The treasures of Swellendam
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
Last week we released another exciting batch of reserves to our trail maps library; two conservation areas which flank either side of arguably one of the country's most scenic towns - Marloth Nature Reserve and Bontebok National Park.
Swellendam sits pretty watched over by the Langeberg Mountains to the north-east where peaks named Tienuur, Elfuur and Twaalfuurkop ensure that time does not move with haste in this Overberg gem. To the south-west, the serpentine Breede River slithers between canola and wheat fields and lapping at cliffs as it makes its way south to where it drains into the Indian Ocean near Witsand. The town itself has a rich history. The Khoi-San inhabited the area for many centuries, trading with passers-by, before the Dutch settlers arrived and set up a settlement which was to be known as Swellendam back in 1743, while the district was established just two years later, making it the third-oldest town in South Africa (after Cape Town and Stellenbosch). After much angst revolt, it was declared a sovereign republic in 1795, but thankfully the town today is a place of more harmony and peace and surrounded by some of the finest trails the province and country has to offer.
Marloth Nature Reserve protects outstanding areas of fynbos, renosterveld and Afromontane forest along the Langeberg, which is also a critical water source (catchment) area. There are several hikes ranging from easy ambles to the renowned but tough 4 to 5-day Swellendam Trail - a route of famed existence in South African hiking lore. Places like Duiwelsbos, Die Plaat and Koloniesbos offer an escape into something out of a fairytale where waterfalls plunge down quartzite cliffs and lush indigenous forests hold scores of Nature's secrets.
While the reserve can be explored as a day visit, CapeNature (who manage the reserve) also have two outstandingly appointed cottages, while there are countless accommodation options in and around the town of Swellendam.
Our personal favourite hikes are to the Duiwelsbos Waterfall and enjoying a mountain-brewed coffee on the Plaat path. That said, we're itching to experience at least some of the Swellendam Trail soon.
As if having Marloth in the backyard isn't enough, Swellendam also has a National Park on its doorstep. Bontebok is South Africa's smallest National Park, proclaimed as far back as 1931 in order to save the Bontebok Damaliscus pygargus, which at the time were nearly completely exterminated, as their numbers dwindled to less than 20 individuals due to hunting. They have since been saved and they are now considered to have healthy populations. While you are almost certainly likely to spot these emblematic antelope, there are several other species of game of various sizes and surprisingly prolific birdlife to be spotted along Bontebok's neat road and trail network. Short and generally easy walking trails skirt the Breede River, between Lang Elsie's Kraal Rest Camp and Die Stroom Picnic Site (a fantastic spot for a summer swim!). For those more inclined to wheels, the park can be easily explored by mountain-bike via The Cobra MTB Trail. For those that want to wake up to the sounds of birdsong and the languid sounds of the Breede flowing, there are several well-appointed chalets and campsites at Lang Elsie's Kraal Rest Camp, which can be booked through SANParks.
If this isn't enough to whet the appetite, we don't know what is. This town, its people and its ambience are tonics for the soul.
For more information on the area and various trail and adventure options, see the Friends of Marloth website. They also have one of the most beautiful Instagram accounts, which truly does this town justice, if you need still need convincing.
As always please do send feedback and if you visit these trails, tag us @forge_sa on your Instagram posts.
Be sure to get the free Forge App on your mobile and download our offline Explore More maps to take with you onto the mountain, then share the stoke using #IAMFORGE.
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