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Category Archives: Hikes

Life On The Road

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It’s always the people you meet that add the special moments to an adventure. The stories you hear, the cultures you learn about; they add the little bits of ‘real life’ to an otherwise beautiful yet foreign setting. We have spent the last 3 days in Etosha with a social calendar that rivals ours in Cape Town. It’s been such a lovely few days. Feels like we’ve been able to have a bit of normal in an otherwise bizarrely abnormal life arrangement.

I have to back track a little as there is a fair amount I haven’t filled you in on… After soaking in the warm waters of the Ai, we drove north to Aus, and stayed in a camping spot that wins the prize for best sunsets and hiking trails. In fact, it was the start of an area that Shaun and I would put on our list of ‘must stay’ places in Namibia. It really is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t a lot going on apart from epic vistas, wild horses and lots of nothing. Aus doesn’t even have a grocery store. The Engen garage, wait; when I say this don’t picture the convenience kind in South Africa that has a Woolies inside it, begin anew, because this is unlike anything you have seen. It comes complete with a car tires and random tools section, an animal hide rack, random tourist memorabilia, a caravan park reception area, as well as tinned foods, frozen meats and long life milk shelf. That is Aus. Don’t let it put you off though, it is the gateway to an incredible part of Namibia – just bring your own food!

We stayed there but drove through to Luderitz; a town on the coast, boasting, well, not much, but it does have its very own ghost town near by. It was eerie to walk through a deserted town with nothing but empty houses filled with sand. It was like stepping into another time. The area surrounding it is like a post apocalyptic wasteland, complete with dust devils and swirling sand across the road. It was nothing compared to Sossusvlei, which is the real dessert in the middle of Namibia though, and that is where we headed next.

We stopped off for a night in the M-O-S-T spectacular campsite, and then carried on through to the real dunes. We cursed these sand roads when we got into the country, but it has forced us to explore more and stop over on our way to places, because you simply can’t drive certain stretches of road at more than 60km per hour. It has meant we have found real gems of places, little treasures hidden away off the main roads. This was one of those treasures. When we arrived at the dune area (Sossusvlei National Park) the following day I was ready to turn around and run for the hills! It was a seething mass of tourists. The campsite lacked any of the characteristic beauty we have encountered throughout Namibia, and was instead just a sand bowl. The reception area was operated with all the finesse of an African government office. I must admit I did wonder when we arrived if anything could be worth that kind of commotion, but when we headed off for the dunes it was a special kind of magical that waited for us. We plotted a course for the Big Daddy dune at the end of the park, and not surprisingly greeted another hoard of tourists when we got there. So off we went in search of our own dune to climb. There are literally hundreds of dunes, but for some reason, everyone climbs the same few. We found one all on its own, with no footprints destroying the pristine ripples of sand in front of us. With not another human in sight we slogged our way up that dune, racing the sunset as we summited. Not only did we not want to freeze to death after the sun went down, we also had to be back in the camping area before 7.30pm. Sadly, we never made it to the real top, there seemed to always be another rise. So after turning back at sun down, we had to run down the dune, sprint back to the car, and ever so slightly exceed the speed limit to get us back to the gate at precisly 7.29pm, scraping in as the last car through the gate! Shew. We were also one of the first back into the park the following morning because we had the daft notion of watching the sunrise over the dunes. We had packed our breakfast picnic the night before, and left in the dark to find one of the smaller dunes to climb. The evening before we had climbed bare foot as sand gets in everywhere. Your shoes get progressively more uncomfortable as the sand works its way to the front, making you feel like your shoes are 2 sizes too small. So we all trotted off to the dunes in our flipflops, discarding them at the bottom. The joke was on us because the sand temperature drops to almost zero along with the air temperature. It was like putting our feet in the deep freeze! The kids and I abandoned the plan very quickly as our toes turned red, but Shaun with his thick skin and dogged determination made it all the way to the top. He did regret it later when the feeling hadn’t returned to his toes by that evening.
Luckily the night we spent there was calm, freezing cold, but still. The night after we left there was a sand storm which apparently blew people’s tents away, deposited heaps of sand all over everything, and sandblasted a layer of glass off everyone’s windscreens. We couldn’t have been luckier that we left when we did.

After the dunes it was off to Swakopmund for 4 days in a real house! We needed some catch-up-with-work-and-life time, some time to really valet the car, and not sleep all piled in 8 square meters of space. It was much needed and thoroughly appreciated. Swakopmund is a quiet little town, even though it is Namibia’s 2nd largest city, and had some really great little coffee shops and even a pizza restaurant! Anyone who knows how much the Wuths love pizza knows how much that was appreciated ☺

But small comfort stops can’t last forever, and so we were off to find some more perfect spots Namibia had to offer. We made our way through Damaraland as we headed up to Etosha, and visited living museums (where you get to see how the Damara people lived hundreds of years ago) as well as run around the hills looking at thousand year old rock engravings. It is a beautiful area and quite different from the south of the country. From there we rolled into Etosha game reserve, and were greeted with more animals in our first hour in the park than I think I’ve ever seen. We had a matriarch ellie mock-charge our car which terrified the lot of us! She was huge, and slow, and graceful, but clearly didn’t like the look of our green machine. Slow turned to dust churning speed in seconds and Shaun did a nifty reverse manoeuvre – with the trailer in tow – and luckily she backed down.
The game in Etosha is prolific around the waterholes, so we spent most of our time sitting in the hide at our campsite, enjoying the quiet and calm days, watching lion, ellies, hyena and black rhino saunter over for a drink, and in some cases even a bath. I never thought I’d ever be luckily enough to see black rhino so we were thrilled.

School and office for 3 days … bliss

Really up close and personal with the ellies … so amazing!

‘Our’ hide in Etosha – Olifants Rus Camp

We met some wonderful people, were invited to gourmet meals in other people’s campsites, and picked up some very handy tips about how to cope with life on the road. We have met few South Africans in Namibia but the ones we have encountered have been so warm and friendly, it makes us proud to be South African. They are always quick to share what they have and offer help when they can. The added bonus is that they have all been interesting, intelligent people who have shared their knowledge, their life stories, and had us doubled over with laughter from some of their encounters. The people you meet really do add that little something extra.

We have just left the western side of Etosha for a night of stock-up and work needed wifi, and are about to head back in on the eastern side. The landscape is changing quite dramatically as we edge ever closer to the more rural side of Africa. I am both nervous and intrigued to see what lies ahead.

Sending love to all of our South African peeps, and those wonderful foreigners we are lucky enough to call friends too!

S & M & L & L
Xxx

Namibia – In My Wildest Dreams

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I write this from my camping chair, overlooking the Namtib biosphere. I have rocky mountains behind me, a savannah grassland in front of me, and red dunes peeking out in the distance. Namibia is an incredible place! But before I expound on our time here, let me give you a quick catch up on our remaining time in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

After I last wrote, we braved the corrugated roads of the park and drove north, into the heart of the Kgalagadi. The camping was luxury! We had our own bathroom where I could even leave my toothbrush for 3 days!.. our own washing up area.. and at my final count about 5 black back jackals that hung out at our camp after dark. Terrifying, but a great African experience. Very coincidentally we bumped into some old friends on holiday from Johannesburg, and we really enjoyed seeing some familiar faces. I think I’m becoming one of those annoying people who try and strike up conversation with anyone, so it was great to find people who actually wanted to speak to me. Lola and Lincoln loved hanging out with their kids and thought themselves rather brave adventurers exploring the camp for a couple of days together. They spent hours covering themselves in all available dirt, and had to be reeled in after dark as they didn’t see these jackals as much of a threat. Yikes!

We had some incredible encounters, including a herd of about 12 giraffe grazing on the side of the road, and finding a pride of lion at a watering hole. If you haven’t seen a lion up close let me lay it out for you; they are huge! They hung out around our car for a while and were almost head height at our Prado window (it is not a low car!). Staring out into the face of a lion had my survival instincts kicking in full swing. I can’t understand why that makes hands sweat and voices go squeaky, but there I was, squeak-yelling at the kids to close their windows as a lion sauntered up to Lincoln’s door, while my sweaty hands manhandled the camera in all the excitement. The lense-cap from our camera is still MIA from all the commotion!

