The great thing about being at Easy Five in Somerset West is that you’re in town, but you’re in the country, too. Which means that nature — and the Cape fynbos (Cape machia) — are, literally, #JustAroundTheCorner.
It’s that kind of city.
So here’s a selection of five (naturally!) natural experiences we recommend this season:
1. Visit the Helderberg Nature Reserve
If you want an introduction to the fynbos, this 400-hectare reserve is probably as good a place to start as any. And if you know the fynbos — well, Helderberg Nature Reserve is ridiculously rich in biodiversity, walking trails, birding opportunities, and, of course, the most awesome views of the mountains and the sea.
Volunteers from The Friends of Helderberg — local people who have kept the reserve going for more than 50 years — staff the visitor information centre and gift shop where you’ll find maps of the walking trails. (There are six or seven of them: some as short as 600 metres, others a challenging 10 km in length.) And when you’re tired of walking — or if you don’t want to walk at all — you can stop in at The Oak Café for refreshments and light meals.
Guided walks: Contact the visitor centre when you know the dates of your stay at Easy Five — you might just be lucky enough to be here for one of their interpretive day walks, one of their full moon or new moon night walks, or one of their monthly guided hikes.
So where is this Helderberg Nature Reserve? Why, #JustAroundTheCorner, a mere 3.2 km from Easy Five.
2. Visit the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden
These days, the first message you see when you go onto the Stellenbosch Botanical Garden’s web site is, “Fall hopelessly in love with plants and nature, says SU Botanical Garden’s new curator.” And it is indeed a good place to do just that. While its first purpose is to meet the research needs of the university, it’s also wonderfully welcoming to the general public who come to see its many collections and theme gardens, or just to escape the busyness of the centre of the town of Stellenbosch, where it’s situated.
To give you an idea of the esteem in which it’s held, this is one of only nine gardens around the world accredited by BGCI, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and it was the first in South Africa to receive this honour. It’s also the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa.
Its collections include indigenous and exotic plants, and it’s known for its bonsai, fern house, vegetable and herb garden. And — we love this — you can search its collections online using its Garden Explorer. Perfect if you want to explore the gardens on your own.
For your eating pleasure, there’s the Katjiepiering Restaurant and a lekker (That’s South African for really, really nice.) little shop that sells African cosmetic and medicinal products as well as books, indigenous seed, indigenous liqueurs, and locally produced organic wine and olive products.
And best of all: it’s just 19 km from Easy Five.
3. Explore the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
CapeNature’s incredible, 9,800-hectare Jonkershoek Nature Reserve near the town of Stellenbosch includes both the imposing Jonkershoek Mountains and parts of the Jonkershoek Valley and, just for good measure, the 204-hectare Assegaaibosch Reserve, too.
This World Heritage Site is the place to go if you’re looking for a really outstanding scenic drive, of if you’re into walking, hiking, swimming, or mountain biking And with 1,100 species of plants ranging from proteas to ericas, restios to gladioluses, if you’re into fynbos, too.
For walkers, the reserve has a number of short loops, as well as four slightly more challenging hikes of between 5.3 and 18 kilometres. And since these mountains are the source of no less than four different rivers, the landscape is dotted with rock pools and waterfalls.
If you’ve got your MTB with you while you’re here, Jonkershoek is a must for riding. There’s just one caveat, though: you’ll be charged extra, since sections of the land where riding is allowed are owned and managed by the national Department of Forestry, which is a separate entity.
Jonkershoek is situated 27.5 km) from Easy Five via the R44 and Jonkershoek Rd.
4. Visit the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens
Many people believe, probably rightly so, that Clarence Drive is one of the ten most scenic routes in the world. And this should be incentive enough for you to take the coastal route from Gordon’s Bay to Betty’s Bay. But given that you can also enjoy a stroll around the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens when you get to Betty’s Bay, well, we reckon you’ll probably vote the whole experience one of your best during your time at Easy Five.
The gardens are set in fynbos-covered mountains, and here you’ll find, as the web site puts it, “wind-clipped heathlands” as well as forests marshes, and beach-side dunes. Known for its proteas, ericas leucadendrons, restios (Cape reeds), sedges, and bulbs, and renowned for its lovely mountain pools and waterfalls. the property is divided into 10 hectares of cultivated gardens and 190 hectares of natural fynbos.
Visitor facilities include a restaurant – the Red Disa – as well as marked walks and trails.
Allow a good hour – or more – for the drive there; the gardens are about 50 kilometres from Easy Five.
5. Go whale watching in Hermanus
Like Betty’s Bay, the town of Hermanus is a good hour’s drive from Easy Five. But oh, the rewards when you get there! Especially if you’re looking to spot a cetacean or two. Or a hundred.
In June, 2017, CNN Travel listed Hermanus as one of its best places to watch whales around the world because, it said, “There are plenty of whales that can be seen playing mere meters from the shore.”
These are southern right whales, which come here from their cold-water feeding grounds to calve and mate from about May to November. So, naturally, that’s the best time to go. For whales.
There are numerous venues on land where you can look out for them, and multiple tour operators who’ll help you. And if you need information, the good people at Hermanus.co.za have you covered.
Bear in mind, though, that Hermanus isn’t only about its whales; it’s also a wine destination, an adventure destination with horse riding, archery, paragliding, mountain bike trails, sandboarding and more, and it’s a golfing destination, too.
And we know how you love your golf…
Hermanus is about 75 kilometres from Easy Five on the N2 and the R43 via Grabouw and Botrivier.
Image: vorsprung on Pixabay