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LOCAL TIME: 12:06 pm | Saturday, 08 August
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Doing the Outeniqua Hop

This route may have been named after the major crop of the area, hops, but the Outeniqua Country Hop is far more than a one-trick pony…

Outeniqua hop

Stretching from Mosselbaai to Wilderness, and inland to the Outeniqua Mountains, ‘Hops Country’ offers thrills, intrigue and relaxation, from shark cage diving and canoe trails to fresh farm produce and wonderful accommodation.

In fact, Elsa Hall from Outeniqua Orchids has become famous for her award-winning specimens, proving that hops isn’t the only thing that grows in the area. Having come from a world of dressage and horse breeding, she’s developed her passion for these exquisite flowers into a blossoming business, boasting prize-winning, show-worthy plants in an abundance of sizes and varieties at her nursery in George. Elsa is all about personal attention and building up relationships with her clients, and is happy to offer advice on the finer points of orchid growing. Customers can even order plants to be delivered, already potted, to their homes.

But orchids may seem a little tame for some, in which case you should ask Eden Adventures to tailor something to your needs. Situated on the Touw River in the Wilderness National Park, they offer affordable family outings, guided canoe trips, kloofing, abseiling and team building. I was fortunate enough to join guide Steve Singeni for a canoe trip up theTouw River.

Now, I’ve never been much of a birdwatcher but thanks to Steve’s enthusiasm and the huge numbers of kingfishers we saw on our 40-minute trip, even I was getting excited. Half-collared, Brown-hooded, Pied and even Giant Kingfishers – we saw them all. As we paddled we chatted, Steve pointing out a few of the Eden Adventures walking trails that emerged out of the beautiful forest around us. Then, when the canoes could go no further in the shallowing river, we reached a 2km boardwalk that leads to a spectacular waterfall and takes about 40 minutes to complete.

The Montague pass

The Montague pass

For those keen on experiencing nature, Mark Dixon’s Garden Route Trail is a day full of information and activity. In the morning, Mark. a scientist, led us on a ‘casual’ stroll through the forest, uncovering a detailed universe of possibility and evolution.

I don’t think that a single thing, living or inanimate, exposed a chink in his knowledge. We learned about the tastes and uses of plants, about the natural enemy of the Port Jackson tree (which is a wasp, by the way), and even about a suicidal male spider that leaves its genitalia behind after mating.

We also happened upon an old strandloper midden that raised questions that would remain unanswered, even by Mark. An afternoon paddle unveiled more of the magnificent scenery of the area to us, and the sighting of a magnificent Spotted Eagle Owl almost completed my conversion to birding.

Then, weary from a full day’s learning, I retired early at the Farm House Lodge in George.The following morning my gracious hostess, Liz Nettlefold, spoilt me with a bountiful breakfast, making it that much harder to get on my way. But as sorry as I was to leave, the drive over the Montagu Pass in search of Herald Wines soon cheered me up, and I was constantly pulling over for photographs. Herald Wines is set against a backdrop of Cradock Peak and is as spectacular as a wine estate is meant to be. Vivien Harpur is the lucky winemaker who runs the whole show, nurturing the farm and producing the excellent wines, including the Pinot Noir that the estate is best known for. The farm also offers affordable accommodation, as well as hikes and bushman art sites.

Mark Miller and one of his berries

Mark Miller and one of his berries

I continued the fruity theme with my next visit, to Redberry Farm. This pick-your-own strawberry farm comes complete with a miniature train for the young and young at heart, as well as a maze that is made up of 30 000 Eugenia plants, with 10 000 metres of pathway and a ‘Tunnel of Doom’ for the brave. The fifth annual Outeniqua Country Hop Strawberry Festival takes place here on the 25 and 26 September 2010, and a myriad of activities and stalls are planned, including a strawberry eating competition, a pie fest, pony shows and even more entertainment for children.

Redberry Farm is geared towards family outings, being very relaxed and child-friendly, and I picked up a couple of interesting facts while I was there. For instance, did you know that strawberries are the only fruit that bear their seeds on the outside, all 200 of them? And the flavour of a strawberry is enhanced if you cut it open. And finally, a strawberry contains antioxidants as well as having other medicinal values. With all of this is mind, I decided to take a punnet back to my home for the night, the Malvern Manor guest house, in the farmlands just outside of George.

The driveway to Malvern Manor guest house

The driveway to Malvern Manor guest house

No country hop would be complete without sampling some of the local cheese, so I wandered on over to Silver Lily cheese farm, renowned for their heavenly Dutch-style cheeses. Here, cheese master Marianne Schroeder creates over 10 different varieties, all of which can be tasted on a platter. The beautiful cheese rounds are stored in racks, arranged by colour – red for Gouda, black for smoked and green for the various different herb cheeses. Other than selling its produce, the farm offers picnics on the grounds and a strange type of Dutch croquet called ‘klompen golf’.

The Outeniqua Country Hop might sound a brief affair but I discovered that it is in fact a personal and exciting route through some of the most pristine land in our country, and can easily fill a couple of interesting days. And, now that it is organised, we don’t need to go through the rigmarole of trial and error. Instead we can just hop along to the destination of our choice.

Text and pictures by Daniel Snyders. This article features courtesy of Country Life magazine.

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More info on the town of Mossel Bay More info on the Garden Route area

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