 

After all the excitement of the park we headed out the Mata Mata gate straight into Namibia. We arrived here a week ago, and I must say, on first glimpse, I wasn’t all that impressed. It was dry and dusty, nothing grew, and to make it worse, the roads were all sand. Urgh. But then we stopped for our first night at an unpretentious farm on the side of a high-way (made of sand), and got to enjoy a night of absolute stillness under the stars. It is a very black sky that blankets Namibia at night, and a very blue one during the day. We discovered the colours here are more vivid, even though at first everything seems brown, after you’ve been here a while you see the colours all around you. The sunsets are magical. You have crimson sky to the west, and if you turn around a rainbow of colour fills the sky to the east. The dust is everywhere, but you can forgive it its intrusion because of the magnificent sunsets it incites. Taking beautiful pictures is easy because there seems to be a permanent filter on the lense. But I’m beginning to wonder if the filter is on my eyes. I was always the person swearing never to go to Namibia because it was too dry, now I can’t stop telling people how amazing it is. It’s another one of those places you can’t adequately describe to people. My language of the place does it no justice. It’s a ‘feel’ place. The emotions this environment stirs up leave you wanting to see more, explore more. It’s vast and barren and largely devoid of people, but it gets into your soul.

That is until you hit the tourist spots. Big sigh. We seem to be here during European peak season. The country boasts a population of about 2 million people, but there seem to be double that in French, Italian and German tourists. It is heaving, in as much as a country this barren can heave 😉 Thankfully, there are some off the wall stops we’ve managed to find that seem legitimately local. One spot was a roadside ‘coffee shop’ with the best apple-strudel and homemade rusks we’ve tasted. It was conveniently located at the exact spot that Lincoln had a rather severe on-set of car-sickness. We enjoyed the delicious goods while poor Lincoln walked in circles around a rather beautiful garden creation, made out of old car parts, crockery and desert succulents. We considered driving back that way just to stop in there again, but thought Lincoln wouldn’t be impressed with us, especially given his propensity for car-sickness on those rolling dune roads.

We had to do a bit of a U-turn after we headed into Namibia, and headed back down towards South Africa so we could experience the Fish River Canyon and the Ai Ais hot springs. Unfortunately the hot springs are incredibly touristy and you aren’t allowed in the natural springs at all. You are allowed to soak in the warm waters of the hotel, which are pleasant enough, in an un-natural-chlorine-filled kind of way. You can see the place was once charming but it has unfortunately become a little run down and lacks the magic you’d imagine it had. It is still a phenomenal area to visit as it allows you to explore the Fish River Canyon from the end point of the 90km hiking trail. We did some exploring in the canyon as well as going to see the view from the top. It too, is extreme. It is similar in many ways to the Grand Canyon in the States, but thankfully lacks the size of those crowds. We did some geocaching with the kids and running around the top in an almost desolate landscape, before returning to the much frequented waters of the Ai. As much as we complain about it, it was nice to have some water to soak in, and it was hard to convince the kids we needed to move on. But we had ghost towns and desert landscapes to explore, and many more dirt roads ahead of us…

 

We have just arrived in Swakopmund, and finally have enough wifi to load this post. It means we are a little behind in communications, but will have another post to get you all up to speed soon.

Happy reading and big loves!
S & M & L & L

Africa – A Place of Extremes

By | Hikes, Our Travels, Parks, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

As I sit here watching the sun rise over the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I am struck by the extremes in Africa. Yesterday we got sun burnt… this morning as I scrambled out the van with numb fingers, desperate for a cup of warm tea, I found the kettle water had frozen over night. I mean it’s not like we don’t know Africa, we have lived here our whole lives, but I feel like the African bush is a different place. It’s run by different rules, and it’s ruthless. You can’t be soft here or you wont survive, maybe that’s why so many people fall in love with the place. It’s raw and it’s brutal, but it shows you life in a way that city living just can’t. It makes you see things differently, or maybe it just makes you see things for the first time. Life is fragile.

I must be honest here and say that I have not always been a lover of the African bush. I always begrudged the dust, and the bugs and moaned about the long hours you have to sit in a car. But then I married Shaun, and he and his brothers couldn’t accept my attitude. They told me it’s because I hadn’t been to the right bush. I hadn’t experienced it properly. And I’m beginning to see why they have always felt the way they do. Growing up in my family, we normally did action packed holidays. This partly comes from my mothers inability to sit still, but also because with 6 children, who could possibly imagine a 5 hour game drive! So we ‘did’ holidays instead, and loved it. It meant that the limited experience I had had driving through bush hadn’t left me with any real experience of it. It has taken 15 years of life with Shaun (and 9 years with my animal mad kids) for me to get to this point; where I love the idea of the bush enough to head into it for 6 months. No amount of cream seems to moisturise my dry skin and my cell phone doesn’t like my fingerprint anymore because the tips of my fingers are like sandpaper, but this is all trivial. Yes Dad, it would seem I’m finally toughening up 😉

We have been in the Kgalagadi for 3 days and have been spoilt with what we have seen. We have done 2 game drives, some of the time just appreciating where we are, and at other times marveling over the game around us. We stumbled apon 2 cheetah moments after they killed a springbok and we got to experience a raw moment of life. Even Lola (for the first time) could understand the need for the springboks sacrifice. It was a big experience for them. Seeing it first hand, and not on animal planet, made it easier for them to understand and accept as a part of life. The following day we found black back jackals cleaning up the same spot and got to watch them quite closely as well, a real treat. The kids are natural spotters (they must get that from Shaun) and have found everything from birds of prey, to lion (amazing!), african wild cat, mongooses, meercats, cape fox, and numerous species of buck. Their ability to spot birds is what blows me away, and the kids are loving the Roberts bird app and identifying the different species. They are teaching me so much!

Camping in Kgalagadi has been a vastly different experience to camping at Augrabies falls where we were constantly harassed by monkeys and baboons, and could barely open the kitchen for fear of a cheeky monkey flying over our shoulder to grab a bag of whatever it could get its hands on. It made the camping experience rather stressful, but it did teach us the need for a kettie, and the skills to use it. We all now have one, and are hard at work honing our talents. Staying their did give us an opportunity to explore the incredible falls, spend hours playing on the rocks, and do a beautiful walk to Twin Falls and Moon Rock, down river. Shaun had a lot of work to get through and I tried to get through a fair amount of school with the kids, as well as wrapping up any necessary things before leaving the country.

We have been staying in Twee Revieren for the past 3 nights, and although our camp here is fenced, we are aware that a stray lion could make its way in (as one did 6 months ago). This has kept us alert, but has thankfully lacked all the drama of camping with the monkeys. We are now heading up to Nossob (or Nobbie as Lincoln calls it) for another 3 nights. We are then out the country! The dunes of Namibia are calling and Shaun is chomping at the bit to show us this dry piece of heaven. I am reserving comment until I have experienced this desert land…

Catch you all in a few days time.
Love S & M & L & L
Xx

A Holiday Less Travelled

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Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone that my kids are prepared to put up with us. I keep expecting them to disown us, to beg for parents who don’t think that wandering the mountains whilst lugging all their gear on their backs is great holiday fun. But they have surprised us at every turn.

Escaping into the Cape Fold Mountains might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lucky for us, it seemed to be the tea of choice for our children. Parenting win!

Most unlike us, Shaun and I decided on a route about 2 weeks ahead of time, leaving us plenty of time to worry about other things, like Shaun’s recent brush with decrepitude. Turning 35 seems to have come with a bag of niggles, most notably his ITB showing him the finger every time he runs more than 5km’s. This was a mild concern but we hoped taking it slow and making sure his pack wasn’t too heavy would mean his leg suffers no further disrepair.

So lightness of packs being the order of the day, I took the kids shopping to choose what they would like to eat on the hike. Having their buy-in is crucial for a successful hike. Their buy-in meant we came home with 6 bags of sweets, chocolate flavoured oats, and ‘lime and black pepper’ tuna (they assured me this would keep their protein levels up). After sensibly applying my ‘adulting’ brain and getting a few more essential items like coffee and biscuits, ok, and some biltong and cous-cous for dinner, we were ready to get the packs packed.

Food and ‘stuff’

Kids’ clothes

Mom’s clothes

 

Our thinking is this: Most importantly, the kids have to enjoy the hike or it’ll be our last!

In order to achieve this:

1.   Make sure we have slightly more food than we think we’ll need.
2.   Make sure a large portion of this consists of sugar.
3.   Make sure there is as much caffeine as sugar.
4.   Have at least 1 energy gel for each of us per day (just in case the wheels come off the children’s wagons, mother looses her sense of humour, or dad gets wobbly legs).

If we can get points 1 – 4 right, we’ll be hitting our most important objective (refer to above)!

So once we had decided on food, chosen the barest of essentials for clothing, got a sleeping mat and a bag each, and packed the tent, there was nothing more we could do but distribute the weight as fairly as we could.

