July to September is the peak safari season in southern Africa, as I remember it from my days in the safari tourism industry. It is winter, but dry, which is good for viewing wildlife and the days are warm – shorts and t-shirt weather. Malaria risks are also low. Coinciding as it does with school holidays, the period usually sees South Africans flock northwards in their 4x4s. But what struck me on our overland safari through Botswana, the Caprivi Strip (or Zambezi Province as it is now known), Zambia’s Zambezi shore and Zimbabwe’s northern areas, was the extremely low occupancy of national park and private camps and lodges.
Holed canoe. Two incisors about 90 cm aft of the guide’s bum.
There we were quietly enjoying the tranquility of the Zambezi from our Mana Pools campsite. As is so often the case, tranquility is an illusion in the wild. Suddenly there was a commotion upstream of us. A canoeing safari group had rounded the bend and one canoe had “exploded” as if torpedoed and the other was circling around trying to rescue its two occupants.
Crossing into Zambia at the Kazangula Ferry took upwards of 2 hours. Not that there was a queue for the ferry because we literally drove in and on board. By contrast there was a truck queue of kms, where truckers can stand for up to 5 days (the ferry can only ship one truck at a time, but other vehicles, 3 or 4 at a time make up the load)– ever wondered what happened to your truck Mr Transport Owner? I estimate that the ferry can do 30 trucks one way on a good day. The ferry’s arced voyage across the 500m Zambezi takes only 10 minutes. Continue reading Sisyphean torture at the border
“Yesterday was epic. After a great drive across the pans and stay at Kubu Island, our convoy weaved through the woodland following myriad sand tracks, some drivers paying more heed to the instructions of Doris on the GPS, who I am sure had no clue which of the next four forks was the right one, than their eyes and sense. It is also quite amusing to take a sharp left turn in the middle of an endless pan because Doris says so…. ”
Many years ago I “introduced” my young daughters to overnight hiking on the old Limietberg Trail from Hawequas to the old trail hut near Bainskloof village (day 2 of the trail continued to Tweede Tol). A hot February day and a long trail conspired to turn that introduction into an ordeal for them apparently. To this day they are still not keen hikers, much to my regret.
Kevin, who is a regular at Kromrivier hut has often looked down the valley to the Witte River and wondered about the trail, so we decided to walk the first half of the old trail in reverse, from Bainskloof to Kromrivier hut with the permission of the reserve manager. As you will note from the GPS track, we often lost the old, disused path, partially because a new firebreak obscured and crossed it. We needlessly “bundu bashed” near the stream in places, although I still vaguely remembered that the trail ran higher up the slope. In any case, it proved to be a pleasant and scenic morning as the sun broke through the mist and rain. More photos and a Google Earth track follow …
“Epic!” “Unforgettable!” These were some of the descriptions my co-conspirators (5 riders and 2 drivers) offered to describe this 8-day cycle tour along the back roads of the Baviaanskloof and Swartberg Karoo. Almost perfect weather, breathtaking scenery, no crowds, silence save for hiss of wind and crunch of wheels, no breakdowns nor flats, great company, plenty of red wine – what could be better? Videos, photos, Google Earth tracks follow … Continue reading Karoo MTB Tour 2015 – epic
As we prepare for what is becoming an annual, backroad cycle tour through the Baviaanskloof and Karoo, we have been cycling the Cape’s coastal roads, roads of unrivalled beauty. Here are two videos of recent Sunday-morning rides shot with the GoPro Hero4:
Deon and I resumed our double sea kayak trips off the Cape Peninsula after a break of more than a few years. We intended to launch at Three Anchor Bay but some or other mass walking/running event had sealed off any access to the sea between there and the Waterfront. Unamused we decided to head for Hout Bay where we paddled around to the seal colony at Duiker Island, then across to the recently burn-out resort, Tintswalo Atlantic, before cruising back around the charred rim of the bay. As you can see from the video, the Cape was at its brilliant-blue best. A rather pleasant morning after the false start.
None of these recent activities (kayaking, cycling, windsurfing) warranted a blog post in and of itself, so I thought I would aggregate the short video clips into one post. They do give a sense of this beautiful part of the world that I get to call “home”. They also motivate me to redouble my efforts to get “out there” during 2015.
