I once thought that Swellendam was just another sleepy little dorpie – one that only woke up once a year for the Berry Festival and barely cranked open an eyelid for the holiday season road trippers that zoomed between Cape Town and the Garden Route. I was wrong!
While everyday life in a small town is naturally slower than the rodent marathon of the bigger cities, the natural splendour of Swellendam lends itself to a number of exciting outdoor adventures. From hiking and horse trails, to paddling down or micro lighting over a river, our recent #swellenblog journey revealed an element of fun around every dirt road bend.
1. Umshanti Buffeljags Watersport
There is so much adventure at Umshanti Buffeljags Watersport that you could spend the entire day and still come back for more – especially once you factor in the hours spent gawking at the magical views. As the sun skirts the heads of the mountains that rise like sentinels out of the water, the clouds catch alight and their reflection sets the trees around the dam on fire. You can paddle out on a canoe or hire the boat for a sundowner cruise, but the best way to spend these twilight moments is in the air, in Oom Kosie’s micro light.
- Micro lighting: Sometimes I worry that my fear instinct has short circuited. Despite the micro light resembling a skeletal model airplane and having nothing more than a lap seat belt to keep me in, I felt safe knowing Oom Kosie has over 20 years’ experience. And when he suggested keeping the flight short because I only had a light jersey, I said I’d rather freeze than miss out. He obliged with an extra lap, soaring high above flocks of birds, where mountains became molehills and the farm roads were little more than a cartographer’s sketch. The highlight was gliding low along the surface of the dam and up the embankment where my fellow bloggers seemed to be within an arm’s reach. My shrieks of delight that pierced through Oom Kosie’s headphones are testament that this is one of my best experiences ever!
- Fuffi Slide: The 220m fuffi slide plummets 45m from a ridge into a shallow section of the dam. If ever there was a way to break the ice between 30 odd strangers watching from the double decker boat, it is to do the fuffi Des-style. What you may not know before attempting the fuffi is that you land in a “belly flop” rather than on your bum. Unfortunately I hadn’t packed a swimming kit and did the fuffi in stretchy pants (it was that or jeans), so when my ankles hit the water, my pants slid down and were only saved by the harness around my legs. I landed awkwardly, trying not to reveal my derrière to the entire crowd, but my only saving grace was a thin curtain of reeds. It was great fun, but I will be properly dressed next time!
- Boat cruise: The double decker boat is a relaxing way to experience the peaceful setting. There’s even a braai on board so you can take your time. On the mountain side of the dam you’ll find a winding river trail through the kloof where you can paddle a canoe to see the 2 waterfalls.
- Other: Fish, swim, canoe, hike, and cycle, or bring your own boat for watersports (permits available at the main office).
Stay: Umshanti has affordable self-catering cottages and camping sites for the ultimate adventure getaway!
GPS: S3401’12 E2032’37 | 028 5123787 | [email protected]
2. Swellendam Getaway Adventure Farm (The Berry Farm)
A great day outing for all ages is the Swellendam Getaway Adventure Farm – a mouthful that can be summarized to “Yay!” Host, Henri De Jager, along with his wife and son, will keep you entertained for hours with their fuffi slide (land based, yay!), paintball where you aim for posters and bottles of powder paint in the forest rather than people (yay!), and quad bikes with their very own track and ramp (yay!). The berry maze is still in its early stages, but despite the low-lying bushes it’s no easy task finding your way to the centre of this labyrinth. If that’s not enough, you can also enjoy walking and cycling trails, practice golf on the driving range, pick berries in season, and do a liqueur tasting. After all the fun and games, the bar area on the banks of the dam is the perfect spot to unwind.
Stay: Arumvale offers lovely self-catering cottages that are perfect for a visit to the Berry Farm.
GPS: 34°00.518 S, 020°25.558 E | 082 4218555 | [email protected]
3. Croc-paddling at Stonehill River Lodge
If you dare to paddle an inflatable raft through a pool of vicious crocodiles, then croc-paddling is way too tame for you. For everyone else, croc-paddling at Stonehill River Lodge is highly recommended. Croc-paddling has nothing to do with crocs, unless of course you choose to don a pair while you paddle. River guide, Neill Rupping, gave us a thorough “how to” before launching us off in pairs to navigate our way along the Breede River, meandering between the banks of fynbos, milkwood, and giant aloes. We fought the wintery wind, bounded over a small rapid, and laughed out loud as Lisa and Ovi ping-ponged from one bank to the next in their failed attempts to paddle straight. As we marvelled at the beauty and stillness of nature, Neill pointed out a shallow river crossing that was used by the Voortrekkers over 200 years ago, and for just a moment we could imagine a life in yesteryear.
Stay: Stonehill River Lodge offers elegant 4-star self-catering units along the banks of the river. The units are spacious, with big windows to soak in the view, and a fireplace to keep you toasty after a paddle on the river.
GPS: -34.11597, 20.52352 | 086 0022 102 | [email protected]
4. Two Feathers Horse Trails
As much as I love hiking, the rhythmic clip-clopping of hooves and being able to focus on the view more than my own feet convinces me that the most beautiful way to explore Swellendam’s mountain trails is by horseback. Guided by Stephanie, owner of Two Feathers Horse Trails, our little entourage set off for an early morning ride as thick grey clouds draped low on the fat mountain folds. I have a track record of being paired with the “dud of the stud”, so I was surprised when my horse, Tequila, turned out to be totally compliant and poor Ovi ended up being the one lagging half a kilometre behind. Cue 5 minutes before the end of our ride. We’re still not sure whether he lost his footing or started sleep walking (who knew that was a thing?), but Tequila sure lived up to his name by dropping to his knees in a “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor” stunt. Luckily it wasn’t serious and I managed to stay on – and I’m sure I’ll never forget dear Tequila.
Stay: If you want to enjoy the best of town and nature, Gaikou Lodge is a 4-star B&B situated on the outskirts of Swellendam, only a short walk from the Two Feathers Horse Trails. The units are modern and spacious, with big comfy beds and a bathtub worth squealing about.
5 Lichtenstein Street, Swellendam | 086 0022 102 | [email protected]
5. Whale Trail at De Hoop
With a jam-packed #swellenblog itinerary, we didn’t have time to do the Whale Trail coastal walk at De Hoop Nature Reserve, but 15 minutes at the Koppie Alleen beach was enough to convince us that this unspoiled 55km shoreline is worth exploring. De Hoop is an iconic marine protected area so there is no fishing or harvesting allowed. A snap shot of the area will reveal between 600 and 700 Southern Right Wales during whale season, with the population growing up to 7% every year. Owner, William Stephens, has spotted no less than 70 whales at a given time. Although you won’t see whales as up close as in De Kelders, De Hoop bay is better for land-based whale spotting than Hermanus.
Stay: De Hoop offers a variety of accommodation, including luxury Manor Suites, self-catering cottages, and camping sites. Its remote location makes it ideal for a relaxing holiday.
GPS: -34.454796, 20.399618 | 028 542 1253 | [email protected]
Which adventure attraction would you love to visit?
Disclaimer: #swellenblog was a media bloggers trip organised by Swellendam Tourism Brand Manager, Amanda Shackley. I was there by invitation on behalf of TravelGround and did not pay for any of the abovementioned activities. All thoughts and photographs are my own.