The 5-day, 61 km (69 km by my GPS) Wild Coast hike down the scenic Pondoland coast featuring overnight stays at local homesteads, is one of those must-do hikes. Besides moving through the unfolding spectacle of the shoreline you will gain some insight into a fast-disappearing way of life. The trail crosses many river estuaries and at least four of them require a ferry.
Despite its verdant beauty and the absence of overt industrial development, one cannot escape the sense that the name ¨Wild Coast¨ is a bit of a misnomer. The name evokes untrammelled wilderness, but this coast has been home to the Mpondo people, supporting their pastoral and agricultural society, for centuries. There are pockets of indigenous forest, mostly in the valleys, but all the rolling hills are cattle pastures – grasslands – crowned by traditional homesteads and hamlets. What wildlife that is left is restricted to two small nature reserves and one marine protected area (MPA). By contrast dolphins and whales roam freely at sea. Although the locals have always gathered and fished from the shoreline, harbours and fishing boats are largely absent. On other coastal trails in South Africa, the re-emergence of pairs of black oystercatchers every kilometre or so is noticeable and heartening, but on this coast we saw not even one.
This 14.5 km hike from the Cape Point gate to the visitor centre at the point, down the False Bay coast, has long been one of my favourites. It offers spectacular views of the southern peninsula and False Bay across to the Kogelberg coast in the east. The trail undulates behind Judas Peak, over Die Boer and behind Paulsberg, before descending to Bordjiesrif for a walk along the coast. It then ascends Vasco da Gama Peak to follow the peninsula’s spine to the restaurant. The trail is stony, and with many places to pause and enjoy the beauty, so allow at least six hours.
Peter and I treated it as preparation for our forthcoming Wild Coast hike, while Santie was doing the same in advance of tackling the Amatola.
It took me 32 years since my first hiking experience in the Cederberg to summit Sneeuberg – in my 60th year and on the occasion of the Mountain Club of SA’s 125th anniversary camp. Paul Verhoeven organised and led the hike and although it was advertised as part of the anniversary programme, only three of us, all Stellenbosch members, participated.
We hiked up Sederhoutkloof (cedar wood gorge) to Sneeuberg hut on the Saturday, a short walk of about 7 km. The name, Sederhoutkloof, like many others in SA recalls now-absent species, in this case the forests of Clanwilliam Cedars from which the Cederberg takes its name, which were all but logged out over the last century. The remnant huts were originally used for stabling the mules which hauled the timber out.
The Postberg Trail is pretty exclusive, only opening for the spring months of August and September and accommodating just 12 hikers per day. It is a two-day trail of some 26 kms in length but with negligible elevations. Bring your own tent and overnight at Plankiesbaai on the Postberg peninsula’s west coast. There is no “slackpacking” option.
The spring months are when South Africa’s west coast explodes in a kaleidoscope of colour if the winter rains have been good. The flower display is the trail’s “main event” but the land and seascapes are equally spectacular.
It has been many years since I walked the Silvermine plateau and the spectacular ridges and peaks above Noordhoek. On the spur of the moment I decided to exploit Marion’s new-found interest in the outdoors to revisit Noordhoek Peak, and possibly Chapman’s Peak. Despite the bracing conditions, or maybe because of the first sunshine for days, there were crowds in Silvermine. In the years of absence from the Peninsula I had not realised how popular its mountains have become. I feel ambivalent about it: it is great that so many people enjoy nature and are physically active in it; but I prefer the solitude and silence of the Boland mountains.
Our mid-winter tour of the Garden Route and Little Karoo ran the gamut of weather from crystal-clear, windless days to fierce storms, from balmy Karoo days to icy nights. We set off to take the roads less travelled and to stay at least two nights in a place to get a sense of it.
Paul Verhoeven arranged this exclusive adventure for a small group of mountain club members. It involved climbing the Peaks (¨Pieke¨), some of the highest summits in the Jonkershoek area and then 9 abseils down Tierkloof, the cleft that angles down south of the westernmost peak. I was a little nervous the night before and slept fitfully, which is unusual. Discomfort with precipitous heights probably has something to do with it. Some nerves are good though; it gives a little ¨edge¨ and makes one sharp and aware.
The abseils were fun though and with only three of us (Peter Jan Randewijk was the third member) the descent was relatively quick. Tierkloof is not as extreme as Volstruiskloof, but there are some 50 m cliffs to negotiate. It is as spectacular however.
The Swartberge – the black mountains – are literally black now. A recent fire, the second in quick succession, has charred them. The other wildfire a few years ago destroyed the third hiking hut so that the trail has had to be adapted to use only two huts over three nights – the Bothashoek and Out Tol huts. These stark mountains’ jagged lines and ridges are no longer softened by the usual fynbos and protea cover, but the first geophyte shoots after the initial winter rains are in evidence everywhere.
Day 1 features a relatively stiff 900 m climb from De Hoek, but it is easier and more gradual than some – like the Waaihoek ascent. Bothashoek hut was a welcome sight as we breasted Bushman’s Nek and grew on us even more once we figured out how to coax hot water from the solar geyser.
