Today Klaas takes over from Riaan as guide for the day and once again we head out early to escape the heat. We are heading for our final overnight stop in the historic mission station village of Wupperthal. It is the shortest and easiest of the days, but there is the promise of an interesting river walk with waterfalls and pools and later in the day, the opportunity to swim in the river.
We start on the back path that takes us through Grasvlei, whereas the day before we had come in along the road. Here we join the road to Kleinvlei. Much of the days walking will be along this fairly substantial jeep track, with occasional detours off the road to see a view point, a waterfall or to take a short cut.
There are two very special waterfalls on the route, Nooiensgat and one that appears to be nameless. We would not have found either of these without a guide and both are quite unexpected and wonderful. In the one case, the slow running river is suddenly forced in to a narrower channel and over a 50 metre (I am guessing) cliff face; in the other it is spread out over a lower, moss covered ledge and in to a large and beautiful pool, surrounded by lush trees and bushes.
The path passes through the little settlement of Agtervlei, before the heading off towards Kleinvlei. From here it follows the valley of the Tra-Tra River towards Wupperthal. It is on this section that the promised swimming spots are easily accessible and we had no hesitation in jumping in to the cool water.
From here it is difficult to see exactly where the path goes to get to the village and it has a somewhat surprising turn in to a small valley and up on to a ridge which overlooks the town. The terrain changes quite dramatically here with the rock formations around Wupperthal completely different from the sandstone of the Cederberg. The picturesque town sits snuggled in to a triangle where three valleys meet.
Within a very short period we had dropped down in to the village, once again pleased to be there as the temperature was beginning to rise quite quickly. We arrived shortly before lunch time and had some difficulty in locating the key to the self-catering cottage in which we were to spend the night, but once Klaas had organised this for us we settled in to the cool and comfortable venue. Once rested and lunched, we would explore the town.
Predicted to be the hottest day of the trail, once again we opted to start early to tackle the 15 km to Brugkraal. The short route along the road would only take a two or three hours, so the walking path takes a detour that will take us via the Boontjieskloof mountain hut.
It was a gentle start along the road before a turnoff took us on to an old jeep track that was once a road. One is continually reminded that the pioneers who travelled the area in the early years built roads and tracks over terrain that would challenge today’s engineers. As easier routes have been found the old ones have become ‘off-the-beaten-track’ hiking trails. By this time we were immersed in the on-going beauty of the area and the constant changes in the terrain and rock formations. The trail winds slowly up, with a few short climbs and drops and constant changes in vegetation.
During rest stops Riaan keeps us entertained with stories and his slightly off-beat sense of humour. He has a wonderful talent for this and should develop this.
We arrived at the Boontjieskloof overnight hut by lunch time, to find it a hive of activity, with a scout group having taken occupation for a few days. Nevertheless we were welcomed by the scout leader who identified the best swimming spot on the river for us. It was welcome relief to plunge in to the cool water of the Boontjieskloof River.
By this time the day was warming up considerably and we were pleased that the afternoon walk took us down in to a steep shaded gorge, with tempting swimming pools leading to the small settlement of Grasvlei. Riaan informed us that the water from this area was used directly for the settlement and that swimming at this point was frowned upon. From there it was a short walk along the road to Brugkraal and our delightful overnight cottage, which we reached by about 2.30 in the afternoon, pleased that we had made an early start, as temperatures had begun to climb once more.
Again we were welcomed with true Cederberg hospitality and quickly made to feel at home. Once we were settled in, our host left us to tend to our evening meal and we were happy to shower and relax for the rest of the afternoon.
Later that evening our hosts arrive with pots, bowls, plates & dishes. Suddenly a table full of delicious dinner was laid out, roast chicken, lasagne, salads, sweet potatoes and more. If anyone has the idea of losing weight on this trail, it is not to be.
This was reputed to be the longest and toughest days hiking of the trail and although it was not predicted to be the hottest day, the temperatures in the Cederberg can easily get in to the 30’s (°C) – +86 °F. At Riaan’s suggestion, we had breakfast at six and were on the trail by shortly after 6.30. The Mountains glowed a reddish brown colour as the sun reflected off them and we headed up the path to a rocky ridge on our way to Groot Krakadouw Peak, the goal for the day. The path was well defined and the walking fairly easy initially, with a few short climbs, sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky underfoot. We passed a variety of beautiful ericas, restios and proteas, defining the area as firmly fynbos. Riaan stopped from time to time as we passed a bank of Cedar trees, from which the area takes its name, to talk about a plant, tell a story or discuss some point of cultural interest and to give us a chance to take photographs and subtly take a rest. As we walked slowly higher the views over Heuningvlei valley became more magnificent and one could see how this flatish section of the valley, interspersed with rocky outcrops, attracted people to the area, in the early days the San people, probably at some stage the Khoi people and then later the European settlers.
As the path began to climb steeply in to the gorge that leads to the Groot Krakadouw Peak, the temperature was rising at the same time. The walking was becoming more strenuous and the path less distinct. I was pleased that we had a guide with us who knew where he was going.
