Monthly Archives: August 2012

Posberg Nature Reserve – Aug 2012

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Posberg Nature Reserve – Aug 2012, a set on Flickr.

For guided day tours from Cape Town (Aug / September) – hikes or drives contact Frank: hostnet@mweb.co.za

Posberg Nature Reserve – drive or hike

The first thing that comes to mind when the name Posberg is mentioned is flowers. The reserve is a privately owned piece of land within the boundaries of the West Coast National Park. It is managed by SA National Parks, but is accessible to the public only in August and September each year when it is opened to show off the magnificent array of flowers.

The best way to visit the reserve is to set a day aside, park at the gate and follow the Klipspringer hiking path up on to the ridge. This way you get to see both the detail of the individual flowers, as well as the incredible flower carpeted expanse of open veld and the views to the sea.

If you are on the ball and book early, you can also arrange an overnight hike in the reserve during this time. The trail follows a circular route and the overnight site is close to the beach at Plantjies Bay. You will need to bring your own tent and food supplies, but it is a beautiful experience to spend the night under the stars.

For those that do not have the time or the inclination to walk it is possible to drive the scenic routes. It can be done in an ordinary saloon car, although a high clearance vehicle is preferable. At various parts of the route you will be able to see the Atlantic Ocean, Saldhana Bay and the port of Saldhana, Langebaan Lagoon and the West Coast National Park.

Within the West Coast National Park, on your way back, you can visit the site of the discovery of “Eve’s” footprint at Kraalbaai. Dated at 117,000 years old it is proof of human habitation of the area during the Halocene Age.

For flower tours, both hiking and driving contact info@afrukaecotours.co.za or frank@slackpackersa.co.za. We cater for tours for one up to ten people or complete the contact form and we will get back to you.

Visit our web site at www.afrukaecotours.co.za.

Contact Frank: Cell 082-8824388

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Filed under Birding, Day Hikes, Day Trekking, Day Walks, Flower Tours, News

Cederberg – August 2012

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Cederberg – August 2012, a set on Flickr.

For guided hikes and overnight hiking trails contact Frank: frank@slackpackersa.co.za

It is always an uplifting experience to walk in this magnificent part of the world. I had not been there for some time, so it was good hike some of the familiar paths and to experience some of the not so familiar routes. The weather for the weekend held to the predicted clear and warm, with some light rain coming in on Sunday evening, prior to our departure on Monday morning.

There was quite a bit of snow at the higher levels and plenty of white frozen sheets, at the lower levels, showing how low down the snow had come. Camping was chilly and getting up in the morning a bit of a challenge.

Having arrived just after midday, we decided to walk to the Maltese Cross before setting up camp for the evening. It is about a four hour round trip, allowing for a bit of time to spend at the ‘Cross’ itself.

I had not been on this route for a very long time and was a bit surprised that it was quite an uphill trek – somehow I was expecting it to be flatter – but that is probably a perception created by the photographs that show it to be surrounded by a fairly level plateau. It is not surprising however, when one realizes that this plateau sits at an elevation higher of 1400m, higher than the entrance to the Wolfberg Cracks. What a brilliant hike, with the reward of the overwhelming splendour of the ‘Cross’ itself, not to mention the formations, rock layers and natural sculptors on the route.

There was a welcome cold beer waiting in the cooler box on our return, while we set up the tents and got the fire going while it was still light. Later that evening we attended an (outdoor) talk at the Cederberg observatory. In spite of warm clothing it was a fairly chilly outing. It is great to be reminded of just how many stars there are in the sky and just how small we are in relation to it all. With no moon on the night there were so many stars that it was even difficult to spot some of the more familiar one – an awesome sight.

It was up at first light the next morning to give ourselves plenty of time to get through the ‘Cracks’ and to the Arch. We were a bit slower getting going than we had planned. The main excuse was that there was no hot water in the men’s showers (pipes frozen?). After a bit of research (as there were no women in the camp) we found the hot water in the ladies ablutions – maybe because it was ‘Women’s Month’.

The walk up to the Wolfberg Cracks is fairly steep, but it is a good path that is well graded. It never really feels as if you are climbing that much. I had done the route several times and it is well cairned, so it is not difficult to follow. For our own interest, we spent a bit of time exploring the ‘easy’ route to the small crack. This route avoids going under the chock stone and across the narrow ledge, but it is not that easy to follow and although we did find it in the end, it was more by luck than good judgement. As we had left our packs at the start of the usual route, we had to go back to fetch then and came through that way.

