The arrival of winter is good news for fans of Silvermine Dam in Table Mountain National Park. Dotted along one side of the dam are the most picturesque picnic sites, each with a braai and a stone table. Some of the sites are tucked between trees for added privacy, while others are right on the water’s edge. You can enjoy Silvermine’s scenic picnicking year round, but fires are allowed only from May to September – during summer strong winds pose too much of a fire risk. Stake out your picnic spot early on and allow time for a walk. For great views, take on the two-hour Silvermine Circuit, which offers breathtaking views over Hout Bay. If you’re not feeling that energetic, the boardwalk around the dam is an easy option.
These sweet donkeys will transform the way you think about hiking! The Donkey Trail is a slackpacking hike in the Swartberg Nature Reserve between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. While you set off with a daypack, the donkeys transport your overnight bags to a remote mountain camp. Stick to their pace and you’ll have an easy climb. (It also helps to take a walking stick, says Wild journalist Kate Collins.) The route is beautiful, with proteas, big views and mountain pools for cooling off. The camp is quite luxurious, with comfy mattresses in safari tents – and, of course, the joy of knowing that you didn’t have to lug it all up there. Isn’t the donkey a brilliant animal?
This walking trail on the Robberg peninsula, just outside Plettenberg Bay, must be one of the most stunning and most easily accessible hikes along the entire South African coast. As you walk, marvel at the indigenous fynbos, revel in the secluded coves and beaches and discover a whole new world sea creatures, like the Cape fur seals that frolic in the surf. You may also be tempted by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean after you’ve completed a few of the trail’s steeper ascents! There are three routes of different lengths and degrees of difficulty to choose from; ensuring that there are suitable options for everyone, from families to experienced trail runners (http://www.nightjartravel.com/trail-running/robberg-express-trail-event).
– Dianne Tipping-Woods
Last weekend we headed to Witsieshoek Mountain Resort and were impressed by what we found. The only accommodation in the vicinity of the famous chain ladders - the only ‘easy’ way to the top of the ‘Berg - Witsies has always been a winner when it comes to location and has long been a haunt of hikers, climbers and those wanting to escape the rat race. The highest lodge in the northern Drakensberg mountains, it’s not luxurious, but is now very comfortable thanks to recent refurbishments, a cozy bar and little touches like good quality bed linen. Best of all it’s big on heart with an extremely helpful management couple and friendly staff who really go the extra mile to make you feel welcome.
There’s a good reason that people talk about the Cederberg with such reverence. This landscape is ancient – experts say the range was a prominent feature even before Gondwanaland broke up some 130 million years ago. Rock art in this area dates up to 8 000 years back and when you walk in the wilderness area there is a sense of timelessness. A good place to experience this is in the Valley of the Red Gods, on the way to the Wolfsberg Cracks. Large sandstone pillars rise on either side of the path that leads up the mountain. Some people say they look like supplicants turned into stone. All around you is quiet, the figures in the rock silently contemplating the hikers at their feet. We’d recommend visiting in the late afternoon, when the rays of the setting sun bring out the russet and amber tones of the sandstone.
Alas, there was one more upset to come... but as I indicated earlier, all three girls are still my friends, so allow me to tell you how it all ended! We were all pretty eager to get a good night's rest, and spend the next day enjoying being so far up in the valley - I guess we were hoping to reap some reward from having pushed so hard on day 1.
Now, in the 'Berg you will often end up having to compromise when it comes to choosing where to pitch your tent, and on this particular instance, the only flat ground we could find that wasn't too close to the valley floor (and thus at risk of flash flooding), was on a ridge. I knew this would present a risk of unpleasant wind during the night, but failed to notice that we were actually now camping at the meeting point of two valleys, and would therefore face double the wind if it did blow... which it did.
Now, I've had windy nights in the 'Berg before, but this was the first time I've actually had to brace the frame of the tent! Needless to say, we woke up pretty much as exhausted as when we went to 'sleep'! At this stage, my girlfriend staged a grumpy mutiny, and we had a group re-evaluation of the plan, after which things went more smoothly.
So how did I not end up in everyone's bad books? Well, actually I have no idea... the only pleasant thing about the hike was the scenery! Or maybe that's the secret... the Drakensberg is one of the most spectacular places in South Africa, and despite all the odds, the majority of our stops involved the frantic whirring of shutter mechanisms, and a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing. And waking up on a ridge, 2500m above sea level, in the vast empty chasm at the confluence of those two valleys, with the whole world stretching out before us, and watching the sun dust off the mist, is a memory that I will treasure forever.
So, in short, do a bit more research than I did before you transition from hiker to hike-leader... because although the 'hardcore' badge is appealing, the enjoyment of the hike is a much better prize! Oh and take the right friends!!!
I am a lucky man... not because I went hiking in the Drakensberg with three girls, not because I am unharmed despite poor planning, and not because I managed to get my girlfriend's father's sporty Audi all the way to Injesuthi camp and back without breaking the undercarriage. No; I am a lucky man because the Drakensberg is such a breath-taking part of the country, that despite leading my girlfriend and two friends on the worst organised hike I have ever been involved in (also the first one I led, hmmm), all members involved are still happy to be my friends! Allow me to tell you about my December 'how not to hike' experience.
I've been on a number of overnight hikes before, and thought I understood the process fairly well. Little did I know just how many vital decisions are made before you put a thing in your backpack... My first mistake was trying to cater for too many options. Half the party wanted two nights, and the other half wanted three, so I thought we'd carry three nights of food and see how we felt on day two. The group wanted to head for the escarpment, but this is hard to do in two days (from Injesuthi) so we picked a route which looked like a hard hike but allowed us the option of turning back if we ended up not wanting to do the full three days.
Now at the time this sounded reasonable, but let's look closer. If you plan a two-night hike it's easy to justify carrying nicer food, and nicer means heavier. If you suddenly add a third day (in a party of four), it is easy to just add more food, instead of realising that you are now adding a significant amount of extra weight, and should actually replan the meals entirely. A route which allows the option of turning around sounds ok, but we chose to head to the foot of Ship's Prow pass, and to get there from Injesuthi is not only a difficult hike in its own right, but also means scrambling through a kilometre or two of very undefined path about 12km out of camp, after having climbed nearly 1000m already. This may sound fine when your legs are fresh, and when the ranger describes it as a bit of an adventure, but when you get there after 6 hours of hiking uphill it suddenly becomes less appealing, and much more of an adventure!
We did one thing right, which is that we were over-prepared for emergencies, so at no stage did we feel unsafe or in danger, but the effect of these innocent pre-hike choices meant that by the time we pitched our tents, more than 2,500m above sea level, we were so exhausted that we couldn't even appreciate the view. Straight into our sleeping bags after dinner, and we were all hoping that the next day would be better!
Sheet lightning paints the sky at the foot of Ship's Prow pass, in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg. Camping in this storm turned out to be a blessing and a curse - sights, scents and sounds the likes of which you simply cannot get outside the mountains, but every second of awe is a second of sleep sorely missed after the hike to get there! This storm took the best part of three hours to blow over - a good reminder that even on the nicest of days (which it had been) you should still be prepared for anything when you go on long hikes.