“A mountain journey of no ordinary experience” goes the Rim of Africa tagline. It suggests an other-worldly, spiritual journey, or maybe a quest that will test you deeply. If I expected profound epiphanies as I wrestled with career frustration and anger, I was to be disappointed. Clearly I was not in the right frame of mind at the outset and consequently the first two to three days were more difficult than I usually experience on a long hike. I wasn’t good company, I was struggling with the weight of the pack, my fellow hikers’ quirks were irritating me sometimes which is unusual, and the heat nailed me on day 2 to the extent that the guides seemed concerned. And that irritated me even more because I am an experienced and strong hiker usually. They said my face was “grey”; I argued, somewhat obtusely, that it was the sunscreen that gave it that pallor. Upon reflection I embarked on the trail for the wrong reasons: I should have been doing it because I wanted to be in those mountains for a week instead of wishing to escape the anger surrounding my career circumstances. But after two days of struggle along the Langeberg from Montagu, which included a ridiculous fall that left me with a thick lip and grateful for having titanium incisors, a wonderful stroll down Protea Valley along the back section of the Swellendam Trail improved my mood no end. What was is that Kierkegaard wrote?: “I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one can not walk away from it.”Continue reading Langeberg Traverse – Rim of Africa
Our last visit to Heuningvlei, in the Cederberg, was so pleasant that we decided to make it a weekend base for some leisurely exploration around the area, which incorporates the Wupperthal Commonage. Some hiked to Middle-Krakadouw, others took a donkey cart tour, while we elected to cycle around the various mission settlements (“buitestasies”), some along the upper reaches of the Tra-Tra River. The cycle is a scenic circuit of some 26.5 km. We chatted to a locals, learning about the life of a subsistence farmer who leases land on the commonage from the Moravian Church mission at Wupperthal. It is a hard, but simple life. A highlight was a refreshment break at Heiveldt to sample the local tea and freshly-baked bread from the outdoor oven. The locals are warm and hospitable and crave company – although one old “oom” when pressed about how he came to live at Heiveldt, a hamlet of five houses, declared that his birthplace, Heuningvlei, was too busy and noisy for his liking. To appreciate this comment you need to know that Heuningvlei is home to fewer than twenty families. By comparison Wupperthal is a metropolis.
Two things about this impromptu hike concerned me in retrospect. Firstly, I had a premonition the night before departure that it would end badly. Usually I do not experience premonitions, and never bad ones. Secondly, after strenuous bundu-bashing and scrambling with full-pack, and then “hitting the wall”, my attitude became dangerously fatalistic. Thick tongued and losing coordination, I lost the fear of heights as we descended a precipitous cliff, swung around a vertical, thin rock protrusion with only tenuous foot and handholds, the centrifugal force of the swinging pack tugging at me. This is not a good state of mind to be in, high in the mountains with the afternoon waning. Ultimately it all ended well, but the experience chastened me. If it was not for Kevin‘s strength and fitness when he helped me get my pack up the neck above Donkerkloof and then over Spitskop, I would have had to spend the night up there.
Warning: This is not a recognised trail and should only be attempted in the company of a mountain club member who knows these mountains. Obtain a safety form from the Limietberg Nature Reserve manager. Secondly, my GPS track recorded a couple of detours that are not recommended. Thirdly, be prepared, fit and hydrated.
Unlike more accessible portions of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, Lycia is relatively undeveloped. The ancient sites of Lycia are centred on the Teke Peninsula that is bracketed by the gulfs of Fethiye and Antalya. Historical records of the ancient state of Lukka date back to 1250 BC and ruins of these ancient civilisations are everywhere. Besides the popular gület cruises, the 500 km or so Lycian Way hiking trail winds its way along this most rugged of coasts.
Marion and I had decided to visit my brother, Marc, in his latest outpost, Istanbul. He and I had unilaterally resolved that a gület cruise was a good idea after a week sampling the delights of Istanbul. So there we were in Fethiye, having driven down via the ancient city of Ephesus, an experience in and of itself. Fethiye is a surprisingly large tourist town and we found ourselves in one of those package tour hotels that host British package tourists: bed, bar and pool. However, we were immensely impressed with the extent and richness of Turkey’s agriculture on the way down: Turks eat well and healthily and the produce is fresh and tasty. Continue reading Cruising the Lycian Coast, Turkey
Every now and then Kevin gets the itch. On this day, in the full knowledge that a mommy of a cold front was on its way he talked me into a quick ascent of Perdekop, east of Franschhoek Pass. The hike up enjoyed brilliant blue skies and the panoramas from the top (1580 m ASL) were truly spectacular, more so because we were the only humans up there. The round trip is about 14 km from the top of the pass and fairly easy going for good walkers, with the return leg via the Wemmershoek lookout. But for us it was 12.2 km (with a 923 m climb and descent) because we returned the way we had come, racing down to beat the approaching front.
