Overberg Nature Tour
The Overberg is an agricultural area an hour’s drive from Cape Town. After crossing the imposing mountain range that surrounds the city – over the berg (mountain) –the traveller comes to a land of wheat fields, vineyards and orchards.
It’s hard to believe now, but this gentle landscape used to be home to many of the animals we now associate with South Africa’s savannah game reserves. Lions, rhinoceros, hyenas and hippos were all present when the Europeans arrived in the 1600s. So were herds of antelope and zebra, some species of which (a half-striped zebra – the quagga – is the most tragically famous) were hunted into extinction.
But although the heavyweight animals – the mega fauna – have largely disappeared, the south-western Cape still has plenty of wildlife: not for nothing is the Overberg coast known as the Whale Coast and it is a world-renowned great white shark hunting ground. The birdlife is very good and includes many regional endemics, and there are opportunities to see small mammals too – the ever-endearing dassies (rock hyraxes) as well as mongooses and baboons.
An Overberg Nature Tour is an itinerary based on your interests – bird watching, flowers, wild landscapes – as well as seasonality. There are many destinations along the coast that can be combined in various ways to deliver a bespoke nature experience.
The town of Betty’s Bay has several of the best within a ten minute-drive of each other: Stony Point penguin colony has thousands of penguins and seabirds, and is much better that Boulders Beach; Harold Porter Botanical Gardens is a mini-Kirstenbosch with bird watching too; the Kogelberg Biosphere has pristine, highly diverse fynbos while Rooisands Nature Reserve is a great place for wetland and coastal birds.
Further along the coast is the town of Hermanus, home to the best land-based whale watching in the world. Several operators run whale watching boat tours which can be combined with the above destinations and there is shark-cage diving forty minutes away, at Gansbaai. Just outside Hermanus lies the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, showcasing a rich diversity of fynbos vegetation and mountain birds (read more about Fernkloof here).
Keen bird watchers may want to head inland for some of the regional specials – the Overberg’s rolling wheat fields are favoured by blue cranes – South Africa’s national bird – and the area is a good one for raptors such as Verreaux’s eagle, jackal buzzard and black harrier.
An Overberg Nature Tour is an all-year-round experience though there are seasonal considerations. Whale watching season, for example, is from July to November with September and October as peak months. Bird watching is good all year round though the summer months (November to April) bring migrant species as well.
Tours are a mix of driving and easy walking though mountain hiking can easily be worked into the itinerary. I supply tea, fresh coffee and snacks as well as a picnic lunch. Binoculars and a camera are highly recommended.