Tag Archives: trek

Cederberg Heritage Route — Day 2

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0052

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. Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0074The 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. Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0064As 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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0076

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.

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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 optiCederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0094on at the time.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0053

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.

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Dinner with Izak that evening was beautifully tender lamb chops, served with sweet potatoes, sweet pumpkin and salads. Another excellent meal.

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Klapmutskop Hiking Trail – Klapmutskop

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This is a wonderful trail for a short outing in to the Cape Wine Region of Stellenbosch, for those who want a bit of outdoor activity to wet the appetite for wine tasting or other activities in the area. The hill leading up to the ‘kop’ (peak or head) is also extremely interesting from a botanical point of view, encompassing the three biomes of the region – renosterveld, fynbos and afro-mountain forest – all in a very small area. It forms an important part of the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy area.

Beautiful winters day

Looking back on the Simonsberg Mountains towards Stellenbosch – beautiful winters day

The walk starts at the Delvera Wine Estate, where you will need to purchase a walking permit (R30 as at June 2014) from the reception area. The first part of the hike meanders through the vineyards, marked with the various cultivars that you are passing by.  It is interesting to see the differences between the various vine varieties and how they are trellised and pruned or maintained as bush vines. The path is well marked, taking hikers over wide farm tracks with clay underfoot conditions.

As the path approaches the hill it enters the renosterveldt band the circles the ‘koppie’, zig-zaging gently up the slope. It is an excellent example of this severely threatened biome, with only 6% of the original area still regarded as sustainable. About half way up the hill the path skirts vineyards again, where the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy information board explains the importance of the area.Klamutskop - Delvera June 2014_0008

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View from the renosterveldt band. Cool overcast, slightly misty conditions on the day

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Transition from renosterveldt to fynbos

The path then climbs slightly more quickly through the renosterveldt band up to the fynbos band above. The transition between the two is quick and quite dramatic, suddenly hikers are in amongst proteas, restios and ericas, among others, putting the route firmly in the Cape Floral Kingdom. The fynbos band is quite short, before suddenly the forest at the top appears. Even when you know it is there it is a surprise – beautiful Breede River yellowwoods perched on top of this unlikely hilltop.

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The path tunnels in amongst the yellowwoods

 From the top, the 360 degree views of the Stellenbosch Mountains, Simonsberg, DuToitskloof and the Paarl Mountains are unmatched. On a fine day Table Mountain is also clear in the distance.

 

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View from the top

 The path back circle the hill on the other side, before joining the vineyard tracks once more and zig-zagging back to the farm. The hike is about 3 to 31/2 hours, allowing for photography and tea breaks.

 

 

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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 – Day 1 (arrival)

Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0006Day 1 (arrival)

Arrival at Storms River is required by six in the evening, where you will check in, followed by a trail briefing by SANParks personnel and then dinner in the restaurant. It is strongly recommended that you arrive a bit earlier to explore some of the shorter walks around the Park, possibly even the 3 ½ km Waterfall walk, which is the start of the Otter Trail. It is a rocky walk along the coastline, that will get you in to the feel of the rocky part of the terrain that you will be covering in the next few days. If you are saving your energy, you can just relax and enjoy the environment of the camp.Ana & Karen Dolphin Trail Aug 2013_0001

The restaurant complex doubles as reception area and has a superb setting with views of the waves crashing on to the rocks close by, the river mouth in the distance and the cliffs beyond. Our experience of the check in was good with the staff being friendly, enthusiastic and Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0091knowledgeable. Check in was followed by the evening meal, which made up in quantity what it lacked finesse. Service was also a bit chaotic and was probably not the best first impression of the catering for my overseas visitors. The conversation was good however and after quite a long drive and in preparation for a good days walking the next day, we retired to be fairly early – no TV, just a copy of Wild magazine next to the bed.Bruce Bryant - WT Oct 2013_0075

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Tsitsikamma National Park hiking

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Tsitsikamma National Park, a set on Flickr.

A visit to the Tsitsikamma National Park is an essential part any Garden Route tour. It is the start of the iconic Otter Trail and the more luxury, slackpacking style alternative, the Dolphin Trail. With the Wilderness Travel group,we were staying at the Fernery, the final overnight stop on the Dolphin Trail. Starting with an easy walk, we took the opportunity to visit the 1000 year old yellowwood tree in the Tsitsikamma forest, before walking over the suspension bridge at the Storm River mouth. The next day we hiked to the waterfall on the Otter Trail. This is as far as you are allowed to walk if not part of an overnight group on this trail. It is not easy walking, with plenty of rock scrambling, boulder hopping and uneven ground. There are some sections of good path, but it cannot be rushed and takes a bit longer to do the 5 km there and back, than one would necessarilly anticipate. A ggod moring’s hike before we headed up to the Drakensberg the next day.

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Myburgh Ravine Red Disa Hike

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Myburgh Ravine Family Hike, a set on Flickr.