At the same time, our walking companions who had recently arrived in South Africa from Europe, were struggling to adapt to the heat. Rest stops became a bit longer and breath a bit shorter. Eventually it became apparent that a member of the party was not going get there. We were still approximately two hours from the summit when we decided to turn back. It was a good lesson in Mountain safety and the only practical option at the time.
We were back in Heuningvlei by lunch time, after a pleasant walk back. In the afternoon Riaan took us down to a magnificent swimming hole and waterfall twenty minutes walk away. The silver lining was that we would not have been able to do this, if we had made it to the peak.
Dinner with Izak that evening was beautifully tender lamb chops, served with sweet potatoes, sweet pumpkin and salads. Another excellent meal.
From the top of the last hill, Heuningvlei can be seen in the distance. A small picturesque settlement of white, thatched houses in the valley. As we got closer the houses disappeared behind a rocky outcrop and we walked past plantations of buchu, vegetables patches and a few fruit trees before entering the residential area. We were greeted by the friendly wave and smiling face of Riaan, who would be our local hiking guide for the next few days. The village is a combination of beautifully renovated thatched houses and dilapidated white washed homes, patched up against the elements. A typical country scene with dogs and chickens ran around everywhere and even a sheep with two lambs that could not have been an hour or two old. As we arrived at our accommodation we were greeted with a warm friendly smile by Maria (Nosie) at Nosie’s Place. Dusty boots were kicked off outside to prevent bringing in the dirt and he traditional pot of rooibos tea was soon presented with crispy homemade real ginger biscuits – memories of my grandmother and the well controlled biscuit tin.
By the time we arrived it was already after 6 p.m., so with dinner at seven we did not have too much time to spruce up. The region had been experiencing some electricity outages, so there was some concern from our hosts about the meal not being warm enough. Dinner was in the home of Izak Koopman, retired Cape Nature ranger with many years experience of the area. Hungry after the days hike we tucked in to the simple but tasty meal of fried chicken, roast potatoes, a very tasty green bean and lamb combination with fresh vegetable and salad. To finish there was an old fashioned sago pudding. Replete, we headed back to Nossie’s Place, discussing the days walking as the light faded and stars started to appear. I regretted not organizing and up to date star chart to identify the some of the unknown heavenly bodies that appear in the clear skies of the Cederberg.
The gathering point for all of the Cederberg Heritage Route Trails is Clanwilliam, an easy three hour drive from Cape Town.
We gathere at the Yellow Aloe – a real oasis in what can be a very hot Clanwilliam – and were treated to an excellent light lunch. This was followed by a trail briefing by Cederberg Travel, the organisers and co-ordinators of the Cederberg Heritage Trails, before being piled in to the transport vehicle for transfer to the start on the Pakhuis Pass. There we met Gert our cart driver and the six donkeys, Trapnet, Satan, President, Tryna, Beaufort and Willem, plus Jonas, the ‘sparewheel’ and back up. They would be transferring our luggage to Heuningvlei, with option for hikers to ride on the cart or walk the trail.
Having been sitting all the way from Cape Town, we all opted to start the trail on foot and the cart went ahead of us with the luggage. This section of the trail follows an old jeep track that is no longer in regular use, but is suitable for the donkey cart to negotiate at a reasonable pace. Within a few hundred metres of the start of the trail it is easy to forget that there is a tar road in the near vicinity. The rocky outcrops, randomly balance boulders, sculptured shapes, deep valleys and high peaks absorb one quickly in to the wilderness environment. There is no formal hiking guide on this section, with Gert stopping his charges from time to time to allow walkers to catch up.
I opted to experience to donkey cart ride on a section of the trail to rest my legs and to enjoy Gert’s dry humour and his interaction with the animals. On a rocky road, a donkey cart is a bumpy, bone jarring experience and not the most comfortable form of transport. Most reasonably fit hikers will probably opt to walk most of the route. It is a bit of fun however and amazing to see how these hardy animals keep their footing, negotiating the rough terrain with some steep slopes, particularly on the downhill sections. The Afrikaans term ‘stadig oor die klippe’ (slowly over the stones) comes to mind. Being a jeep track the walking is reasonably easy and it takes about three hours to cover the 12km distance.
Cederberg Heritage Trail
The Cederberg Mountains start about 200 km from Cape Town, are approximately 100km from one end to the other. The Cederberg Wilderness covers an area of 710 km 2 (275 miles 2) a region known for its unusual rock formations, spectacular views, fynbos, rooibos tea and an isolation that is good for the soul. It is a hiker’s paradise, with trails covering all grades of hiking from short easy walks to strenuous overnight trail.
The Cederberg Heritage Route Trails are a group of six trails that can be walked in true Slackpacker style: your luggage is transported and meals provided – you need only carry your day pack and a guide shows you the way. This does not mean that the hiking is not challenging, but the options mean that you can choose the level that suites you. Centred in Clanwilliam, it is a community based initiative where you are guided by a local guide, with hospitality and logistical support provided by members of the local community.
The Wupperthal Trail (one of the six), was long on my ‘Bucket List’ of trails and in December 2014 I had an opportunity to join a group on this route. This particular section is known for the use of donkey carts as a means of transporting luggage and hikers if they so wish.
The start and Day 1 to follow …………………