We had no expectation of finding snow up there, so it was the “icing on the cake” as it were, but the reason we rushed down was the experience of being blown off our feet as we left the peak. This was a first for both of us. Kevin was prone, clinging on to a rock. I was on all fours and unable to make headway. Momentary panic flashed across my mind: “are we going to be able to get off this mountain?”. As the gust abated we ran off the peak and then made the decision to take the quickest route back. Worth it, though. A Google Earth track and photos follow …
Colleague Johann Kistner organised this circuit of the Cederberg as a sort of team-building exercise. There was plenty of initial interest, but eventually the riders were pared down to 6, with Marion driving the backup vehicle – my trusty bakkie. Our route went from Clanwilliam, up Pakhuis Pass to Heuningvlei, Wupperthal, Matjiesrivier, Algeria and back to Clanwilliam, an accumulated elevation gain of 3259 m over 164 km.
“…in the desert you can’t remember your name / ‘cos there ain’t no one for to give you no pain …” America’s Horse With No Name seemed rather apt as I reviewed the Go Pro video clips from this hike. The Fish River Canyon is a remote, ancient and dramatically harsh landscape as only a desert canyon can be. Here there are no signs nor sounds of civilisation, except the tracks of those who have gone before and a lost Vespa (more about that later). The night sky is bright and clear, unpolluted by artificial light, the only reminder of industrial society being the speeding specks of low-orbit satellites.
Ah man – those were idyllic days on the backroads of the Baviaanskloof, Karoo and Little Karoo. I left my legs on Rooiberg Pass and my mind somewhere between Bruintjieskraal and Montagu. But it almost didn’t happen. Makadas Adventures’ tour was to be a repeat of the inaugural 2013 one but for various reasons the take-up was poor and a month before the scheduled departure, it was cancelled. Some of us had been so looking forward to it as an antidote to the nagging discontent at work that we were not prepared to see the tour die – so we replanned it as a private tour with our own arrangements, gear, catering and vehicle and trailer. It worked brilliantly.
You may be forgiven, after watching the video (below), for thinking that we freewheeled downhill for the bulk of the almost 400 km. In fact we climbed through 6546 m and descended 5934 m on a cumulative basis. The nett elevation gain was 612 m. It would have been more but for the fact that we drove to the top of Ouberg on the last day to enjoy the fast, long giant slalom to Montagu. The weather could not have been better and we presciently chose our rest day to coincide with the day that the cold front passed through.
Eikenhofkloof is much more benign than Volstruiskloof. There are only about 7 shortish abseils down sloping walls rather than the precipitous, long drops down Volstruiskloof. So I would recommend that you do this one first if you are a novice. Paul Verhoeven led this Mountain Club outing and once more we were blessed with wonderful, late-summer weather. The evening spent under full moon in Duiwelskloof was special, more so because of the lonely hooting and flight of an owl.
Eikenhofkloof (“eiken” means “oaks”) could properly be renamed to “Dennehofkloof” judging by the infestation of alien pine trees (“dennebome”) above and in the kloof. Cape Nature needs to do some serious alien clearing in this inaccessible massif. Near the ruined Mountain Club hut below the kloof, alien hakea is spreading apace. I am sure that the Mountain Club, whose members must be amongst the few people who penetrate this place and have the necessary gear, could launch regular alien hacking expeditions for years to come.
Duiwelskloof (Devil’s Ravine), Duiwelstand (Devil’s Tooth), Groot Drakenstein (Great Dragonstone), Helshoogte (Hell’s Heights), Banghoek (something like Scary Corner) – these mountain feature names suggest something about the nature of the mountainscape in which this annual, mountain club abseil trip is located. The Groot Drakenstein massif rises to the east of greater Stellenbosch and is indeed imposing and although its slopes are very accessible, its inner sanctum is remote. Our route in was via the forbiddingly named Duiwelskloof to an overhang near the top where we settled in for the night. Early the next morning we walked to the head of Volstruiskloof (Ostrich Ravine) and spent a glorious day descending it via 15 abseils (350 m on the lines in total).