With my sister out from Canada and Lindsay about to start a new job on Friday, we decided to take the opportunity on Wednesday to hike up Myburgh Ravine to see the red disas (Disa uniflora). These beautiful flowers are only seen between the end of January and the first few weeks of February and only in few locations on Table Mountain and some of the surrounding mountains. Inevitably unless you make a plan and get out and see them, the time passes quickly and they fade and are gone before you get there.

It was a misty morning, but cool and beautiful for walking. I had not done the route for quite a while and was pleased that Peter, who had done it the week before, had decided to join us. Starting in Hout Bay we had initially planned to hike up to the point where we had already established that the disas were blooming and return the same way. Getting to the start of the ravine is an easy and pleasant walk of about an hour through high stands of proteas. The start of the ravine is shady a shady section of afro-montane forest and there is a short scramble out of the ravine at one point, to get around a rock face, before returning the main path in ravine. This was a bit more challenging than anticipated, particularly having made the mistake of bringing dogs with us.

Once past this point it is a climb up over a boulder strewn section, not difficult, but uneven and a bit of a scramble over and around the rocks. With the mist and even light rain at times, it was quite slippery in places. Suddenly we were at the point where the disas were blooming. There must have been about thirty or more blooms of the delicate red and pink flowers. Most of the party had not seen these iconic Western Cape flowers before, so it was very rewarding and well worth the effort. We spent a bit of time just enjoying the spectacle and taking the obligatory photos of flowers and family.

The earlier scramble had proved more difficult than expected and we decided rather to continue up the ravine and return over the top, past Judas Peak and down Llandudno Ravine. The walk up through the rest of the ravine, is quite spectacular, with high cliffs either side. At the top, the route out itself is not that easy, with a very steep, sandy and rather degraded path. It has to be climbed very carefully and although there is a rocky alternative, on the day this was wet and slippery and not a viable option. Once at the top it was a stunning walk through the misty surroundings before heading down the steep Llandudno Ravine. Unfortunately the mist stayed down until we got quite close to Hout Bay, so we did not see the views of the Atlantic coast that you always get from on this route. Quite a tough day for family members not used to hiking, and a few sore legs the next day.

Warning: Not a hike to be undertaken without someone who knows the way. There are some fairly challenging scrambles where a head for heights is needed. The path at the top is quite badly eroded with a steep drop below. Not a route for dogs – a mistake that we made – adding to the challenge.

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Cogmanskloof Jan 2013

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Cogmanskl Jan 2013, a set on Flickr.

I was fortunate this weekend to have a day to spare in Montagu, while my clients were enjoying the luxury facilities and game viewing at the Sanbona Private Game Reserve. I had briefly explored the first part of the Bloupunt circuit of the Cogmanskloof Hiking Trail last year. This wetted my appetite to explore further, but I did not have time to do either of the full circuits at that time. The Bloupunt Trail is over 15 km, so as I was on my own I decided to do the Cogmanskloof circuit, the shorter of the two.

The rock formation and the majesty of the mountains of the area is quite overwhelming and although I don’t recommend walking alone, the experience of being by yourself in nature is always meditational. A permit is required (R20) and you do have to sign in and let them know where you are walking. You are also provided with a map and a printout of all the emergency numbers.

There is a short walk to the overnight hut and shortly after that the path splits into the two circuits. The Cogmanskloof circuit takes you quite quickly up on to a high point on the ridge, followed by a slower uphill trek that meanders along the side of the hills, slowly climbing to a point where a short scramble takes you up to the summit. The path is well marked with yellow feet ‘markers’ and yellow arrows.

All along the way you are taken by the awesome views and the twisted rock formations and the summit provides a magnificent vista of Montagu and wave after wave of mountains in the distance. The descent is down to the Cogmanskloof River valley is quite quick, but the path is good and as long as you watch your footing it is an easy walk down. As the path turns it takes you over a low ridge and then a very steep path down in to the river valley itself. Walking in dry rivers is not my favourite part of hiking, there is quite a bit of erosion and plenty of plastic debris lying around. I found myself fighting through the reeds in places where the path disappeared and it is certainly not accessible when the river is flooded. As far as I could see there is no higher level path.

Once out of the river bed the route is surprisingly gentle back up to the ridge. I found myself wondering where I was going to find the steep climb to the top, but the map is very accurate and suddenly I was back on the ridge overlooking the valley where the trail begins. It is a very steep descent to the finish and the path here, although easy to follow, is not easy to walk. It is quite slippery with a few loose stones. With care however it is a quick trek down with finish just around the corner.

It was quite hot and I was pleased that I had taken plenty of water and that there was an occasional light breeze to cool things off.

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I Drink Beer, Dammit

I Drink Beer, Dammit.

