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Somerset West

Western Cape, South Africa

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The Helderberg is visually stunning with the magnificent Hottentots Holland and Helderberg mountain ranges as a backdrop, winding down to the picturesque vineyards and scenic coastline with warm waters and white sandy beaches and is a tourist and photographer's paradise. Situated a mere 45km from Cape Town, the Helderberg is made up of the towns of Gordon’s Bay, Lwandle, Macassar, Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West and Strand and within easy driving distance of Stellenbosch, Hermanus, Cape Town International Airport and all other major tourist attractions in the Western Cape.

Climate
The Helderberg enjoys a mild climate. Winter, when weather can be very unpredictable, also has many sunny days and is generally mild, with high wind at times. Summer is dry and hot, although the heat is tempered by sea breezes. Early autumn is idyllic, with balmy days and warm evenings. Average temperatures are:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Max 26°C 26°C 25°C 23°C 20°C 18°C 18°C 18°C 19°C 21°C 24°C 25°C
79F 81F 77F 73F 68F 64F 64F 64F 66F 70F 75F 77F
Min 16°C 16°C 14°C 12°C 9°C 8°C 7°C 8°C 9°C 11°C 13°C 15°C
61F 61F 57F 54F 48F 46F 45F 46F 48F 52F 55F 59F

 

Banking & Foreign Exchange
All the major banks represented in the major towns of the Helderberg and most of these have foreign exchange facilities. Most international credit cards are accepted, as are traveler’s cheques.

Helderberg Wine Route
19 wineries have come together to offer visitors a taste of what the Helderberg can produce.

Postal Facilities & Telecommunications
Each town has a main post office. Telephones are fully automatic with direct dialing to most countries. The Helderberg falls within the Cape Town dialing code of 021 and is covered by all local cellular networks.

Public Transport
The long distance bus services are an effective and scenic method of seeing South Africa. The Helderberg also boasts many registered shuttles, taxi & tour operator services as well as international car hire firms.

Tipping
Tip according to the standard of service. The accepted average between 10% and 15%.

VAT (Value Added Tax)
14% is levied on nearly all goods, services, meals, accommodation etc. Foreign tourists may apply for a refund of VAT on items purchased and taken out of the country, provided the value exceeds R250.00.


HISTORY

The Strandlopers (literally ‘beach combers’) were the only inhabitants of Table Bay and the surrounding areas when Jan van Riebeeck, an employee of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), landed at the Cape in 1652. Cape Town celebrated the 350th anniversary of this historical event in the year 2002. In 1655 the first expedition to the east of the Fort at Cape Town was launched, climbing the dauntingly steep mountains above present-day Gordon’s Bay. The then governor of the Cape, WA van der Stel, acquired as much land as possible and named his farm Vergelegen, where he lived until his recall to the Netherlands in 1708.


SOMERSET WEST

In 1817 four farmers, who owned different parts of a divided Vergelegen, decided the time was right for the building of a church. The British governor Lord Charles Somerset granted permission for the construction of a church and the laying out of a village around it, and graciously allowed the patrons of the church to name the new village ‘Somerset’. In 1850 the name of the settlement was changed to Somerset West to avoid confusion with the town of Somerset East.

Modern-day Somerset West is a far cry from the tiny settlement that it once was, but the town still has an historical air which adds to its character and charm. Oak trees and thatched cottages, historic buildings and national monuments combine with the presence of a bustling, close-knit community to give the town a pleasant, comforting aura.


STRAND

Some 300 years ago a certain Corporal Muller and eight soldiers of the Dutch East India Company crossed the Lourens River and set foot on the now famous white sand of the Milk Bay Beach at Strand. Coloured and Malay fishermen settled on the coast and the fishing village of Mostert’s Bay developed. In about 1850 the place was named Van Ryneveld’s Town. After that the name changed frequently, first to Hottentots Holland-Strand, then Somerset Strand and, 1937 in became just Strand. Strand is situated on the shores of False Bay, at the foot of the Hottentots Holland mountain range, only 48 km from Cape Town by national road (N2). It is linked with the rest of the scenic Western Cape and Winelands by well-maintained roads.


