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 burnt 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 unburnt 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.
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
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 …