6-day mountain bike tour through the Baviaanskloof, across the back of the Kouga Mountains, across the Langkloof, down Prince Alfred’s Pass to Wittedrif
This time we decided to plan a more compact private tour, which still included the incredible Baviaanskloof but followed an old Thomas Bain-built pass to the coast. Previous tours had been the 400 km trial from Baviaanskloof to Montagu, a repeat of that route in 2014 that skipped the Sanbona section but still averaged 80 km per day, and a selected passes tour last year which featured Swartberg, Rooiberg, Seweweekspoort and Bosluiskloof passes with shorter daily distances.
Almost fourteen years after the first time, we elected to sample the slackpacking option for this trail. Slackpacking involves paying R520 per crate/coolbox for transport from hut to hut. It makes for very good meals, meals that can do the “huts” justice. “Huts” and not huts, because they are actually beautifully sited and built, themed cottages. Unfortunately, the one at Cupidoskraal burned down in September last year, but a functional former mountain biking cottage is a fair replacement. To our shock the reserve is charred from Potberg to the coast, with some unburned strips in the east around Noetsie and in the hills and dunes around Hamerkop and Vaalkrans huts. The Lekkerwater guest house is but a gutted ruin on a bluff now.
Having “done the Witels” back in 2009, I had little intention of doing it again, but then she-who-shall-remain-nameless talked me into another MCSA mission from 25 to 30 December. Anyway, when Christmas Day dawned it had already transpired that she-who-shall-remain-nameless had had to withdraw due to sickness. I was committed, however, having agreed to ferry some fellow hikers from Stellenbosch, one of whom also withdrew at the last moment. At least I knew what lay ahead: a gruelling, relentless climb up Hagga’s Hill (Waaihoek) weighed down with a 5-day pack; fourteen potentially cold swims; intensive use of all four limbs and assorted muscles; heat and hot rocks that can “iron” your fingerprints flat; eels that like to take a nibble (there’s a rather pushy resident at the Leopard Camp pool); a hive of particularly aggressive bees; and the ever-present danger of a slip and fall. I mean, what else is one supposed to do in the days after Christmas?
High up in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site between Stellenbosch and Grabouw, eleven steel cables spiral and zigzag down the Riviersonderendkloof (“river-without-end gorge”), forming a series of catenary for a thrilling, yet accessible, adventure. Conceived and operated by Cape Canopy Tours, the zipline ride has rapidly become one of the top adventure experiences in the Cape. Kevin and I decided that we needed the rush too. Our verdict: highly recommended and worth every cent.
This MCSA hike is led regularly by August Carstens since he participated in a mountain bike event along this route. I can’t get my head around the biking concept because there is no discernible path to speak of in the upper Stettynskloof while thick riverine bush and particularly stony ground makes the going tough, even on foot. On this day the heat made the hike even more challenging, so that after 14 km when we dragged ourselves into Agter Tafelberg hut, I was thoroughly knackered.
The plan was to redo the traverse to Paarl the next day, Sunday, which I was none too keen on given last year’s misadventure. Mercifully, Kevin convinced Peet that the day, including driving back to Stettynskloof Dam to pick up the other vehicle, would become too long. In any case I had quietly decided that I would walk out to Du Toitskloof hut whatever their decision. The latter walk is an easy, although far less interesting, stroll of 9 km along a farm road down the Kraalstroom Valley.
Hiking Stettynskloof is intriguing for two reasons: a. not many people get there and b. the wreckage of a tragic 60s aircraft crash is strewn across the valley. On 8 August 1963, a SAAF Shackleton with 13 crew on board fell in icy weather conditions en route to Port Elizabeth. According to the official report the aircraft commander had disregarded his briefing instructions to follow the coast and rather cut across the inhospitable Wemmershoek peaks, with tragic and it seems, anticipated, consequences.
Note: Stettynskloof is not a recognised hiking trail. Join a MCSA outing or obtain permission from CapeNature’s Limietberg Nature Reserve manager.
As Paul, the hike leader, had warned, the climb of the Cathedral (Second Ridge Peak) and Banghoek Peak would make for a “lang dag”. And so it proved to be. The MCSA party of fourteen covered 16.5 km and climbed a total of 1790 m over 10.5 hours.
We ascended via the Panorama Trail, contour path and Slabs Route and descended via Bergriviersnek. The Slabs Route is probably the easiest way of reaching the peaks. The route to or from Bergriviersnek, by contrast, features “the Green Mamba”, a precarious grassy gully, and a ledge of slight exposure.
As usual, there was a wide spread of ages in the party, with club legend, Jeanne, the most senior at 70+ years. Now that is something to aim for.
I don’t expect this post to be of much interest to others besides those who were in the party who drove the 8000 or so dusty kilometres. It is however a video record – comprising 5 short, amateur videos – of our overland safari through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. If you are interested carry on …
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.
Perhaps the fact that the houseboat Malachite Imfant is currently wrapped up in the recently-deceased owner’s estate was a harbinger of things to come. As it puttered out of Marineland at Kariba in balmy conditions however, the group had the distinct feeling that things were looking up after the events of the morning. One of the vehicles had rolled its trailer on the way out of Mana Pools and the bent axle meant it had to be abandoned in the bush with its fridge and plenty of food. That was quite a blow for those members of our party because that trailer was literally packed “to the rafters” with “vleis en ys”. Continue reading The ill-fated voyage of the Malachite
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