GORDON’S BAY

Gordon’s Bay was named after Rober Jacob Gordon, a Dutch military officer who commanded the Cape garrison in the latter part of the 18th century. Today this picturesque cove with its steep mountain backdrop against which magnificent residences perch precariously, is home to the South African Naval College and its sheltered harbours play host to numerous regattas and other yachting and angling events. Gordon’s Bay combines the flavour of an international resort with the charm of and old-style coastal town. In summer its narrow streets and bustling beachfront come alive with the sounds of happy holidays in progress.


ATTRACTIONS

Beaches
The Helderberg is renowned for its long stretches of white, sandy beaches. Safe swimming, in warmer waters, has ensured the popularity of the Helderberg as a prime holiday destination for water-sports enthusiasts. Best spots for: - swimming, sunbathing & walking: Melkbaai Beach, Strand, Bikinis Beach and Main Beach Gordon's Bay. Windsurfing: Strand beach (in front of the Life Saver’s Club House). Surfing: Kogelbay situated on Clarence Drive, Gordon’s Bay is a must for the best surfing experience and has the only braai area on the Helderberg coast. Strand beach (in front of the Lifes Saver’s Club House) can also be recommended.

Gordon’s Bay Harbour
An evening stroll along the harbour wall is sure to be rewarding as yachts and boats sail in to moor at the protected marina. Harbour cruises leave daily from the Gordon’s Bay harbour. For bookings Tel: (021) 851 4022. The new Gordon’s Bay Waterfront Development (Harbour Island) is an exciting entertainment area with many restaurants, pubs and accommodation facilities available. This is also a very prominent area for housing.

Whale Watching
Between June and December each year hundreds of Southern Right whales visit the sheltered, shallow bays of the South African coastline to calve and nurture their offspring. Many of these massive mammals visit False Bay each year and the best place to spot them are at official whale watching spots found on Clarence Drive, the coastal road from Gordon’s Bay to Rooi Els.

Steenbras Dam
The Streenbras Dam is primarily a water source for the City of Cape Town. There are several secluded picnic sites and braai areas within the 1200 hectares of pine plantations around the dams. The waters are stocked annually with trout and fishing is permissible provided a permit is obtained. Birdlife is plentiful and hundred of Egyptian geese nest on the shores and islands of the upper dam. The dam can be accessed from Gordon’s Bay. The 4km road to the dam offers magnificent views of the Helderberg, Cape Peninsula as far as Table Mountain and even as far as Cape Point.

Arts & Crafts
Somerset West is famous for its two craft markets, which are held at Southey’s Vines (Tourism Bureau offices) in Main Street on Saturday mornings. The Country Craft Market is becoming well-known world wide for its many handcrafted items. There are over 200 stalls, all manned by the crafters themselves. Equally interesting is the Helderberg Veldwinkel. In the summer months this market is also held in the evening.

Spookhill
A visit to this spot often generates intense discussion on whether the cars roll uphill; here is an official illusion or one of the world’s great unsolved mysteries. It is found at the top of the Parel Vallei Road in front of the Straightway Head Country House.

Helderberg Nature Reserve
The Helderberg Nature Reserve is one of the treasures of the Helderberg region. It starts at the foothills of the Helderberg Mountain, where families picnic in the shade of the ancient oaks amidst rolling lawns, and reaches up to the mountainside where hardy fynbos plants cling to the steep slopes. Birds are abundant in the reserve and over the years some 169 species have been recorded. Several species of small antelope occur in the reserve and visitors may be privileged to spot Bontebok, Grey Duiker, Grysbok and Steenbok. The natural vegetation of the Reserve consists largely of Mountain Fynbos. There are several walks in the reserve.

Lwandle Hostel Museum and Arts & Crafts Centre
This is the fist township-based museum in the Western Cape and the first museum to commemorate migrancy in South Africa. Lwandle started in 1958 as single dwelling hostels for migrant workers. It is now a vibrant community of families. The museum, located in the former community hall (with the theme “From homestead to hostel”) through its exhibits commemorates the trials, tribulations and triumphs of migrant workers and hostel life in Southern Africa.

Vintage Train Rides
Enjoy a ride along the branch line over Sir Lowry’s Pass, past Steenbras Dam, Elgin and the Houwhoek Pass, with spectacular views all the way. The train runs at weekends over the Christmas Holiday period and on selected dates during the year.