I’m a bit of a craft beer person myself, but not all craft beer is good beer. I can tell you that there is nothing like a good beer after a day hiking in the mountains. On most of our ‘slackpacking’ trails we will make sure there is a ‘cold one’ at the end of the day, if that is your preference. It will usually be ‘Big Beer’ but if there is a local craft beer available we will try to source it.

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Table Mountain Trail – Dec 2012

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Table Mountain Trail van Vuuren family, a set on Flickr.

Table Mountain Trail with the van Vuuren family – Dec 2012

Johan had been planning this pre-Christmas Table Mountain Trail overnight hiking trip since the beginning of May this year, so when the day finally arrived it felt as if I already knew the family well. The original plan was to start at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and take the reasonably easy route up Skeleton Gorge to Smuts Track and the cottage. The prediction of rain for the 24th however, dictated a rethink, as hiking in the rain would have meant missing out on the views from the top of the mountain. The alternative was to start at Table Mountain cable station and do the trail in the opposite direction, either using the cable car to get to the top or to take the steep walking route up Platteklip Gorge. I was quite impressed when they all made the decision to tackle the ‘Gorge’.

The climb up Platteklip Gorge covers a distance of about 2 km in the ascent of the zig-zag path, from just over 300 metres on Tafelberg Rd. to just over 1000 metres at the top. For those not used to this type of walking it can be quite a challenge, particularly on a hot day. The day was one of the hotter days we had experienced this summer, so it was never going to be easy. The girls were up for it and ready to set the pace, but the adults took it slow and steady, particularly as we got higher up the slope, where patches of shade are scarce. Nevertheless, with plenty of stops to ‘admire the view’, take photographs and to make sure hydration levels were maintained, everyone made it. The biggest mistake that is made on this route is not taking enough water.

Once at the top we headed to the restaurant near the cable station, for a welcome cold drink, plenty of ice and recovery, ready for the easier, but longer trek across the mountain to Maclears Beacon and eventually, the Overseers Cottage. Leaving at about 1 pm., we retraced our steps to the beacon on Platteklip Gorge and then across the flat plain to the highest point. From here, we caught a glimpse of Overseers Cottage, our overnight accommodation, tantalizingly in the distance. The feature of this route is the ever changing views, and after Maclear’s Beacon the ever changing terrain along Smuts Track (named after the war time Prime Minister of South Africa, who was himself a keen mountain hiker).

Quite soon after leaving Maclear’s Beacon, the outlook shifts from one of Table Bay to the north, to one of the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, the Cape Flats and False Bay to the east and Hout Bay and the Back Table of the Mountain to the west. To the south, hidden behind the mountains above Simonstown, is Cape Point. On a good day, this has to be one of the most spectacular trekking routes in the world.

Adel was struggling with sore feet, so going was slow, but who needs to hurry with views like this and when you are in part of the most diverse floral kingdom in the world. The view of the cottage disappeared as we headed down to the valley above Window Gorge, past Echo Valley and the Aquaduct. Some of us took a short diversion in to the Aquaduct to view the beautiful, delicate drip disas sprouting improbably from the rock face. Then it was off to the top of Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine before finally coming out of Ash Valley to see the Cottage in front of us again, almost within touching distance now. This was a welcome site and the girls rushed ahead to reach the comfort of getting the shoes off and having a shower. By the time the rest of us got there they were already looking relaxed and refreshed. Vicky was there with the basic meal preparation already complete and it remained only for me to get the fire going for the evening braai.

Once Adel got her shoes off the cause of the sore feet was revealed in a huge blister on the big toe. My admiration for her increased immensely, that must have been very sore to walk with.

As is usual in this cosy cottage, once the feet are up and drinks in hand, the memory of the painful feet and sore muscles fades, while the magic of the environment and walking in this very special part of Table Mountain and the Cape Floral Kingdom remains. The tradition of the South African braai, stimulates interesting conversation and creates friendships and this night was no different.

With rain predicted for the morning and thoughts of further exploring of the Back Table banished for the moment, there were some tired bodies that hit the beds that night, looking forward to reasonably late sleep in.

During the night the wind came up and by the time we woke there was plenty of cloud about, vindicating the decision to walk the trail in reverse. At times it looked as if the rain would pass us by and then suddenly the cloud would be all around and a rain squall would set in, before moving on again, leaving light mist and views of the cloud bank below. After a bit of lie in, breakfast was ready. Over breakfast, the decision was made that Adel and Nina would go with Vicky down the shortest route to Constania Nek and the car, while I would take Johan and the other two girls down via Cecelia Forest to the finish in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Fortunately the rain had more or less passed over by this time and we had a dry walk down to meet Vicky and the others in the Gardens.

Johan treated us all to a wonderful end of hike lunch at the Forresters Arms. A fitting finish for a superb two day trail. I feel very privileged to be able to lead such diverse and interesting people on trails in this part of the world.

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For guided day walks in Table Mountain or a variety of overnight trails please contact us by completing the Contact form or e-mail frank@slackpackersa.co.za

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