Part 1 – To “Hell” with a Donkey and a Pack

“The Red Stones hills of the Swartberg”
Groenfontein Farming

Every now and then I get asked to go on an adventure and I might add that they are normally a day out and about experiencing a path, a tree, a flight, a zip line or something like that, but nothing prepared me for this one! I am chuckling as I say
this as I never thought I would be this crazy. Unfit, still recovering from breaking my leg last year in a paragliding accident and under no circumstances prepared to hike at all, I agreed to do the Donkey Trail….oops?!?

But opportunities like this are few and far between that missing out on this one would just be bizarre. To top it all, I invited one of my best friends along to join me. “Hi Glenda, bring a backpack, a few warm items and hiking shoes, we are doing this trail into the Swartberg mountain range, it will be fun…” And with complete trust, she agreed.

We met up in Mossel Bay and then meandered our way through the back roads of the Klein Karoo. Our destination, Living Waters, is situated near a little dorpie called Calitzdorp. The dirt road that runs between there and Oudtshoorn is quite a spectacular little track and we romantically gazed upon Red Stone Hills, well-kept farms, old cottages and small communities of waving locals. Historically the Klein Karoo is a rather interesting place and we discussed the wealth created by ostrich feather industry, the Boer war and roosterkoek as we bided our time travelling along the dusty track.

Nearing the home of the Donkey Trail, that is neatly nestled in the Groenfontein valley on the foothold of the Swartberg Mountains, we found ourselves bouncing along a farm road that eventually led us to the old but restored country home of Erika, we had arrived.

Cottages
“The farm is filled with original Karoo cottage”

It was with an abundance of energy that a young man greeted us, with”Hello, are you Rose?” as he skipped down the stairs. “My name’s Andrew” said the tanned open-faced young gentleman in front of me. “Let me show you to your cottage, it’s John’s Cottage, further down the road” The cottage seems to slant as it is placed on the side of a hill overlooking the valley. The soft evening air of the Karoo greeted us on the small stoep. We took a moment to observe the view before listening intently to Andrew’s packing instructions in preparation for the next days’ travels. Glenda and I sifted through our luggage to find the perfect items to add to our day packs, adding water bottles, cameras and an overnight change of clothing for our stay in the mountains.

These tedious head-scratching decisions built up a thirst and we dropped everything and headed back to the Country Homestead for our briefing, a wise decision! Barging in through the kitchen door and eager to meet up with Erika and the rest of our party I happily received my first glass of wine and just relaxed with some chitter chatter in front of the fireplace, there seemed to be a buzz of excitement as we got to know our fellow hikers while lounging in the comfortable sofas.

A coal stove
“The Hearth’

Erika carefully outlined the hike and the rules and regulations of the area. There was that feeling of apprehension again as I realised that I have not done any fitness training for a while. I took a deep breath of air and looked around for some reassurance from the team travelling with us, and there seemed to be a comfortable air about, so I made a conscious decision that this would be one damn thing that I would definitely complete, no matter what! Later that evening, while munching away on the deliciously cooked dinner prepared by Johan, I realised that although I might crawl up a mountain at least I wouldn’t go hungry, hallelujah!

Dinner
“Farm style cooking”

Our mellow Karoo evening ended up in laughter as we were challenged to try and squeeze a note out of a Kudu horn. Instruments are definitely not my forte but making an ass out of myself obviously is, this I know now as the evening ended on a “High Note”! Still giggling Glenda and I headed back to our cottage later that evening leaving behind warm good night wishes and lingering smiles. I silently looked up at that mountain lurking in the distance and wondered “How the hell I am I going to get over that…?”

Ready to go
“Ready to take on the trail”

Morning broke, and we made a few last decisions about gear. A chill in the air had persisted through the night and we wrapped up warmly prior to making our way back to the homestead for breakfast. Nibbling on some fruit and dousing the inside of our bodies with warm coffee seemed to be in order before it was time to aim for the donkey kraal.

Buddy
“Each Donkey has his or her personal gear”

IMG_5895

I was eternally grateful to be relieved of the extra load by our long-eared companions Buddy and Zuma and I watched as they patiently stood their ground while being rigged for the long journey. The start kinda lingered in the air for a bit before Erika addressed us one last time and then reassuringly ended with: “Go to Hell” and we did…

20170926082257-01

An interesting fact is that this trail is not a new one but one that has been journeyed by many residents from Gamkaskloof renamed the “Hell” after a stock inspector, Piet Botha entered it via the steep pass known as “die Leer” from the western side, he described it as being like Hell to get into the Kloof and the name stuck. The Donkey Trail was the re-opening of the earliest path used until 1962 when the first road was built into the Gamkaskloof. Many went via this path to trade goods, visit friends and family and even to go to school.

