A 19th century Morovian missionary – known only as Brother Schmidt – once described this stunning valley as a place where “so high are the hills which closely embrace the valley all round, that they seem to touch the sky and you cannot see anything but heaven and earth”.
This is thought to be the origin for the name of Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley outside Hermanus. With fynbos, forest, bubbling streams, vineyards and mountains, the valley more than lives up to Brother Schmidt’s billing. While it is a privilege for any visitor to experience the immense beauty of Hemel-en-Aarde, mountain bikers and trail runners can count themselves particularly lucky, as the valley boasts four routes which stand amongst the best in South Africa.
The routes are the product of a company called Hermanus Adventures, that has a trail crew putting blood, sweat and tears into building single track routes that will delight bikers with their variety, scenery and unique challenges.
The routes start with the beginner-friendly 7km Green Route, which heads away from the village, past the Whale Haven Cellar and on to a single track winding along the banks of the serene Onrus River. Prepare yourself for a not-too-strenuous 30 metre uphill pedal, before you enjoy the freedom of whizzing down a smooth downhill track.
The 12km Blue Route features the same picturesque beginning but a bit more climbing, ascending to some stunning trails carved into the side of one of those valley-embracing hills. Coming down from the mountain via a rocky section of track, cyclists who follow the blue arrows are greeted with some memorable stream crossings over small wooden bridges. A few hundred metres further, you can stop off at the delightfully authentic Plaaskombuis for a cuppa or light meal, before cycling through a patch of vineyards and back along the Onrus River.
Intermediate to experienced riders can follow the red arrows at the bottom of the hill to take on the 26km Red Route. This route and the longer 65km Black Route both encompass one of the most scenic climbs in the Western Cape, taking you through fynbos scenery and past sparkling waterfalls. One section requires you to get off your bike to traverse some stairs, but you’ll be happy to get the chance to stop off and admire the scenery. The Red and Black Routes both take you through some award-winning vineyards, past dams and up to the top of Rotary Way, a two kilometre road which features some truly breathtaking views of the ocean, mountains and valley. Various thrilling descents will keep you feeling thoroughly rejuvenated, before the Onrus River again offers a soothing close to the ride.
The valley also offers numerous wine-tasting venues and various charming farm shops and restaurants, so you won’t regret lingering a little after the ride to get a better taste of Heaven on Earth.
*All of the routes are open to the public, but be sure to have a permit. Permits are available on a daily, 10-day or annual basis, with discounts given to families, scholars and pensioners. For more information, call the Wine Village on 028 316 3988. Visit the website at www.hermanusadventures.co.za for more information about rates and routes.