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Cederberg Heritage Route – first night

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0051

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. Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0055The village is a combination of beautifully renovated thatched houses and dilapidated white washed homes, patched up against the elements.  Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0047 (2)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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0050

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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0048 (2)

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Cederberg Heritage Route – Day 1

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0009 (2)The gathering point for all of the Cederberg Heritage Route Trails is Clanwilliam, an easy three hour drive from Cape Town. Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0020 (2)

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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0011 (2)

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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0030 (2)

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 Route - Dec 2014_0042

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Dolphin Trail – Day 3

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0128

Day 3

 The day dawned almost cloudless and any threat of rain carried over from the previous day disappeared. Marius appeared immediately we had finished our breakfast and we plunged immediately into the forest through a gate on the edge of the expanse of lawn.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0097

It did not take long to get down to sea level and the rocks below. Much of this day is spent close to the rocky shoreline with the walking varying from mostly rock hopping to sandy paths slightly higher up above the rock band. The rock formations are quite spectacular and the waves feel as if they are going to crash in to you at any moment as their energy is dissipated into the rock layers and pools behind. The blue of the sea Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0102contrasts dramatically with the green forest verge, which is only prevented from touching the waves in places, by grey-brown rock band. The layers of rocks are tilted and bent, hollowed out and shaped into wonderful formations, bearing testament to the power of the earth and sea over the millions of years.

We spotted many gulls, white breasted cormorant and black oystercatchers, out to sea however, the dolphins remained elusive. We stopped for a tea break on a flat expanse of rock, catch site of a pod passing by. We had to be satisfied with enjoying the bird life and the movement of the sea.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0155

As lunch time approached we climbed up away from the shoreline on a steep zig-zag path that took us through a sparse forest and bushy landscape up in to the bigger trees at the top. The hunger pangs from the mornings exertion were starting to gnaw, when a table appeared, set among the trees and groaning with a variety of breads, pates, cold meats, salads, fruit, juice and coffee. It did not take much invitation to tuck in.

Black oystercatchersAfter lunch the path meanders through the thick coastal forest and one realizes that without a guide and a clear path, that is would be very easy to get lost in this ‘jungle’ of trees. Eventually we emerged in to the pine plantation surrounding the Fernery. The name is derived from the main industry of growing and harvesting ferns from the surrounding forest and the more exotic varieties grown in the green house. These are destined for the cut flower markets around the world. There we were greeted by the Dolphin Trail team and after admiring the bright red flowers of the coral trees, teeming with double collared sunbirds feasting on the nectar, we were shown to our rooms.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0183 a

Set a little bit away from the plantation, the log cabins overlook a deep gorge that runs in to the sea close by. A stunning setting and a place where one could quite comfortably relax and spend a few days just enjoying the environment. There are a few short hiking paths and cycle routes around the Fernery, but we were all quite happy to settle for a cold beer and a hot shower and to relax until dinner time.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0131The dinner that evening was nothing short of excellent. A choice of succulent fillet steak or stuffed chicken breast, preceded by starters and followed by dessert, all beautifully presented and served by cheerful attentive staff. The wine list is extensive and not overpriced. A fitting end to a wonderful walk.

The next morning we had to leave early to catch a flight from George airport, having originally dropped out vehicle at the venue and taken hotel transport to the start. The usual package allows you to leave a Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0111vehicle at Storms River and be transported back to the start on a morning drive in a 4×4 vehicle, using the old Storms River Pass road, that preceded the building of the spectacular Storms Rive Bridge. These days this road can only be driven in a 4×4 vehicle – a treat for next time.

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Dolphin Trail – Day 2

Suspension bridge accross the mouth of Storms River

After a hearty breakfast we were met by Marius, our guide for the next two days, ready to start walking by 9am. Marius is based at the Fernery and proved to be a really knowledgeable and capable guide.
The route takes you out over the board walk to the suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth. It is a busy path with both bungalow residents and day visitors to the Park walking to the bridge for the scenic view of the river mouth. Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0057The image of a flimsy, swinging suspension bridge is dispelled on first sight of this structure, which is an engineered, substantial link made of steel and wood, anchored in concrete. Nevertheless it is flexible and rhythm of the steps of anyone walking across the bridge can be felt.

For most visitors the walk ends on the eastern bank of the river as there is a steep climb to a view point high on the cliff face above. Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0053For us on the Dolphin Trail, this is where it really begins and gives us a taste of the day to come. The path zig-zags up and from the viewing platform at the top you look down on the restaurant to the west, the river mouth and the waves below. Here we are met by a vehicle from the Fernery, with tea, coffee, juice and biscuits – ‘slackpacking’ at it’s best.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0061From here we leave all other visitors behind, as the trail becomes a private trail for hikers on the Dolphin Trail. The trail passes along the cliff face through stands of fynbos where proteas, ericas and restios abound together with deep orange chasmanthes and bright yellow aspalatus. Suddenly we are winding down through the forest towards the shoreline, passing milkwoods, yellowwood, candlewood trees and many other species. Marius identifies many of them and explains features, flowers and legends surrounding them. There is a bit of light rain around but not enough to impact on the enjoyment, as we find a good spot next to a gurgling stream for lunch.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0073

We can see a glimpse of the path winding up the slope and disappearing high above us. It is not quite as daunting as it looks however and soon we are crossing a wooden bridge with open grass fields in front of us. This is a dairy production area and we have to cross the pastures and over a dam wall to reach Misty Mountain Resort. The boots are muddy but after stamping off the worst we are welcomed at the lodge with hot coffee and decadent looking chocolate cake.

