Guarding the gateway to the winelands is Somerset West – one of the Cape’s best kept secrets. Often overlooked as an outlying district that’s not as hip as Stellies nor as cool as Cape Town, Somerset West is the prime spot for off-the-beaten-track travellers.
Flee the big city and find your way to an area of secluded beauty, where mountain ranges span the city walls, the ocean beckons just beyond the horizon and wild animals roam free from vineyard to forest. You may think all there is to do in and around Somerset West is drink wine – but then again, you may just be wrong. Head out into the hinterland for a different kind of day with these 5 unusual things to do in Somerset West.
Hike the Helderberg
Courtesy of Bryn de Kocks via Infinite Focus Photography
The Helderberg Nature Reserve, set on the southern slopes of the Helderberg Mountains, is a protected 402 hectare stretch of endemic fynbos. It’s home to the Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos, the critically endangered Swartland Shale Renosterveld and the threatened Cape Winelands Shale Fynbos. Pack a picnic and put a penny towards conservationist efforts by paying a small entrance fee to enter the reserve. Once there, take a turn past the information centre to learn more about the fauna and flora of the area.
To get a more in-the-field education, take out those takkies for a guided day or night Fynbos hike with Friends of Helderberg Reserve. The routes range from 3km to 10km and are suitable for hikers of all levels. During the sunshine summer months, this full-power volunteer committee organises music concerts showcasing the best in local talent. Spread out your picnic blanket and sway to the sounds of various artists from rock n roll to reggae or symphonic to salsa. For more information on upcoming events, check out their Facebook page: Friends of Helderberg Nature Reserve.
Visit the cheetah sanctuary at Cheetah Outreach
Courtesy of Cheetah Outreach
This community-based program serves as a conservation sanctuary to one of the world’s fastest land animals, which sadly is slowly starting to lose the race of survival. There are only 6600 cheetahs roaming the wild today, a handful of which roam Somerset West. Out to the winelands and into the wild, take a turn past the Cheetah Outreach for an educational African experience.
Bring the family along for one of the many activities available. Free guided tours happen every hour, encounters with cheetah adults, cubs and bat-eared foxes can be booked at the gate, public cheetah runs enthrall crowds November through April, and taking cheetah cubs out for a walk is also on the cards. In addition to its myriad activities, the outreach program also offers curriculum-linked school presentations and workshops, bus-to-us services for visiting learners from locals schools and a guard dog breeding programme.
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Enjoy a Historical Garden Tour
Courtesy of Vergelegen Wines
Swig back on 300 years of historical culture at Vergelegen Wine Estate as you join the likes of Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II and Desmond Tutu in visiting this stately site. The sprawling grounds boast 17 unique gardens each with its own historical tale to tell. Wine and dine on a white picnic spread amongst camphor trees planted in 1700. Or marvel at the magnificence of “The Royal Oak” planted in 1928 as an acorn acquired from King Albert’s last remaining oaks at Blenheim Palace.
Seep in the essence of the estate’s heritage in the originally fashioned Homestead, turn back the pages of time in the wine cellar cum Library or listen for the faint sounds of years gone by at the Slave Lodge site. And, if after all this you’re still thirsty for more, you can take a taste of the estate’s many award winning wines.
Watch an Amateur Theatre Show
Courtesy of Broni.dbPhotography
Playhouse Theatre is the place-to-be for the best amateur performances in Somerset West. It sets stage to shows by local schools, companies and community groups and has seen the debut of many successful acting careers.
This cultural icon is run by the Hottentots Hollands Dramatic Society. Founded in 1947, it is one of the oldest dramatic societies in the Western Cape and has recently earned an NPO status. Support this community run project by treating yourself to a night at the theatre, sponsoring a seat in your name or helping out anywhere from the bar to backstage. And if you fancy yourself a star in the making, why not find yourself on centre stage for a stellar show.
Visit a Biodynamic Wine Farm
Courtesy of Waterkloof Wines
On the south facing slopes of the Schapenberg, Waterkloof Wine Estate crowns the crest of the coolest wine growing region in the area. But the coolest thing about this wine is not where it is, but how it is grown. Waterkloof is one of very few farms around that uses biodynamic farming methods to cultivate its grapes and its community. Over 50% of the farm is set aside for conservationist efforts to protect the Cape Floral Kingdom which is one of the world’s recognised biodiversity hotspots.
See sightings of majestic Percheron horses ploughing the land in place of tractors, Dorper sheep deweeding during winter, a herd of cows kept for fermented fertiliser and chickens monitoring the pest control. If the variety of farm animals and holistic farming methods aren’t impressive enough, then a fine dining experience at Eat Out Award Winning The Restaurant with an expansive view of False Bay beneath your feet or a cheese tasting at Healey’s will certainly please the palate.