Whales, beaches and flowers, South Africa

This is one of the world's most stunning stretches of coastline. The trip is available year round for the Flower Kingdom ride, but from June to December each year, this area becomes the whale spotting capital of Southern Africa. Southern Right Whales swim within metres of the shoreline to mate and calve; a spectacular and unforgettable sight. All our trails are filled with a huge variety of wild animals, birds, scenic beauty and culture in abundance and diversity, at any time of the year. This is a perfect winter destination since this is summertime in South Africa, with a lovely Mediterranean climate. Accommodation is based at the 5* Grootbos nature reserve and at the 4* Overberg Homestead retreat. Short beach rides to trail rides lasting from 3 to 9 days.

The Whale Trail and Overberg Homestead Retreat

The Riding: Through the fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom, our horse rides cover rugged mountain terrain and kilometres of wide beach and dune coastline of the famous whale coast of the Overberg. Horses used are South African crossbreeds. The bloodlines being Boerperd, Arab, Saddler and Friesian. Our horses range freely as a herd and are fully adapted to the environment with regards to grazing, weather and terrain. Noted for their endurance and sure footing, these horses are the ideal partner and friend for many day trails.

Join one of our small group (max 6) on a journey through thousands of hectares of pristine nature unchanged since the days of the original residents in the Overberg, the Khoekhoen. A unique opportunity to experience whales along the beach and proteas flowers in the mountains. To follow the routes of the early settlers in the Cape, to stay in rustic farm cottages or up-market guesthouses. To savour the wines and cuisine of the Cape, to swim with your horse in the ocean and sleep under the stars in a truly beautiful part of South Africa.

Riding trails can last just a few hours along the beach or into the hills, returning to the farm each night, or head off for 2, 3 or 5 days (or longer) . The trails are fully catered and cover 25 to 35 km per day. The terrain is extremely varied: long gallops over sand-beaches, slow climbs over steep fynbos-covered slopes, splashing through wetlands, working your way through forest or simply cruising along narrow rural gravel roads. The horse trails include accommodation, all meals of the day and personal- and luggage-shuttles where required from the one horse-station to the other.

The Southern Overberg is an excellent horse-riding region. There are practically no tar-roads and signs of human-made infrastructure and civilization are far apart. The sense of a horse ride through pure wilderness quickly comes to mind. The rides take place in a UNESCO protected area, one of the world's six floral kingdoms. The diversity of Fynbos (literally 'fine bush') plants here is greater than that of the tropical rainforests with over 9000 species, many of which do not grow anywhere else in the world.

See below for detailed riding itineraries.

Southern Right Whales

Riding along perfect white beaches of the Walker Bay conservancy and whale sanctuary, which is arguably the best land based area in the world to watch whales, you will have the opportunity to see whales at very close distances. The whales come into the sanctuary from July to give birth and mate. They stay in the deep,calm waters of the bay to feed and strengthen the young before leaving around December/January, back to the deep waters of the southern Ocean. Hermanus and De Kelders are the whale watching capital of the world from July to December. Admire these magnificent creatures and their ‘aquabatic’ displays, splashing, crashing and blowing often just meters from the shore). Learn terminology for their fancy ‘aquabatics’ -breaching, lobtailing, spyhopping and sailing…and marvel at the tranquility these enormous mammals bring to the area as they loll in the swells of Walker Bay.

Non-riders

Hiking: A detailed map is available showing the various hiking-trails of over 20 km in the reserve. Botanical walks in the reserve and nearby Overberg-conservancies with an experienced and accredited guide can be arranged.

Sharks and Penguins. Experience the unique marine life of the waters on the Overberg coast, the meeting place of Atlantic- and Indian- oceans. The great white sharks cruise around in great numbers on the look-out for their favorite food: the cape fur seal. African penguins and numerous other sea-birds crowd the rocks of Dyer Island and long and empty sand beaches stretch along the coast. Professional boat-operators leave from Kleinbaai on Danger Point Peninsula to show guests this marine-splendour from up close. Boat trips and shark cage diving can be arranged on arrival.