Lincoln tips the scales at a hefty 22kgs – we decided 5kgs was the max weight he should carry.
Lola clocks in at a marginally higher 24kgs – so she should also have no more than 5kgs on her back.
This obviously leaves the bulk of the weight to be distributed between Shaun and myself.
I weigh in at 64kgs – this means absolutely nothing because I can only carry what I can carry. I mean if I can’t pick up my pack, what’s the point. So I packed it until I required assistance standing up, and then repacked it because I forgot to pack any clothes, and then when I couldn’t take any more, Shaun had to take the rest. My pack weighed in at 22kgs.
Shaun’s beefy 72kg frame had to carry the remaining 27kgs.
It worked out to us carrying roughly 1/3rd of our body weight each, with the kids having more freedom to run with a lighter pack. The trick is getting them to think they are much stronger than you are because they can go so fast, then they really shine!

 

Where did we go you ask?

We chose the Grootvadersbosch / Boosmansbos Nature Reserve which is just past Swellendam. It has well established hiking trails (which would help us avoid mistakes of the past) and being springtime, was bound to have incredible fynbos.
The downside is that it doesn’t have a large selection of routes to choose from, just 2 well maintained paths leading up into the mountains for roughly 16km’s, at which point you find 2 very rustic huts, next to an icy mountain stream, with accompanying frozen pools… Bliss. So this was where we were heading.
16kms up is a little too much for our kiddos to do in one day however, so we decided we would camp out at the 8km mark, and break the ‘Up’ leg into 2. Coming down would be easier so a long return journey we weren’t so worried about. That left one day in the middle where we could do a day hike or explore the surroundings. Solid logic (for a change).

 

Day 1 – We go Up!

The start of the hike is never the best, we were all taking strain under our full packs and were anxious to get past the dirt roads and into the real wild, where the rivers run uninhibited and the wildlife roam freely. Luckily it didn’t take too long… Before we knew it Shaun was standing on a snake, Lola was gathering insects and Lincoln was wetting his shoes in all the mountain streams. It was lovely (it would have been less lovely if Shaun had been bitten!). We started munching our way through our heavy loads and already the stresses of the world were slipping away.

 

We only began hiking at midday and by the time we stopped for the night the kids were shattered. ‘Just’ camping at the 8km mark was easier said than done. The trail was beautiful and winding, but totally devoid of any terrain flat enough to pitch a tent on. We eventually cut our losses and pitched our tent right on the path. What we lost in comfort we made up for with our view. It was extraordinary.

We had an enchanting dinner of cous-cous and salt, while enjoying the evening’s entertainment of watching the clouds roll down the mountain into the valley. Pure simplicity. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You can’t imagine the perfection of an evening like that; you really have to experience it. Utterly soul replenishing.

 

Day 2 – We go Up some more!

We greeted the morning with sore hips and crooked necks. The world had never looked better. We had an ocean of cloud in front of us, and a warm sun above our heads. The kids were clowning about, and life on the mountain was peaceful, if a little windswept. We had the remaining 8km’s to get us to the big river and swimming pools high up in the Cape Fold Mountains.

After coffee, breakfast and packing up our gear (in that order), we set off along a path probably not walked by a 7 and 8 year old before. We reminded the kids how epic they were, and hoped that would give them a good boost for the tough day ahead; we needed them firing on all cylinders. You’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt – Lincoln likes the encouragement of being told he’s a super star, Lola likes being given sweets. So having sweets and protein bars at the ready, we hit the trail. We had a big mountain to climb.

Going up can be slow going, so we continued with games stared the day before, being the ‘favourites’ game (whereby someone chooses a subject and we all have to guess each other’s 3 favourite things), and ‘20 questions’ (this was particularly amusing, but they picked it up quickly). It kept the kids very entertained until Shaun and I couldn’t keep up with their pace and they left us in their dust (well this is what we told them). In full disclosure, this was also a bit of a tactical manoeuvre from our side; if we let them get the lead on us it fires them up in a big way, it becomes a game of ‘we must stay ahead of mum and dad’. It’s a winning move.

This is what waiting for mum and dad looks like…

…and more waiting

…and some catching.

Luckily after a short lunch there wasn’t much walking left before finding the river and the huts. This left us an entire afternoon to play in the pools and lounge like lizards in the sun. After a hot morning of hiking there is little better. There were no cold beers, but there was ice-cold mountain water. The kids were pooped and it took us a while to work out that Lola hadn’t drank enough water from her camel bak and was pretty dehydrated. Luckily we had packed the rehydrate so we had her gulping down bottles of it, but not before she said “We aren’t hiking tomorrow. Not negotiable.” So that sealed it. Once the rehydrate kicked in she had so much energy we could have sent her down the entire mountain and back up again; it’s amazing how the body shuts down when not fuelled correctly. But the enthusiasm ship had sailed, and we said if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to. We would have an ‘off’ day.

We pitched our tent inside the hut as it had no window or door and the nights were chilly. It did give us a very flat surface to sleep on and some shelter from the wind, which was much needed. (We were doubly grateful when it started raining on the following night).

Day 3 – Mary and Shaun don’t know how to sit still.

Good hard sleeping, interspersed with gale-force wind that made the corrugated iron roof sound like it was going to lift off the hut. But we were all there in the morning, more or less chipper, and ready for an adventure.
Lola was ready to eat the floorboards out the hut, so we began with breakfast. The men slowly made their way out the tent and joined the day, although more reluctantly today. Lola with her will of iron was still adamant that she was not hiking, so of course Lincoln followed suit. Shaun and I had been gazing at the final mountain peak looming in front of us and agreed that we couldn’t be this close to the summit and not get there, so we decided we would do it independently, as a trail run.

Hitting the trail up the final peak had me fast realising what a good thing it was the kids weren’t heading up. It was completely overgrown and had me wishing for Lincoln’s shin guards. At that point I was thankful for Lola’s stubbornness of will. Saying I was nervous going up on my own was an understatement. I was at the top of a mountain range, on my own, summiting the final peak. There was obviously no cell reception, and no way for me to get hold of Shaun if I needed him. I was super cautious.


Sitting at what felt like the top of the world like that, reminded me how we all need that time, and we all need that space. It was awesome that I could come down from that and let Shaun loose for his slice of peace and freedom. It’s like pushing a little ‘reboot’ button on life.

The kids spent the day playing make-believe games, collecting insects at the river, wading through the rock pools and trying to catch tadpoles – the most quintessential childhood day. I am so happy they could have that break from the busy-ness of ‘real’ life. There should be more carefree days like that.

 

The evening was spent lying in the grass staring at the clouds, chatting, laughing and taking ridiculous slow-mo videos of ourselves. The most perfect family evening together.




Day 4 – My kids are my heroes.

I would love to say we awoke in the morning after a wonderful nights sleep, but it was windy. Like really windy. The kids and I were less perturbed and managed to catch our zzz’s quickly, Shaun on the other hand, unbeknownst to us, made out into the night in search of rocks. Yes, rocks. I awoke to what I can only describe as the sound of the hut collapsing in on us. I had a panicked moment of thinking this was the end of us all. The sound was like nothing I had heard before; a banging-crashing-scratching sound. Ok, it was probably just that it was so incredibly loud, and it woke me up, at which point you obviously can make no sense of anything. A man enraged from lack of sleep, hurling boulders onto the corrugated-iron roof of our hut, was in actual fact none other than my lovely husband who was, yes, a little irritated with the incessant rattling and thumping of the roof sheets, but was as he puts it, ‘gently tossing’ rocks onto the roof.

So aside from minor heart failure mid way through the night, we awoke to a peaceful, serene morning; rain gently falling and mist rolling peacefully past the door of the hut. Absolutely beautiful, until I realised we had to hike all the way down the mountain in that! I panicked. I had visions of the children flat out refusing, of tossing their cookies and stamping their feet, or worse still, sulking the whole 14.5km’s down the mountain.

Conversely, everyone was in such high spirits. By the time we had packed up camp the kids were doing push-ups and star jumps to warm up before heading out into the frigid weather. I was amazed. The walk, although initially so misty we couldn’t see anything, cleared up to reveal the most incredible mountain cliffs, gorges plummeting down next to us, and carpets of flowering fynbos.

Beautiful though it was, it was still freezing cold, and the kids and I put our second pair of socks on our hands to keep warm. It would have worked a little better for me if Lola hadn’t stood in a puddle and wet the pair on her feet, meaning her ‘hand’ socks moved south, my ‘hand’ socks moved onto smaller hands, and Lola’s wet foot socks failed dismally in warming up my numb fingers. But such is life.

Despite the cold, or maybe because of it, the kids flew down that mountain faster than I have ever seen them move. They kept up a constant pace of 4km’s an hour, including breaks, I was positively having to scuttle in places just to keep up. It was a perfect hiking day, and I was sad to be heading on the ‘out’ trail. The fact that the kids needed almost no motivating whatsoever certainly helped, and we got to our car about 2 hours earlier than planned.

