Picnic at Hangklip

The unmistakable Hangklip (hanging rock) peak is in the Hangklip Core Conservation Area, one of many such areas in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. It is a nature gem wedged between the growing and ugly sprawl of Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay residential areas. The views from the peak are spectacular: north along Kogelberg’s sheer coast, across False Bay to the blue spine of the Cape Peninsula and south over the heavily indented coastline that stretches east of Cape Hangklip. On this day the coast north of Hangklip was blanketed by a thick fog bank with only the area around the peak and the cape being clear and sunny.
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Gantouw Pass

Recently I have been stalking the Cape Town – Elgin heritage steam trainOx-wagon wheel ruts in the sandstone on Saturdays to shoot drone video as it winds its way up Sir Lowry´s Pass – sometimes without success either because of excessive wind or arriving either too early or too late for the train. On this Saturday, the wind was howling unexpectedly at the viewpoint, my intended dronepad, so, as not to chalk up another wasted trip, I decided to hike the couple of kilometres to the old Gantouw Pass. I had often read about it, but never been there. From the viewpoint it´s an easy walk, although crossing the N2 here is hazardous. The trail was part of the original Boland Trail, but the sector was removed after the deaths of some hikers due to adverse weather conditions, apparently

Gantouw Pass is remarkable for the preservation of the ruts in the sandstone gouged by the ox-wagons´ locked, rear wheels as they were dragged over the precipitous pass. Wagon traffic peaked at about 4 500 wagons per annum by 1821, with a 20% rate of attrition. The first recorded crossing is dated 1664. The new pass, Sir Lowry´s Pass, was completed in 1830 and Gantouw Pass was declared a National Monument in 1958. Continue reading Gantouw Pass

Seweweekspoort Para-cycle Tour

Why refer to our truncated, private annual cycle tour as a ¨para¨ cycle tour? Around the braai fire at our pre-tour campsite at Towerkraaltjie, we came to the joint realisation that almost all of us were nursing or recovering from some physical injury or other, not quite able. The joke seemed somewhat apt at the time. All of us, I think, are north of sixty years of age, so we could have named it the senior citizens cycle tour, but that would be too obvious and an explicit admission of advancing age.

Relive 'Karoo Para-cycle Tour day 3'

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Paddling to Steenbras mouth

Deon and I had both suffered fairly serious physical injuries during the past two years and as a result our paddling adventures had stalled. Recently we had tentatively ventured back into the sea kayak, and this weekend we resolved to paddle around to one of our erstwhile haunts, the Steenbras River mouth. Now we were also armed with drones, triumphs of engineering which are really flying cameras. The short video clip below was shot at Steenbras using my Mavic Pro before the return paddle to Gordon’s Bay.

But the absolute highlight of the trip – after the adrenaline rush of punching out through a fairly rough mouth – was a whale which porpoised within spitting distance of us. We had noticed disturbed water on the way in in the deep trench at the mouth and had minutes earlier spotted a large dorsal fin off our bow. The anglers on the rocky promontory at the mouth had signalled cryptically to us as we cleared the surf, but we were unsure what they were referring to – now we knew. At first I thought that it was a humpback whale, but after doing a little research on the colour, shape of the dorsal fin and which whales frequent False Bay, I suspect that it was a Brydes whale. The sighting was a first for Deon and me in these waters. Some years ago we had happened upon two Southern Right whales in the mouth where the waters are so deep and dark that these leviathans simply disappear.

All in all it was a very satisfying day on many levels.

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Cape of Good Hope Trail 11 years later

I had been wanting to walk this trail again for a while but had found it a little difficult to determine how and where to book it. Eventually it was booked in time for Peter’s annual pilgrimage to Africa – and coincidentally it was timed for almost eleven years exactly since we last hiked it in the company of Brian, a schoolmate who was visiting from Australia once again, but would not be joining us this time.

The trail is adequately described in the post about that hike eleven years ago. If anything the western sector was more scorched by fire this time, with the shallow valleys leading down to Sirkelsvlei and Olifantsbos resembling white deserts. When we looked back over the trail from Rooihoogte it seemed clear that the latest fire had been ignited adjacent to the busy road leading down to Cape Point. Any guesses as to how it started? The sparse vegetation made it extremely easy to spot eland, bontebok and a troop of baboons picking their way across the sands, however. On day 1 a warning call also caused us to spot a pair of klipspringers on Kanonkop, who watched us warily as we circled east and south of them.