Accommodation:

The remote Homestead retreat is a 4 star country house located on the "Fynbos-road" in the Western Cape's unspoiled Southern Overberg. Far removed from the daily grind of life, the farm is a private and secluded retreat where you can enjoy luxury accommodation, tranquility, an overpowering sense of space and the unique nature of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the richest floral biome in the world. The retreat lies at the foot of "fynbos"-covered mountains in the middle of a pristine private nature reserve of 800 hectares and enjoys panoramic views over the Agulhas Plains towards the ocean.

Luxury accommodation, all with balcony or terrace and fireplace or stove, is offered in 3 types of guest-units (6 in total):

Generous meals, made from fresh local ingredients and with an eye to detail, are served in the spacious dining- and bar-area, next to the homestead. The 25m lap-pool is reached via a winding wooden boardwalk from the deck in front of the dining-area. The homestead also houses a lounge and the reception area.

Grootbos Luxury nature Reserve

Two 5* lodges (one for famlies) in a spectacular location overlooking the bay, in the heart of a very special nature reserve. We recommend a few days here as an 'add-on' to the trail-riding experience at the Homestead.

The Grootbos Foundation was set up in 2004 to restore and protect this natural environment, one of the world’s six ‘floral kingdoms’, which is under threat from agriculture and urbanisation. It helps the local people by retraining them as gardeners and makes Fynbos pay its way through the on-site nursery which supplies an expanding wild flower market and even the Eden Project in Cornwall. It also runs the Siyakula Township Project where children are taught how to grow vegetables to feed themselves

To contribute to these and other projects, all you have to do is to have a great time. Lounge in the stylish cocktail bar, or hang over the edge of the infinity pool knowing that your money is being spent exactly how you’d want it to. Pleasures here are simple; take a steed from the stable and stroll up into the hills to savour the view, lie back on your private veranda during the heat of the day and take in the scent of the aromatic wild herbs. As the dusk melts into darkness, stretch out on the warm earth and take in the enormous night sky.

Grootbos Nature Reserve Garden Lodge is child friendly, allowing families to enjoy five star treatment. Activities include adventures on the beach and rock pools, treasure hunts, horseback rides and many more. All the activities in our special children’s programme form fun learning opportunities for children and are hosted by experienced guides.

Read what Ireland's Equestrian magazine thinks about his holiday 'Thine is the Kingdom' Click here:
'My ride, Maseru, was a perfect steed for such a situation; light-mouthed, sure-footed, sensible and responsible, enabling a rider of any ability to see Grootbos from a less arduous perspective than a guided walk! And, with such an accolade, one might expect armies of botanists to be Grootbos’ chief clientele but never more so have I seen actions speak louder than words. Like the wind that whispers along the coast, so the word has spread that Grootbos is somewhere special.'

Trail itineraries:3 day Overberg Trail:

Experience long beach canters, most beautiful fynbos mountains and the sights and sounds of the Overberg. Distances range around 25km per day. A perfect trail for a short getaway. Suitable for all riders no matter fitness levels.

Day 1 : Grootbos/Springfontein farm to Baviaansfontyn.
Ride along perfect white beaches of the Walker Bay conservancy and whale sanctuary which is arguably the best land based area in the world to watch whales (whale watching capital of the world from June to December – whales and their calves often come within metres of the coastline). Admire these magnificent creatures and their ‘aquabatic’ displays, splashing, crashing and blowing, breaching, lobtailing, spyhopping and sailing close to shore. Enjoy the sandy beaches and experience the thrill of beach riding. Just before De Kelders the coastline gets rougher with rocky beaches and limestone cliffs which flatten out onto sandy stretches of die Plaat. Before we reach De Kelders (Gansbaai - a fishing village) we will head east through the coastal shrubland and traverse the vast magical almost surreal sand drifts (Grys Dune) of die Plaat. The mysterious landscape will give way to mountain fynbos when we hit the slopes of the coastal hills towards Grootbos and the Flower Valley.

We will pass through Grootbos Nature Reserve, which has an award winning lodge and is famous as a botanical hot-spot, and cross Flower Valley, a large valley filled with fynbos and indigenous forests and a Unesco supported project for sustainable fynbos harvesting and education. From here, the ride angles down the mountain slopes to Baviaans fonteyn. We sleep in the historical farmhouse and enjoy local specialities for dinner.