Helderberg Wine Route
In as much as the Helderberg Wine Route shares many attributes associated with Stellenbosch and its wine growing region, it also has so much more that sets it apart. The personality of the wines produced in the Helderberg area are influenced by the proximity to the ocean and therefore the cooling summer sea breezes. The soils too, which are amongst the finest in the region, have a marked effect on the growing and nurturing of these vines. The wine makers, viticulturists and wine growers, who craft their wines, mirror the distinction and uniqueness of the wines. Their energy and enthusiasm is matched only by knowledge that the material they are working with is truly unique. This is also reflected in the numerous awards bestowed upon the members of the Helderberg Wine Route in recent years.

Helderbrau
Helderbrau is one of the few privately owned small breweries in the country. They offer unique-tasting German beer on tap. Brewery Tours & Tastings: Private beer tasting and brewery tours can be arranged at any time by appointment.


ACCOMMODATION & CONFERENCES

Accommodation
The Helderberg offers the visitor a wide range of accommodation to suit every taste, from five-star hotels, excellent guesthouses and bed & breakfasts to self-catering chalets and camping facilities.

Conference Facilities
The Helderberg is very well known for its many conference venues that cater for meetings of all sizes. No request too big or too small. From a 2 man meeting to 800 delegate conferences, we can assist in finding you the perfect venue.


SPORT & ADVENTURES

Adventure Sports
Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at archery, shark diving, deep-sea diving, fresh water fishing, rock angling, fly fishing, deep-sea/game fishing, paragliding, paintballing and 4 x 4 Trails, all available in the Helderberg!

Watersports
The Helderberg is a well-known coastal paradise with many fun activities along its scenic stretch of beaches in Gordon’s Bay, Macassar & Strand. The beaches are ideal for sailing, surfing, boating, fishing, water-skiing, windsurfing and much much more! For the best surfing experience “Kogelbaai” beach is a must. The long stretch of pure white beach is situated on Clarence Drive just outside Gordon’s Bay and is an ideal spot for camping and caravanning and is also the only “braai” area on the Helderberg coast.

Abseiling
Adrenalin junkies can contact Abseil Africa for an abseiling excursion at Kamakaze Kanyon at the Streenbras River Gorge.


HIKING IN THE HELDERBERG

Danie Miller Hiking Trail
This path traces the foot of the mountains at Gordon’s Bay, offering splendid views of False Bay and the Helderberg. The trail takes you from Aurora Drive to the landmark Gordon’s Bay anchor. (± 7km, 90 minute walk).

Steenbras River Gorge Hiking Trail
Permits are required for this walk, which starts at the mouth of the Steenbras River, on the scenic coastal road from Gordon’s Bay to Betty’s Bay (R44). The trail is classified as a moderate to difficult walk.

Wagon Wheel Trail
Historic trail, starting opposite the viewpoint on the Sir Lowrey’s Pass on the N2. This trail will take you through the historic “Gantouw Pass” where you can clearly see the ruts left in the road by the wagons as well as the two original cannons used in earlier days for signaling. The wagon wheel tracks are declared National Monuments.

Boland Hiking Trail
This is a network of paths that can be tackled in various configurations, offering hikes of between two and five days long. There are starting points at Sir Lowry’s Pass, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and at Nuweberg (between Grabouw and Villiersdorp).

Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary
This sanctuary has a bird hide for ornithologists and keen photographers. Situated in Broadway Boulevard, opposite Victoria Road in Somerset West.

Helderbergplaas (farm) Hiking Trail
Helderbergplaas offers a number of options for young and old. No permits required for overnight hikes. There are five easy walks in the Granny Forest that offers more than 90 species of birds and many varieties of fynbos. You might also be lucky enough to spot some Grysbuck, Duiker, Leopard, Lynx, Silver Jackal and foxes on your walk.
You will now also find exciting 4x4 trails on this farm. It is 12km long and takes about 2 hours. There are 5 stages over mountainous terrain and terrific views over False Bay and Table Bay.

Silwerboomkloof Trail – Natural Heritage Site
This pleasant hiking trail for people of all ages offers beautiful vistas and takes one through an area rich in bird life.

Helderberg Nature Reserve
There are several delightful self guided trails in the Reserve, ranging from comfortable on the lower slopes to moderate/difficult hikes on the higher slopes. A map of these walks can be seen inside the arched entrance to the garden section of the reserve.

helderberg_panorama

 
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