It is the first day of a Meandering the Midlands cycle tour (organised by Spekboom Cycle Tours) and thankfully the Dargle mist and mizzle has faded and we are greeted with clear blue skies and gorgeous wintery light. Perfect for exploring the Dargle Valley.
Christiano and Simone, our German visitors, stand gingerly beside handsome Friesian horses (instead of their bicycles). The Midlands is fast being discovered as a place offering cycle tourists not just trips focused purely on the bike and the end destination, but rather journeys filled with unique cultural and natural experiences. One of these forms the start to our trip – a Horse Play session masterfully facilitated by well-known horse guru, Carlene Bronner. Unlike the simple react and response mechanisms of a bike, our guests will spend the next hour discovering the art of horse communication using subtle body gestures as a cue for gentle persuasion. Although the couple confess that they were not familiar with handling horses, it was amazing how, with new found respect and understanding, they quickly eased into the experience and had their horses eating out of their hands (admittedly the tufts of green grass may have helped).
After a hearty farm-cooked breakfast, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the Nelson Mandela Capture Site using quiet country back roads. As a local South African, who has pored through each page of the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Julia felt well versed in the life and times of our Tata Madiba and was rather surprised that the museum tour at the capture site offered many more fascinating insights into the life of our great statesman. Brilliantly guided by the enthusiastic Ayanda. Under no circumstances were we allowed to ride down the path to the impressive sculpture of Mandela’s face. “After all” quipped Ayanda, “it’s not called a long walk for nothing”.
We then made our way through a network of forest paths to the Caversham Mill restaurant overlooking the Lions River. Tucking into a well-deserved signature trout dish, we marvelled at the thought that once this great valley was a royal Zulu hunting ground abundant with lions and elephant. On shooting the last lion of the region, this river was ironically named Lions River.
Later after climbing up through the hills of Lidgetton, we enjoyed panoramic views of the Dargle valley. Authentic Italian wood-fired pizza washed down with Lions River craft beer at everyone’s favourtie Il Postino Pizzeria was a fitting end to our day. Bellisimo!
On our final day we welcomed the opportunity to gently warm up tired legs with a stroll through the Dargle mist-belt forest lead by its passionate and knowledgeable custodian, Barend Booysen. With Barend’s charming stories of Zulu myths, local legends, and impressive botanical knowledge of these indigenous trees, the secrets of the forest were revealed. It is inspiring to hear how a group of Dargle landowners had taken stewardship into their own hands through the formation of Dargle nature Reserve under the Biodeiversity Stewardshipo Programme. Short term gains in destructive cattle farming and other agricultural practices needed to be sacrificed for the long term survival of these rich and biodiverse forest and grasslands.
“For me the highlight of the walk was spotting the Samango monkeys playing in the Cape Chesnut trees”, beamed Simone. Samango Monkeys are the only true arboreal monkeys left in South Africa. Unable to adjust their lives to the rapidly changing world. If we lose these precious pockets of Afro-Montane forest, the Samangos could disappear with them too.
Leaving Dargle behind, we headed across the hills to the cycling mecca of the Karkloof Valley – a network of world class trails. We selected the well-marked 15km Falls loop that swept us through the plantation on immaculately sculpted paths to the iconic Karkloof waterfalls. The beautiful falls in full flow provided the perfect backdrop to our final picnic spread of local Midland’s cheese, cured meats, artisan bread and cold beer.
“When we signed up for a bike tour, we did not know what to expect” remarked a satisfied Christiano. With all the cultural, ecological and historical diversity the Midlands has to offer, as the Spekboom Tour’s logo says, “expect the unexpected”. In Dargle, that is certainly true.
Spekboom Cycle Tours is a member of the Dargle Conservancy and donates part of profits from these tours to Conservancy Project. Why not join one? Find out more here.