Bergrivier Region: The Adventure & Experience Capital of the Western Cape
South Africans are embracing travel and getting out and about to satisfy their wanderlust. Covid has changed the way people travel, with many looking for local adventures and seeking off-the-beaten-track destinations – and the Bergrivier region, situated right on Cape Town’s doorstep, certainly delivers on both fronts.
The Bergrivier region is a beautiful area peppered with small towns that offer a vast array of activities and accommodation options, as well as some of the most pristine and untouched nature reserves, wetlands, lagoons, mountain landscapes and more.
Article by: Catherine Pate | Bergrivier Tourism
The perfect local adventure far from the maddening crowds
The towns of Velddrif, Aurora, Piketberg and Porterville in the Bergrivier district are perfect on-trend travel destinations to visit this Summer.
The hugely popular West Coast village of Velddrif hugs the banks of the beautiful Berg River, just a few kilometers from where the river enters the ocean at St Helena Bay.
This lovely town is one of the post popular bird-watching sites in South Africa, with the tidal mudflats and salt marshes presenting more than 200 species of birds – including rare waders seldom seen elsewhere. Visitors can expect to spot graceful flamingos and pelicans, Velddrif is perfectly located to offer a myriad of activities to water-sport enthusiasts, including skiing, sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, boating, stand-up paddling and more. Fishing enthusiasts will be rewarded as the river holds an abundance of fish species. Surf angling is also popular from the beaches alongside Velddrif. Rocherpan Nature Reserve is a short drive from Velddrif, and the Fisheries Museum is well worth a visit to find out about the colourful history of the fishing industry along this coast. The area also offers horse-riding, hiking, and mountain biking trails.
For a more sedate pace, there are options such as gin and beer tasting, and retail therapy in the many interesting local shops and gift stores. A boat cruise up the river is a must-do experience, and Bokkomlaan – the oldest road in the town that snakes up the edge of the Berg River – is a great place to relax and watch the tide come in while sipping freshly roasted artisanal coffee. Or sit on a jetty with a cocktail. Also visit the art gallery and eclectic shops dotted along this quaint dirt road. Bokkomlaan is named after the salted mullet strung into bunches and hung to dry like biltong. It is the signature local delicacy in this area.
Velddrif is a foodie’s paradise! Whether your appetite is calling for a hearty breakfast, wood-fired pizza, hamburgers, crispy fresh salads, artisanal baked-treats and cakes, vegetarian dishes, traditional country fare or anything in between – this area offers it all from a wide variety of eateries to suite all tastes and budgets. The restaurants in town are known for serving up some of the freshest seafood delicacies – to be savoured whilst overlooking the beautiful Berg River with a chilled glass of wine or ice-cold cooldrink. From eclectic and rustic to fine-dining or take-aways enjoyed as fun family picnics – there truly is something for everyone here – served with typical West Coast hospitality.
Like everything else in Velddrif – there is an abundance of accommodation options available to appeal to everyone. Many glorious locations up and down the Berg River offer accommodation which ranges from rustic to luxury, as well as various camping sites which enjoy exceptional views. In the town itself, visitors can choose from self-catering apartments, cottages, and holiday homes, as well as B&B’s, guesthouses, and hotels.
Just inland from Velddrif, along a stretch of beautiful country road, lies the picturesque town of Aurora, nestled at the foot of the Piketberg Mountains, 185km from Cape Town.
This small, once unheard-of gem is a village of hidden surprises where visitors can look forward to breath-taking scenery, beautiful architecture, and a rich and warm welcome from the local community. Added to this are the incredible night skies, the abundant flowers to be found here in Spring, beautiful mountain scenery with dramatic rock formations, and a wide variety of bird life – making Aurora a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Established in 1906 and named after Ceylonia Aurora Perreira, the daughter of the first Dutch Reformed minister in the area, the town has an interesting history that gives new meaning to the saying “things are going pear-shaped.” It was here that a French astronomer set up an observatory and declared that the world was pear-shaped – a finding that had the astronomical world up in arms for decades whilst they tried to prove otherwise.
Be sure to visit the impressive Dutch Reformed Church while in town, and take a trip to McClear’s Beacon, a national monument situated on the farm Klipfontein which was used by the 18th century French astronomer, Abby de la Caille, to measure the shape of the earth in the southern hemisphere. Also take a drive up the mountain in the Danielshoogte Private Reserve and experience spectacular views of the valley – on clear days, Table Mountain and St Helena Bay can be seen.
Die Rooi Granaat Restaurant and the Koekeloer @ Koffiemoer Coffee Shop are highly recommended stopovers in Aurora for hungry travelers.
Another 50km inland from Aurora will see experience-seeking road-trippers finding their way to the town of Piketberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Piketberg Mountain range and surrounded by a tapestry of wheat fields, vineyards, fruit farms and indigenous fynbos bearing beautiful blooms in Spring.
This historic village, which was established in 1836 and is named after the impressive mountain that it clings to, draws visitors looking to enjoy – amongst many other things – the stunning natural surrounds, the abundant outdoor activities, good food, good wine, attractive architecture, warm country hospitality and rich heritage.
