Elgin’s shared secret: The Groenlandberg
The concept of nature as a shared resource is seldom heartily embraced like it is in Elgin’s Groenlandberg Conservancy. Built around a patchwork of various, private tracts of land, this growing movement is the result of a collective of forward-thinking landowners with shared values in biodiversity conservation, and social and environmental sustainability.
Since 1898, the fertile Elgin Valley has been home to many deciduous fruit farms, and apples and pears are still the iconic harvest that many know it by today. But in recent years, the region has given birth to an additional yield: Elgin cool climate wines – and with this, an entirely new tourism opportunity.
Making the most of Elgin’s enchanting natural surrounds and fabulous wining and dining is the Green Mountain Trail: a 4-day slackpacking hike through the Groenlandberg and Houw Hoek mountains. Under the care and hospitality of Alison Green, Chairperson of the Groenlandberg Conservancy and owner of Wildekrans Country House, I had the joy of experiencing a section of the trail – and these guys are onto something…
Our day’s adventure launched into action just as the rain did, but we certainly weren’t complaining (a bird’s-eye view of the dwindling Eikenhof Dam was a constant reminder of the Cape’s dire need for rain.) As we began our meandering ascent, I noticed what appeared to be a vertical cliff-face carved into the earth alongside us. Our knowledgeable guide, Evan Kortje, explained that we were following the original Viljoenshoop Pass, a thoroughfare for ox-wagons in years long past.
As we crested the next rise, the Green Mountain began to live up to its name: a carpet of emerald-green fynbos covered the mountainside, and adding to this, electric, yellow-green patches of Golden Leucadendrons were scattered across every inch of the landscape. Such was my incredible luck that our timing coincided with the onset of Protea flowering season, and we no sooner found ourselves surrounded by a giant cluster of King Proteas. As we ogled and photographed the magnificent flower-heads, Evan explained that the name Protea cynaroides is in fact derived from the plant’s uncanny similarity to the artichoke (Cynara scolymus).
Continuing, I looked ahead and noted how the trail would straddle natural fynbos and agricultural land the whole way, epitomising how these generations-old, family-run farms are proactively striving for harmony between their commercial operations and conservation of the region’s natural assets. Alien vegetation clearing, wildlife monitoring, and community-focused environmental education are some of the initiatives that these farms are actively engaging in, with the aim of maintaining richly biodiverse and resilient natural ecosystems. Almost all of the farms along the trail are proud WWF Conservation Champions (borne out of the Biodiversity in Wine Initiative and indicated by * below) and hikers are encouraged to ‘walk with an alien’, a project in which walking sticks are carved out of cleared alien vegetation by the local community.
Then of course there are the creature comforts, which this adventure has no shortage of! My day’s hike ended with a warming wine-tasting at Paul Cluver, and this was really just a smidgen of the earnest, country hospitality to be enjoyed along the trail. Farms visited include *Oak Valley, *Paul Cluver, Porcupine Hills, *Wildekrans Country House and Beaumont Wines – each one a delightful establishment in its own right, with delicious food and hearty hospitality all round.
Walking from farm to farm and learning about the various initiatives at play, I felt a real sense of ‘togetherness’ – a genuine collective motivation to tackle shared environmental risks and opportunities. Stewardship approaches like these are essential to the success of biodiversity conservation in the Western Cape, seeing that by far the largest proportion of land identified as a conservation priority, is in private hands.
The Table Mountain Fund is proud to assist with funding in this respect, and is currently responsible for the funding of two of the Groenlandberg Conservancy’s core projects: the first one focuses on the integrated restoration of the Jakkals River ecosystem; and the second, made possible by a donation from Nedbank, is a year-long ‘firewise and environmental awareness’ education programme for children who go to school within the Conservancy. Also indispensable to the Conservancy’s success is CapeNature’s support, in the way of knowledge sharing, integration of ideas and programmes, and collective conservation efforts where boundaries are shared.
It’s exciting to see an initiative like the Groenlandberg Conservancy addressed with such focus and clarity, and the Green Mountain Trail does a fine job of revealing what this charming, scenic area has to offer. Time to head for the hills…!
For more information about the Green Mountain Trail, visit www.greenmountaintrail.co.za/