Location: De Doorns (Hex River Valley)
The Hex Valley Tourism Association invited us to explore and discover the area of De Doorns in the Hex River Valley. Little did we know what was about to unfold… one of my favourite adventure trips to date.
My colleague and fellow Secret Adventurer, Andre Frey, joined the adventure. We left Cape Town during the early hours of Monday morning to meet our host, Melanie Esterhuyse, for an epic adventure discovery tour for the next 4 days in De Doorns.
We entered the Hex Valley via the N1 and was blown away by the immediate beauty of the surrounding landscapes and vegetation. Both Andre and myself experienced the unique mystery of the area, rich in history and sacredness - land once explored by our ancient ancestors, the San.
Our first stop was at Ochre Private Reserve where we were welcomed by Melanie and local tour guide, Louise Brodie, for a guided San rock art tour. The Ochre Reserve is located on private land and has San rock paintings dating back to between 2500 - 5000 years ago.
After a cup of coffee and a meet & greet with Louise, we headed towards the boulders in their backyard for an educational rock art walk. We passed through the beautiful fynbos trails and collected some interesting facts from Louise on some of the local flora species, such as the Vics Bush, Black Nemesia (a flower that was rediscovered after many years) and a variety of succulents.
Louise has a library knowledge about the San and historical facts about their way of life in this area. We were absolutely blown away and intrigued by the immense detail and meaning of the rock paintings. The San had a beautiful way of interacting and understanding nature. They followed the patterns and the signs from the stars and galaxies above, danced into the nights on full moon until they went into a trance and then portrayed their journeys onto the rocks, for us to discover one day and ponder the ancient ways of living.
We felt a certain eeriness in the air as we walked and talked from rock to rock. The San use to live, hunt and dance in this exact area and you could faintly feel the chants and drumming of beats in the ground. The final rock we visited had a beautiful painting indicating the story of a phosphene journey.
Phosphene is a sensation of a ring or spot of light produced by pressure on the eyeball or direct stimulation of the visual system other than by light.
The San Rock art tour was truly special and we thank Louise for the insightful tour! We said goodbye and cruised off to our next stop, Grand View, for a grape packing tour and tasting buffet.
We followed Melanie through the local farmers’ vineyards, she definitely knows all the shortcuts like the palm of her hand! We made a quick pitstop at The Pines Manor House, one of the oldest homesteads farms in the village with beautiful Cape Dutch architecture buildings and original (still working) building equipment used in the early 1900’s.
Soon after, we entered the beautiful estate, Grand View of Villion Farms (Pty) Ltd, and got to learn about grape packing and export. We were overwhelmed with the passion and energy that goes into exporting table grapes. It’s really not an easy business and requires many years of knowledge and patience.
We couldn’t help but notice that every worker, manager and farmer worked with smiles, energy and passion. That must be the reason for the business’s success. After the shed tour, it was time for a grape tasting buffet! We were so lucky to taste five different varietals of export grapes. The explosion of taste and texture is next level, something I have never experienced before. We were gifted a huge box of the grapes for the rest of our stay and it surely helped at times when we were craving some energy - more about that later!
During our chats with the farmers, they told us we definitely have to visit the Dam. We had no idea what this Dam was about but they made it sound pretty awesome. Melanie made a few calls and soon after she said let’s go! The excitement was high and off we went to the Dam.
We entered via privately owned land and drove through a lovely valley with surrounding mountains for about 20min before we reached the Roode Elsberg Dam. We drove all the way to the top where we were spoiled with spectacular views and incredible engineering craftsmanship of the dam wall. The view was breath taking and we spent a good time taking photos across the top section overlooking a 150m drop on both sides. The Roode Elsberg Dam was completed in 1969 as storage for domestic and irrigation use.
The next stop was a visit to Loveys Butchery for some local sustainable meat for our braai in the mountains later tonight.
