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.
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
After months of radio silence, we’re back! We hope to incite a lust for adventure by supplying your inbox with a gentle stream of African road tripping images, wildlife shots and general Wuth family shenanigans. Hopefully they’ll burn a desire in your heart to head out into the wilderness and experience the beauty in this world. Maybe they’ll be enough to satisfy your desire, but either way, we hope they give you lots of enjoyment. A glimpse into our life for the next 6 months, the good… and the not so good 🙂 So before all that begins, here is a little bit of what we’ve been up to and how we got here…
We started off the year by taking our kids out of school so we could home-school them – we did this for many reasons, but partly to figure it out before we left on our adventure. What we didn’t realise at the time was that home-schooling and working would leave no time for planning the actual trip! So fast-forward 6 months to our anticipated leaving date and Shaun and I found ourselves in a perpetual state of mania trying to tick our way down our to-do list. We were impossible to pin down and even more impossible to get any concrete plans out of. After the property market in Cape Town fell through the floor, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to rent our house out, let alone sell it, and this meant we had a pretty flexible leaving date. But then a wonderful family on their own years adventure from Spain wanted to move into our house and suddenly mid July became a hard deadline! Our leaving date had moved from plan A, to plan B, all the way down to about E before we finally had lift off. It was a bit of a soft launch though and it only shot us 800 meters up the road where we stayed with friends for 2 nights – we just hadn’t managed to tick the last few things off our list. On our second take we managed to get all the way to Stellenbosch, a full 50mins drive from our home. The only reason we made it that far was because we had booked a 4×4 course so we could learn how to drive our vehicle before heading off into the wild blue yonder. Anyone would think we had no heads to screw on, and I think by the time we left we had our entire extended family in a state of paranoia about what we were about to attempt. Luckily (in this case), Shaun and I operate in completely different spheres, so put together we seem to have covered most of the bases (we think) and although we had a rather tumultuous start, we seem to have found a bit of a groove. After 10 days on the road we are all settling into it.
Learning how to 4×4 was actually a great start to our adventure and we’ve already had to apply our newfound knowledge. We’re hoping to avoid as many blow-outs as possible. Turns out there is a lot more to driving a 4×4 than just sticking it in drive and ploughing over things, who would have thought! We started our trip by spending 3 nights at Kogel Bay Campsite between Somerset West and Kleinmond. It gave us 3 days to sort out our packing. Re-pack and re-pack again, and go back into town to get a few more last minute things, and have some more gadgets fitted to our car. Shaun has really settled into this African adventure by over-engineering the socks off our gear. He has fitted solar panels, bought battery packs for our battery packs, and ‘smart’ charges that make all the charging that much more efficient. I think we should be ok for power.
While Shaun has geared us up, I have played tetris over and over again to make sure we have used our space wisely, and have the things we need close at hand while less necessary boxes get packed at the bottom. What this means is that I know where everything is and Shaun knows how to make everything work. If you take one of us out of the campsite everything grinds to a halt, but I’m sure after another few weeks on the road we will have grasped the whole picture.
The kids have been very good at getting stuck in and finding tasks that they can manage. I’ve actually been quite impressed. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fair amount of nagging that goes on, but that is normally me trying to get them to do school work. Unfortunately Shaun and I have been trying to fit in some necessary work as well which has thrown off a couple of ‘packing up camp sessions’, so we’ve arrived in the dark at multiple stops which is never ideal. Luckily we’ve managed to keep morale high most of the time, but every now and again the wheels go rolling off and we all just have tea and go to bed
After Kogel Bay we headed inland to Tankwa Karoo for a few nights. There is lots of nothing and then some more nothing. It is desolate and barren, but in a strange way still beautiful. You can watch dust swirl down the road, catch the occasional springbok bounding past, and if you’re quiet enough, hear your blood flow more slowly through your veins. We did some work and school and chilling at viewpoints, and started to feel the stillness of Africa a little. After testing out our new suspension on some of the worst corrugated roads I’ve ever seen, we headed to Sutherland for a night to check out the Southern hemisphere’s largest telescope (S.A.L.T.) and do some star gazing in the coldest place in South Africa. It was worth all the corrugation to get there! The stars were out of this world.