Fauna & Flora details
” Discussing the fauna & flora of the mountain region”

Whilst looking up I couldn’t help but have an overwhelming feeling of respect. Life is a breeze in comparison to back then, with this in mind I put my head down and started my climb of 15km up the second highest mountain in South Africa.

The rock-strewn outcrops of the mountain presented an interesting biosphere of plants, insects and animals and every now and then Andrew stopped and pointed out some of the finer details.

Donkey Rest
“The pace of the Donkey is an important aspect of the hike”
Resting and repacking
“Resting and readjusting the packs”
view over the valley
“The view while climbing the Swartberg Mountain”

The journey was a slow easy one with the slowest person, or Donkey, depending on the moment, setting the pace. The first 3 Hours of the trail was mostly a zig-zag climb up the side of the mountain before heading into a single track path, it then plummets into a gorge, this is where we dislodged our packs and enjoyed the cool spring water, lunch and a breather. The break presented exciting chatter about the landscape and I typically wondered how many souls have passed through it before us?

20170926130044-01-1763281431.jpeg

Do not be mistaken, if I could hike this path backwards I would, as the views are breathtaking and you cannot help but stop and stare at the magnitude of mother nature and her endless panoramic beauty.

Donkey treats
“Donkey treats”

20170926140644-65000523.jpg

During the final hours of the journey, we started to climb, yet again, over the curved escarpment. This led us onto a gentle steady slope before edging the dragons back up into the so-called teacup of the mountain saddle. It was tough and the constant climbing and fatigue of the day had set in, but one foot in front of the other gets you there. By now I was at the back of the pack and with guide Joel by my side we edged out the last of the mountain side step by step.

Dragons Back
“The final approach, into the teacup of the saddle”
trekking
“Looking back over the valley at my guide Joel before the final climb”

Bursting with joy that was mingled with exhaustion I reached the top, the smile on my face must have been the broadest it’s ever been, I made it! “Welcome to the top of the second highest mountain in South Africa”: said Andrew and put out his hand for me to shake it. “I don’t shake hands, but a kiss on the cheek will be fabulous thank you” I blurted out. We all laughed and made our way to the waiting others.

20170926170824-01

It took us another 30 minutes before we reached base camp and the chill factor in the wind hadn’t changed much since we left that morning. I was convinced by now that it snowed the day before, the horizon was slowly sucking up the sunlight and we had to move briskly towards our camp and really was looking forward to exchanging my water bottle for a cup of coffee.

Moving tenaciously along the sunlit grassland I noticed the gentle change of the biosphere in our elevation, we were are surrounded by Pin Cushion Proteas and the Sugar Birds chirped out their screechy songs as they indulged in the nectar of these beautiful African flowers.

To the Camp
” Heading to the Camp, the last stretch “

It’s so gorgeous up there and it made the last footpath to camp a pleasure. The sight of a freshwater stream, tents poised on the rocky outcropped slopes and bustling camp sure was a welcoming sight. Sebastian handed me a cup of coffee and it was time to relax. My hands enfolded the rustic cup which I quickly brought to my lips and I literally let the warm liquid slide down my throat, this was pure bliss.20170926180110-01

Basecamp consisted of 4 parts; A Kitchen tent with an outlook, meal tent, sleeping tents and an outhouse with a view. This is all positioned within the angles of the rocky slopes and is accompanied by a cool mountain stream of crystal clear water which runs along the camp site. This cool source of water is used for drinking & swimming, but very much excluded swimming that night!

Camp site
“Our Camp in the rocky outcrops”

The sun set, the chill factor increased, it was a quick bird bath for us out of the small basin filled with hot water to wash off the excess sweat and clean the smelly bits, we splish-splashed our way with minimalistic effort and slipped into our warm gear. It felt good and we headed to the kitchen tent for supper.

20170926184447-01
“Our little outhouse with a view”

With slight amusement I stared at the yummy warm pasta called “Pasta ala Boer” it was just the perfect way to end the day, hungry I wolfed down my food and the worms in my stomach clapped and cheered with each mouth full. I managed to wangle one more cup of java before being given a hot water bottle and sent to bed. We closed ourselves up between the four canvas walls of our tent and wriggled into our sleeping bags for a good night’s rest. The wind restlessly worked its way around our tent, pulling at the corners like a naughty child, noisily howling for all to hear, but we were safe and I closed my eyes and let the warmth seep into my bones, tomorrow will bring another day…

The Hell is waiting
“The view towards the valley called Hell”

to be continued…..

For more info please visit www.donkeytrail.com

or visit their Facebook Page The Donkey Trail

Karoo Soul Searching – Diary of a roadtripper 

Somewhere between a “Groot” River and a tiny dorpie called Vanwyksdorp, placed on the foothold of the Rooiberg Mountain Range lies a little olive farm called Blue Sky Organics. It’s here that I go to when I need to find solace for my soul and rejuvenation of my being. Beside the edging of the olive trees is a lone cottage with your name on it, there if you need to escape the magnitude of mankind.


