You know it’s going to be a good experience when you visit a place whose name means cheerfulness or gladness. I’m talking about the rugged Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve in Breede River Valley, Route62. You’ll find it south of Robertson on the road to McGregor in South Africa. If you love nature, hiking, birding and plants, you’ll get a kick out of this place.
Take the N1 from Cape Town towards Paarl and Worcester. At Worcester, after about 110km, turn right on to the R60 and travel another 47km to Robertson. Turn left on to Robertson Road through town and keep going on the R60. Turn right on to Reitz Street towards McGregor. Carry on for another 13km and you’ll see the entrance gates to the reserve’s office and accommodation on your right (the entrance on the left is where the mountain bike trail and all the walks start). The total distance from Cape Town is about 175km and should take you 2 to 2.5 hours.
Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve is a place that will put a smile on the face of anyone who likes to surround themselves with nature. There’s something for everyone, whether your passion is to knock yourself out with an eight-hour hike or a mountain bike trail, to take it more slowly and soak up the sunshine while searching out interesting plants and birds, or simply to chill with family and friends on an outdoor picnic.
1. Go hiking or walking
The 3km Heron Trail is a circular trail through spekboom, sweet thorn and melkbos plants up to two dams, where you can spend time at the bird hides. Even if you’re really unfit or have small children with you, the Heron Trail is a fairly easy walk and a chance to get some sunshine and fresh air. It should take about an hour – unless you spend a great swodge of time at the hides.
The 1km Braille Trail follows the first kilometre of the Heron Trail, giving visually impaired visitors a chance to learn about the surrounding plant life from the info boards along the way, which are printed in English, Afrikaans and Braille. Smell the blossoms in spring and hear the birds at the first bird hide.
The circular 19km Rooikat Trail snakes through the Elandsberg mountains and is fairly strenuous so you need to be fit. It should take about eight hours to complete so start out early. Wear strong hiking boots to cope with the rough terrain and carry plenty of drinking water (there’s none on the trail). Because of how long this trail takes to complete, I wouldn’t even attempt it in mid-summer when temperatures can be scorching in the middle of the day.
2. Ride a mountain biking trail
3. Go birding
4. Look out for game
While you’re out on the trail, whether on foot or in the saddle, try to stay quiet for a chance to spot some of the antelope that live here, like springbok, grysbok, grey rhebok, duiker, steenbok and klipspringer. You may also hear baboons barking. Caracals occur in the reserve but you’re unlikely to spot these elusive nocturnal cats. Count yourself extremely lucky if you spot the rare Robertson dwarf chameleon.
5. Appreciate the plants
6. Enjoy a picnic
7. Explore the info centre
8. Play tennis or putt putt then cool off with a swim
9. Visit the village of McGregor
For inspiration, read my post 20 things to do in McGregor in Route62’s Robertson valley.
10. Stay over for a weekend
If you come with kids, there’s plenty of space in front of each unit for them to play.
Need to know
- None of the trails that start from the info centre at Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve need to be prebooked. Not so the Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail over the Riviersonderend mountains to Greyton, which starts 15km the other side of McGregor. Although it also falls under CapeNature, note that you have to prebook and get your permit ahead of time by emailing email@example.com or phoning 087 0878250. This trail is very popular so if you do want to hike it, try to book at least a few months ahead. I’d recommend you aim for spring (which is when we did it some years back) or autumn to avoid the extreme summer and winter temperatures.
- Obey the rules of the reserve. Don’t pick flowers or gather seeds and don’t bring firearms or pets into the reserve.
- To book accommodation at Vrolijkheid, contact CapeNature Central Reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 087 0878250 or book online.
- There’s no shop at Vrolijkheid, so you can’t buy firewood, fuel or any other supplies in the reserve. Rather bring everything you need with you, or pop into Robertson (13km away with a bigger selection) or the little village of McGregor (5km away) if you forget something or need to restock.
- You need a permit for all the walks and the mountain bike trail in the reserve. You can fill out and pay for this self-issue permit at the start of the trails near the info centre on the other side of the road from the accommodation. A permit costs R50 per adult per day; if you’re staying in the reserve check if this is included in what you have already paid. Also, if you have a Wild Card covering CapeNature reserves, you don’t need to pay again – just write your Wild Card number on the self-issued permit.
- From November to March, the area experiences very high temperatures so try to set out on your walk or cycle ride early in the morning when it’s cooler. Don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and plenty of drinking water.
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20 things to do in McGregor in Route62’s Robertson valley
Cape Nature reserves: from Cederberg to Kogelberg and more
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