As we drove down the dusty road towards civilisation, I found myself gazing at the mountain ranges we were leaving behind us, and wondered how long we could live in them before needing to return to the comforts of home. There is a time and a place for everything, a wise man once said.

….I feel a challenge looming in our future.

 

 

The Great Escape

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As the year screams by and we hit the second school term like a herd of stampeding wildebeest, we realise how important it is to stop and take a look around. It’s May for crying in a bucket. We seem to have snoozed through 4 months of the year already and before we know where we are, our kids have lost another tooth, decided sleeping at friends is way cooler than sleeping at home, and taken up computer games as their official hobby. How did this happen? Snooze through another stretch and we’ll find them driving out the front gate yelling, “See you after first semester!” It terrifies me. I’m no longer creeping closer to my mid 30’s, I find myself in a head on collision with my 35th birthday and no way of avoiding it. How did that happen? Where are the brakes?

Luckily, the Easter holidays meant we could escape for 3 nights in the Cederberg mountains, about as close as we could get to hitting the brakes on life. Just the 4 of us, mountain paths for miles, with all we needed slung over our shoulders. We could do as we pleased, governed only by the sun and the stars; no technology, no phone calls, no work… nothing short of bliss.

The kids have been nagging to do a trip like this since Shaun and I did a similar one last year for our 10 year anniversary. They made sure we knew what their requirements were. They wanted to:

     1. climb lots of rocks,
     2. sleep in a tent,
     3. swim in a clear mountain pool, and
     4. not do too much hiking.

1. Tick 2. Tick 3. Tick and 4. …we’ll try our best.

Knocking our intrepid Wuth exploration genes into the background, we set about planning a route that was low on mileage and high on fun! Then we started with the practicalities of what we were undertaking; we put the kids’ packs on their backs and filled them up to test how much weight they could carry.

4.5kg’s, that’s it. It is 1/6th of their body weight, but it doesn’t go a long way in covering what they need for 3 nights in the mountains.

To put it in perspective, they could carry their clothes, and a camelbak bladder full of water. So Shaun and I equipped ourselves with some lightweight packs with extra storage space so we could carry the additional sleeping bags, mats, bottles and food we would need. We also had to take a 4-man tent as opposed to a 2-man one, which added an extra 4kg’s. At this point we were extremely grateful for all of our ironman training – it was going to be necessary.

Logistics taken care of and packs filled to overflowing, we set off for the Cederberg. Thankfully we had called ahead to check on the level of the rivers to make sure there would be water on the route we had decided on, only to find out that the route we had planned had been devastated by a fire a few months earlier. This meant a last minute change of plan. No major shake up for the gallant Wuth clan, we amended the route, ensured there was water available in the rivers, and hit the trail. Not before we could each stuff 2 white candy Easter eggs in our mouths of course, it was the Easter holidays after all.

We started our hike at 5pm and we had an uphill climb of about 3km’s before reaching an area flat enough to pitch our tent. We had worked out our route based on the Slingsby maps and quickly realised that they were not entirely accurate. At 3km’s up we realised that it was more like 5km’s until it flattened out. The kids were troupers, pushing through the first gruelling stretch like mountain goats. The 4kg packs turned out to be perfect in weight for them, and they could surge on ahead of us while we laboured under the weight of 4 days’ worth of food and 10 litres of water. Thankfully the kids happened upon a perfect little patch of flat ground that looked out over the Algeria valley, just as the light was reaching its last faint breath. It was perfect. Even a dinner of cold rice and biltong wasn’t enough to dampen the children’s spirits, and they went to sleep happy, with the stars an unspoiled canopy above us.

 

Day 2 we awoke on top of the clouds, a soft white blanket stretching across the valley in front of us. We were alone on the mountain, dazzling sun rising to the East, and a day of exploring ahead of us. A cappuccino and bowl of hot oats completed the perfection, and off we set to conquer the remainder of the mountain.

 

Our morning was spent lazing next to hundred-year-old oak trees on the top, and bathing in the fresh river that meandered its way across the summit. Lola found (what we decided were) leopard footprints, and we tracked them across the top as they crisscrossed our path, causing great apprehension as to whether they were hiding in the rocky ledges nearby. After consulting our less than trusty map (although we weren’t aware just how untrustworthy at the time), we decided to follow an old path down a gorge on the mountain, to a point where there were 2 large pools at the main river below. In theory, this was a great decision, in practice, something else entirely. The ‘old path’ turned out to be an ancient path. In fact, there was almost no path to speak of. To make matters worse, there had been a fire in the past few months, which the ranger had neglected to mention when we asked about the route. The fire had proved handy in that it cleared the route of overgrown vegetation, but was a hindrance in the loose rocks and ground it left in its wake. Had we realised the length of the descent we were undertaking, we might have changed our minds. At the time however, we could only see bubbling mountain pools (in our minds eye), and the shortest route of getting there. Damn our overzealousness.

 

As is the Wuth way, we spent the rest of the day scrambling down the mountain getting covered in soot, cutting our shins on the overgrown vegetation and apologising to the kids, telling them this was not our best work, and really not what we’d had in mind at all. As the sun began to set and we still had not located the path at the bottom of the gorge, Shaun set down his pack and relentlessly combed through the scrubby bush that surrounded us so at least we’d have a path to set off on the following morning. Thankfully, after about 4km’s of walking in what Shaun describes as a ‘scientifically-exploratory-fashion’, plotting markers on his watch at intervals of where the route was supposed to be, he finally found the dregs of the path. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. It was incredibly overgrown and was going to be no fun to follow, but it had to be done if we wanted to get to the river, and home. We had to settle for a small stream to collect water and wash in, but judging by the children’s glee it might as well have been a water-park. We were all exhausted, the children had been such troopers and we knew there was another gruelling day ahead of us, so we made camp on the first flat rocky outcrop we could find, and let the emotions of the day wash over us as we watched the stars climb into the sky.

 

Day 3 greeted us with blue skies and happy children, the rough patches of yesterday all forgotten – kids are amazing that way. We knew it wouldn’t last long with what lay ahead, so we let them goof about in their ‘fort’, and eat their breakfast leisurely on the top of ‘look-out’ rock, enjoying the quiet and the stillness of the morning. After getting the kids to put on their pyjama pants underneath their hiking pants to protect their legs from the scrubby bush, we were ready to hit the road. Well, not a road at all really, it was more like walking through a hedge. It was dry and rough and scratchy. We lost the path every couple of meters and had to beat through the bush to find if again. We crossed several river gorges with no water and scrambled up sheer rock faces. I’ve always said I’m not sure how we landed up lucky enough to have such resilient children, but yet again we were in awe. With the promise of a large river pool in the distance, the children pushed on. We carried them (and their packs… and our packs) when we thought the bush was too tall and the scrub too rough for them to walk through. We’d manage about a hundred meters and then have to put them down to catch our breath. It was relentless going. After about 4 hours of bushwhacking, the path finally opened up and we could actually see our feet in front of us. It was glorious! We made quick ground after that and got to our lunch spot and river pool not a moment too soon.

The water was cool, crystal clear, and sweet. There is something special about drinking water that has come straight down a mountain, untouched by other people, unfiltered and un-chlorinated. Swallowing the odd tadpole didn’t seem to bother the kids much either, but the tiny, 1mm leeches sunning themselves on a rock in the middle of the river disturbed them quite a bit – not enough to deter the skinny-dipping however.

 

We could have stayed all day and all night in that fresh, cool, oasis of ours, basking next to the river in the dappled sunlight, but we had a fixed amount of food and we were quickly nibbling our way through our dry crackers and oat bars. Lengthening our stay wasn’t an option, we had to head for home if we wanted to be eating anything on the way there. So after soaking ourselves clean and washing our clothes, we set off. It was a steep mountain we had to climb before we found any flat ground to camp on, so we pulled out the big guns; we told the children they could eat as much chocolate as they liked when they got to the top. I’m laying it out for you: this is how we get our kids to do these ridiculous things. There is no magic to our ways, simply lots of cunning… and a large sack of treats.

We couldn’t keep pace with the kids up that mountain. Sure, we had added several litres of water to our packs, but they were fast. They needed no encouragement. They, in fact, were encouraging us. What I had expected to be one hell of an awful climb, turned out to be the easiest of the lot! Thank you Lindt!