The small crack has a few challenges, with scrambling over rocks and boulders and squeezing through a few narrow openings. Except for two places, none of these are any real problem, apart from the rocks being a bit rough and likely to give one the odd scrape or scratch. The first of the two challenging obstacles, is a short chimney, where it is necessary to push oneself up using feet and back, until you can get the fingers in to a small crevice to pull and manoeuvre yourself on to the boulder at the top – not easy, but doable. The second obstacle, quite close by, is a boulder that you need to slide under, with only just enough room for a medium sized person to get through. It can be a little claustrophobic, but with the right angles not too difficult. There is a way over this, that I have done in the past, but on the day looked more daunting than going under.

Once through this section there is a narrow crack that leads out on to the ridge above. It is a good place to rest and have a tea break. There is a large flat area of rock above the cracks with magnificent views over the valleys below and surrounding peaks.

There are various cairned routes to the Wolfberg Arch from here, offering the hiker slightly different options for the out and return route. The route is over and flattish plain with a few rocky outcrops in between. On the outward route, the cairns are a little more difficult to follow than on the return, but it in clear conditions, following the general direction is no problem. From the top of the Cracks, the Arch can be seen in the distance, but only becomes visible again on the final plain. It is a walk of approximately one and half hours to reach the outcrop on which the Arch is perched, and another twenty minute to get up to the base. While from a distance, you might think it is just another of the majestic formations of the area, but once there, it is a very special and awesome spectacle.

The walk back to the wider of the two cracks and the route down, is very well cairned and we did this at a faster pace than the outward trek. The wider crack is a beautiful and tranquil place, and reasonably easy until you get close to the end. The climb down to rejoin the path is quite tricky, with some rough downward scrambling and boulder to negotiate over or around. At the end of long days hike it is tiring rather than difficult. As you meet the path you can look down to the valley below and clearly see the route back to the cars, parked in the parking area below.

If the beers at the end of the first day were welcome, at the end of this day they were appreciated even more. With an hour deviation for exploring, the hike had taken us eight hours.

As we prepared dinner the predicted rain threatened, but held off until we had eaten, enjoyed some local red wine (Cederberg Cellars) and got ourselves into our warm tents and sleeping bags. Luck held again the next morning when the rain held off while we packed up and headed for home, after the obligatory visit to the Stadsaal Caves.

A wonderful, although all too short weekend.
Your Cape Town Host

For guided Table Mountain and Cederberg walks and overnight trail contact:

info@slackpackersa.co.za or
visit our web site at http://www.slackpackersa.co.za or
blog at http://www.slackpacker.wordpress.com .

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Filed under Adventure, Cedarberg, Cederberg, Day Hikes, Day Trekking, Day Walks, News, overnight trails, Slackpacker, Slackpacking Trails, Trekking South Africa, Western Cape Hiking Trails

Fynbos Trail July 2012

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Fynbos Trail July 2012, a set on Flickr.

Trail Summary

A two hour drive from Cape Town in the Walker Bay / Stanford area, the Fynbos Trail is walked over three days, covering a total distance of 25km. Two nights are spent on the trail in comfortable farmhouse style accommodation at Fynbos Retreat and self-catering cottages at Bodhi Khaya. Overall the walking is easy, although a good level of hiking fitness will make the trek a more comfortable and enjoyable experience. There are a few short climbs out of the valley, with the paths following a reasonable grading up and down the hills. There is no exposure to heights nor scrambling required.

 

The paths are mainly well defined and maintained, although surfaces are often natural. We recommended hiking boots, especially in winter, when you may encounter patches of mud and wet areas.

 

The trail is offered as a ‘slackpacking’ experience with all overnight luggage and food requirements transported. It can be done on a fully guided and catered basis; or as a self-catered, self-guided experience. We highly recommend the guided experience.

 

The Fynbos Trail is a linear trek, with secure parking available at the start, at the Growing the Future Project. All hikers will be transported from the finish at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, back to the cars.

Introduction

There are so many beautiful and interesting hiking routes in the Western Cape these days that finding a new one that exceeds expectations is always exciting. The new Fynbos Trail in the Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy area is one such trail.

I was lucky enough to be able to do it on a beautiful Western Cape winters weekend in July. So much for the reputation of the Cape being a wet and wild place to walk in winter. The conditions could not have been better. Added to the experience was the advantage of the trail hosted by husband and wife team of Sean & Michele Privett. Sean is a botanist and together with Walker Bay guide Billy Robertson, added a whole dimension to the interest and enjoyment.