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Grootvadersbosch and Boosmansbos

Grootvadersbosch campsite

At Peter’s suggestion, prior to his annual pilgrimage back to the Cape, we booked a couple of nights’ camping in Grootvadersbosch with the idea of perhaps hiking to the Boosmansbos forest. We had undertaken the 2-day wilderness hike way back in 1999 in mist and rain. I had also hiked down to Grootvadersbosch at the end of a Rim of Africa stage from Montagu and had been struck by the beauty and location of the small campsite. After an afternoon strolling around the forest that is Grootvadersbosch, we struck out the next day for the watershed that overlooks Barrydale north of the Langeberge, having decided that the Saagkuilskloof trail looked too burnt. As we left the forest, a large bush pig (wild boar?) that had been spooked by the warning calls of monkeys, barrelled out of the undergrowth, unsuccessfully hurdled the road embankment and then hurtled uproad, luckily away from us, before disappearing into the forest. That was a new experience for both of us.

We lunched on the watershed and were surprised by a glider riding the updrafts along the ridge, the only warning being a soft buzz. Surprised by our energy levels, we completed the 23 km hike through 970 m. As Peter remarked in a FB post: “not bad for two old farts on the wrong side of sixty”.

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Botmaskop is a 910 m peak near my home and is the first mountain I see when I leave for work each morning. Its form is unique in the Jonkershoek ranges, resembling the prow of a dreadnought. The hike up takes about 2 hours, following a spur through municipal tree plantations before it steepens sharply into the fynbos. The final ascent up a gully is a slight scramble before one emerges on a flat-topped peak rimmed by sandstone ramparts. Two or three people can sleep up there without any danger of rolling off. I often see the flicker of campers’ headlamps against the night sky.

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Western Panorama Trail


Up Swartboskloof and down Kurktrekker, Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

The last time we ascended Swartboskloof I ended up under the knife to fix a ruptured disc. So this hike, once more with Santie – and Dorette – was something of a rite of passage, a reckoning with past trauma. The going was hot and my younger and fitter companions had to do quite a bit of waiting, but it was a bright, pristine day with vistas to Cape Point. I shot some drone videos at the viewpoint above Lourensford, but also had to scrap some footage as I learn frustrating lessons about managing the camera,

This part of the Panorama route is longer than the eastern loop – some 17 km in length and over 1000 m in elevation gain – although for some reason I always seem to imagine it to be shorter. The descent via Kurktrekker was murderous, treacherous underfoot and hot. Tired but satisfied. Continue reading Western Panorama Trail

Panorama Trail in spring

It was fantastic to get back into the mountains again on a serious hike for the first time since the back op in February. And the Boland served up the perfect day: warm, windless, impossibly blue, water coursing out of the rock and seeps everywhere, and the veld ablaze with colour. The next day the leg muscles were burning but recovery from the back injury is well underway as we steadily tick off the milestones along the way.

Jonkershoek’s Panorama Trail seldom disappoints. One departs at the Witbrug at the top of the dirt road loop. The trail ascends the eastern rim of the valley, traverses the high, Dwarsberg plateau and descends by one of two routes: the shorter roundtrip down the Kurktrekker, or the longer, full-day hike down Swartboskloof. We left a bit late and so scrambled down Kurktrekker, where the recent rains have made the path a little treacherous. But Cape Nature’s teams are working on the repairs, judging by the bundles of short poles regularly stacked along the way. The shorter route is about 13 km in length and one climbs through 1093 m.

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Coastal hikes in South Africa

Here is a guide to the South African coastal hikes I have had the privilege of experiencing. Hopefully it is useful to those who are planning to walk our beautiful and diverse coastline. The list starts at the north-eastern-most trail – the Wild Coast Trail from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay – and proceeds around the Cape to the Postberg Trail in the West Coast National Park, which is only open during wildflower season.

