Be warned, this is not a tame tail. Life in the wild can be exactly that – wild! Before any of you think we are negligent parents, I just have to say that we didn’t know we were going to be camping 100 meters from 6 lions, or that our guide would take us right to them. For us this was about experiencing mokoro life, living like the people of the waterways. It turned out to be a more game-filled experience than we ever could have imagined though.
Category Archives: Parks
What a wild ride it’s been! Long over due for a post on what we’ve been up to, but everyday seems to be filled with life. Whether it’s crazy animal encounters, extreme trips, chilling on a river, or doing bundles of laundry, I don’t seem to have had a moment to pull my thoughts together and give you all the update you deserve. So here goes…
The Call of Africa
A poem by C. Emily-Dibb
When you’ve acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa
And you’ll not be right again
Till you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know that they’re around you,
Waiting in the dark. Read More
As our time in Namibia is drawing to a close, I’m finding a part of me already misses the incredible skies and vivid sunsets of the desert. As barren as those lands were, they held something special. I can’t deny though, that being next to a river is food for my soul. Watching the hippos wallow in the river, and seeing the crocs cruise by, fills me with such a sense of peace. It also makes me want to hop in the river however. They seem to have such fun cooling off while the rest of us land dwellers over heat in the upper 30-degree weather. And this isn’t even the hot season! I don’t know how the people here cope in the summer months. The last week has been unbearable, we have been doing game drives in the middle of the day, even though we know we’ll see no game, just because we need to cool off. Our thermometer measured 41 degrees a day ago, luckily that wasn’t the day we got ourselves stuck in the sand…
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.
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
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
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.
S & M & L & L
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.
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.
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.
Ok, so I know there are people who would argue with me when I say there is little better to do on a perfect day in Cape Town, than to head on a hike up Table Mountain, yes, on your feet – leave the cable car for the grannies and grandpa’s. But you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and it is beautiful. It is beautiful in a way you almost can’t describe. The way the sun hits the mountain and misty morning air with absolute peace. The sound of tiny creatures scampering through the bush desperately trying to flee the delighted cries of the children. The feeling of your heart pounding in your chest as you work your way higher up the side of the mountain, and the silence that meets you when you crest that final rise. Standing 1000 meters above the sea, looking down over Camps Bay, is nothing short of bliss. The quietness is strange at first, almost like you’re not sure what’s missing. You are completely removed from the constant droning of the cars, the incessant talking and hammering and barking. A bird chirping becomes a crystal clear sound, piercing the quietness, but then evaporating as quickly as it appeared. It’s magic up there.
This enchanted world isn’t lost on the kids either. They hear the quietness, they feel the peace, it’s taking them to a place where they can experience nature and see wonders in this world that can’t be bought in a store. It is such a vital experience for children of this generation to have, and not just once off either. When their everyday lives are constantly bombarded with images and sounds, flashing lights and perpetual adverts, they need to learn what it means to escape, to find their peace. Giving children some ‘quiet time’ is so often associated with veg’ing out in front of the TV or playing games on an iPad, when you compare that to real quiet time you realise how extremely twisted our notions of ‘quiet’ have become.
Our kids love the climb. We have learned that they prefer to climb rocky paths which require actual climbing, rather than hike a trail that requires only walking. They like to use their whole bodies, and they like the challenge of finding their own way over rocks in their path. It keeps the hike interesting for them, and saves us having to encourage them the whole way to the top.We have also learned they need frequent breaks, lots of little ones. Stopping for half an hour is actually more damaging than good as it lets the body relax and beginning the climb again is harder. Stopping for 1 minute every 10 minutes is great for them. They can have a sip of water and a small snack. It keeps energy levels up and gives them something to work towards. Telling them they have to keep climbing when they are needing a break is both dangerous and demoralising. Your wits have to be sharp but so do theirs, they need to be able to concentrate on their climbing and their balance. Regular breaks are key to that.
Watching your children reach the top of a mountain is one of the most rewarding experiences for a parent, especially when they are only 4 and 5 years old. You walked it too, so you know the effort that was involved and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t proud, it is a real achievement for them, and us of course, our inspirational pep talks were invaluable.
In our case, we climbed this particular climb a year ago with them, so we decided to extend a little further and hike across the top to the cable car. The walk along the top is extremely beautiful, you stroll through valleys filled with the largest Proteas I’ve ever seen, and climb rises covered with both ferns and fynbos. The vegetation is outstanding and the silence extends across all of it. We picnicked on a rocky outcrop with views over False Bay and across to Gordons Bay. We could see the entire mountain range that burned in the March 2015 fires, including Muizenberg, Kommetjie, Hout Bay and Camps Bay – our views were extraordinary.
