We are living in unprecedented times that have urged us to rekindle a special relationship with nature. Heated hotel swimming pools are exchanged for cosy campfires, and mesmerising sunsets over the mountains, certainly beats another Netflix series.
Nature has taught us to be kind to ourselves in these times. That is why it is so important to have the option of enjoying activities at a leisurely pace. Once you discover the details hidden in the Elgin Grabouw tapestry, you will naturally want to stand still and breathe in the surroundings.
Elgin Leisure Tours is the story of two friends, Richard Portmann and Ian Robertson, who became so entranced by the Elgin Valley, that they convinced their wives to relocate and retire to Elgin. Little did they know that this was only the beginning of a new adventure. Both Richard and Ian went back to their study books and have recently qualified as cultural tour guides. The tours they offer are ideal for nature lovers of moderate fitness levels. This was their selling proposition from the start: to introduce the natural beauty of our indigenous fynbos, local mountains and streams through story telling and first hand experience.
According to Ian Robertson, many motorists pass through the Elgin Valley on the N2 en-route to other destinations, completely missing the charms of the area. The areas that Ian and Richard will introduce and explore with their customers are largely unknown. “As we don’t specialise in any one field, we tend to tell stories, historical or folklore, which people enjoy hearing. One typical such story would be the history of the canons above the Gantouw Pass, an old wagon trail which traverses the Hottentots Holland mountain range. We try to get people to imagine the difficulties that those original Trek Boers experienced. We also love the story about how the Hottentots Holland mountain range got its name.”
The Khoikhoi were the first native people to come into contact with the Dutch settlers in the mid-17th century. But, the Trek Boers had difficulty in understanding their language with all its intricate clicking sounds, which resulted in the Trek Boers calling them Hottentots. The Trek Boers often met the Khoikoi on these mountains, but they would disappear for periods of time, before returning later. When they asked the Khoikhoi people why they always came back, they said that this was their home. The Trek Boers then said: This is your home like Holland is our home. Hence the name Hottentots-Holland.
Besides the rich history, the mountains, the people’s friendliness, the rural feel (yet still being close to urban areas), is what convinced Ian and Richard to retire here.
“And then we saw the opportunity of setting up Elgin Leisure Tours as a vehicle to share our enthusiasm and local-learnt knowledge with others and at the same time to supplement our retirement income!”
A lifestyle close to nature awakened the same strong compulsion with Richard Portmann. “Imagine this gem of a place with apple and pear orchards interspersed with top-quality wine farms. Add the wide variety of fauna and flora found in the nature parks makes this close to being idyllic.”
Day visitors seeking a more relaxed experience can still enjoy mountain biking, hiking, wine tasting, or a picnic with experiences lasting between two to five hours.
“We offer mountain biking on Oak Valley and around Eikenhof Dam; a walk on one or two farms, with or without wine tasting; a picnic; a walk near Iona wine farm or Eikenhof Dam; or Idiom wine farm via the Gantouw pass, with or without wine tasting.
Visitors seeking a more explorative experience can request a tailor made experience. “Assuming that they are merely looking for leisurely activities and not extreme activities, we would suggest the following:
MTB on the easiest route on Oak Valley
Wine tasting at Oak Valley
Lunch at the Elgin Railway Market.
A leisurely one hour walk on Elgin Vintners, followed by wine-tasting.
A two-and-a-half-hour circular walk from Iona.
Wine tasting at Iona
Tapas lunch at South Hill
The MTB experience on offer is all mainly single tracks, which are not too technical, offering moderate experience done at your own pace. Only a reasonable level of experience and fitness is required. “We use the trails from Trail’s End, Oak Valley (plus the track that links Trail’s End to Oak Valley) and Lebanon.”
These hikes stay contained on individual farms such as Elgin Vintners, South Hills, and Almenkerk. “The walk on Elgin Vintners is relatively flat and requires a low level of fitness. The other two are hillier, so they do require a moderate level of fitness. All are on easy walking surfaces.”
They only use Oneiric wine farm as a lovely walk to the picnic site. Picnics are secluded alongside a flowing stream with small dams and ponds. “We try to accommodate for various allergies or preferences, so the booking and payment needs to be made at least two days in advance.
One of the advantages of visiting the wine farms in Elgin is that they are not crowded, and one always feels welcome. A trained representative usually does the wine tasting, but the winemaker or owner is often around and may even do the tasting. “In our experience, three wine farms per day is the maximum. The number up to three depends on time constraints of the visitor.”
Seven Silver linings your guides will send you home with
- The beauty of the Valley.
- The interesting history of the area.
- The fauna and flora covering the magnificent mountains.
- The friendliness of owners and staff of the various establishments.
- The support and cooperation given across the various establishments.
- How easy it is to sell the Elgin Valley to visitors.
- And of course, the cool climate wine.
Unmasking your guides
Ian Robertson was born in Maseru, Basutoland, in 1950 and lived there until he left University. After many casual jobs overseas, his career path led him to retail management. After 20 years with Woolworths, he and his wife Cheryl bought the Woolworths franchise in Maseru and opened Woolworths in Ladybrand and a Truworths franchise in Maseru. And then came the cherry on the cake: Retirement in Elgin as a qualified culture guide for the Western Cape. Not if, but when you decide to join them for a tour around the Elgin Valley, rest assured that you are in for a bumpy yet safe drive as Ian’s travels included a successful road trip to Cairo.
Richard Portmann was born in Estcourt, a small country town in KZN, where he went to school before moving to Durban and starting a career in banking. After several years, he realised that life might have more to offer. He travelled abroad for a year before returning to settle in Cape Town. He joined an international reinsurance company and qualified as a Chartered Insurer. When it was time to change course again, he opened a couple of PostNet franchise stores before selling them to make space for a real-life post-retirement job as a tour guide.