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Gentle adventures in the Canadian Rockies

This year the nature of our mid-winter break was more commensurateVermilion Lakes and Sulphur Mountain with our newly-minted status of grandparents. From the moment little Elena was born in Calgary, there was only going to be one destination. Fortunately Calgary is an hour’s drive from the Rockies and it’s only a little further to Banff and Kootenay national parks, the latter across the provincial border in British Columbia. Heather, our daughter, and Dirk organised a couple of trips to the mountains and this post presents a taste of what we experienced – for those who are interested. Continue reading Gentle adventures in the Canadian Rockies

Groot-Gouritz MTB Tour 2018

By popular demand we arranged another private MTB tour aimed at occasional cyclists, and not racers. The format was the same: reasonable daily distances, emphasis on touring and taking in the scenery, backup vehicles trailing us, plenty of stops and camping all the way.

Relive 'Groot-Gouritz MTB tour day 3'

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Skeletons, tables, castles and caves

As I lie here recovering from spinal surgery, I thought I would post about my last hike of any consequence before the double bout with operating theatres, one planned and the other not. Santie organised this classic route ascending Skeleton Gorge from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, following Smuts’ Track to Maclear´s Beacon, across the front table to the cableway and then down Kasteelspoort to Bakoven, where we caught an Uber back to Kirstenbosch. Photos follow.

Relive 'Table traverse'

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Beyond Gordon’s Bay’s anchor

Gordon’s Bay was our family’s beach during the ’50s and ’60s. We spent many playful hours in its warm waters, holidaying at Thelma’s Guesthouse – now long gone – and watching the fishing boats in the old harbour. The black and white photo below shows the bay and town in 1950. Compare the landscape to the unsightly urban sprawl still spreading like a cancer across the Helderberg bowl in the other photos on this page.Gordons Bay, 1950.

Above the harbour on the mountainside, an anchor frames the letters “GB”. It is laid out in whitewashed stones on a scree slope. The landmark dates from 1949 when cadets at the “General Botha”, the South African Nautical College of the merchant navy, laid it out to identify the location of the General Botha in the old harbour. In my lifetime it has always been there, seemingly as timeless as the mountain itself. But in all these years I have never been on those slopes, so I suggested to Peter that we follow the “path” to the anchor and beyond, and continue over the watershed to Steenbras Dam, and then “see” where we would come down again.

The wind was fresh from the north-west, threatening rain which, given the Cape’s desperate drought, was a welcome prospect (it did eventually rain later that night, but we are still on course for a major water crisis at the end of this summer). We were also curious to see the level of Steenbras Lower Dam, one of the Cape’s “big six” dams that supply most of the water to the City of Cape Town, agriculture and the smaller municipalities of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein. Of the potential storage capacity of 898 Gigalitres (Gl) in these six dams, Steenbras Lower can store 33.5 Gl – but it is currently 50.2% full (the total system storage level is lying at 30.4%, which means our water will run out in April, if not March – well before the winter rains hopefully set in). Continue reading Beyond Gordon’s Bay’s anchor

Groothoekkloof descent

Traversing the Matroosberg from the Ceres side to the Hex River valley

Selfie on the saddle
Paul Verhoeven proposed and led this 3-day kloofing trip as a more “sedate” version of the usual MCSA two-day dash down the kloof. Groothoekkloof descends rapidly from the ski slopes of the Matroosberg, which are reached via hiking path or 4×4 track from the Matroosberg Nature Reserve on the Ceres side. In winter, the saddle above the kloof is treacherously icy for unwary snow-seekers, having sent a few souls over the edge to their deaths, as the plaques attest to. The drops near the top are precipitous (9 abseils), interspersed with thick bush and scree stretches which make for some rugged bundu bashing . Lower down the kloof becomes wet, with ice-cold waterfalls, slippery boulders, fern and moss draped cliffs, clumps of verdant indigenous forest (dubbed Wonderwoud (magic forest) by the kloof’s pioneer, Retief Jordaan), including 3 wet abseils, one of which ends in an icy pool. In the damp shadows arum lilies are still in bloom. Here the kloof often becomes a slot canyon where one can at times almost touch both sides with outstretched arms. The final barrier, known as Die Ertjie (The Pea), is a big boulder from which one has to jump about 3 or 4 m into a deep, black pool. Relatively few will have the chance to experience this beautiful kloof – those who do can count themselves as privileged. Continue reading Groothoekkloof descent

Cederberg the sedate way

December in the Cederberg is hot. So although Peter and I had20171216_104842 all the best intentions of hiking into the wilderness from our camping bases at Sanddrif and Algeria, reality was decidedly less energy-intensive. We took a 9 km round-trip walk to the Maltese Cross and another similar walk up the Rondegat River above Algeria – and I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the DJI Mavic Pro drone. The clip below is my beginner’s attempt.