The top of that mountain was like being on a bridge between 2 worlds. Reality and civilisation loomed in front of us, while freedom and escape lay behind us. It was our last night on the mountain, and it would be a lie to say we were glad the hike was coming to an end. It was the break we had all needed. It was full of difficult climbs and treacherous descents, baking hot weather and worries about our choice of route, but it was also full of jokes and laughter, incredible views and learning more about each other, appreciating food for the sustenance it is, and water for its life giving qualities. There was nothing we took for granted, because everything we took we had to carry. It is an experience I would encourage every family to have together, an escape hard to replicate in the concrete jungle of convenience that is our world.

We woke up on our last morning to the sounds of utter silence. Not many creatures live that high up the mountains, and it is strange to have only the gentle breeze keeping you company as you watch your tiny cooker boil water for your morning coffee. The stillness sits inside you, like a tiny pebble dropped into a lake, the ripples moving through you and over you. But the sun waits for no man, and the descent back to reality began, breakfast over, tent packed up, and off we set.

It was a long walk back; we definitely didn’t get no.4 of the kids’ demands list right on this day. It was beautiful and rugged, but hot and devoid of water. We watched 2 Verreaux eagles soaring above us for hours as we covered the 14km journey back to our car. Whether they were the same 2 we had seen on the previous days I can’t be sure, but they were a constant reminder to me of why we were doing this trip. Their grace and power was beautiful beyond words, it was awesome – in the true sense of the word.

Scraping the last of our sense of humour from the bottom of the barrel, we managed to keep ourselves together until we reached the campsite at the end of what-should-have-been-a-morning-but-turned-into-almost-a-full-day’s hike. There was really only one thing we all needed at that point and anyone within eyeshot could have told you … a shower. It really is the everyday conveniences you come to appreciate after 4 days in the wilderness. I have been trying hard to teach my kids appreciation, but all it takes is a holiday like this for them to realise all they have back home. Suddenly running water and a toilet take on a whole new meaning.

Despite the buchwhacking, the heat and the fires, the kids had an absolute ball. There were times they lost their sense of humour, and times Shaun and I doubted our sanity, but that happens no matter where we are. It was such a fantastic holiday we’ve decided to make it a bi-annual event. Now we’re all looking forward to the resurgence of some warmer weather so we can do it all again!

 

 

Marriage Shouldn’t be Your Comfort Zone – 10 Years of Pushing the Limits

By | Hikes, Our Travels | No Comments

10 years ago, in our naïve youth, Shaun and I thought a honeymoon on the ski slopes would be awfully romantic. Log cabins, evenings around a roaring fire with mugs of hot chocolate, and long walks in the snow. This was of course before either of us had ever tackled the riggers of a ski slope. Our romantic notions were quickly put in perspective on day 2, when Shaun enrolled us in an advanced ski expedition which had me skiing backwards down a ski slope, on my head, simultaneously crying and spewing profanity, while South Africa’s only championship skier (who happened to be heading up the expedition) tried to talk me down the rest of the slope. After encouragement and guidance proved fruitless, even by the professional, I was tucked in behind him and guided down the slope in the same way I now do for my kids. This may or may not be the same day he ski-piggy-backed me down a slope (can you imagine the embarrassment) while Shaun made his own merry way down with all the glee of a 5 year old. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how our marriage was going to go. It was going to be adventurous, and tangibly challenging. It was going to push my limits and test me physically, and with every test I would learn more about myself, seeing more of what Shaun seemed to see from the very beginning. 34 years of life and I am still learning about me. 10 years of marriage and I don’t think there is much I have done that has surprised Shaun. There is more validity than is given credence in the old adage: Marry someone who continuously challenges you to be better, to be your best you. Find someone who’s going to push your boundaries, introduce you to places you’ve never heard of, and inspire you to do the unimaginable because they genuinely believe you can. If you’ve found that person, hold onto them. There is no greater gift.

Bearing this honeymoon ‘baptism by fire’ in mind, fast forward 10 years and wanting to climb Kilimanjaro as a 10 year anniversary holiday seems normal to us. Given we didn’t want to leave our munchkins alone for that length of time (and the expense of getting there) we settled on something closer to home, but no less majestic.

The Cederberg

It seemed like an obvious choice, and a perfect escape. We wanted to do something together that we couldn’t do with the kids, use the time together to really be together. 10 years of marriage is an accomplishment, and a privilege. We wanted to honour that by doing something worthy of that feat. I can’t think of a more solidifying experience for a marriage than climbing mountains with your life on your back, and your love by your side. Sometimes you walk hand in hand, sometimes on your own. There is talking, lots of talking, remembering what it is to just shoot the breeze and laugh about silly things together. No constraints on your time, no one expecting anything from you. Just being together. Sometimes there’s negotiation, and sometimes stubbornness, but let’s be honest, what’s marriage without some stubbornness. Hiking requires encouragement and consideration of your partner, a reminder of 2 of the most important elements in any marriage. It’s not easy-going the whole way, but you’re doing it together. That’s what makes it fun and worthwhile.

We didn’t want to stray too far from the norm, so as is customary, we bit off a little more than we could chew. We started off with 4 days of hiking, but after deciding to squash it into 3.5 days in order to get home to see the kids, it required our walking faster than we had initially planned.

We arrived in Sandrif, central Cederberg, on Friday afternoon. After a minor deliberation we headed straight up the mountain so we could camp on the top instead of in the campsite at the bottom. It was our anniversary after all and we wanted something a little more romantic than the snoring of fellow campers around us. So after filling up what seemed like an excessive number of water bottles, we hit the mountain. Saying it was steeper than we had anticipated is an understatement. We hadn’t weighed our packs before we left (probably a novice error) so we ‘guestimated’ the weight at around 30kg’s in Shaun’s pack (I could barely lift it), and around 25kg’s in mine. I had about 3 litres of water, almost all the food for 4 days, my clothes and sleeping bag and mat. Shaun had about 5.5 litres of water, the cooking equipment, camera, kindles, tent, his clothes and sleeping bag and mat. I couldn’t have carried more, and declined his generous offer of an additional 2 water bottles tied onto my pack. After starting up that hill I patted myself on the back for my wise decision. We stopped periodically for Shaun to sit down and put his head between his knees so he wouldn’t pass out. An anniversary scraping his remains off the bottom of the mountain would have been slightly less romantic. To put the extremity of the mountain in perspective, we managed to walk 4 km’s in 2 hours! It was slow going, but the top was worth it.

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mary-less-poked
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We enjoyed an anniversary dinner of cous-cous and bolognaise sauce, which I managed to sneak up the mountain in my pack as a surprise ‘treat’ for dinner. There was no champagne or hors d’oeuvre, but there was scintillating company and a sparkling sunset. There are no words to explain the calm and beauty of a night alone, on the top of a mountain, with only the one you love for company.

A perfect anniversary dinner :)

A perfect anniversary dinner 🙂

After a peaceful night’s sleep and a sunrise awakening, we began our first full day’s hike. It took us across the top of the mountain and through arches of towering rock formations. We spent 2 hours over lunch basking at a rock pool enjoying each other’s company, and the next half hour in a domestic dispute over which way we should walk. Shaun was keen to bush whack over the top of the mountain, forging our own route to the base of the Tafelberg peak, while I was rather keen to keep my shins in tact and follow the tried and tested path around the base of the mountain and back up at the allotted point. Obviously my argument was more sound, but it did add on an extra 10km’s of walking. By the end of day 1.5, and 18km’s of walking, watching the stars come out was about all we could manage. We spent the night in a cave at the ‘almost’ top of Tafelberg.

The milky way from the top of Tafelberg

The milky way from the top of Tafelberg

 

The ‘real’ top of Tafelberg we summited the following morning, without packs! It is virtually a sheer rock face and requires ingenuity, scrambling expertise, and a ferocious sense of adventure to reach.

Well. Worth. Every. Gruelling. Moment.

You really do feel on top of the world and the view is all the more rewarding knowing how hard you worked to get there.

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After descending and collecting our packs from the cave, we ventured forth on our intrepid way, making a long journey to the most serene water hole, aptly called Crystal pool, where we made the most of the icy water and basked on the rocks, while devouring abundant dry crackers and sharing our rashes of tuna. I realise it may sound daft, but a more romantic scene you’d be hard pressed to find. This may, in all likelihood, require repeating the exercise yourself to believe it. It sounds strange indeed, but it was pure beatitude.

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The 24km’s of walking on day 2.5 was everything I could have wished for and more. We crisscrossed through valleys of interchanging vegetation, and spent hours in lush surroundings with nothing but birdsong and flowing water to interrupt our solitude. We ‘tracked’ leopard footprints (tracked may be a strong word, leopard may also be a strong word, but in our excitement we went with it) and fired our best guesses at birds that soared above us. After paths of unruffled serenity, we found a perfect camping spot on the edge of a peak we have fondly named ‘Anniversary mountain’. From our vantage point we could watch the sun set, and rise, from the luxury of our tented paradise.

