Tag Archives: Western Cape

Cederberg Heritage Route – Day 3

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0115Predicted 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.

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0116 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Cederberg Heritage Route Trail

Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0008 (2)

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.

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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.Cederberg Heritage Route - Dec 2014_0014 (2)
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.

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The start and Day 1 to follow …………………

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Klapmutskop Hiking Trail – Klapmutskop

Klamutskop - Delvera June 2014_0002

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 – 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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Skeleton Gorge with Meridian

Skeleton Gorge and the Aquaduct – Red & Blue Disas and more

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Red disa – Window Gorge Stream

Saturday was a perfect Cape Town day for a hike up the southern side of Table Mountain, in search of the Red disa (Disa uniflora). These magnificent flowers only show themselves towards the end of January and usually fade away around the end of February. How quickly time flies when one wants to do something like this, before you know what has happened they have disappeared for another year. This year I have been lucky to see them in two different places, Myburgh and Disa Ravine, but they are always most prolific in the Window Gorge Stream and Aquaduct areas.

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Meridian Hiking Club on Aquaduct Path

The weather was a bit cooler than it has been lately, with a little bit of cloud around to bring the temperatures down. From Cecelia Forest we headed up to the Contour Path and on to Skeleton Gorge. It was a fairly strong Meridian Hiking Club group, so the pace was reasonably good. We soon reached the top where there were a few of sort after flower hanging from the cliff face. Further down Smuts Track, at the Window Gorge stream there was a much more abundant display, with their red reflections in the water doubling the effect.

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King Protea on Nursery Ravine

Along the route we were lucky enough to spot quite a few Blue disa (Disa graminifolia) and the occasional display by the red Cluster disa (Disa ferruginea). Up in the Aquaduct there was evidence of what must have been quite a magnificent exhibition of the Red disas, but most were now past their best. There will probably still be a few around this coming weekend, but that will probably be the last opportunity of the season.

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Crossing the Aqueduct – Disas below

We continued our walk down the valley towards the reservoirs where we had our picnic lunch, before heading back through Nursery Ravine. About half-way down Nursery there is the most wonderful show of King Protea (Protea cynaroides). Even though this is not my own favourite route down (or up) the mountain, it is worth the effort just to see this.

It was good to get on to the contour path and head back for Cecelia Forest and the inevitable cold beer at the finish.

Meridian Skeleton Gorge Feb 2013

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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.

Your Cape Town Host

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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