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Leopard’s Gorge hike, cycle back

From Kogelberg to Harold Porter Botanical Garden and back

Hardy plants
I fail to understand why I hadn’t thought of it before. The Leopard’s Gorge hike is a perennial favourite: short and scenically spectacular, fynbos and forest. But the logistics of leaving transport at both ends, or walking the gorge in both directions, have never appealed to me. And then on Saturday night I suggested to Marion that we drop the bikes at Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, drive to and hike from Kogelberg, enjoy lunch in the garden, and cycle back to the vehicle. Good exercise, quick and satisfyingly diverse.

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Walks in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Pyrenees

After the Canal du Midi we rented a car at At the viewpoint - proofCarcassonne and drove through the Pyrenees to Torla in Spain, a mediaeval town high up in the mountains near the mouth of the Valle de Ordesa. Peter had argued for the canyon to be on our itinerary as it was the third tick on his list of five lesser known but spectacular hikes in Europe. And spectacular it is. Not to mention extremely popular. Most of the hikers in the valley appeared to be Spaniards, young families, daywalkers like us, interspersed with groups of young, harder core hikers, and many with dogs, which is a strange sight in a national park for South Africans.

The old towns in the Pyrenees are also either way stations or starting points for pilgrims on the longer versions of the Camino de Santiago.

The Valle de Ordesa is a deep canyon cut by the Rio Arazas near the French border. There are many hikes of differing lengths and difficulty. It forms the core of the Ordesa y Monte Perdido national park, which in turn is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the mirror peaks, cirques and canyons in the French Pyrenees. The park is dominated by the 3 555 m Monte Perdido (the lost mountain, or Mont Perdu in French) massif, the largest limestone massif in Western Europe. We walked two popular trails: the valley floor hike from Torla and the Faja de Pelay hike along the canyon rim to the Cascada de la Cola de Caballo (the horsetail falls). The latter is highly recommended, but involves a steep trudge up a switchback path, gaining some 600m in elevation relatively quickly. Continue reading Ordesa

Canal du Midi video clips

Here are five short, amateur video clips from our recent Canal du Midi boat tour. They are probably boring to watch, but they are a good record of our trip – and they may give you a sense of what to expect should you be planning a canal boating trip. For us, it was magnificent.

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Postberg Trail take two

Lunch south of Donkergat

I was privileged to be invited by Sonja to make up the numbers on the Postberg Trail hike almost exactly a year after the previous time. It was a week earlier in the flower season, and although the flower display is not as intense as last time, the peninsula and surrounding waters were spectacular in the late winter light.

More photos follow …

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Canal du Midi

Canal boating from Négra Lock to Argens-Minervois

Gey at Les Moulins du Pont
July saw the realisation of a lifelong fascination near the end of my sixtieth year celebrations: a canal boat trip on the canals of old Europe. I had seen a TV documentary about the Canal du Midi some years ago. Its construction was a grand, 17th century engineering project to connect the Atlantic to the Mediterranean for trade purposes that obviated the need for the French to sail around the hostile Iberian peninsula and through the pirate-ridden Strait of Gibraltar. So impressed by the remarkable feat of engineering was I that I did no further research on canal holidays in France or anywhere else. The Canal du Midi it would be. Subsequently I discovered that the canal accounts for 20% of French river tourism with 10000 to 11000 boat passages per year, all leisure boats. It is the busiest canal in France.  But as luck would have it I also unknowingly chose to do a section during the first week of July, before the holiday rush really gets underway, that would prove to be quiet and uncrowded. It turned out to be a glorious, relaxed, yet active, seven-day cruise for me, Marion, and old pal Peter, on our plucky little pénichette, Gey. As we neared the Med, near the end of our cruise, the increase in traffic was palpable. Continue reading Canal du Midi

Cederberg MTB Tour 2017

152 km in 3 days

Climbing out of Heuningvlei
Our cycling tour, organised by Magriet, colleague and fellow, serial Baviaanskloofer, followed a very similar format to the previous cycling tour two years ago and was also timed for the same late-autumn weekend in May. There were four stark differences though: this time we had warm, cloudless days instead of rain and wind; the landscape was charred, the drifts were dry and the road conditions especially on the eastern section were difficult despite being dry.