Then it was off to Namaqualand to run in the daisies, and we weren’t disappointed. It was a little early in the season, but they were still spectacular. So was the landscape surrounding Namaqualand with its granite domes and interesting vegetation. Definitely a place we will come back to explore on foot. It is quite unlike anywhere else in South Africa and looks ideal for a hiking trip.
We are now on route to Augrabies to camp next to the roar of the falls. Here’s hoping our last week in South Africa is calm and enjoyable. Catch you all on the flip side.
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’
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 ‘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.
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.
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.
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.
With a South African winter akin to that of an English summer, I hardly feel entitled to complain, but leaving Cape Town’s balmy temperatures and heading to Johannesburg’s more frigid conditions felt like we’d boarded a vessel to Antarctica. The cold seems to cut through your clothes no matter how many layers you wear, and although everyone moans about the wind in Cape Town, it doesn’t feel like it has swept over the planes of Siberia before reaching you. Icy wind and cutting temperatures aside, we had 2 weeks of happy faces to see, so we got our pansy asses up and smiling, and ready to take on the cold. After a week of cuddling up with the Joburg family, catching up with old friends, and slogging away at work that seems to follow us like the unpleasant bouquet of an armpit; we were off to the bush. A week of bonding with the animals, gazing at African skies and hearty laughs around a roaring fire were awaiting us. That’s not to mention the constant grazing (by us, not the wildlife), the awesome scenery and spectacular bush views.
We are spoilt enough to have Granny and Grandpa’s game farm to escape to; a haven set in a valley of swaying grass and Dombeya trees. The giraffe, kudu and impala bound around cheerfully, occasionally peering into your vehicle questioning what you are doing in their section of the pride lands, or scatting off into the bush if you startle them. There are no Big 5 on the farm, which means you don’t have to be constantly concerned about your wellbeing outside the vehicle, but when you are me, you are concerned anyway, constantly afraid an impala is going to jump out the bushes and devour you whole. When you live in Africa, you have any number of things to fear, I’m not sure the ‘terrifying presence’ of the grassland herbivores should be one of them, but clearly the twitchiness you pick up in our cities doesn’t seem to leave you as fast as the smell of the exhaust fumes.
The lack of carnivorous beasts did allow us to take the kids cycling, running and hiking through the bush, putting us in the beating heart of Africa. The pulse of the bush was at our fingertips, every blade of grass brushing off a piece of the city.
There is an indescribable connection to life that you feel rumbling around when you immerse yourself in the bush.
Despite being a beach girl, even I can’t deny the bush is something special. It was dry and it was dusty, but it felt so real, so alive. The roads implore you to follow them as they wind their way through the valley and up onto the escarpment, they do such a good job in their temptation that we were enticed into a 17km run along these very paths, the birds singing to us as we worked our way up the escarpment. No better way to shake the last vestiges of urban life, than having to focus on the cobbles in front of you and the burning in your lungs. I had never quite believed people when they droned on about ‘altitude training’ and how the lack of oxygen actually plays a rather large roll in your abilities. Oh, I believe them now! On 2 occasions (while running particularly hard) I lost sensation in my arms all together, and deciding (in my oxygen deprived state) that the best way to remedy the situation was to take off my top (at freezing temperatures) as it must be constricting blood flow. Oh the hilarity of oxygen deprivation. Shaun and I have been thinking quite seriously about climbing Kilimanjaro (5900m above sea level), but after my ‘extreme’ trip to the Highveld (1600m above sea level) I may need to step up the altitude training before attempting that. The last thing we need is me flailing about in the snow, with my top off, on the top of Kili, with arms that don’t work. Pictures could never do that kind of performance justice.
Despite the dry, insipid air, a week of exertion was exactly what the doctor ordered. Couple that with the location, and you have a winning formula for disentangling yourself from the irritable bowels of city living. A week in the bush is enough to strip away the layer of soot that clings to you when you live in a preserve of vehicles and industry. It may replace it with a layer of dust, but at least that is a more authentic, earthy feeling. For some reason the dirt you gather on yourself in the bush is comforting, it soothes the urgent voices in your head telling you to work harder, stay up later, stare at a screen for longer. The overwhelming feeling that you’re not being productive enough, not accomplishing enough, not ticking things off your to-do list fast enough, begins to slip away. It’s a respite from reality that we all need. It helps put things in perspective, lets us see our lives a little differently. We certainly can’t all spend our time picnicking around rock pools with loved ones, blazing trails through the bush with our kids in tow and braai-ing up a storm every night under the clear African skies, but I’m going to set my intention there. You cannot have enough inspirational picks on your vision board, and this scene is a goodie. Trust me.