Day 1

We got together for the start, at the innovative Growing the Future project on the Grootbos Estate. This project has been set up to train groups of women in sustainable farming methods and other associated life skills. The fruit and vegetables grown on the project are used in the kitchens of the guest lodges of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve as well as on the catered version of the trail.

I was part of a group that was being introduced to the Green Flag trail assessment system, so our schedule was slightly different to the usual. The normal 2 p.m. start gives plenty of time for a leisurely drive from Cape Town and lunch in Hermanus or closer by in Stanford. An important aspect of Slackpacking is being able to enjoy a beer (or whatever your preference is) after a hard days walking, so I stopped off at the Birckenhead Brewery in Stanford,  on my way, to pick up some local beer.

Sean and Billy met us at the start for pre-trail briefing, paperwork and organisation of luggage transport. Our Green Flag mission, meant that we had a slightly later start than would otherwise have been the case, but we soon set off to trek through high stands of strandveld fynbos and in to the wonderful old milkwood forest of Steynsbos – one of only eight similar forests in the world. This is a beautiful and peaceful place with paths meandering around twisted tree trunks and overhanging branches. Although these trees are not tall, the knurled branches give them an air of being wise and distinguished.

On leaving the forest the trail undulates through magnificent stands of Fynbos, up and down the hills, into a valley where it joins an old jeep track. At the end of the track there is a dam where, in summer, is an ideal rest stop and swimming site. It was a bit cool for that in July. As we hiked up towards Pinnacle View Point – the highest point on day 1 – Sean added interest, explaining how the silver-edge pincushion protea ( Leucospermum patersonii )  acts as a landing pad for sugarbird, getting the pollen on its head as it extracts the nectar and how the seed drops to the ground for the ants to carry underground to exactly the right depth, before they eat away the outer coating and leave the seed until the conditions are exactly right for propagation. He also pointed out the Erica irregularis, flowering in abundance on the hillside, but endemic to the area, occurring only between Stanford and De Kelders and nowhere else in the world.

The views from the high point of Pinnacle View Point are spectacular, with mountains in the distance in the one side and the sea, with the outline of the Cape Peninsula in the distance on the other. By the end of the trail there was a danger that spectacular views would become routine.

The sun was sinking below the hills at this stage as the late start caught up with us. Reluctantly we opted for a short cut along a jeep track that took us down to Fynbos Retreat, our overnight accommodation. The excuse was that we would be back to try out the usual path at some stage in the future.

Fynbos Retreat is comfortable farmhouse accommodation, with crisp white linen on the beds, a blazing hearth in the lounge and a large farmhouse kitchen. The garden setting is stunning and there is a dam close-by for swimming. Electricity is by generator, which Billy had rushed ahead to get started, apparently nearly decapitating himself in the process, and there is a built in pizza oven on the veranda. Billy proved to be a master pizza maker, with home recipe, freshly made bases and a variety of fillings that we were able mix and match for ourselves. The beers were welcome and later Sean treated us to a tasting of his own home made, very drinkable Merlot, while telling us the amusing story of its development. The company and conversation was excellent as we tucked in to the pizzas around the fire in the lounge.

After a nice warm shower, it did not take much effort to get to sleep that night.

Day 2

The second day started with the arrival of Michele with a huge breakfast display. Fruit, fruit juices, a range of cereals, eggs, tomato, toast, preserves and of course, coffee. Clearly it is not a trail that is designed for weight loss – but that is ‘slackpacking’.

Getting the pack back on was a bit of a struggle, but we soon set off along the path that ran along the side of the hill above the Witvoetskloof Valley. Proteas, ericas, restios and a huge variety of other flora line the path and the hills either side, as it descends into the valley itself. There is a boardwalk bridge and steps leading steeply down to the floor of the valley, past a fast running waterfall. As there had been quite a bit of rain prior to us doing the trail, it had to be negotiated with care to avoid slipping. A bit like the milkwood forest of the day before, it is a beautifully peaceful place, with the addition of the gurgle of the stream from time to time, a number of small waterfalls, twisted tree trunks and moss covered rocks. We stopped for coffee and delicious homemade crunchie biscuits before starting our trek out of the valley.

The highpoint of this day is Grootberg and as we hiked up this path, Billy and Sean pointed out the differences between the Fynbos on the limestone ridges and the sandstone slopes. The top of the Grootberg gives a 360 degree views over the entire valley and across to sea at Gansbaai and De Kelders, Hermanus and Cape Point – wow.

