Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, which includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, lies near the town of Stellenbosch in the south-western Cape. The reserve comprises the imposing Jonkershoek mountains and portions of the upper Jonkershoek valley. The Jonkershoek mountains, with their high peaks and deep kloofs, form part of the larger Boland mountain range. The Eerste, Berg, Lourens and Riviersonderend rivers have their various sources high in these mountains, although only the Eerste River actually flows through the Jonkershoek valley. The lower reaches of the valley are a well-known wine-producing area.
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is 9800 ha in extent and functions as a mountain catchment area, providing water for Stellenbosch and surrounds. Its rugged terrain is ideal for hiking, while Assegaaibosch, at 204 ha, is much smaller and is suitable for shorter walks and picnics. Visitors may choose to explore one or both reserves on a single occasion, as they are in easy reach of each other. The reserves are approximately 9 km from Stellenbosch, and may be reached by following the Jonkershoek valley road.
The climate of the Jonkershoek area is fairly typical of the south-western Cape. Summers are warm to very hot and strong south-easterly winds prevail, creating a serious fire hazard. The winters are cold, often with gale-force north-westerly winds. The mountainous topography has a significant effect on the rainfall, which is of the highest in South Africa. Snow is not unusual on the higher peaks during the winter months. Hikers should note that at higher altitudes the weather conditions may be quite different from lower in the valley and could change rapidly, becoming dangerous.
The natural vegetation of the Jonkershoek area is mainly mountain fynbos. More than 1100 plant species are known to occur, of which a number are rare and/or endemic to the area. Distinctive species are Protea repens, P. neriifolia, mountain cypress, as well as various ericas and restios. Several relic forest communities occur in narrow, moist kloofs where they are relatively sheltered from fire. Dense riparian vegetation grows along the banks of the Eerste River. Oak trees, although not indigenous, have been allowed to remain in Assegaaibosch because of their special historical value. Large pine plantations are a distinctive feature of the valley and occur on property neighbouring the nature reserves. The reserves' management programmes include control of hakea and other invasive alien plants which threaten the fynbos.
Mammals include leopard, honey badger, baboon, klipspringer, mongoose, and numerous smaller animals like mice, shrews and rats, but most are shy and seldom seen. Large raptors such as black eagle, the occasional fish eagle and spotted eagle owl occur, while kingfishers and typical fynbos birds - the sugarbird, orangebreasted sunbird and protea seed-eater - are more abundant. On warm days rock agama lizards can be seen basking on rocks. Berg adder, puff adder, boomslang and Cape cobra are fairly common and hikers should be alert!
In 1692 Simon van der Stel granted a number of freeholds in the Jonkershoek valley. A certain Jan Andriessen, also known as Jan de Jonkheer because he had been a bachelor midshipman, named his grant of land the Vallei Jonkershoek. The Assegaaibosch farmstead was built in 1790, and with time it was altered quite substantially by its various occupants. The huge old oak trees were planted by Wouter Eduard Wium, who was granted the land by Lord Charles Somerset in 1817, with the special proviso that he plant oaks in the area. Over the years the farm changed hands several times and by the early twentieth century it had become quite run-down. In 1960 the Cape Provincial Administration purchased Assegaaibosch, and the house was renovated to its present condition. It is now a national monument and is used as a guest house.
In 1893 the Colonial Government rented a portion of the estate belonging to a Mr Watermeyer, adjacent to Assegaaibosch, where a trout hatchery was to be established. The sturdy stone hatching house was constructed by John Scott and still serves its purpose today. Many years later, in 1939, the Cape Provincial Administration became responsible for the property, and the hatchery was managed by the then Department of Inland Fisheries. Today CapeNature utilises the property and most of the buildings as a conservation station. The department no longer breeds trout as they are an exotic species. The original hatching house is a national monument, and some of the facilities are used for experimental work by the University of Stellenbosch.
Tourism reservations and bookings:
National callers: 0861 CAPENATURE (227 362 8873)
International callers: 0027 861 227 362 8873 / 0027 21 659 3500
For additional information please visit http://www.capenature.org.za