The accommodation offered in the Tulbagh Valley is of a high standard at exceptionally reasonable cost, therefore making it worthwhile to stay for a few days. Apart from the myriad local attractions, you might consider a couple of day trips into the surrounds – inevitably also via some spectacular mountain passes! This article is the first in a series to raise awareness of what is possible using Tulbagh as a base.
A self-drive day trip to neighbouring town Ceres is truly a delight, named as it is after the Roman goddess of summer. It is also the gateway to adventure...
Meandering slowly along the R 46 from Tulbagh, you might wish to visit Fynbos Farm to view their exotic collection of rescue animals (by appointment) just off the Boontjiesrivier road. Passing the two turnoffs to Wolseley, you might also call in at the Honey Factory shop further on to the right and perhaps venture up to Waverley Hills organic wine and olive estate on the left. The restaurant here, run by chef Francois, is justly renowned in the Valley for creative cuisine coupled with a commanding view of the Breedevallei.
Proceeding through fruit orchards (a mist of pink blossom in spring!) one arrives at the foot of the Michell's Pass, named after Charles Michell, a talented military engineer (perhaps more famous for eloping with the 15-year old daughter of a French colonel, which may explain why he was ‘transferred’ to the Cape!) who went on to become Surveyor-General with a vision of a network of roads through the Cape Colony that would pave the way to the successful growth of the region's economy. In fact, the town of Ceres only became a viable possibility post the completion of the pass in 1849. The speed limit slows here, so take the time to admire the spectacular scenery as you wind your way up this magnificent pass. Just over halfway up on the left you will find the quirky Tolhuis restaurant (affectionately known as the Republic of Roosterkoek) and farm stall. Beloved of breakfast runs out of Cape Town, an idiosyncratic drink and/or meal here is most enjoyable, sitting as one does in a perfect bowl of mountains…
Cresting the pass, do take a moment to admire the panorama of the Warm Bokkeveld opening out in front of you, with the well-named Skurweberge to the left and the Hexrivier & Matroosberge running up to the snowline in winter. Golf-lovers will appreciate Ceres’ 18-hole course to the right (also the home of the Ceres steam train!) and to the left you will find the Ceres Zipline – an invitation to a 2-hour 8-line exhilarating outdoor experience for adventurous souls – flanked by Dejabrew coffee shop and Ceres Tourism’s info office. The town of Ceres itself is particularly beautiful in the autumn when its avenues of pin oaks turn colour, and this bustling market town also offers good shopping. The Togryers museum is a treasure trove for history buffs and one may also taste the fruit juices of this fertile valley there. Time allowing, a visit to Baba’s Jêms in Bester Street is fun and possibly also the factory shop (which produces the famous Celia’s World dried fruits) and winery at Koelfontein (on the R303 to PA Hamlet) might also appeal. Other eateries in Ceres include The Pink Lady, Tremor Coffee Bar, Capish! trattoria, the Oasis and Village restaurants. Being a larger market town, Ceres also boasts familiar chains such as Wimpy, Spur, Steers and KFC.
Winding back down the Michell’s pass you will find plenty of view sites for photo opportunities, but beware of and do not feed the baboons – the kloof actually belongs to them! After winter rain the sight of many small waterfalls running down the mountainsides will greet you, as well as the fynbos bursting into flower. Perhaps you might stop for a refreshing home-made lemonade or ginger beer on the veranda of the Winterberg Inn (justly famous for their Harvest Table Sunday buffet) at the foot of the pass, just off the R46 on the R43 over the bridge. Once again, time allowing, there are two delightfully different farm stalls just adjacent – the Hillbilly and the Creative Hub – which simply teem with local and funky produce.
Do try to time your drive back down the Tulbagh valley for sunset in order to admire the dazzling beauty of the Witzenberg flushing pink in the evening light. Tulbagh will welcome you back into its comfortable hostelries and there is good eating to be had at numerous restaurants, where one can gently reflect on a pleasant day spent exploring the hinterland over a bottle of fine local wine…
Additional seasonal extras:
• The Matroosberg 4x4 route on the farm Erfdeel is arguably one of the most popular off-road routes in the Western Cape and a common route to access snow in winter. (‘Matroosberg’ roughly translated means ‘sailor mountain’ after a pinnacle visible from the Hexrivier valley.) Day passes to the Matroosberg Reserve must be purchased and please note this route is not recommended for novice off-road drivers!
• November/December is cherry picking time at the nextdoor farm Klondyke on the BoSwaarmoed pass 20km outside Ceres. See Ceres Tourism’s website for the cherry route and festival that takes place at this time.
Written by Wendy Upcott March 2018
(With acknowledgement to Trygve Roberts for his cyber Mountain Passes of South Africa)