Be prepared to hear nothing but the chirping of birds,  the call of the baboon troops, the creaking of the roof in the changing heat and the whispering of the wind.

The scenic afternoon route I planned took me via Mosselbay then a sharp right at the Herbertsdale turn off, aiming for the mountains as you head past farmlands and all while the landscape changes from soft coastal views to hard rocky outcrops. It converts to a Karoo type topography with sheep farming the predominant source of income as you head deeper into the hills.

The road switches to gravel just after Herbertsdale so be prepared for a dusty drive, but nowhere in my Karoo travels have I come across a more picturesque drive than this one. The wide curves in the road seem to compliment the panoramic sight as you almost swoop past the mountain and then dip into a river bed, rattle over a cattle grid just to get ready for the next surprise. 
It’s along one of these dips and swoops at a nearing sunset that I noticed the moon, bearing her fullness over the peaks of the mountain tops in the soft pink glow of the sinking sun. Even if time was ticking and I worked against the clock to get to my destination before sunset, I just couldn’t help myself and I grabbed the minute to stop, appreciate and capture the moment on camera.

20170707172903-01

It’s when I encounter these little bits of delights in my life, that it actually becomes more meaningful. It wasn’t planned or forced, it just happened and nature paints her own pictures without the help of man. 
So my arrival was at the deep onset of dusk and a cheerful wave greeting from owner Liz to hurry me up the rocky driveway to the cottage with no name. Pooped I stumbled out of the car and distributed my luggage all over the stoep and cottage before taking in the moons display as night softly fell on God’s land.

The rest of the evening consisted of nibbling on nothing healthy and with a cold beer in hand while trying to find the pages of the book I’ve been trying to read for several months now. Not minding the time it takes to find my lost place in the untouched book, a whilst sitting under the outside light and feeling the warm air on my skin, I was just happy to be here.

The next morning, after spending the night on top of my bed with a book on my chest, I was woken up by the sunlight pouring its rays into my bedroom. I lazily stretched myself out like a cat and got up to make coffee.

The great thing about travelling on your own is that you can literally do anything you want, and grabbing my morning substance of the dark brew and my book, newly discovered, I nuzzled my way into the chair on the outside stoep and started the reading process all over again. It’s was only during the late morning when the worms in my stomach were protesting the lack of food and threatening a strike action that I decided to make a hearty brunch and still the lot.

It was way after 2 pm when my conscious saw the light and started nagging me for a walk. I dressed in some comfy kit, grabbed my floppy hat, walking sticks, camera, water bottle and headed for the kloof.

The walk starts at the cottage and works its way past the pale olive trees and stony fields of the hillside before hitting the riverbed of boulders in the kloof. For most of the hike, you will stone hop and balance on rocks, clamber and climb the pale gibber until deep into the kloof. It’s a slight challenge so the best thing to do is to be tenacious and surefooted and why rush?  The rising cliff faces are a dramatic sight and standing and just staring up for long lingering minutes are part of the process. Liz’s dog Jed “i” accompanied me on my lone expedition and the hearty companion was a welcoming addition to my walk and kept me entertained for the +- 2 hours I spent in the kloof, not without compensation of course. Dogs are like that?  They love to share and share the love. So nibbles were an inevitable part of the walk.

It was the late afternoon that I eventually stumbled out of the kloof and headed back up the road, the wind has picked up and was shaking everything around me. The tall blue gum next to my accommodation was rustling up a storm and it sounded like he was orchestrating the whole lot while a small out building’s roof was sounding like a symbol in an out of tune street band.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a brisk shower and some clean clothing, I decided on an early braai and pottered around the kitchen to gather some eats that may be considered healthy. A  light salad, blanched broccoli, few minute steaks and a cheesy toasty to scourge on the fire. It seemed pointless to make a fire for one,  not to even mention that it was for a few measly minute steaks, but for the ambience, it was worth it.

As the fire worked its way through the wood pile I sat back and indulged in the rest of my book and an ice cold beer in hand. Life’s Good

It wasn’t until much later that evening that I dragged myself off to bed after enjoying the company of the fictional characters in my novel. It was in a bright moonlit bedroom that I dozed off to dream the world.

When I opened my eyes the next morning the cloud base was hanging low over the valley, the promise of rain was in the air! The rain spider above my bed confirmed it, and even if I don’t like the fury creepy crawlies they are never wrong. I normally engage in a tap dance with theses eight-legged creatures but today I just decided to let it be, I have been living in the area for long enough to be used to them by now…..um maybe. 
It was a lazy start to the day and the idea of actually packing up and heading home was not exactly appealing. Reluctantly I packed the few things I threw in a bag for the weekend tossed it in the car, stared back at the view,  took one more deep breath and headed out to back roads of these red mountains and its sweet curves. The long awaited rain softly started falling and I watched mother earth sigh with relief as it welcomed the moisture. 