DAY 2 : Baviaans fonteyn to Springfontein Farm

Leaving the farm, we pick up the farm track to Flower valley and climb out of the valley onto the Northern plateau. Ranging up and down the valleys and peaks, we then descend along a stream to lunch under Milkwood trees. Afternoon riding takes us through the proteas and other fynbos vegetation of Steynsbos and back onto Grootbos and the way home via the dunes and Beach. Sleep and eat at Springfontein farm

Day 3 : Further exploration and the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the area and enjoy the horses. Ride back to Grootbos or the Homestead to enjoy the luxury accomodation, delicious food and wine and majestic mountain views.

5 day (6 nights) Overberg Trail:

This trail offers the best combination of long riding, relaxation, delicious food and wine. Accomodation in beautiful nature retreats with Hot baths and luxurious rooms. All meals are fully catered for including wine and all non- alcoholic beveragesMin. riders : 2 persons Max. Riders: 6 persons

Arrival at Springfontein Farm early afternoon where you will spend the first night and get to meet and know your horse, the route and fellow riders.

Springfontein Farm is 5km from the Victorian village of Stanford, a small, charming village at the foot of the Kleinrivierberge with a rich historical background. Known for its architecture, flowers and tranquillity), Stanford is home to large dried-flower and protea exporters and known as a birdwatchers’ paradise. – It is also the Gateway to the Fynbos Road (the first fynbos Route in South Africa)

DAY 1 : 6 hours - Springfontein farm to Baviaansfontyn- (Bodhi Khaya) Ride through the Walker Nature Reserve to the unspoilt white beaches of the Walker Bay whale sanctuary. This is arguably the best land based area in the world to watch Southern Right whales (whale watching capital of the world from June to December – whales and their calves often come within metres of the coastline). Admire these magnificent creatures and their ‘aquabatic’ displays, splashing, crashing and blowing, breaching, lobtailing, spyhopping and sailing close to shore.

Enjoy the long, sandy beaches and experience the thrill of beach riding. Just before De Kelders the coastline gets rougher with rocky beaches and limestone cliffs which flatten out onto sandy stretches of die Plaat. Before we reach De Kelders (Gansbaai - a fishing village) we will head east through the coastal shrubland and traverse the vast magical almost surreal sand drifts (Grys Dunes) of die Plaat. The mysterious landscape will give way to mountain fynbos when we hit the slopes of the coastal hills towards Grootbos and the Flower Valley.

We will pass through Grootbos Fynbos Nature Reserve, famous as a botanical hot-spot and for the awrad winning lodge. We peak at god’s window descend into Flower Valley, a large valley filled with fynbos and indigenous forests and a Unesco supported project for sustainable fynbos harvesting and education. From here, the ride angles down the mountain slopes to Baviaans fonteyn We sleep in the historical farmhouse and enjoy local specialities for dinner.

DAY 2 : 2-3 hours - Baviaansfontyn Meander.Overnight on Bodhi khaya spiritual retreat.

This ride is a circular route around Baviaansfontyn. Includes walking along mountain streams, passing by and through Milkwood and Afro-montane forest on the way to climbing Mount Dyer for breathtaking views of the ocean. Ride can be done morning or afternoon. Rest of the day is spent lounging, reading and eating in the wonderful valley of Bodhi Khaya. Or treat yourself to a massage or Shiatsu. Here there is no mobile phone reception and the stillness is all encompassing

DAY 3 : 4.5 hours - Baviaansfontyn to Homestead farm. Overnight and 3 course Dinner

Leaving the valley, the ride follows the valley stream to its source and then on up. Riding the plateau , we canter through fields of protea and other fynbos, along firm farm tracks before making a number of ascents and descents through the flower fields of the area. This brings us to our overnight stop , at the Homestead Farm. After unsaddling , enjoy sundowners on the deck and dinner in the restaurant.

DAY 4 : 2 or 3 hours Meander around Koudeberg "Cold Mountain" – 20 km
Breakfast and Lunch on Koudeberg, 3-course dinner and overnight at the Homestead farm.