We arrived at this hidden gem between the vineyards and the local butcher gave us an overview of the selection of cuts. We were told that we had to get the ‘chilli poppers’, oepsies (a thin bacon kebab wrapped around a stick) and the special wors (with secret spices). We ended buying much more and were ready for a braai feast later that night! The prices are really good for meat of this quality. And the best part of it all… you can order and they will deliver to Cape Town! If you are looking for superb quality and sustainable meat, contact and order from Loveys Butchery.
I have to thank the local people of De Doorns again, at every stop we met the friendliest and most humble people. Their energy seemed to be contagious… life is happy and easy and everyone just gets along. Every town should be like this one, I tell you!
Melanie took us to Klipheuwel Farm for a quick visit and accommodation review. This place is the perfect venue for weddings or for a romantic couple getaway!
We had actually forgotten at this point that we haven’t had lunch! But Melanie was on top of things, and the next stop was lunch at Veldskoen Farm stall, perfect timing! The Veldskoen Farm stall has it all. From delicious and unique jams, fresh breads, ‘holbrand kerry’ and a lunch menu that will make your mouth water from the moment you look at it. We met Chef Jacques le Roux and he basically gave us no other option to order but the Deli Club Sandwich (by the way this is not on the menu so you need to ask Jacques really nicely). We sipped on a tasty local grape juice (750ml for R15!) and listened to more of the local historical stories from Melanie. She has so much insight into the Hex River Valley and all the people that make this community so special.
Then our Deli Club Sandwich arrived… man this thing was huge and included all the goodies you can think of! Andre and I both smashed that Deli Club and rated it 10/10. Do yourself a favour and go try it out, you won’t regret it! Oh and also ask Melanie or Jacques to tell you the story of the name behind the BVW Benedict? :)
The day was not over yet, the big adventure we were waiting for was about to start.. Off we went and followed Melanie to Oom Michiel, the owner of the Groothoek Hut in a secluded and privately owned kloof on the side of the Matroosberg catchment area. We arrived shortly and met the legend Oom Michiel where he gave us an insightful overview of the hut’s history and stories over the years.
We loaded bags of wood on top of the Pajero and drove to the point where Oom Michiel de Villiers waved us goodbye. He only had one question at the departure point: “Weet jy hoe om te 4x4 / Do you know how to 4x4?”. Of course we said yes with some uncertainty of what to expect! nonetheless, off we went on our offroad trail to the hut…
The first 15min were smooth and we were cruising along the path until the first river crossing. Easy and with no issues, we crossed the first river until we went up a super steep rocky section (yes we had to engage into low range 4x4) and then reached the second river crossing. No issues again, and then we came across a bend and the path was basically covered in boulders. The real 4x4 challenge was about to begin and we crawled our way to the hut for the last 10min. It was pure awesomeness and such a cool 4x4 trail. The Pajero absolutely nailed it!
We arrived at the Groothoek hut and couldn’t believe how beautifully this hut was crafted and built in the middle of nowhere. It’s kitted out with a kitchen area (sink, basin and all!), inside flush toilet & rock shower, double story for sleeping area and solar power LED lights! Truly magical and the best hut I’ve ever visited in my life!
We explored the paths up the river, swam in secluded rockpools and were just loving life. This was a sacred place and we were blessed to get a glimpse into this special area.
The sun shortly set and we lit the fire. The rest of the night was star gazing on the mattress outside and doing some self reflection about life, adventure and how blessed we are to experience moments like these.
We couldn't ask for a better action packed day on our arrival!
Thanks to all the friendliest and most grateful people of the Hex Valley! They shine with happiness and true character :)
Adventure Regards, Henk & Andre from The Secret Adventurer Team.
Please ensure to visit and check out all the places in De Doorns - fun and adventure guaranteed!
Ochre Private Reserve @ochreworks - San Rock Painting, private arrangements only.
Grand View / Villion Farm - Grape Packing Shed Tour and tasting.
Loveys Slaghuis - Local sustainable meat, amazing quality and prices.
Veldskoen Padstal - delicious lunch, selection of the best jams and much more.
Groothoek Hut - Private mountain hut, accessible by 4x4 only and private arrangement only.