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Packing up to leave our spot the next morning was eased only by the thought that the quicker we did it, the quicker we could get home to see our kiddies. This was the carrot we needed to get our stiff arses up and moving. The weather for all 3.5 days was nothing short of perfect, but this last day was a scorcher. We had to summit only 1 mountain on our return journey to our trusty steed, another 24km’s away, but it was a torturously hot mountain. Thankfully we hit it early and spent the rest of the day pouring water on our clothes in an abortive attempt at keeping us cool. And, with a Garmin for company, we were able to count down the km’s to the shower blocks at the camp and the air-conditioned comfort of our beast (a KIA Sorento – not a horse, in case you were wondering).

To seal off a truly romantic weekend, we showed the staff at the only fast food restaurant around, just how quickly a hamburger can be consumed, before blazing through a 3 hour journey to make it home before the kids’ bed time, so we could kiss those soft, delicious cheeks we had been missing for 4 days. Day 3.5 was worth the hustle. It was the gravy on the mash potatoes. The frosting on the doughnut. We love our kids, obviously. But we really really actually like our kids too. Like we want to spend time with them because they are awesome people. It makes us want to go home to them.

We knew we had pushed the limits to get home to them early. We have pushed the limits every year since we’ve had them, and we were doing it before that too. Sometimes the limits aren’t physical, a lot of the time they’re mental, but every limit pushed, stretches and shapes you. It defines your resilience and points out your verges. Although certainly not all pleasant, I am thankful for the challenges we have faced. They have shaped memorable moments, and made the sweetness of each day that much purer.
With the gift of hindsight, would I choose skiing for our honeymoon a second time round? Well, no, because we’ve done it already. Now I might choose a voyage to Antarctica, or summiting the Matterhorn… There are so many limits waiting to be pushed, and I count myself amongst the lucky ones to have found the steady hand at my back, pulsating encouragement and a quiet assurance in my abilities.

Alive at the end.

Alive at the end.

 

 

 

Being a Competitive Mother to a Non-Competitive Daughter

By | Cape Town, Events, Hikes, Musings | 2 Comments

This struggle is real. There, I’ve said it. I’ve said what mothers aren’t supposed to say about their kids, or about parenting. But I am owning this difficulty. I don’t see being competitive or non-competitive as a failing, I just see them as being un-harmonious exercise partners, and I have reason for my sudden outburst too. We’ve just done a Parkrun with the kids. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a 5km timed, free event, done around the world every Saturday morning. We decided to go and do the one in Stellenbosch where you wind through the vineyards, views of the misty morning mountains in all directions; it’s nothing short of exquisite. Hard to think of something I would enjoy more on my Saturday morning. Couple that with being with my family and I’m thinking this is the best possible start to the weekend. But let’s put that thought on hold.

I worried that Lola wouldn’t want to do it fast, so I said I’d go with her and we could do it at her pace, while Shaun and Lincoln ran ahead. I did N.O.T. realise what I was committing myself to.
The kids are stellar in the mountains, they can climb, they can run, they have endurance, and they usually love our adventures. Sometimes it takes a bit of convincing, but Shaun and I generally know what will get them fired up. Today was a different day – we don’t win every outdoor adventure with the kids.

I have written many articles about the kids and their differing personalities, Lincoln’s double speed, and Lola’s gentle calm nature. I know who she is, but I guess I don’t always know who I am. Sometimes I surprise myself.
I wasn’t always like this you see. If you ask my parents, they will probably paint a very different picture of me as a kid. Fun loving, happy-go-lucky, always up for an adventure, but not if it meant too much effort on my part. I preferred to be the cheerleader at cycling races where my mum and brothers raced competitively, always there to support, but I found the pressure of my racing with the intention to win, too much. Every time I got to a serious level in my sport, I caved. As soon as the pressure was on I stopped enjoying it. I know this about myself, and I recognise this in Lola. Sure, she may only be 7, but some attributes present themselves early, some fights we have already fought. She is sporty, she is a fast runner and she can do anything she puts her mind to. The problem is she doesn’t like putting her mind to it very often. She gets upset if she doesn’t come first so she often opts not to try. This I understand very well, because it is a carbon copy of me. A genetic blue print if you will. It is also why I struggle to parent her through it. I hate that quality about myself, and it has taken me 34 years of growing up to talk myself through it. She on the other hand only has 7 years of growing up behind her, and many frustrating sporting years ahead, learning that failure is normal and nothing to be embarrassed about. If you give it your all, that’s all anyone can ask.

The problem is, after all this time I have come to enjoy healthy competition, and even though I don’t like being beaten, I’m a little more mature about it now. That is, until a middle aged male looking like he hasn’t run further than from his tv to his fridge in the last 30 years shuffles past me, while Lola and I are walking at a snails pace down a flat road because she doesn’t feel like running. That is when maturity and I part ways. It is also when I bend down very calmly and tell Lola that if she doesn’t pick up her pace I am going to leave her behind.
Now if you know Lola, you know this threat would mean nothing, not because I don’t follow through, but because she does nothing unless she wants to do it. Threats are a vapid string of words to her; it’s like whispering into the wind. She will hold her head high, and with the dignity of the queen mother, dare you with her eyes. She has terrified many an adult with this look. It’s a challenge I always feel compelled to accept, the only problem in a situation like this is that I got 100meters down the road and stopped to wait for her because it’s not entirely safe leaving her alone. While I waited for her to catch up, two sweet old ladies walked past talking about her being like a fairy in a forest. Not half a kilometre up the road we had to stop while Lola had a ‘quick’ look in a forest we were walking past. Their description couldn’t have been more prophetic.

Lola - the fairy in the forest.

Lola – the fairy in the forest.

While I stood and watched Lola gazing into the forest, I remembered what I had said to her, we could do the race at her pace. What kind of mother am I if I don’t stick to my word? I knew the answer, I didn’t have to think about it. After a few deep breaths, I decided on a new approach. We would actually do the race at her pace. This meant not trying to make her run, not threatening to go ahead if she didn’t run, and not telling her that her brother and dad were probably already finished in the hopes she’d hurry up. None of which are proud parenting moments for me, but sometimes we mothers slip up too.

I am pleased to say that after that point, we skipped, we galloped, we stopped to smell the flowers – literally, and we walked, even when we were the absolute last people on the course. Ok in all honesty, I did do a bit of encouraging to get her to pass another 7 year old boy and his family so we didn’t come absolutely stone last. That, and the smell of the coffee proved too much for me, and I may have dragged her a little on the home stretch so I could drown myself in a large latte for my sins.

It would be an immense exaggeration to say that I enjoyed the race. For the duration of the event that I was ‘racing’ in my head, I was frustrated, annoyed and ready to throw in the towel. With every glimpse of a short cut home I had to practice good parenting and lecture about perseverance and not giving up. I’m not sure if the lecture was for her or for me. But when I changed my intention, and realised if we were going to finish this thing at all, I had to do it the way I told her we would, at her pace, it suddenly became fun and happy time together. It would be grossly misleading of me to tell you I could do this every time though. I enjoy pushing myself, I enjoy taking up a challenge and seeing what I’ve got, and it’s frustrating that I can’t seem to convince Lola that it’ll be fun. I want her to enjoy it like I do. But then I remind myself what I was like as a youngster, and I remember the wise words my mom shared with me after another rant I was having about the kids.

She said, no matter how much I might want to, I cannot wrap up my experience and give it to my children as a gift. They will make their own mistakes.

Who knows, maybe Lola won’t look back with regret; maybe not competing won’t bother her in the slightest. Maybe, like her mother, she will wish she had taken on the challenge a little more. But it is ultimately her path to forge, and her choices to make. All I can do is encourage, offer opportunities, and watch who she becomes. Keeping my competitive nature to myself will be a challenge, but if this race taught me anything, it’s that I had better stick to my word, because telling her we can take it slow while my every intention is to convince her to run, makes for a very unpleasant morning. And if I multiply that out a little, it will make for one unpleasant childhood as well. And that simply, isn’t fair.

We collected wildlife.

We collected wildlife.

We played in the flowers.

We played in the flowers.

And we all finished.

And we all finished.

Sometimes You Just Need a Cave

By | Cape Town, Hikes, Musings | No Comments

In many ways, it has been a gloomy start to 2016. After the most wonderful family holiday, we rolled into Jan with a dash of apprehension, but mostly, loads of gusto. We had served ourselves a plate of work piled so high, we knew it was going to be soul crushing to get through it. But there it was. We needed all the momentum we could muster to speed roller our way through it. So we hit the year running, determined not to let it get the better of us.

