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Kogelberg, heaven on earth

The Mbali Collection takes CapeNature’s Kogelberg Nature Reserve to new heights

By Fiona McIntosh

, |

Kogelberg, heaven on earth

The Mbali Collection takes CapeNature’s Kogelberg Nature Reserve to new heights

By Fiona McIntosh

, |

4 min read

If you’ve never been to Kogelberg Nature Reserve then you’ve missed out. And if you have, then the recent opening of their stunning new accommodation, The Mbali Collection, is a good reason to return.

Comprising a core area of 18,000 hectares, and several smaller fragments – including coastal sections such as Rooisand Nature Reserve at the Bot River estuary – the pristine mountain wilderness is just over an hour’s drive (90 kilometres) from Cape Town. And what an approach it is, on a spectacular coast road that weaves round the foothills of the Hottentots Holland mountains, sometimes high on the cliffs, from where you might spy whales, at other times dipping down to give access to sandy beaches. Once you turn off the tar road towards the reception, you enter another realm – a tranquil, flower-filled valley where colourful sunbirds flit from plant to plant, raptors soar overhead, mongooses dart, and tortoises creep across the road. Recognising the floral riches of the Cape, the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, called it ‘Heaven on Earth’. And there’s nowhere that fits the description better than Kogelberg.

Flora

With its exceptional biodiversity, and high numbers of local endemics and naturally rare species, Kogelberg Nature Reserve is a floral hotspot, home to some of the richest flora, not only within Cape Floristic Region Protected Areas World Heritage Site, but in the world. The extremely diverse topography, ranging from the seashore to mountain peaks and including the near pristine Palmiet River Valley, provides an array of habitats including salt marshes, flood plains, rocky cliffs and mountain slopes.

In addition to over 150 endemic plants, Kogelberg boasts the highest concentration of Mimetes species in the Cape, and as well as spectacular king proteas, sugarbushes, spider bushes and mountain cedars. The beautiful but endangered marsh rose, once on the brink of extinction, is conserved on a few relatively inaccessible peaks. Patches of relic indigenous forest, with towering yellowwood, stinkwood and boekenhout trees, have survived in narrow, moist kloofs that are sheltered from fire, while along the Palmiet River the riparian vegetation includes wild almond, Breede River yellowwood, rooiels and Cape beech trees.

Where to stay

With only 14 self-catering cabins, each with stunning views and surrounded by indigenous flora, overnight stays in the reserve are a real privilege. The remoteness means that the only sounds that you hear are the birds, the wind and the sound of the water rushing down the rapids. The surrounding mountains block out light pollution, so the night skies are filled with stars, and if you’re lucky you’ll spy some of the reserve’s nocturnal fauna.

In keeping with CapeNature’s commitment to conservation and minimal environmental impact, the timber cabins utilise locally sourced materials, and are built on stilts to allow the free movement of water and animals. They have waterless eco-toilets, solar geysers and planted roofs that help keep the units cool in summer and warm in winter. A delightful bonus in summer are the eco-pools – closed extensions of the Palmiet River – that filter water naturally through endemic Palmiet reeds (Prionium serratum).

The Mbali Collection

The newly opened Mbali Collection consists of five glass-fronted, open-plan eco-pods (two-sleeper cabins) and three glass-fronted six-sleeper cabins (one of which has universal access). All are spacious and chic, with clean, minimalist decor and modern well-equipped kitchens, dining and lounge areas – complete with wood-burning stoves for chilly nights – and big decks with built-in braai facilities. You can gaze out at the mountains as you lie in bed and, if you slide open the glass doors and let the breeze blow through, you almost feel as if you’re sleeping and dining in the fynbos.

Oudebosch Eco Cabins

In the eight years since the first accommodations in the reserve – the luxurious Oudebosch Eco Cabins – were opened, the surrounding vegetation has established itself so well that the glass-fronted units blend into the landscape. Each of the original five units has two bedrooms, sleeping four people, and a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area. And if you’re looking for even more romance, CapeNature has added the new, two-person Palmiet Honeymoon Suite.

What to do

With no cell phone reception or Wi-Fi, Kogelberg Nature Reserve is a wonderful place to reconnect with nature, friends and family; to watch the birds and smell the flowers; to sit with a book on a riverside beach, or to scale a peak and take in the far-ranging views over False Bay and the Cape Fold Mountains. You can just chill if you like, but there are lots of active options, including three one-day walks, an overnight hike, mountain biking and rafting.

  • The easy, out and back, 10-kilometrePalmiet River Walk that winds its way through vast stands of Mimetes and past inviting swimming spots.
  • The six-kilometre one-way Oudebosch to Harold Porter Trail that links Kogelberg with the neighbouring Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. The latter section is currently closed for maintenance, but you can still do the moderate five-kilometres out and back walk from the reserve office to the magnificent Oudebosch Forest, where you can swim in the rock pools.
  • The circular 24-kilometre Kogelberg Trail, which goes into the little-visited heart of the reserve, is the ultimate day hike – but only if you’re fit.
  • The moderately strenuous, two-day, 37-kilometre, circular Highlands Trail takes in a section of the reserve as well as a beautiful stretch of coastline on the way to the overnight spot in Kleinmond.
  • The moderate 22-kilometre Kogelberg MTB Trail leads from the reserve office out along the jeep track though the Kogelberg Valley to Stokoe’s Bridge, which is named after TP Stokoe who, in the early 20th century, collected various botanical specimens in the reserve.
  • During the winter months, Gravity Adventure Group and SA Forest Adventures offer adrenaline-pumping rafting and tubing down the tannin-stained lower reaches of the Palmiet River. A narrow watercourse fringed by magnificent vegetation, it has some fun rapids, which make for an exciting adventure for all the family.

When to visit

Kogelberg is a year-round destination. Winter can be cold and wet, but that gives you the opportunity to fire up those cosy wood-burning stoves. Although spring and early summer are the best times for flower viewing, there is always something flowering in the fynbos. Whales are generally seen along the coastal stretches of the reserve between June and November. So, yes, it’s a hard choice.

Contact details

Accommodation and permits:

CapeNature, 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za, www.capenature.co.za

Whitewater rafting and tubing:

Gravity Adventure Group, 021 683 3698, adventure@gravity.co.za, www.gravity.co.za

SA Forest Adventures, 021 795 0225, bookings@saforestadventures.co.za, www.saforestadventures.co.za

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