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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stellenbosch - Hiking The Vineyard Trail

(Please also remember to read my FURTHER UPDATE at the end of this review)

Name of Reserve / Area: Stellenbosch, Bottelaryberg
Nearest Town: Stellenbosch, Devon Valley
Province: Western Cape
Country: South Africa

Duration of hike: 4 - 8 hours, depending on which route you choose to take. We chose to take the Green Route, and it took us 4 hours to do half of it.

Directions to get there: From Cape Town CBD, take the N2 towards the Strand, Somerset West and Stellenbosch. Turn left into Stellenbosch Arterial Road. Pass the turn to Spier on your right. Soon you will see a sign to turn left into Devon Valley Road. Drive all the way up the valley along this narrow road until you reach the Devon Valley Hotel on your right. This is where you will be able to get your day permits and the map I have uploaded in this post.

Contact Information:
Stellenbosch Tourism Information Bureau
Phone: 021 883 8017

Best time of year to go: March - June is good for photographs due to the autumn season starting to create the most awesome colours.

What costs did you incur to do this hike: R25 per person (not sure why we paid!)

How safe is it: Situated in between some of the best wine estates in Stellenbosch. It looks very safe, but the reality is, its not. You basically get exposed to the entire area, walking in main roads and you are left to the elements. Make sure you have something for self protection.

Fresh Water: None, unless you are prepared to drink from dams (which I will not recommend) or pop into a local farmers' house and grab some from them.

Difficulty: Due to the distances, I would recommend a fairly fit person should enjoy this. The map we were given got us totally lost and it was a very unpleasant experience not knowing if the next road will be a dead end or not.

Pets: I think you can take your dog with you, you are basically walking in the open. I would however not take my dog with me on this hike, as the locals have too many very poorly taken care of pets running freely around the place and it could cause havoc for you. Together with the heat, distance and the constant feeling of being uncertain where you are, this would not be a pleasant walk for your doggie.

(Numbers below refer to numbers in the map above)
1. Start by walking to the back of the hotel, towards the right. As you see the first vineyard, look out for the Red and Orange signs on the vine. We could not find a GREEN one, but continued to follow the path as the map indicated they were going in the same direction.

Turn right onto the dirt road and left up the hill, as you exit the hotel grounds.

2. First left again and continue along the road. Pass Stonehill Wines on your right and continue till you get to a gate at which point the path then becomes a dirt road. Continue walking along the line of trees and soon the path will turn upwards and to the right.

3. At the top of the road you will reach a tar road. Turn left onto the tar road.

Look out for a stone painted with 3 footprints on the right of the road. This meant nothing to us, but it looked like the green foot was facing the way the map indicated.

4. Walking down this tar road we saw the J.C. Le Roux wine estate and the entire Devon Valley on our left.

5. The tar road eventually becomes a dirt road again, and then we got to the T- Junction. Here we walked left again.

6. On our left was a farmers house, fenced with heavy security. This was also where we walked pass a boom. At this point, we were supposed to take the left fork, but instead we continued straight with the road - as it seemed to be on the map. (still no signs of the GREEN ROUTE)

7. Soon we reached a small farming community on our right, which did not seem right, but we continued to walk on. It saddened me as I could not help to notice all the kittens and puppies and the generally poor state of the rest of the animals. The smiling local little children were very keen to walk with us for as far as they could go.

8. Following the road straight down, and with some help from the locals, we eventually saw our first GREEN SIGN. Our delight was short lived when we got to another fork in the road - an no more signs!

9. After walking (and photographing) the area flat, we eventually found the lake on the map and decided to make this our lunch stop.

Walking from point 9, pass 7 and to 10 on the map, we eventually found the road that we were supposed to be walking on way back then. By this time, we were ready to just go home.

10. A local farmer had no choice but stop and pick us up, as both of us decided we had done enough walking for one day. Hiking in the mountains, and walking for hours on end on a dirt road is not quite the same thing.

11. Point 11 on the map is where he dropped us off by the main Devon Valley Road. This is where we turned left to head back to where our car was parked at the hotel.

How will I rate this hike?
Well, at first we were super excited about hiking amongst the stunning vineyards of Stellenbosch. We got our permits and map from the Devon Valley Hotel, and finding the start of the hike set the tone for the entire rest of the way. Constant uncertainty, absolutely no (Green Route) signs like we were promised and exposed to the elements - made this a walk that will not make any one of Mike Lundy's books for sure. So, if you feel like a walk in the vineyards, trust me, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Follow the Red or the Orange Route on the map rather.

There was no variety and by the time we actually got to the 'mountain' that we wanted to climb, we decided to just head back to the car. Luckily for us, a local farmer (whom we had already met during the way due to us being lost on his farm) drove past and gave us a ride to the tar road. Then another local (who gave us directions along the way too) also drove past us after the farmer had dropped us off, and he then picked us up and gave us a comfy ride back to our car which was parked at the hotel. Apart from being annoyed at the lack of direction almost the entire way, we did find that the locals were very friendly.

I think their hiking trail needs some serious jacking up in terms of its signage, but its an area not to be missed and I highly recommend visiting the area for a nice relaxing meal or some wine tasting for now only.

Further Update: 25 April 2009

After sending my above review of this specific hike to the local authorities in charge of this route, I have had intensive feedback and great concern from their side.

I would like to make amend on some of what I said above, which is the following:

The rules say you are not allowed to take your dog with you. So please respect the wishes of the friendly hosts. I did not see it on the map, but it clearly states no dogs.

Fresh Water:
I rate my hikes on the availability of water, purely for the sake of the hikers. The fact that water is or is not on a route, does not make it any better or worse, its just something I like to add into my reviews because I have seen people go on massive hikes with one apple in their hand. (Scary to sometimes see the level of ignorance of a mature man walking with his entire family!) Im sure they will never repeat the same mistake again, but its always nice to know if there is fresh water on hand sometime during the hike or not. This route specifically did not have any fresh water along the way, but it does not make it a bad route to consider due to this fact.

The signage: (or lack thereof)

Both the Devon Valley Hotel and Alvera Guest House have made the following comments:
  • The GREEN ROUTE was in fact a closed route and we should never have hiked this route. There was a communication slip up and we were in fact supposed to have been told that we were not allowed to do the GREEN ROUTE.
  • The RED ROUTE and the ORANGE ROUTE are both really stunning routes especially for this time of the year, and they come highly recommended by the owners. I have not walked these two routes, but I can say we did see loads of red and orange signs whilst trying to find the green route.
  • The GREEN ROUTE is now closed and under construction, they will notify all hikers as soon as it is open for hiking again.
Best time of year to go:
Autumn (April - June) is perfect for photographs, especially after a rainfall as the colours become vivid and the skies are clear.

Thank you to the owners for coming back to me so quickly, we look forward to completing this route in the future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought I'd drop you a note regarding the trails.

2014 the green trail is (still?) closed, which is sad because it seems to be the most interesting one regarding its ecological features.

We've just 'completed' the orange trail. In fact we're just guessing which way to go and we got lost several times. The problem was that there was a lack of orange markers at crucial points and the map was a crappy b/w copy without the legend, completely useless and full of wrong information. Sometimes we were walking on private property to find the way. On the orange route, some markers were red? At one point we couldn't walk on the trail, because they put an electric fence there!? Sometimes you see the markers only if you turn around, d'oh!

After 3,5h we got lost again, we had enough of this and walked back.

Don't know why to pay for this? You could just walk the trail?

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