Our route was slightly amended too: Clanwilliam to Heuningvlei, via Wupperthal to Sanddrif, and back to Clanwilliam via Algeria. For those of us who are not fond of technical riding, the stones, steps and sand of the Noodpad (the donkey cart-cart track) were a bit of a trial. And the section after the steep climb out of Wupperthal to Matjiesrivier became a slog in my book. All vegetation has been destroyed by this summer’s fires and my theory is that the wind has blown sand amongst the pebbles of the gravel roads, making them more “sticky” and slippery than muddy roads.

Nevertheless, great weather, the magnificent rocky vistas, some excellent wine and good company made it an extremely enjoyable tour. The trusty Rocky Mountain commuter bike with the hard tail, the pannier carriers and the slick tires came through unscathed and even reached downhill speeds of almost 70 km/h on some steep gravel sections. I suspect that if I had to add rear suspension I will scare the crap out of myself. An interactive map, more photos, profiles and a video follow below … Continue reading Cederberg MTB Tour 2017

Kammanassie-Baviaanskloof MTB Tour 2017

The fourth edition of our private MTB tour which The cyclists at Eagle Fallsalways features the Baviaanskloof, one of those places that can only be of Africa and of the eastern Cape of South Africa, has been refined over time to be a compact and leisurely cycling-camping tour along endless dirt roads, over precipitous passes and through unequalled arid landscapes. The Baviaanskloof, the “valley of baboons”, is located at the nexus of seven biomes and forms the core of the expanding Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. This year we changed the itinerary so that we cycled eastwards from the Kammanassie valley and “down” the Baviaanskloof, instead of “up” it as we had done all of the previous times. Yes, over the full distance of about 280 km we did lose 419 m in altitude in 6 days of cycling, but in our three days in the kloof we climbed over 3350 m traversing some rather steep passes.

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Kammanassie through Baviaans

(All photos by Santie Gouws)

There were 8 of us, 6 cyclists and 2 drivers of the support vehicles, Down Combrinks PassRalph’s old staatmaker Toyota Hilux and Magriet’s VW Tiguan. All of us, except Marion, Ralph’s wife, had done the trip before, so much was the anticipation of another spectacular week of cycling through one of South Africa’s truly remote and wild places.
Our trip started with us camping overnight at the Eagle Falls guest farm in the Kammanassie valley. Tents were pitched and braaing time came and we soon realized that apart from literally going off-grid in terms of not having cellphone signal in the kloof, we would also be off-grid in terms of braaiing, since the essential toeklap rooster had been left at home – guilty parties will not be named for their own protection. Luckily this is South Africa and we could borrow a grid at Eagle Falls.

‘Kammanassie’ is the Khoi San word for ‘mountains of water’ and boy oh boy did we get a first-hand experience of that. I had a small, read minute, orange K-way 1-man hiking tent, but it proved its worth that evening when a thunderstorm of note broke loose overhead. Thunder, lightning, heavy rain thrashing and a wild wind shaking the K-way, but not a drop of water came through as I emerged fresh as a daisy the next morning. This was to be the first day of our cycle tour – Kammanassie through Baviaans.

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Perdeberg Peak

Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve

Perderberg beacon and Palmiet estuary
The hike to Perdeberg Peak (640 m ASL) from near the bridge across the Palmiet River is relatively easy, following a gradual gradient over some 11.8 km there and back. It rewards one with spectacular views: south-west over the Bot River mouth, south down to the Palmiet estuary, north into the farmlands of the Elgin Basin and west over the Palmiet River as it winds through the core Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

As I have mentioned before, I have a special affinity with the Kogelberg: a 5-day forced march through this area during my army conscription thirty-seven years ago is still indelibly etched in my mind. It was hard, the instructors were nasty, but the extreme beauty is what I remember most. Everytime I go back, I retrace familiar paths, remember long-forgotten comrades, one S/Sgt de Montfort, the apples that farmers left for us, the unequalled sea and mountain scapes and always the tapestry of fynbos. The reserve is still recovering from frequent fires in recent years. The veld is young, which makes hiking easier. Continue reading Perdeberg Peak