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WWinelands ecotourism shows another side to the Cape winelands. Already familiar with the region’s wine tastings, wonderful restaurants and multitude of cultural and outdoor pursuits, visitors are increasingly interested in learning more about the community improvement programmes, conservation efforts and sustainability measures of their favourite wine farms.
Winelands ecotourism goes hand-in-hand with a day in the winelands. After all, most of South Africa's vineyards lie in the Cape Floral Region world heritage site, the world's smallest, yet richest, plant kingdom.
South Africa is a world leader when it comes to sustainable wine production and biodiversity conservation, courtesy of the establishment of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative in 2004.
TThe conservation partnership with the Botanical Society of South Africa, Conservation International and the Green Trust – which aims to minimise the loss of threatened natural habitats and to promote sustainable wine production through better production and management practices on farms – is working. In 2008, for the first time, the conservation footprint in the winelands exceeded the vineyard footprint.
One of the ways that Cape wine producers have achieved this remarkable turnaround is by getting together to form conservancies and developing ecotourism activities in the winelands.
The Green Mountain Eco Route, the world's first biodiversity wine route, offers mountain biking, scenic nature, wine, fruit and flower farms and the Green Mountain Trail, a luxury slackpack hike where all your gear is transported for you, so you can enjoy fynbos hikes, bird spotting and superb local food and wine.
North-west of Cape Town, the Darling Wine Route offers numerous wine ecotourism activities, from spring wildflower displays to game drives at Burgherspost Wine Estate and the Buffelsfontein Nature Reserve.
The Darling Stagger, billed as a ‘slow-paced, mouth-watering hiking trail from the hills of Darling through wine and olive farms to the coast’, will delight mountain bikers, twitchers, botanists and families. In Yzerfontein, near Darling, the !Khwa ttuSan culture and education centre is another must-do ecotour.
Around Simonsberg, 24 landowners have established the Greater SimonsbergConservancy. Visitors should call in at the Delvera Agri-Tourism Centre to find out more about the wealth of walking, hiking, birdwatching and mountain-biking pursuits available – including a full-moon hike each month to Klapmutskop, through an indigenous yellowwood forest, for uninterrupted views of False Bay, Table Mountain, Franschhoek and Paarl.
In the Helderberg, 6 wine farms in the Schapenberg Hills in the Somerset West/Sir Lowry's Pass vicinity have joined forces to create the Schapenberg Sir Lowry's Conservancy, and have launched biodiversity wine trails called Walks for Wine, which traverse important biodiversity corridors with the aim of educating the public as to their importance, while at the same time raising funds towards their restoration and preservation.
For wine lovers seeking the human side of conservation, Dreamcatcher is a Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa-endorsed ‘alternative’ winelands ecotour that visits wine estates with a proven commitment to their employees. It also provides opportunities to live and cook with the local women from the area.
The Franschhoek Wine Valley’s community tourism route, called the Rond en BontRoute, includes a number of sub-routes with themes covering freedom, culture, cuisine, education and archaeology.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Walks for Wine
Tel: +27 (0)21 858 1532
Cell: +27 (0)82 4623 624
Darling Tourism Association
Tel: +27 (0)22 492 3361
Green Mountain Eco Route
Tel: +27 (0)21 844 0605
Cell: (after hours): +27 (0)82 320 2060
Rond en Bont Route
Tel: +27(0)21 876 2861
Tel: +27 (0)21 696 6004
Cell: +27 (0)76 497 9306
The Greater Simonsberg Conservancy
Tel: +27 (0)79 276 3638
Best time to visit
Owing to the Cape’s winter rainfall patterns, some outdoor ecotourism activities may be affected by the weather.
Ecotourism activities typically take place outdoors and may involve travel on gravel and dirt roads. Enquire about access and directions when you book an activity.
What will it cost?
Contact the conservancy or the local tourism office to find out prices for hikes, walks and other activities.
Length of stay
Wine eco-walks can last from half a day to 5 days. Game drives usually last a few hours. Wine farm and community tours can last from a few hours to week-long stays.
What to pack
For a day hike, sun protection and spare water is always necessary. For longer excursions, your tour guide will provide a packing list.