We may have the mountains, the sea, the beach and the wine-lands in Cape Town, but we don’t have the rugged feeling of creation. It’s something quite special, and as it turns out, rather unique.
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.
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.
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 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.
An absolute delight! This is the gathering place of the Gods, the point where water, rock and mountain meet to play. If you are a nature lover, this is pure indulgence.
For years we have been hearing about Beaverlac. “The most incredible rock pools”… “such a great getaway” … “an escape from everything, no phones, no music, just crackling campfires at night”. Honestly, I thought everyone was making much a do about nothing. Until we got there.
The campsite is nothing particularly special, especially if you are allergic to Plane trees, as is my predicament. The majority of it is grassed, slightly sloping, but perfectly comfortable to camp on. The combination of Plane and Oak trees offer a fair amount of shade, but if you are there in spring time make sure you have allergy meds with you, the ‘puff’ balls spare no expense in ensuring the entire area is covered in a light dusting of pollen and fibres. Now although the camping area is nothing to write home about, setting foot along the path towards the main ‘rock pool’ gives you an idea that there may be something magical lurking around the corner. The path very quickly becomes rocky and difficult single track, made especially difficult by the fact that we were all on our bikes. Not anticipating what lay around the bend, we made a frankly ill advised decision on our means of transportation. After discarding our bikes behind a rather large, shrub-obscured boulder, we proceeded on foot. By far the better decision as it turned out; the rocks would have been un-navigable on wheels, even for the most seasoned professional.
To say I was surprised when I saw the rock pools would be an understatement. It was like finding an oasis in a desert. One minute you are walking along rugged mountainside, and the next you are standing opposite a 3 meter wide waterfall, a large pool of fresh mountain water at its base. It is surrounded by sloping rocks and vegetation, both of which you can use to get in and out of the clear, deep water. It is brackish, and cold, but so invigorating to jump off the top of the waterfall into the pool below. As we arrived on a Thursday morning, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves for a day, and it was magical.
Climbing up to Jump off the falls.
The pristine pools
Resting on rocks
On the Friday, we decided to walk up the Leopard trail in search of the Totempools. It is a lovely walk, winding you up the mountain alongside the river. About half an hour up we stopped at the ‘bum slides’, so named because the long stretch of flat rock is perfect for sliding down, when there is enough water in the river that is. Given that South Africa has been rather racked by global warming of late, we found little joy in sliding down the rocks on our bottoms, particularly with a son like Lincoln who managed to almost concuss himself, crack open his head and lose a limb in a matter of minutes. We opted instead to continue our climb in search of the elusive pools.
Lincoln on his way down to getting wedged under the rock!
Lincoln just before he fell over and landed on his head!
And elusive they definitely were. Climb as we might, we are not sure if we were met with success. After taking the wrong path a couple of times, sending Shaun up the mountain ahead of us to try and figure out which was the right route, and eventually succumbing to the heat, we stopped at what we thought was a pretty good ‘potential’ Totempool. We are still not sure if that was the Totempool or not. It was incredibly beautiful however, and a prefect place to spend a few hours lounging on the rocks and frolicking in the fresh mountain pools. The solitude we were spoilt with made our first two days at Beaverlac idyllic.
Arriving back at the campsite after our walk on Friday evening, we were greeted with a swarm of weekend arrivals. Being a dog-friendly spot meant that there were more than a few exuberant canines leaping about. For the most part under control, but there were a few angling for a tent to mark as there own. It was by no means ridiculously busy, but after being spoilt by having the pools to ourselves for the first few days meant we were happy to hit the road the next morning. Leaving was not easy however, the dance of the water over the tumbling Cederberg mountains and the therapeutic crashing sound it makes as it plummets into the pools of fresh mountain water left us hankering for more. It is a place I would visit again and again – solitude being a prerequisite of course.
