The Stellenbosch Wine Routes in South Africa are indeed one of the best places on the planet if you like fine wine and expertly prepared foods. I know I certainly enjoyed the fine living side of the region, but as an active traveler I need to always incorporate some more adrenaline pumping moments no matter where I am. That’s how I felt one afternoon when, after finishing an amazing lunch at the world-renowned Tokara Restaurant I opted not to take a nap, but instead to put on my hiking shoes and venture out into the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, one of the most beautiful places I had never heard of before.
The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas in South Africa are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, one of just a few in South Africa, thanks to the incredible diversity found amongst the plant life. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora. Think about that fact for a moment and just how extraordinary it is. Jonkershoek, just outside of the city of Stellenbosch, is part of this region and it was armed with this newly acquired knowledge that I jumped out of the jeep and entered the reserve.
Jonkershoek is large, very large actually and the sun was starting to set so I was joined in my short but memorable hike by Raino, from the – a local adventure travel company that helps people navigate the beautiful mountains and valleys in the region. Our goal was a nearby waterfall, but first we would traipse through the scrubby fynbos to get there.
Even the drive into the park was amazing; incomprehensibly ancient mountains with green, velvety folds lined the way as the sun cast shadows across them. We were utterly alone as we started along the trail, navigating large rocks and scraggly outcroppings along the way. About mid-way through I realized that I was focusing too much on my next step so as not to trip and decided to stop and just soak in the atmosphere. I lost my breathe as the natural scene unfolded around me. It was gorgeous, shockingly so and not for the first time I wondered why every visitor to the region didn’t make this a mandatory stop.
Talking with Raino I learned that many people do indeed visit just for the Reserve, everyone from professional mountain bikers to amateur walkers like myself, all find solace in the simultaneously imposing but welcoming landscapes. We did eventually find that waterfall and it was nice, but the journey there was so much more special than the stream cascading over the rocks. I felt lucky, again not for the first time, that I found myself in the middle of nowhere, but a wilderness that is within a stone’s throw of town. This is why not only Stellenbosch but all of South Africa is such a very special place to visit. For these moments of natural immersion, of getting lost in the landscape in a way that no other place on Earth can match.
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