The Xairu Blue Crane Route is one of four blue crane routes in the Western Cape. It is located in and around the town of Heidelberg, which is about 276km east of Cape Town on the N2 national road. Heidelberg is fondly known as the ‘gateway to the garden route’.
“Xairu” (pronounced with the ‘x’ as a click sound made by flattening the tongue on the roof of the mouth and then removing it) means “paradise” in the old language of the San people who used to inhabit the area – and it is deserving of its name.
The route covers an area stretching from the impressive Langeberg Mountains, through rolling hills to the coastal dunes. It is, however, mostly farmland, mostly comprising wheat and canola fields – artificial habitat that has become the home of South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane. By simply driving along the roads in the area, one is likely to see flocks of blue cranes – quite often happily amongst flocks of ostriches (ostrich farming is also one of the main income generators in the area).
Reasons to visit
The route has a variety of attractions besides blue cranes. This is the land of charming country farmstalls, restaurants and coffee shops. It is also an area where one has a choice of staying in country hotels, in small B&Bs, on farms or camping in the local nature reserve.
Adventurous activities on the route include hiking, mountain biking, horse riding through the fynbos, and quad biking over the coastal dunes. A stroll through the delightful village of Suurbraak is a must – as here one can see beautiful historical buildings, visit crafters, and have fun at the local farmyard. At Honeywood Farm, learn about bee-keeping and perhaps watch honey being processed. A trip to Heidelberg’s bentonite mine can also be accomplished through prior arrangements.
Closer to the coast, visitors can experience the only hand-powered pont in the country at Malgas. And of course, a trip to the coast would be made even more special by timing it between June and November to coincide with the whale-breeding season.
A moderate climate, plentiful water, clean air, rural tranquillity, friendly people and numerous activities make the Xairu Blue Crane Route area well deserving of a visit of at least a few days.
Overberg Blue Crane Group
The Overberg Blue Crane Group is an initiative of the local farming community and Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, and is “Committed to conserving our endangered national bird in its last stronghold” – the Western Cape.
What is exciting about the farming in the area is the fact that many of the farmers have joined together to form what is known as the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy – an amalgamation of farmers working towards a greater conservation ethic.
The Grootvadersbosch Conservancy is made up of 12 farms, the Grootvadersbos Nature Reserve (250ha) and the Boosmansbos Wilderness Area (14200ha). Together, this conservancy is helping to preserve some of the last remaining indigenous forest in the country, as well as protecting areas of mountain fynbos, themeda and renosterveld. Visitors have a wide selection of activities and accommodation to choose from in the conservancy.
Besides Heidelberg, the route also covers the villages of Suurbraak and Slangrivier and stretches to the coast near the village of Witsand.