A day of some leisure. On this day you will see hundreds of mountain fynbos species in an ancient and undisturbed landscape. From Hartebeeskloof we follow the ridges along Hartebeeskloof (gorge of the Hartebees) and climb “Perdekop” (Head of the horse, named after the once common mountain zebras on this spot). Perdekop is the highest peak in the area and allows for a 365 degree-view over the shore-line and the plains towards Elim and Cape Agulhas. We go down through the mountain catchment into the Koudeberg Valley where lunch will be served. After lunch, you can swim in the mountain-dam or have in guided botanical hike through a fynbos-covered gorge to the waterfall hidden in an Afro-montane remnant with indigenous trees of more than 200 hundred years old. We will return to Hartebeeskloof, rounding Baviaanskop (Head of the baboon). Relax your muscles in the 25 m lap-pool on and enjoy a spectacular sunset from the terraces.

DAY 5 : 6-7 hours Homestead retreat to Springfontein. Overnight at Springfontein Farm.

Leaving the farm, we pick up the track to Kraaibosch dam, circumventing it via the vineyards of Lomond Estate. Back through Flower valley and Baviaansfontyn, we climb out of the valley onto the Western Slopes. After lunch, we re-enter the Gruis duine , back to the beach and long canters home. Back at base, a fire is made and we settle in for a South African Braai (barbecue) and a few bottles of Springfontein’s own wine. A good nights sleep, early breakfast and home.

Feedback:
Camilla, Stockholm, Sweden
Myself, my husband and our two brothers enjoyed a fantastic three day ride with Howard and his beautiful horses. I greatly recommend a longer outride. The riding was fun, challenging, in a beautiful environment. The food was great (thankyou Howard & Regina) and I especially recommend to stay in Bodhi Khaya- a peaceful "farmhouse" set in a beautiful valley. Thanks ever so much- you will see us again! Camilla

Jessica and Ryan
Howard, We greatly enjoyed the time we spent with you and your horses! We saw a wide variety of different landscapes in such a short time- truly amazing. Your wisdom, views and knowledge of S.Africa, politics,vegetation,animals..the list could go on and on was a wealth of knowledge we wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. Of the two weeks we spent in your country, the two days we spent with you was far by the best! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Anne-Francoise
Hey Howard and Regina, These few days of riding were absolutely fantastic!I loved the scenery and enjoyed your company. You will definitively see me back for an 8 days ride! The landscape of South Africa is fabulous and I met some really interesting people.I am so glad I was able to discover your country from a "local" and insider perspective! Hope the three of you are well. See you soon, hopefully!

Horses

Ranging from 15.5 to 16.5 hands, they will carry a weight up to 95kg over testing terrain. There are 16 working horses with varying temperament and speed. Horses are available for Beginners up to Advanced and Extreme riders. Temperament varies from bombproof to lively allowing for proper matching of rider skill to horse. This makes for a rewarding experience without pushing boundaries. The minimum group size is 4 and the maximum 6

Tack

English style tack. Saddles are general purpose English, Australian stock, universal military and trail riders. No Western available. Horses are ridden with snaffle bits. Hard hats provide if required (but you are advised to bring your own.

Getting there

Fly to Capetown in South Africa with British Airways or South African Airways. Many UK departure airports. Wide choice of air carriers involving one stopover. See Opodo or Travelocity for further details.

We can advise on flying from other airports, train, car hire and self-drive options - please contact us.

When to go

The trails operate year round, but whale watching runs June to December each year. The Fynbos flowers bloom year round but are particularly splendid in September and October.

Weather

General climate details. Current forecast.

Eco-credentials

The Farm Retreat has been set up and is managed as a sustainable operation and is certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa. We place the integrity of the natural ecosystem around us in the first place and aim to keep the footprint of both ourselves and our guests as low as possible.

What to bring

Your normal riding clothes/boots (relevant to the season) with hard hat. Saddlebags water containers, cooking equipment all provided for. For overnight trail rides: torch , two sets of suitable clothing, one for day one for night. Remember weather fluctuates along the coast, always have some warmth. Rain and sun protection- a cap or hat , sleeping Bag, warm Jacket , Chaps or half chaps (half chaps can be rented on request), gloves (if desired) , swimsuit for summer trails .

Internet: There is wireless internet connection in every unit and there is a computer in the lounge which is available for guest-use.