to them 24 hours a day. Some of us are none of the above; we want to relax, spend family time together but also want to absorb the local culture, colour and stories.

I am not a fan of resorts; benefits are hazy and they are for lazy, disinterested visitors, who only leave on a coach, starve out local business and have a negative impact on the wider environment don't they? Whilst I cannot vouch for the Grootbos supply chain, there's ample local food and wine to choose from, local employment opportunities and the Grootbos nature reserve.

But perhaps not so obvious is the huge detail and layers of heritage that are peeled back by the staff and specialists who share their home with us. It's a privilege to able to enjoy somewhere as pristine as this and to feel as though we really know it.

From the beginning, Grootbos has been committed to the conservation of the region’s biodiversity as well as the upliftment of the local community.

We went out on various excursions in the bay and each one offered something unique: lead by an individual with their own perspective on life that guiding training school thankfully hadn't erased. Like a carpet, their own threads and experiences are inter-woven into the wider landscape story. We would have missed completely if we were racing around from one wine farm to the next.

One guide was keen to share his love of the national and local obsession, rugby, yet was far too professional to overtly hero-worship a Springbok player and guest! With another, I expected if I'd have cut her in half, the colours of the South African flag would be proudly on display. She was bold, in-your-face unashamedly South African, working to keep the fynbos flag flying high, so I shouldn't have been surprised to be accused of being a traitor as I live overseas....and wanted to know what she could tell us about fynbos that we didn't already know? Surprise us - and she did just that, with her passion and in-depth plant knowledge.

A third guide was so happy to be working there, I lost my fear of being astride a horse and would have followed her anywhere.

From Whale Watching and Shark Cage Diving to 4x4 Flower Safaris and Horse Riding, each activity is designed to encourage a deeper appreciation of the environment.

Whilst I will never be a rugby, equestrian or fynbos expert, I now have a very different view and greater appreciation of them all, and their part in the story of wonderful Walker Bay in the outstanding Overberg.

These personal experiences you won't find on social media, in a guidebook or from a tour guide on a bus. They are priceless.

Learn more and be inspired to visit the Overberg by tuning in for the weekly Twitter chat on Wednesdays between 12-1pm at #DiscoverOverberg. To find out more about Grootbos or to book your stay visit their website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook

Mary Tebje lives just outside of London and is Director of MTA Tourism Leisure. You can follow her musings and insights here or follow her on Twitter. Photos courtesy of Mariette du Toit-Helmbold and Grootbos.

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