Go with the intention of leaving noise, social media and a constant stream of interruptions behind, and you wont be disappointed. I guarantee it.
Last week called for a change in habitat. After our great experiences on Airbnb, Shaun and I decided we would rent out our home to families looking for a more “homely” experience when visiting Cape Town. If people want to stay in our house and the timeframe suits us, we pack our bags and out we go.
So last week we found ourselves residing in the Cederberg. It hardly felt like we’d been booted out our home. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, the views more beautiful and the sounds more peaceful. It was a little piece of heaven. We were overlooking the Clanwilliam dam, and had the Cederberg Mountains against our backs. You could hardly find a better playground.
Running to the water from our cabin
Our private beach spot
As is customary in our adventuring, Shaun had to bring the old workbook along; cramming in a good 8-hour day amongst our dam swims, walks, and hikes in the mountains. The fact that the temperatures were reaching the mid thirties worked in his favour because we had to spend midday indoors with the air-con humming on full capacity to escape the heat.
The temperature however, did little to deter us from undertaking the 12.5km Kliphuis hike along the Pakhuis Pass in the Cederberg. Anticipating the heat, we woke at the crack of dawn, poured food down our gullets, applied a full body suit of sunblock, and hit the road.
It was well worth it.
The Cederberg offers views and solitude in a way you can’t refuse it. You breathe it in, you soak in the views and you revel in its stillness. The incredible rock formations can keep you mesmerised for hours. We hadn’t planned on walking the whole route but found ourselves unable to turn down the opportunity of a full morning, alone, in paradise.
The kids were troopers. I say this with the utmost gratitude, and respect for their endurance. They put up with some crazy ideas their parents have. They walked almost the entire way on their own little legs. Running over the flat sandy patches on top of the mountain so we could make up time. Braving a walk head on with baboons because it was the only way past them. Learning to track leopard footprints in the sand despite the sweltering heat, and constantly being schooled on where it is safe to take drinking water from. These kids put up with a lot.
At midday, after 4 hours of hiking, when the mercury was reaching a balmy 35 degrees, we reached the end. If our car didn’t have air-con we would heave melted into a puddle.
After returning to our cabin, we decided a swim was in order. In an attempt to entertain the kids while Shaun and I endeavoured to get some work done, we would let them run down to the dam to build their rock castles and throw stones in the water. On this particular afternoon, we were heading down for a swim, so I was with them, well, a few precious minutes behind. The children ran ahead while I packed a picnic, and when I got there I found them standing 5 meters from the dam, waiting rather stoically for me to arrive. In a very matter of fact manner they informed me they had found a puff adder at the water. Now my snake knowledge is minimal, my tendency to overreact is also pretty minimal, so I decided it must be a little mole snake. I patted them calmly while getting them to show me where this ‘puff adder’ was. It was so incredibly camouflaged that it took me a good half a minute to see it! At that point I knew it wasn’t a mole snake, its marking were far too beautiful, but I still couldn’t say what it was. So we called in the naturalist, aka. Dad, who arrived at a rate of knots with eyes sticking out on stalks. It was definitely a ‘puffy’ (Lola’s later affectionate name for it), and as we gawked, while simultaneously marvelling at Lola and Lincoln’s incredible observation skills, the tubby puffy slid into the water and swam away! It came as more than a surprise to us all, but not enough to put us off swimming in that heat, we just did it with our eyes peeled.
One camouflaged Puffy
Saying there is an abundance of wildlife in this corner of the world clearly goes without saying. The area is largely uninhabited, and development hasn’t boomed like other ‘dam’ towns, leaving bird life and wild animals roaming about freely. We had a pair of herons gliding about using our corner of the damn as their runway, and we shared our still mornings with a plethora of bird song. The mongooses, bush rabbits and buck all bound around gleefully, and they were just the obvious ones. It was a really special place to let our children partake in nature. To be somewhere so unspoiled, and have it be in Cape Town’s backyard, is a real treat. To be able to sneak away in the middle of term, and have the good fortune of being able to simply take our work along with us, must make us some of the luckiest people around. Always striving for a life less ordinary, always looking for balance, it’s weeks like this where I think sometimes we do get it right.