The slopes of the hill on the other side of Grootberg were swept by fire in April and are fairly exposed, with a few fire heath ( Erica cerinthoides ) and tufts of green poking through among the blackened skeletons of the burned protea bushes. Down in the valley below the path has been completed wiped out by the fire, mainly because of the speed with which the new growth of groundcover has sprung up. On our way to the lunch spot at the Stinkhoutsbos forest we had to a bit of ‘bundu bashing’ to get to where the path was visible once more.

Michele was waiting for us with a welcome array of mouth watering quiches, pate, cheeses, breads, fruit, juices and more, in a beautiful shaded spot among the afromontane trees. The area was badly exploited for the hard wood trees growing there during the Second World War and made vulnerable to fires as a result. Considerable effort is being made to protect and re-establish the forest by the Conservancy and every hiker participating in the trail is given a tree to plant, gradually reclaiming the forest. It felt good finding a suitable spot and digging the hole to plant my White Pear ( Apodytes dimidiate ) in to the ground.

After lunch we headed along a clear path to Flower Valley Farm, where local flowers are grown, cut and exported for the international cut flower market. It is a project wherein there is a good deal of participation and development with the local population, creating employment and training opportunities. After passing the farm the path disappeared once again, swallowed up by fire and new growth. With a bit of local knowledge, Sean found the way to the jeep track and we were on our way once more.

It was Super 15 rugby semi-final day and Sean had invited us to watch the match at his home, so once again it was a short cut, missing the section of path leading to Bodhi Khaya, where we would be spending the night. Luckily the braai provided by Sean and Michele made up by far, for the disappointing rugby result (being an ardent Stormers fan – enough said). This trail lends itself well to good companionship and conversation and the rugby was soon forgotten. Another wonderful evening to end a very satisfying day. Transport was arranged to take us to the very comfortable Bodhi Khaya self-catering cottages.

 

Day 3

After another hearty breakfast, we set out on the last leg of the trail, starting with a walk up the side of the hill above Bodhi Khaya. The setting for this tranquil retreat is superb and it is no surprise that it is a place where people come to relax, meditate and get in touch with nature. The Fynbos, dominated at one stage by bright orange pincushion proteas on either side of the path, presents an impenetrable tangle that would be impossible to get through without the cut path. The trail links with various paths used by residents from Bodhi Khaya, crossing a stream at one point where, lagging behind the rest of the group to take photographs, I managed to slip, nearly landing in the stream. Fortunately some soft grass on the other side provided a soft landing and I was able to protect the camera.

Eventually route leads into the Baviaansfontein Valley, following a seemingly disused jeep track to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. This is easy walking between the hills that narrow up ahead as the slopes become steeper. At this point the paths winds gradually up through the forest overlooking the deep gorge, to the plateau above.

Suddenly we are looking down a gradual slope, over stands of purple Erica, towards De Kelders and the sea in the distance. The path, on a now overgrown wagon track, is long and straight, with constant contrast between the bright blue of the sea and the pale blue of the sky standing out against the green and purple of the hills.

We are in to the last leg of the trail now as the track descends a short distance in to the Grootbos milkwood forest, where we stopped for a short tea break before the short stretch to Grootbos itself. Like the Steynbos forest, this one is a magical place, although a little more open, making one more aware that it is surrounded by Fynbos. About half way through the forest I suddenly became aware of a load buzzing around me and found myself in surrounded by bees. Fortunately Anne, in front of me remained calm and walked on without panicking, helping me to keep my own head. I ended up with a few stings on my arms and eyebrow but no major damage as the swarm moved on.

The Grootbos building emerged from the forest, blending in so well that you only become aware of them as you pass. Then on to the magnificent cultivated garden of the estate and the tantalising smells coming from the restaurant. At that stage we settled for a cold beer perched on the luxury recliners around the pool, later being tempted to try some of the lunch buffet. (Lunch at the restaurant is an optional extra at the end of the hike).

Transport was laid on to take us back to our cars at Growing the Future, and with reluctant goodbyes we gathered our belongings for a return to Cape Town. Needless to say, a few of us were tempted to stop off for a beer ‘tasting’ at the Birckenhead.

The Fynbos Trail is a wonderful and highly recommended experience in growing Slackpacker tradition. We will surely be putting a group together soon to experience what is likely to become one of the classic Western Cape trekking routes.

For enquiries contact Frank; frank@slackpackersa.co.za

Fynbos Trail – July 2012

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Filed under News, overnight trails, Slackpacker, Slackpacking Trails, Trekking South Africa, Western Cape Hiking Trails