Lola and Lincoln were both punching into big school now so there were wonderful changes afoot, while we were still fastening the wheels back onto the cart after a tumultuous 2015 in our company. And then before we knew it, the year had started.

Two weeks into the year I had a miscarriage. Not the start we had planned, and although you always think you understand when someone else goes through it, dealing with it yourself suddenly opens up a world you knew nothing about. I am a sharer, but this is one piece of our story I have held very close to my heart. It still aches. The timing of it was of course impeccable too, we were on the precipice of a make or break moment for our company. So packaging our emotions neatly into a box where we could safely look through them later, we blundered on. Shaun, into 20-hour workdays punctuated every few weeks by a few hours off. Me, into full time single parenting, mornings of work, and weekends of trying to keep the children busy, in the hopes they won’t ask why dad isn’t with us, again. It’s been Groundhog Day for 4 months.

May the 3rd was our D-day.

Through no easy feat, we accomplished what we had to, scraping in a full 24 hours before the deadline. This in itself was a miracle. It had been a real team effort. We had all taken a hit from the workload, and it was time to get out as a family again. These adventures have been few and far between in the last few months, so we let the kids dictate our movements for the day, while we followed along, thankful we could ride the coattails of their enthusiasm, and just pleased to be spending some quality time together. So after very little deliberation, we hit the road towards town, they wanted to climb Lions Head. This time they added a twist, they wanted to see the cave we have always talked about but never actually been to. So with the route set, we began our climb up the mountain.

The day was perfect.

Perfect in the kind of way only Cape Town can be at the changing of the seasons. The sun’s rays gently caressed the mountain while the day warmed up through beautifully filtered light. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the calm of our surroundings seemed to permeate through us all. Autumn is truly Cape Town at its best.

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Sneaking up the front of Lions Head, we managed to avoid the majority of the crowds as we made our way up the city side of the mountain. Steeper and more rugged, it suited us perfectly. The kids could saunter, scramble and race each other at their own pace, leaving us both to reflect, freewheel and file away as we climbed. It was the therapy we needed after the past while and I couldn’t have imagined a better destination.

At the point where you reach the first rocky cliff, you follow the path left and walk around Kloof Neck side of Lions Head, facing Camps Bay. As you round this corner and look up, you stare into the bowels of what was once, undoubtedly, the home of many a Capetonian caveman. We were not alone, there were others on this quest, but they were few and far between, possibly also looking to escape the crowds in search of a place to unpack their own inner chaos. And there it was, inside that cave, the sounds of silence, nothing but a postcard in front of you. The perfect place to unload the heavy satchel you’ve been carrying, scattering your worries amongst the wisps of cloud.

When you live in a bustling city, a place where you can loose yourself to your work, your chequebook, your never ending to-do list or the hurts that haunt you, being able to escape to a sanctuary carved into the side of a mountain, is a blessing no Capetonian should take for granted.

It seemed like the most fitting place to be to reflect, hiding out in our cave on the side of a mountain. Having faced down some of our most challenging moments in the past few months, being able to rest, together and happy, just a little worn down, is treasured time. It’s moments like this when you look at what you’ve been through and realise how fortunate you really are. Simply having a family to be with is one of the greatest blessings.

I’m not sharing our story for sympathy. I’m not sharing it because I think everyone wants to hear our drama. I’m sharing it in the hopes that it can help the people who need to hear it, the ones having a hard time, or the ones who think everyone else has it sorted. There are times when we all need to let go of things, acknowledge what we’ve been through so we can move forward, sometimes to bigger and better things, but sometimes just to peace. Decompression is so necessary. It doesn’t always take a day, in fact it almost never does. But it’s a start. I hope you all have a ‘cave’ you can visit to do just this.

I wish you all moments of peaceful, indispensable, reflection, wherever your cave may be.

 

 

Egg-sploring Plettenberg Bay

By | Beaches, Hikes, Our Travels, Parks | One Comment

If your idea of a holiday is finding some peace and solitude while sipping Mai-Tai’s on the beach, Plett over Easter weekend is not for you. Come to think of it, having children is not for you either. Both are filled with more bubble and bustle than you’ll know what to do with. Should you have chosen to embrace the amusement and vivacity that children bring, you have probably also, at some point, chosen to embrace the seaside village of Plett.

The Garden Route, where Plett is delightfully nestled, is filled with quaint little towns, beautiful seaside villages and white sandy beaches that stretch on for miles. There is no shortage of things to do either, which for a family like ours, is blissful. Don’t get me wrong, kicking back and shaking off the manacles of the daily grind is a non-negotiable, but getting out and finding exhilarating adventures that expand your mind and challenge you physically, is just as important.

Cue: hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, body surfing, forest runs for days. And these are just the obvious ones.

You can swing from the trees while on a canopy tour, tube down rivers and jump into gorges, but with a son as reckless as Lincoln, we are waiting a few more years before taking the kids on any of these – I’m rather fond of my little family of four.

Cookie Icing

Cookie Icing

Sea Gazing

Sea Gazing

"guinea packing"

“guinea pigging”

So when the holidays finally rolled around and we hit the road heading to Plett, we started narrowing down the list of Easter week activities. There was cookie decorating, egg painting, and chocolate eating, but none of those required us to leave the house. Murphy’s bad holiday weather meant that after days of rain and wind, we were incredibly grateful for those 3 activities because we did a lot more of them than we had anticipated. When the weather did allow, we added in some much needed beach time, charming coffee shop excursions, sneaky G&T sunsets, and made sure we threw in some mandatory hiking for good measure.

Plett has a beautiful peninsula that edges its way into the Indian ocean, forming the south-western tip of the bay. This is the Robberg Nature Reserve. It is surrounded by turquoise waters and plays host to a colony of barking seals, and a range of vulnerable fish species, as well as indigenous bird life happy to flit in the vegetation around you. It seemed the perfect choice for our Easter weekend hike.

Robberg-point

The magnificent Robberg peninsula. Viewing it from the start of the trail.

 

Had I been more prepared, I would have planted Easter eggs as we walked, surprising the kids along the way with tales of where the ‘Plett bunny’ came from. But alas, I was a pitiful parent and made my kids walk the entire way without any chocolate morsels. Despite this, they excelled as usual, sometimes plodding, sometimes skipping ahead, being bird watches, shark spotters and swimming in the rock pools on Robberg’s end. They seemed to need very little encouragement on this hike, despite its 11km distance, and by the time they reached the beach at the end, they dived into the water with wild abandon, leaving the adults to rest on the sand.

 

 

There is an abundance of delight on this hike. From the rock formations that date back to the break-up of Gondwanaland, 120 million years ago, to the diverse and often unexpected wildlife sightings, there is something for everyone. The hike covers various terrains, from shrubby fynbos and cascading sand dunes, to a tree-lined walk way with a canopy of birdsong. The Robberg point takes you down to sea level where you cross Whale rock, an expanse of rock so large and covered in lichen you feel like you could be traversing Gondwanaland in an era long past. Unfortunately, being Easter weekend, we were not lonesome hikers. We had a barrage of tourists hot on our heels, everyone keen for some fresh air and sunshine. Most of them opting to do the shorter routes (of which there are several) meant that at least at the point, we acquired the perspective we so often go in search of on our hikes.

It was serene and beautiful.

The most beautiful expanse of peace.

The most beautiful expanse of solitude.

 

Back in the bustling tourist hub, with half of Gauteng and a large dollop of Cape Town, we found the refuge we needed after a long hike: the ice cream shop. Ignoring the vast quantities of Easter cookies and gooey chocolate we had already consumed, our eyes devoured the ice cream before it made its way to our mouths. A heavenly end to a gastronomic week away. Despite all the people, the queues at restaurants and the parking palaver, Plett remains one of our ‘most favouritist’ holiday spots.

Bunny hunting

Bunny hunting

 

Hiking in Cape Town

By | Cape Town, Hikes | One Comment

Looking for good spots to hike in Cape Town? A number of people have asked me recently and this is one of those times where you are positively spoilt for choice. There is so much on offer it can leave you with decision fatigue. So for those of you who live here, or those visiting on holiday, here is a list of our favourite hikes, both with and without children. So, in no particular order:

Lions Head by evening light

Lions Head by evening light

Lions Head
This is one of Cape Town’s most popular hikes (and night hikes on or around full moon). Lions Head is right next to the city bowl and has arguably the best views in the Cape, looking over the 12 Apostle Mountains towards the South, Camps Bay, Clifton, the city and surrounds, and all the way out to the Paarl mountains. 360 degrees of awesome!
The walk starts off steeply along a dirt track but flattens off into single track as it winds its way around the mountain. You complete a full circle of the peak before the final summit, which requires agility to ascend the sandstone rock that is its peak. There are sections of rungs bolted into the rock where you need to climb (be weary if you are afraid of heights, but to put it into perspective our children do it with relative ease). Alternatively you can opt to walk around it, which is slightly longer but cuts out the climbing. There are still ladders to scale further up however.