A fascinating new self-guided tour was recently launched in Piketberg which takes visitors on a journey back in time to experience the rich history and historic buildings of this beautiful village. The Piketberg Historical Route is the best way to experience the heritage of this town, with its gorgeously restored cottages and the imposing neo-gothic style Dutch Reformed Church. Stops along the way, in addition to the church, include the Commercial Hotel, old Sheriff’s Office and original police station, the original bioscope, and the Piketberg Museum. In total the route has 12 points of interest and visitors can walk or drive to each at their leisure.
Piketberg offers an array of accommodation options. Highly recommended are the Cornerstone Guest House, De Berge Guest House, Elfreda’s B&B, Hagenheim B&B, The Views Guest House and Vue de Montagne. Great self-catering options include @1926, Home With A View, and Lemontree.
Good news for visitors is that the town, and nearby surrounds, offers a wide selection of eateries to cater to all tastes. From a large franchise steakhouse to quaint coffee shops, cafés, and restaurants. For those looking to refuel, be sure to pop in at Bravo Wine & Food which serves up a smorgasbord of sweet and savoury offerings. Just outside of town, along a scenic drive up the Piekenierskloof pass is the Kardoesie Restaurant and farm stall. Slightly further along is the Kloof Restaurant at the Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort. For wine lovers, a visit to Org-de-Rac, the local organic winery to sample the fruits of the local vineyards is highly recommended. Sipping the Estates delicious wines while watching the sun set from the beautifully elevated position is a perfect way to round out a day in Piketberg, and the wine and cheese pairing of offer, as well as the fresh oysters and MCC are highly recommended.
There is a wealth of activities to enjoy while staying in Piketberg – such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, wine-tasting, hang gliding, and paragliding. Alternatively, you can opt to relax and savour the natural beauty surrounding you – indigenous fynbos, rock formations, beautiful sunsets, and night skies which, unaffected by light pollution, offer a phenomenal star display. On the last Saturday of every month is the Piket Bo-Berg Farmers Market, which takes place on the Kruistementvlei Farm in the mountains above Piketberg from 09h00 to 12h00. This event has become an institution for locals and visitors alike – attracting foodies from as far afield as Cape Town who drive through to purchase the hand-crafted items and delicious goodies, ranging from crispy croissants and baked treats to artisanal charcuterie meats and the valley’s own fresh fruit, as well as olive oil on tap and mead made the traditional way – all to be viewed, bought, and savoured under the shade of beautiful old oak trees. There are also stalls that sell items such as books, olive products and beautifully crafted wooden games and items for the home.
Before heading away from Piketberg, be sure to visit the neighbouring town of Goedverwacht, which was established in 1889 as a Moravian Mission station and is a place rich in history.
This fascinating little settlement is characterized by historic whitewashed thatched homes with brightly painted windows and doors. The old water mill – now the Mill Museum, the parsonage as well as the church are all National Monuments and are well worth a visit.
The beautiful and imposing Moravian Church, built in 1846 out of clay and stone, is truly a spectacular site to behold. Visitors can stock up on freshly grown produce at the local co-op and enjoy a picnic in the picturesque surrounds.
Last but certainly not least on the list of highly recommended towns to visit this summer is Porterville, a quaint village nestled on the slopes of the Olifant’s River Mountains at the base of the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area – only 150 kilometres from Cape Town.
Long known as the home of the rare Disa Uniflora flower, as well as a paragliding and hang-gliding capital, this beautiful town – once considered a hidden gem – has now been dubbed as one of the most desirable and popular country towns in the Western Cape – attracting artisans, entrepreneurs, retirees, and families who have triggered a groundswell of growth as new tourism and lifestyle offerings spring up in and around the town – in turn drawing a growing number of welcomed visitors.
Porterville has so much to offer that travelers would be well-advised to book in and stay for a few days. Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation options – from quaint self-catering cottages to luxury B&B’s and guesthouses, country farm-stays, secluded mountain retreats, renowned camping spots and more – Porterville presents it all.
For foodies there are a myriad of coffee shops, restaurants, and eateries – as well as a popular weekly Farmers Market that draws visitors in their droves. Gin enthusiasts can enjoy a gin-tasting and tapas experience at the boutique distillery in the mountains above Porterville. An art experience is highly recommended as Porterville is home to a large community of artists. Visit them in their studios to view and buy a wide range of art from ceramics to paintings and jewellery.
Outdoor enthusiasts are also in for a treat with a visit to Porterville, which offers a variety of hiking trails to fascinating destinations like De Hel (the hell) and De Tronk (the jail) where impressive rock formations can be found. There is also an uphill waterfall trail dotted with 22 waterfalls snaking their way down the mountainside, interspersed with crystal clear pools for a cooling dip. Mountain-bikers will love the many trails that wind their way through the surrounding countryside. For those keen to truly test their adrenalin levels, there are companies which offer tandem-paragliding experiences off the Dasklip Pass. Botanists can view tracts of the rare Disa Uniflora during its flowering season.
Whether it is birdwatching, river cruising, canoeing, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horse-riding, paragliding, enjoying delicious food and great wine, gin-tasting, or just relaxing and re-energizing in nature – there is so much to do in the Bergrivier area that visitors are truly spoilt for choice, which is great news for people yearning to grab life with both hands. All of these towns promise a great escape for the entire family, but without huge crowds, meaning visitors can keep to Covid distancing protocols as well.