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0089The wooden chalets are set along a boardwalk with views over the big open lawn to the coastal forest fringe and the sea beyond. Rustic, relaxing and comfortable after a great days hiking. Later we gather for pre-dinner drinks and an evening meal that was 100% improvement on the previous night, with good presentation and cheerful and friendly service.

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Dolphin Trail – Overview

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0035

The Dolphin Trail

The Otter Trail is arguably the best known hiking trail in South Africa, with any South African who regards themselves as a hiking enthusiast having done it or planning to do it. It is however, a trail that requires a good level of fitness and hikers have to carry a full backpack for five days with food, equipment and clothing for the period.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0060

For those that prefer the less strenuous option of ‘slackpacking’, but want to experience this pristine coastline, there is the three night Dolphin Trail. The hiking, although not quite as strenuous as the Otter, is still challenging, with some steep inclines, cliff paths and rock scrambling along the coastline. The real advantage is that you are only carrying a small day pack with your warm tops, rain gear, lunch and water; the accommodation is comfortable to luxurious, the food is provided and you can get your choice of drinks in the evening. In addition to that you get a very efficient and knowledgeable guide who is able to point out details about the flora, fauna and geology of the Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0101trail that you might otherwise miss.

The first night’s accommodation is at the chalets at the Storms River Mounth in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Not luxurious, but very clean and comfortable. This is followed by Misty Mountains on the second night and The Fernery on the third. Both of the later offer luxury guest house accommodation in a rural setting with views of the coastal edge of Tsitsikamma Forest and the ocean beyond. While the evening meal at the Storm River Mouth restaurant would not rate in the gourmet category, it is reasonable and is more than compensated for by the dining experience at the other two venues. The Fernery is particularly excellent in this regard.

Description of Day 1 to follow …..Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0120

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Sept 2013

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In search of the Red Disa

Red Disas - Window Gorge, Table Mountain

Disa uniflora – the Pride of Table Mountain

The red disas (Disa uniflora) have started to make their annual appearance on Table Mountain. Although I have not seen them myself as yet, a friend was up in Myburgh Ravine yesterday and confirmed that they are already out there. The red disa is the largest of the South African orchids and only flower for approximately three to four week during late January and early February.

 There are a only few locations around Table Mountain and a few places close by, such as the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (Betty’s Bay), where they can be seen. I will be doing a number of hikes over the next few days to have a look at the various locations. Once I know that they are in full bloom, anyone wishing to join day hikes to view these striking flowers can contact me on hostnet@mweb.co.za or complete the TRAIL ENQUIRY FORM .

 

For DAY HIKE RATES click here.

 

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Meridian-Getaway Corridor Ravine Hike

Atlantic coast from Tranquility Cracks

Hiking the Pipe Track

After hearing that in the region of 100 people had booked for this hike through Getaway Magazine, I had grave reservations about the wisdom of the event, particularly as there had been quite a bit of cloud on the Mountain over the previous few days.

Slangolie Waterfall

The day turned out to be one of Cape Town’s perfect late autumn days, with absolutely clear sky and very little wind. Still with some reservations, I felt a bit more comfortable with the situation. There were a few good hike leaders that were bringing up the rear and were prepared to monitor and return with those that would find the route too strenuous. It was certainly a diverse group, with some seasoned hikers, complete hiking novices and family groups with kids. If nothing else it was festive.

Scramble through the forest

The route would take us down to the end of the Pipe Track, up Corridor Ravine to the Twelve Apostles path and back down Kasteelspoort. A good days hiking covering everything from easy walking along the contour, to some steep climbing uphill, a variable path along the top and mild downhill scrambling. It is amazing how quickly a group of this size can spread out, bringing back memories for me of the Argus Cycle Tour, where you can set out in a group of 1000 and end up cycling almost alone in places. The fast guys set off at pace and soon disappeared along the Pipe Track. I was probably somewhere in the middle and there was good conversation and undemanding walking. By the time we got to this section, there were a few hikers that were clearly not going to make it up Corridor. We managed to link them up with the group turning back and I continued up the Ravine with a small group that now formed the rear guard, although I later discovered that there was a group behind us.

Corridor Ravine

Corridor is a pleasant route up on a good path, that has recently seem some good maintenance work by Table Mountain National Park. It is not too steep, but gets the heart rate up and made me feel that I had a some good exercise after the easy first part. At the top we met up with some of the rest, but the main party had already moved on. This was a good place for lunch and the ripe camembert and cucumber sandwich I had brought along, tasted pretty good.

Having not done this route for some time I was happy that my memory of it was spot on as we set out towards Kasteelspoort. The path is good and going straightforward. The small group I was with wanted to do a deviation to Tranquility Cracks, which is always a rewarding experience. By the time we had done this detour it put us right at the back of the main group but we did catch up with some of the other backmarkers at Kasteelspoort.

Orange breasted sunbird

By this time some of the less regular hikers were starting to feel the effects of the unaccustomed exercise and there were a few sore muscles and stiff knees, resulting in a fairly slow trek down to the contour path. It always seems to take longer than I expect to get back to the Pipe Track when coming down Kasteelspoort and it was good to get back on the level path. It is still quite a way from here until the finish at Kloof Nek, but it was a jovial group that had enjoyed the day out. It was an enjoyable day, but I was pleased to be sure that everyone in our group was back safe and sound. Although it was a good day, I am sure that I would not want to do it with a group this size in less perfect weather conditions.

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

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