Our travels across the top took us to Echo Valley, from where we could both see the cable car and hear the noise of the habitation. In the stillness and the quiet from where we had just come, the sight of the hoards was like crashing back to reality. We made a sharp b-line for the closest path to avoid the masses and began our descent down the mountain. What I neglect to mention is that in our haste to retreat, we chose to descend down a path that was ‘closed due to safety reasons’. If you choose to argue our sanity on this point I would not disagree with you. It was foolish and we were negligent.
What started as a peaceful, happy climb, deteriorated into dogged determination and perseverance based solely on the need to reach the bottom.
We ran out of water on the top, expecting to find a stream where we could fill our bottles, only to realise there is almost no water on the top of the mountain come March, the middle of the dry season. Just when we were turning into crusty semblances of our former selves, we found 2 puddles of water on the rocks that were the bane of our descent. We scooped those water swimmers aside and put our noses to the ground as we drained the fresh mountain water. It was our saving grace. Never have I been so happy to swallow unfiltered water lying dormant on a rock. Never did I think I would encourage my children to do so. After quenching our Sahara dessert thirst, what better way to celebrate than to sit down and have a good cry. As a pressure cooker does to release steam, so did I. My steam came out in big droplets, one at a time, each patiently waiting their turn, until I was once again calm. Nothing like a cry of frustration to ease the weight of knowing you made a bad judgement call, of knowing it when you made it but not listening, or recognising it for what it was. I knew the only way home was down, so we resumed our climb down the rocky ravine, guiding the children as they climbed down one immense boulder after another, passing them down to each other when the rocks where simply too high and too dangerous for them to climb.A 2 hour climb up, a 1.5 hour hike along the top, and a 3.5 hour hike down. What was meant to be a 4 hour hike turned out to be almost twice as long. After some choice language, nearly dehydrating, a good weep and a few discussions on when it would be a good time to call in a helicopter, we finally reached the bottom. We were all deflated, our feet hurt, and we were desperate for an ice cold drink, but we were down safely.The lesson to take from our epic hike, is don’t let the idea that you may have known better in the past, cloud your judgement on what you are currently attempting. When that more-than niggling thought tells you to stop and re-think your plan, don’t disregard it because in the past you have, and it turned out alright.
Shaun and I didn’t need to have the conversation on our errors up the mountain that day, we saw it in each others faces as we cuddled our kids before bed that night. While we tucked them in, congratulating them on their incredible tenacity during our adventure that day, I promised myself I would never take them down a closed route again. This was the last lesson I needed in that regard.
Closed route aside, it was an incredibly awesome hike! What an escapade.
Would I do this again?
We will never do an unadvised route again with our children. But we will absolutely, one hundred percent, be taking them on the first part of this hike again! It was challenging, but an ideal hike for our family. We climbed up Kasteelspoort from Camps Bay.
What to be aware of?
Plan! Plan! Plan! Stick to your plan. Changing your mind about the distance when you are half way through your hike is careless unless you know you have enough supplies on you. Running out of water is no joke. Realising you have no medical supplies on you when you need them is also no joke. Use the tips below!
- Have a map of your route and the surrounding area.
- Carry more food and water than you think you will need. Our kids eat significantly more than Shaun and I on a hike. This surprised us on our first major hike and Shaun and I had to go without in order to keep their energy up.
- Take a first aid kit. Just the basics. You’re packing light remember.
- Don’t walk an unadvised or closed route with your children! Putting yourself in danger is one thing, doing it to your children is iniquitous. This doesn’t mean you can’t do challenging routes, just stick to the advised paths.
- Tell at least one person where you are going before you leave.
- Take a phone with you, but keep in mind there may be no signal on the top of a mountain.
- Have the number for the mountain rescue service with you.
- Always carry a thermal, even on a hot day. The top of a mountain can have a vastly different temperature from that at the bottom.
- Pack a good sense of humour – things don’t always go your way!
- Remember you are there to have fun!!
If you have any hiking tips please feel free to share them.
When we announced that we would be hitting the USA during winter, we were recompensed with more than just a few frowns. Most of our friends laughed.
“Do you realise how cold it gets in North America?” we heard from at least a handful of individuals. Well, yes, in theory we did. Practice however, is something entirely different!
We were rewarded for our winter travels with a -36 degree temperature as we arrived in Montana. This is without a doubt the very coldest we have ever been! 8 hours inland from Seattle and what a vastly different climate awaits you.
What an underrated, beautiful State! I can’t say enough good things about Montana. The people are wonderful, the towns are beautiful and the mountains outstanding, not to mention the incredible skiing and Glacier National Park. There is such a community atmosphere about the small towns, and tourists are welcomed and treated like gold. Chocolate tasting evenings, winter parades and freshly baked cookies are just a small idea of what to expect from these old gems.