This is an energetic climb but ‘bang for buck’ probably the best hike I’ve ever done. The views are extraordinary and you get very high very fast.

Ability level: You do need to be fairly able bodied and coordinated, but our kids can do this climb without any trouble.
Time: 1.5 hours up and 1 hour down. At a mild pace.
Highly recommended!

 

Nearing the top of Kasteelpoort climb with the kids

Nearing the top of Kasteelpoort climb with the kids

Kasteelpoort (Camps Bay side of Table Mountain)
Undoubtedly one of our children’s favourite routes up Table Mountain. This is not because it is easy. It is in fact, one of the more challenging routes we have done. It is fairly steep, requiring you to do a fair amount of scrambling, using arms as well as strong leg muscles to keep you going up. There is no “easy” on this climb. It is exciting, it is beautiful, and it gets you to the top fast.

Our children get bored when there is nothing for them to “do”, so this is ideal in that they are always climbing, always using their whole bodies, always having to concentrate.

They did this for the first time at 3 and 4 years old, under close supervision (falling over backwards is a very real possibility), but with very little actual help.
Ability level: Not for those looking for a gentle walk (except for the first section of jeep track). Make sure your kids are coordinated, if they are not, walk behind them to steady them. Fairly tiring, but well worth the effort.
Time: 1.5 hours up at a good kids pace, easy pace for us. Less than an hour down.

 

Above Kirstenbosch  gardens climbing Skeleton gorge.

Above Kirstenbosch gardens climbing Skeleton gorge.

Skeleton Gorge (Kirstenbosch Gardens side of Table Mountain)
This walk starts inside Kirstenbosch gardens and is beautiful and shady from the outset. It fairly quickly becomes steep stairs, but a wonderful canopy shelters you as you climb the gorge to the top. As you get higher you are required to use your arms as you cross over the gorge and scale boulders, making it a full body climb at times. The last time we did this route our kids were young enough to be in packs on our back. It was tiring going for us as there wasn’t much area to let them walk at 1 and 2 years old. As you get closer to the top it begins to flatten out and you emerge into the sunshine. At this point you can pick one of many return routes.

A great idea is to walk across the top to the cable car for lunch. Don’t underestimate this distance however.

Other options including returning down a different gorge into Kirstenbosch, or walking south and down Constantia Neck.
Ability Level: You need to be willing to sweat going up. It is certainly not for the faint hearted. I would attempt it now with our kids as I think they would manage well (although I’m sure they would have enjoyed it when they were younger too).
Time: Going up you are looking at roughly 1.5 hours, moderate adults pace. From the top it is another 2 hours to the cable car.

 

Rounding Llandudno corner on the way down.

Rounding Llandudno corner on the way down.

 

Llandudno Ravine
Absolutely one of my favourite routes up the mountain. Unspoiled views, incredible fynbos and relative solitude await. Being one of the lesser known, or possibly just lesser climbed paths up the mountain, makes this even more enjoyable. The climb includes all types of terrain; normal climbing, short rock faces, some stairs, as well as flatter sections. There are great lookout points and interesting rock formations as you get closer to the top.

Cresting the final rise gives the most breath-taking view of Lions Head and Table Mountain from the south; I could sit there for hours.

The hike begins next to the entrance to Ruyterplaats Estate, at the top of Suikerbossie in Hout Bay.
Ability level: We have walked this a couple of times with our kids but it took us a few tries before we reached the top and required determination to get there. Not recommended for young children or those with no hiking experience. There are a few sections of climbing up rock faces, narrow paths with steep drop-offs, as well as slippery rocks in the rainy season.
Time: It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the top of the climb. This did include a lot of stopping. You could continue on along the top of the mountain at this point or turn around and walk down again. We turned around and it took us 2 hours to reach the bottom.

 

The view over Hout Bay from the top of the Chapmans Peak climb, above Noordhoek.

The view over Hout Bay from the top of the Chapmans Peak climb, above Noordhoek.

Chapmans Peak
There are a number of walks you can do up Chapmans Peak. The first starts at the old forts, and winds its way up the first mountain. We have never been to the top, but it is a lovely gentle climb to while away a few hours on a weekend.

If you park at the check point near the top of Chapmans Peak, you can walk up a beautiful path surrounded by magnificent Cape fynbos.

This path diverges after reaching the first plateau. You can either walk east towards Muizenburg, or you can turn right, heading west up a path which leads to a rocky out crop with a look out over Noordhoek, Hout Bay and False Bay.
Ability level: You needn’t be very fit; it is a gradual climb that can be taken at your own pace. Old and young alike can manage and it has wonderful views once you have crested the first plateau.
Time: At a medium pace with our kids we took 1.5 hours to get to the rocky outcrop over Noordhoek, once you follow the path right.
Note: Chapmans Peak is still closed to hikers from the 2015 fires and is currently devoid of its proliferous, lush, fynbos.

 

Looking down Platteklip Gorge.

Looking down Platteklip Gorge.

Platteklip Gorge
This well walked and popular tourist climb is +/- 1km to the left of the cableway. It is steep going from the start and the majority of this climb is a winding, rocky staircase. You don’t have to be incredibly fit, you can do this at any pace, plodding slowly up. It is deceptively long and deceptively high however. We recently walked up with our kids (accustomed to this madness), a friend of ours, and his son. All the kids were full of beans on the way up, racing to be in first place, but needed encouragement on the way down.

This climb is not easy on the knees so if you have knee issues consider a different route down (potentially the cable car).

It is a fun climb to get to the top and see all the other tourists who cruised up in the cable car, and then join them for some lunch in the restaurant.
Ability level: Strong knees required, but that withstanding, you just need the heart to reach the top. No climbing/scrambling sections. No ladders. No flat sections.
Time: If you are fit and strong, approximately 1 hour. With kids, it took us 2 hours. Once you reach the top it is another 20 minutes to the cable station. Down we managed in roughly 1 hour.

 

Walking the service road up Constantia Nek.

Walking the service road up Constantia Nek.

Constantia Neck
A firm favourite with the southern suburb locals. There are numerous paths and dirt roads to be explored and you will be doing it in the company of a wide variety of both animals and people. Despite the frequency of visitors to this part of the mountain, it remains beautiful and filled with wildlife. We have encountered many snakes on our walks here and if you persevere to the top of the mountain you will be rewarded with wonderful views and a flat surface to explore while resting your legs for the descent.

On a hot day you can take a dip in the reservoir on the top of the mountain and enjoy breath-taking views of the Atlantic Ocean if you walk west to the top of Llandudno Ravine.

Ability level: Any age, shape or size. You walk as far and as high as you can. There are many options in this area.
Time: Your route. Your choice. (Roughly 1.5 hours to the top with our children)

 

India Venster in the rainy months.

India Venster in the rainy months.

India Venster
A route for the adventurous. Not something we have attempted with the kids yet. You climb up directly beneath the cable cars and follow the path as it skirts around to Camps Bay where it heads straight up to the cable car area.

This route has lots of climbing, some hair-raising height sections and requires lots of spirit.

You would normally see the more seasoned hikers walking this route but that’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a shot. The hiking is varied and offers a bit of everything.
Ability Level: This is a great option for relatively fit people looking for an exciting climb (or anyone with lots of heart).
Time: Roughly half a day’s hike up and down, depending on your speed. If we took our kids I’d imagine it would be closer to 6 hours.

 

Exploring the top of Table Mountain.

Exploring the top of Table Mountain.

Cruising the Top
The trick here is you have to get to the top somehow. We are never ones to queue for the cable car, but if you don’t mind that, head up for some breakfast with a view, and pick your route across the top. I am always surprised by the topography on the top of the mountain, regardless of how often we have been up there; it is unbelievably varied. There are valleys of lush fynbos, dry rocky outcrops and rivers that wind their way towards plummeting ravines.

Our favourite side to walk is from the cable car towards Llandudno Ravine.

You walk down through valleys, up and over hills (no, it’s not flat up there) and all while enjoying peace, quiet and relative solitude.
Ability Level: There is something for everyone, even if you only walk along the viewing area next to the cable car.
Time: There are route markers on the top of the mountain with estimated hiking times, use those as a guide when planning your route.

…Now get out there and enjoy our mountains!…