The Cape West Coast Biosphere is where a treasure trove of natural beauty and cultural wonders await.
Just outside Cape Town, against the backdrop of South Africa’s Atlantic coastline lies a stretch of land left virtually unspoilt.
Tasked with conserving this hiker’s paradise, no-one knows the West Coast Biodiversity Corridor better than Cape West Coast Biosphere.
The area, which spans from Blaauwberg Nature Reserve up to Saldanha Bay and the Darling Hills to the east, was declared one of of the world’s 651 biospheres by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001 due to its rich diversity of fauna and flora.
With increasing interest in developing the corridor, Cape West Coast Biosphere work with surrounding communities to make sure that the fine balance between man and nature is upheld, ensuring that the lush landscape will still be here for generations to come.
They also make sure that tourists get a chance to experience the untouched beauty of the corridor with five different trail routes.
Keen to discover the scenery by foot, I was lucky enough to spend a morning with guide and conservation manager Ryno Pienaar.
Armed with water bottles, backpacks and of course, a camera, we set out on a dusty trail between the fynbos to chat about the work his non-profit organisation does.
With seemingly unending patience, Ryno indulged my every pause, taking the time to point out interesting facts about the plants and insects that had caught my eye.
A wealth of knowledge, Ryno explained the importance of Cape West Coast Biosphere and their role in convincing local land owners to help address environmental issues and protect endangered species like Swartland Granite Renosterveld, which are unique to the West Coast.
Together with local non-governmental organisations, Cape West Coast Biosphere also works to educate, particularly school children, of the importance of conservation and promotes community upliftment through projects like tree planting and recycling campaigns.
Ryno proudly points out that the organisation makes significant contributions to growth in the West Coast economy by helping small business owners in the biodiversity field and by identifying and helping entrepreneurs to enter the market.
Other programmes, like their Alien Clearing Project, create jobs in the area, but perhaps their biggest contribution to stimulating the local economy is their hiking trails.
Besides funding the Cape West Coast Biosphere projects, Ryno points out that all the service providers that the organisation makes use of on the trails, are local, ensuring that the money spent goes directly back to the community.
Their luxury routes – namely the Darling Stagger, Eve’s Trail, Five Bay Trail and the Wheels of Time vary in duration and levels of difficulty, giving all kinds of hikers the opportunity to explore this unique part of the world.
Along the way, hikers will also be able to experience the first-class accommodation, excellent cuisine plus wine and beer tasting that the West Coast has become famous for.
The shortest hiking trail on the menu (even if only by a bit) is the the Darling Stagger- a 25km, two-day hike following in the footsteps of our common ancestors.
Along the way hikers will be able to learn about the area’s rich cultural history, during a San guided tour at the !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre while stops at farms along the route will be a chance to enjoy a taste of contemporary culture with olive and wine tastings.
At 28km, the Five Bay Trail is only slightly longer, but offers a very different experience.
Besides the breath-taking views from secluded hideaways, the Five Bay Trail also shows off the charm that makes West Coast hospitality so special with an overnight stay in Paternoster and lunch and snack stops along the way.
Those who are looking for even more seclusion might enjoy Eve’s Trail, a 30km wilderness hike through the West Coast National Park. The trail takes its name from “Eve’s footprint” a popular name for what are believed to be the oldest fossilised footprints ever found. In fact, Eve’s prints – which were found on the shore of Langebaan Lagoon- are so old, they predate Homo sapiens.
Miles away from the closest town, the route gives hikers a chance to switch off and renew their souls, with only the sun, the stars and the tides to set the pace.
Especially for bicycle enthusiasts, the 100km Wheels of Time cycle route is a laid-back two-day affair.
While adrenaline junkies and mountain bike racers are welcome, the trail is more for recreational cyclists looking for a bit of a different way to explore the west coast.
While the route may be slightly challenging at times, the awesome scenery makes it well worth it- plus a support vehicle will always be nearby to ensure riders are properly hydrated and well fed.
The Berg River mudflats are believed to be home to the highest diversity of waders along the Altantic Coast in summer while the end of winter sees the West Coast in full bloom with wild flowers framing the river.
All tours are led by a Cape West Coast Biosphere guide or host who, like Ryno, know the routes and how to keep guests safe, along with rich knowledge of the local cultural and natural heritage to share.
Ryno points out that the trips make great teambuilding exercises, but if you’re anything like me, with a wanderlust for the great outdoors, Cape West Coast Biosphere’s tours are a safe way to get out, switch off and reconnect with nature.
The trails are available seven days a week. For more information visit www.capebiospheretrails.co.za or call 076 696 5354. For more about Cape West Coast Biosphere and the work that they do, visit www.capebiosphere.co.za.