One more escape, one more journey, one more place to be discovered and explored this is what road trips are made for. This is my simple passion and I live it and love it. #HowzitSouthAfrica

Diary of a Road Tripper

Spending time on the road in South Africa is probably one of the most rewarding ways to travel. But head for the Garden Route and Klein Karoo, where the traffic is easily managed and the roads pretty open, and you will discover what it’s like to travel with ease. Here the hustle and bustle of the city does not exist, so open your window, breathe in the fresh air and drive.

There are a few routes here that are an absolute “must-do”, with en-route stop over’s, viewpoints and iconic sites to visit as you wend your way through the Southern Cape.

Looking back at the second chamber of the Cango Caves.

Karoo Bliss:
Head along the R 62 to Oudtshoorn, South Africa’s heartbeat of the Klein Karoo. Visit the splendid Cango Caves and stand in awe as you admire the  illuminated dark caverns. Get tickled by some ostrich interaction and indulge in a good old-fashioned “padstal” along the way. Then wind your way to Mosselbay via the R 328 Robinson Pass which is set in the curves of the Outeniqua Mountain Range. Stop at the summit of the pass and take in the spectacular view of these Mountains before winding your way down to the coast.

Looking down on the entrance to the Pinnacle Point Caves.

A Day in the Bay:

  1. Mosselbay the Point of Human Origin, is a place of seafarers, with history  entrenched in its very being. A trip to Pinnacle Point to explore the forgotten caves and experience 90 million-year-old ancestry is essential.  Head to town and explore the Diaz Museum to learn about ocean history, and then make your way to a harbour restaurant to treat yourself to some fresh fish. Adventure in the Garden Route starts here; find an interesting activity to do before leaving for George. Drive the R102 along the coast prior to joining the N2 to travel to the next coastal town, as many a whale has been spotted along this road.
The old train bridge over the Kaaiman’s River

Heading for Eden:
Wilderness. As you drive through the Kaaimans River Pass the Eden stretch of your journey starts, most probably the prettiest drive along the Garden Route as it has so much to offer. First, stop at Dolphins point; this overlooks the old train bridge and the mouth of the Kaaiman’s river, take in the scenery here and then head to the Touw River for a paddle and a short hike along the Kingfisher Trail to visit one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area.

There is no shortage of restaurants in the region, but a stop at Timberlake village along the N2 is a real treat with a variety of places to eat and shop. The next spot to visit along the N2 is Gericke’s Point at Swartvlei Beach. Also known as the Sphinx of the Garden Route, this fossilised dune formation is quite a sight to see and lies half immersed in the ocean.

Sunset on Myoli Beach

This is the Sunset stretch of the coast so make sure you are prepared for a good sundowner experience at one of the many viewpoints,  recommended viewpoints are, Cloud 9 or Myoli Beach in Sedgefield, closer to Knysna there is Brenton on Sea or the Water Front. Whichever you choose, you will not be disappointed.

The view from the Knysna Heads

Knysna.

There are many different facets to this coastal town that originally became famous for its timber. Knysna is a combination of coast, farms and forest. Moulded into the foothold of the Outeniqua its beauty is unparalleled once you start exploring. Grab a map and visit the forest areas. Find one of the old trees and just stand and admire its majestic splendour. The oyster is another delight for which Knysna is famous, and can be found in many a restaurant in town. Then there is, of course, the view from the Heads of Knysna, an absolute must see. It is the portal of many a passing ship and one of the Garden Route’s’ iconic views.

The emerging bubbly and boutique wine estate route

Cruising to the Crags

Next stop, Plettenberg Bay and beyond. During your first visit to the area you definitely need to visit Robberg Nature Reserve and a morning hike along its sheer rock face and a beach swim should be on the cards. It is not a difficult walk and extremely scenic. Then off to The Crags for lunch at one of the budding boutique wine estates, where tapas and bubbly is highly recommended. There many soft adventure activities here and an afternoon exploring The Crags is an afternoon well spent.

End off your day by visiting Tsitsikamma Village, before journeying to your next destination.

The Hang Bridge over the Storms River mouth

You might want to try the crazy bungee jump off Storms River Bridge before leaving the Garden Route or if that is not your thing perhaps indulge in a canopy tour in the natural forest or a visit to Tsitsikamma Nature Reserve.

One thing is guaranteed, this will have been the trip of a lifetime!

“To rent a car with Around about Cars and explore this incredible region of South Africa click here: “Car Rental South Africa”