Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town lies the fertile Elgin Valley. Here vineyards and orchards roll out along the hills, with quaint cottages and roses along fences adding to the rural charm. It’s also heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. Discover 17 things to do in Elgin in the Overberg.
The Elgin Valley is South Africa’s largest producer of apples and pears. It’s also a serious contender for the quality of its cool climate wines so wine tasting is bound to be on your to-do list. Elgin lies in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom and is surrounded by mountains outdoor lovers will love to explore. There’s something for everyone, from romantic wine farm escapes to adrenalin-fuelled ziplines, hiking and biking or simply kicking back and relaxing in the fresh country air.
1. Go wine tasting at Elgin wine farms
Don’t miss the pioneering Paul Cluver Wines with its flagship chardonnay and pinot noir (the only red it makes). Libby at the tasting centre is a gem – so friendly and knowledgeable. Almenkerk is a small family estate that has a lovely outdoor tasting area reminiscent of Tuscany and perfect for a relaxed tasting. Or sit around the pool at the much bigger Oak Valley Estate, best known for its chardonnay and pinot noir. I’m not really a chardonnay lover, but even I left with a few bottles.
2. Zipline in the Hottentots Holland mountains
You do need to book ahead. When you arrive you’ll get a safety briefing before being kitted out with all the gear. Then you’ll hop into a 4x4 vehicle for a 30min drive high into the mountains to the first platform. Note that you need some level of fitness for this activity because there’s an uphill hike of about a kilometre to return to the vehicle at the end of the last slide.
Two guides will stay with you throughout, to click you on and off the ziplines and keep your mind off the sheer drops by telling you about the ecology and geology of your surroundings. You’ll slide from platform to platform (13 in all), past waterfalls and craggy mountains, over deep gorges, all the while surrounded by colourful fynbos in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. The longest slide is 320m and takes about 30 seconds.
If you love an adrenalin rush, you’ll love this four-hour adventure. It all ends with an optional light lunch back at base, where you can buy a video and photos of your trip.
3. Spend time at the Elgin Railway Market
Come to marvel and stay to have coffee and food – everything from curries and pizzas to burgers, dim sum, nachos and more. Sample artisanal gin and craft beer, buy wine, olive oil, even clothing, jewellery, leather goods and toys. Chill and enjoy the vibe.
The full market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 till 16:00, but the coffee shop opens on weekdays and some of the food stalls open from 16:00 to 20:30 on Wednesdays and Fridays.
4. Visit a nature reserve
The Elgin area encompasses two beautiful nature reserves. One is Cape Nature’s Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve – a perfect place for outdoor activities like hiking (see point 7), mountain biking (see point 6) and ziplining (see point 2). It’s also part of the UNESCO-recognised conservation area and botanical wonderland that is the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. Spend time adventuring or relaxing in either of these reserves and you’ll understand why South Africans love the outdoors as much as they do.
5. Stop at a farm stall
6. Saddle up
If you prefer to explore nature on wheels rather than your own two feet, there are lots of places to go mountain biking in and around Elgin. Try the Lebanon Forest mountain bike trails, where there’s some 60km of single track to suit different levels of expertise and fitness. Ride through pine forests, past fynbos and farmland, with some rocky sections.
Or cycle the 34km Groenland mountain biking trail in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, with superb views of the local farms and out to sea. Get more info and a permit through CapeNature.
The Paul Cluver wine estate has a number of routes from jeep track to single track. There are hot showers next to the play park for freshening up after your ride. Because of the pandemic, these routes are currently closed for everyday use, but open for guided rides with Trail’s End, tel 021 859-5193 or email email@example.com.
There are also mtb trails passing through forest, vineyards and orchards at Oak Valley Wine Estate, with something to suit every level of skill.
7. Do one of these Elgin hiking trails
You’ll find other Elgin hiking trails in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, including the 6km (2-hour) Palmiet Trail. Or hike the multi-day Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve Overnight Trail where you can sleep overnight in the Landdroskop, Shamrock, Boesmanskloof and Aloe Ridge huts. All permits and bookings through CapeNature.
8. Go stand-up paddleboarding
Go stand-up paddle boarding on the lake at Old MacDaddy, which has a lakeside beach and also offers other activities like mountain biking, kayaking and nature walks.
9. Eat out at Elgin restaurants
We also enjoyed the restaurant at South Hill Vineyards, which offers cheese or charcuterie platters and tapas like whipped feta with dukkah, chicken liver pate or marinated peppers, all served with yummy country bread. You can sit inside to enjoy the numerous artworks that occupy the space, but we sat outside instead. Choose between shaded tables on the lawns or a picnic bench hunkering down between two rows of vines.
The Melting Pot at Oak Valley Wines has lovely views out over the pool and surrounding trees, or you can sit outside on the pool terrace. The menu is small and might include mezze, oysters, mussels, smoked aubergine flatbread, beef rib taco, sashimi linefish or Vietnamese pork rice paper rolls.
The Hickory Shack’s menu includes smoked and barbecued beef/pork ribs and lots of other meat options, as well as chicken, tacos, nachos and two options for vegetarians who are visiting with their carnivorous friends.
You can also find casual food at the Elgin Railway market (see point 3).
10. Go brandy tasting
Did you know that Elgin is not only about wine and fruit? Some of the vineyards’ grapes go to Oude Molen to be distilled and matured into fine brandy. You can join a two-hour interactive distillery experience to learn more about how brandy is made and taste the different brandies. Note that no one under 18 is allowed in the distillery. Or skip the distillery tour and just join a tasting and chocolate pairing experience. Book at least two days ahead.
11. Take in a show at the amphitheatre
12. See roses galore
13. Visit the Elgin Open Gardens
Visit the Elgin Open Gardens for a day of wonderful interaction with passionate gardeners. For two weekends at the end of October or beginning of November, some ten or so gardens open to the public who come from far and wide. Enjoy various types from formal to cottage gardens, indigenous to English country gardens. There’s an entry fee, part of which goes to charity. If you want to stay overnight to make a weekend of it, book your Elgin accommodation well in advance (see point 16).
14. Admire green hills and valleys
15. Books, books, books
16. Elgin accommodation: stay on a farm
17. Visit Kleinmond nearby
Continue along Highlands Road, past Iona Wines, until it meets the R44 near Kleinmond. This is all part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. Look for wild horses at Rooisand Nature Reserve, go hiking in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve and find lots of other things to do in Kleinmond and surrounds, including visiting a colony of African penguins. The distance from Elgin to Kleinmond is about 45km.
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