An adventure outing like this is usually somewhere near the extreme end of the scale of things I am prepared to do. However, I bought a harness and abseil device two years ago with the intention of tackling Volstruiskloof but somehow found something else to do on the scheduled weekends. Some would call this “chickening out”. This time I committed two weeks in advance. Those weeks were spent visualising the abseils, especially the notorious 120m one that is divided into two 60m sections and requires one to unclip and clip onto a new line on a ledge. I tried to visualise this ledge, but every day that ledge shrank in size. Upon touchdown I found that it is actually quite spacious and features a pothole known as The Baby Pool. In retrospect, I think that the other double-pitch abseil that required a change of line in a more precarious, suspended rock pool known as Die Yskas (The Fridge), I believe, was more intimidating. Continue reading Volstruiskloof: 15 abseils later
The Bainskloof Rock-hopper is an annual, fun, MCSA outing involving bouldering and swimming up or down the Witte River in Bainskloof, between Tweede Tol and Eerste Tol (Second Toll and First Toll). Yes folks, tolling is as old as road-building despite what the current e-tolling controversy in Gauteng would suggest. The old pass‘s stonework and parapets are visible far above the gorge, which is lightly littered with car wrecks, a well-embedded engine block and an electricity transformer, amongst other souvenirs from modern civilisation – see the video.
A round-trip drive of 1700 km is a long way to go for a weekend hike. It would have to be really special to justify the travel I argued, especially in the face of Marion’s barely-concealed disapproval. Doubts loomed when Chris reported that his tendonitis could prevent him walking, and I detected in Santie’s Friday instant-message to enquire about my location that she was concerned that we would not make an appearance. Anyway Chris and I disregarded our spouses’ “advice” (this is generally recommended when it comes to matters of travel and adventure), picked up Santie at St Francis and headed for Kenton-on-Sea, a village that straddles the Bushman’s River mouth.
Our pre-hike accommodation at River Roost, a well-appointed wooden cottage buried in the riverine bush above the river, immediately impressed us, the braai-ed steak was tender and the wine and the company were good. Things were looking up. On arrival the next day at the Langebos forest station we were a little surprised, and pleased, to observe that we were the only people on trail, despite the hut there, which serves as pre-trail accommodation, having ostensibly been fully booked. Over the duration of the trail it became clear that nobody had been on the trail for a while – no spoor.Continue reading Alexandria Trail, Woody Cape
Time to get back on the water and try out the Mastehero mast mount for the GoPro that I ordered online from Slovenia. I was pretty impressed with it, although I think it is intended for more modern masts of a smaller diameter. Consequently, I had to mount it close to the sail’s head where there is a lot of “fluttering” and shuddering when a gust hits, as you will see from the video. So now I have my own “helicopter view” – but I do wonder how it will handle a thumping in the surf. Probably better than I will handle it, I suppose, to judge by the after-effects of yesterday’s workout …
The other sailor that flits in and out of clips now and then in the video is Murray Spiers, one of SA’s leading windsurfers way back in the 80s. I suppose that you could say that old windsurfers never die; they just gracefully cruise around at Kraalbaai.
It has been years since I last walked in the Cederberg. At one time we were regular visitors, not only hiking and spending weekends in CapeNature’s Herberg cottages, but also participating in the Botanical Society’s annual cedar rehabilitation efforts in the Driehoek area. Wilderness called once again and so I used Peter’s (Gaucho Pedro) visit from the UK as an excuse to plot a hike to some of our favourite places. Fellow mountain club members Kevin, Yolanda and Santie were keen too.
The idea was not to attempt a strenuous hike but stay in a smallish area and visit some of the Cederberg’s definitive features such as Tafelberg and Wolfberg Arch for four or so days. In the event, we walked around 40 kms in those few days, from Welbedacht to the Arch, up Tafelberg and its Spout, overnighting twice in caves and catching the Arch at sunset and sunrise and under full moon.
In keeping with the Cederberg’s reputation for silence and solitude, there appeared to be nobody else in the area, except for two groups of daywalkers from Driehoek/Sanddrif and a pair of trail runners (one of whom turned out to be Andrew, fellow volunteer wildfire fighter – small world). At night it was a deserted, tranquil wilderness, bathed in the ghostly light of the full moon.