Our intention in this winter wonderland of a State was to go and see Glacier National Park. Unfortunately for us, most of the roads are closed in winter due to avalanches, extreme snowfall and ice. We did manage to see a small section of the Park and it was truly magnificent. The day we ventured out was freezing, and even that sounds warm in its description. The temperature reached a high of -21 degrees. It is a strange thing to be standing in the full sun, but so bitterly cold on any area of your body exposed to the elements, that you get freezer burn simply standing outside. There was a moment I thought my cornea were freezing over and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a complete pansy about it! It’s hard to comprehend what you need to wear to remain outdoors for any length of time at that temperature, suffice it to say we had about 4 pairs of pants on (each!), 4 thermal tops plus jersey plus ski jacket, beanie, balaclava, at least 2 socks, winter boots and gloves. After about 5 minutes Lincoln required being wrapped in a blanket. After about 7 minutes I required being wrapped in a blanket. Lola was too busy eating snow to notice the cold and Shaun was testing the ice on the river to see if a ‘crossing’ was in order. It was decided that we ought to remain safely on land, which we did, although I managed to land on my backside twice in as many minutes just walking down the road.
On our second day in Kalispell, Montana… it snowed! Our very first, ever, really real snow. And it snowed, and it snowed, and it snowed. And we went skiing. I must be honest here and say it was not my idea. I would have been happy to sit inside watching the beautiful snowflakes fall, sipping hot chocolate and roasting my feet by the fire. But I married Shaun. It seems my spawn are a little more like their father than I expected in this regard, and I was outvoted 3 to 1. So out we went. Despite the immense cold, there is something incredible about being able to head up the slopes as a family. The kids are so adept now we are able to head straight to the chair lift and cruise up the mountain. I really can’t explain how special, and fun, this is. This is not to say we journey down without incident, there are many cold and cuddly moments with the snow, and yes, tears when it goes in their gloves and on their faces (the kids not Shauns), but it is so much fun and so much more than I expected they would want to do. Given the cold though, we only managed to ski a couple of runs before the kids and I had to head into the lodge to defrost our toes and find some high density calories to warm us up. Shaun, the ski junky, managed another 2 hours before returning all smiles, and giddy with joy.
We stayed 3 days more than we had planned in Kalispell, before packing a large portion of snow, along with our suitcases, into our SUV and heading South to Yellowstone National Park. Driving through a winter wonderland is less fun than one would imagine. Beautiful snowy roads become slippery, visibility becomes something of an intermittent treat, and stopping is something the car would prefer not to do if at all possible, not the best way to cover 600 km’s. But we did it, with much concentration, prayer, and thankfully well-behaved children in the back.
Yellowstone National Park is in much the same condition as Glacier National Park – far too snowy to drive in. So we opted for something better… snowmobiles! Just when we thought we had done almost all there is to do, what an absolutely awesome way to experience a national park! We signed up for a tour which had everyone on their own snowmobile, replete with 70 layers of clothing and a toasty warm helmet. Shaun and I had one child each, in front of us (buffering us from the wind of course), and off we set to the geysers of Yellowstone. It Was Such Awesome Fun!! We stopped to check out bison, elk and coyote, and had fantastic views of the exploding sulphur pits and geysers. In a land covered entirely by snow, it is incredible to watch steam billowing up from the ground, and pools boiling away with crystal clear water.
Being on the bikes was exhilarating and freeing, I caught myself laughing as we threw ourselves over bumps and chased down our fearless liege who thought fit to drive her snowmobile at around 60 miles per hour! Passing through open planes left us with ice-cream headaches as the cold wind that pummels you is enough to cut through balaclavas, beanies and helmets. The seats have warmers and so do the handle bars, but nothing is enough to defrost fingers in those temperatures, and all the seat warmers do is give you swamp butt when you get off them, leaving you with a soggy ass and moist pants. After driving the bikes for most of the day, I decided the handlebars were really more for cosmetic reasons, and to give you the illusion of being in control. A snowmobile is going to go where a snowmobile is going to go and you don’t have a whole lot of say in the matter! What complicates things is when your children fall asleep on the bike and you are left trying to hold their heads up whilst steering a machine that is intent on showing you who is boss. Lola and Lincoln (rather dangerously I might add) passed out from sheer exhaustion to the point where we couldn’t actually wake Lincoln up. There was prodding, calling, wobbling, but all to no avail. Eventually we had people taking pictures of me trying to wake the poor guy up, it proved comic relief for many. What was most amusing was when he fell asleep and flopped his heavy helmeted head over the handlebars, pushing the emergency button to stop the thing, causing the 2 of us to come to a very sudden halt in the middle of the road. It was awfully perplexing until I realised what he was lying on!
Needless to say, there were times we had to drive more carefully given our slumbering cargo, but other than that we had an absolute ball playing in the snow, chasing each other on bikes and generally behaving like children. I can’t rate that kind of silly, frivolous activity highly enough! It is what has kept us sane on our adventure and something we fully intend to carry on doing until we are too old to move… even when the time comes when our children hide from sheer embarrassment! Long may the fun last 🙂 Xxx